Author Archives: admin

Back in May of this year, I had a special birthday. I turned 70! No one was more surprised that I was—not surprised that I’d made it that far (although I am extremely grateful for each of those years)—but surprised that I was SEVENTY! It seems so old, yet I feel so young! (At times!)

Son Christopher made this birthday extry-spatial (quoting Lester Flatt there; meaning extra special!) by surprising me with a CD he had conceived and recorded with 25 women who were prominent bluegrass musicians playing and singing 23 songs that I had written over the last 40 years! He did this completely on the sly, with Casey and Red and all of my sisters plus all of the musicians in on the surprise, and no one letting a thing slip for over three months!

He presented me with the CD the weekend before my birthday, when he and Red and I (with Marshall Wilborn) had a gig at the B Chord Brewery in nearby Round Hill, Va. He had an elaborate presentation all mapped out, but naturally, it didn’t go as planned!

...continue reading

8 Comments

Recently I spent six wonderful days teaching beginning banjo at Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Week in Elkins, West Virginia. It had been many a long year since I’d walked those “green rolling hills of West Virginia” (Hazel Dickens song) and they seemed to have gotten a bit steeper!

One of the highlights of the camp every year is the staff concert. Each teacher chooses a song to perform and picks other teachers to be in their band. In the past, I’ve always done a bluegrass standard because those are so easy to work up. But this time I decided to sing a song I’d just written called “I’m Not Ready To Go Home.” I think of it as a gospel “protest” song.

The first line came from a Louise Penny book I was reading. She was talking about an old woman (Ruth, for you Louise Penny fans) and said, “She could see the shore ahead.” I loved the line and, feeling a song coming on, I wrote it down, personalizing it to “I can see the shore ahead.” Then the words “But I’m not ready to go home” popped into my mind. Soon, the rest of the lyrics starting flowing and by the end of the day (which I had spent playing with my grandson while jotting down more ideas) the song was finished.

I was so excited about it that I drove 30 miles down the road to share it with Teresa, who’s the lead singer in my student band, the Bluegrass Posse. She liked it and said all the things a songwriter wants to hear about a new song and soon we were harmonizing on the chorus. We actually performed the song a few days later at a nursing home, and it sounded so good that I decided I’d sing it at the Elkins camp. Joining me on stage would be Vickie Vaughn and Kimber Ludiker (from Della Mae) playing bass and fiddle and Dudley Connell and Mark Panfil playing guitar and Dobro. Vickie and Dudley would also sing harmony.

The five of us went over the song exactly one time before our sound check Wednesday night. There we sang it twice, working on the kick off, the ending, and the order of the breaks. The harmony parts fell right into place, which is what happens with amazing singers like Dudley and Vickie. Dudley had written out the words to the chorus in big letters with a black marker “just in case” he forgot any of them.

Thursday night, my song was second on the show and I was surprised to find myself nervous. I’m no stranger to performing but it had been a long time since I’d been in front of a big audience. What if I forgot the words to my new song? What if I mispronounced Kimber’s last name? What if my picks fell off? I could feel my hands starting to sweat.

Then, I was being introduced. I bounced up to the mikes as the rest of the band got in place around me. I introduced the musicians and the song. I didn’t forget any names or stumble over any words. I was ready. The band was ready. Now, to kick it off. But, OMG! I couldn’t remember the kickoff! I’d never kicked it off on stage before, and that was a whole different ballgame from kicking it off in practice! What were the pickup notes? No clue. The deer was in the headlights. She couldn’t move.

I had to do something and fast because no one else knew the song well enough to start it. I played three strange and pitiful sounding notes and then stopped. That wasn’t working. Then I made a face. It wasn’t an awful face, but I did look heavenward with an eye roll. (See video below.) Then realizing I had to try again quickly, I played three different pickup notes and went into an all-purpose banjo lick that could go with either a G or a D chord. Unfortunately, the correct chord was C, which was what everyone else was playing. Well, too late to turn back now. I just plowed on through. To my ear, it sounded like an unholy mess but I finally landed on some familiar licks that led us into the chorus and we all started singing in the right place, “I can see the shore ahead but I’m not ready to go home.” After that it was smooth sailing because all I had to do was remember the words and play some banjo backup. Everyone did their part magnificently! We ended as we’d planned by segueing into the chorus of “When the Saints go Marching In.” We finished to loud applause, which was extremely gratifying.

During the intermission, I texted one of my banjo students (and friends) and said, “The song went great but I blew the kickoff.” The return text said, “Sorry! But I love that you blew the kickoff. Now I know you are human!”

Somehow, I found that very comforting. No light-hearted reassurance that “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.” Or “I’m sure no one else noticed.” Just an acknowledgement that, yep, you blew it. And the underlining assurance that everything was still fine. Because it was.

After the concert was over and we were all leaving the stage, I picked up the words that Dudley Connell had written out. I brought them home and I’m going to frame them. What a joy to sing on stage with him. And Vickie. And Kimber. And Mark. My cup runneth over.

PS: Vickie Vaughn has just been nominated as IBMA Bass Player of the Year! Congratulations, Vickie!

PPS: When I looked at video of the song, the kickoff wasn’t that bad. If I had just kept going and hadn’t made a face—which is what I tell my students all the time--I don’t think anyone would have noticed!

I’m Not Ready To Go Home

Chorus:
I can see the shore ahead but I’m not ready to go home
Oh, Lord, don’t take me now, my to-do list is too long
I’ve got people that I dearly love and places yet to roam
Oh, Lord, don’t take me now, I’m not ready (ready, ready) to go home.

First verse:
I know I’m just a player in this game that we call life
I know my days are filled with lots of toil and lots of strife
I know you’re holding all the cards and you still call the plays
But if I had my druthers, Lord, I’d like a few more days.

Second verse:
My friends might put a word in, ‘cause they like me hanging round
My fiddling’s getting better, I don’t want to let them down
We play the bluegrass music and we always get a hand
Don’t take me I’m not ready to join the angel band.

Third verse:
So many sings I’d like to sing, so many tunes to play
Until the roll call of the fiddlers on that final judgement day
When Jesus makes the set list out and calls us all again
To play the bluegrass music while the saints go marching in.

Words and music by Murphy Hicks Henry, Arrandem Music, SESAC

By Red Henry

Ever since we founded the Murphy Method in 1982, one thing we’ve been proud of has been customer loyalty. Many, many of our Murphy Method students keep ordering lessons year after year, and we appreciate all that repeat business.

Some customers may take off several years, and then come back and order again. It often happens that people take off four or five years in their lessons before resuming them. Sometimes it is a ten-year gap. One day a man called who had ordered some audiocassettes fifteen years before, saying that one of them had gone bad. Fortunately it was still in print, and he was amazed when we replaced it for free.

But we recently had a record-breaker:

A customer in New England ordered some of our audiocassette series in 1989 and 1990. After that we did not hear from him until last month, when he called and ordered a DVD. That was an astounding gap of THIRTY YEARS between orders! But when he called us, of course we were glad to do business again.

Don’t wait 30 years yourself! Order any time. Murphy Method DVDs are waiting for you!

I thought I’d add a word or two here to Casey’s always-excellent newsletter, just to let you know how we’re faring at Murphy Method headquarters (aka Our House) during this stay-at-home time.

I’m missing my Tip Jar Jam! I miss hearing David sing In The Pines with the “woo woos” at the end, just like Bill Monroe done it. 😉 I miss singing Where The Soul Of A Woman Never Dies with Kathy. I even miss hearing Banjo In The Hollow!

Both Casey and I were bummed to have to cancel our Intermediate Camp this month. We had so much fun stuff planned: Geoff Stelling, The Fly Birds, Karaoke, Gregg and Chuck’s band (back by popular demand!), food from Bonnie Blue, a singing workshop with David McLaughlin, jamming, Murphy and Casey’s Sunday Morning Gospel Show. We still have our fingers crossed for our July Women’s Camp, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Like many of you, I am mourning the loss of John Prine. The Tip Jar Jammers are already planning a John Prine Night when we get back together. We were already occasionally doing Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, Souvenirs, Spanish Pipedream (aka Blow Up Your TV), and Paradise. Now some of the Jammers, having time on their hands, are learning other Prine songs so we can celebrate his life.

On the non-musical front, Red and I killed quite a few hours re-watching all the Harry Potter movies and now I’m rereading all the books. Just finished Goblet of Fire this morning. Now my TV time is taken up with the new season of Dr. Who, which I am somewhat ambivalent about.

I’m also trying to keep focused on the biography of Maybelle Carter I started writing in January. But, I’ll admit, it’s hard to find the energy. So, I try to be kind to myself and just do what I can do.

Also, like many of you, I’m getting really good at using the Zoom app! I’ve found the “mute button” and the “gallery view”! I use Zoom to take online yoga, which I love. Now if the poses are too hard (Firefly? Plow? Shoulder Stand?), I can revert to Child’s Pose and nobody can see me! I’m also trying to walk almost every day, which is easier now that it’s warmer. I’ve discovered listening to Podcasts on my phone with earbuds makes me more likely to get out the door, so I feel very “with it,” being able to do all these complicated techy things. Yesterday, I listened to an interview with Iris Dement and I remembered how much I love her music. Might have to download her latest album, IDK.

Since Red and I are some of the “olds” (a term my niece came up with and I have embraced), we are being extry careful about going out and when we have to go out, we wear our masks and carry hand sanitizer. And when we come back in, we wash our hands like crazy. Thankfully, we are able to limit our trips to town because my former banjo and guitar student turned singer/songwriter Kasey Smelser is doing our grocery shopping. She leaves them on the front porch and then we visit from six feet away! Thank you, Kasey!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go online and order a T-shirt that says, “May Birthday 2020. The one when we were quarantined.”

And then it’s time to Maybelle. I hope. Well, maybe after lunch. Or after my nap…

Stay safe, y’all.

ImGonnaWaitOnJesusThere is a nice write-up over on Bluegrass Today about Chris's new CD "I'm Gonna Wait On Jesus."

Click here to read the article.

Click here to buy the CD.

Ten years ago when Casey and Chris were living in Nashville, struggling along as musicians without much ready cash, they decided to record a Christmas album for their family. After a couple of practices to decide which songs to include, the two of them gathered around Chris's computer in the living room of his apartment and laid down eight tradtional Christmas carols (instrumentals) and one Stanley Brothers' Christmas song with Chris on guitar and Casey on banjo.

The relatives loved it. (Murphy got tears in her eyes.) There were no plans to ever release this album commercially. Except for family and friends, no one has heard it. Every Christmas when Murphy first listens to it she calls both Casey and Chris to tell them how much she likes it and how good it is. (And she still gets choked up!)

When trying to think of a present for our customers we remembered this album. It has never been sold. The ONLY way to get this CD is as part of this free gift promotion. We thought it would be the perfect way to say "Thank You" to our students for sticking with us and keeping us in business all these years!

Every order this week (Dec 7-13, 2014) will include a free copy of the Casey and Chris Christmas album. Physical orders will get a CD in the package. Download orders will receive an email with the audio files.

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We did a lot of great jamming last night but the funniest part of the jam was when two of our doctors started talking about hip replacement surgery. I'm sure I'll get the details wrong (and you docs can laugh) but I think the conversation centered on the trendy new anterior approach--in which you only have to split the muscle--and the old-fashioned posterior approach in which the muscle is actually cut. Then, mercifully, the topic morphed into music and medicine when one of the doctors said he had recently played my M and M Blues CD in the "OR" (doc-speak for Operating Room). From there the conversation took a nose-dive into "songs you don't want to hear played in the OR," such as "I Saw The Light" or "Bury Me Beneath The Willow." Maybe you had to be there but was really funny at the time. I said, "Keep it coming, folks, it's all fodder for the blog."

We had a nicely balanced jam last night with three guitars and three banjos, three womyn (Kathy G, Steph, and moi) and three men (David, Gregg, and Chuck). There were also three lead singers. And--I just realized this--it was the third of December. (Which brings to mind that classic opening line to Ode To Billy Joe: "It was the third of June another sleepy, dusty Delta day....") But I digress. ...continue reading

Recently David Morris wrote an article for the online magazine Bluegrass Today suggesting rather strongly that Hazel Dickens should be in the IBMA Hall of Fame. Since Hazel, and her singing partner Alice Gerrard, are both featured in a chapter of Murphy's book, Pretty Good For A Girl, that topic is right down Murphy's alley. So, as soon as she remembered her user name and password (which involved getting a new user name and password!), she posted a comment. You can read the article and all the comments here.

[Betty Fisher, a Tip Jar Jam regular, was kind enough to blog about her recent jamming experience. Betty has been having some problems with bats in her house, hence the blog title. She is also a very, very good sport!]

My friend and neighbor Stephanie is a beginning guitar student of Murphy’s.  She and I have been threatening--or rather promising--to get together and jam as Murphy has suggested.  Finally on Sunday we were able to do that.

A shining example to all! Betty, left, and Steph, right, jamming.

A shining example to all! Betty, left, and Steph, right, jamming.

We sat out on Stephanie’s beautiful new stone patio in the shade with a nice breeze blowing.  Steph warned me that she had not practiced for a couple of weeks.  She had also let Murphy know that things would be on hold for a short while, then she would get back in gear with her lessons.   ...continue reading

(Casey's students, Ben and Kasey, who are also regular Tip Jar Jammers, recently attended the Augusta Heritage Bluegrass Week in Elkins, W.Va. I asked Ben to write a little about their experience. So, heeeeeeeere's Ben!)

Hey Murphy,

Told ya I'd write a blog on our Augusta experience and I didn't want to let you down so here goes.

First off I need to touch on what got us to attending Augusta. Last year after Casey's return from Augusta she had mentioned that it might be a good fit for my Kasey. Especially since there are more young people there versus our local jams. That got things started. So over the course of the winter I did some research and read up on it to try to get some understanding about this event. Since Kasey definitely wouldn't do this by herself that meant I needed to be going. So I thought it would be best for me to take the bass course and her to do the banjo stuff. This would allow her to start to separate herself from me a little. What you have to understand is that it's a little nerve racking especially since we both have been under the wings of our banjo and bass bosses. (Murphy and Casey) When things go wrong they're always there to bail us out and mostly in a kind way! Unless you're me and you play Fireball Mail when you're not supposed to! ...continue reading