Author Archives: Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

(No bluegrass here!)

Red and I, along with Chris and Casey and three-year-old Dalton, spent a lovely Thanksgiving weekend in Charlotte, N.C., with my sister Laurie, her husband David, and their son Andrew. That is, it was lovely once we got down there. We tried to leave Wednesday---in the middle of that raging snowstorm---but got only as far as the Strasburg exit on I-81 before discretion got the better part of valor and we turned back. Red and I spent the night with Casey and Dalton and vowed to try again the next day.

Small, but essential aside: Laurie had emailed early in the week asking if there was anything special we needed. After requesting "coffee and Corona" I added, "And just one more thing. Dalton has a few special words he likes to say to get a laugh. They don't mean anything particular but they all came from stuff we were doing. Long story. The words are: opossum, cross that marker bridge, and whoa Nelly. We always laugh. If you can laugh, that will be great. Thanks!"

Throwing those snowballs!

Throwing those snowballs!

Thursday morning found the roads clear and dry. We had an excellent trip down, stopping at the Hillsville exit in Virginia for a picnic lunch. There was plenty of snow still on the hills, so Dalton and Gran (that's me!) had fun making and throwing snowballs. That is, I did the making and the throwing while His Benevolent Highness dictated where to get the snow and where to throw the snowball!

However, the point of this blog is not to give you a day-by-day account of our trip. That's worse than watching 1960s vacation slides! The story I really want to share is this:

Friday night at Laurie and David's house we were having yet another meal of yummy Thanksgiving leftovers, supplemented by some excellent barbeque ribs David had grilled. By now everyone present, including sister Nancy, her husband Rad and daughter Natalie, had heard a few of Dalton's funny words, and he had gotten a few laughs, but I wasn't sure David had witnessed any of this or participated. Which was no big deal. David has a quick and pleasantly warped sense of humor, which is sometimes dry, always clever, and occasionally biting but never mean. In other words, he's a funny guy himself. I just wasn't sure he had noticed Dalton's little one-liners. Or maybe I just didn't notice that David noticed. Whatever.

Now, at our Thursday Thanksgiving meal, David had given a lovely toast, offering a few well-chosen words about being thankful for those present, those absent, and those who had gone on before whose lives made our family possible. I was moved and impressed with his toast-giving talent. So when time for the Friday-night toast came, I was looking forward to whatever words of wisdom David had to bestow. So imagine my surprise when he lifted his glass and said, "I just want to say one word.......................................................................

opossum!" He brought down the house! Huge laughter from everyone at the table, including a delighted Dalton. It was the perfect toast.

So, a great big THANK YOU to David. You made my Thanksgiving! Opossum!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I've been trying to write this blog about the Wednesday night jam--which turned out to be all women--for two days, but it's just not happening. As Jim Croce sings, "Every time I try to tell you, the words just come out wrong..." [Confession: I thought that was an Elton John song. Google set me straight!] 

So, ladies--Kathy H, Kristina, Diane, and Steph--we laughed a lot, we picked a lot, we had some great three-part harmony, and we tried out some new songs: Gentle On My Mind; a gender-flipped version of Dooley (no reason a woman can't be a moonshiner!), and Paul and Silas Bound In Jail All Night Long. These are probably keepers, so heads up all you Jammers! And we mentioned Mae West. There. That's it in a tiny nutshell.  ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I wanted to write a quick blog just so I can show you this cute picture of me and my buddy and singing partner, Cam. Cam is Ben's grandson (he calls Ben "Pap"), and this was his first jam! He behaved like an angel, sitting on the couch and playing with a Kindle and the Ninja Turtle I had given him for a surprise. And when Kasey sang I Saw The Light, Cam was right there singing along on the chorus, with a big smile on his face. Come back any time, Cam. You da man! (Do people still say that? Or is that, like, so last year decade?)

Me and my buddy, Cam!

Me and my buddy, Cam!

...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Wow! We had 12 people at the jam last night: Betty, Kathy G, Ben, Kasey, Steph, Diane, Gregg, David, Chuck (sitting on the floor!), Rhys, Drew, Amber, and Jason. This broke down into 3 guitars, 7 banjos, 1 fiddle, and 1 mandolin. Ben swapped his banjo for the bass early on and with me pounding my Martin we managed to keep folks in line!

We were sorely missing our buddy Bob Van who has landed his butt in the hospital. In his honor we set up his picking chair and put a roll of duct tape in it. The duct tape is in honor of Bobby always saying something like, "I hope we don't play Salt Creek." Which forces me to say, "Why don't we play Salt Creek!" At which point he growls, "Where's the duct tape?" meaning he needs to have his mouth taped shut so he won't say anything else stupid! We will keep your chair and duct tape there, Bobby, until you get back. We love your ornery old hide!

We started off gently with our "party pieces," Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, I Saw The Light, and Blue Ridge Cabin Home, all in G. And thanks to Chuck for being our "G" singer! Then we moved on up to C, for some womyn singing: I'll Fly Away (Kathy), Two Dollar Bill (me), and Circle (Diane). Then I realized, once again, that I had cheated Kasey out of singing her song, I Saw The Light, which we'd already done. (Girl, you gotta get a new song!) But Diane reminded me that Kasey used to sing Rocky Top in C. At first I demurred, saying the chords were too hard for the whole group, but then I thought, "Why not let Kasey sing it as a 'show' piece?"  ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We must have had an exceptionally good jam last night because already this morning, before 8:30, I've had a text from Betty saying, "Loved last nite's jam. Steph did too. Good speed for an old f--t like me. I know it's not all about me...but it should be. Ha."

Of course it's all about you, Betty! (And yes, I say the same thing to all the jammers!) I'll brag you on myself: You did great with your Roly Poly breaks to Circle and I'll Fly Away! I've never seen a student look more astonished at using a D lick and having it work! Then after you realized, "Holy cow! It worked!" the look of delight on your face was priceless. It's burned into my mind, because when Betty is happy, Murphy is happy! And since it's all about you, I feel obligated to tell the folks about the first song you played last night.

Tip Jar Jammers

Tip Jar Jammers

Betty came into the jam a little late because of her work and we'd already played Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage Down. In fact, we were boiling cabbage when Betty walked in. After she got settled I wanted to give her a chance to get warmed up so I said, "Why don't you kick off Banjo in the Hollow?" Well, Betty is a "yes" person so she said, "Sure." Then she said, "Do you want me to play the low part twice and the high part twice?" Now, that confused me. So I said something like, "What?" And she repeated what she'd said. I gave her a puzzled look because I was trying to figure out what she meant. Finally I said, "Just play Banjo in the Hollow like we usually do." And then it dawned on me....."Unless you're fixing to play Boil Them Cabbage Down!" ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our first Tip Jar Jam after Beginning Banjo Camp showed a marked improvement in the jamming skills of campers David and Gregg--especially when it came to improvising on the fly. During camp we had hit the Roly Polys pretty hard since the new DVD, Kickstart Your Jamming, is coming out soon. (Two weeks, we hope!) So last night, David and Gregg, flushed with enthusiasm, were more than willing to try Roly Poly breaks on most of the singing songs we played: Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Circle, Two Dollar Bill, I'll Fly Away, I Saw The Light, Katy Daley, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, and the Crawdad Song, which is new to us. ("You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey...").

One of the things that shook out of this post-camp jam was, again, how important it is to pay attention to the chord progression. For instance, many of you know from working with the Misfits DVD that I Saw The Light, Do Lord, Worried Gal, and Two-Dollar Bill sound very much alike. (In bluegrass-speak we'd say they sound "sim-u-lar." Or perhaps, eschewing extra syllables, "sim-lar.") However, when you're getting ready to improvise a break with the Roly Polys, if you fail to pay attention to the chords while the singer is singing, you may not notice that Two-Dollar Bill has only two beats of C, NOT SIX! That's a pretty big difference!  ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

After a week at IBMA, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it was good to get back to teaching and the Tip Jar Jam. I missed yall! Wednesday's jam featured SIX banjo players and three guitar players counting me. Actually for a while there were only five banjos as Kathy H honed her rhythm guitar skills on the Big Three for the late night jams at our upcoming Beginning Banjo Camp.

The blog title was handed to me on a silver platter about halfway through the jam, when Dan arrived, fresh and glowing, from the Bible study class he is teaching at the Presbyterian Church. I don't normally divulge so much personal information but his life's work--minister--makes the quote WAY funnier.

We were up in the key of C, for some womyn singing, when Dan walked in and strapped on his banjo just in time to take a break on Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Since Chuck was gone, Diane had her old song back! We missed you Chuck! We did several other songs in C--I'll Fly Away (Kathy G), I Saw The Light (Kathy H), Katy Daly (moi)--and then I asked Bob A to sing East Virginia Blues because C is his key for that and Dan has been working hard on a break for the song from one of Casey's Custom Lessons. (Note to Marty: You might try to sing EVB yourself in that key.) Everyone else (except David) was going to do the Roly Polys, which goes to show you how far they have all come in this area because East Virginia Blues has a long and slightly complicated chord pattern. [Editor's note: It's exactly the same as Lonesome Road Blues.] ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our fourth Murphy Method Beginning Banjo Camp is just around the corner (October 24-26 in Winchester, Va.) and we still have a few openings. We keep the camp small and never take more than 20 students so you can be sure you're going to get plenty of individual attention from Casey and Murphy. (We hope that's a good thing!)

Since our camps are all about YOU PLAYING THE BANJO we do have a few prerequisites. You need to be able to play three Murphy Method tunes, the Big Three: Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, and Boil Them Cabbage Down. You don't have to be able to play them fast, but you do have to be able to play all the notes in time. We will spend a lot of time playing these three tunes. Mostly the class will play at the same time, in unison, but we always offer the chance for you to solo. Perhaps by Sunday you'll be ready to make that Leap of Faith! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Murphy blogs every month over on Banjo Hangout and we will be cross-posting these blogs so they'll be all here in one place. This was originally published September 25th, 2014.

I've been trying to figure out how to teach banjo students to improvise for almost 40 years. And it's only in the last year that I've finally figured out a teachable technique that worksAs always, I used my own students for guinea pigs and now every week in our Tip Jar Jams I get to see them playing breaks to songs they've never even heard before. It's pretty fantastic! (I swear this sounds like one of those unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true TV ads! I feel like I should be saying, "And wait! If you order now, we will send you two of everything. All you have to do is pay additional shipping and handling!") But I digress....

Pause For Shout Outs: Before I go further let me give some shout outs to my guinea pigs: Kathy G, who challenged me to come up with something simple for her to play on the singing songs that she loved; to Julie for showing me that this technique would also work for  instrumentals; to Tim for naming this technique the "roly polys," and to Kathy H, Kasey, Ben, Pam, Dan, Betty, Gregg, and Drew who almost never pass up a break to a song anymore! Why should they when they can make something up on the spot? ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Yee haw! I will be presenting two awards at the IBMA Awards Show this Thursday, October 2. My good friend (really!) Bill Evans will be my co-presenter and we will be handing out the awards for Female Vocalist of the Year and Guitar Player of the Year. Thanks to my other good friend Chris Stuart, one of the show's producers, for asking me to take part in this year's show. (Note: Both Chris and Bill, along with Janet Beazley, are the teachers on our Harmony Singing DVD!)

The Awards Show will be broadcast live on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Bluegrass Junction) and streamed live at ibma.org. The show starts at 7:30 but that may just be when they want us in our seats! Not sure what time the broadcast itself starts. The online bluegrass magazine Bluegrass Today is a good place to find out more about what's happening, along with the IBMA website.  ...continue reading