Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Our regular Tuesday Tip Jar Jam was canceled this week so I could go up to Elkins, West Virginia, and give a talk about my book, Pretty Good For A Girl. I also played in a concert that night with another band of "Merry Chicas" that included Casey, Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Tammy Rogers, Sharon Gilchrist, and Mary Burdette. "My, my, my" as the song goes! I was accompanied on my trip by my friend and "personal assistant," Kathy Holliday, who is the Best Book Seller Ever and a great road-tripping buddy. We talked all the way up, and all the way back. And on the way back we also Ate Chocolate and Drank Cokes! Yippee!

The book talk went great. IMHO, it's finally shaping up now since I've given it a number of times. I've finally figured out that I do better sitting down with "my banjo on my knee" and just talking. When I run out of things to say or feel like I'm "yammering," I punctuate the talk with a song. This time, Casey joined me on stage so we had the full force of two banjos! As one of our songs, I got the audience to sing along with us on "Worried Gal," in the women's key of C and asked them to pay attention to how difficult it was to actually remember to sing the word "gal" instead of "man," which is the more conventional way to sing this (and the way the Carter Family sang it).

After being immersed in a book talk and an all-female band, I'm feeling my feminist oats! I was so proud that Laurie Lewis called me a "firebrand." High praise, indeed! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Hey all y'all! Just a reminder that I'll be giving a lecture about my book, Pretty Good For A Girl: Women in Bluegrass, on Thursday, April 3, from 4:30-5:30 on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The location is the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in the Wilson Library. The talk is part of the "Hutchins Lecture" series. And the title of the lecture is "Steel-String Magnolias: Women in Bluegrass. Here's a link:

The lecture is open to the pubic. My sisters Nancy and Laurie will be there and I hope they will be getting up to sing some songs with me during my lecture.

The three of us will also be giving a noon performance from 12:00-1:00 as part of "Music On the Porch." That location is the Center for the Study of the American South @ the Love House & Hutchins Forum.

I will have books there to sell and sign, and I will also have some of the old Red and Murphy albums which have recently been reissued on CDs!!!

If you make it to either of these, please come up and shake and howdy!

Hope to see you there!

Making My Way To You
Peter Rowan Tour - a PG report from the road - Part One
November 9, 2013 at 7:36pm
I've really been looking forward to this trip for a long time. Peter's album, The Old School, came out in spring of this year, and this is really our first tour for it. Yungchen Lhamo, is a wonderful friend that we met at the Leaf Festival in North Carolina. Peter and Yungchen hit it off with their connection to spiritual music and Buddhism and Yungchen has brought a great balancing energy to our performances with her zen improvisational style of singing. She's also really funny, thoughtful, and is really easy to be around.

Our first gig was up near Maggie Valley, North Carolina at the Cataloochee Ranch. Keith and I flew into Raleigh on Sunday night, and drove up there. We stayed in a wonderfully comfortable and cozy ranch style wood and stone lodge that had been built back in the 30's by a family that still runs the place. Waking up there the next morning felt a little like Christmas with the fire burning, lots of food, and good vibes. We met Peter downstairs for lunch and played some tunes, and caught up.

There were two supper seatings for about 30-40 people each and the food that was served was excellent. At supper we talked about what we should do, to kind of make a plan. That is an interesting somewhat ossilating subject because Peter is a fellow who doesn't like to hem things in and rather enjoys the zen and spontaneity of the exploration in the moment. But we did need to go over a couple things and had a few minutes before the show to mull it over.

Yungchen showed us one of her new songs of which the subject was the secret moment of revelation that comes when you never expected something to happen and it happens. We clearly didn't have the vibe right at first, much too common bluegrassy. She has a very effective and calm way of directing us to access more of the spiritual energy that is required to help express the sentiment. She said things like "You must feel the Earth, and when you like it, we go on to the next part." The phrasing was not square, and although the melody was fairly simple, almost like an American old-time mountain melody, the ornaments were subtle and beautiful and the vibe was intense, perhaps nocturnal, looming, and expansive like a blanket that was rolling out through the night. We did the best we could and had our work cut out for us there. It's really different, challenging, and enjoyable to pay so much precise and careful attention to the zen vibe of this Tibetan spiritual music and to see how that carries across into the rest of Peter's music, and hopefully some of my own music too.

Our concert that night was an all acoustic one with just Peter, Keith, Yungchen and myself. The audience was mostly folks who live up that way and they were quite receptive to our show and many even got up and danced on the finale. I think that was the first time Yungchen had danced to american-hillbilly music, it was great. I put together a short compilation of some of the best moments and uploaded it to Facebook. Peter and I scarfed up on six or seven different delicious desserts after the concert before joining a small group of folks in front of the fire for a really enjoyable conversation about Monroe, bluegrass and mountain music.

The next day I had a really nice horseback ride up to the high ridge called Hemphill Bald which looked out for a hundred miles through the Smokey Mountains in the area that was named by the Cherokee indians, Cataloochee, or "wave upon wave", of mountains. It was gorgeous. I was a little bit embarrassed and sorry when I got back and Peter and Keith were waiting with their bags at the door to leave, the ride had taken about 2 and a half hours, somewhat longer that I had thought it might be. It was about 12:30 and we rode up to Asheville for lunch and loaded in at ISIS that afternoon.

Asheville is a hippy town in a way that has a a bunch of enthusiastic folks who were ready to drink and have a good time. They have a regular bluegrass night on Tuesdays and some good local musicians opened the show up. I got to see my aunt Claire and her friends, and a couple of other folks that live around the Asheville area. It was the first time that I tried to set up Yungchen's nice camera to tape the show. It was awkward trying to find a spot right before the show that would have a clear view amongst the crowd that was already hanging out. Once I did find a spot, it was hard to tell if the angle would be sufficient to capture the whole band because there was no one on stage. Yungchen would gently encourage me to do better the next day. The crowd was loud and we played two sets and had a good time.

We went on down to Athens the next day - about a 3 and a half hour drive. The promoter fellow, Adriane, has a club called the New Earth there. The stage had some nice reclaimed wood, and there was some psychedelic original art on the walls. We had a good little jam before the show working up Little Rabbit and one of Peter's friends brought a nice Weber mandocello around and we had fun with a little jam outside. I had been singing one of my songs on most of the shows since a couple months back. This night I couldn't get it going, I was trying to play it too fast, and it ended up just being a little wonky and that threw me off a little bit funky for the rest of the night. Peter suggested that I slow it down to give it a more grand treatment.

The hotels we're staying in are nice, usually the Country Inn and Suites. Good rooms that don't smell funky, with wifi - what more could a 21st century bluegrass musician want. The drives are manageable and it seems like we always get at least an hour or two of downtime every day to catch a quick nap. Paul, Michael, and myself have been riding in the van, and Keith, Peter, and Yungchen in the Charger.

The next day we hauled up to Charleston to the Pour House, about four and a half hours. I played the guys what Sarah and I have been working on and they were gracious listeners. It's always good to hear the music in a new sound system, I can tell some things sonically about the music, where to relieve some compression, etc. Mike played some good tunes off his laptop including one new tune he was working on and also some good live Stanley brothers including "They Say Love is Blind, But I See Through You." Hard to beat that.

The Charleston show was interesting. It was another rock club. We had a good meal beforehand, and started the show about 45 minutes after we were scheduled, a late hour of 10:45. Leftover Salmon had played two nights in a row before us and I think a lot of the young hippy crowd was fairly spent from chasing the elusion. Usually Peter has been starting out solo, then introducing Yungchen, then blowing a conch shell while we come out to start playing the Methodist Preacher. He'll bring Yungchen out early and introduce her, and she frequently does an offering, then they'll do a couple together. We slowed my song down quite a bit, and I just reproached it mentally from a go with it don't try to make it something it's not trying to do mentality. I have never sung a song that slowly on stage, but I really enjoyed it. It made me really concentrate on getting good tone and staying in the moment. I loved it and it went over much better and I got a slap on the back from Peter which made me feel good.

We've been doing a healthy smattering of songs of Peter's new CD, The Old School. Usually the title cut, often Drop the Bone, Letter From Beyond, Ragged Old Dream, and occasionally Oh, Freedom. Keith usually sings a good old Stanley brothers tune like Little Maggie or On a Lonesome Night and we've been doing Panama Red on almost every show. Mike has been doing Gold Rush a good bit and did Cherokee Shuffle one time. Padma Sambade is one that Yungchen sings with us on and the closer is usually Land of the Navaho, and then sometimes we'll follow that with Midnight Moonlight. A couple of other tunes that we have done are Lonesome L.A. Cowboy and one time we did Mississippi Moon. After the break, Peter said "Let's go back out there and have some fun." Which was a great mantra for me the second set, because it's easy to try to hard and miss the real muse, and to go out having that fresh on the ears helped me remember what the goal was.

Our timing has been getting a lot better, and we reached a new level of precision on this particular gig. We had been experiencing some nice pockets here and there and by the time we got halfway through the set I was dialed right in on Peter's right hand and started to intuit in a natural way where his groove was. As we were playing The Walls of Time, I was able to really understand what Peter meant when he said he became the Walls of Time, because there it was - the groove locked and in this nothing happening everywhere moment I felt like, at least for a bit that I had stopped scaring off the wildlife and was able to be a welcome walker in the forest.

Augusta, Georgia was our next stop. I watched the new documentary about Peter called "The Tao of Bluegrass" in the van on the way to the venue. I was really inspired to see Peter talk about the music, and hear other great musicians talk about Peter. What he has done with regard to his own spiritual work and how he has been able to put so much of that feeling into his songs that he shares is absolutely astounding. He has searched and explored, had revelations, and opened his heart tempered with his formative bluegrass experience to channel universal truth in an accessible, fascinating, and compelling way. I was stoked when we got to the place.

The Imperial Theatre is a really nice old building with an excellent sound system. It's got a big old ceiling and a large balcony and it was a big change to go from lots of loud people in a loud rock club to a classy soft-seater theatre like that. Unfortunately the word did not get out too well in town and the audience was little and not so loud. But, we had some good moments and I especially enjoyed the quintet on Let Me Walk Lord By Your Side. After the show, Yungchen said, "Let's make song." She's always wanting to make some new music, and I love going on the improvisational explorations with her. I was happy on this one because it was just the two of us and I felt like I had more freedom do move around in different chords a little bit because usually we just rock on the one the whole time, which works and gives her plenty of space to do her thing. This time I was happy to be able to sing lots of melodies with her and the funniest thing was that it ended up being a song about chicken which we had eaten all day. That's a testament to Yungchen's sense of humor. We start out with a hybrid Tibetan/Appalachian mountain spiritual offering and it turns into a silly freestyle song about eating chicken. I love it.

Chris Henry

This weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Connecticut with some of my best friends to play at a church in Greenwich. On Friday night, I had a late gig up near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and got back to Nashville past midnight. The alarm was set for 5:15 so we could get to the airport by 6:30 to catch our flight. I put on my three-piece suit and red tie, which is my uniform of choice these days, and Mike Bub picked me up about 5:45am. We went to get our favorite fiery fiddle, Shad Cobb, and met Brad Folk, formerly of the band Open Road, at the airport. We flew into LaGuardia, getting there about 1:00pm.

Keith Reed, also of Open Road and now bluegrass professor at Colorado College, met us at the airport. He had gotten a call from his wife's best friend's husband, Kevin, who is the music minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Greenwich, asking if he could put together a band to play for their spring concert series. Keith's a great banjo picker and well-connected fellow and we were all looking forward to the trip even though that particular configuration of pickers had never all played together at the same time.

Shad, Bub, and I play a lot together in Nashville. Brad and Keith played for years together, and Brad and I have done a few shows together, so we were all confident that we could find the common ground and pick out some tunes and it would all work out. We all love traveling with Bub, who is a seasoned veteran and pro road-dog. He always seems prepared and is very resourceful, as well as being full of great stories to amuse everyone from his thirty plus years in bluegrass. Between Bub and Brad there were already a whole lot of laughs.

When we got to Greenwich, we headed straight to the church to check it out. It was a beautiful old granite building with a large, wooden, sanctuary featuring some of the finest stained glass windows I have ever seen. They had a gigantic pipe organ, which Kevin plays, behind the alter.

At that point we were all starving so we went and had a bite to eat at a local diner where Kevin joined us. After a good visit there, we headed back to the church for sound check. We were using just one mic, a large diaphragm condenser that Bub had brought, for all the instruments and vocals. Since it was such a great sounding room, that was plenty of reinforcement.

After deciding on "Pain in My Heart" as a good number, we launched right into it and from the get-go, we knew that the music was going to work out. Brad started singing and the grass was driving fine. Bub added the baritone and I added the tenor on the chorus and we had a powerful bluegrass trio and we were aces into the fiddle solo. Shad dug in and started stomping his foot and he rendered another heaping helping of the nail biting, intense, flawless fiddling. We got through another verse and chorus fine and then the only glitch was during the mandolin solo. Because there were no monitors, it was hard for everyone to hear exactly what was going on on some of the leads. I lifted the mandolin up to the microphone and charged impetuously out on the front side of the beat to play my break, and the beat ended up turned around because I had hit the gas so hard on it. Growing up picking with Mom and Dad, and Casey on the bass, I never had to think about where I was putting the beat because we were all so accustomed to the surging nature of leads that our family band played. I hadn't considered that we weren't playing in a circle where everyone can hear exactly what and where everyone else is playing. I was a little frazzled, but didn't say anything. We finished up all together and packed up the SUV and left for our lodging quarters.

We drove through some beautiful million-dollar neighborhoods and got to the residence of Steve and Sandy Waters who were part of the congregation. They had offered to put us up for the night - a generous and brave couple! They warmly greeted us and showed us each to our rooms and I took the opportunity to get some rest because I was already exhausted from the night before and traveling. Steve has one of the best collections of Yankee baseball memorabilia and in my room were great autographed pictures of different moments including Don Larson's perfect world series game.

I thought a long time about the mandolin break and what had happened, and why. I felt frustrated because I didn't feel like I had the communication skills to appropriately address the issue, and thought it was interesting that no one else said anything about it either. After a couple of hours of meditation on it, I figured it would be a good strategy to back off from where I frequently feel the leading edge of the beat to stay on the safe side. The rest of the guys spent the afternoon lounging and laughing in the Waters' back yard by the pool and I got some rest.

About 5:30 we were treated to a wonderful supper and had a good time visiting with the Waters discussing topics of local interest all the way to political fundraising. Mr. Waters had gone to Harvard Business School with Mitt Romney and it was neat to hear him talk about the presidential candidate as being just like he remembered him in school. It's unusual for us to be dining with folks who have ties to that world, so that was fun. It was the first time I can remember eating supper and having bread with a little plate for dipping olive oil like in fancy restaurants. We usually put butter on the bread, but I liked their way a lot too.

We finished up about 6:15 and Brad and I started tossing around numbers that we thought would come off all right, as well as a couple of gospel tunes we thought the folks would enjoy possibly singing along to. Bub, who has has so much experience with off-the-cuff stage shows, was confident we didn't need a set list, but Brad and I were a little nervous about the prospect, so we went ahead and dialed one in as well as we could.

When we got to the church, Kevin led us up to the music rehearsal room inside the large, four-story church complex. We hit a little bit of "Roll on, Buddy" and again felt good that the set would go well.

I went down to the sanctuary a little early so I could set up my computer to video the show. We were hoping to get some good footage in case we could use it for future bookings. There was a modest crowd seated already with more folks filing in.

Kevin gave us a nice introduction and Shad started us off on the fiddle with Old Joe Clark. It's a great tune, everybody knows it, it's up-beat, and has easy access to three-part harmony. They loved it! We were off to a good start and rolled through the set doing mostly traditional material. I sang "Walkin' West to Memphis", and Mike Bub took a great break on the bass. Keith expertly rendered a great version of "Sledd Ride" and that got a rousing response. We brought it up and slowed it down three or four times trying to vary the material as much as we could but still sticking to a good quotient of hard-driving hardcore bluegrass. Other numbers included "Close By", "Roustabout", "Voice of My Saviour", "The Luckiest Man Twas Born", "Sally Goodin'", "Rank Stranger", and we ended the set with a gospel medley of "I Saw the Light", "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", and "I'll Fly Away". They gave us quite a nice bit of applause before we took a short break.

After stepping off stage, we all agreed we were happy and relieved that things had gone so well and had a glass of water after stepping outside into the courtyard for a few minutes. Kevin advised that we back away a little bit from the microphone because it was overdriving the system a little bit. That's a problem I have had for many years. Since I grew up playing and singing into a dynamic microphone, like an SM58, I never had to worry about overdriving the system and it was business as usual to be an inch or closer to the mic. With the larger diaphragm condensers, they are so sensitive that it's fine to stand a few inches or more away from them while singing and they'll pick up everything just fine.

We didn't plan out the whole next set because by that time were were confident we could pull it out of our back pockets. We played for another 30 minutes or so and ended up with a short version of "Orange Blossom Special" and invited the crowd to a reception with coffee and some snacks.

We were pleased to meet so many folks who hadn't seen much bluegrass and the responses were all very positive. I felt great that we had been able to pull it together and bring a good show to many folks who had never seen bluegrass live. When we had shook and howdied till all the folks left, we cut a trail back to the house, where I was happy to get back and relax.

The next day we went back to the church and met up with some of the folks in the choir who were having a picnic and we followed them out of town a little way to one of the congregation's lovely home and picked for about twenty minutes, had a good lunch, and sold about ten CDs. Since I do so much live streaming from my shows in Nashville I was happy to have a good number of 5X7 cards with all the contact information on them in case they want to tune in sometime to the show. We met a lot of nice folks and then cut out about an hour before we needed to be at the airport. We dropped Shad off at the Delta terminal and had good time visiting with Keith before catching our flight back to Tennessee.

So now, about 30,000 feet above probably somewhere like Kentucky or southern Pennsylvania, I'm writing this blog to share with you another adventure in the life of a bluegrass musician. We were able to rely on the core base of the music we all knew to put together a good show, pretty much on the fly, and spread the good gospel of bluegrass to Greenwich, Connecticut. I hope we can come back to pick again!

Murphy Henry

As you have probably figured out from the lack of blogs coming from me, I am still in Nashville helping Casey take care of little Dalton. (Who is cute as a bug in a rug, of course!) But last night I ventured out of the house to play a gig with my son, Chris.

Chris had told me he was playing on Saturday night at The Five Spot so I had told him I’d love to come down and watch since the show started early (8 pm) and only lasted for an hour. (I had to get back to take the night shift of Dalton watching so Casey could sleep some.) Chris then asked if I’d like to bring my banjo and get up and play a number or two. Sure, I said, since the gig seemed informal and the band seemed to be a pickup band. Then, just as I had settled down for my afternoon nap Chris called again and said that there really wasn’t a banjo player available and did I want to play the whole hour. I asked two questions: Did he think I would fit in with the rest of the players? And would they be playing standards? He said yes to both so I said, Okay, I’ll do it.

Fortunately the Five Spot, a local, funky East Nashville bar, was not too far away and I had actually driven in that area earlier in the week as I made what seemed to have become a daily grocery run to some grocery store or other. (Shout out to the Turnip Truck which has a great selection of organic food. And one of the Turnip Truck stores is right across from the Station Inn!) I called Chris on my way over and told him to meet me outside the bar and escort me in. (And carry my banjo….er, Casey’s banjo which still has a tone ring and is heavy as all get out especially with that Calton case!) I figure now that I’m a grandma someone else can carry my banjo!

We arrived way earlier than anyone else which gave Chris time to eat a sandwich before we started. As the band he had assembled came meandering in one at a time I was introduced to all of them: Brad Folk, the guitar player and singer who used to play with the Colorado band Open Road and now plays with the Warrior River Boys; Adam Chassin, the bass player and singer; Matt Raum and Lauren Faks on fiddles. Brad was kind enough to say that he had seen my Murphy Method ads in Bluegrass Unlimited for years and was happy to finally meet me. There was absolutely nothing in his demeanor or speech that caused me to think this but whenever I am playing with people I don’t know (especially ones who know of the Murphy Method) I always feel like I am being graded or challenged or judged: Can she really play? (I’m sure some people would say that’s because I judge other players so what goes around comes around! All I can say is I’m working on being less judgmental!)

But truly the vibe was laid back and friendly and, as Chris would say, “all good” especially since there was no money involved and everyone was just doing this for the fun of playing. (And the band-discounted beer!) (Note: no beer for me! Driving and on baby watch!)

In true Nashville fashion, there was no rehearsal, no talking about the tunes we would play. We tuned up individually and stepped onto the stage. Chris leaned over to me and said, “Can you kick off 'Brand New Road Is What I’m Traveling On?'” (Which is a Reno tune that sounds like 'Lonesome Road Blues'.) “Do you want me to sing tenor?” I asked. He nodded. “Okay, what are the words?” He refreshed me on those and I stepped up to the mike and kicked it off. (Or maybe he kicked it off. I can’t quite remember!) It felt great to be playing again.

Murphy with Chris playing at the Five Spot

Murphy Henry, Chris Henry, Adam Chassin, Matt Raum, Brad Folk, and Lauren Faks at the Five Spot

We did an hour-long set, with each band member taking a turn calling the tune. I chose "East Virginia Blues" and when I stepped up to the mike to introduce it I said, “This is the first gig I’ve played as a grandma! My daughter Casey just had a baby!” The audience (about 30 people) applauded enthusiastically.

Other songs we did included:

Sitting On Top of the World (Brad)

Toy Heart (Brad)

Daybreak in Dixie (my suggestion)

Walking West to Memphis (Chris)

Old Joe Clark (Matt)

Cherokee Shuffle (Lauren)

Kentucky Waltz (Adam)

Meet Me Out On the Mountain (Chris)

A Webb Pierce number which I think was More and More (Brad)

Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms (by guest fiddler David)

Love’s Gonna Live Here Again (Brad)

We closed out with Rawhide which was fast as…..the dickens! And then Chris sped it up! And then he sped it up again. At which point I couldn’t even vamp so I just quit!

When we walked off the stage a guy came up and said he’d like to buy the band a round of beer. I would have loved to have taken him up on it, but as I noted before, I had “promises to keep and hours to go before I could sleep.”

When I got back to Casey’s house about 10 pm she was just putting Dalton down. I climbed in bed beside his crib and Casey went down the hall to sleep in my bed. He stayed asleep (with one short rocking interlude) till 2 am, when Casey came in to feed him. At which point I headed to my own well-earned rest! I awoke seven hours later to a brand new day to spend with my brand-new grandson. Life is good!

Murphy Henry

As you probably know, playing banjo is not always fun. What keeps me—and most of us professional players—going are those few shining moments when we are IN THE ZONE.

Being in the zone means you are firing on all cylinders, you are tight with the band. When you’re in the zone the music seems to flow from your fingers and you can’t play a wrong note. It doesn’t happen often.

One of these shining moments happened to me at Mid-West Banjo Camp a couple of weeks ago when I was playing at the faculty concert. Ken Perlman, co-director of the camp with Stan Werbin (of Elderly Instruments), encourages the teachers to ask other musicians to perform with them and this year I asked the great fiddler Byron Berline to play "Sally Goodwin" with me. His first response was that he thought he might play "Sally Goodwin" himself. Okay, says I, just let me know. (In the meantime, I’m feeling a little embarrassed at having been so bold to ask him to play "Sally Goodwin", a tune he recorded with Bill Monroe!)

I decided to do a couple of singing songs instead. So, the next day at lunch I asked Byron if he’d feel comfortable playing on a couple of easy vocals, 1, 4, 5 progression, no rehearsal. And, much to my surprise, he said, “We can do "Sally Goodwin" if you like.” I said, “You didn’t decide not to do it yourself on account of me, did you?” [Like he would! Duh!] He said, “No, I’m gonna do something else.” I said, “Great! Key of A? No minor chord?” (I was teasing him a little there, as well as indicating I was doing it straight. Just like Earl.) He asked if I was going to have any other players and I immediately dropped the idea of us doing it as a duet and said, “Yes, I’m gonna ask David Grier to play guitar and Tom T. Ball [that’s his name, seriously!] to play bass.” I’d never played with either of them, but I know David and know how good he is and I had been impressed with Tom’s bass playing on stage the night before. They both said yes.

I hadn’t planned on doing any rehearsing since it didn’t seem right to ask Byron to rehearse a tune he’d played 50 million times AND recorded with Monroe. But as it turned out, when I arrived in the “green room,” David Grier was sitting there with his guitar so I asked him if he’d warm me up on Sally Goodwin. And, oh my gosh! I knew what a great lead player he was (IBMA Guitar Player of the Year three times) but I had no idea how wonderful his rhythm playing was. We fit each other like a glove. And then Byron and his fiddle showed up, along with Alan Munde, Bill Evans, and Tom T. Ball. They were going to rehearse their numbers. But before they started I asked Byron if he’d mind going over "Sally Goodwin". He graciously said yes and asked if I was going to kick it off or did I want him to. I said I would. (Just like Earl, of course!) He wanted to know the arrangement. I said, “I play, you play, David plays, I play, you play, David plays, I play and end it.” He said, “So David and I take two breaks and you take three.” I said, “If you want to think about it that way, yes.” He laughed. That’s one thing that made playing with these incredible musicians so delightful. Everyone was so loose.

So I did Earl’s two introductory pinches and away we went. Tom T. held back on the bass for some reason so I leaned over, while playing, and said, “You can come in any time now.” I was that relaxed. When Byron added a little bit of Bill Monroe’s tune Scotland to his break, I was grinning from ear to ear. I’m sure he’d done that many times before, but it was totally unexpected to me and I loved it! Our playing sounded great, I had hit a good rhythm, and Byron even commented on it after we finished. “That was a good speed,” he said. Yes!

We played the tune through one time and quit. We all knew what we were supposed to do. (We also ran through my singing song "East Virginia Blues", which I sang with Janet Beazley and Kathy Barton Para but that’s another story.)

Then I had the great fortune to sit and watch Bill Evans rehearse "Deputy Dalton" (an Alan Munde tune) with Alan Munde and Byron. Bill’s and Alan’s twin banjo break was in perfect sync. And both of those guys are such great players, it was a pleasure to hear them play. Then Byron ran through his tunes, the instrumental "Oklahoma Stomp" and "Fiddle Faddle", which, to my surprise, he sang. (It was a funny song about playing the fiddle and how easy it is! Not! He did some intentional squeaking.) I suppose I could have become unnerved by all this incredible music and talent, but for some reason I didn't.

After they were done Byron said, “Now if we can only do half that well on stage.” How true, how true.

We then walked over to the performance hall, and waited in the wings (we could see the stage) for our times to play. Bill played first, then Byron, then someone else, and then I was on. Bill, who also doubled as emcee, gave me a lovely intro, saying “The first thing you need to know about Murphy is, she is always right!” Thank you, Bill, for admitting that publicly! (I later told my class that even though I am always right, Bill Evans knows everything!)

Byron Berline, Tom T. Ball, Murphy Henry, and David Grier

Byron Berline, Tom T. Ball, Murphy Henry, and David Grier (Photo from

I had decided to do "East Virginia Blues" first, to sort of warm up. It is also in the Key of A, so I wouldn’t have to move my capo. (And neither would Byron.) I noticed then that I was playing pretty well, hitting the licks I was going for, and getting good, solid tone. Then Kathy and Janet left the stage and I introduced "Sally Goodwin". “Here’s an old-time fiddle tune that Earl Scruggs played, 'Sally Goodwin'!” I did my two Earl pinches and we were off. Once again, I hit that perfect speed, and David Grier was playing perfect rhythm guitar and Tom was right there with him on bass, so all I had to do was sit on top of all that steady rhythm and play the banjo. And, buddy, I flat-out played it! I was sitting on top of the rhythm and sitting on top of the world!

I didn’t try anything fancy, just played the same "Sally Goodwin" break I’ve been playing for years, the same one I’ve been teaching Zac, the one I worked my butt off to learn, the one I learned wrong to begin with because I didn’t understand Earl’s timing in the high B part, the one I had to give up playing “just like Earl” because my hands never instinctively understood those notes he used to connect the high A part with the low B part. That’s something I never learned to “hear.” Casey, on the other hand, heard it and played it easily when she was learning the tune. So I had to get okay with the way I played the tune. And that night I was totally okay with it. I was so okay with it that I was able to sit back and let my hands do the playing leaving room for my brain could think a little more about pulling good tone and staying in perfect time with my great rhythm section. I could sit back and enjoy my own playing! Wow!

And of course having Byron over there on the fiddle was simply awesome and I’m sure my good playing was pretty much in direct response to how excellent and smooth his playing was. He also brought a lot of energy to the stage but it was supportive energy, not spotlight stealing energy. He was supporting me, and boy did that feel good. David Grier was the same way. Each time he finished his guitar break he looked over and gave me the nod to start my break, making that little connection that means so much. There was no “hot-dogging” by either Byron or David. They played good, solid versions of "Sally Goodwin", which complemented my no-nonsense version of the tune. I’m sure if I had played a wilder version, they would have stretched out and played wilder, too.

I believe we played it as well on stage as we’d played in rehearsal. Maybe even better! (I only hope no one puts a video of us playing up on YouTube because I don’t want to have my illusions shattered.) I received some extremely nice compliments from two other banjo players when I came down from the stage. Both said, “I’d like to play some tunes with you!” High praise!

I’ve been floating on this high for a couple of weeks now. I suppose the euphoria will wear off in time, but the memory of playing "Sally Goodwin" with Byron Berline and being in the zone will remain. And I am so grateful for that experience and for those three minutes of pretty-much-perfect music. To paraphrase slightly: “Don’t let it be forgot / I once stood in a spot / For one brief shining moment / And it felt like Camelot!” Thank you, Byron, thank you, David, thank you, Tom T. Ball, and thank you Earl!

Casey Henry

I know y'all have been waiting for a report on Lynn's show on Sunday. Sorry it's taken me so long to write about it. I had to drive back to Nashville all day on Monday, and then yesterday was largely taken up by teaching and writing my Banjo Newsletter article for June (which will also be about Lynn's show, BTW). So now, before I leave the house to go down to my part-time day job (working at a dentist office), I finally have time to tell you how great Lynn did.

The crowd fairly buzzed with anticipation prior to her set. She played at 4:00, the next-to-the-last set of the festival. I got the feeling that most of the crowd was just there to see Lynn. (And I didn't envy the Boxcars, who had to play after the 15% of the crowd that remained.)

The Lynn Morris Band on Stage

The Lynn Morris Band on stage: Jesse Brock, Tom Adams (hidden), Lynn, Marshall Wilborn (behind Lynn), Ron Stewart. I was truly sorry that I forgot my camera so all I have are poor-quality iPhone pictures. See the links at the bottom of the post for some better shots!

When the emcee introduced the band, the crowd gave them a standing ovation. They kicked off the set with a fast banjo instrumental, just as in days of old. But the audience was really waiting for Lynn to sing. The next tune, "I Wish It Would Rain," gave them what they wanted. Lynn and Marshall start with a duet on the chorus and after the first line, applause erupted. Everyone was SO HAPPY to hear Lynn sing again!

The rest of the set was a classic LMB show:


Gonna Have Love

Mama's Hand - Lynn dedicated this song to Hazel Dickens, who wrote it. Hazel passed away last month. "Good woman. Great spirit. This song's for her," Lynn said.

Old Rip - Lynn pulled out the clawhammer banjo for this original tune. Her right side was quite damaged by her stroke and I could tell that she'd been working really hard on her banjo playing. She even started to tell the story that goes along with the song. "I lived in Texas," she said. "They have horny toads, and I like 'em!" Marshall finished out the tale, which tells of the horny toad for whom the song is named, who supposedly lived for 80 years in the corner stone of a small-town courthouse in Texas. Before she kicked off the tune Lynn said "Slow!" and indeed it was slower than she used to play it, but it sounded great at that speed. Jesse Brock gave Lynn a great big hug after it was over and it was a feel-good moment for everyone!

It Rains Everywhere I Go

If Teardrops Were Pennies

Sweet Dixie - Bill Emerson, one of the truly great banjo players in bluegrass, got up to play one of his original tunes. For the last couple of years Lynn has been running sound at Bill's shows. "He's my boss," she said.

Spay Your Pet - This is a very cute, quite funny public service announcement the band did for the SPAY/USA. You can hear it here (scroll down to the middle of the page and you'll see a little blue box with the player right above it) and order a copy here.

Black Pony

Wrong Road Again - This was their last song and before it Lynn said, "You know I had a stroke, but I'm LIVIN'!" and affirmed what we could all see, which was that even though she's not, and may never be, back to where she was pre-stroke, playing music is something she still loves to do and it makes her happy.

Can't Stop Me From Dreaming - This encore song is a banjo and bass duet. Earl Scruggs recorded it years ago, and Marshall recorded it on his Root 5 album. It was great to hear it again.

Overall the show was truly great. It takes real courage to get up and perform in front of a big crowd that expects a lot, especially when you can't execute everything to your previous level of perfection. But Lynn has always been strong and determined and those same qualities have carried her through her stroke recovery.

Here are some links to other media coverage of the show, with better pictures than mine!

Northern Virginia Daily - This is a good article and has several great pictures of Lynn, Marshall, and a couple of their cats.

The Bluegrass Blog - Nice little article and some good pictures from the show.

John Rosenberger, the executive director of the Apple Blossom Festival, said that he thought Lynn's return to the stage was "incredibly moving," according to the Winchester Star.

Bluegrass Virginia Blog - Also with some nice pictures from the show.

Lynn Morris Band Facebook page - in case you want to drop Lynn a note.

Lynn's Clawhammer Banjo DVD (Vol. 1) - Because everybody should have one!

Casey Henry

I'll be the first to admit I've been terrible about blogging lately! I've had so much going on that sitting down to write about banjo teaching keeps slipping my mind. But I really wanted to make sure you all knew that our The Murphy Method's favorite clawhammer banjo teacher, Lynn Morris, will be playing a set at the Apple Blossom Bluegrass Festival this weekend!!

She's playing a special one-time only reunion appearance with members of her old band: Marshall Wilborn (of course!), Jesse Brock, Ron Stewart, and Tom Adams. She hasn't played publicly in years (since suffering a stroke several years back) so this really is a chance you shouldn't miss. She'll do one set at 4:00, but you'll probably want to come and watch all the bands, which include Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, the Boxcars, and Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice.

To give you some idea about how excited I am about this: I'm driving to Winchester to see her play. That's ten hours each way, and that's the ONLY reason I'm going! (It's just a bonus that I'll get to catch the new season of Doctor Who on BBC America on my parents TV Saturday night!)

Hope to see you there!

I just wanted to share a picture with all of you. This was taken when Chris and I went over to a Frank Wakefield concert at Garrett Park, Maryland, several weeks ago. I had no idea this photo existed until a day or two ago, when I found it on Frank's Facebook page. Click on the pic: you can see, we were having quite a time. Or, to "talk backwards" and put it in Wakefield-ese, Frank and "Leeroy" and "White" didn't play no music. We didn't have no fun. And you can't see it right in this picture!


Red Henry

Folks, I haven't blogged yet this week, and there's a good reason: You, our Murphy Method customers, have responded so well to our ongoing telephone sale that I haven't had time in the morning to even write a few paragraphs. If you are looking for a gift for your Murphy Method family member, remember our special price of 4 DVDs for just $75.00! Murphy Method DVDs are a great Christmas gift for yourself, too! Take a look on our site to see what you'd like to order, and call us toll-free at 800-227-2357. The sale runs for 8 more days, until Saturday, Dec. 13th!

Our band (Murphy, myself, Christopher, and Cousin David) is going out this afternoon to play the first of this year's Christmas parties. This is a large party held at a local church, and we're looking forward to playing music. A good time will be had by all!