Tag Archives: birthday

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I just ran across this old picture of Ralph Stanley with all five of the Hicks Sisters, so I thought it would be appropriate to post it on Ralph's birthday, which also happens to be the birthday of my sister, Argen. She's the first sister on the left, followed by Claire, Laurie,  Nancy, and Murphy. In birth order, left to right, it's 3, 2, 5, 4, and 1.  Yes, I am the oldest of five girls. No boys in our family! 

five sisters and Ralph

Argen, Claire, Laurie, Ralph, Nancy, Murphy

This photo was taken at the Apple Blossom Bluegrass Festival right here in Winchester, Va., probably in the late 1990s. The Hicks Sisters were making a rare stage appearance, possibly in support of our all-gospel cassette, With Sweet Accord. We hope to one day get that recording transferred to CD because there is some really good gospel harmony singing on it. And some really tasty mandolin playing by Red. ...continue reading

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

Happy Birthday to You,

Happy Birthday to You,

Happy Birthday dear Earl,

Happy Birthday to you!!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today is the big day, Earl's birthday. Born in the year of '24, that makes him 86 and still going strong. I thought it would be a good time to pause and reflect where we would be without Earl. Without Earl, Don Reno might have ended up as Bill Monroe's banjo player when he got back from the Army and bluegrass would look entirely different. Would it even exist!?? Without Earl, Ralph Stanley might never have learned the three-finger roll. Without Earl I might have ended up becoming a doctor, like I had fully intended to do until I started playing the banjo. Heck, I might not even exist, since my parents met at a bluegrass festival! Yikes. So let me say a big huge thank you to Earl for everything that you did and continue to do. The world is a better place for having you and your banjo in it!

So tell us, loyal readers, where you you be without Earl?

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

As I write this blog it is Sunday, January 3. This is an auspicious day in my life and Red’s too, because this is Casey’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Casey! You can see the picture of the birthday cake I made her, brown sugar pound cake with cream cheese icing, hand decorated by moi, as you can probably tell!

Casey's wonderful, banjo-rific birthday cake, made and decorated by Murphy.

Casey's wonderful, banjo-rific birthday cake, made and decorated by Murphy.

This past week, when Casey was home with us, she came into my office and said, “Guess what?” Without waiting for a  “what?” she started singing, “Next Sunday, darling, is my birthday...” She’d just realized that this year, that great old Stanley Brothers song fit the occasion. How cool is it to have a daughter who appreciates stuff like that and knows the words, too?

She is currently down in Georgia doing her weekend with her grandparents and has planned a lovely birthday supper for which she will try out Julia Child’s recipe for baked chicken. My sisters Claire and Argen will provide a veg and homemade rolls, and Rita, who is one of the angels who helps out with the ‘rents, has supplied her fabulous pound cake with caramel icing, a birthday surprise for Casey. She’s almost got enough cakes for a cake walk!

On the music front, my friend and fiddle sister Patty had picking party last night. This time I took my fiddle and was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t totally suck, since it’s been a while since I’ve played anything other than Christmas carols on the devil’s instrument. Logan was there with his banjo, and again he acquitted himself well, although there were plenty of tunes he still needs to learn including:

Gold Rush

Soldier’s Joy

Remington Ride


Turkey in the Straw (optional)

Actually, he did pretty well on the first half of “Rawhide.” Since it’s in C, I told him to capo up to the fifth fret and play the break to “Lonesome Road Blues” through twice. He totally grokked what I was saying (to use a Heinlein word), and then I asked Red to come in on the second part which has lots of weird chords. (I wasn’t strong enough to carry it on the fiddle, although I was pretty proud of what I did on my own break! Go me!) Logan thought the second part sounded really hard, but I told him it wasn’t. Rudy Lyle took the most amazingly awesome break on the bridge, consisting of two up-the-neck chord positions and a bunch of slow backward rolls. Piece of cake. I can’t wait to show it to Logan.

The other folks in the jam like to do a lot of contemporary material including “Welcome To New York.” I told Logan he didn’t have to learn that. They have also been known to play “Caravan” and “Little Rock Getaway,” both of which are optional in my book. (Read: I can’t play ‘em!) Of course my hope for Logan is that he surpasses what I can do on the banjo and learns all these tunes and more. (Like Reno’s kickoff to “I Know You’re Married.”) Casey has already done this, and I am so proud of her.
In honor of Casey, here’s a little song rewrite:

This Sunday, darling, is your birthday

A day that should be free from care

Best wishes and congratulations

From both your parents way up hyear.

We both sang happy birthday to you

I knew a smile was on your face

When we hung up, I hope it stayed there

And nothing sad would take its place.


(Georgia typeface!)

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Just got the last dish put into the dishwasher after Red’s birthday party this afternoon. It was a picking party, of course. We don’t know how to have any other kind! What do you do at a party if you don’t play music? I played banjo all afternoon and one of my fiddle sisters, Charlotte, said several times that it sure was nice to hear me picking banjo for a change! (I took that as a compliment on my banjo playing and not a reflection on my fiddling!)

Our friend Scott Brannon came over and I had the BEST time singing with him. He also plays a rock-solid guitar which makes it really fun to play banjo. He’s a very genial kind of guy and most often lets me pick the songs for us to sing. So, naturally, I suggest as much Stanley Brothers as I can think of!

We did Riding On That Midnight Train, How Mountain Girls Can Love, If I Lose, and Hey, Hey, Hey. Then since those weren’t morbid enough Bobby Van and I did Sweeter Than The Flowers. Along with the non-Stanley and not quite as pitiful Mary Dear.

Other tunes we did included I’ll Go Drifting With The Tide, Kentucky Girl, I Want To Be Loved But Only By You, Pain In My Heart, Little Girl In Tennessee, I’ll Never Shed Another Tear, and East Virginia Blues, which Red and I did as a duet with Pete Kuykendall (General Manager of Bluegrass Unlimited) adding the baritone part, which he does so well. Instrumentals included Salt Creek, John Hardy, Wildwood Flower, and Foggy Mountain Special.

Logan was in on the picking, too, and he did great. We played some of the tunes--Shucking the Corn, Bluegrass Breakdown, and Old Joe Clark—fast as all get out and he hung right in there. He also took break after break to tunes he’d never heard before. But was he satisfied? No, he was not. He said, “All my breaks sound alike.” I said, “What did I tell you, Logan? You need to start learning to pick out more melody, then your breaks will all sound different.” “But I can’t do that,” he whined. “Yes you can,” I replied. “No, I can’t,” he insisted. “Get the duct tape,” said Bobby.

The only thing that irritated me was that I could NOT get my banjo to stay in tune. In fact, after we played through Shucking the Corn, Scott told me, in the nicest way possible, that I was about half a fret off! HALF A FRET! Luckily, Scott and I have a long-time playing and tuning relationship and I know he hates it when our third strings don’t match perfectly, so I didn’t mind one bit his saying that. And since my ear was apparently not as keen as his was today, he helped me tune it by saying “sharp” or “flat” or “close enough” while I eased the strings up and down. Those wires are deader than a doornail, deader than Scrooge’s partner Marley (to use a timely metaphor) and they will be coming off soon.

David McLaughlin came in later on and he and Scott teamed up to do some duets such as Don’t Cheat In Our Home Town, Talk Of The Town, and several others whose names escape me at present. David is one of my favorite lead guitar players and I could have sat there a long time just listening to him and Scott. Then for some reason David wanted to pick Lamp Lighting Time In The Valley as an instrumental—in D—so we did that. It sounded pretty good!

Then Scott had to leave so we closed out with an excellent rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” I think our version is patterned after Reno and Smiley’s so in one line of the chorus we have echoes after almost every word: Saints (saints), go (go), march (march), ing (ing) in......That is so much fun! I nodded at Logan to take a break and he nodded back with a terrified look “No!” and I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” and he took a fine break.

We still had birthday cake to eat and more food to nibble on, but the picking part was over. Years ago we might have picked till after midnight, but as the poem says:

Mary swallowed a little watch

Now the watch is gone

Mary walks along the street

Time marches on!

Indeed it does!

Happy Birthday, Red!

Murphy HenryYes, indeed, folks, today is the day I share my birthday with my dad, Dr. L.G. Hicks, Jr. Or vice versa. He first saw the light of day in1925; I scooted out in 1952. I've always liked that reversal of numbers. Although I was raised (just like corn) in Clarkesville, Georgia, my dad's hometown, I was actually born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, birthplace of the great Don Reno. We were there because Daddy was doing his internship preparatory to moving back home to open his own practice.
He was surely one of the last of the old-fashioned General Practitioners, a real, honest-to-goodness country doctor who, in my lifetime, still made house calls and even treated patients who came to our home.

I've been in Clarkesville this whole weekend, spending time with Mama and Daddy, and we will be having our birthday supper tonight. I've already given Daddy my present, a song I wrote for him that starts off "Born on your birthday, in South Carolina / You were just 27, and a brand new M.D....".

I can't tell you how proud I've always been to share birthdays with my dad. It made me feel special. (And with four younger sisters, every little bit helped!) Mama always baked us two cakes. Daddy's was usually a pound cake and mine, something chocolate, often with M and M's on top!

Those of you who read liner notes closely may know that for most of my young life I had planned on being a doctor, just like Daddy. (When I was feeling especially pious--usually after a summer revival--I wanted to be a medical missionary!) But my plans were derailed by a higher power when, deep into my third year as a pre-med student at the University of Georgia in Athens (go Dogs!) I went to a show at a small club called The Last Resort and heard folk singer Gamble Rogers perform. Pretty much from that point on my medical aspirations went spiraling down the tubes as I spent most of my time playing my 12-string guitar, learning Gamble's songs, performing as a folk singer myself, hanging out at the Last Resort, driving long distances to hear Gamble play, and finally, attending my first bluegrass festival (at Gamble's suggestion) where he introduced me to a friend of his, Red Henry.

If my dad was disappointed that I chose music over medicine and picking the banjo over delivering babies, he never said a word.

So, if you'd like to wish us a happy birthday, you know that Casey, our super web manager, has made it really easy to post comments at the end of each blog. I would like nothing better than to hear from some of you and I'll be sure to share your comments with my dad!

Murphy HenryToday as I write this, January 21, is my mama’s birthday. She is 84 years old and just as cute as she can be with her snow white hair and her still beautiful complexion. She’s not as tall as she used to be (who is?), but she can still play a mean game of Scrabble and Chinese checkers, neither of which demands a great deal of height!

Mama was my introduction to music, as many mothers are, rocking and singing me to sleep when I was a baby. Of course, I don’t actually remember that, but I saw her do the same thing with my four younger sisters, and I figured she’d had to learn it somewhere, which was by practicing on me!

What did she sing? Songs that were popular in her youth: “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O-O,” “Missouri Waltz,” “Three Little Fishes” (with that wonderful line “boop, boop, didem, dahdem, whatem, choo!), “Shine On Harvest Moon,” and our all time favorite, one that started out, “There’s a little cabin where the honeysuckle twines....” (Casey recorded that as a banjo instrumental on her CD Real Women Drive Trucks.)

She also sang kids songs like “Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch,” “Billy Boy,” “Bye O Baby Bunting,” “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain,” “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad,” and “Rock-a-By Baby” (which I never liked, what with the bow breaking and the cradle falling). And since we were raised Baptist, “Jesus Loves Me” was also hot on the charts, and was the first song I learned to sing.

Singing has always been a big part of my life and I attribute that to Mama. She didn’t play an instrument but she sure seemed to know a lot of songs. When she was sick just before Christmas, my sisters and I all gathered at the house to be with her, and we entertained her (and ourselves) by singing for her. We were trying to pull out all the old songs and in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned we sang tunes like “My Gal’s a Corker, She’s a New Yorker,” “K-K-K Katy,” “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” “Jesus Loves The Little Children,” “Reuben, Reuben, I’ve Been Thinking,” and “My Tall Silk Hat.” And all the Christmas carols we could think of.

So, I guess there’s no real point to this, other than to say thank you, Mama, for inadvertently pointing me in a musical direction. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, OLD PIE!

Casey Henry...well, the title may be a bit of an exaggeration, but he was there, and on stage, while they were singing "Happy Birthday" to me, and that's something that's not likely to ever happen again in my life, so I thought it was deserving of mention.

Saturday, January 3rd, was my birthday. To celebrate I went to lunch with my friend Megan Lynch and then we went to see the movie "Milk", which was great and amazing and wonderfully acted. (Also in the crowd at the theater were Tim O'Brien and his wife Kit Swaggert, their son Joel and Joel's girlfriend.) In the evening (after watching my new Dr. Horrible DVD twice, once without commentary, once with) I ventured out to the Station Inn to watch Jeff White, Mike Bub, Charlie Cushman, Michael Cleveland, and Jeff Gurnsey play two great sets of music. They had used my van to go to a gig in Indiana the day before and somehow knew that it was my birthday. (It couldn't have been because I managed to casually work it into conversation at every available opportunity...)

Jeff, Mike, and Charlie all play with Vince Gill, who came down to the Station after his appearance on the Opry that night. He was on stage for their second set and around midnight, when they pointed me out and got everybody to join in on the birthday song, he may have sung along, too. I couldn't really tell, but I like to believe that he did. Quite a satisfying way to top off a birthday night.

I also ran into Tim O'Brien at the Station. He played on the second set as well. He pointed out that we were among the very few people in Nashville who would both go see "Milk" and go to the Station Inn on the same day!