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Murphy Henry

So, Marty came for his Marathon Lesson, and as I mentioned, I arranged for some of the other students to come pick with him for an hour or two. Zac, Logan, Chick, and Bobby all showed up, bless their hearts, and we had a fine time. Four banjos and two guitars with Bobby switching to bass on songs he didn’t play a lead on.

Speaking of that.....when we started in on Blue Ridge Cabin Home I asked Bobby if he could play a lead guitar break. (He’d already taken a lead to Cripple Creek and I Saw The Light.) He said no, but he had a smirk on his face, so I figured he was, as we say up here, “storying” to me. I called him on it and said, “Play a lead anyhow.” So he did, having learned down through the years that it’s best to just do what I tell him. (If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.) He, of course, wasn’t satisfied with his playing because it wasn’t perfect but I thought he did a good job.

Shift your thoughts now to Zac. Zac has been working on his singing lately, so he’ll have something besides instrumentals to play at his nursing home gigs. I am flabbergasted that a teenage boy, who has not previous to this been a singer, would be brave enough to learn to sing in front of an audience. I salute you, Zac! Knowing this, I offered Zac a chance to sing a song at the jam. He declined, gracefully, and I said, “Thanks for your honesty.”

Whereupon Bobby pipes up and says, “What about my honesty?”

To which I replied, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear.......” etc., etc. Which elicited a good laugh from him and everybody else.

And then there was Chick. We were playing Lonesome Road Blues as an instrumental, with everyone taking two pieces for their break (low/high, high/low, low/low, or high/high). We had established a pattern of taking two breaks each with Marty taking a third and last and ending the tune. Since it was his lesson. Well, when it came to Chick’s second turn, he took a high break and tacked on the ending lick. I kept the guitar going and said to him, “You can’t end the tune!” And then said, “You are so going to get blogged about!”

Later Chick said he hadn’t ended the tune on purpose, that his hands had gone into the ending lick of their on volition. I understood that, so all was forgiven. Sometimes your hands just do what they want to do. When you’re improvising, that’s great!

Logan, I must say, was playing exceptionally well. His playing has solidified in the last year and he’s doing all these really cool timing things that he is totally unaware of till I point them out. In the jam, he had added one additional note to Cripple Creek and it sounded fantastic. (Okay, okay. Here’s what he did. There is a pinch of one and five halfway through the A and B parts. Logan changed the pinch to two notes, 5 and 1, which made the first string a “bump” note [grace note] to the upcoming Cripple Creek lick. One tiny change which to my ear made such a big difference!)

And then there was Marty. In spite of what he will tell you, he played well. He can vamp consistently on the off beat now (a real accomplishment!), he can come into his breaks from the vamp, he hears the words to the singing songs in his head and can improvise to many, many songs.

The problem we ran into in the lesson was that Marty—who is a Very Good Boy--adheres too well to my rule “never stop playing, even when you make a mistake.” When I formulated this maxim, I was going on the assumption that the student would be aware of the mistake and could adjust and come back in. But what if you make a mistake and don’t know how to fix it? What if you don’t realize you’ve made a mistake? The end result is the same: you end up playing out of time. And believe me, nobody in a jam is going to adjust to you!

So after wrestling with this dilemma in my mind for some years, I’m thinking now that the best thing to do if you realize you are out of time is to stop playing (heresy!) and see if you can find a place where you can get back in. One easy place to come back in is the “tag lick” at the end of most breaks. And the only way you’re going to know if you are out of time is to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to the rhythm section. Make sure you are with them. This may take some time, make take some concentrated effort on your part, but in the end, it will be worth it. You might be able to play out of time occasionally in a jam (after all, your break only lasts 30 seconds or so), but in the long run, people are not going to want to play with you if you can’t stay in time. Timing is everything!

One more word about the jam. Zac and Logan, our teenagers, were so good about playing slow and vamping quietly. Good going, guys! I’m proud of you for that. Of course, I had to let them burn off some of that testosterone with a couple of REALLY FAST songs, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Earl’s Breakdown. Which they blistered! Bobby switched to bass for these, which helped keep us all together.

Final word: We played, we vamped, we sang, we laughed. A good time was had by all. One of my favorite songs from the Limelighters is called “Move Over And Make Room For Marty.” In which there is the line, “We’ll always move over for Marty...” Absolutely! You are most welcome at any of our jams, Marty! Come back soon!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Well, we really missed Bobby Vee tonight. No bass. We were baseless. Nevertheless, we—Mark, Ellen, Susan, Logan, and I--tried to carry on as best we could. (Am I laying it on too thick, Bobby?)

Since Bobby wasn’t here, however, Logan felt free to entertain us by sharing the disparaging thoughts he (Logan) used to have about the bass. You see, when Logan was younger, he had some timing problems on the banjo. So, we'd make him sit beside Bobby and the bass, hoping the steady thunk-thunk would help keep him on track. It did not. We know now, from what he said tonight, that he totally didn’t get it, that he thought the bass was a useless instrument since it didn’t play any leads!

Thank goodness Logan grew out of that! He now has excellent taste in bluegrass and tonight made me very happy when, at his lesson, he asked if I’d ever heard of the Vern Williams Band. Yes, indeedy. Logan had heard them on some computer music program (Pandora?) and liked them. I was able to go to my CD shelf and pull out a Vern Williams CD for him to listen to. I was also boastful of the fact that I knew Keith Little, who played banjo on the disc. This did not seem to impress Logan as it should have. Perhaps after he listens to the music....

The program tonight was as follows:

Cripple Creek (unison, then with breaks)

Boil Them Cabbage (unison)

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (Logan playing solo lead)

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (the group playing)

Old Joe Clark

John Hardy

Wagon Wheel

We did “Willow” twice to give Logan a chance to show off his fancy (and fast) version, learned from the Stelling Anthology CD. Logan volunteered that this number was a “break through” for him, because it was the first song he tried to learn—mostly on his own--from a CD. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, when he initially told me he wanted to learn “Willow” off the CD I told him no. I thought it was way too complicated. But when he came into the next lesson with part of it learnt, I had to relent. And he was off and running.

We finished with our theme song, “Wagon Wheel,” singing it with much gusto, and I declared that Old Crow Medicine Show would have certainly gotten Ellen and me up to sing with them if we’d been able to stay till the end of the concert. But, alas, we were too worried about staying awake on the two-hour ride home so we left early to avoid the traffic. Mark said that they were waiting for us to leave so they could safely do the song without us singing! (Ha, ha Mark!) And then we said that one day maybe Logan would be performing on that very stage, and that we would go see him, and that Ellen and I would be down front dancing. And then somebody said that that would embarrass Logan, and I said, yes, that would be the point.

And then we digressed into talking about a recent study that shows that drinking beer (in moderation, of course) helps to prevent osteoporosis. And then we segued into a discussion about whether it was ethical to put a sticker from a security company on your house if you didn’t actually pay for their services. But we decided we needed to save that talk for a time when we were building strong bones. See what all you missed, Bobby? And Bob. That’ll teach you to go on vacation!