Tag Archives: casey

Red Henry

Response to yesterday's Murphy Method e-mail Newsletter has been terrific. Lots of people have ordered Casey's custom DVD, "Christmas Tunes on the Banjo", which teaches many popular numbers. We've also had many orders for this month's half-price DVD, "Great Banjo Tunes". Thank you all!

We've also had a lot of interest in our very first Murphy Method Banjo Camp, scheduled for late March. We often get inquiries saying "Where can I attend a banjo camp?", and now Murphy and Casey, two of the best banjo teachers anywhere, will be giving a camp right here in Winchester, Va. There are still some student slots remaining, so if interested, take a look at the details here.
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On another subject entirely, last night I did an extensive interview with a researcher who may write a book about Randy Wood, the pioneer (and still currently-active) bluegrass instrument builder who began making superb mandolins, banjos, and guitars way back in the 1960s. Since I have Randy's very first mandolin as well as #3 (a Bill Monroe mandolin, which Murphy bought from Bill's estate sale in 2001 and gave me), I like Randy's instruments a lot and was able to share many stories from 35 and 40 years ago, about Randy's pioneer work in making great instruments for bluegrass pickers to play.

Everybody keep picking!

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!)

Casey HenryThe gig I played last weekend with the Dixie Bee-Liners may just have spoiled me for all gigs for the rest of my life. The show was at the Suffolk (Va.) Center for the Cultural Arts, a very nice, new, beautiful venue in southeastern Virginia. I rode from Nashville with bass player Jeremy Darrow, departing on Friday in the middle of a monsoon-like rain storm. We spent the night at Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward's house in Abingdon, Va., where they treated us to a brilliant barbecue of grilled vegis, chicken, and smoked salmon. With the campfire afterwards, the only thing missing was s'mores. (I'll see what I can do about that next time!)

Buddy Woodward, King of the Grill

Here's is Buddy, king of the grill, and some beautiful peppers.

Jeremy Darrow

Here's Jeremy getting our post-supper fire started.

The next day (after a night spent on a surprisingly comfortable pull-out couch) we drove the seven hours to Suffolk, loaded in, sound checked, and were treated to some of the nicest backstage rooms I've ever seen. There was a large common room, separate dressing rooms for boys and girls, comfortable couches, and plenty of room for many more people than just us six. The nice folks at the venue had provided a lovely spread of fruit, chips, salsa, pickles, and sandwich makings, and in addition to that they fed us a nice dinner at the restaurant on the bottom floor of the building. I'm not sure any of us were very hungry after the snacks, but we felt like royalty.

The show went just fine, despite a notable lack of practice time. Unbeknownst to me the band had switched to in-ear monitors, which I don't have ear-pieces for, so I was the only one on stage with a monitor speaker pointed at me. I don't think anyone noticed. I was thrilled to get to visit with my college roommate Kristin Mullen at intermission and after the show. She lives nearby and came to see us play.

After packing everything up and loading back into the van we went a couple miles down the road to the Hilton hotel. It was truly one of the nicest hotels I've ever been housed in---comfortable beds, a recycling bin in the room (!). In the morning, before we loaded up the van, I took a walk in the Cedar Hill Cemetery across the road from the hotel. I love walking in old cemeteries and this one was lovely---hilly with lots of mature shrubbery and cedar trees, as you may have guessed from the name.

We hit the road with a vengance and fourteen hours later I was back in Madison. Long day, but a satisfying end to a smooth trip.

One more picture. On our Saturday drive we stopped at the White's Truck Stop exit on I-81 (one of my favorite exits). We pulled into Fuel City to "rest" and eat and their sign made me laugh:

Fuel City sign

After having it I can't really argue with their claim. It was pretty darn good.

Casey will be filling in playing banjo with the Dixie Bee-Liners this Saturday, May 2nd, playing at the Arts Center in Suffolk, VA. If you're near there, stop by and give us a listen!! Show starts at 7:30 p.m. and we'll do two sets.

Casey HenryI've just returned from leading a jam at Megan Lynch's adult fiddle camp. Jon Weisberger (on bass) and David Thomas (on guitar) co-lead with myself on banjo. I meant to take my camera so I could post a picture, but did I remember? Of course not.

We started out easy, with "Cripple Creek" and all the fiddles playing together, trading breaks back and forth with me and David. I even sang a verse or two. Next was a singing song, "Two-Dollar Bill," and again I had all the fiddles play at the same time and it sounded pretty good because almost all the players---I'd say there were at least eight fiddles---were going for the melody. This group was solidly intermediate. Not a one had timing problems or got lost during a break, and almost everyone could improvise by picking out the melody notes to a song.

Toward the end of the session we started talking a bit about being in a regular jam, that is, a non-learning-situation jam. One point we hammered home is that it's not cool to practice your break to a song during the song, for example, while the singer is singing, or during someone else's break. Once you get into a jam it is too late to practice! You're either going to play it well, or not, and nobody but you is going to notice or care, but your performance of your break is not going to be improved by running over it a couple of times while something else is going on. It distracts from what you should be paying attention to, which is the group and how the overall song is going.

One of the women was concerned about how to let the group, or the person leading a particular song, know that she wanted to try a break, especially if she had passed up a break on a previous song. It's all about body language. If you keep your head up and make eye contact with the person singing (or the person who kicked off the instrumental) they'll know you want to try a break. One point that Jon made was that if you're worried about being passed over, it's better to start in on a break, and then back off if you notice that someone else is also taking a lead, than to be a wallflower, always waiting to be coaxed into taking a break. That way, at least everyone will know you want a chance.

One other thing to keep in mind, though, is that if the jam is very large---say more than six or seven people---chances are that not every person will get to take a break on every song. It would take forever otherwise. And just because you don't get a break on one song, does not mean you won't get a break on any of them, as long as you do the eye-contact thing. It doesn't mean they don't think you're a good player, and it doesn't mean they don't like you. Remember, the jam is about the JAM! It's not about you. Whatever you can do to make the JAM better and and make the song sound better is the right thing to be doing.

Casey HenryOne of my students has been having right hand trouble lately. At first she thought it was a right hand position problem, so for months she worked on changing her hand position to one that would enable her to play smoothly. As the problem continued, though, we gradually realized it was not a position problem but a physiological one. She went to a chiropractor who discovered she had a pinched nerve in her neck that was causing the lack of control she was experiencing in her right hand. Since it takes months for that kind of thing to be treated, we were looking for alternative things to do until she sees physical improvement.

One of the ideas she had was to use a flatpick instead of fingerpicks. I was heartily in support of this idea. I have heard a banjo flatpicked Scruggs-style (by none other than David McLaughlin) and it sounds strangely cool. Two weeks ago I gave her a flatpick and we went through the rolls and a few of the beginning tunes ("Banjo in the Hollow", "Cripple Creek", "Foggy Mtn. Breakdown"). When she came back the next week she was playing with ease, albeit slowly. The strings on a banjo are pretty far apart compared to other instruments regularly played with a flatpick.

I realized that this would be a brilliant exercise for any student. You have to know your rolls cold in order to play all the same notes with a flatpick as you do with your fingerpicks. Try it. Play through "Banjo in the Hollow" with a flatpick (or your whatever your easiest song is) and see if you can do it. It sounds pretty neat and is a brilliant brain exercise.

Casey HenryFor your viewing pleasure, we've extracted another clip from the new Easy Songs for Banjo DVD. This one is the bloopers. Mostly, it's just me and Murphy cracking up.

Casey HenryLast night the girls in At Least We're Hot gathered here at my house to do a little picking. Officially there are six of us (myself-fiddle, Connie-banjo, Julie-banjo, Kelley-guitar, Myrna-mandolin, Janice-bass) but each time we get together we never know for sure who will be able to make it. Last night's combination of people---Kelley, Janice, Connie, and me---resulted in my being the only lead instrument. Connie is working up some breaks on her clawhammer banjo and so far she plays "Angelina Baker" and "Old Joe Clark". Outside of that, every break was a fiddle break. That suited me just fine! And it was really good practice. In between our Hottie jams I normally don't pick up my fiddle so whenever we pick is the only practice I get. I found out it makes a huge difference to my muscles whether I'm just playing one break and then passing it on to someone else vs. playing four breaks in a row on a tune like "Soldier's Joy." Stamina really comes into play.

The same thing is true when you're practicing by yourself at home. That's why it's important to play your songs or tunes multiple times in a row. If you just play it once or twice through, you're not giving your body the time to build up its playing muscles, its stamina and endurance, which are all things that will help your playing in general.

Casey HenryOne of the comments on Murphy's last practice tip hinted at today's post. And, in a way, this is the same tip as #9, only a different aspect of it. It all comes down to practicing how you are going to need to play. If you're going to have to play in a public situation where you are standing up---be it at a jam or at a gig---make sure you have practiced all your songs while standing up! When you stand up the whole angle of the banjo changes; you can't see your hands as well. You need to practice what that feels like.

There was an instrumental, a fiddle tune, one of the bands I used to play with performed. My banjo break was almost all melodic-style, which is not my forte. I practiced it a lot at home, but invariably when I played it on stage it would sound tentative or shaky, even it I didn't make any actual mistakes. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why that was, until one day I realized I always practiced it sitting down, but always played it standing up. After I started practicing it standing up my performance of it improved greatly!

Casey HenryI'm fresh back from my trip to Lexington, KY, to play on the Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour with Michael Martin Murphey. A mere hop, skip, and a jump from Nashville, the three-hour drive was made less fun by rain, sleet, and snow in a slow but constant pace. Troy Engle (fiddle) and I rode up with Pat Flynn (guitar) while Mike Bub (bass), Ryan Murphey (guitar), and MMM each drove up separately. The show is in the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington. I'd played it once before in August of 2002 with Uncle Earl, but we, apparently were in the larger of the two theaters in the building, so nothing looked familiar. I took my camera, meaning to get some pictures, but did I remember to? No.

The show is very laid-back in feel, but sticks to a rigid format. The host Michael Jonathon does the opening song, then the first guest (MMM) does two songs, separated by a short interview, then the second guest (Tom Rush) does two songs, again separated by an interview. The second half repeats this order, minus the host's song.  We played "Lone Cowboy," "Carolina in the Pines," "What Am I Doing Hanging Around," and "Fiddlin Man." Mike Bub had never played with MMM before, and had just made chord charts for all the songs on the CD the night before. Despite the fact that we didn't even run through all the songs before the show, he nailed everything like a true pro.

I'd never heard of Tom Rush, but I really liked his songs. Especially one called "The Remember Song," which is really big on YouTube. They fed us a nice meal before the show, and afterwards Troy, Pat, Michael, his road manager Charles, and I went out for a drink with Michael Jonathon. The show put us up at a nice bed and breakfast and we drove home this morning, incredibly, after seeing it snow! In April!

Woodsongs is syndicated to nearly 500 radio stations, a good many PBS TV stations, and it is even shown on a big movie screen once a month in New York City. The show is archived here, so you can go listen to it or watch it any time!