Our friends over at the Bluegrass Blog were kind enough to post a little account of Casey's Opry gig with a couple more pictures. Read about it on the Bluegrass Blog here.
Casey looked poised and wonderful, attired in a new wine-colored top with black pants and white Doc Marten boots with pink flowers, and she played as if she’d been born with a banjo in her hands. The group did two songs on the first Opry show, “Lone Cowboy” and “Carolina in the Pines,” and two on the second, “What Am I Doing Hanging Around?” and “Fiddlin’ Man,” and Casey was accorded long banjo breaks on each number. Breaks which she nailed to the wall with her fancy Kel Kroyden banjo.
After her first break I applauded and yelled frenetically as did the guy sitting next to me. When the song was over he turned to me and said proudly, “I take banjo lessons from her.” And I said, even more proudly, “I’m her mother!”
Perched next to me on the other side was my oldest friend in the whole wide world Sharon Ramsey. Casey’s father and brother, Red and Chris, were booked at a festival in Florida that day and couldn’t make Casey’s show so I called up Sharon and said casually, “Wanna go to the Grand Old Opry Saturday night to hear Casey play?” Her answer? A resounding (and extremely satisfying), “YES!” Sharon and I grew up in the same neighborhood in Clarkesville, Georgia, and went through high school together. We were a little like Mutt and Jeff. And still are. She is tall and blonde, I am short and dark haired. (It is still mostly dark!) She was almost as excited about Casey’s Opry appearance as I was. In fact, when we made the obligatory pass through the gift shop before the show she bought Casey a coffee mug with a picture of the Opry house on it and the name “Casey” emblazoned across the top.
We couldn’t stay for the second show as we had to hit the road back to Chattanooga, where Sharon lives on top of Lookout Mountain and where I was spending the night. By 12:15 a.m., after picking up my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, we had just about reached Sharon’s house. We were both listening to the Opry on the radio and Michael Martin Murphey had just taken the stage. Sharon was leading the way and without any prompting from me she pulled over in the empty parking lot of a school. I came up alongside of her and rolled my glass down. Through her own open window she said, “I was afraid we’d lose the signal by the time we got to the house.” So we sat there, side-by-side in our cars, and listened to Casey play. And twice we heard these melifulous words coming over the airwaves. Coming from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Coming out of the mouth of Michael Martin Murphey. “Folks, that’s Casey Henry on the banjo!” And sitting there on top of Lookout Mountain were two old friends, grinning from ear to ear.
I have to blog fast, as here in Nashville we're in the middle of a long line of big thunderstorms, lots of lightning, and I'm taking advantage of a short lull to write and post this. Don't want my computer to get zapped! So, it appears that the Opry this Saturday night will NOT be broadcast live on GAC television network. They're showing some Keith Urban special concert thing instead. Pshaw! Who wants to watch him instead of old country stars anyway? I'm assuming they will tape it for broadcast at a later date, but that's only speculation on my part. I'll let you know if we find out anything about when it will air. Of course, you can always listen to it on the radio (WSM 650AM) or online. I'll be on the 8:00 and 11:00 spots (that's 9:00 and 12:00 eastern time) playing banjo with Michael Martin Murphey. I should have some pictures to post after the fact and I'll Twitter about it as I go along.
I think I forgot to mention this in my post Wednesday, wait let me check. Yep. I forgot. We're playing on the Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour on Monday, April 6th. You can catch it on your local NPR station if they have it, or you can watch it streaming online. It starts at 6:55 p.m. eastern time.
Quite a music-filled few days!
Yes, that's right, folks. You read that headline right. I get to play on the Grand Ole Opry, for the first time ever, this Saturday, April 4th. I'll be playing banjo with Michael Martin Murphey. We're doing two spots, one on each show. We're definitely playing on the televised spot, which is 8:00 central/9:00 eastern. The second show we're on at 11:00 central/12:00 a.m. eastern. The full lineup and schedule is posted on opry.com. We're also playing on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree after the Opry.
You can tune it all in on WSM 650AM or listen online at opry.com. The TV portion comes on the GAC network.
I'll be playing my Casey Henry model Kel Kroydon banjo. (I mention this because I've already been asked once and I know all you banjo-y people want to know.)
We'll be doing songs from his new CD Buckaroo Blue Grass, two songs on each spot, and both the songs, incidentally, do have banjo breaks in them.
I hope you can tune in!
Someone suggested to me, as I was getting ready to film the new Easy Songs DVD, that we do a video solely on backup. Of course, vamping is the first step in any banjo backup and we do have a video on that. There are some difficulties inherent in teaching more advanced backup. For one thing, in order to move beyond vamping, you have to be able to hear your chord changes absolutely cold. You can't spend one second of time thinking about the changes if you're also going to be thinking about doing backup licks at the same time.
For another thing, backup, by its very nature, is improvisatory. There is no set order in which to use backup licks. It's more like there is a pool of licks and you have to be able to tell which one is the appropriate one to use in each situation, and you have to make that decision very quickly. But to teach the licks you have to teach them in the context of a song, so it's almost necessary to make up an artificial "backup break" to a specific song so the student can learn both the licks and how they are used. [This topic is sounding familiar. I think I wrote a Banjo Newsletter article on it last year.]
But, all those difficulties aside, that idea is rattling around in my head and I'll no doubt refine it throughout this year as I teach as workshops and camps, and with my live students. Chances are you'll eventualy see a backup DVD in our new releases.
In the last couple weeks, with two of my more advanced students, we've been looking at a particular backup lick that Earl uses sometimes. It's found on medium-to-slow tempo songs and is done with two-finger chords on the first and second strings way up the neck. (Here is where tab would come in handy. I could just show it to you and say--this lick!). One thing I sometimes have trouble with is finding the perfect example of a lick I want to teach. It can be a lick I use all the time, yet I'm not sure what song it came out of originally. For these backup licks I actually found three songs, which I'll share, first of all so that you can go listen to it, second of all so next time I want to teach it I can come and look and see what songs I used!
1.) "He Took Your Place" - The lick comes in on the second verse, 1:08 on the counter. This is the earliest example, from 1955, which was pre-dobro in Flatt and Scruggs, so you can hear the banjo really well.
2.) "On My Mind" - Earl uses the lick in the second half of the chorus, starting at 1:08, and again at 2:29. Now there's dobro in the band and therefore less banjo backup.
3.) "Crying My Heart Out Over You" - Two short uses here at 0:53 and 2:18.
One of my students is playing in a banjo contest this evening. First prize is $200, so he's really hoping to win. This is not the first contest he's played in, and I think he'll do pretty well. Yesterday at his lesson we worked on his contest numbers: "Big Tilda" and, if he needs a second one, "Whitewater." We were working on "Flint Hill Special," but the contest rules said no tunes that use Scruggs tuners, so that one had to go.
I'm not a big fan of contests. I played in two of them when I was younger. At the first one I took second place, which I was satisfied with. At the second one I didn't place and, in my humble opinion, the people who won were not better players than I was at the time. That was my last contest.
One reason I don't like contests is that the judging is so often biased. The local favorite often wins, and the judges often know some of the contestants. The only really fair way to run a contest is with blind judging---that is, when the judges can't see the contestants and the players have numbers rather than using their names for identification. That's the way the prestigious Winfied Kansas contests are run (I judged the banjo category one year) and I believe that to be the best way.
But my student is, to some degree, part of a group of kids who see each other at different contests, and his band is playing in the band contest at this same event. I think that's probably the way to go into contests---go to have a good time and see your friends, jam some, and if you win some money, that's an added bonus. Because music, first and foremost, is not about competing, it's about entertainment and social interaction, and if you forget that, it's not much fun at all!
Yesterday I got back from an extended weekend trip up to Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland, primarily to teach a workshop at the Wilmington Winter Bluegrass Festival. It was a three-hour-long session on Saturday. Since anybody at the festival could come, we had a wide range of abilities---from beginner to advanced intermediate. That's always a hard split to negotiate. Almost by default you have to teach to the middle, so the material is going to be too fast for the beginners (something I always feel terribly about), but the more advanced players may already know it (something I also feel bad for).
But I think (I hope!) most of the attendees went home with something that they can use, something that stuck in their brains. I mostly used material that is found on our new Easy Songs for Banjo DVD, showing the students the high break to "Blue Ridge Cabin Home," and a back-up roll to go with the same song. Then we took that break and moved it to the key of C (without a capo). Then, in the last hour, we worked with "Amazing Grace." I showed them the two breaks on the DVD and then, in an inspired moment, I realized that you can take those breaks and move them around to almost any key, since they are based on the four-finger vamp chords and use no open strings. So we moved the break to A, B, and F, and people mostly got it.
I got some positive feedback about the workshop afterwards, but one beginner did come and tell me he was lost after the fist five minutes. Hopefully he'll get the DVD and be able to go through the material more slowly.
Today my student Kyle came for his lesson. Kyle is sixteen and I've been teaching him for almost seven years. He's turning into quite a good player and he's recently joined a band with some other young pickers, something I've been telling him he needs to do for at least two years. Being in this band is stretching him in just the ways I hoped it would. There is a girl in the band who does some singing, which challenges Kyle to play songs in alternative keys, like "Head Over Heels" in D.
At a recent gig she sang "Sunny Side of the Mountain," which they had practiced in maybe A or B---a key where he was playing the break out of the standard G-position. Just before performance time, however, they changed it to D, which meant he either had to capo up to the seventh fret or find a new way to play the break. He chose to capo at the second fret and play out of C-position.
He said he had just cobbled the break together, but he played it for me at the lesson today and I was delighted to hear that he was playing melody! All those breaks I made him learn in C, all the improvising and making him pick out his own breaks to songs, as painful as it was at the time, really did sink in! We tweaked it a little bit to get a hair closer to the melody, but the break that he came up with all on his own was excellent. I was so proud!
...and listen to the music in the air. So goes the classic John Hartford song. This weekend, Saturday night to be specific, if you turn your radio on to 650 AM (or log onto wsmonline.com) at midnight Eastern Time, you can hear myself (Casey) playing banjo on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree with Michael Martin Murphey. The show is an hour long, and I don't know how much of that time we'll spend playing, because there is a lot of advertising that goes on--maybe five or six songs throughout the hour. But it will be nice to know there are some friendly ears out there listening! [And I do realize the show is technically on Sunday morning as it is after midnight...but not here in Nashville!!]