Tag Archives: christmas



Decorations by Dalton's direction!

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
a banjo in a pear tree!

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
two mandolins and a banjo in a pear tree!

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
three violins, two mandolins, and a banjo in a pear tree!

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
four good guitars, three violins, two mandolins, and a banjo in a pear tree!

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
five.....doghouse......basses! Four good guitars, three vi'lins, two mandolins, and a banjo in a pear tree!

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me:

12 jammers jamming

11 singers singing

10 tuners tuning

9 Dobros dancing

8 vampers vamping

7 chunkers chunking

6 cloggers clogging

5 doghouse basses

4 good guitars

3 violins

2 mandolins

And a banjo in a pear tree! (Hope it's a Stelling!)

Ten years ago when Casey and Chris were living in Nashville, struggling along as musicians without much ready cash, they decided to record a Christmas album for their family. After a couple of practices to decide which songs to include, the two of them gathered around Chris's computer in the living room of his apartment and laid down eight tradtional Christmas carols (instrumentals) and one Stanley Brothers' Christmas song with Chris on guitar and Casey on banjo.

The relatives loved it. (Murphy got tears in her eyes.) There were no plans to ever release this album commercially. Except for family and friends, no one has heard it. Every Christmas when Murphy first listens to it she calls both Casey and Chris to tell them how much she likes it and how good it is. (And she still gets choked up!)

When trying to think of a present for our customers we remembered this album. It has never been sold. The ONLY way to get this CD is as part of this free gift promotion. We thought it would be the perfect way to say "Thank You" to our students for sticking with us and keeping us in business all these years!

Every order this week (Dec 7-13, 2014) will include a free copy of the Casey and Chris Christmas album. Physical orders will get a CD in the package. Download orders will receive an email with the audio files.

Murphy Henry

As Tex Logan so aptly put it in his classic song, “Christmas time’s a-coming and I know I’m going home.” And today Red and Christopher and I will indeed be heading down to Georgia to spend Christmas with my dad. Casey will drive down on Christmas Eve so we’ll all be together. And that’s a good thing because this will be our first Christmas ever without Mama. I know it’s gonna be hard.

Christmas Tree

The Henry Family Christmas Tree

Mama really got into Christmas and one of the things she did was bake this amazing pound cake which she then iced with white frosting and decorated with a concoction of corn flakes and green food coloring held together with melted butter and marshmallows which, when spread on the edges of the cake, looked like a holly wreath. Especially when she added red-hot cinnamon candies for berries. She not only baked one for us, but she baked one for numerous people in her church and community. I wish I had a picture to show you. It was gorgeous.

But the pound cake we all really remember the best is the one that fell! Mama took it out of the oven and plop! Down went the cake, imploding in on itself while still in the pan. Well, Mama was raised in the Depression and she never, ever let food go to waste! Quick as greased lightning she whipped up a confectioners sugar icing, spooned the cake into bowls, poured the icing over the still-warm cake and handed us spoons. Yummy! It was the Best Cake Ever!

One other Christmas Mama story. When we were kids, Mama and Daddy would take the five of us girls to Rich’s department store in Atlanta to see Santa Claus. This was a Very Big Deal because Atlanta was a two-hour drive from Clarkesville back then. We always went on a Thursday (Daddy’s day off from doctoring), we got out of school just after lunch for this Special Occasion, and we always had to wear Good Clothes. Which meant dresses. No pants. Yuck.

So one year Mama had made us these little black flannel cowgirl skirts with little flannel boots, and guns, and cowboys hats stitched onto them. They probably had red fringe, too, but I couldn’t swear to that. I think there were only four of us that year, Laurie not being born yet, so that meant I was six, Claire was four, Argen was two, and Nancy was seven months and in a stroller.

Can you imagine transporting four little girls for two hours in a car to a Big City and then getting out—with an old-fashioned clunky stroller—and herding us all into a gigantic department store? With escalators? To say the least, Mama was a little frazzled. Even though Daddy had done the driving and was there to help.

Three cute little girls all dressed alike in flannel skirts attracted some amount of attention. So when a lady came up to us and teasingly asked Mama, “Where’s YOUR skirt?” all she meant was “Where is your matching flannel skirt?” Mama, however, had a moment of shear panic as for several long seconds she was absolutely sure she had failed to put a skirt on at all and was standing in Rich’s Department Store in her slip! Fortunately, being a Steel Magnolia, she rallied, realized the woman was just joshing, and made some chatty remarks. But that is a story that went down in Family History. I even put it in a song. (Unrecorded as of yet.)

We’ll all sure be thinking of Mama this Christmas. Thanks for letting me share these memories with you. It helps.
Hope all your Holiday celebrations are wonderful.

Casey Henry

Last night my friend and bass-player-extraordinaire Missy Raines and her husband Ben Surratt had a caroling party at their house. I bet you thought no one went caroling any more didn't you? Well, Missy loves caroling and for the last few years has organized a bunch of her friends and gone to a few houses on her street to sing carols. This is the first year I've been in town for it, and I was excited because although I've sung plenty of carols in my time I've never gone door-to-door.

Missy provided lyric sheets and candles with little paper muffin cups around them (with a hole cut in the cup so it was snug around the candle and kept the wax from dripping on your hand). We bundled up and set out, first stopping at the house across the street. The lady who lived there came to the door with her grandson, who had bare feet, so he hovered just inside the threshold. Then she picked him up and kind of held him on her knee on the outside stoop so he could see better, but then he started crying. A good start to our caroling!!

There was no one home at the next three houses on our tour. That didn't stop us from singing to their front doors, though! The fifth house definitely had someone inside, but she wasn't coming out. Her two dogs barked and stood on their hind legs to look out the window in the door, but she didn't even look out. We could see her walking around inside, however she was having none of it!

Two more empty houses got serenades, but we really wanted to end on a high note. Finally we hit a house that had people who were willing to come and listen! The couple came and stood on their porch and the woman even had a Santa hat on. We gave them two songs, since they were so into it: "Silent Night," and "Joy to the World."

With that success under our belts we retired inside for mulled cider, cheese, chocolate, and other finger foods of varying healthiness. (My own contribution was Strawberry Bread.) A lot of eating, a lot of talking, and a little picking followed, and we all went home that night full of good Christmas Cheer!

Casey Henry

Today is a snow day here in Nashville. Schools are out not because we got a lot of snow (maybe two inches) but due to ice on the roads. I did not go down to the dentist office where I work part time for the same reason, but stayed home in the hopes of keeping my car (and myself!) damage free. It’s not that I don’t know how to drive in snow. Growing up in Virginia I had plenty of occasions to practice that. But Nashville drivers are absolute imbeciles in the snow (and the rain, for that matter). I heard that Interstate 40 was stopped for nine hours last night due to people sliding off the road. When it’s slick, SLOW DOWN!!

I was hoping to not have to leave the house at all, but I’m out of stamps, and I have DVDs to mail out. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail will stop The Murphy Method from getting your lessons to you! So I’ll wait for the sun to melt some of the ice off the roads and then I’ll venture out to the post office. At this season I try and tell myself that standing in long post office lines is one of the special fun holiday things that I look forward to doing every year, like eating Trader Joe’s Peppermint Bark. Sometimes that works.

This post has nothing to do with banjo playing, but some posts are just like that, I guess. OH. I’ll refer you to my Christmas Music on the Banjo post from last year two years ago. And also this one, which has the link to the You Tube video of Earl playing “Jingle Bells,” which is a must-listen every year. That should fulfill my banjo content requirement!

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.
. . . . .

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 you may have noticed, we have been rather recalcitrant about blogging this week. Call it the Christmas ho-hums. And it’s not really ho-hums so much—we’ve all got plenty to do—but it’s just that our various schedules are still in interruption mode. Which is wonderful because Red’s mom is visiting us from Tallahassee and Casey is here from Nashville. So we’ve been busy doing things with them, which lives little time for blogging.

I will mention that on Christmas Eve, David McLaughlin had his annual open house, which we have turned into an annual picking party because we don’t know how to behave at a “regular” party where you might have to actually talk to people...about something other than bluegrass! So we hide behind our instruments and this makes us happy and in general pleases most of the people at the party.

Red, Casey, Chris, Jenny Obert, David Himself, Gerald Crowell, Logan, and I rendered tunes for about three hours with no stopping other than the obligatory nature calls. Casey was playing her fretless, nylon-string Fielding banjo which provided a novel element (in a good way!), Logan outdid himself on my Stelling banjo, David played mostly fiddle and a little bass, Red and Chris played mandolins, Jenny played fiddle, and Gerald and I played guitar. I was perfectly content to play guitar, because that enables me to sing more, which seemed like a good thing that night.

My favorite jam sessions feature the old, moldy songs generally from the Stanley Brothers, but it seems like we hit quite a variety of numbers. It’s been several days since the party but I do remember these:

Please Papa Don’t Whip Little Benny (sung by Casey)

Daddy Frank

I Don’t Want Your Rambling Letters

East Virginia Blues (which sounds just like Rambling Letters so we didn’t do them close together)

The Prisoner’s Song

Beautiful Star of Bethlehem

Christmas Time’s A-Coming

Sally Goodwin (so Logan could practice it)

Cumberland Gap (which Logan mixed up with Sally Goodwin, of course—everybody does it)

Cripple Creek (which sounded great on the fretless banjo)

Traveling the Highway Home

Better Get in That Number

I’m Going Back To Old Virginia (sung by Casey and Chris—it’s a number David wrote and they recorded)

Rank Stranger

We ended with Beer Barrel Polka followed by Old Spinning Wheel, for which I took over on banjo

Robyn, Logan’s mother, asked for Blackberry Blossom but, of course, I wouldn’t do it. Later, I told her that the type of jam session we were in made BB inappropriate. So Robyn later asks, “At what type of session would it be appropriate?” Casey immediately says, “One that Murphy’s not at.” I had to protest, but only a little bit, because that is partly true. But on another level, to me, each jam session that’s really rolling has its own flavor, and we were doing old singing songs. Of which Blackberry Blossom is not one (to use good grammar....I think!). Besides, Logan didn’t play it. It just didn’t have the right energy. Besides, it was too early for me to go get a beer, which is what I usually do when BB surfaces!

All in all, a good time was had and we went home and nestled all snug in our beds. And, sure enough, Santa arrived sometime during the night! And we had a glorious time opening presents the next morning! Hope you got everything you asked for. I know I did!

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

'Tis the season when I start trying to remember all the Christmas tunes I know how to play on the banjo. Some work quite well bluegrass-style. Others not so much. The most common, by far, is "Jingle Bells," which lays great on the banjo. I posted this link last year, but I'm posting it again, because it is so great. Here's Earl on YouTube playing "Jingle Bells" with some other pickers who aren't so shabby, either. It's a fabulous version because he plays a straightforward melody, yet he's also got some really, really cool rhythmic licks going.

Since there are not really any standard banjo versions of Christmas carols, you can do pretty much anything you want with them. I figured out really easy arrangements of "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" for a custom lesson student a couple months back. They're not so much Scruggsy versions as bare-bones melody versions, but they're very doable for a beginning student. When I play them for myself, though, I'd probably fancy them up considerably.

I'm currently working on "Greensleeves," also for a custom lesson. I've always loved the melody, but never thought to play it on the banjo. Turns out it's very simple, but it's challenging to make it sound a little fuller without skyrocketing the difficulty way beyond the advanced student level. That one should be done next week and if I can get a decent recorded version I'll post it for y'all to hear. I'm doing it in A minor.

On the subject of recorded Christmas music: last night I was listening to a Gusto Records compilation CD called "Christmas Country Style."  (That link leads to iTunes.) It has several cuts by Jim Eanes on it and on every one of them I remarked to myself, "Wow, I really like that banjo playing," or "Now that's a good banjo player!" I had to call my mom to ask who played banjo with Eanes and I found out it was none other than Allen Shelton. There are a couple clunkers on the disc, but it's totally worth the $8 it costs on iTunes. It also has one of my favorite bluegrass Christmas songs, the Stanley Brothers' "Christmas is Near."

Murphy HenryFirst: Christmas Gift! As we say down in Georgia. (Since I said it first, that means you each owe me a gift!) Also, Happy Hanukkah, a joyful Solstice, and hope you’re having the best holidays ever, no matter how you are celebrating. (And I know my friends in Portland are celebrating with snow and ice! Thinking of you, Patty and Claire!)christmas tree 2008

Now, just a quickie, so I can get on with unwrapping my presents!

Today I want to revisit the gargantuan task of learning to hear chord changes and the pitfalls of COUNTING the number of beats of G, C, or D. (Instead of learning to hear the changes by ear.)

The unnamed culprit, he of the pointy picks (which I am happy to say he has abandoned!), came in yesterday and played a bee-yoo-ti-ful, flawless version of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” So, since there wasn’t any further work to do on the break, we moved to the vamping.

The first two times we played it through, the vamping was perfect. But as we continued to play, the vamping completely fell apart. At first I couldn’t figure out what in the world was wrong. How can a person go from precision vamping, with all the changes in the right places, to staying in the G chord too long and changing to C at the wrong time?

Then, like a lightening bolt, this thought occurred. “Are you COUNTING?”

Sheepish grin. “Yeah.”

“BUSTED! You lost the count, didn’t you?”


“That’s why counting doesn’t work. If you lose count, you are....well, you’re in a pickle!

So, we went back over the song with him not counting, and honestly, it wasn’t that hard. I mean, you’ve only got three chords and he had vamped to other songs before. If you get lost, you just go back to G and stay there. Everything always comes back to G!

As he and I discussed later, you can’t possibly memorize the chord changes to all the songs you’re gonna be playing. You just have to learn to do it by ear. One song at a time. I can pretty much promise that this works. And I can almost guarantee that counting doesn’t! So, if you’re a counter, make that leap of faith, go back to the two-chord songs, and start learning to do it by ear. In the long run, it’s so much easier!

Casey Henry

This is a post I wrote last year for the folks over at the Bluegrass Blog. This year our Christmas Eve will be sadly different, since there will be no party at Dalton's shop. We'll just have to party twice as hard at David's!

Christmas Eve for my family has always been about playing music. There is a close-knit bluegrass community in Winchester, Virginia, where we moved in 1986. Every year since then we’ve attended two parties on the 24th, and the day wouldn’t seem right without them. Dalton Brill is a local barber, banjo player, and, as one newspaper article put it, if the bluegrass scene was the Mafia, he’d be the Godfather. His barber shop brims over with food, music, and eggnog as everyone he knows drops in, musicians and non-musicians alike. There are people there I only see once a year, people who used to come every Wednesday to watch us play downstairs in the basement of that shop. And every year there are people we miss, who have moved on from this life to whatever lies ahead. We always pick a tune and have a drink for them.

After Dalton’s we move the party to David McLaughlin’s house where his wife Gay arranges a beautiful spread of seasonal goodies, on which we stuff ourselves before migrating to the other room to play some more music. David sometimes plays, sometimes doesn’t. Usually he’ll play guitar or bass. Sometimes he’ll flatpick the banjo or play snare. One year Tom Gray came, and that was great fun. When Bob Amos (of Front Range) lived in town he’d always stop by before going to the Christmas Eve service. We cherish the chance to all be together at the holidays, (Except for the year his kids gave us the stomach flu. I really wish he’d cancelled that year.) and we miss Lynn Morris and Marshall Wilborn, who are always in Texas with their families. As we drive back to our house full of Christmas cheer, through the luminary-lined streets of David’s neighborhood, we think of Santa making his rounds and hope that he won’t forget to stop at our house.