Tag Archives: murphy’s misfits

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

It was a cold and rainy night here in the Shenandoah Valley, still and yet, four Misfits braved the elements to come pick and grin. Mark and Susan were on banjos, while Ellen played guitar, and Logan alternated between guitar and banjo. With me on the guitar, we sometimes had three guitars going which, as Mark noted, was kinda nice.

Our song list was:

Cripple Creek

Banjo in the Hollow

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

Earl’s Breakdown (solo by Logan)

Foggy Mountain Special (ditto)

Old Joe Clark

John Hardy

Salt Creek

Lonesome Road Blues

And, of course, “Wagon Wheel.” I spent part of my trip down to Georgia last weekend listening to Old Crow Medicine Show and trying to memorize the plethora of words, and tonight I was flying solo for the first time. Fortunately, Ellen knows most of the lyrics so when I faltered I looked at her to see what shapes her mouth was forming. We made it through in fine fettle! Then, wonder of wonders, Mark asked me if I could play the fiddle to “Wagon Wheel.” I said I could! Then Ellen asked if I could play the fiddle and sing at the same time and I said I could do that too! (Actually I’m not sure that I can, but having been ASKED to play the fiddle I wasn’t about to admit any weakness for fear of having the invitation rescinded.)

When Logan was playing his solo tune “Foggy Mountain Special,” at Ellen’s request, I was accompanying him on guitar. In the middle of the song he looks at me and says, “Take a break.” Well, I thought he was just being nice so I shook my head “no.” Then he said “please” with such a pleading look that I went right into Lester’s G run and tried as best I could to echo a few notes of Lester Flatt’s classic and perfect break. Mine was considerably less than perfect but the spirit was there!

As you might have noticed from the song list, we didn’t do any vocals. That was due to Bob Van’s absence. He did, however, call in with an excuse early this morning. I’m a little embarrassed to confess that I was just crawling out of bed when the phone rang at 8 a.m. I made the mistake of admitting as much to Bobby who said, “[Expletive deleted] It’s lunch time!” (I was trying to catch up on my rest after 20 hours of solo driving this weekend—that’s a little bit of an excuse, isn’t it? Plus that, I’m a musician!) But your bass playing was sorely missed, Bobby, along with your general redneck joie de vivre. (Yeah, I had to look the spelling of that one up, and have no idea how to pronounce it, but I knew it was the phrase I was looking for! What does it mean? Look it up yourself! I can’t be doing all the work here!)

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We had a new guitar student join the jam tonight which was fun. Cody is a delightful young man, age 20, who lives near me and has been taking lessons for about four or five months. (If you read my General Store column in Bluegrass Unlimited you will have seen a reference to his father, Elvis, who plows our driveway in the winter. What did we ever do without him?)

Cody was welcomed heartily by Mark, Ellen, Bob Mc, and Bob Van. Susan had to cancel at the last minute and was missed, and Logan was absent for the second week in a row and is now on probation!

In deference to Cody, I tried to choose songs that had easy chord patterns. (So, no “Banjo in the Hollow,” no “Cripple Creek,” and no “Old Joe Clark”!) Our set list was as follows:

Foggy Mountain Breakdown

Blue Ridge Cabin Home

I Saw the Light

John Hardy

Lonesome Road Blues

I’ll Fly Away

Then we did one of the songs Cody has been working on, “Folsom Prison Blues” in the key of E. (He’s a big Johnny Cash fan. He also wants to learn “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Jr., but I’ll have to learn that one first, myself.) We’ve never done anything in the key of E at the jam, so I quickly went over the vamping (move all the basic Key of G vamps backwards three frets) and told Ellen to capo up four and play out of C position. (Also known as “four C” to many bluegrass players.) Bob Van was really slapping the bass in the Johnny Cash style, which added a lot of pizzazz and authenticity to the song.

We closed out, as always, with “Wagon Wheel” which, unfortunately, has really quick chord changes. But, hey, it’s our theme song, so what could I do?

At one point in the proceedings, Cody asked if there were any flatpicks that were easier to grip, since he almost dropped his. (I told him that was pretty normal.) Bob Van whipped out a pick with a hole in the middle for Cody to try. At the end of the evening, Cody said he liked the pick pretty well and he guessed he’d go home and drill a hole in the pick he had. Got to admire a man who is comfortable with power tools!

There was much laughter all through the jam and a good time was had by all. And, perhaps best of all, Cody said he’d be back. We didn’t scare him off! We must be getting better!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

As you read this, Red and I are on the road, headed for Nashville and the IBMA World of Bluegrass where we will set up our Murphy Method booth at FanFest. (Friday and Saturday, if you want to make last minute plans to come see us!) Casey, as you may know from reading this blog and the Bluegrass Blog, is already there (since she lives in Nashville anyhow) along with my Fiddle Sister Patty Pullen who is staying at Casey’s house. Which is where we will be holed up also during the hours when we are not tending our booth!
Tonight (Thursday) Casey and Patty and I will be attending the IBMA Awards Show which will feature none other than Steve Martin! Also, the Dillards are being inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame and I’m almost as excited about that as seeing Steve Martin. (You may know the Dillards best from their appearances as the Darling Family on the Andy Griffith Show. The great banjo player Doug Dillard is also the author of “Banjo in the Hollow”!) I hope we’ll have some pictures to post on Friday!

Now, a word about the Misfit Jam. We had an observer tonight, a former beginning banjo student who has been taking some time off. He stayed for the whole hour so I figured he was enjoying himself. Mark and Susan acquitted themselves admirably on banjo, while Ellen, Bobby V. and I held up the rhythm section. We were having so much fun, especially when we played “Banjo in the Hollow” and “Cripple Creek” FAST, that I declared, “Who needs Logan?” (He had ditched us for College Night at the mall. Can you believe that?)

The quote of the night was from Ellen. She was explaining to our guest that this is a Misfit jam and said that tonight we had “a whole lot of misses and a couple of fits.” I said, “That’s going in the blog” and promptly wrote it down next to Jody Stecher’s picture on the front of Banjo Newsletter.

Ah yes, and the title, Grip Packed To Travel. That’s from the chorus of “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues”: My grip is packed to travel/And I’m scratching gravel/For that Blue Ridge far away."

As I write this, my grip is currently lying open and partially packed on the floor of my bedroom. Guess I’ll go throw a few more things in it, read a few pages about Jamie and Claire, and hit the hay. Oh, yes, and there’s supper to eat. I think I’ll do that first. Hope to see you in Nashville!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

While Casey and I were on our vacation last week, the Misfits got together again at Mark and Ellen’s house. Ellen was kind enough to file this report. Thanks, Ellen! My own editorial comments are in brackets.

What a jam we had last night! It ran the full gamut of human emotion. Well, maybe that's an oversell. There was lots of laughter. There were occasional outbursts: "I hate that song!" [That, I understand, would have been Logan...] And there were a couple of train wrecks. (There were, however, no visible tears.)

But there were also moments when we were all playing the same song at the same time, and it was glorious. And we clutched onto those sweet victories!

Bob V, on guitar last night, pretty much pulled us together (and, at times, that took a lotta pullin'!) passing breaks to the banjos— Bob Mc, Logan and Mark—then taking a guitar break himself now and again. Logan took a few guitar breaks, too. I was just happy when my guitar and I were playing the right notes in the background.

After running through the usuals—Cripple Creek, Boil Them Cabbage, John Hardy, Old Joe Clark, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, I Saw the Light, Foggy Mountain Breakdown—we ventured farther. Some of our experimenting took us to songs we'd tried a little at previous jams, like When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, Salty Dog, Circle, and Bury Me Beneath the Willow. But we also let loose on tunes like I’ll Go Stepping Too ("The Cat Song," as Bob V calls it), Your Cheatin' Heart (sung by Bob V magnificently), and Foggy Mountain Special (led by Logan and that purely tickled the whole group—we made him play it a second time). Concern was expressed that you would never allow us to gather again, since we strayed so far off the Murphy path . . . but we were bold and kept straying.

Several of us were feeling pretty rusty when we started, so the jam was valuable to get us playing and working out some kinks. The un-rusty ones kept us moving. Bob V capped off the evening singing Amazing Grace, because he knows I love that song (even though an unnamed person shared how he absolutely despises it). [Logan, again, I heard.] Thanks, Bob!

The "If I'd had a camera moment": Bob V and Logan turned to face each other (so imagine their two profiles), both of 'em full of attitude, expressing their opinions in their unique styles, smiling all the while.

It was a great evening!

[After reading this and hearing even more about the jam in person, when we got together for this week’s picking I felt compelled to ask Bob V if he wanted to lead this jam. He wisely declined....]

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Four students plus me means we had a quintet tonight. Logan and Mark were on banjos, Ellen was on guitar, and Bobby was on bass. Susan was on vacation, but Bob Mc was AWOL. (And after we’d done all that work on "I’ll Fly Away" so we could play it at the jam...)

The song selection was as follows:

Cripple Creek

John Hardy

I Saw the Light (on which Logan played his newly-learned guitar break)

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (Logan again on lead guitar)

Lonesome Road Blues

Salty Dog (so we could practice E and A chords)

Roll On Buddy

Shucking the Corn (so Logan should show off)

Wagon Wheel (we rock on this!)

And if this sounds like the jam is all about Logan, well, it’s not really but he did celebrate his 17th birthday Sunday and we’re just so happy he’ll still hang out with us!

Last week, Mark attended the “real” jam that Susan has written about, and I asked him to tell us all about it. Here’s what he has to say:

I went to my first "Fruit Stand Jam" on Thursday evening, and took my banjo with me—although I wasn't at all sure that I would take it out of the truck. When I arrived, about 7:30 PM, there were already roughly 30 folks listening to the music in lawn chairs, and a group of maybe a dozen musicians, all outside the building. And only one other banjo player, a teenager who joined for only one song during the time that I was listening. I was surprised that the players were facing the "audience" and kind of bunched together in a group rather than a circle, and realized that it would be very hard for me to position myself in the jam in a way that would allow me to watch someone with a guitar. And I didn't recognize any of the songs they were playing, so I just stood off to the side and watched and listened (with my banjo still in the truck).

After a few songs, I saw Red coming up with his mandolin, so I went over and talked with him a bit while he tuned up. His son Chris and Chris’s girlfriend Jenny (who plays fiddle) joined him, and they all went inside the building, a few other pickers and strummers floated in with them, and a second small jam ensued. This one seemed less formal, and folks were arranged more in a circle, so I got my banjo out and watched Chris, who was on guitar, for any chords that I could recognize. I was mostly "fake" vamping, since I didn't know a lot of the chords, but for the songs that were in G, C and D, I was right in there. It was a blast, although vamping standing up felt really weird the whole time—I need to practice that more. Just keeping time to the music felt good. And it was thorough enjoyment getting to listen to Red, Chris and Jenny play and sing. Ellen and I, along with Susan and Bill, had seen them all just the previous Saturday at Borders, and we all loved that "concert" as well.

I'll definitely go back again, but I'm looking forward more to our Wednesday night Misfit’s jam.

Where, I must say, Mark acquitted himself just fine, which included re-improvising a break to Roll On Buddy. Go, Mark!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We can hardly call this a slow jam anymore, since many of the songs are starting to pick up speed. Present tonight were Logan, Mark, Susan, and Bob Mc on banjos, Ellen on guitar, and Bobby on bass.

Songs rendered:

Cripple Creek

John Hardy

I Saw The Light

Salty Dog

Blue Ridge Cabin Home

Lonesome Road Blues

I’ll Fly Away

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (Logan solo)

Bury Me Beneath the Willow (Misfits & Logan on Lead Guitar)

Wagon Wheel

We warmed up in a slightly different fashion tonight. We played “Cripple Creek” through twice in unison and then, without stopping to regroup, played individual breaks, then reunited after that for one more time through all together and then ended the song with the “long ending lick,” which is what we are calling the two-part “shave-and-a-haircut” ending lick. We then did “John Hardy” in the same manner, and were ready for prime time!

The new song tonight was “Salty Dog,” which Susan is learning, and which Logan already plays. We went over the chords (G, E, A, D) and Susan acquitted herself very well on her first “Salty Dog” outing. Logan had forgotten the high break, but after hearing Susan play it, he jumped right on it.

Another highlight was hearing Logan play a lead break to “Willow” on the GUITAR. He’d picked out the break—just single notes—by himself. He had it all but the very last line. We’d gone over that earlier in his lesson, but it was a bit much to ask him to remember those notes under pressure. So I told him to play the first part, and that I would come in and play the last line. Sounded just like we’d rehearsed it!

We worked Bobby pretty hard tonight, calling on him to sing “Salty Dog,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Willow” in addition to his regular songs. I just assumed he knew the words. Which he did mostly. And he’s been in bluegrass long enough to know that if you don’t know the words, you just make something up. I will have to say I thought we had a pretty good duet on “Salty Dog.”

After a rousing rendition of “Wagon Wheel” (we sing it like we mean it!), we were done. During the usual milling around afterwards we had to listen to Logan complain about how awful high school is (he’s a Junior this year) while Mark is saying to him, “These are the best years of your life! Better enjoy them!” We all are agreeing with Mark, even though we know that Logan won’t listen to us anymore than we listened to any grownups. (“Grups” is what they called them on the original Star Trek in the episode that featured Michael J. Pollard. Bluegrass connection: I just saw Michael J. in the movie Bonnie and Clyde which was showing on TV a few days ago. This is the film, of course, that featured “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” And not just any old cut of FMB, but the original version done by Lesternearl and all the Foggy Mountain Boys. It is a classic!)

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!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Tonight we welcomed fiddling Suzi, whom I’ve blogged about before, to the jam. Suzi’s been taking fiddle for just over a year, and she plays lots and lots of hymns by ear. Lately, though, she’s been working off of our Beginning Fiddle DVD, learning some bluegrass songs. Suzi, bless her heart, was not raised in a bluegrass home, and thus has never heard the mellifluous cadences of tunes such as “Cripple Creek” and “Old Joe Clark.” But with her innate musical ability (she plays piano and sings) she’s been able to fairly easily learn all the tunes on the DVD. So, we played four of these tonight, all in the Key of A:

Cripple Creek
Boil Them Cabbage
Old Joe Clark
Amazing Grace

The key of A, you might recall, is the “correct” (or most usual) key for the first three songs I’ve listed. Amazing Grace, of course, is sung wherever the singer is most comfortable and we told Bobby that he would be most comfortable singing it in A tonight.

So the rest of the Misfits—Ellen on guitar, Mark, Bob Mc, and Susan on banjos—gamely put their capos on at the second fret and we played in A for most of the jam. I got the fiddle out to support Suzi, and I must say we turned in a lovely duet on “Amazing Grace.” She’d never, ever jammed before or even heard bluegrass played live, but she did swell. (Isn’t that a good word?) I hope you’ll come back, Suzi!

After she left, I got out the guitar and we did a few more tunes, but kept the capos on:

Wagon Wheel
John Hardy
I Saw The Light
Blue Ridge Cabin Home

We were sounding mighty fine, if I do say so myself. There’s something about the key of A. I would say more but I’ve got to make a beedoubleeedoubleareyouin before Tom’s Market closes! This Sunday, Ellen and Mark and I are going to see Old Crow Medicine Show over in Maryland. I can’t wait to join the throng in singing the chorus to “Wagon Wheel”:

Rock me Mama like a Wagon Wheel
Rock me Mama any way you feel.....

I think they do it in A.....

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We were back in the saddle at the Misfit Jam tonight but pickings were sorta slim. Bob Mc and Susan were on banjos, Bobby V (the artist formerly known as Bob Van) was on bass, and I was holding down the guitar.

We opened with "Cripple Creek" in G, playing in unison, but then I thought, “Let’s go to A since there are only two banjos to retune when we put the capos on.” So, to A we did go. And in that glorious chord (or key as some folks say) we did:

Boil Them Cabbage
Blue Ridge Cabin Home
Salt Creek (Susan soloed)
I Saw The Light
Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms
Old Joe Clark

I will point out that the key of A is the “normal” fiddle key for "Cabbage", "Salt Creek", and "Old Joe". And “singing songs” are done wherever the singer wants. Although I will have to say that A was stretching Bobby and me (or Bobby and I, as folks are wont to ungrammatically say these days). I was definitely straining for the tenor on the higher notes.

Funny things that happened: Bob Mc got lost in the middle of "Blue Ridge Cabin Home" and was out of sync with the rest of us. I stopped him to say, “Bob, are you listening to the rest of us?” His answer? “No, of course not!” Gotta give him credit for honesty!

Susan got a bit flummoxed in the middle of "Salt Creek" when she tried to put the ending on without finishing the song, that is, after the A parts. When that obviously didn’t work, she started to say something about it. I responded with, “Don’t talk in the middle of the song. Keep playing!” Which she did. We got the ending lick straightened out after the song was over, but the ever-supportive Bob Mc said that if he got a vote, he would always vote for talking in the middle of a song!

On the subject of capos, I pointed out that some folks I have picked with refer to the key of A as “two G.” Which simply means put the capo on at the second fret and play out of G position. Thus, the key of B becomes “four G.” When I was performing as a solo folk singer back in my college days, I used that same terminology on the set list I had taped to the side of my Yamaha 12-string guitar. I also used “two C” when I capoed up two frets and played out of C position. (Most folks would call that the key of D.) Made sense to me. But I always did have a strong streak of redneck in me. Or at least I like to pretend that I do!

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

[Editor's note: Last night when I posted this I missed the last three paragraphs that Murphy wrote. Sorry!! It's all here now!]

Just wanted to let you know that while I was away last week teaching at Augusta Heritage, the Misfits put together their own Wednesday night jam session. Here is a report from Mark:

We had a great jam session tonight. We played for over two hours, and had quite a group: Bob Van on bass; Josh Phelps, Bob Mc, and me on banjo; Logan on banjo and guitar; Ellen and our friend Ric Leobold on guitar; and Gaven Largent on dobro, banjo and guitar (direct from the Grand Ole Opry, where he played last week with Rhonda Vincent and her band, again!). A lot of noise in our kitchen, but an absolute hoot. It was great meeting and playing with Josh, and hopefully we'll be able to coax him back for more.

We did all the "regular" selections, plus Lonesome Road Blues as a singin' song (and as an instrumental), Circle, Little Cabin Home on the Hill, and we ended with Amazing Grace. We tried to talk Logan into singing Wagon Wheel with Ellen, but he was being shy and wouldn't do it, and no one else fessed up to knowing the words. I think everyone enjoyed doing Amazing Grace, which Bob V sang beautifully -- maybe we can add that to the Misfits’ jam sometimes? And Logan, Josh and Gaven showed off on Earl's Breakdown, really fast, while Bob Mc and I tried to keep up with vamping.

This is EXACTLY what I wanted to be able to do when I started banjo -- thanks for suggesting that we get together despite the absence of our Bluegrass Master.

PS from Josh to Mark after the jam: “After hearing those young guys pick, I hooked my banjo to my trailer hitch on the way home and burned whatever was left."

Note #1: Gaven is a young teen from around Winchester who has caught the eye of Rhonda Vincent. I saw him do a guest spot with her at last year’s Apple Blossom Bluegrass Festival. He is truly amazing.

Note #2: I started Josh on banjo about 15 years ago when he was a teenager. He stopped taking lessons when he went off to college, but he didn’t stop playing banjo. I’m happy to report that he’s recently returned for lessons. I was also surprised to find that he is now president of the Winchester Kiwanis Club. Red and I are playing a party for them this month and Josh will be sitting in for a tune or two!

Moral of this story: There are people out there to pick with! It’s just that somebody has to take the bull by the horns and do the organizing and the coordinating and the calling and the emailing. Oh yes, and the leading of the jam session. Somebody has to make it happen! What are you waiting for?