Tag Archives: 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!

RedSometimes picking sessions will end up with a shortage of one instrument or another, but sometimes you might have LOTS of some instruments present. This might mean complete musical confusion, but on the other hand, if the pickers know what they're doing, they'll all sound great. It was that way a few years ago at a picking party in Nashville, when we had four fiddlers all playing along:
Mark Wingate, Bob Forrester, John Hedgecoth, Murphy Henry

--from left to right, the four fiddlers are: Mark Wingate, Bob Forrester, John Hedgecoth, and none other than Murphy.

(The other pickers visible are Joe Forrester, his hands visible at far left; excellent banjo picker Sally Wingate, with her back to the camera; and our son Christopher, taking excellent leads on his Martin D-18. I was there, but out of the picture to the left.)

Now, in some jams I've seen, if you had four fiddlers playing at once, you might have to say that they were four too many. But not this time! Not only were all four of these fiddlers really good musicians, but also, they all knew just how to play in a jam, and when they all played together, it was a beautiful redneck string section in action. They sounded great.

Next time you have four of the same instruments in a picking session, just remember: they CAN all sound good together! But the players have to know what they’re doing!

Red HenryWell, yes, I did just plagiarize the title of an old Stanley Brothers number, but it seemed appropriate because we had a lot of good picking with friends and family during the Christmas season. It was a good thing too, because I was feeling a bit out of practice.

The Thursday before Christmas, Christopher and I attended a regular weekly jam session near Winchester. There were not a great many pickers but the atmosphere was nice and relaxed, and a good time was had by all. Cousin David was there playing banjo, and I gave him a hard time about his being hard of hearing (I think it goes with his hard head). I suppose he plays the banjo because it's the loudest instrument and he can hear it better than anything else!

Two days later, we drove over into West Virginia for an annual old-time picking party hosted by Joe and Samantha Hermann, two of the nicest folks (and best pickers) you could meet. Joe plays fiddle (along with lots of other instruments), and Sam plays hammer dulcimer, very well, too. We had a room full of a dozen or more players going through one great old tune after another, and the music was swinging. After an hour or two I suggested the "Old Time Yellow Rose of Texas". That's the best tune to get folks to dance that I know of. When we got well into it, some folks started dancing to it not just outside the picking room, but also on the second floor just over our heads---and the whole house started rocking!  A bit later, Sam sat down at the hammer dulcimer next to me. I started off "Pretty Little Dog", a number I'd learned from Sam and Joe. She really picked it up and ran with it, and that tune was well and truly played. Then we all launched into "Breaking up Christmas", the most charged-up version I'd heard. After three or four hours we had to say good-bye and drive back over icy roads, but the drive was worth it! Great party.

Christmas Eve, all of us attended the party given traditionally by Cousin David and his wife Gay. There was plenty of good food and drink, and fine music as well. David himself played the snare drum most of the time, varied occasionally by guitar and mandolin. Cousin David invites good pickers to his parties, and this time, as before at David's, we were honored by the presence of a bluegrass Gray Eminence. Like so many bluegrass Gray Eminences, he is extremely personable and plays very well, on the bass in his case. We all enjoyed hours of Mighty Fine music, and brought it to a halt toward midnight only when an inebriated person attempted, unsuccessfully, to play Cousin David's snare drum. We were all ready to quit, anyway... Good party, David.

Murphy, Chris, and I made a post-Christmas visit to Georgia, and found more picking there. What better way to spend New Years night than picking with family? That evening, we gathered at Murphy's parents' house in Clarkesville with Murphy's sister Argen and her husband Mike, who happens to be one of our oldest friends. A full evening of music was enjoyed by all. The next day, Chris, Mike, and I went to visit with our friend Barry Palmer, who's a pharmacist in beautiful Cornelia, Georgia, not far from Clarkesville. On slow days (and many seem slow in Cornelia), Barry sits and picks banjo. So we went and helped him. Mike, Barry, and Chris are all excellent, flexible musicians who can play a lot of stuff, and we went for a couple of good hours straight, followed by more music back at the house that night with Murphy and Argen. It was all Mighty Fine.

You can tell, I can't complain about being out of practice any more! All this picking was hard to beat, and I'm already looking forward to next year! Y'all all have a happy new year, now, and don't forget to pick!

Every year, Eldred Hill (of the Patent Pending band) and his wife Dena host a night of picking at their house. It's always a good time, and this year was no exception. I started out with some bluegrass together with Eldred's bandmates Rusty Williams and Leigh Taylor, and Matty Levine and others, turning out some rarely-heard songs like the Stanley Brothers' "Poison Lies" and and a pretty good high-harmony trio on "Your Selfish Heart." Matty got out his super-rare late-40's flowerpot RB-250, and we put down some bluegrass notes.

I'd been too lazy to change mandolin strings after the big White Springs festival, so I started breaking them early. The first one broke a few minutes after we started.

The music was flowing by that time, so I went out on the porch and got with the Critten Hollow String Band folks, who'd started picking out there: Joe, Sam, Joe, and Robbie. Those people sure can play. Bill Young and his son Paul joined us with some good guitar rhythm, and we did a pile of great old traditional numbers like

Old Mother Flanagan
Laughing Boy
Lady in the Lake
Robinson County
Angelina Baker
Jimmy in the Swamp
Mississippi Sawyer
Cowboy's Dream

...and a bunch more.

It just went on and on, and it was great fun. But a little before midnight I broke my fourth string of the evening. Since I hadn't replaced any after the first one, I was now playing a 5-string mandolin in the dark, with no A strings at all, and decided to quit. Passed some pickers in the dark on the way out, but I had to get back to the house--about an hour's drive.

It was a great session. The more of these, the better!