Fast Picks And Hot Licks - Red and Murphy and Company's second album, from 1978. Our band name has expanded to Red and Murphy & Co., and our band has grown to include Nancy Hicks (Pate), who would blossom into an amazing songwriter and singer. We continued to feature our original material with five by Murphy (including the title), an instrumental by Red, one by Nancy, and a gospel co-write by Red and Murphy. We also recorded Hold Back The Waters, written by the legendary Florida folksinger Will McLean. I still love that song! Songs that hold up well: Foggy Mountain Special, Mountain Laurel Man, He Will Set Your Fields On Fire. Grits In The White House, with some pretty clever lyrics, now seems a bit dated, since it refers to President Jimmy Carter! (Scroll down for complete liner notes.)
- 1. Fast Picks and Hot Licks
- 2. Grits in the White House
- 3. Perfect Mason
- 4. The Band Played On
- 5. Katy Hill
- 6. Gentle Was the Word
- 7. Set Your Fields on Fire
- 8. Cabin in Caroline
- 9. Mountain Laurel Man
- 10. Brand New Gospel Song
- 11. Foggy Mountain Special
- 12. Hold Back the Waters
- 13. Will You Be There?
Red and Murphy & Co: Fast Picks And Hot Licks (1978)
(Arrandem Records, AR 20)
Red Henry: mandolin, fiddle, lead and rhythm guitar
Murphy Hicks Henry: banjo, rhythm guitar
Argen Hicks: bass fiddle
Nancy Hicks [Pate] : rhythm guitar
As you can see from the cover of our second album our band name has changed, but only slightly. We are now Red and Murphy & Co., and our trio has grown to include another sister, Nancy Hicks (Pate), who would blossom into an amazing songwriter and singer. In this configuration, Red still usually played guitar (lead and rhythm) on stage, getting out the mandolin for only a few numbers. On our recordings, however, he was able to dub in mandolin and/or fiddle wherever he wanted to.
Old calendars indicate that we recorded this album in two separate sessions, September 7-9 and September 14-15, 1977. In between we played the Hoboken Bluegrass Festival in South Georgia, which was not too far from Jacksonville, Florida, where we were again recording at Tom Markham's Warehouse Studio. One reason we liked the Warehouse so much is that Tom, who engineered, was wildly enthusiastic about our music. He was always saying, "That was great! That should be a hit!" He was soft-spoken, easy going, and extremely knowledgeable about what he was doing. He had a way of putting us all at ease which meant the world to me because I was clueless about recording. All I knew is that when Tom said, "We're rolling" I was supposed to play. If mistakes were made, I had no idea how to fix them--I didn't even know if they could be fixed. My only thought was that I'd have to play it again and try to get it perfect this time. Talk about pressure!
On the other hand, Red knew a lot about recording and could talk to Tom about various "fixes." But to me, it was like they were speaking in tongues, to use a Baptist metaphor. I didn't understand a word of what they were saying. "We'll fix it in the mix," they would say. Or "We can record that missing note on a separate track and mix it in." Huh? So, instead of feeling relieved that somebody knew how to fix things, I felt out of the loop and dumb to boot. If I had to fix my banjo break, I just had to do what Tom told me. He'd start the tape rolling then say, "Just start playing somewhere in there and I'll punch you in. And then when we're done, I'll punch you out." How could that possibly work--could he really "hear" where that spot in my banjo playing needed to be fixed? So I felt frustrated and helpless. And I don't do "helpless" well. Nevertheless, I survived. Eventually I learned that I didn't have to know everything, nor did I have to control everything! I just had to roll with the flow!
Now back to the album. Although you can't tell it from the cover, little Casey Henry is there, too, in utero, right under the head of my Gibson banjo. She would arrive in January 1978, which meant I was five months pregnant when I recorded this album. (Maybe that explains what I wasn't singing so well!) [Aha! That also explains these little numbers I had written on the calendar: "121.5 without" and "123 with." I was recording my pregnant weight--with and without shoes! Arrrrgh!]
We had been playing up a storm in the preceding months: from a high of 20 dates in April to a low of 10 dates in August. Some of these were weekend-long festivals but some were four-hour bar gigs like the Canopy in Gainesville and the Malabar in Jacksonville. We had even gone back into the studio on May 12, 1977, to record Grits In The White House, a song I wrote about about Jimmy Carter. We released it as a single with Riding Around On Saturday Night on the flip side and sent it out to a bunch of radio stations, hoping something big would happen, but apparently that was not to be. (Still waiting!)
Grits In The White House, also on this album, was patterned after an old bluegrass song, Dust On The Bible. "Dust on the Bible, dust on the Holy Word" and "Grits in the White House, grits in the White House now" (Hear the similarity in the cadence?) I thought the funniest line in the song was "Grits for all the foreigners who come from France and Greece and Boston." That still holds up well, I think. (Unless you're from Boston!) But the "punch" line of the song, the last line in the chorus, is so dated that few will recall the incident I was poking fun at: "And Amy Carter's selling grits out on the White House lawn." Oh, well. It had its day.
I was also writing better, less topical, songs. I cobbled together Fast Picks And Hot Licks from many divergent sources. I got the idea for spelling out "P-I-A-N-O" to rhyme with "banjo" from the Fred Astaire/Judy Garland movie Easter Parade. In their song I Love A Piano, Judy sings, "You can keep your fiddle and your bow/Give me a p-i-a-n-o-o-o." I always loved the clever wordplay in pop songs like these. I spliced together the line "But the bass is boss if you wanna put on a good show" from two places. Most of it, including the cadence, came from the song Cherokee Fiddle: "Cause if you wanna make a living you gotta put on a good show." But the idea of something being "boss," which was new to me, came from our friend Alan Harper. We were playing bridge a lot with Alan and he was always talking about a high card being "boss," meaning it would take the trick. I loved the word and pairing "boss" together with "bass" tickled me.
The Band Played On, the story about a bluegrass band who bravely keeps playing while the audience exits a burning concert hall, was based on a story I read in grade school about a little girl who kept playing the piano while her schoolmates calmly filed out of the burning school. And I'd always admired the musicians on the Titanic who kept playing while the ship was sinking. Combining these gave me the opening line of the song: "Like the old Titanic sinking while the band played Rock Of Ages, they played the Wildwood Flower 'til the crowd had cleared the hall." (I think the band on the Titanic might have played Nearer My God To Thee but that title didn't certainly didn't scan.) Much later, in the 1990s when I was working on my Masters Degree in Women's Studies, this song provided an "aha" moment for me when I realized that when I had written it I had envisioned an all-male band. I sing specifically about the leader, "He was buried in the mountains with his fiddle by his side." In my "aha" moment I realized that there was no reason to have written the song this way, other than my own cultural blindness. It could have easily been written, "She was buried in the mountains with her fiddle by her side." Sheesh!
Gentle Was The Word was written under the influence of the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Thus the lines, "He saw the world as what it might have been" and "He offered them his very best, they changed it into nothing/And then he knew his soul was not for hire." Arrrgh! Today these verses seem pedantic and preachy! But the chorus is not bad. "And gentle was the word that best described him/His strength lay in the small frame of his wife..." This idea was based, in part, on Will McLean, the great songwriter and poet from Florida, whom I knew as a "dreamer." I imagined he had a wife who had a day job and kept things afloat for the two of them. Nancy sings this one--I thought her voice was better suited for it than mine. Red and I provide the low harmony.
The melody for the chorus of Brand New Gospel Song was loosely lifted from the TV commercial for the cereal Honeycomb: "Honeycomb, breakfast sweet as honey, Post Honeycomb for your own..." But the idea for the song itself came from Mark Twain's short story "Captain Stormfields's Visit To Heaven." (I was also deep into Mark Twain back then. Still love his writing.) The title, Brand New Gospel Song, owes much to Brand New Tennessee Waltz which I had learned from Ralph Stanley's recording. I also thought it was funny when a song would reference itself in its own lyrics as the original Tennessee Waltz does: "I was waltzing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz..." So my song also references itself, "Gonna sing a new (Brand New) Gospel Song." Then there is the whole dancing thing. The church I was raised in, Southern Baptist, frowns on dancing. My parents did not mind our dancing, but still, the notion was embedded in the culture. So, I got a kick out of writing a song about dancing in Heaven:
Gonna dance (up and down the streets of gold)
Gonna sing (gonna sing while the ages roll)
Gonna shout (Hallelujah all night long)
Gonna sing a new (brand new) gospel song.
I also love my irreverent verse about Saint Peter, no doubt inspired by that line in Merle Travis's song Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette, "Tell Saint Peter at the Golden Gate that I hate to make him wait, but I just gotta have another cigarette." What a line! My own verse pales beside that! (Although I do like my last line!)
Gonna meet Saint Peter at the Golden Gate
He'll say Hurry, don't be late
And please be careful how loud you play
If you wake the dead, there'll be the Devil to pay.
Now, songs I didn't write: Here's what Red said in the original liner notes about his tune, Perfect Mason. "Perfect Mason is a little home-grown mandolin tune, dedicated to all the fruit jar drinkers in the world. For mandolin freaks (or anyone else), the tune is in the key of B, and was written (according to Red) [he actually wrote that!] for the sound instead of the notes." Also, in our stage shows we did a lot of songs in the key of B. We liked to break up the singing with instrumentals but there weren't many good instrumentals in B and moving capos to change keys took time and caused tuning problem. Perfect Mason provided a much-needed solution to this problem.
More about Mason jars: The front cover of this album actually has a photograph of three quart Mason jars superimposed over the picture of the band, making us appear as if we are inside the jars or at least looking through them. Very artsy. When I first met Red, at the Lavonia, Georgia, Bluegrass Festival, he was standing around a fire at night drinking a something clear and potent out of a Mason Jar. (I referenced that event in the song Grandpa Rock On, calling it "sweet Georgia shine." That's on the album Just Remember Where You Could Be.) Red used to drink iced tea out of a quart Mason jar, usually an old blue one, and he continues that tradition today with ice water. We really like Mason jars.
In the original album notes Red says that he and I wrote Will You Be There "at two o'clock one morning in a fit of musical inspiration." He wrote the chorus, I wrote the verses. I have no memory of that. Perhaps we had been dipping into the Mason jar too much. For whatever reason, this song did not become a Red and Murphy standard. I'd almost forgotten about it.
Then there is Hold Back The Waters, that mighty song written by Will McLean about the Lake Okeechobee flood of 1928. I first heard it sung by Will's good friend, Gamble Rogers. my musical mentor and idol. Then I heard Will himself sing it in his big, rumbly bass voice. Then Red and I helped Will's other good friend, Dale Crider, record it back in 1975. Then we recorded it ourselves on this album. Then, years later, our kids, Casey and Chris, would record it on their band CD, Get Along Girl. That's how good this song is, although maybe you have to be from Florida to appreciate it. Come to think of it, the song never went over as well for us in other states. But we liked to do it on stage because it gave Red a chance to play the mandolin while I would take over on guitar. Will's words are powerful:
When the waters receded, Great God, what a sight
Men, women, and children, turned black as the night.
Nancy contributed one original, Mountain Laurel Man, the first in a long line of songs that she would record with us and on her own solo projects. Mountain Laurel is a fixture in the hills of north Georgia where we were raised, and our home town, Clarkesville, even has a Mountain Laurel Festival. I thought I sang on this song but the liner notes say Nancy sings lead on the verses, then Argen take the lead on the chorus while Nancy jumps to tenor and Red comes in with the baritone. Casey and Chris would also perform this number with their band the Two-Stringers.
And, finally, there are our traditional numbers, Katy Hill, He Will Set Your Fields On Fire, Cabin In Caroline, and Foggy Mountain Special, gleaned from the works of Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs. We still felt like we needed to include some "hard core" bluegrass on each album so our listeners would know that we were "bona fide." I wonder now, in hindsight, if we were "nervous" about our "bona fides" because we had three women in the band. I had forgotten that on Foggy Mountain Special Red had used his Gibson F-4 mandolin so that the mandolin break would sound "right," as he put it. [Everett Lilly had used a similar mandolin when he recorded the song with Flatt and Scruggs.] Yes, we were a little crazy about stuff like that! Argen takes a bass break on this song!
And that is all I have to say about Fast Picks And Hot Licks! We were definitely showing growth as a band, and there are some high points on this album, but our next, Pall Mall Reds, would be even better.