Murphy Henry

It’s about learning to play the banjo by ear….

Interview with Murphy Henry, banjo player and writer, founder of the “Murphy Method”.

© Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly

On 28th of September 2013 I interviewed Murphy Henry, author of the book “Pretty Good for a Girl”. It is about the women in bluegrass music. Murphy Henry is a banjo player, she introduced the so called “Murphy method” of learning an instrument.

What made you write this book?

Short answer is: the few history books that are out about bluegrass music have very few women in them. It makes people believe that bluegrass is a men’s music. Historically that is not true. But how would anybody know if it’s not in the books? So I did a research and found out that there have always been women in bluegrass, from the very beginning. Sally Ann Forrester was in the first band that included Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. She played the accordion. I think, because she was a woman, her 3-4 years time with Bill Monroe was discredited. Accordion is an odd instrument. it didn’t make it in the genre. But I’m sure, if a man had played it, he would have been given a lot more attention.

Who are the women listed in your book?

The most familiar names are probably Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, Dixie Chicks, Kristin Scott Benson who plays banjo with The Grascals. Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Martha Adcock From the older ones – Bessie Lee Mauldin, who was Bill Monroe’s girlfriend, Ola Belle Reed, The New Coon Creek Girls,

Why do you think women are mostly singers and rhythm players?

That is not exactly true. There are way more women soloists than we know about. Many of them just stay home and their careers never take off. Yes, women are raised differently. They are less aggressive and more assertive. It is different with young women nowadays, but there are still lots of restrictions on women’s’ behavior. It is not about talent, it is not about strength or physical things. It is a cultural issue. Hurdles they have to jump over.

I think the fiddle is the instrument of choice for many women?

It has a lot to do with Alison Krauss. But these are stereotypes. The fiddle has been considered a female instrument. But I’m sure there are women who say that it’s hard to be a female violin player in an orchestra.

Do you cover old time music as well?

No, I don’t know much about it. I played bluegrass for 30 years. It took me 10 years to write the book.

Who is the publisher?

The University of Illinois Press, the same people who financed Neil Rosenberg’s book “Bluegrass – a History”.

What do you like about bluegrass music, why are you in it?

I’ve always liked singing. I always memorized lyrics of songs. I love the harmonies.

What is the “Murphy method” about?

It’s about learning to play the banjo by ear. That’s what I teach. I have instructional DVDs.

Thank you so much!

Lilly Drumeva