December 24, 2013

Old Christmas

I’ve been playing the fiddle tune “Old Christmas”–the title refers to the traditional Christmas date of January 6– on my dulcimer since sometime back in the 1970s. I learned it from the Deseret String Band, that wonderful Utah old time band. They were some of the first folks I met when I moved to Salt Lake in 1973; like anyone else with a lick of sense I’d head out to the Cotton Bottoms to hear them play every week at DeMet’s Tavern. It was long till I was part of a circle of like-minded musicians exploring old dance and vocal music from an earlier time played on fiddles, banjos, mandolins and anything else the Mormon pioneers could haul across the desert… Of course, mostly we just got together to bang out tunes and drink beer–or soft drinks, in the case of my Mormon pals. But it wasn’t till last year that I finally learned where they’d got the tune. I’d always suspected it was an Appalachian tune, but in fact it comes from Oklahoma. At the Portland Old Time Gathering last January, I asked Tom Sauber–who I’d first met in Utah– if he knew the source. He told me Tom Carter, who’d played with the seminal old time revival band, The Fuzzy Mountain String Band, got the tune from a fiddler named Uncle Dick Hutchison. Tom played with the Deserets for a short time, making one of the best albums of old time western string band music ever, a nameless cassette-only release affectionately known as “The Cowboy Tape.” Sadly, both this and the re-issue CD “The Roundup” by The DSB’s alter-ego The Bunkhouse Orchestra are both out of print. Like the Round Peak tune “Breaking Up Christmas,” “Old Christmas” is one of those tunes every old time musician ought to have at hand this time of year. I hope you like it! So here’s a wish for the best of the season, and a life filled with good friends, good music and good cheer!

December 19, 2013

Looking forward to the Solstice in a couple of days, although winter is most definitely here. Awhile back I spotted a Pacific Fisher nosing around the woods across from the house. Well, he’s back:


I’m working on a couple new uke books, so stay tuned. And, yes, Happy Holidays. Or Mele Kalikimaka, if you prefer.

October 29, 2013

Just published, and coming soon to a store near you! Featuring over 100 traditional American folk songs newly arranged for the uke, with chord diagrams and melody lines in tablature and standard notation, “Favorite Old Time American Songbook for Ukulele” is a treasury of the best songs from the American folk music tradition.

Pick up a copy or download the e-Book today at the mighty Mel Bay Website!

Favorite Old Time American Songs for Ukulele cover.

October 26, 2013

Lots of interesting stuff bubbling just under the surface. I’ll update y’all when I can. In the meantime, I’ve added a couple new finger style uke lessons, check them out on my video page, ‘natch.

October 17, 2013

Well, it looks as if our long national nightmare is over. At least till the next time…. Wise chimps

September 29, 2013 I promise I won’t rant about our increasingly dysfunctional government… You know the drill, so insert your own cry of anguish and frustration here. I’ll wait. Feel better? OK. Instead, let me wax poetic about the glories of a Southern Oregon fall. Rain, wonderful rain. Our horrific fire season is finally over and we can all breath a collective sigh of relief. Now’s the time for fall chores. I climbed the ladder yesterday to patch a couple teeny tiny leaks in the roof — to no avail. Not quite sure, but somehow slathering rain patch around actually made one of the leaks worse. Go figure. Still, the leaves are turning, the hills greening up, and I saw a bald eagle soaring above the Applegate River a couple days ago. If that doesn’t give one hope, I don’t know what will. And it is perfect weather for practicing the fiddle. I’ve got some fun gigs coming up: check out What’s New for more info. Hope to see y’all somewhere down the pike. Stay tuned!

September 10, 2013

Summer is almost over, and I finally get to kick back — if only for a few days. Boy howdy, has it been a busy one: Fiddle Tunes, Bend Ukulele U, Lark Camp, Centralia Old Time Campout; not to mention all the usual sloth and indolence practice one must do. Things rounded out with the wonderful Acoustic Alaska Guitar Camp in scenic Wasilla. No, you cannot see Russia from there. I checked. But here’s my brave ukulele class looking out for swimming moose. 2_uke_class-smaller Oh yeah, and my new book, “Favorite Old Time American Songs for Ukulele” is all set to be published any day now. I told you it was a busy summer. Watch this space for more info. Looking ahead to Fall, I’ll be doing a pile of workshops, camps and even a concert or two here and there, starting with a gig with the ever charming Rogue World Ensemble. And the groovy Art Along the Rogue street fair in downtown Grants Pass, too. Haven’t done one of those in a while, ought to be fun. Next up, a fun weekend in Eugene for the Track Town Slack Down and a couple ukulele workshops. eflyer12-09 Then its off the Walker Creek Music Camp, in beautiful West Marin County, California, where I’ll be teaching ukulele & slack key guitar, plus leading a class in Western Swing guitar. Ahhhhhh haaaaaaaa! And if you are anywhere near the Willamette Valley on October 19,  I’m doing my first Corvallis concert in many years at the Troubadour Music Center, followed by a couple ukulele workshops. Fall by and say “hi.” Talk about doing stuff I haven’t done in while; I round out October with a ukulele class for the Britt Institute in my home town of Jacksonville. Yep, 30-some years since I ran the dang thing the Britt Festival has hired our lad. And boy, am I happy about that. Could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

As always, click on any of the links for more information. Hope to see ya down the pike.

July 22, 2013

This just in: I‘m subbing for my ailing friend Kevin Brown, teaching slack key and ukulele at this most-amazing music camp: the Lark in the Morning Musical Celebration. Name a musical tradition from anywhere in the world and chances are there will be someone there to teach the music and lead the dances. I was able to move a couple things around and jump in to help at the very last second. As we like to say: Be There or Be Square!


July 26-August 2

Lark Camp, Mendocino CA

July 11, 2013

Man, summer is indeed here. I’ve always wondered where all those snarky commentators–the ones who snipe at climate science every time it gets cold — go during a heat wave. Oh well, I suppose one shouldn’t wish for consistency in what passes for public discourse these days… I just returned from the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in sunny (!) Port Townsend, Washington. Might be the first time I ever got a sunburn at what is usually the coldest, windiest, drizzliest festival in North America. Somewhere out there is documentary evidence of me playing a fiddle. Wearing a chicken hat.

June 05, 2013

As promised, here’s an update on the Glaoch an Cheoil  TV project. We had our initial lesson via Skype on May 29, where I met my student, Brendan, for the first time. Since he had not known that the TV show had found a teacher, it was one of those oh-so-special made-for-TV moments. Big surprise, smiles all around, then a lovely lesson on the dulcimer while the cameras rolled. Ummmmmm, no. I screwed up big time & got nervous in front of the cameras. To make matters worse, the latency made it difficult to have any kind of coherent conversation, poor Brendan’s dulcimer was set up wrong and it was horribly out of tune. Thankfully, the camera crew soon moved on and Brendan & I could talk a bit.  We hit it off nicely and agreed to stay in touch. Turns out Brendan’s the artistic director of Aras Inis Gluare, a rural arts center in the far west of Co Mayo that is one of the four centers participating in this wonderful project. And I thought I was living far from the madding crowd. We’ve now had one real Skype lesson, and I’m most impressed with Brendan’s progress. Through a friend who’s a muso – my new word of the day – he got his instrument up and running and did exactly what you are supposed to do on it; namely fooled around until he could play something. Makes a boy’s heart proud, it does. I have got to say I am amazed at this modern world: here we were, two self-confessed Luddites, both living in tiny rural communities miles from what passes for civilization, chatting merrily away on video. Can hover cars be that far away? I’ve lately posted some short Appalachian dulcimer lessons on my YouTube channel, so anyone who is interested can join in. Stay tuned!

May 18, 2013

A couple days ago I received a query from someone in Ireland working on a TV program called Glaoch an Cheoil – a new series for the Irish language station TG4 pairing unused, donated musical instruments with prospective students. They have a bevy of outstanding traditional players to act as tutors. An altogether lovely idea; I’m a firm believer that musical instruments come alive when music is shared. Someone had donated an Appalachian dulcimer, and someone else wanted to learn to play. And that’s where I come in; seems no one in Ireland could teach the instrument, and I guess my website came up high on a Google search. That and the fact that I once worked as a banjo playing gorilla in Dublin. Score one for Albert the Ape! I’ll be setting up a series of video lessons via Skype, culminating in a televised Christmas concert by the students for the president of Ireland! Talk about high stakes! We are still getting the kinks out, but lessons are set to begin next week. I am truly humbled and thrilled to be able to participate & I’ll post more as time goes on.

May 11, 2013

Here’s some breaking ukulele news for all you uke-a-bangers out there. First off: I’m doing a new book for Mel Bay, working title Favorite Old Time American Songs for Ukulele. Yep, a uke version of the best-selling dulcimer book I wrote a few years back. I’m pretty stoked–it features over 110 great old American ballads, play-party songs, work songs, hymns, Mountain ditties and more. Don’t have a release date yet, so watch this space. I’ll be out and about quite a bit in the coming months; attending the fantastic Festival of American Fiddle tunes — yes, I’ll have my fiddle — maybe heading out the Grass Valley again, hitting the wonderful Centralia Old Time Campout, ‘natch. In between I’ve in the band for the Rogue World Ensemble for their various gigs, a couple dances and house concerts, a bass gig in a swing band, one or two camping trips, and, oh yeah, squirrel patrol.  Buggers already ate most of my garlic. I’ll be teaching ukulele at a few upcoming camps, too. Follow the links to learn more, ‘natch.

uke U

July 19-21 Ukulele University, Bend Oregon Ah, summer in the High Desert! The smell of sage and pine, the crystal clear skies, the plaintive twang of the ukulele.


August 25-31 Acoustic Alaska Guitar Camp, Wasila AK A late addition to this outstanding camp; I’ll be teaching two daily uke classes in Fingerstyle and Slack Key uke. As they say, “Let the moose be your muse.”

walker creek music camp

October 11-14

Walker Creek Music Camp, West Marin County, California A truly outstanding family music camp in a stunning setting. I’ll be teaching a daily three hour (!) ukulele class, joining a stellar staff drawn from the best of the Bluegrass and old time worlds.

Fall by and say hi.

May 07, 2013

I just returned home from four days on the Oregon Coast. I visited some dear friends who’d recently moved from the wilds of rural Maryland, then headed off to the Westwind Music and Dance Camp. The weather was uncanny–clear, warm and sunny. Been like that all week, Martin said. Going to continue for at least another week, someone else said. First time in Westwind’s 27 years there’d been three consecutive days without rain, another someone said.. Not that I’m complaining. I grew up in a beach town in Southern California. I love the drowsy feeling of lying on the hot sand while slowly baking in the sun. Sure, it is bad for you–but so are many of the things I love. B’sides, no one gets out of this world alive. But still… going to the beach in Oregon is supposed to be a struggle. A test of your foul weather gear and your ability to walk against the wind. Who knew there could be an upside to pumping all that carbon into the atmosphere?



April 26, 2013

Howdy, web folks. Herewith commences a periodic blog commentary on my rambles of a musical nature and mumbles on whatever topics strike my fancy. I promise to hold the ravings and rantings to a minimum. So check in from time to time and let me know what you think. I’m new at this, so be gentle. First off:

Rogue World Ensemble

I’ve just started working with this delightful chorus based in Ashland, Oregon. Check out their webpage to learn more. They’ve got a few shows set in the next few months, including a concert May 11th and a Greenshow at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival June 5th. I’d originally been asked at fill in on bass with the group Nastrave, a Balkan music ensemble; backing the choir on a a pair of Macedonian and Croat songs as well as a cool Galician tune with Kevin Carr on the gaita. Then I learned a Bob Marley tune was added to the mix. No sweat, thought I. The next day brought a request to play bodhran on a Scottish song and the olde English chestnut Sumer is Icumen In. Oh, and maybe I could play ukulele on O Makalapua, a classic a Hawaiian song-and what would I think about covering the accompaniment for a Russian lament on dulcimer? Sheesh. Makes me glad I wasted all that time listening to weird, crazy folk music from all over the place. The legacy of a misspent youth. Also a misspent adulthood. We’ve had two rehearsals and it is starting to come together nicely. I hope they ask me back, because I’m learning a lot and having a ball. Wonder if I can convince them to let me play the fiddle sometime? On second thought, that would probably not be a good idea.