November 3, 2014 Yep, right on schedule, “Fingerstyle Duets for Ukulele.” I’m really stoked about this book; I had a lot of fun selecting the songs & coming up with the arrangements. Head on over to Mighty Mel Bay and pick up a copy today! Here’s a sampling: La Bruja
October 10, 2014 Stopped off at the local Post Office today to pick up a copy of my brand-spankin’-new book: Mastering Chord Inversions for Ukulele. I can honestly say that, while this may not be the first uke chord book you buy, with over 1000 chord fretboard diagrams, dozens of full sized fingerboard charts, and more, it will certainly be the last. And stay tuned, because mighty Mel Bay is set to publish my Duets for Fingerstyle Ukulele any day now.
Autumnal Equinox 2014
Generally speaking, fall is my favorite time of year here in Southern Oregon. There is something so sweet and gentle about the way the seasons slide into one another. It usually begins sometime in August, with the poison oak turning a vivid red. Then as September progresses, we start to see subtle changes in the big leaf maples in the gulch behind my studio, maybe a few bright yellow leaves on the birches I planted in honor of our dear neighbor Inneke. As the weather cools and the rains start, the color show goes on for weeks and weeks. This year? Ugh. The drought continues, as does the heat wave. Leaves just dry up, turn brown and drop with a sigh. Well, here’s to the change of seasons, anyway. We ought to celebrate our continuing whirl around the sun. Autumn always makes us nostalgic, so here’s a song I wrote about 20 years ago for a never released record.
And that, my friends, is a story for another day.
August 22, 2014
Back home yet again.
Much to talk about–the wonders of Lark Camp, the pleasures of the Ukulele & Guitar Summit at Strathmore Arts Center in Maryland, the continued joys of air travel… actually, the less said about air travel, the better. But the main thing here is that I’ve added a new section to the website: Vintage & Collectable Musical Instruments For Sale. Yep, I’ve realized that it is high time to find new homes some of the wonderful friends I’ve played and loved over the years. Why, you ask? Well, musical instruments have lives, and they need to be played & cherished. I’ve had a good run with ’em, both playing live and in the studio. Now it’s your turn. Check back here often, because I’ll be adding things from time to time.
July 27, 2014
Aloha & Slainte
Well, our intrepid heroes have arrived home from Ireland safe and (mostly) sound. It is taking awhile to recover from the joys of air travel in the 21st Century—crammed like unfashionable sheep into tiny planes, traveling for 24 hours to arrive back at Tim & Cindy’s home in Corvallis at 3 AM last Thursday. The next day Annie and I had the long drive down to Southern Oregon, where we reunited with Ozzie, who is determined to catch up on all the sleep he missed whilst we were away. Tour highlights? Well, there were many: the sheep fashion show at Glenarm Castle, the beauty of the light around Blacksod Bay, the generous portions of potin encountered in both countries we visited, the warmth of the people we met… I guess ya hadda be there.
To those who helped fund our adventure; a million thanks. And to all our friends; may you be blessed with a life of good music, good friends and good cheer.
To Eire is Human
I’m off to Ireland in a couple of days for a quick tour. Here’s a heartfelt appreciation to the kind folks who help support the IndieGogo campaign to make it possible. I’ll post pix and stories as I can, in the meantime you can follow along by clicking on the links. Naturally, time and tide being what they are, not to mention human nature, the schedule is subject to change.
July 10: Arrive in Dublin. Also my birthday; everybody sing along now: “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…”
July 13 & 14: Athy Bluegrass Festival
July 16-20: Feis Iorras, Various locations around Western County Mayo
July 16: Opening Concert, Aras Inis Gluaire, Belmullet
July 17 Connolly’s Pub, Carrowteige
July 18: Tra Bui Doohooma
July 19: Bluegrass Festival, Ardara, Co Donegal
Drop by and say ‘hi” if you are in the neighborhood.
June 9, 2014
Winfield Memories — Tempus Fugit, And All That
Well, here I was placidly woodshedding on the dulcimer last week when I had a sudden realization that this month is pretty danged important to me. Thirty five years ago, in June 1979, I’d just recently taken a job as general manager the Peter Britt Music Festival here in Southern Oregon. I spent the spring learning the ropes and getting up to speed–Britt had been an all-volunteer outfit for the previous 18 years. Then I took off for a previously booked Midwest tour with dulcimer wiz Bonnie Carol. OK, so what, right? Well, you see, Bonnie was booked into the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, home of the National Flatpicking Guitar championships, and a host of others. As we approached the town, Bonnie let me know that, although she was booked, we were not, and left me at the campground to ponder what the hell had just happened. Yep, I now had to buy a ticket to watch my duo partner perform at one of the most prestigious acoustic music festivals in the country. So, like any red blooded American boy, I decided to make the best of it. For an additional couple bucks, I could enter the National Mountain Dulcimer Championships and play on that great big stage. Imagine my surprise when I won first place! My prize included a honking’ big trophy, a hundred and fifty bucks, and a dandy solid walnut dulcimer made by Lynn and Larry McSpadden that was light years better than the pice of junk plywood thing I was playing at the time. Since winning first place immediately increased my, ahem, profile, I also got a recording contract courtesy of ED Denson & Kicking Mule Records. My first LP, “Fiddle Tunes For Dulcimer: The Rights of Man” came out the following spring. Since then I’ve played pretty much all over the US and western Canada, put out a pile of recordings, books, videos and generally made a nuisance of myself at any music camp, school or festival foolish enough to hire me. All and all, a pretty decent outcome for what had started out as a sucky weekend. When the tour was done, Annie and I moved from Utah to Southern Oregon, where we’ve been ever since. I stayed with Britt a few years, then decided I’d rather starve working for myself than deal with thirty bosses. Still feel that way, though I’ve definitely slowed down the road work in recent years. So there ya go: 35 years since winning first place at Winfield and moving to Oregon, I’m sitting by the side of a lake playing fiddle tunes I worked out while living in in Utah on that lovely McSpadden dulcimer. Like the song says, what a long strange trip it’s been. Here’s a taste of what I was playing back then, though not as fast I could play when just a lad. The tunes are Joke on the Puppy and Cold Frosty Morning.
Mahalo nui big time to everyone who helped exceed the IndieGogo crowd funding goal. Y’all are the best.
Yikes! The IndieGogo crowd funding campaign to help send my groovy trio to a bunch of festivals in Ireland this summer is almost over! I have to say that I am humbled by the extraordinary response—we are over 90% of the way to making our goal of $3000. In fact, we just need another $220! So why is it important to make that goal? Well, if we don’t we have to kick back a hefty chunk of change to the wise robots at IndieGogo–a couple hundred bucks, actually. That’s pretty much the cost of getting one of our instruments there and back. So. if you haven’t gotten around to chipping in—please jump on it. We only have until May 10th!
I’m a huge fan of old time string band rags, and one of my favs is “Dallas Rag” by the Dallas String Band. I’ve been playing it on mandolin for awhile, and a couple days ago I worked out a version on my banjo ukulele. Fact is, I really was just fooling around while waiting for a student to Skype me for a lesson. Since I was already in front of the screen, I just turned on iMovie and banged out this version. It’s a little different from the way I play it on mandolin, or even on guitar. Why? Cuz that’s just the way it came out, I guess. I make no apologies, just having some fun.
As promised, you can download the TAB for free by clicking this link: Dallas Rag Tablature. But hey, why not drop a couple nickels in the can at IndieGogo and help support bring my band to Ireland next summer? Even a buck will help. Kick in $10 and mention the secret word (Hint: It’s Ukulele.) and I’ll send you a pdf copy of “Juke’n The Uke.” That’s a whopping five bucks off. Cool, eh?
April 21st, 2014
Well folks, the IndieGogo campaign for my Erin Go, errrr, Broke Tour has reached a couple of milestones. As of today, we are ½ through the campaign and we’ve already hit a honking’ 70% of our goal. I am amazed, and truly humbled at the response. It promises to be a ton of fun, you betcha. A million thanks and a fond wish that your lives will be filled with good friends and good music.
April 03, 2014
So How Does All This Music Fit Together, Anyway?
April 01, 2014
Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?
And what better day than April Fools to launch a crowd funding campaign? Yep, I maxed out the credit cards and I’m going to Ireland. I’ve set up a campaign on IndieGogo, if you see it in your heart to help defray the not inconsiderable expense of this dream, you would have my sincere gratitude. I’ll be posting updates as things develop. And may the wind always be at your back and the roads rise up to meet your feet.
March 25, 2014
Erin Go…. errrr, Broke
Although it’s still a long ways off, I’m really excited about an upcoming tour to Ireland in July, 2014. I’ve put together the best band I could think of, and we are booked into a bunch of festivals: bluegrass events in Athy and Andara, a Celtic Festival in Antrim and the multicultural Féile Iorrais in Belmullet. I just returned for a productive weekend of rehearsals with my longtime musical collaborator Tim Crosby–he’s on my first two LPs — and his musical and life partner Cindy. I gotta say I’m stoked about the sound: we can cover the real roots of American music: everything from Celtoid to Hawaiian to Old Time to Cowboy to Country Blues. Trust me, it all makes sense, and sounds great. Tim and I have played music together since the early 1980s; he was one of the first people I met when I moved to Oregon. You can hear him on my CDs (formerly LPs) “Fiddle Tunes For Dulcimer: The Rights of Man,” and “After The Morning.“ That second LP was produced by, and features, the legendary Irish fiddler Kevin Burke, BTW. Tim is a wizard on the mandolin, no slouch on the fiddle, a fine flat-picker, and he can cover both Old Time and Bluegrass banjo styles. We got dubbed The Zygote Brothers after a friend said we played together like twins of different mothers. Here are a couple cuts from an EP we did some years back: Two old time fiddle tunes: Pretty Little Dog & Santa Ana’s Retreat:
Jackson Stomp, a funky blues from the Mississippi Mud Steppers:
My Home: A lovely waltz from my 1983 album “After the Morning.” That’s me on Swedish dulcimer, Tim on mando, Clyde Curley on guitar and Kevin Burke on all those fiddles.
Cindy and Tim harmonize as only former high school sweethearts can. They have played together since who-knows-when; I believe their Bluegrass band Briar Rose is entering its forth decade. Cindy’s as strong a bass player as one could wish for, sings like an angel, and always keeps a cool head. Oh yeah, she’s a neonatal nurse and responsible for who knows how many happy, healthy babies in the Willamette Valley. Old friends and good music–who could ask for a better combination? I am putting together a crowd funding site to help defray the considerable expense of getting the trio and our equipment over seas, so watch this space. Donations cheerfully accepted.
February 06, 2014
Home Sweet Home
I’m working on a new book of ukulele duets for Mel Bay. While casting around for some interesting song ideas, I thought of this sweet old sentimental ditty. Fooling around on my banjo-uke, I came up with this version. It’s similar to something I learned on guitar a zillion years ago:
But then I thought I’d look deeper into the tune, and I discovered an interesting story. To begin with, the words to Home! Sweet Home! were written by an American actor, John Howard Payne, for an Italian opera in 1823. An Englishman, Sir Henry Bishop, added the melody and the song went on to worldwide popularity. So far so good, a nice international melding of styles. But the melody I’ve known forever is not really the tune as it was written. Somewhere along the line someone truncated it into its present form and arranged it for country blues guitar. This alternating thumb picking style was developed around the dawn of the Twentieth Century by African Americans and picked up by folks like Merle Travis. Then, to make it even more of a multi-cultural gumbo, here I’m playing it on a banjo-uke. So what’s with that? Well, as you know, the banjo derives from any number of African originals and became hugely popular following the Civil War. The ukulele came to Hawaii from Madeira and then arrived in the US with Hawaiian musicians in the first years of the Twentieth Century. It too, became hugely popular; so much so that banjo companies created the hybrid banjo-ukulele to make up for defining banjo sales! So here you have the history of how American music developed in a nutshell. And that’s why I love folk music!
February 02, 2014
Devil Eat the Groundhog
When I started to cast around for a celebratory fiddle tune to honor my favorite holiday, “Devil Eat the Groundhog” topped the list. Since my fiddle is in the shop, yesterday I worked it up on dulcimer in D-G-D tuning. No Tab yet, sorry. Paul David Smith taught at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in 2011. I spent every minute I could with him and his brothers. He was a sweet and gracious man, and an outstanding multi-instrumentalist. I recorded hours of his classes, and I still get a chuckle out of how he twinkled whenever he introduced a tune called “Better Get out of the Way.” Paul left us only a few months later–another star now in the firmament. I treasure those brief moments I had learning fiddle in the best way possible, at the feet of a master. Follow this link to hear Paul playing “Devil Eat the Groundhog” in 2006. Paul played for many years with the great fiddler Owen “Snake” Chapman, from whom he learned this tune. “Devil Eat the Groundhog” isn’t about what you think it is. Snake’s papa, “Doc” Chapman, made up the tune in honor of an incident involving a sneaky dog who made away with the carcass of the aforementioned animal before it could be turned into the family dinner. So what is it about February 2nd? Groundhog Day is the last of the fine old Celtic holidays we still celebrate over here that hasn’t been excessively commercialized–today’s Super Groundhog Bowl notwithstanding. Halloween has transmogrified into an excuse to spend too much money, eat too much, & drink too much–though, again, drinking too much was always part of it. May Day isn’t celebrated at all any more; I guess dancing around the Maypole is too loaded a symbol for our precious children. And, at least where I grew up, August 1st was simply another day in the middle of summer vacation. But Groundhog Day is all about the marmot: either he sees his shadow or he doesn’t. That’s about it.
January 26, 2014
The 28th of January
I’ve been having a lot of fun re-acquainting myself with the Appalachian dulcimer lately. So here is yet another cool seasonal old time fiddle tune.
Though I first heard this great modal tune on the Fuzzy Mountain String Bands’ eponymous LP back in the 70s, I didn’t take the time to work it out on the dulcimer until very recently–last week, actually. It’s a bear to play but fun once you get the hang of it: here’s the TAB should you wish to try it on your dulcimer.
So what’s so special about this particular date? Nothing, actually. Apparently Franklin George, from whom the Fuzzies got it, mixed up the names of two different fiddle tunes: The Eight of January and another old gem, the 22nd of February. The latter tune is in honor of George Washington’s birthday, a holiday we no longer celebrate, enjoying instead the bland President’s Day. And lord knows there are a bunch of them I’d like to forget. I got to hang with Franklin George at Fiddle Tunes a couple years ago. One morning he leaned over to me and whispered, “You want to know the secret to playing the fiddle?” I allowed that I did, so he passed on the wisdom of the ages, along with some of the worst jokes I’ve heard in my life. Irascible old coot. If the tune sounds familiar, you might have heard it playing behind the delightful animated Google Doodle on Thanksgiving, as played by my pals the Hillbillies from Mars. And yes, it is a small world after all.
January 08, 2014
The Eighth of January
Here’s another seasonal fiddle tune for ya. Just about anyone who shares my choice in hair color knows “The Eighth of January” from Johnny Horton’s hit back in the 50s.
In 1814, we took a little trip, Along with Colonel Jackson to the mighty Mississip’ We took a little bacon and we took a little beans And we met the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.
Course the tune came first, and it’s fun to play with or without Jimmy Driftwood’s lyrics.
Lately this dandy little three part version from the Arkansas Barefoot Boys (found on the wonderful Echoes of the Ozarks recordings) has been making the rounds, and I thought I’d try it on the dulcimer. I’ve brought it back to the original key of C, and put the parts back in the original order, too. Something for a cold January afternoon, though Ozzie appears less than impressed. I guess he like it better in the fiddle friendly key of D.