December 21

“O Christmas Tree”

Happy Solstice, everyone! I’m a total sucker for the traditions of deep winter: playing music with friends, good cheer around a cozy fire, and displaying greenery and colored lights around the house.

To share the joy, here’s a simple finger style arrangement of the German song “O Tannenbaum” that you can play on your ukulele.

December 12, 2015

Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over

I forget where I picked this up, but it sure is a dandy. Georgia’s Fiddlin’ John Carson was one of the first country music stars – scoring not one but two million sellers in the early 20s!

The A part of the fiddle tune, based on the children’s chestnut “Skip to My Lou,” is nothing to write home about, but the asymmetrical modal B strain sure grabbed my interest. The lyrics are my best guess of whatever it was Carson sang. “Come on, gals, let’s go swimming’ then we’ll join the band.” Indeed.

It’s in A-A-A tuning.

December 7, 2015

Po La`i E – Silent Night

One of my favorite holiday songs. I’m playing it in Taropatch tuning tuned up to Bb on a sweet little koa  classical guitar made on Maui. Download the free TAB; even if you have never played slack key style you will have no difficulty with this simple arrangement. Tune your guitar D-G-D-G-B-D (low to high) If you want to play along with the video, capo at the third fret.
Silent Night slack key style TAB


December 3, 2015

Christmas Day Ida Mornin’

Here’s a lovely holiday fiddle tune from the Shetland Islands. I learned this ages ago from the wonderful Boys of the Lough. I usually play in on the dulcimer, but it makes a fun finger-twister on the ukulele, too.

October 28, 2015

The Record the Broke My Heart

Mark Nelson & Southern Light 1990

Southern Light, 1990
Mark Nelson, Wendy Karden, Karl Mansfield, Tom Freeman

“Southern Light,” my third LP was nothing like my two previous albums. Those featured mostly Irish and American traditional music arranged for dulcimer and string band; for this I wanted to showcase the other kinds of music I enjoyed playing — like new acoustic, swing and Bossa Nova. I sent a demo with some of my original tunes to Bruce Kaplan at Flying Fish and he gave me the green light.

My pal Danny Carnahan offerred to produce, and he lined up a stellar set of musicians: hammered dulcimer wizard Robin Petrie, violinist Dave Balakrishnan (Turtle Island Quartet), bassist Pat Klobas and steel pan virtuoso Andy Narell. To say I was stoked would be an understatement.

I wrote seven new tunes for the project in a variety of styles, sang a goofy Calypso song gleaned from an obscure 10″ record and rounded out the recording with traditional European tunes. The new album came out in ’86 to terrific reviews — really, it did — and I looked forward to touring behind it. That meant I’d need a band.

It took awhile till I found the perfect accompanist in a local keyboard player named Karl Mansfield. Karl had an adventuresome music spirit and brought something unusual  to every arrangement. Karl’s partner Wendy Karden, a classically trained flue player, added a refreshing new voice. I dubbed the band “Southern Light,” ‘natch. The music was intensely satisfying; we were able to draw from Karl’s jazz background, Wendy’s impressive tone and musicianship, and the folk, Celtic and New Acoustic music I’d been playing for years.

We couldn’t tour much due to cost and scheduling, but we did perform quite a bit in and around Oregon.

Given the success of the Flying Fish record I decide to take the band into the studio in ’88 and see if we could generate some label interest. Our initial demo got us a live gig on LA’s KCRW Radio, which in turn engendered a couple of calls from brand name record labels. “Hoo boy,” I thought, “wouldn’t it be great to get a real record deal and some serious touring support?”

I should have added, “and world peace and a pony.”

Only one problem, according to all the A&R guys, the demo didn’t fit into the convenient slots. Was it jazz, fusion, new age, new acoustic folk music? I wasn’t concerned, it was just music, who needs to stick it in a box? Yet all I heard was, “the stores need to know what category to sell it under.”

However, one A&R contact was very supportive and wanted to hear more.

I came up with more songs and we went back to work. We brought in a great local drummer, Tom Freeman, and a sax player named Matt Taylor who played a killer soprano solo on my samba “Cosmo Time.” I’d been playing a bit with jazz vibraphonist Fred Raulston down in Mendocino, so I invited him to come up for some tracks, including a groovy version of Dave Holland’s “Backwoods Song.”

Recall that this was pre-digital recording; we were burning up the hours at a 24-track analog recording studio. Our tape expense alone was enough to buy a decent car. And it was all coming out of my meager touring income and so-called royalties.

But the results were worth it. We had what we thought was a killer recording, and I couldn’t wait to hear what my A&R contact at, ahem, Warner Brothers, had to say.

Which was… nada. Nothing. He’d moved on to a new job, and the new guy didn’t want to hear about it. Neither did anyone else. The moment had past.

The damn thing was that the recording had promise. I knew it, the band knew it, our fans knew it. I had printed up a couple hundred cassettes to sell at a jazz festival and they sold out in thirty minutes!

I didn’t have enough money left for final mixing and mastering, let alone financing a self-released CD or paying the band to tour behind it. So the band moved on, and eventually I did too. It broke my heart.

“Southern Light” was the most musical fun I’ve had. Looking back, I am so honored to have had the chance to play with – and write with – such a wonderful group of musicians. All of whom are still making killer music.

Ah, but here we are in the future and you can finally hear what we did all those years ago. It ain’t perfect, but I’m still damn proud of it.

Head on over to my BandCamp page and give a listen.  I’d love to know what you think.

And if you want to make both of us some money off of these songs, get in touch.

July 13, 2015

Set the Wayback Machine to 1976, Sherman!

Salt Lake City in the mid-70s was home to an amazingly diverse group of musicians. I’ve already mentioned the old time music scene centered around the Deseret String Band, but there were other, equally vibrant music communities. Aside from playing old time music with the Wasatch Rascals, string band swing with Sandy Duncan and Irish music with the band Tenpenny, I hung around with a young French fiddler who was studying violin making.

Dominique Deschamps introduced me to the wonderful fiddle music from his home provence in the South of France. The mostly diatonic music fit well on my Appalachian dulcimer — the French have a version of the dulcimer called eppinette. We parted company when he moved back home but I recorded an unnamed  bouree I learned from him and a traditional branle on my first LP in 1979. Oddly enough, I played it on a citera, Hungarian fretted dulcimer.

Around the same time, I ordered a hurdy gurdy, the traditional French wheeled fiddle, from a builder I knew in California. I loved the sound, and I wanted to expand my knowledge of French music. I was convinced that the Irish scence was a passing fad, and the in short order everyone would be happily playing bouree, branle and polkas instead of jigs and reels. OK, not exactly the most accurate prediction…

As the years went by with no contact from the builder, I began to despair of ever receiving the instrument I’d ordered. I finally gave up, no hurdy gurdy for me.

Lucky thing, because shortly later my wife heard a gurdy for the first time, fled the scene with a look of panic, and announced“If you ever bring one of those things into the house I am leaving you!”


Well, after almost 40 years, she’s relented.

So as a reward for turning 65, I recently ordered a hurdy gurdy from George & Anwyn Leverett, near neighbors from the Illinois Valley. And so here’s that unnamed bouree I learned from Dominique all those years ago. If you know the name, please let me know.

I apologize in advance to the musically sensitive, or to any one who actually knows how to play the dang thing. But boy, am I having fun.

Oh, and I do have a monkey.


May 4, 2015

A few years back I got a call from someone wondering if I might be interested in buying his daddy’s old Hawaiian steel guitar. Although I didn’t play steel at the time, I was interested enough to drive to town and take a look. What I found blew me away: a pre-war Rickenbacher Electro “Silver Hawaiian” lap steel in almost mint condition – and yes, that’s they way they spelled it back then.

The guitar was in its original case, along with the owner’s celluloid finger picks, steel bullet bar, and a chamois cloth. The guitar, along with a Rickenbacher amplifier of the same vintage, was housed in a large homemade wooden crate.

Photo of Rickenbacher "Silver Hawaiian" lap steel in wooden case.

Turns out the owner had served in the Navy in the years leading up to World War II. He was stationed in Pearl Harbor, and played professionally in Hawaiian bands around Honolulu. My contact wanted to be sure the instrument would go to someone who would play it, a sentiment I agree with.

So I purchased it with the understanding that I’d learn to play, and one day take it to Hawaii and play a Hawaiian song in honor of his father.

Well, I did those things. I studied steel in Hawaii with Alan Akaka, Geri Valdriz, Owana Salazar and the great Fred Lunt. And I’ve used the Ric in the studio a few times. Here are a couple tracks from my CD “Funtime Uke-a-Rama.”


Sweet Singing Bamboo

Nowadays days I find myself playing my little Fender “Deluxe” 8 string steel when I play steel at all, and the Ric in all it’s glory has taken semi-permanent residence under the guest bed.

So, in the belief that instruments should be played, not looked at, I’ve decided to put the Ric up for sale. Here’s a wish that it’ll go to someone who will keep it singing for another ¾ of a century!

I’ll post a video when I get the chance, in the meantime, check out more photos and info here.


March 16, 2015

“It Sounds So Sweet: Jug Band Music for Ukulele” — books & CDs now available on Amazon!

Click here to buy the book.

Click here to buy the CD.

JUG'N UKE Cover-v2 copy

“It Sounds So Sweet: Jug Band Music For Ukulele” serves up twenty classic songs from the early years of recording. You’ll get songs from the classic bands like the Memphis Jug Band, Earl McDonald’s Original Louisville Jug Band, The Hokum Boys, and the  Mississippi Sheiks among many others.

In the spirit of jug bands everywhere, I have not limited this collection solely to transcriptions of early jug band recordings – although you’ll find plenty of those. Instead, I have tried to track down the sources for songs that have became part of the jug band revival. Some come from early jazz and hokum bands, others from the repertoire of blues singers or the musical hall stage. There are even a couple songs from old time Appalachian and early country artists. And you’ll find rarities like the complete 1919 version of “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Give to Me,” and the long lost introduction to “Coney Island Roundelay.”

If you like to have fun with your ukulele, you will love this book.

• All arrangements in easy to read tablature and standard notation.
• Alternate and original lyrics for many songs.
• Many arrangements include intros, instrumental solos and bridges transcribed from the original recordings.
• Detailed playing notes to help guide you through the tricky bits.
• Written for standard “My Dog Has Fleas” tuning, playable on any ‘ukulele.

Learn to play these classic songs:

  • Adam and Eve In The Garden of Eden
  • Beedle Um Bum
  • The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
  • Coney Island Washboard Roundelay
  • Crazy Words, Crazy Tune
  • Dallas Rag
  • Eli Green’s Cakewalk
  • Evolution Mama
  • Hesitation Blues
  • I’ve Got The Mourning Blues
  • Jug Band Quartette (Jug Band Music)
  • Lazy Lazy River
  • Left All Alone Again Blues
  • Papa’s on The House Top
  • The Sheik of Araby
  • Sitting on Top of the World
  • Stealin’ Stealin’
  • Truckin’ My Blues Away
  • Under The Chicken Tree
  • You May Leave, But This Will Bring You Back


February 19, 2015

Here’s a Jug Band Ukulele lesson using a song from the new book. “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” was recorded twice: first by “Bogus ” Ben Covington in 1928 and again in 1930 by Tommy Bradley. The two versions had different lyrics, so naturally I include all the verses in the book.

Don’t forget to head on over to IndieGogo to preorder your copy today!


Groundhog Day, 2015

Jug Band Music for Ukulele Instruments

To celebrate my favorite holiday — and to get y’all to pre-order my new book “Jug Band Music for Ukulele — It Sounds So Sweet” — here’s a taste of the music.

“Jug Band Quartette”  Also known as “Jug Band Music.” From the Memphis Jug Band.

“Papa’s on the Housetop.” From Scrapper Blackwell & Leroy Carr.

For a limited time you can pre-order the book in paperback or as a download and get all the music free for nothing. That’s a honking’ big savings, so head on over to IndieGogo and pick up yer copy today. And please help spread the word.


January 11, 2015

I’ve put up a crowd funding page to help publish my new book & CD  set. Please help out, Ozzie needs kibbles.

JUG'N UKE Cover-v2 copy