"Mark Harris has figured out how to play the guitar with the drive, drones, and finesse necessary to conjure up centuries of old-time fiddling. This debut album is groundbreaking!"
- Matt Brown
"With Old Time Guitar, Harris makes a compelling mark within a contemporary old-time scene hungry to demonstrate its canon isn’t just time capsule music, but relevant contextualized in the present — with production, arrangements, and outside-the-box thinking to match."
- Justin Hiltner,
The Bluegrass Situation
Mark Harris is a guitarist based in Fort Collins, Colorado. They specialize in traditional North American stringband music, or what is nowadays usually called ‘old time’ music - this being an umbrella term encompassing a variety of regional folk traditions from Appalachia, the deep South, the mid-West, and beyond. In contrast to the accompanying role the guitar usually occupies in these largely fiddle- and banjo-centric styles, Mark’s distinctive playing technique allows the guitar to sit front-and-center, carrying the melody of the tune with conviction but also lending unexpected harmonic depth and percussive energy.
Mark was raised in Perth, Western Australia, and first picked up the guitar at the age of ten. After learning their first songs from their father, they started to teach themselves, diving into many different styles of playing over their high school and university years, but gravitating especially toward acoustic music in its various forms. Moving to the US for graduate school in 2010, Mark’s interest in North American roots music began to intensify, first centering on bluegrass and then shifting toward the traditional stringband music from which it arose. Attracted by this music’s communal spirit, and the way its often unassuming surface hides great depths of rhythmic and textural nuance, Mark became actively involved in local old time circles, first in Philadelphia and then (after moving cross country in 2018) in Fort Collins.
In addition to learning the chordal accompaniment style that is typical of old time guitar playing, Mark found themselves drawn to the melodic side of the music, and began to reproduce on guitar the traditional fiddle and banjo tunes they were hearing. While the bluegrass world provided plenty of models for flatpicking tunes, Mark would distance themselves from the refined, highly ornamented style of playing found there - this style’s natural home seeming to lay in the practice of improvising virtuosic solos, in contrast to weaving the sort of repetitive, atmospheric grooves they loved in old time music. As such, they developed their playing technique to allow for more sustained notes and rhythmic pulsing, trying to emulate the distinctive ‘rocking’ bow of an old time fiddler, as well as the insistent drive and syncopated drones of a clawhammer banjoist. Moreover, they found ways to creatively outline underlying chord structures while playing the melody, adding further depth to the resulting sound.
Encouraged by friends in the old time community, Mark began recording their debut solo album Old Time Guitar in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the album was tracked in their modest home studio in Fort Collins, with pre-production consultation provided by Matt Brown, and remote mastering by Mat Leffler-Schulman of Baltimore’s Mobtown Studios. Old Time Guitar contains Mark’s take on a variety of traditional tunes, drawing on source recordings from the likes of John Morgan Salyer, Nathan Frazier & Frank Patterson, Edden Hammons, Matokie Slaughter, Sid Hemphill, and more; also included are arrangements of a few tunes composed by modern masters, such as Benton Flippen, Oscar ‘Red’ Wilson, and Garry Harrison. Together, the album’s fifteen tracks constitute a bold statement of what is possible for the guitar in old time music.