Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lunch with Robert...and Turturro's Peanut

Once again Ukulele Consciousness founder Robert Wheeler braved the twisting streets of Ukuleletown in his smart noir VW convertible to show up at my doorstep for ukuleles, beer and lunch. (in that order)

This time Robert brought with him a sampling of ukuleles named after, built by and distributed by some murky denizens of late twenties (or so) Chicago (or thereabouts). The first ukulele was named after someone mentioned recently on this blog; Bobby Henshaw. A charming player with a smooth, flat neck (like Bobby) and a spruce top. What was the rest of the uke made of? Hell if I know.

Then Robert brought out the prizes: a Bruno soprano with a bound fretboard and the famous Turturro “peanut” soprano. Both were remarkably similar in style, wood and appointments. Dare I say they were made in the same factory? They both sounded great, but the Peanut had an amazing tone. (in spite of the ugly design!)

(click on any image to enlarge it)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A meaninful response

While I'll admit that "Sita Sings the Blues" is great, and Annette Hanshaw's version of "Mean to Me" is good...I'm still sticking with Ruth Etting's version, which features the Dorsey brothers and the fabulous Joe Venuti on violin.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sita Sings the Blues

In poking around for hard cold facts to back up my contention that Annette Hanshaw deserves greater adoration by the ukulele-playing public than Ruth Etting (see the friendly fire between Craig and me, below), I stumbled across this astounding find.

Sita Sings the Blues is a work-in-progress animated film by Nina Paley which retells the ancient Hindu epic, Ramayana, from Sita's perspective in a sort of "Betty Boop goes Bollywood." And, get this: Annette Hanshaw provides the voice of Sita.

Paley's idea for the film sprung from the implosion of her marriage, as she began to see parallels between her story and Sita's. After her husband dumped her via email (clearly not a uke player):

"...I was temporarily homeless. I couldn't return to my old apartment in San Francisco, which was rented out, and I couldn't go back to India. So I "sofa-surfed" in New York for a while. One sofa belonged to a jazz collector, being house-sat by a friend of mine. During my stay I had access to his huge record collection, and there I heard Annette Hanshaw for the first time. The song was "Mean to Me," and I was hooked - it became my "theme song." My friend later gave me a whole CD of Hanshaw songs, which I played over and over.

"These songs - Mean to Me, Am I Blue, Daddy Won't You Please Come Home, Moanin' Low - tell the same story I found in the Ramayana. Woman loves man, man does her wrong, woman loves man anyway and suffers horribly. They're the Blues; they're Sita's story, and mine. It seemed a natural fit. Annette Hanshaw was the perfect voice: delicate and girlish, vulnerable and strong. Hanshaw was billed as "Society's Blues Singer," also appropriate for a princess like Sita."
"Mean to Me" is my favorite Hanshaw recording, so it was a huge delight to see that Paley chose it for her film. There's another reason why her choice of Annette Hanshaw is so perfect: it's the Betty Boop connection. Betty Boop was a caricature of flapper siren Helen Kane and Annette made several recordings imitating Kane's style.

(This even led to a lawsuit, according information at this site:

"Reportedly, when Annette released some of her Helen Kane imitations the Victor Company was furious and sued Helen for breach of contract. They thought Helen was singing under a pseudonym for a different record company."

But lest Craig say that this tarnishes Annette's reputation, I note that it seems that Ruth Etting even did her share of Helen Kane rip-offs.)

In any event, go see this site with all due haste. It has several of the segments that are completed to date, and the animation is just wonderful. Annette's voice really brings Paley's Sita to life, and vice versa. Consider this an early Xmas present. Link

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I'm still betting on Etting

I'm all for Ms. Hanshaw, she sets my pulse racing...but Ruth Etting singing "Mean to Me"...yow.

...and she was an artist! (note the palette in this photo)

Dig it, Daddy-G.

(uh...oh, yeah, and she has a lot of great tunes that work well on ukulele)

Etting Schmetting

Okay, I like Ruth Etting as much as the next red-blooded American male. But I'll leave it up to you to decide who's the more luscious dish, Ruth or the incomparable Annette Hanshaw. (Puh-leez, it just ain't no contest, Craig...). I have no idear if she played the ukulele, but she sure did love one! (And some reports I've read suggest that she was kin to Bobby "Uke" Henshaw.)

If you've never heard of Miss Hanshaw, you're in for a treat. She recorded a whole bevy of Tin Pan Alley standards, many of which she signed off with her signature tagline, "That's All." The Red Hot Jazz Archive has a wonderful collection that you can listen to online.

To learn even more about the romantic and mysterious life of Anne Hanshaw (after topping the charts for several years, she retired from performing at the age of 36), visit this site, which is entirely devoted to her memory, and this one, which has a video of her one and only movie appearance. Her Wikipedia entry is also worth checking out.

But to be completely honest, there is another singer from this era that really captures my heart. But that, dear reader, is a story for another night...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Truth about Ruth

Ain't no doubt that one of the most famous ladies singing in the late 20s was Ruth Etting. Her version of "Button Up Your Overcoat" still amazes me.

Did you know she played ukulele??? Here's a publicity still from that period of Ruth. It's labeled "Publicity Still of Ruth Etting with Ukulele" that a ukulele?


New York UkeFest Competition...

Win a ukulele, two tickets to the NY UkeFest in April, and other wonderful stuff! All you gotta do is design a cool new logo for the NY UkeFest.

Oh, and the judges have to pick it.

more info here

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Land of Nod: Dan Zanes Podcast

Finally. A retailer that gets it right and stocks Flea Ukuleles rather than crappy plywood kid's guitars. (Well, strike that. They sell those, too, but I give them 4 stars for selling Fleas in the first place.) The store is The Land of Nod, a Chicagoland retailer partly owned by Crate & Barrel. And what is more, their website offers free "Nodcast" podcasts, including this one featuring erstwhile uker Dan Zanes!

Stylish Ultra Ukulele

Design partners Milla Jovovich and Carmen Hawk reveal one of their hidden charms.

Five Foot two with Milla singing and Carmen playing….hmm
(thanks to Bertrand at KDUS for spotting this)


The hot pink underside of the ukulele

I saw these in a shop window in a dark corner of Ukuleletown. They cried out "Be mine"! I was smitten. I rushed in and had the clerk wrap them up for me. Hurrying home, I tore open the package, got out my staplegun, and stapled them on the wall next to my KoAloha ukulele.

Thank you, Miss Vox.

Lunch with Robert (and Peter Pan)

Every week or so, Robert Wheeler (the Founder of Ukulele Consciousness), and I get together with three or four ukuleles from his collection and a six pack of beer. After a round of discussion and ukulele strumming and comparison, we usually go to lunch at the incomparable Paddock Lounge, a Ukuleletown institution.

The ukuleles Robert brings over each time usually represent some interesting node of ukulele conscious, a swirling trend or some graceful historical arc.

(Stay on-topic, Craig) This week Robert brought over four ukuleles from the Chicago makers of the 40s. All soprano figure eights and all wood, three of them shared the same well-know black one piece tuning machines that were on so many ukuleles coming out of the Windy City at that time. The first two were unmarked and played with a period sound that was immediately identifiable, but still musically useful. The third ukulele had a weird amorphous blob of a logo on the back of the headstock that read “American Conservatory” inside. Better made, the sound was charming, yet still “of that period”.

The stand out piece of the group was the fourth one, stamped inside a “Peter Pan Ukulele”. Most probably made by Regal in the 40s and distributed by Progressive Musical Instruments. The Peter Pan had lovely upscale Harmony type tuners, a separate saddle, excellent mahogany and a care and craftsmanship that is usually associated with Martin ukuleles. Whoever had crafted the ukulele was certainly very familiar with Martins. Plain, no binding, but extremely well done. It had a sound that was bright, but with that nice mahogany “throat”.

I think it’s charming to name a ukulele after Peter Pan, because, after all, none of us wants to grow up.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Brights Spots From the Dark Side of the Uke

Mike Schmitt sez:

Thanks for posting our show info a couple of weeks ago on

We did the Dark Side of the Uke show on Sat and it was fantastic! One of the biggest crowds in the Knockout Club's brief history came out to see the show...

I posted some pics from the show on Flickr...

They're a bit murky because of the fog machine we had going.

We also have a few vids on YouTube. Pic is dark and sound ain't so hot from the camcorder - but hopefully you get a rough idea.

Go to our YouTube profile page here and there are 4 vids posted from the Tatamimats.

We're already planning another performance in a few months.....It was so much fun we definitely plan on doing it again.
Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving.
I'm still holding out for an all-uke version of Nilsson Schmilsson.

Bobby "Uke" Henshaw Kin Stops By

I received a nice email today from Alan Gordon:

Greetings, Gary,

I googled "Uke Henshaw" today and found your interesting article. The reason I googled it is because my father-in-law is Robert K. Henshaw, son of "Uke," which would appear to be an unknown fact in most of the Ukulele world.

Uke was married to Doris Harding (later remarried to Engstrom), and Robert was born in Hoboken, NJ, in 1935 while Uke was touring there. Doris was also a singer, and apparently she and her sister were the featured voices in the first state-to-state radio transmission... but that's another story.

Uke was an "estranged" father, so I don't know many details (this is why I googled). When Robert was about 5, 6, or 7, they took Uke to the docks for a ship he was taking to Australia. Unbeknownst to him, that was his parents splitting up, and he saw him sparsely later in life.

I've talked to my wife about it, and she remembers him visiting a couple times when she was younger (he died when she was 13). I have NOT talked to Robert about it, yet (I sent him a link to your page), so I'm not sure how he would feel about the info being a part of Ukulele history, but I wanted to see what was out there... and let you know that there could be more ot the story.

I know he has a collection pictures signed by the likes of Bob Hope and Bela Lugosi that are signed "To Uke..." etc. He also has more pictures of him, and a big picture of a marquee signed by Uke, himself. Robert is the spitting image of Uke, too, so there's no mistaking it.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to seeing Robert's reaction to his dad being on different internet sites. If you have any more info to offer from your perspective, or would like to know more things from this perspective, just let us know.

Have a good Thanksgiving.

Alan Gordon
Fullerton, CA
If any of you Uke Henshaw Historians out there have any info that you'd like to share with Alan, drop me an email and I'll put you in touch!

The Pynchon/Formby Conspiracy Plot Thickens

Thomas Pynchon is one of my favorite authors (Joyce holding the #1 spot). But does he play the ukulele? Some sources suggest yes. But since there have been few sightings of the reclusive author, one can only speculate.

And we here at Ukulelia are happy to oblige.

Exhibit A: Pynchon and Formby Headshots. Could the physical resemblance between Pynch and George Formby be mere coincicence? Perhaps. But the resemblance and the common uniform be anything more than a blatant clue? One need only compare the images accompanying this article to understand the power that this theory holds over the contemporary mind.

Exhibit B: Gravity's Rainbow. Formby and ukuleles are present:

"Speaking of Formby, the combination of buck-toothed grin and ukelele calls to mind Thomas Pynchon, a buck-toothed kid with an affinity for ukeleles. Sure enough, Formby is mentioned on page 17 of Gravity's Rainbow, describing Tyrone Slothrop:

'He does have some rather snappy arrangement,' Tantivy reports, "he's a sort of American George Formby, if you can imagine such a thing, but Bloat's decided he'd rather not.

"Our information about Pynchon comes from a 1977 article by Jules Siegal: '[Pynchon] could carry a tune well and made up ribald parodies of popular songs, which I seem to remember-- surely I am imagining this-- were accompanied on a ukulele.' "
And now comes the news, and...

Exhibit C: Against the Day. Ukuleles are again present.

According to this review, of Pynch's just-published novel, "as early as page 15, someone picks up a ukulele and sings a silly song..."

Then we have the author's own synopsis of the book:
"Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

"With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.

"The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. [Clearly, all uke player references. -- ed.] There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

"As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them. Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs [Again, a uke reference!]. Strange sexual practices take place [!!]. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically [!!!] . Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction."

Clearly, this work will soon come to be recognized as one of the pillars of ukulele lit.

Other items from the Pynchon/Formby Conspiracy files include evidence of the model of uke that Pynch would most likely play, as well as a potential musical fixation.

Like all conspiracy theories, this one is difficult to define, articulate, authenticate, let alone prove. And so, Dear Reader-Ukulelist, we leave you with the following words from the master:
"Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck."

-Thomas Pynchon

Vox Populi

What do you get when you cross Jewel, Don Ho and Miles Davis? A "white girl from Wisconsin who plays the ukulele," of course. AKA, Victoria Vox, who hits Ruddertowne, Dewey Beach this Saturday. (And I'll let Craig wax poetically on her line of undergarments...) Link

Dominator on Christmas Island

Dominator just added Christmas Island to his tab page! A new chestnut to roast... Link

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ukulele Bartt

Ladiess and Gentlemenn: the mysterious Ukulele Bartt. Link


Ohta-San playing "Hawaii". Amazing what beauty comes from such an apparently sparse technique. Now if I could only get my thumbnail to grow an inch long...

The Johnny Starlings

The Johnny Starlings hail from Morro Bay, California. I've just started listening to the tracks on their MySpace page, but I'd describe their music as John Pizzarelli meets Harry Nilsson. I especially like their track "On the Porch." Enjoy! Link

The Missing Oomlat

Okay, I’ll admit to not knowing all the details about the person in this video. His name is Herman Dune (with an oomlat over the u). He has appeared from a dark corner of Ukuleletown, his ukulele in hand, singing in accented english. But mystery is an important part of art. It’s a great song, “I Would Rather Walk Than Run”, and that’s all I need to know.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Hanukkah Song Update!

A big "Shaloha" to John W. Leys, who sent us a bevy of Hanukkah song links (including Adam Sandler's ditty, natch) for the Ukulelia Holiday Songbook. Be sure to check out John's blog which contains "the random, sometimes rambling, thoughts of a ukulele playing Jewish poet and Biblical Scholar." Link

Michael Schwab Poster

If you've ever been to San Francisco, chances are you've seen Michael Schwab's poster series for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Check out this poster that Michael did for the 6th Annual Print Buyers Conference. Signed edition for sale on his site. Link

Sunday, November 19, 2006

G – L – O – R – I – A !

From Spats White, this ever-so-outrageous photo of Gloria Swanson in 1917 with her Martin ukulele. Yow, with that outfit, she’d fit right in with the crowd at the Diesel Café in Ukuleletown.

too hip. waaaay ahead of her time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Notice how I refrain from making a silly pun on the name “Bliss”…

In Gotham last night, Nov. 15th, audiences were treated to a rare solo performance by Bliss Blood. She was part of the New York edition of Ukulele Noir Nineteen.

She played a concert Kamaka ukulele and sang some great songs…but, good as the singing and playing was, what really knocked me off my padded chair…

…was her whistlin’. Damn! Now there’s a nice, sassy, bingcrosby, doingsomethingelsewithyourmouth solo with the ukulele that is really killer. But it has to be spot on. And Bliss’ whistlin’ was spot on.

I’m so jealous.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the Plunk and the Thunk

It's night in Ukuleletown. In case you haven't guessed it's always night in Ukuleletown. I'm sitting at the luxurious horseshoe-shaped bar at the B-Side Lounge having my second Gimlet. Spunky is propped up in front of me against the egg-tray. Spunky don't drink.

Two stools away is a poor sod who has obviously been drinking his blues away all day. He's got a drink in front of him, a cigarette in the ashtray and he is leaning heavily on one hand, falling asleep. Every time he nods off into dreamland, his face slips off the prop of his hand and his head thunks against the wood of the bar.

He does this three or four times. Each time he does Spunky falls over and I have to right him. The sound of the guy's head hitting the bar is...almost musical, and I ask the bartender what the bar top is made of. He sets down the glass he's polishin' and says, "I wouldn't know somethin' like that ordinarily, but we had to replace a corner piece and the carpenter said it was an oak bar with a mahogany top."

Ah. I love the sound of mahogany. All my favorite ukuleles are mahogany. Some of my neighbors in Ukuleletown, however, prefer the plunk and bark of Koa. I know there are many other woods used in making ukuleles, but the two main ones are mahogany and koa. To my ear the koa has a loud plunk with a shorter sustain. While the mahogany has a satisfying thunk with a bit more, warmer sustain.

Kinda like my sleepy friend down the bar.

the top image is mahogany, the bottom, koa

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Masters Poster

While we're steeling time away from our favorite instrument, we might mention that this cool poster featuring a 1934 Rickenbacher "Frypan" lap steel guitar surrounded by vintage photos of legendary Hawaiian steel guitarists Sol Ho'opi'i, David Keli'i, Dick McIntire & David "Feet" Rogers is on sale at Elderly for only $8. Link

Steel Guitar revisited

Yow. The video of the Imperial Hawaiians on this page may have given you an odd impression (and feeling) about steel guitar. It is a great instrument to accompany the ukulele with. Roy Smeck thought so. If you don’t believe that, listen to some killer arrangements by Ann Arbor’s own Gerald Ross. Gerald plays, records and composes on both instruments.

But call it a steel guitar, baby; slap it on your lap and make it happen.


Monday, November 13, 2006

CBS Assignment America: Vote Now!

Update: turkeys: 1, ukes, 0.

Here is the link by which you can vote for CBS News to send Steve Hartman out to do a story on Ukes for Troops. Vote early, vote often!

The Imperial Hawaiians

A contributor over on the Fleamarket Music Bulletin Board posted a link to this video clip. While it's interesting to see this early Western interpretation of Hawaiian music, it's really awful. The ukulele player really creeps me out. Do not watch alone, or with the lights out. Excuse me, I have to go watch it again...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Saw Lady...

It's a quite night in Ukuleletown. After 2am. The bars have all closed and the streets are slick from a recent rain. As I walk by an alley in the theater district, a plaintive, keeing sound fills the air; emanating from the stage door from one of the theaters.
I walk down the alley and poke my head in. There is a lovely woman with a saw and a bow making the most marvelous music.

Musical saw is an instrument that seems to go well with ukulele (yes, there is a ukulele connection!) More and more musicians are discovering it's joys. Bliss Blood from the Moonlighters, has played one for years. Joel Eckhaus, from Earnest Instruments, plays one. There's one in the Asylum Street Spankers, as well as the Hot Potato Syncopaters, to name just a few. The sound it produces seems to blend well with the sweet charm of the ukulele.

Natalia Paruz or The Saw Lady, as she is know, plays it better and knows more about it than anyone I've run across. Her website is a cornucopia of information on the instrument and her performances. There's even instruction and advice for beginners.

Get one, fill the air with wonder.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ukulele Ringtone

As part of the Ringtone Society project, Aussie Uker Rose Turtle Ertler has composed and produced a wonderful ukulele ringtone that you can download for your cell phone. Here's some more about the Ringtone Society:
The Ringtone Society is an international platform that aims to liberate the world of musically banal ringtones that have infiltrated our neighbourhoods. HOW? By asking composers and musicians from all over the world to join us in creating original ringtones and inviting you to acquire and use as many as you like, and thus protecting society from the digitally-dull ringtone! Let the revolution be mobilised!

Ukulele 101

“Cliff Edwards got his start in show business as a teenager in St. Louis where he sang in movie theatres and saloons.”

For those budding ukulele players who haven’t figured it out, Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) is an ENTIRE course on ukulele playing and singing. This is a great FREE site with a lot of his early tunes to listen to and learn.

Do your homework and you can have a treat.


Friday, November 10, 2006

transatlantic colloquialisims

I first heard 'em at Ukulele Noir Cinq. After their stand out performance at the New York Uke Fest last April, I was ready to declare Les Chauds Lapins the best thing to ever happen to banjo ukuleles!

'course, they sing exclusively in french.

'bout time they made it to the old country.
"21 Novembre, 20h30
Bistrot des Artistes rue des Anglais, 5ème arrt
métro le plus proche: Maubert mutualité.
entrée libre!
C'est vrai! Nous alons jouer à Paris! Directement de Brooklyn, Les Chauds Lapins apportera leur version particulière des chansons françaises classiques à Paris. Wouldn't you know? Our first Parisian gig will be on the "rue des Anglais"."
Meg Reichardt and Kurt Hoffman

(I know it seems like there's a lot of french posts here, but Kurt and Meg are really americans. really. )


Win Jens Lekman's Ukulele

Jens Lekman has decided to give up the ukulele. While we here at Ukulelia might question his decision, the fact of the matter is that some lucky person will be one free ukulele richer if they win his contest:
"How did I become so associated with this instrument, the Ukulele ? Well, to start with I brought it along for almost every show the last two years, instead of trying to recreate the sound as I had it imagined and realised on the records. For me it was never the history, the George Formby, the Tip Toeing Through The Tulips with Tiny Tim that brought me into it. Sadly, it wasn't even a real love for its sound. It was laziness, people. Good old laziness. It was the idea of being able to travel the country with the ukulele hanging over my shoulder, no big hardcases, no messing with the airline crew, no worrying about the baggage guys dancing polka on it. I loved that image in my head, it went so well with the strawhat I wore back then.

"For me, my Ukulele, is somehow standing in my way. Because it never was a part of my music as I imagined it. It doesn't lead me anywhere anymore. So if you want it (it's free) , here's what you have to do: Go on a vacation, somewhere you've never been before (doesn't have to be far away), and send me a postcard with your adress."
The deadline is in one week. Link

Vote for Ukes for Troops

Today's the day to vote for Ukes for Troops!
"This is Anita Coyoli-Cullen, co founder of Ukes for Troops. I just got back from a week in Hawaii. While I was there I got a telephone call from the producer of the CBS Nighttime News with Katie Couric. Boy, was I excited. I had her call Shirley Orlando, my partner, back in California. It seems that CBS does this thing where you vote about what topic you want to see developed, and they want Ukes for Troops to be one of the shows.

So, on Friday, November 10, 2006 please watch the CBS news with Katie Couric and when they provide you with a list of 3 topics that you would want to see developed, please vote for 'Ukes for Troops'. If we win, then they will come out to Shirley's store, Island Bazaar, in Huntington Beach, on Tuesday, November 14th, and tape the story. Please let me know if you need more information. Please pass this on to everyone you know

Anita Coyoli-Cullen
Co-founder of Ukes for Troops"


As if things couldn't get any cooler, I just learned that Anita has been named as a winner of the Bank of America Local Hero Award. The award will be presented to Anita at a banquet being held on Thursday, November 16, 2006, at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Stadium in the Diamond Club. The presentation will begin at 11am and end by 2pm. Woo hoo! Way to go, Anita! Can anyone in SoCal spearhead a contingent from the ukulele community to turn out in Anita's honor? Email me if you'd like to volunteer, and I'll post info on how people can meet up with you here on Ukulelia.

Smeck slidin'

This from Dan "Soybean" Sawyer:

"A friend of mine, Pete Huggins, recently acquired a video of Roy Smeck performing on the Captain Kangaroo TV program from 1964. He sent me this "video capture" of Roy playing lap-slide on the uke using a harmonica! Quite a trick. You can also see a small pickup on the side of the uke."

Jersey Croonin'

Having a cravin’ for a good slab, I head down to the south end of Ukuleletown to Henshaw’s Rib & Rye House. It’s a great, smoky little bistro to chow down at and they have Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, my fave.

Me and Spunky are sittin’ down to a nice plate of Henny’s famous ribs when the lights dim and a man walks out onto the small stage tucked into the corner. He has a neatly trimmed goatee and is carrying a ukulele.

He’s introduced as Patsy Monteleone from Jersey. Being half-Sicilian myself, I sit back and listen…

Now, the ukulele is a great instrument for vocal accompaniment.I really like just hearing a good ukulele player with a good voice doing a good song. Ain’t much to ask out of life, right?

Well, Patsy Monteleone is someone who does just that. And has been doing it for long enough to put a bit of finesse on it. He shows up a lot at Jason Tagg’s Ukulele Cabaret in Gotham.

Patsy has a new website with a bunch of great songs on it. Give it a listen, you’ll be glad you did.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Senator Daniel Akaka

In this photo, Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka displays his secret weapon used to defeat his opponent in the recent Democratic primary. (Will it matter to Hawaiian voters that he's holding a Martin? Call Hardcopy!) Link

Election Update: Apparently, it did not. Link

Tall Tales in Portland

If you drive about two hours north of Ukuleletown, into the wilds of Maine, you will come to the charming yet mysterious seaside port of Portland. Spunky doesn’t like to travel, so I have to make the trip alone. In that fabled city lies the workshop of the wildly talented luthier Joel Eckhaus of Earnest Instruments.

Joel towers over today’s other luthiers. Not just because he’s taller than any of them, but because he’s a great player as well as a great luthier. He will be playing at Ukulele Noir 20 with the lovely Drinka Overton as the duo “Ham and Legs” Not to be missed.

But what makes Joel truly stand out is his new and inventive ukulele designs. Not content to make the martin soprano over and over, he is continuously experimenting with new shapes and designs.

This new one, the Stradelele is a winner to my eyes. Balance and charm. and the amazing John King is playing one…?


(Gary chimes in: Eck's inspiration is the Strad-o-Caster. Link)

'Nother Night

I leave the bar and make my way home through the swirling fog that covers Ukuleletown after midnight. I’m a little unsteady, but okay as long as I keep moving. As I turn off Broadway and down a dark side street I hear the sound of music coming from an apartment window above me. If I smoked, I would light up a Lucky Strike, but I don’t, so I just stand there, hat tilted back, and listen.
Lovely scary songs with a heavy French accent. Through the window I can see the glint of polished metal: he must be playing a resonator ukulele. What is it with frenchmen and resonator ukuleles? For that matter, english ukulele players, when they’re not wanging away on banjo ukuleles, seem to prefer resonators also. Hmm. I could be on to something here.
Or not. The songs I hear through the apartment window have…class. Yeah, that’s nice. There’s plenty of tastelessness in Ukuleletown: bathtub madonnas on the lawns and Sea Monkeys in their houses. But this music is…somehow tastier, darker, grittier.
The music stops. “Who are you?” I yell up. “Stelele” He yells back.
I smile and head home. When I get to my apartment I turn on the lights and first thing I do is feed Spunky.
Spunky’s my Sea Monkey.
Stelele’s music: NSFW

Uker Wins Snickers(R) Satisfaction Sing-Off

"Snickers® announced today Michael Beaudoin from Scarborough, Maine as the winner of the Snickers® "Satisfaction Sing-Off" contest. His winning performance at the House of Blues in Hollywood earned him the grand prize of $25,000. His on-stage theatrics and live rendition of his entry, SUPER SNICKERS® BAR, wowed the judges, including celebrity judge Nick Lachey...

"While plucking his ukulele, Beudoin revealed how the ingredients of a Snickers® bar instill him with magical super powers, including saving mankind with the taste of nougat."

Eilidh's Daily Ukulele Ceilidh!

Scottish ukulelist and performance artist Eilidh MacAskill appears to cooking up a new performance piece for 2007. As we learn more, we'll post it here. In the meantime, check out her site with information on other upcoming performances. Link

It's a Surf Fluke!

Just in the nick of time to make your Xmas wish list, here's the new Surf Fluke, with a neat vintage surfboard design, walnut neck, and rosewood fretboard. Designed by His Majesty, Tiki King! Link

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Hot New Ukulele

Well…this reporter ain’t gonna be no company’s shill, but…the talk of Ukuleletown these days is a Koahola ukulele called the Pineapple Sunday.

Evvvvvvvvreybody wants one. (kinda)

With it’s small body and tenor neck, it is a joy to play. For a production ukulele company, Koahola kicks butt in the marketplace, thanks partly to their aggressive marketing stance.
Here’s some of the blah on the P.S.:“ The Pineapple Sunday, the newest creation from Alvin "Papa KoAloha" Okami. The Pineapple Sunday has a unique body shape, which was modeled after a real pineapple. It also has the unique cross-hatch embossed design, pioneered by Alvin.This model is now being used by Gordon Mark and Victoria Vox.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Floggin' Another Blog

So I relaxin’ in my music room, listenin’ to Cliffie do “Paper Moon” and the phone rings. I snatch the receiver off the hook and, lo and behold, it’s Perry White callin’ me from Gotham. “Guess what, noirboy?” He barks in my ear. “We got our very own ukulele band in the city and it’s called the New York Ukulele Ensemble! Howdya like them apples? HUH?” Before I can slip a word in edgewise he yells; “Uke Jackson, Alan Drogin,
Gio Gaynor, Heather Lev, Tomoko Moroishi and Tim Ackerman on percussion! They gotta website and a blog and all that.” He pauses dramatically,”Now, that’s a story, right?”
I yawn. Tip the brim of my hat down over my eyes and turn up Cliffie. “Yah, maybe I’ll check it out….”

We Three Kings - The Roches

Okay, this is totally off topic. But I was poking around on the Elderly site on their Sale section, and ran across CD by The Roches. This is my ALLTIME favorite Xmas album. I must've bought a half dozen copies for friends over the years. At $4.00, this is a steal. Which reminds me: I should add Suzzy Roche's Christmas Passing Through to the list. If someone would do a fingerpicking arrangement for the uke, I'd be eternally grateful. It's a beautiful song. Link

Uke "Book" for the Visually Impaired

Check it! It's a bookless method for the visually impaired. This 4-CD set teaches basic chords and note playing for both soprano and tenor ukes. There's one for the baritone uke, too. What a thoughtful idea! Link

Ukulele Takes the Airwaves!

Two ukulele people part-timing as DJs. One in California and one in Massachusetts. Tune them in if you get the chance.

Peter Hurney, of Pohaku Ukuleles (see his shop building on the left), writes: "My radio show on KALX Berkeley is finally going on air. “Alternate Tunings” is a show produced by myself and Julie Bruins which examines unusual out of the ordinary musical instruments. This pilot episode is on the harpsichord, and every ½ hour episode culminates with the ‘Ukulele Minute’, everyone’s favorite alternate instrument.

Our show will originally be aired only once a month on the third Wednesday at 9:00 AM."


and Mary J. Martin, marvelous ukuleleist and Provincetown, MA resident, writes "I am now officially a substitute DJ on WOMR.ORG. (on Cape Cod)" link

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The French Ukulele Connection (sorry)

Take a trip across the big puddle, digitally, that is. Ukulele things are happenin’ in France. Groups are poppin’ up all over the map. Check out a fab trio from Saint Lo, The Koenig’ Sisters. Francois, Narjisse and Morue make might tasty music together, even with that pesky stray apostrophe. Their version of the Kinks' “Sunny Afternoon” is…well…sublime.

Do you know this Vermont Luthier?

Kevin Crossett, a Vermont musician/music store owner/bulletin board purveyor, has been making some great sounding ukuleles of late. From his mini-empire in Montpelier, Vermont he has been reaching out to the New England ukulele community. Besides being an all around nice guy, he runs a music store that actually stocks and sells ukuleles! Strange days are upon us.
His lovely ukuleles are very well made and, best of all, killer sounding. Oh, yeah, and reasonably priced.

Jumpin' Jim's Happy Holidays

Another early stocking stuffer courtesy of Jim Beloff. Pick up a copy, together with his previous Ukulele Christmas for a limited time for only $25. Here are the songs included:

All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth
Baby, It's Cold Outside
Blue Christmas
The Chipmunk Song
Christmas Island
The Christmas Waltz
Frosty The Snow Man
Happy Holiday
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays
I'll Be Home For Christmas
It's Beginning To Look Like Christmas
It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Jingle-Bell Rock
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Little Saint Nick
Mele Kalikimaka
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town
Sleigh Ride
We Need A Little Christmas
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Winter Wonderland

Have Yourself A Flukey Little Christmas

Looking for the perfect instrument to play for that upcoming holiday command performance? Or, imagine yourself the center of attention around the fire in the ski lodge, snow bunnies at your feet...

Look no further. It's a Snow Fluke!


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ukulele Cosmos

Hmm. Never ran across this bulletin board before, but it sure looks like the place to be! Link

Mike's Ukulele Page

Mike Dickison has a great ukulele page, with honest, clearly-written information for beginners. Plus arrangements for several contemporary classics including Stephin Merritt's Ukulele Me! and The Numa Numa Song. It also seems that he spearheads The Durham (NC) Ukulele Jam. Finally, I give Mike the Tufte-lele Award for his page design. I'm jealous. Link

Friday, November 03, 2006

Alan Drogin: Three Gnossiennes performed by Alan Drogin

Erik Satie is one of my very favorite composers. So what a delight to hear Alan Drogin's arrangement of Satie's Trois Gnossiennes on the Halloween Cabaret edition of Ukulele Disco. I'll have to convince my friend Jim Bradbury to play this on his Cubist Picasso Uke. That'd be perfect! Link

Welcome Craig Robertson!

Mark and I would like to welcome Craig Roberston to the Ukulelia editorial staff.

If you're a regular Ukulelia reader, you know that we sometimes go through some editorial dry spells. Some (4?!) years ago when Mark invited me to join him in this labor of love, the dry spells were mostly caused by a lack of interesting new stuff to blog about. Heck, I even helped create a "serendipitous search engine" in a desperate attempt to find new stuff.

Today, there's no dearth of ukulele news. The uke is hot. More and more players every day. More luthiers. More recordings. More concerts.

What Mark and I lack most of today is time. Mark still holds down the fort on our big sister site, BoingBoing, and serves as Editor-in-Chief of MAKE Magazine. I have a swell day job, too.

Anyway, Mark and I have discussed adding a third editor to Ukulelia, and we thought that it would be most valuable to add someone who complements us, rather than duplicates us. We both live on the Left Coast, so we thought we should add someone from back east. Neither of us are active performers, so it would be nice to have someone who actively participates in the performance world.

It didn't take us long to think about Craig. We've blogged every one of his "Ukulele Noir" shows that we caught word of in time. And we know that since he's a designer and speaks geek, that he could help us keep the blog rolling.

So here's a little about Craig (but it's not a bio, since Craig sez he hates bios).

Ukulele-wise, Craig started doing Ukulele Noirs two years ago in Boston to showcase the darker side of the ukulele. As opposed to the side where you're at a luau on the beach. He doesn't do beaches well. Or sunlight. Or pigs. Quoth Mr. Robertson:

"I've been a musician all my life. Which is longer than your life and immensely more complicated. Did I mention that I live in Boston? Well I do. Boston doesn't rock, it plinks and plunks. There are a great many fantastic ukulele players in the area and some of the best instrument collections in the world.

I like fedoras. I have more fedoras than ukuleles. I liked ukuleles initially because they went well with my fedoras. No, don't say that, it sounds frivolous. Cliff Edwards collected hats also. I don't know what size he wore..."
Welcome, Craig! (Nice hat, btw.)
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