Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Meeting of the Fives

A chilly New England Fall day. Leaves scuttle across the sidewalk making that distinctive insect-like sound. Lunch time finds me answering the door to none other than Robert Wheeler and Greg Hawkes. Robert has brought his newly acquired Martin 5 “Daisy” Soprano Ukulele in figured mahogany for us to see, and Greg has brought his 5K to compare it with.

No surprise; they both sound and play great. Much better than I expected. Martin quality has not dropped one iota over the years. Greg had Worth strings on his and Robert had the standard issue Martins. They both sounded good, but I would go with the Worths, if I had my druthers. (what the hell are “druthers” anyway?)

Is it worth the money? You’ll have to answer that question yourself, but it’s definitely a great sounding, well intonated, great playing soprano ukulele. And it still has that warm Martin sound.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Unhappy Halloween to you…

Another night on the streets of Salem Mass. Cold and windy enough to blow out the candles in the shop windows right through the glass. Alice in Wonderland stands on the front porch of one house holding hands with a ghost and asks for candy…

The song by Craig Robertson.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Mark Frauenfelder of our big-sister-blog Boing Boing (and Make Magazine) wacking away at a Koahola ukulele at a recent some-other-kinda-festival where they make things out of fiddlybits.

Cool specs. Too much sunshine.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Left Coast Noir This Saturday

It was a dark and foggy night in the People's Republic of Berkeley. I hailed a cab in front of the local organic wool shop. There was one just like it back in Brookline. The driver looked vaguely familiar, a face that I had last seen on the back of a carton of Ben & Jerry’s after a two-day binge. I gave the cabbie the address for Mike's place in the old industrial section of the burg, a couple of blocks from the Bay...
Oh...sorry, just trying to sound like Craig Robertson.

Anyway, don't miss Left Coast Noir, this Saturday, October 20, at Mike DaSilva's. Craig is ill, and will unfortunately is stuck back in Beantown, but he'll be there in spirit, and via the magic of pre-recorded video. Check out the denizens of the uke world who are on the bill. Link

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day, in which all bloggers are encouraged to post about the environment in their own way.

So, here are my thoughts on why playing the ukulele is good for the environment. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

The carbon footprint of a uke versus, say a guitar, is tiny:
  • Less wood needed to build (and creative luthiers are working with sustainable materials like bamboo, or recycled materials like lunchboxes)
  • Four strings versus 6 (or 24 or 33!)
  • Far less metal to smelt to make frets (wow!)
  • Uke music takes fewer trees to publish, owing to the diminutive size of the chord diagrams
  • Less frequently electrically amplified (much to the delight of my wife and kids)
  • And, finally, the most painfully obvious: less fossil fuel used driving from gig to gig (owing to the infrequent occurrence of the latter)
Sad to admit, however, perhaps the greenest instruments are those made and played by the First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra:
"The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra blows carved-out carrots, taps turnips, claps with eggplant cymbals, twangs on rhubarb fibers, and rustles parsley and greens, all in the creation of an experimental sound that eventually winds up -- literally -- in the audience's stomach...

"...The instruments are made from scratch just one hour prior to each performance using the freshest vegetables available, then all ninety pounds of vegetables are cooked into a soup following the performance."
Great stuff! But leek-zucchini-vibrators?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Top Ten Guitar Riffs for Ukulele

Over the last several weeks, Woodshed over on Uke Hunt has been posting tabs for the top ten rock guitar riffs that, by his reckoning, work best on uke.

"One of the easiest ways to make an audience sit up and take notice is to play a snippet of something they recognise and weren’t expecting to hear on the uke. It’s a trick that Taimane Gardner uses regularly and to great effect.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to tab out the top ten most recognisable guitar riffs for the uke. As far as possible, they’ll be in the key of C. Transpose them to whichever key you are playing them and insert them into a song or tune any time you think people are getting bored."

I decided to wait until he had posted all ten so I'd only have to do this once, and it was worth waiting for! Here they are:

"Here’s the complete lineup of the top 10 (or 11 if you’re going to be pedantic about it):"

  1. Sweet Child O’ Mine.
  2. Back In Black.
  3. Whole Lotta Love.
  4. Paranoid.
  5. Seven Nation Army.
  6. Smoke On The Water.
  7. Sunshine of Your Love.
  8. Le Freak.
  9. Satisfaction.
  10. Gay Bar.
  11. Iron Man.

Links to all ten will be found here.

Lusty Ukulele

Iggy Pop had a big hit with the song “Lust for Life”. Did you know that it started life as a song written by David Bowie on the ukulele?

the YouTube Interview, the Part about the Ukulele is about at 6:20

(thanks, Shelley from UkeBox)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Revisiting Kirtland...18 years later

It isn’t often songwriters get any real world feedback on their songs. The other day I got an email from Sgt.Ronald K. Andolsek that read (in part)
“I was the police investigator of the Kirtland Cult Killings, immortalized (I'm not sure a song about murders can be 'immortalized', but, why quibble?) in your Kirtland Murder Barn,.......Lake County, Ohio. I really enjoy your song and your music. I played it for others at work and passed out the lyrics. Everybody enjoyed it.
There were actually five (5) bodies. We did not dig up skeletons, but decomposed bodies (which were from actual skin tone to latter stages of putrification.). There were seven arrested in Kansas City, Mo……Your song brought back visuals of the scene back in January 1990, when the roadside was lined with the media and people slowed down along Rt 6. (my italics)

Conjuring up that image of that day in 1990 when that bleak stretch of country road was turned into a dark circus was what I was trying, in my own small way, to convey.

As a result of this letter I told Ronald that, although I couldn’t change what I had already recorded, I would change the version of the song that I now sang. The last verse now goes:

“They arrested one person in Bay City
seven others in Kansas, Mo.

The cops found five bodies
Buried under the floor.
Me, I don’t understand,
The people come and go:

Pointing out their windows at the Kirtland Murder Barn.”

Odd music seemed to swirl around this trial. During the trial of cult leader Jeffery Lundgren (who was ultimately convicted and executed for the multiple murders) the secretary of the Lake County Public Defender's Office wrote this little ‘ditty’. (It goes to the tune of ‘The Ballad of Jed Clampet’)

The Ballad of Jeff Lundgren

Come and listen to a story bout Jeff Lund-gren.
He moved his friends to Kirt-land and made them all his kin.
He formed himself a cult on the Kirtland Farm,
where they all set out to do Avery’s deadly harm
Well, the next thing ya know olde Jeff’s got a gun.
The cult membeers said, “Jeff, you’re the only one to take us to the promise land from this locality,
he loaded up his gun and shot the Av-er–ies

Well, they thought they’d get away from it and you can bet, but the feds got a call and they called Steve La-Tour-ette. Said we think we got your man, it’s time to go. They picked up ole Jeff five (5) miles from Mex-i-co.

Well, we all thought that Steve was such a great guy, but he went on NBC and said, “They’re gonna fry.” Now there are things you can say Steve and things you can’t. Just ask your old boss, R. Paul LaPlante (Lake County Public Defender and LaTourette’s former boss)

Now Alice (Lundgren) was the first one to state her case with prosecutors Dray and Lawson right up in her face. Her fate was sealed by a jury of her peers and the judge said “Alice, here’s a hundred and fifty years.”

So…all this stuff is interesting in a creepy kind of way, but, really, what does it tell us, utimately about ourselves? I think it says that the real evil is in men, the real evil is the destruction and ruined lives these people leave behind them.
And, of course, life must go on and music will out.
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