Wednesday, May 30, 2007

West meets East

This week Berkeley ukulele luthier Peter Hurney was in Ukuleletown and he stopped by the Noir homestead for a dark dinner under the cherry tree. After dinner we repaired to the living room where we proceeded to (natch) play some music. I played the lovely “Devil Mermaid” concert that Peter had recently made for me and he played a killer “Moustachio Concerto” that he brought along.

Peter makes some marvelous sounding and looking instruments and his website has been recently redone. Check it out. One of my favorite sections is the “My Other Stuff” section where you can see some of Peter’s sculptures, drawings, photos, carvings, vehicles, etc..

the new Pohaku Ukulele website

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Turn the Beat Around

I'm listening to my iPod this morning on the way to work. For some masochistic reason I decided to load a bunch of circus marches onto it. Anyway, I'm listening to "Them Basses," when I suddenly think, "the tubas are on the wrong side." Because I'm usually sitting on the left side of the band--but wait! That's my left.

So I swap the earphones around and voila! I'm now listening to the band from my usual POV.

I then experimented with some of my uke tunes, and found that, with few exceptions, it was easier to "hear" the performance as being from the performers' perspective, and imagine that I'm standing next to, say, Bryan Tolentino. Or being Bryan Tolentino, which is even mo' bettah.

Maybe this is just a cheap trick, but does anyone else out there do this? Anyone know any iTunes hacks that will enable you switch channels without swapping earbuds (mine are asymmetrical)? Leave a note in the comments, below!

Cape Cod and ukuleles....

Tim Sweeney sez:
”I sing and play electric swing ukulele, with a bass player. Most of my setlist is 30s & 40s American songbook -- plus British invasion and 50s & 60s standards. It's music that makes people happy, they dance and sing along.

I want to help keep that music alive.”
He's got a new CD out "New Uke State of Mind" dig it.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Courtney Cunningham

Being a uke player and a clown, I have a soft spot in my heart for all uke-playing clowns. Like Poofy du Vey, aka Courtney Cunningham. Link

Vincent Cortese at DaSilva Ukulele Co.

Ran into Mike DaSilva and his son, Dandy (really nice luthier-dads apparently have similarly nice kids) at a swell party on Saturday. Mike reminded me that next Sunday, June 3, Roy Smeck student Vincent Cortese will conduct a workshop at Mike's shop in Berkeley.
"A Celebration Of The Music Of Roy Smeck" with a workshop and mini concert by Vincent Cortese. Born and raised in New York City, Vincent studied with Roy for over a decade on four instruments and is the author of the only published biography on the amazing life of Roy Smeck, "Roy Smeck-The Wizard Of The Strings In His Life And Times." Vincent will perform on ukulele, Hawaiian lap steel and tenor banjo many of the styles, techniques and stage performance material that were unique to Roy Smeck. This will be Vincent's first ever performance in the Bay Area and will be a rare opportunity to capture a glimpse into the music and magic of Roy Smeck's unprecedented musical life and legacy."
Don't miss it! Location and more info at the DaSilva Site.

You can learn more about Vincent in this interview over at UkeTalk. Vincent's Smeck bio is available at Elderly and and as an eBook.

Hailey Wojcik

Who would have thought that Lansing, MI would be a breeding ground for ukulele players? Ignore the fact that I lived there as a tot--I'm sure that had nothing to do with it. Even ignore that fact that I went to school at the Big Ten School in adjacent East Lansing.

But you can't ignore the fact that Lansing is home to Elderly Instruments (made my first uke purchase there, hmmm...), The Fabulous Heftones (Brian works at Elderly, hmmm...), and now we learn about Haily Wojcik, indie chanteuse (and uke player, natch). Her tune, "Nabakov's Butterfly," is a real standout.

Check out her official site, as well as a recent review, and her myspace page. Someday, you'll really dig her.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Audreys'

All the way from Down Under, ladies and gentlemen, it's The Audreys. Fronted by uke-playing singer Taasha Coates, they have a really hip, rhythmic style. To hear Taasha on uke, visit the band's myspace page and click on "Train Wreck Blues." (I particularly like "You and Steve McQueen," although I don't think Taasha plays uke on the track.)

At least one band member sports a brimmed chapeau, which will warm the cockles of Craig's heart... Link

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'll See You in My Dreams, Redux

Dom has updated and corrected his tab arrangement of Joe Brown's performance of "I'll See You in My Dreams" from the 2003 Concert for George DVD. Also, just in time for Memorial Day, check out Dom's killer arrangement of the classic uke showstopper, "Stars and Stripes Forever." Sweet(er) dreams, Dom! Link

Peter Howlett Blogs!

Peter Howlett makes some darn fine ukuleles, to say the least. Now he's blogging, too, so you can see what's up in his shop. Link

Happy Birthday, George

Today is George Formby's 103rd birthday. Check out this swell tribute statue of George leaning on a lamppost on the Isle of Man. Link

Hey, There, Formby Girl...

May 26th is the birthday of Me, and, oh yeah, that other guy.

In humble commemoration, here's a follow-up article about a plucky young uke player (not me) who's a big George Formby fan (although I am, too). Francesca Davies, aka "Formby Girl," recently played in a charity event that raised funds for underprivileged children. Aptly, the event was held at the Salford Masonic Hall on the Crescent.

At left is a photo of Francesca, doing her best Craig Robertson, albeit with a Trilby. What's the diff between a Fedora and a Trilby and a Fedora? Well if you're really into that...


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Kamaka Web Site

I had waited so long for the Kamaka site to go live, I must have missed the big launch. But, hey, if I missed it, chances are that you did, too. So here it is. Check out the History section, with photos of several legendary instruments, like this 14-string tenor made by Sam Sr. in the '30s.
"This is a very unique piece which we had never seen before it was loaned to us by our friend Nuni Walsh. A 14-string tenor made by Sam Sr., this piece is from the 30's. It originally included a blue special label and the blue pineapple decal on the headstock, now worn away. However, it still retains two original large pineapple decals overlapped on the soundboard between the bridge and sound hole. It was also made with one-piece top and back construction. Rope purfling decorates the outer edge of the top and sound hole. The four-pin bridge secures all 14 strings."
I also learned the meaning of the KK logo and the name Kamaka ("the eye" or "the vision") in the aptly titled Fun FAQs section.

My primary uke is a 70s era Kamaka soprano named Cindy (after the woman I bought her from--I got that idea from a friend who named all her cars after the people she bought them from). Everyone should have a Kamaka.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

LA Times Aloha Quartet

In an earlier post, I asked if anyone had any information on the Los Angeles Times Aloha Quartet and their instruments.

First, a big Ukulelia thankee to Jim Tranquada, who writes:
"That's Noah Allinkov on steel, joined by Clyde Jewett, Edward Hahn, and Jack Mesquit (apart from Noah, I'm not sure who is who). They were regulars on KHJ during the summer and fall of 1927; I suspect the photo was taken in the KHJ studio. They played a wide range of standards, in addition to what was referred to as "Hawaiian love songs.""

Also, in the comments section of the post (hey, check out the commenting feature, dear readers!), one Jack writes:
"The guitar is a parlor size, perhaps a Martin 0-18 or 00-18. I think the next is a Gibson Mandocello."
Thanks to both Jim and Jack. I've also found this thread on The Steel Guitar Forum. Anyone else have any intell?

UPDATE: Al Dodge informs us that the mandocello is indeed a Gibson Mandocello, but with a National tailpiece. And the steel geetar is a Style 2 National Tricone. And in case you're wondering (as I was) what the diff is between a mandola and a mandocello, "Beachless" Bob Armstrong 'splained to us that the mandolin, mandola, and mandocello are the analogues of the violin, viola, and cello, respectively.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Kelli Rae Powell. A fearsome and fetching singer songwriter from Gotham. Check out some of her performances on Midnight Ukulele Disco.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Decoy Uke Playing

Ukulelia Director of Stringed Intelligence, Michael Simmons, recently blogged about this story from Guam. Seems that some school kids have set up fight clubs, and are using ukulele players as lookouts. Link

(via Fretboard Journal blog)

UCLA Library | Digital Collections

Last week, Ukulelia's Big Sister Blog, BoingBoing, posted about a great digital archive of historic news photos at UCLA. Well, it took some digging, but we found two images of interest to our dear readers.

First is the one shown at left, featuring the 1949 Santa Monica Swimming Club luau committee. I don't know if Mrs. Robert Wyckoff can play that Martin or not (the photo is reversed, btw), but I'm sure Mr. Wyckoff didn't mind.

Second is this great shot (below left) of the Los Angeles Times Aloha String Quartet performing on a radio broadcast in 1927. I have not been able to find any information online about the Quartet. If any of our readers has the scoop, please leave a comment or drop me a line via the link at the top of the page. I'd also be interested in identifying the makes of the different instruments pictured. The uke player looks to me as though he's holding a Martin Concert. Pretty cool that the LA Times had its own Hawaiian band, isn't it?

Here's a link to the main page at the archive. Link

Uke Hunt

It sounds like an expletive if you say it out loud, so we'll merely spell it out here, and note that Uke Hunt is a new ukulele blog that's popped onto the scene. Not much here yet, but I like the Marquee. Link

Friday, May 18, 2007


Have you heard Thomas Fersen? He’s French, he is very big on the music scene over there, writes great songs AND plays the ukulele.

Oh, yeah…occasionally wears a cool hat.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sundodgers Delight Sweethearts

Yesterday we held our Sweethearts' Luncheon at my Masonic Lodge. (Yes, believe it or not, the world's coolest ukulele bloggers are Masons. Well, two out of the three of us are, but Craig likes funny hats, too.) It's our annual tribute to the ladies in our lives--especially our brothers' widows.

Accompanying the menu of local kine food from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue was a healthy helping of Dodge's Sundodgers. They were a huge hit with everyone who attended. Since I was in charge of the event, I didn't get much time to just sit back and enjoy the performance, but I did have a bit of a zen moment that's worth sharing.

As the afternoon was winding down, Al and crew took up Aloha Oe as their final number. It suddenly dawned on me that this amazingly rich and lively sound was coming from just five people, strumming. No movement on the stage except their hands strumming, moving as one.

And the fact wast that this simple up and down strumming motion was producing the intricate sound I was hearing. But it didn't seem to match. It was like the music was divorced from the action. That's about as best as I can describe it. But if you watch the video I have posted here, and just try and watch their hands, I think you'll get a sense of it.

Be sure to catch the Sundodgers whenever you can. And better yet, hire 'em. What a treat.

(Mahalo nui loa, Sundodgers!)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ukulele Lunch Live

Yep, it’s Robert Wheeler, Mark Occhionero and Craig Robertson at a special “outdoor edition” of Lunch with Robert….

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ukulele crime

I try to visit the Left Coast whenever I can. San Francisco holds a special charm, and it’s got a great ukulele community.

Not far south is Jitter City: LA. I used to live there way back when ukuleles still had four strings.

From the Sunset Junction Project website, this little taste of ukulele crime from the thirties:
“3724 Sunset: April 23, 1930- Larry Steere of this address got into an argument with three strangers in an L.A. restaurant, but agreed to give the surly fellows a ride to Rosemead. The 35 year old was discovered unconscious in his car at Rosemead and Foothill, alongside the apparent weapon: a smashed ukulele.


Leonard Maltin on Cliff Edwards

A very nice profile of Cliff Edwards by Leonard Maltin. Includes some great photos, including this one of Ike and Uncle Walt. Link

Ukulele Kitchen Party

Well, while I'm on a King David excursion, here's an interesting fellow that recently popped on the Station. From what I gather, Yalego is a performance artist(e) who intends to perform a series of house concerts--from the kitchen. He has a wonderfully relaxed style, great strumming, and the beret ain't bad. (Wonder what Craig Robertson would look like in one...)

Would one of our Francophile Friends kindly leave a comment telling us more about Yalego? Merci. Link

In a Little Spanish Town

Ah, here is the classic Buster Keaton uke gag. Anyone recognize what make Buster's playing? (also via King David's Ukulele Station)

Buster Keaton on Bari

Check out Buster's unique thumb strum! (via King David's Ukulele Station)

World's Richest Tenor Uke Player

The annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting was held in Omaha this week, and once again, Ukulelia's Honorary CFO, Warren Buffett brought along his uke.

This year, he played his tenor uke (a Martin, perhaps?), sitting in with the Quebe Sisters. Maybe I need to contact the Justin Boots folks and talk to the about making Mr. B a Justin Uke.

Here's a link to a story with video of his performance, but watch sharply, they only show him stumming for about 5 seconds at the very beginning of the video. Link

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sundodgers and Friends Burning it Up

Here's a video of Al Dodge and friends jamming at the recent NoCal Uke Festival in Hayward. Featured here are Al (in hat) on some horizontal steel contraption, Bob Armstrong on a similar box, and Kathy Sparling on a real instrument (National Soprano) and vocals. That's Glen Jordan back there on bass. Yours truly is sitting in off camera (and probably off key).

We've hired Dodge's Sundodgers for a gig on Saturday. I can't wait!

Portland Uke Fest

Wowzah! Check out the line-up for the Portland (OR) Uke Fest. And mark your calendars for June 20th thru 24th, 2007! Link

(Thanks to loyal Ukulelia reader Peter Mickelson for the tip!)

Official Vinter to the Uke World

Yesterday's Star Bulletin had a wonderful profile of Judd Finkelstein, a Napa Valley uke-player, and proprieter of Judd's Hill winery. Tikimeister Otto Von Stroheim turned us on to Judd and his band, The Maikai Gents, a couple of years ago, but they'd fallen off our radar screen until yesterday.

The article tells about how Judd caught the uke bug, and eventually bought a KoAloha ukulele:

"Even after years of playing the instrument, he had not met the creators -- until an unfortunate incident brought them together. After a performance at the Napa Valley wine auction, Judd set his ukulele on a table, and someone accidentally bumped it to the ground, cracking it. "I was a little upset," Judd said. He e-mailed KoAloha Ukulele to inquire about obtaining repairs on the mainland.

The folks at KoAloha told him to send it to Hawaii and invited him to visit. So Judd flew across the ocean "to meet the craftsmen behind the ukulele that I love."

Their products are different, but the striking similarities between the two family-run businesses ignited a lasting friendship."

Now, it's apparently hard to tell whether KoAloha is the official ukulele of Judd's Hill or if Judd's Hill is the official wine of KoAloha.

We gave Otto a heads-up on the article and he notes that the photo identified by the Star Bulletin as being of Judd, with beard, carving a tiki in front of his band, is actually an image of Crazy Al carving while APE goes ape!

Oh, and for our fellow tuba-players out there, don't miss Bunnie Finkelstein, Judd's mom!


It just rained and the alley is dark and wet….

Bliss Blood’s newest band: Nightcall.
Stu Spasm, guitar and vocals
Bliss Blood, vocals and ukulele
Peter Maness, upright bass
"Anti torch songs, crime jazz, 007 themes, burlesque house raunch filtered thru industrial minimalist sensibilities."

This band makes my skin crawl, my eyes pop out and my ears tingle. They sound like patent leather pumps.


Monday, May 07, 2007

quite CONTRAry

There's lotsa great ukulele makers out there now, and here's a nice article I found about one of them: Mike DaSilva. I just saw Mike at the NY UkeFest and played a lovely mahogany soprano he'd made. Not to mention the killer concert that Daniel Siddartha a.k.a. Bosco picked up!
the article.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

more Daisy

John King at the Martin factory holding the original Daisy (no "5" attached to the name) and a period 5K. .

The original Daisy is in John's right hand, in the pic.

photo by Tom Walsh

Shamelessly jumping on the "Daisy" band wagon .......Robert Wheeler has attached a pick with his "Daisy", and also his father's pre-WW II Hawaiian uke.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Martin 5 Daisy

Well, maybe if you missed out on the lottery to buy a Jake Shimabukuro signature model Kamaka, you'll find consolation in buying one of these. Patterned after the famous model 5 that CF III made personally for his wife, Daisy. Only 100 will be made. Link

(eyes) in the back of your head(stock)

Sunny days are rare in Ukuleletown; but it’s Spring, so motes of pollen filter down through the beams of afternoon sunlight as Robert Wheeler pulls up to my house in his black insect convertible. The top is down, the air is…somehow still not sweet. But that’s another story…
Besides the ubiquitious and always appreciated beer, Robert has brought two marvelous examples of pre-war ukulele making. Although they both were born on the mainland in the Martin factory, they are made with that most tropical of woods: Koa.
How do they sound? Well…to my ear, koa always takes a long time to open up, come alive…and these two have both definitely come alive. The sound is warm and slightly mid-rangey, without that annoying koa honk that new instruments so often have. One of them was made by Martin for the Wurlitzer Company, but with no compromise is quality. Both great sounding instruments from a era when ukulele ruled the populist musical universe.
both 1K Martin's about 1922-3. One on the right made for Wurlitzer.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Okay, here's a free idea for any our our loyal Ukulelia readers who happen to be in the travel agency business: How about putting together a ukulele tour package? Pre-arranged, guided tours to the shops of several luthiers. If it's Hawai'i, hop to several islands. Heck, hop around the globe! Call it the Endless Strummer Tour.

There you are. Run wild with it. Just be sure to give us credit for the idea. And consider us for comps!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An abject apology

I'm so embarassed that I was caught photoshopping the Oprah pic. Darn! By way of apology, I'm including here the original photo for one and all.

Once again, I'm truly sorry if anyone was taken in by my little april fool's joke.

more backstage

In the dim lit dressing area, a box of ukuleles, tuned and ready to go.

What does a musical instrument think before it goes on? Is it pensive and anxious, trying valiantly to resist the vissicisitudes of humidity and temperature? Eager to give voice, eager to vibrate?


Friday night in Gotham. The streets are damp from the recent rains. In the Theater for the New City there is the bustle and strum of ukulele players.

Long pan through the doors of the main theater to the backstage area. Ami and Jason from the Mad Tea Party are dancing cheek to cheek to the lovely strains of the Fabulous Heftones; who are only a curtain away from them and entertaining a packed house.

Ukin' 9 to 5

Yesterday's Star Bulletin had a nice profile of Benjamin Sacro, a senior apprentice at KoAloha Ukulele. Link

Serious Tabs from New Zealand

This site, home of the Big Muffin Serious Band and the Serious Ukulele Ensemble of Waikato, New Zealand, has nice, eclectic assortment of ukulele tabs and arrangements. Looking for Comanche (pdf) by The Revels? They've got it! Link
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