UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 25–13 June 2020: “It’s About Time to Hit the Beach”

During our stay-indoors Springtime, a lot of folks are dreaming about heading out and social distancing on a beach, any beach.  Blankets, umbrellas, and coolers in tow and sand, sun, and waterish frolic to be shared (responsibly) and enjoyed. 

I’m not a salt-water person, however.  I grew up in the so-called “Heartland” of America where we could visit a nearby lake or river, and I lived and worked for many years in sight of one of the Great Lakes.

So, needless to say, I have an aversion to water that is full of predators and impossible to drink! But others, of course, may have other thoughts.

Beaches, to say the least, have been a staple of ukuleledom since Portuguese sailors brought the ancestors of the ukulele to the sandy shores of Hawaii. 

Hordes of tourists flowed to the sand and sea and sipped their mai tais from coconut cups in the shade of palm trees, strove to learn the “wiki-waki”culture, and strummed—sort of—on their souvenir ukuleles.

I can’t believe I found a ukulele version of this oldie, played on a “Ludwig Professional” banjolele no less! Tap or click on the next image to hear some weird lyrics and really good strumming.

As with “O’Brien,” most of the tunes the tourists strummed were written and published on New York’s Tin Pan Alley but, for many, these evoked the ukulele culture that became the so-called “essence of Hawaii.” Native girls with their ukuleles and tourist men in their suits, neckties, and hats were the standard.

Needless to say, there were other beaches around the world almost, I presume, as attractive.

Of course, there were discomforts, of a sort, with beach adventures. Here’s a version of that 1930s tune, “I’ve Got Sand in My Shoes.” Tap or click on the next image for this one played on that cousin of the four-string ukulele, the six-string “guitalele.”

Needless to say, ukulele makers and sellers on the so-called “Mainland” also jumped on the ukulele beach wagon. These folks made and sold the grandparents of our favorite little instruments many of which, of course, perpetuated the beachy aura of the islands . . .

. . . even if they were purchased in Manhattan or Dubuque and never got closer to the water or a real beach than the old “’swimmin’ hole.” 

Others did, however, make it to a seriously sandy and sunny beach.

There are also some contemporary versions of ukuleles decorated with scenes of sand and sea. I’m sure they help evoke the sound of waves pounding on beaches or the like. Maybe not, but isn’t it pretty to think so?

While there are scores of sheets of more recent “beach music,” my wont–as should by now be expected by you, my gentle readers–is to focus on some of the earlier stuff out there in music land.  Not surprisingly, there are many tunes to choose from.  Here are just a few of the really old ones–way, WAY before my time!

And, of course, that perennial musical chestnut:

Now here’s an early rendition of this song with some great illustrations. Tap or click on the next image for a salty treat.

And, then, there were the novelty songs–some OK for dancing but mostly for the vaudeville stage. Ah, the simple humor of the day.

If you can put up with a scratchy old shellac record of this one, click or tap on the next image. It’s a mother’s lesson for her daughter, so to speak–about the dangers that may be lurking “in the water.”

So, now, the big question.  What kind of ukulele do you take to the beach?  Certainly not a vintage mahogany Martin or brand-new solid koa wood Snowshoe or, for that matter, anything made of wood. Bad idea!

There are, however, a few nifty ukuleles that could be considered—provided the bonfire on the beach is not too high or hot. Think plastic! Here is an appropriately decorated oldie and a couple of newer, high-tech ones that that play well and sound surprisingly good–when not filled with water or sand!

Here’s the oldie, from the 1950s.

Then there’s the newer Kala “Waterman,” a nifty little piece of modern plastic engineering. Quite waterproof, I understand.

I’m not sure of the tone and tuning when put to the ultimate test, however.

And, then, there’s the appropriately named newer “Outdoor” ukulele from Oregon. I keep one of these (a bottle-green tenor) on our screened porch here in Northampton–both handy and weatherproof!

They even make an “Outdoor” banjolele!

The classic “beach ukulele,” however, has to be that mid-century modern ukulele type specifically designed for sand and surf. You could simply jab the extended pointy neck into the sand when it was time to stop strumming and roast hot dogs, pop a cone-top, or do whatever else folks did on the beach sixty or seventy years ago. (That far back? Oh my . . .)

Needless to say, this nifty number came in all sorts of fun colors and included a double-neck!

Believe it or not, there’s a YouTube of a guy playing one of these. A bit more recent tune than my usual but, the uke’s the thing! Tap or click on the next image and you can play along even if you are sitting on your carpet not a beach.

Since we’ve swum over to mid-century in this posting, I thought I’d look up a more recent song (1950s) that is more Massachusetts “beachy.” Having found nothing musical about Musante Beach here in Northampton, or Puffer’s Pond in nearby Amherst, however, I guess the beaches of “Old Cape Cod” will have to do. Sand and fried clams. Hooray for the clams!

Here’s a ukulele version of this oldie but goody. Tap or click on the next image for a musical whiff of lobster stew with, of course, an ocean view. And clams.

So, go find your beach wherever you can, even if only in your memory or imagination. Grab those face masks. Eeeew, perhaps not these . . .

. . . maybe one of these.

Stay safe, stay socially distanced, stay away from too much sand and undrinkable salty water, keep your ukulele dry, and STAY TUNED!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and fellow strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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