MUSICAL MUSINGS, September 2022: The Season for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables–Musically Speaking

This is the time of the year here in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, when home and farm gardens–as well as farm stands and markets–are filled with the bountiful produce of the year.  Spring planting, summer tilling, and fall harvesting make the cycle from garden to table that we all look forward to. 

As an example, here’s the haul from one of Alison’s and my Sunday “farm market” drives here in our “Happy Valley.”

Garden produce has been a common theme for writers of both prose and poetry and, not to be left out, for musicians as well.  Needless to say, there are many examples of so-called “fruit and vegetable” songs out there from the early days and also quite a few about the folks who plant, harvest, and sell these.  So, gentle readers, let’s take a look out there to see what we can gather and, of course, take a musical taste.

But first, it should be noted that many of the early tunes that fit within this “fruit and vegetable” musing were written as “rags,” that is to say in “ragtime.” 

As a too brief intro to this historical musical form, ragtime originated in African-American music in the late 19th century and descended from the lively dance and march music played by Black piano players and bands.

By the start of the 20th century, ragtime music became widely popular throughout North America and was listened and danced to, performed, and written by people of many different subcultures, particularly those Tin Pan Alley sheet music publishers.

A distinctly American musical style, ragtime is considered a synthesis of African syncopation and European classical form. Just for fun, as a real “crossover style,” consider the marches made popular by John Philip Sousa . . .

. . . who would often rearrange and perform his more formal compositions in ragtime, particularly as audience-pleasing encore pieces. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to hear “Stars and Stripes Forever” played in ragtime, Sousa style!

Ragtime is usually written in 4/4 or 2/4 time and sometimes in 3/4 time as a “waltz rag.”  If you listen carefully to the piano part of a ragtime song, you’ll hear a left-hand pattern of strong bass notes on beats 1 and 3, with chords on 2 and 4.  Meanwhile the right hand plays a syncopated, often called “ragged” melody.  Hence the name.

Ragtime music had a resurgence in the 1970s when the movie “The Sting” won seven Oscars including “Best Picture.” Because of this, many performers and listeners rediscovered the music of composer and pianist Scott Joplin–considered the “King of Ragtime Composers.”

Many of the earliest ragtime tunes–such as Joplin’s–were written for solo piano or as instrumental dance band music without lyrics. Composers gave them fanciful “rag” titles more to differentiate between tunes in their portfolios rather than to provide some sort of musical description of their subject matter. Here’s a good example of a lyric-less, musically generic “vegetable rag” from 1910. It could just as easily have been called “The Happy Valley Rag” or “The Ukulele Rag” or whatever. It would still sound the same! 

Here’s a simple version of this tune with an adjacent piano score that you can follow and see just how the basic ragtime style is played. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

A lot of our “fruit and vegetable” tunes fit into that ragtime, no-lyrics category. To me, the sheet music cover graphics are often as much fun as the music! See what I mean?

Later, more “fruit and vegetable” songs were published with lyrics and most were quite danceable one- and two-steps as well as rags.  Needless to say, novelty songs both in ragtime and other forms were the rage.

Here’s a delightful, albeit contemporary, take on this Irving Berlin “fruit” song. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for some fun!

Now let’s take a look at a few more of these tunes starting with gardens themselves. Not only did these fill the family larders but they often seemed like favorite trysting spots too. Ah youth!

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a whistling and singing rendition of this oldie along with some nice ukulele strumming. The YouTube is a bit long as it moves along into a tutorial which you can strum along with or not. Your choice at the garden gate!

And there are a few vegetables that we left out but must not be forgotten!

And, here’s one of the best of the old vegetable tunes.

The phrase “she knows her onions” is a down home term for “one smart cookie” who “knows her stuff.” So much for roaring twenties slang! Tap or click on the next image for a “vegetable” singing and dancing treat.

And, let’s not forget all of those “spuds” or “taters” songs out there.

Here’s a version of one of these with some nice strumming on a six-string ukulele–a variation on that little musical instrument not seen that often! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a down home treat!

Now I searched high and low (quite low may be a tad obvious . . .) to find a performer with a “vegetable name.” Needless to say, a rare breed! But, never fear, I remembered that late, well-dressed (well?) Grand Ole Opry clown and great old-time clawhammer banjo picker–“Stringbean!” Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for something a bit different. Not a “fruit and vegetable song” but his name is right!

Moving on, we can’t leave fruit out of our musical mix, now can we?

And, there are a few rather suggestive, if not quite X-rated, songs out there!

And, one of the great fruit songs of the 1920s.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to listen in on this overly popular ( to some) oldie. There’s a rather long instrumental introduction to this but the lyrics show up sooner or later!

The over-popularity of that song led to the writing of this one!

Here’s a ukulele version (I found one, believe it or not!) of this tune. It starts slowly then slips (ahem) into high gear! Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for this one.

And, of course, many others. Some sweet, some sour!

This one is not about a specific fruit. Rather, it’s about a fruit “product.” Worthy of inclusion as far as I’m concerned.

So, gentle readers, as we sit down to the table for homemade pie, fruit salad, or vegetable soup, stay as safe, sequestered, and masked as we feel the need to be these days . . .

And remember to laugh in our gardens as well as enjoy the harvest . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED!

“MUSICAL MUSING,” 19 June 2022

A Day to Remember Your Dear Old Dad, Father, Papa, Grandpa, and–Oh Yes–“Daddy

Well, the calendar has rolled around to another Father’s Day as of this Sunday. All of us who have or have had fathers can muse on their influence on our lives, at least our musical lives.

 My father readily admitted that, when it came to music, the “only thing he could play was the radio.” 

And, play the radio he did.  He built a crystal set for himself in his teens and, in the 1920s (high school), 1930s (college and first jobs), and 1940s (army) listened t0 and knew all the bands and songs played on the air. We sat around the radio at home and, of course, in the car–AM, of course.

 To say that I grew up absorbing the big band/bouncy/bluesy sounds of these musical eras on the omnipresent home and car radio is an understatement. Needless to say, my musical listening proclivities were formed as my little ears grew into bigger ones. 

This was his gift to me so bear with me, gentle readers, if my musings focus on those “oldies” (to you) but “goodies” (to me.) After all, it is Fathers’ Day and, like many of you, I am a father and, like many of you, a grandparent. So, indulge me.

Now, back to the musical theme! Fathers (not mine, alas) often eased their offspring into musical directions by strumming on—or at least giving a child—a ukulele and “showing them which end to blow into!”  Kidding, of course!

Some kids embraced our favorite little instrument and kept their fascination through teenage years and adulthood.  Alas, others moved on to screaming heavy metal electric guitar sounds. Ugh . . . 

But, fatherly influence is all important, including from the “Father of Our Country!”

Needless to say there is a plethora of “pater” music out there from the sweet to the maudlin . . . Here are some early sheet music covers to remind us.

Now for the first song included in this musing. Give a listen to this old tearjerker by that “singing cowboy” himself, Gene Autry. Click or tap on the triangles in the center of the next image for a treat.

And then there’s that perversion of the word “Daddy” into the torchy, tinted (but not really off-color) slang of the day.

Here’s our second song, this one by Marilyn herself. Click or tap on the triangles in the next image to hear (and see) her in action!

Oh yes, we can’t for get the “Papa” songs either.

Our third song is this childish novelty tune of the 1920s. Click or tap on the triangles in the center of the next image to sing along.

For our fourth song, here’s an early recording of this bluesy Papa song performed by Bessie Smith. Click or tap on the next image to hear her voice.

And, of course, the novelty songs about fathers or even grandfathers.  Don’t we have fun!

Seek and ye shall find! Here’s our fifth song so click or tap on the triangles in the next image for this one.

Here are a few more rather curious sheet music covers of the day. What were they thinking?

Here’s a version of this country/western chestnut of a song for a final musical offering. Tap or click on the triangles in the center of the next image to listen in and try to follow the convoluted lyrics. (Not me playing the uke; his beard is longer than mine!)

So, to all you fathers out there–and to all of you who have or have had fathers, grandfathers, dads, papas, and (perhaps?) “daddies,” have a happy, safe, sequestered Fathers’ Day this year for you and yours!

So, remember dear old Dad, keep that mask on, keep your distance, keep on strumming, and STAY TUNED!

ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 2 January 2023: A Quicky Just For The Day

Here’s one from a few of years back that I keep polishing and updating and reposting. I do this because of the confluence of two of the most important days of the year! Some say . . .

Anyway, enjoy–and for many of you gentle readers who have let me onto your screens over the past few years–re-enjoy!

Admittedly, Groundhog Day is more of an annual “event” rather than a “holiday.”  Nonetheless, it takes on importance in that is it also “World Play Your Ukulele Day.” 

Who knew? 

It is also a day that we New Englanders strive to sense the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring—at least those New England natives of the groundhog persuasion.  Pray for a cloudy day!  Avoid shadows except in song!

And, “shadowy” songs are out there!

Here’s another that we can take a listen to. Shadow Walz was featured in the “Gold Diggers of 1933,” one of the great musical review movies of the depression era.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a Busby Berkeley, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell over-the-top take on this shadow tune!

This next one is one of my favorite shadow songs of the era.

“Me and My Shadow” was published in 1927. Officially the credits show it as written by Al Jolson, Billie Rose, and Dave Dreyer. Alas, Jolson was often given credits on sheet music so he could earn more money by popularizing them, but he played no actual part in writing this song and never recorded it! Those were the shady song-plugging days of Tin Pan Alley. But, dozens of others did making it one of the jazz standards of the day!

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to listen to one of the earlier recordings and one of the few that includes the verse.

Now if you want to take the time and have a bit of fun, here’s an example of what became a favorite vaudeville routine based on our song–the “shadow dance.” It starts a bit slowly but the hammed up performance by Zero Mostel and Tommy Tune is worth the wait! So, click or tap on the triangle in the next image for the intro by Dean Martin and the “schticky” performance of the dancers!

Now, back to our furry friend of the day. I couldn’t find many ukuleles directly associated with a groundhog.  But, our animal friend has a long and historic association with that older cousin of the ukulele, the banjo.  It seems that it wasn’t uncommon back in 19th century Appalachia to use a groundhog skin to make a primitive banjo. 

There are even a few contemporary banjo makers using groundhog skins, both on five-string mountain banjos . . .

. . . and even—YES—a banjo ukulele or two.  Sorry, none in my collection as of yet! (Probably never!) 

There is also a great old-time tune called “Groundhog.”  Here it is played on a fretless banjo just like an old Appalachian mountain one!

At the risk of all my vegan and vegetarian friends—to say nothing of those simply of the squeamish persuasion—I must add a good ole recipe for groundhog stew.  Well, why not?

Or, take the easy way out.

Now go seek out a groundhog, before he sees his shadow, and chase him back into his hole with a tune on “World Play Your Ukulele Day!”      

Stay Tuned! And, stick with groundhog music instead of stew . . . .

Or, maybe, some groundhog cupcakes and milk while we wait for the shadowy forecast!


ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 6 January 2023: A Marriage of Song and Sail! What Shall We Do?

Many of you gentle readers have visited Alison’s and my home over the years for various musical and social get-togethers.  Needless to say, I enjoyed showing off my collection of vintage ukuleles and banjos.  But, a few of the more curious of you may have noticed another hobby of mine—making scale models, particularly model ships.  I’ve been doing this off and on since the 1980s and, with the sequestration brought on over the past couple of years, contentedly continue.  With my instrument collection, I can hang them on the wall for all to see. Alas, my many (too many?) models are a bit bulkier to display and, as Alison has politely pointed out from time to time, just a tad (She may have used some stronger terms!) overwhelming.

Nonetheless, life goes on more smoothly when I can combine my two rather benign proclivities—collecting musical instruments and building model ships, hence the “marriage of song and sail.” 

So, let’s take a look at that sailor song genre known as “Sea Shanties.” While most folksong books include a number of tunes with nautical themes, there is only one that has a special place on the wet wood deck of a working ship in the days of the daily “grog” ration: “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor.” 

Just to get the old earworm going, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to follow the lyrics and hear an on-shore take on our tune.

More about our tune a bit further on, but first some background.

The origins of the traditional sailors’ Sea Shanty have been lost in the mists of time. Traceable from at least the mid-1400s, the shanty (or sometimes “chanty”) hails from the olden days of “wood ships and iron men.” 

To hoist up your mood and give you some salt-sea exposure, tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to see and hear shanties sung as part of that great sea-going film of the 1950s, “Moby Dick.” Alas, this is a Spanish language version, except for the shanties!

The shanty was, quite simply, a rhythmic “work song” sung by sailors involved in heavy, tedious manual tasks, such as tramping round the capstan to raise an anchor or hoisting the sails for departure. 

In technical terms, this helped synchronize individual efforts to efficiently execute a collective task.  Simply, it made sure that each sailor pushed or pulled as needed and at precisely the same time.  The key to making this happen was to sing (or chant) each song, or shanty, in different rhythms for different tasks often to the beat of a drum, toot of a fife, or hum of a fiddle.  

For example, “Drunken Sailor” was considered a “short-haul” shanty designed for tasks requiring quick pulls over a relatively short time with a beat of four “pulls” per verse.  All hands roared out the song in unison, as they hoisted a sail or raised an anchor.  Hence the chorus: “Wey, hey, up she rises.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image or link to listen to our song performed with more of an emphasis on the required beat–as well as a few more verses!

More often than not there would be a solo-singer, a “shanty man,” who would lead the singing with the crew joining in for the chorus—typical of the myriad of “call and response” work songs common on the farm or railroad in the days before machine labor.  Sometimes even a ukulele could be used! But I digress.

With no special requirements other than to hold a seaman’s attention, as well as make light of a hard and repetitive job, virtually any song could be adopted for this purpose, provided it was delivered at the required tempo—and, almost always, with some, shall we say, ribald or, in fact, downright raunchy innuendo. 

Far from delicate ears, boys will be boys and sailors will be sailors—especially on those long, lonely, and dangerous voyages.  The only exception, I assume, was when a captain’s wife and family, so-called “petticoat sailors,” were aboard.

Now, back to our song.  “Drunken Sailor” was sung aboard sailing ships at least as early as the 1830s and it shares its melody with the traditional Irish “welcome home” song “Oro Se do Bheatha Bhaile.” Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to hear this tune sung by Irish school children and get hints of the parallel melody line.  Cute kids, too! 

Our song’s lyrics will vary from ship to crew, but usually contain some variant of a discussion by fellow seamen of just what to do with an overly inebriated crew mate found still abed when he, like they, should be up and about. Each successive verse suggests a method, humorous or painful, of sobering or punishing the sodden seaman.  

Now, a disclaimer! Purged of the myriad anatomical, scatological, or sexual references one might find in other, more scholarly texts, I, good readers, have included YouTubes of only the most G-rated ones I could find. For the sake of tender ears, you’ll have to pursue other, more colorful examples on our own! Happy Googling!

Drunken Sailor” was revived as a popular song among non-sailors in the mid-20th century folk revival with recordings by groups like the Weavers and the Kingston Trio. It grew to become one of the best-known songs of the shanty repertoire among mainstream audiences. It has been performed and recorded by many musical artists and appeared regularly in popular culture. 

It has been said that the reason these old shanties have bobbed back to the surface in today’s culture, which finds many of us adrift one way or another, is that “everybody can join in and you don’t necessarily need to be able to sing.” Just for fun, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to see a dancing version of our song.

To haul things in, here is one of the best renditions of our song sung by real British seamen in the film “Fisherman’s Friend”—a must-see movie if you like these salty songs of the sea.  Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to give a listen and join the party.

And, finally, click or tap on the next image or link for a finger-picking ukulele version of our song just so you float away with the melody!

So gentle readers, stay safe, stay as sequestered if you must (with your crew, of course), stay as masked as comfort and conscience requires,


And, of course, enjoy a shanty or two—with rum of course! Or, if wine’s your thing . . .

UKULELE MUSINGS, 21 January 2022: A Bit of Musical Mythology–“Catgut” Strings

I ran across this photo of our cat, Sylvie, just waking from one of her snoozes in one of my ukulele cases.  The scene reminded me of one of those mythologies we have all been living with for generations—musical instrument strings made of so-called “catgut.” 

Understand, gentle readers, that what are more humanely called “gut” strings have never been made from a cat’s insides!    The word “catgut” may have been an abbreviation of the Old English word “cattlegut.” Alternatively, it may derive from the Welsh word “kit” meaning fiddle—certainly more bovine than feline!  Who knew?

While the word origin refers, more or less, to cattle, “catgut” strings for musical instruments are nearly always made from the intestines of sheep.  Out of sympathy to all those pet cats out there with ears perked up, let’s just call them “gut” strings from here on out.  OK?

To prepare gut strings, workers clean the small intestines, free them from any fat, and steep them in water and potassium hydroxide. 

They are then cut, stretched, dried, smoothed, and twisted or woven—ready for musical instruments,

tennis racquets (in the past),

and surgical sutures (still today).   

After twisting and drying, workers polish the strings to the required diameter. For a long time, gut was the most common material for instrument strings and, not surprisingly, remain a natural choice for many classical and baroque string players. 

They find they give a richer, darker sound as well as withstanding high tension within lower alto, tenor, and bass ranges.  Worth a careful listen at the next concert you attend.

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear some rather nice sounds from a gut-strung guitar.  

Gut strings were, of course, used for ukuleles until the advent of nylon and other polymers  that became standard right after World War II. 

You can still get gut strings for your uke and, just for fun, I keep a set on one of my older Martins. 

They sound great provided that you don’t mind retuning every time the humidity goes up or down a notch!

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear some commentary as well as strumming on a gut strung uke.

This bit of trivia leads me, as would be expected, into the vast and wild world of cat and kitty songs—a seeming staple of the Tin Pan Alley oeuvre. 

I touched that base in one of my musings from a couple of years ago so some of you might want to re-explore that.  Alas, few of these deal specifically with our, shall we say, gutsy subject. Here’s just another musical tidbit!

So, let me use a little intestinal fortitude to forego a rerun and focus on just a couple of gutsy gut and cat songs just for fun.  There is one song (only one!) from my aging musical memory bank that makes a direct, albeit somewhat oblique, reference to catgut.  Only one! 

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear the song “Freddie and His Fiddle” from that 1940s musical homage to the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.  Listen carefully to the playful, folksy lyrics to pick up the appropriate reference!

Let’s wind up this musing with a bit of ukulele “Cat” music (No cats were harmed or otherwise misused in the preparation of this video!) from our fellow strummers, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Click or tap on the next image or link for a look and listen and laugh!

And now, gentle readers, let us return to our at-home, sequestered strumming sessions—complete, I’m sure, with safe and happy musical kittens. 

So stay safe, stay masked,

stay musically gutsy, and STAY TUNED!

MUSICAL MUSINGS, 30 December 2022: A Noisy, Nostalgic Tune for A Not-So-Snowy New England Winter: “JINGLE BELLS!”

Not needing to navigate through a lot of snow so far in this quasi-winter of few flakes and fewer sleigh rides, I find myself motivated to end this rather complicated year with just one more of my musical musings.  So, gentle readers, bear with me as I retreat from my favored songs of relative obscurity to one of the best-known and most commonly sung American songs in the world—“Jingle Bells.” 

Our song was written by one James Lord Pierpont—an impecunious son of a fiery abolitionist preacher from Medford, Massachusetts. Written a couple of years earlier, it was officially published in 1857 with the title “One Horse Open Sleigh.” This was after Pierpont had moved from relatively snowy Massachusetts to seek his fortune in relatively snowless Georgia.  

Musical historians have noted that the song was probably cobbled together from a variety of sources and that it was originally intended to be sung by his father’s Sunday School choir for Thanksgiving.  Or, as a more likely story, it was written as a slightly ribald minstrel song.  It all depends on which historian or folklorist is telling the story.  So what else is new in history?  

Anyway, the song is said to have been inspired by popular 19th century sleigh races in Medford where, in those days, long strands of small brass or iron bells were strapped to horses as a public safety measure. 

A horse pulling a sleigh was almost noiseless and the jingle-jangle sound of the bells gave fair warning to those who might be in the way—a quaint safety measure of the day. 

By the late 1800s, the song “Jingle Bells” had become an integral part of the Christmas musical genre. It was first recorded in 1889 on an Edison cylinder as part of a Christmas medley titled “Sleigh Ride Party,” considered to be Americas first “Christmas album!”  Needless to say, it was a trend setter of sorts both dubious and not.

Now here’s where musical history takes a bit of a jog as well as a jingle.  In 1857, well after the Sunday School performance, the ever cash-strapped Pierpont copyrighted “Jingle Bells” and sent it to print. 

It was his intention to generate some much-needed cash royalties from stage performances, particularly in cities with more lively musical reputations than sleepy Medford. Accordingly, it was quickly taken up and first performed on the stage in nearby Boston by a popular white blackface minstrel performer, one Johnny Pell. 

It soon became a popular, money-making standard on the minstrel circuit and Pierpont wrote and published several more polkas and songs that became standards on the minstrel circuit of the day–and relatively forgotten today.  

As a so-called story song, “Jingle Bells” tells of a dashing young man-about-town who took his sweetheart sleighing and, in what must have been a moment of inattention to horse and road (wink-wink!), upset them both into the snow—a somewhat disguised but rather suggestive narrative at the time.

 The theme was thought humorous as it was well understood that an evening sleigh ride just might give an unescorted couple a rare opportunity to be together—unchaperoned (oh my!) in distant woods or fields and far from prying eyes.  Is our tune tainted because of its brush with blackface minstrelsy, or 19th century lovers’ shenanigans?  I can’t think so—certainly not by today’s pop music standards!

Moving on . . . Over the past hundred and seventy-plus years, “Jingle Bells” has been performed by everyone from that original Sunday School group to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  It’s also been recorded by every big and not so big name in the music business from country to classical.  But, it’s just too good and sing-able a song not to live on, even if it jingle-jangles on a bit too often in too many shopping venues at this time of year.

So, for a retreat from modern times, click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to listen to a modern (not a scratchy 19th century cylinder) rendition of Pierpont’s original lyrics and melody of “The One-Horse Open Sleigh.”

Next, even though we ukulele strummers are known to say that “more than four strings is just showing off,” I am compelled to include one of my favorite multi-multi-string versions of “Jingle Bells.”  Click or tap on the triangle in the next image or link to hear the late Earl Scruggs and friends attack our song in bluegrass style!

And, where would we be without a ukulele version?  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have a rather bizarre go at this one!

So, keep your non-plastic ukuleles out of the snow (if and when)  .  .  . 

and stay well, and stay as masked as necessary . .  .  

and STAY TUNED as we sleigh away from a less than perfect 2022 and dance into a more than perfect (please!) 2023!

UKULELE MUSINGS, 16 October 2021: “Sweetness; How Sweet it is!”

Well, fellow strummers,  it seems with the fine fall weather we’ve been having (amid the many raindrops, however) I’ve found time to do another one of my musical musings. 

Looking at the calendar, who knew that mid-October is the time for “National Sweetness Day.” 

In the olden days—when I was a bit younger than now, this was known as “National Candy Day” and bits of candy were to be handed out to friends and family as a token of thoughtfulness and friendship.  Like so much these days, this celebration has evolved with the intent of handing out bits of kindness to friends, family, and—for that matter—to all!  What’s not to like?

Needless to say, there are reams of sheet music touching on the “Sweetness” theme. Here are just a few of the more noteworthy–graphically if not musically speaking!

So, in keeping with the theme of this musing, I searched through our Blue and Yellow Books and found over a dozen songs with the word “sweet” or some derivative thereof in the title.  Who knew?  Anyway, with my penchant to avoid songs written more recently than the 1950s, I was surprised by the several that fit into my “oldie” category.  As you gentle readers might recall, I have mused over the years about two of the greatest of this genre—“Ain’t She Sweet,”

and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” 

If you want to re-read my thoughts on these two gems, just hit the link and search through the entries until these two tunes show up—worth a visit if I do say so myself.

Just for a bit of fun, however, click or tap on the next link or image for a listen to a much, much newer—and with a ukulele, no less, version of this musical chestnut, “Ain’t She Sweet.” 

Let’s move a few decades back with a Blue Book favorite, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” a song with lyrics written in 1950 by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays of the folk group, “The Weavers.”  Their tune was adapted from Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s 1937 song “If it Wasn’t for Dicky,” which, in turn, was adapted from a traditional Irish tune “Drimindown / Drumion Dubh.” Who knows where the Irish got that one!

Here’s the “Lead Belly” tune.  Click or tap on the next link or image for a listen:  

  Now, click or tap on the next image for the Weaver’s revamp.

Now, for the sake of thematic purging and to stay in a lighter mood, let’s let the late 19th century, maudlin, death-bed, Sunday School staple from our Yellow Book, “In the Sweet By and By” go unsung. OK?

But, let’s move quickly on to a “Capital-C” Chestnut, also from our Yellow Book, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Every barbershop quartet worth their pitch pipe sings this one so we should really give it a go.

Click or tap on the next image or link for a nostalgic listen to this 1910 oldie by Beth Whitson and Leo Friedman.  To attest to the long-lived popularity of this one, it has been used in hundreds of vaudeville reviews and over twenty movies or TV shows over the years ranging from The Waltons to Downton Abby!

 After that trip way, way down memory lane, let’s move on to a much more sprightly song from our Blue Book, the 1919 torchy “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me.” 

This jazz standard was written by Tin Pan Alley regulars Charles Mc Carron and Cary Morgan and has become a Dixieland favorite.  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear this oldie but goodie!

As would be expected, the adjective “sweet” was used to modify girl’s names in dozens and dozens of songs from “Sweet Adeline” to “Sweet Caroline.” 

We’ll forgo the 1959 Fenway favorite of our Blue Books, “Sweet Caroline,” in favor of the ultimate barbershop quartet standard that is not found in either Blue or Yellow.   Go figure!  Anyway, click or tap on the next image or link for a one-man “quartet” version of this oldie!

And—why not?—a ukulele version.  Click or tap on the next image or link for a listen.   

I could go on and on with so-called “sweet, sweetie, and sweetness” songs and, if you have the time and are so inclined, here are a few more YouTubes just for fun;

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear Bessie Smith’s bluesy, torchy version of “My Sweetie Went Away.

And, for a bit of musical craziness, click or tap on the next image or link for a wild and wooly western take on “Sweet Little Buttercup.”

Now, let’s wind up this musing with one or our favorite Blue Book songs, “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” an American traditional song developed from the cowboy song “My Lula Gal” which, in turn, is based on a bawdy British and Appalachian song known as “Bang Bang Rosie” or “Bang Away Lulu.”  Tap or click on the next image or link for a real downhome bluegrass version of “Lula . . .”

Of Course, the ultimate bluegrass version of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” is, beyond a doubt, that by Earl Scruggs and Lester Flat from 1951.  Click or tap on the next image or link to be blown away with some lightning-fast finger picking.

And how about a ukulele version of this one!  Click or tap on the next image or link for a look.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show a thematically appropriate ukulele from my collection   .  .  .

As well as another.

And, despite the vagaries of the times, stay as sweet as you are!

and—above all—STAY TUNED!  

And be safe with and for you and yours!


A week or so ago I did a musical muse on a song stolen and, ultimately, paid for by that most popular and respected singer Johnny Cash. (Ca$h?)   I have come across quite a few more situations like this in my wanderings through musical history; but, in most instances, it’s just a case of an old and venerable melody put to a new use—the musical equivalent of the architectural preservation and adaptive use process, so to speak. 

Needless to say, this has been a common source of “new” songs ever since one musician listened to the work of another, liked what he or she heard, and repeated it or enhanced it or simply purloined it.  Ah, musical traditions! Isn’t that what folk music is all about?

Now let’s take a look at one of the icons of American folk music—Woody Guthrie—and put the musical spy glass on the sources of three of his most played tunes, two in our Blue or Yellow Books and one that isn’t but should be. 

Despite their melodic (and sometimes lyric) origins with musical precedents, these songs have become so associated with Guthrie that we don’t even bother to think about from whence they came.  Simply, they ARE HIS.  Period.

The first one to look at is a song that Guthrie, a former merchant seaman himself, wrote and performed to commemorate the torpedoing of the U.S. Navy convoy escort ship, the USS Reuben James, in the months just before America’s official entry into World War II.  

The Sinking of the Reuben James” is a song hurriedly cobbled together by Guthrie and Pete Seeger in an apartment they shared at the time in New York City.  These two were good friends and musical collaborators over the years and they were moved to write a song about this headline event of the day about the first American ship sunk by German U-Boats.  Alas, this one is in neither of our songbooks.

Tap or click on the next image or link to hear the original Guthrie/Seeger collaboration.

Guthrie had started to write the song and, ambitiously, wanted to include each name from the casualty list—over a hundred US sailors.   Seeger worked on the melody and, ever conscious of how a song would play out, prevailed in suggesting that Guthrie’s list be replaced simply by the chorus: “Tell me what were their names.”

Seeger and Guthrie borrowed the melody from a pre-Civil War song written by Joseph Philbrick Webster

called “I’ll Twine Midst the Ringlets.”  His song was later made famous when the Carter Family recorded it in 1928 and retitled it “Wildwood Flower.”

You can go to YouTube to listen to the original Carter Family recording, but this is just too good an opportunity to hear the tune played by a cigar box uke and a banjo!  Tap or click on the next image or link to hear this one.

A second ever popular Guthrie song, and one found in our Blue Book, is “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh.”  This topical depression era song, considered a “Dust Bowl Ballad,” was first released in 1935 and became a standard during the so-called Folk Music Revival of the 1950s and ‘60s.  

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to this rousing favorite of folkies!

As with “Reuben James,” this song also had musical antecedents.  Guthrie based it on Carson Robison’s “Ballad of Billie the Kid” of the earlier 1930s and both tweaked and added to the lyrics.   Although Robison’s musical impact is generally forgotten today, he played a major role in promoting country music in its early years through both recordings and the radio.

And, unlike Guthrie or even Seeger, had a ukulele marketed in his image!  Here’s one from my collection.

Click or tap on the next image or link to hear Robison’s original recording of his ballad. 

And last, but certainly not least, is “This Land Is Your Land,” probably Americas most famous folk song.  Its lyrics were written by Guthrie in 1940 and based on an existing melody. 

This was another Carter Family tune called “When the World’s on Fire.”  Guthrie wrote his song in critical response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Guthrie said that he was “just plain tired” of hearing Kate Smith sing that song on the radio in the late 1930s. 

Guthrie sarcastically called his song “God Blessed America for Me” before thinking a bit more deeply and renaming it.  The rest is musical history!

Let’s start with the Carter Family’s “When the World’s on Fire.”  Click or tap on the next image or link to hear this lead-in melody to “This Land  .  .  .” 

In Guthrie’s own words about his many song copyrights, he said: “This song is Copyrighted  .  .  .  for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it; that’s all we wanted to do.

And the rest is a musical legacy for us all.  These songs are our songs even if they started as someone else’s! Tap or click on the next image or link to hear and see my favorite version of “This Land . . .”

So, stay safe, stay masked,

stay in a musically aware and timely mode,


UKULELE MUSINGS, 4 September 2021: Chickens and Chick- Chick- Chickens!

Well fellow strummers, it’s September and—to my wonderment—I just learned that this is “National Chicken Month!”  Just the theme for another ukulele musing! Well, why not?  There are some fun old tunes out there to explore and—believe it or not—quite a few ukulele renditions.  Who knew?

Let’s start with one of the most often played (only two chords!) old, old fiddle tunes: “Cluck Old Hen.”  Click or tap on the next image or link for a lively ukulele/clawhammer banjo rendition of this oldie.

Moving on, it is said that chicken, as well as onions, are part of nearly every ethnic cuisine—Kosher, Halal, Asian, Hispanic, as well as good old American Country. 

I remember those homey fried chicken restaurants in the Midwest,

Beer can chicken on the grill,

even a rare bucket from Colonel Sanders in my impecunious student days! 

My favorite treat, however, was my grandmother’s chicken and noodles served (how else?) over mashed potatoes—about 400 calories per forkful! 

But, oh so good!  But, alas, I digress .  .  .  

Now, to begin our journey through the musicological chicken yard, I would be remiss, however, not to point out a few potential pedological pitfalls of what some might call the teaching of  “critical musical theory.”  

For example, in my scholarly explorations on the web, there seem to be three major themes relative to today’s theme of “chicken music.”  First, of course, are sweet songs about the good old days of raising chickens back on the farm, and those simple but savory Sunday (or church basement) dishes served by our mothers and grandmothers. 

Then there are bouncy and (ever so slightly) bawdy tunes using the ubiquitous Tin Pan Alley slang of the day when “chick” and “chicken” referred to all those pretty young girls out there capturing the attention of a flirting “rooster” or two. 

Alas, last but not least, are all those songs of chicken chasing, eating, stealing and whatnot tainted by the graphic and lyrical racial caricatures way too common at the time. 

That said, I’ll only focus on the first two categories and let the third remain buried in the depths of the internet.

Moving on, here are just a couple of sweet and homey “chicken” tunes: “The Chicken Reel” and “Chicken Fried.”  Click or tap on the next couple of images or links to hear some good strumming and singing on these two oldies.

So much for chickens in the coop or on the plate; now the bouncy, Tin Pan Alley stuff.  Here is a use of “chicken” slang that Eddie “Banjo Eyes” Cantor performed way back in the days of World War One. 

Click or tap on the next image or link and listen carefully to the vaudevillian lyrics of “Would You Rather be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Collar or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?  Whew!

Now, click or tap on the next image or link for another of this genre with as convoluted a title: “There’s a Trick in Pickin’ a Chick Chick Chicken,” another slangy Tin Pan Alley fox trot take on today’s theme.

Ah yes, one more in the cinematic “country comic” mode . . .

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to a ukulele version of this one!

If your brain isn’t, um, fried, you can click or tap on the next image or link for for the wind up—how to make a chicken sound on your very own ukulele!  This YouTube tutorial is a bit long, but it is a must-have skill for any stage performing uker!  Perhaps not. You decide and report back!

And, let’s not forget the poultrified ukuleles out there!

So, remember the theme of the month and, hopefully, have a taste soon  of healthy broiled chicken or deep fat fried—your choice!  And, yes, stay masked unless munching away

and, of course, STAY TUNED! And listen to the chick, chick, chicken . . .  

Or, an alternate opinion . . .



Hi Fellow Strummers.  The hiatus is over!  Sorta  .  .  .

Alison and I have settled (more or less) into our new home in the Lathrop Community here in Easthampton, Massachusetts. 

It’s just a couple of miles from our old place in Northampton that many of you fellow ukers have visited over the years. So, while we have let the old house go, we are happily hanging on to our Happy Valley community!  Remember the sweet old, maskless days?

Although the distance between the two houses is short, the effort to sell, pack, move, and nestle has taken an inordinate amount of time, will, and energy—particularly when relocating the infamous banjo and ukulele collection.  Never fear, however; it’s all here!   

Our email addresses stay the same.  The “Ukulele Musings” blog address hasn’t changed.  And, as long as my musical muse continues to prod me to ponder, research, strum, write, and post,  I’m “Back in the Saddle Again!” 

This is kind of a hokey tune to home in on, but the title says it all; and, after all, it is in our Yellow Book. Anyway, here’s a fun ukulele version of this Gene Autry musical chestnut from 1939. Click or tap on the next link or image for a bit of a practice session singing along with the singing cowboy himself!

Moving on (ahem), I did a quick search for any songs about moving days, packing and unpacking boxes, arranging and rearranging furniture but found few that touched those basic bases. Here might be a good idea though . . . 

Perhaps not!

Anyway, the themes of “houses and homes” pervades American popular music so it’s pretty low-hanging fruit to pick through. And, needless to say, more than a few of the tunes do, in one way or another, home in on domiciles or dwellings–albeit in a variety of quite inapplicable genres relative to our present circumstances!  Anyway, it’s fun to take a peek at a few of these “house” songs.

Just to set the mood, here’s a modern string band version of this music hall song written way, way back in 1901. It’s a bit maudlin and doesn’t have a thing to do with our move, but it is about a house! Tap or click on the next image or link, grab a hankie, and listen to this tale of a little boy, his house, and–alas– his too busy mother.

Although our new place was spotless and vermin free on move-in day, here’s another not quite appropriate “house” tune with great cover graphics!

And still another–this one more descriptive of the moving process rather than our new house!

You ragtime fans might want to listen to a syncopated piano version of this oldie that, once again, doesn’t have much to do with our move. But it’s another “house” song, again with great graphics on the cover. Click or tap on the next image or link to follow the chart and give a listen.

Anyway, here we are, Alison and I are home at last–sorta!

Moving on again (ahem, ahem), while this next tune certainly does NOT describe the quality of the house (or neighborhood) we have moved to, here is one of my favorite “house” songs, this one from 1932: “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town.”  

Click or tap on the next image or link to listen to the original Ted “Is everybody happy?” Lewis recording of this oldie!

Needless to say, this tune has become a great jazz standard and has many ukulele covers on YouTube.  Here’s one  to have some fun with. Click or tap on the next image or link for a listen to some nice strumming.

If you want to try it yourself, you can get a chart from our good friend from “south of the border” (Connecticut/Massachusetts, that is), Dr. Uke.  For a thousand or so other great (and free) uke charts, just Google his website and be impressed!

And, of course, here is the ultimate ukulele “house” song, this time in the so-called “hapa haole” style!

Click or tap on the next image or link for a real ukulele (and hula) homemade Hawaiian treat! Almost as good as Spam and eggs!

Moving on (ahem, ahem, ahem), the same thing is true with songs about packing—“Pistol Packin’ Mama” just doesn’t strike quite the right chord here and probably is not PC these days. But a ukulele cover of this oldie from the 1950s is just too good to pass up. Click or tap on the next image or link just for fun!

I won’t even go near any of the hundreds of “Truck” songs out there.  Oh well, maybe “On the Road Again.”  After all, it is one of our favorites from our Yellow Book. Click or tap on the next link or image for this fun one.   

Enough for tunes; now for ukuleles!  I did a posting a couple of years ago on cigar box ukuleles. Not moving boxes but close, sorta!

But what I did run across in my internet wanderings are a number of ukuleles (and uke cases) made—of all things—cardboard moving boxes!  I can’t vouch for how they compare soundwise to my solid Koa Snowshoe but, here they are!

I think my Snowshoe wins! But, I guess this might be the silver lining of the cloud-filled moving process for some ukers. But, What would we do without boxes and, for that matter, our kitties and ukuleles?  

Settling in now, be aware that these musical musings of mine will continue as long as my will and wit are willing to work together, but probably not on a weekly basis as for the past four or five years.  After all, we did move to a retirement community!

You can always check out some of my musings from the past, however, by going to and scrolling amongst the offerings. Here stacked up in my new studio/shop/office space are most of them–saved on paper in three-ring binders the old-fashioned way!   

Oh yes, while our new home is in what is described as a “retirement community,” Alison and I are getting to know a lot of quite lively, certainly not “retiring” new neighbors.  And, yes! There is music!

So good friends—new and old—give me some slack but, nonetheless, stay safe, stay strumming, and STAY TUNED!  And alas, once again as they say we must, stay masked and, of course, keep moving on!