UKULELE MUSING 2020, 2 May 2020–A Salute to Health Care Professionals, Particularly Nurses

In these days of pandemic a lot of us—even if we are not personally infected with the virus swirling around the globe—offer hearty thanks to those health-care workers on the front lines, particularly nurses, nurses aides, and all those who care for us by caring. 

While we stay as safe as we can with facemasks and social distancing, these dedicated professionals find themselves in harm’s way every day yet carry on and do the jobs they were called to and trained to do. 

As a humble tribute, but still in keeping with my theme of music of the past and our favorite little instrument of today, lets see how I can muse about all this and bring a smile (or tear) or two to you gentle readers out there.

Alas, there are not that many modern musical references to nurses and their caring during these stay-safe times. I’ll end this musing with a couple of those but, first, there is a trove of “nurse related” songs from the Tin Pan Alley days that touch that base, particularly from the World War I era.  I could only find one vintage photo of a nurse with a ukulele, however, but it’s a good one and helps to meld this muse together.

And then, there were the songs—some heartfelt,

Some heavenly maudlin,

Tap or click on the next image to take a listen to this one.

And, of course, there were some comic music hall or vaudeville songs related to both nurses and swirling viruses–particularly during the 1919 influenza epidemic. These gave a bit of needed respite to the tensions of the day.

Click or tap on the next image for a bouncy, Bing Crosby rendition of this old chestnut. There are original recordings of this song but, sadly, they are way too scratchy for modern ears.

Now, as promised at the top of this posting, here are a couple of tunes by the British “Ukulele Nurse” who is working on the front lines of today’s pandemic.

Click or tap on the next couple of images for her take on her work and thoughts of survival and hope in these difficult times.

I don’t mean to gloss over the other dedicated healthcare professionals out there, men as well as women, from physicians to aides to the maintenance crews that keep our hospitals, group living facilities, medical offices, and emergency vehicles safe and ready. Nor do I mean to make light of the world-changing public health, social, and economic situations we all must learn to live with. My simple goal is to offer a smile or two for this too smile-less time.

We may be isolating in our Happy Valley, but we are not alone! Stay safe, stay on guard, stay smiling, and STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 18, 25 April 2020–“Smoke Continues in Circles”

Well, another week has gone by and sequestration is the norm. Alison and I manage to keep busy with all those household tasks, face mask making, reading, hobbies, online streaming, family Zoom, and–of course–ukulele stuff. A bit more research and restoration work on ukes rather than strumming for me, but this too shall pass. Needless to say, we make our own kind of fun here at what we call “The Inn at Ice Pond.”

Last week my theme wafted into “cigarette music” and I promised that I would move on to cigars and smoking pipes “anon.” I guess that anon is now. Why not!

Let’s start with “stogie stuff I have found.” Probably the best thing about cigars vis-a-vis our favorite little musical instrument is what can be done with those old-fashioned cedar wood cigar boxes. I’ve built a couple of ukes and banjos out of them over the years. My favorite boxes are “Old Virginia Cheroots,” 5 for 10 cents! I can’t speak for their smoking qualities, probably pretty dreadful at that price, but the boxes are good wood and a perfect size.

A ready-made “body” for a uke, banjo, guitar, or fiddle got a lot of music into the hands of folks who couldn’t afford “store bought,”

and there are a lot of folks today who simply enjoy the challenge of craftsmanship coupled with recycling. These are not mine, but here is a nice selection.

It’s not a Martin, Kamaka, or Snowshoe but the price is right for a cigar box uke, providing you don’t mind a bit of retained cigar odor! But, how does one sound? Click or tap on the next image for the answer.

And, we shouldn’t forget those long ago, sweet old days when kids collected “cigar bands” from their fathers’ stogies. Here was a way to put these to good, colorful use. This beauty IS mine.

Oh well, we might as well listen to a cigar-themed tune while we’re at it. Click or tap on the next image but keep the room well ventilated.

And then, of course, the good old smoking pipe–briar, clay, calabash, meerschaum, hookah, corn cob–a sophisticated favorite.

And, yes, there are even some hookah musical references to be found. Seek and ye shall find!

There is even a hookah reference in our Leap Year (blue) songbook!

There is even a style of tobacco pipe called a “Ukulele.”  Who knew?

Now for a fun novelty song of the early 1900s about a wife tugging on the leash of a potentially straying, but nontheless pipe smoking, husband.

Tap or click on the next image to listen to this scold of a song!

And, let’s not overlook the pipe-smoking youth of America, with their ukuleles, of course.

So, without inhaling, or endorsing bad old habits, let’s end our musical muse on the subject of tobacco smoke with a song.

And, as usual, here’s a nice little going away tune on the ukulele. Click or tap on the next image for an introspective look at smoke not getting into our eyes!

So, stay safe, stay home, stay busy, stay viceless (sort of), and STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No: 17, 18 April 2020–“Smoke Used to Get Into Our Eyes”

After writing and posting my so-called “ukulele musings” for the past four or so years, I find myself searching my bookcases and trolling the internet in search of topics I haven’t touched on before.  I do revamp some of my earlier postings by adding new YouTubes and images as well as commentary on life in our trying times; but, every once in a while, I stumble across something that might be fun to share—sometimes questionable, sometimes off limits (to only a few, I hope), and—suffice it to say–sometimes just plain tacky. 

Times being what they are, however, tacky might be just what we need.

So, here is a take on that once glamorous, now ugly habit of smoking and how tobacco seems to have permeated music and tunes we can take on with our favorite little instruments. 

This is certainly not an endorsement of a nasty, unhealthy habit, but bear with me.  Tacky-tak-tak, here goes!

Needless to say, there are many, many songs about smoke and smoking. Not much ukulele playing here but good tunes nonetheless. To make things even simpler, however, I’m just going to focus on cigarettes in this posting–cigars and smoking pipes anon. And, I’ll touch as little as possible on what might–by a few of you gentle readers out there–be considered as “recreational” puffing in these modern times and in our Happy Valley!

Tap or click on the image for this one. Not really about tobacco smoke but the quintessential “smoke” song. Who else but Fred, Ginger, and Jerome.

And, a few others out there. I don’t know about the music but the images are fun!

And then there are songs specifically about cigarettes,

Tap or click to join in on these.

Here’s a bit of cinematic fun set to music–snap or click on this one!

Or how about cigarettes the old fashioned way, the way my grandfathers did it. With “makins” you can roll your own!

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About a bit more than rolling cigarettes, but a good commentary on the fashions of the day. Click or tap for a prurient peek-a-boo.

And, where would we be without John Wayne? I tread a bit close to the boundaries on this but, what would Willie Nelson say?

And then, there is the moralistic take on smoking, and a couple of other related things of which I–and I assume more than a few of us–have little or no objection.

This song is pure country but here it is by–of all folks–The Muppets. Click or tap away on this one.

Now, if you want to try this yourself, I put together a ukulele arrangement of the song just for fun–four chords and about as “country” as you can get! Waltz time, in the Key of G.

And, course, there are a few sheet music images of ladies puffing away not, however, with ukes in hand and obviously not singing.

It’s a banjo, of course, but Gibson did advertise its ukuleles on cigarette packs of the time–a real collectors item! Let’s call it a steel-stringed baritone banjo uke.

Now, how about some of the glamorous guys with their ukes and omnipresent cigarettes! As they say, “there’s something about a sailor!”

And of course some of the big names of ukuleledom. Arthur Godfrey “making love, ukulele style.”

And, finally, a new use for a ukulele–a cigarette holder! He’s not called “Ukulele Ike” for nothing.

This little journey into the mix of tobacco and music is certainly not an endorsement of consuming tobacco products in any form.  Tobacco, smoking, and related songs are part of musical history but, unlike history, we don’t have to inhale. 

But the music sure was fun!

So, there it is.  What shall I explore next in these days of stay-at-home isolation?  Not being one for today’s so-called “recreational smoking,” perhaps other consumable vices will come to mind—over-consuming booze, Oreos, Zoom, or Netflix?  Who knows?

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke in ukulele land. So, stay safe, stay home, stay busy, stay viceless (sort of), and STAY TUNED!  

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 16, 11 April 2020–An Old Melody All Dressed Up, “Easter Parade”

By whatever authorities seem to be in charge of these things, it’s been confirmed that the Easter Bunny (as well as the Tooth Fairy) have been declared “essential workers” during this season of sequestration.

That being the case, it behooves me to do my bit to keep Easter alive on our screens and in our hearts, if not in our churches and parade routes. So, let me, once again, dip into postings past to help us (and me) through these days with a little history and a little musical mind-candy. We all could use some of that!

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Hidden away in the back of Liz and Jim Beloff’s “365 Days of Ukulele” songbook, among other so-called holiday songs, is that old favorite “Easter Parade.”  Basically, it’s a boy-girl romancing song written around that depression-era fashion parade on New York’s most fashionable street—5th Avenue. 

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It was written by Irving Berlin, among many other tunes in our book, and published in 1933. 

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Not being one to waste a good thing, however, Berlin had originally written the melody in 1917 for another song called “Smile and Show your Dimple”—a “cheer-up” song for a girl whose guy had gone off to fight in World War I.

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Tap or click on the next image for a musical treat (of sorts).

This tune achieved modest success by the singer/actor Sam Ash in 1918, but was soon forgotten—by everyone except Berlin.  He resurrected it with a few modifications and new (quite secular) “holiday” lyrics and title for the 1933 Broadway revue “As Thousands Cheer.” 

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As with most of Berlin’s songs, it later appeared in movies of which the 1948 musical “Easter Parade,” with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, remains the quintessential version. 

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In fact, the whole film was written around the song.   

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Click or tap on the next image for a cinematic treat.

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UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Fred ASTAIRE and Irving BERLIN; w/ Fred Astaire (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history.  Born Israel Beilin in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy“, in 1907, receiving 33 cents for the publishing rights. 

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Click or tap on the next image for a listen to this oldie by Irving.

The publisher misspelled his name on the sheet music and, ever after, “Beilin” became “Berlin.” His first major international hit was in 1911, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”  

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It is commonly believed that Berlin couldn’t read sheet music and was such a limited piano player that he could only play in the key of F-sharp. With six sharps, it’s not an easy ukulele key so our book gives it to us in F.  

So, as a kickoff to Easter Sunday, coinciding this year with Passover, we have a Jewish songwriter, an immigrant born in Russia, who gave us this quintessential Easter song—only in America! He also wrote “White Christmas,” and of course, “God Bless America.”   Now, it’s time to take our favorite little instruments in hand,  don our protective masks, and

make our hideaways the interior equivalent to 5th Avenue.

Stay home, stay well, and STAY TUNED! This too shall pass.

Next year in Pulaski Park anyone?   

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UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 15–Passover, Beautiful Music for a Beautiful Life Moment

This musing is being sent out a few days ahead of schedule because of this year’s calendar. Passover is this Wednesday and it’s going to be a strange one with the social distancing “plague” we are forced to live in these trying days, weeks, and months. But, living must go on and, hopefully, your Seder table won’t be empty this year.

I am dipping, once again, into my trove of musings I have posted over the past few years to serve as the foundation of this latest one. So, here we go!

 I am not Jewish but I have many friends and family who are.  As a result, I have attended many Passover Seders over the years.  I have always found the marriage of faith, tradition, history, and continuity both meaningful and moving. 

Unlike the musical secularization of Easter—with bunnies, egg rolls, and parades—Passover seems to have retained its focus and its dignity.  Even the fidgety children who make faces over the bitter herbs will come to cherish the tradition with their own children. 

I am old enough to have seen this happen more than once!

So, no funny ukulele thoughts today.  Just a reminder that there is beautiful music out there for a beautiful life moment and, yes, your ukulele can be part of this.

Here is a ukulele tutorial for a traditional Passover song. Tap or click on the next image to give it a try.

And, while it’s not particular to Passover, here is an easy ukulele TAB for the national anthem of Israel—“Hatikvah.”  This solo version for ukulele works really well and has a haunting Levantine melodic line.  Give it a try.

Hatikvah Ukulele Arrangement

  So, I hope your Passover Seder–no matter what form it must take this year–brings you and yours together in your own ways. Meanwhile, STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 14, 4 April 2020–“It Takes Two Hands and Two Heads to Play a Banjo–Ukulele, That Is!”

A bad example of social distancing while playing a banjo ukulele . . .

Friends and colleagues have mentioned that, in these trying times of isolation and forced leisure, they have found my meant-to-be-merry musings on ukulele lore diverting if not soothing. It makes this whole blog thing worthwhile! So, with an extra bit of time on my hands as well, I soldier on–while keeping my distance.

This week’s musing on banjo ukuleles (a bit longer and a tad more rambling than usual) is a good example. It focuses on a style of playing that some folks might find a bit off-putting but, nontheless, is part of our ukulele heritage. Many other folks think it’s the only way to go! Go figure.

Oh well, if it’s too much to take in at one time, break it down into chapters or–to be musical–verses! Anyway, stay well, keep your social distance, and enjoy.

But, as a warm up digression, here’s a tune (sorry, no banjo uke here) to get us in the mood of the day. Click or tap on the image. I’ve added chords and lyrics at the end of this musing.

Now, back to work. Moving on to our theme of banjo ukuleles . . .

Most of you gentle readers and fellow strummers know that my go-to instrument for those Tin Pan Alley, old-time, and country tunes we play has long been a banjo ukulele. I have a Gold Tone Deluxe tenor and a vintage Bruno baritone in my arsenal. These are set up with nylon strings and softened with a rubber violin mute when absolutely necessary.

Alas, my vintage soprano-scale Ludwig Professional is out on “fifty-year rental” to our friends the “Ukulele Scramble,” but such is life. Better to have it loved and well played than merely loved!

But, once again, I digress.

So, to begin, how about an overture? Click or tap on the next image to see what can be done with a Ludwig Professional banjo uke. Get your earplugs on if you must because HERE WE GO!

To a lot of folks the bright, percussive tone of a banjo ukulele is thrilling, to others an acquired taste, and to still others . . . well. But this variation of the traditional uke goes way back in musical history. This might be nothing more than a “drum with a stick attached to it,” but this little instrument is taking off and has found more than a few fans over the past hundred or so years.

In 1916, San Francisco resident John A. Bolander patented the first banjo ukulele. In 1922, Hawaiiian-born Californian Alvin Keech, a ukulele player and vaudevillian, found himself in post World War I Paris performing on stage and in cafes. He and his brother, Kelvin also made and sold several variations of banjo ukuleles that would become known as “Keech Banjuleles.” (Note the spelling.) Because of their musical and manufacturing efforts, the instrument became very popular in Europe, specifically France and Britain and later in the US.

Here is one of their simple banjo ukes from the 1920s.

Most “Uke-ologists” credit Keech as the performing perfector and earliest promoter of the banjo uke if not the inventor. 

Keech perfected a fast-fingered strumming style that set the stage for banjo uke players of the day and set an example for many today. Despite the fact that this is a “silent movie,” check out his fingering skills in both regular and slow motion. Click or tap on the image.

For some sound, here’s a look at a restored vintage Keech Banjulele in action today. Click or tap on the image to check it out.

Examples of banjo ukes from both sides of the Atlantic show, basically, a four-string soprano ukulele neck mounted on a six- to eight-inch cylindrical pot with a skin head. In fact, banjos and banjo ukes soon became a lucrative sideline of big name drum manufacturers such a Slingerland and Ludwig. 

Before the advent of the banjo ukulele, however, short necked eight-string, four-course banjo mandolins or “banjolins” were available—usually with a ten-inch head. So were four-string versions called “melody banjos” and a five string version called a “piccolo” banjo. 

These were the “soprano voices” in the banjo bands or orchestras of the 1890s and early 1900s.

While banjo ukes are tuned in the standard re-entrant GCEA (or the once-popular ADF#B), the melodies and banjolins were usually tuned in fifths like a mandolin or violin, GDAE.

The banjo uke became popular, particularly with vaudeville performers, because it was relatively simple to play, like a regular ukulele, and, like a good “stage voice,” LOUD!  Tap or click on the following image for an example performed in the “Keech style,” later and especially today called the “Formby style,” about which more later.

And, of course, there were many other vaudeville or stage performers.

Some say that what drove the banjo uke into popularity, however, was that it was easier to build (read less expensive) than the more curvaceous, guitar-like standard ukulele. It was made up of a lot of interchangeable parts and the less expensive models required little fancy wood bending and finishing. You could even use a bit of an old log. 

Or little pieces made out of big pieces.

This, coupled with the popularity of Tin Pan Alley ragtime tunes, made the brighter, jazzier tone of the banjo uke THE sound of the 1920s and put a banjo uke into the hands of thousands. It seems that everyone wanted to learn, and many folks made money from songbooks as well as instruments!

As with all musical instruments, there are low- as well as high-end models. A Stromberg Voisenette . . .

A Gibson UB-2 with resonator . . .

A gold-plated Ludwig Professional . . .

Simple styles cost only a few of dollars in their day while fully decked out vintage models–when found– easily can cost a thousand or more in today’s market.

However, there are many affordable, brand new banjo ukes out there today. Test drive one when you next visit your favorite ukulele store!

They are fun to look at, fun to play, fun to hear, and fun to collect. 

And, easy to decorate. A blank “canvas” so to speak!

And, popular in the sweet old days as well as now.

Now, we would be remiss if we didn’t include samples of two of the great banjo ukulele players of the past who epitomized the fast-fingered Keech/Formby styles, both British–First, Tessie O’Shea who performed alongside the Beatles when they did their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV Show.

Their joint appearance drew what was then the largest audience in the history of American Television.  Imagine that for a banjo uke player!  Check out this YouTube if you have a few minutes!

And—for you collectors out there—she played a Gibson UB-3 (sometimes known as a UB-2 Deluxe) with a full resonator for super, stage volume!

And then, on to the King of the fast-finger players and the performer who gave his name to the style as played today, George Formby. Just imagine the service, wit, musicality, and personality of Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Steve Martin, and Jerry Lewis wrapped up in one British music hall and film star. He became known to a worldwide audience through his many films of the 1930s and 1940s and his entertainment of the troops during World War II. On stage, screen, and records he sang light, comical songs and became the UK’s highest-paid entertainer. Some say that he made the banjo ukulele famous and he certainly made his fast style of play the goal of many players.

You might wish for sub-titles with this one, but this is one of his signature tunes. Click or tap to watch and listen.

Playing in his fast-paced signature style is the goal of many of today’s banjo uke players and there are George Formby Society (GFS) clubs all over Britain. Needless to say, the banjo uke is HUGE in the UK!

It’s too bad there isn’t anyone playing a banjo uke in this performance, but here is the quintessential George Formby song by the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra. Click or tap for a treat!

Those folks are virtuoso ukulele players but, of course, no one should be without an essential banjo uke. It can certainly play an essential role when necessary, so to speak.

Warning, gentle readers! Don’t try the above pose with this one!

This musing emphasized the vaudeville or music hall style of play. After all that, I haven’t mentioned frailing, bluegrass picking, or chord melody on the banjo uke. Alas. Inspiration!

Anyway, stay warm, well, and appropriately distanced (and modestly dressed while hunkered down at home)–and STAY TUNED!

By the way, here are the words and chords for the “Social Distance” tune. Enjoy while we must . . .

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 13–28 March: “More Than Four Strings is Just Showing Off,” or is it?

Right now I am sure that a lot of you self-sequestered strummers have tired of crosswords, picture puzzles, and on-line streaming–to say nothing of striving to master that elusive “Island Strum.” So, I thought I might follow up with some similarly mind-tangling intricacies about our favorite little musical instrument.

Several of you fellow ukers have asked me about various types of ukuleles, particularly with questions about those with more than four strings. So, this musing–updated from three or four years ago–is for you bored ukulele nerds out there!

Guitars can have four, six, or twelve strings; mandolins and mandolinettos eight; banjos four or five; dulcimers and balalaikas three; and OMG lutes!

Ukuleles have only four.  Or do they?

Sure, having MORE strings (or longer, like a Pete Seeger-style banjo) allows playing more notes up and down the scale,

but the tonal “magic” of PAIRED strings has been known and employed effectively by luthiers and musicians for centuries.  This is because two strings tuned to the same pitch (or an octave apart) and plucked at the same time often give a slightly more vibrant and sustained tone than a single string played by itself—a simple fact of physics. 

That’s because two strings—even if carefully tuned—are rarely at EXACTLY the same pitch.  Even if it is a couple of mini-wavers off, this ever so slight difference can result in a more resonant and sustained tone as well as vibrato.  Listen to a mandolin or twelve-string guitar to hear the effect.

Tap or click on the next image to here some serious eight-string ukulele playing.

Ukuleles have not been left out of the game in this regard and five-, six-, and eight-string models are readily available today.  A paired string is usually referred to as a “course” and a multi-string uke will be set up with four courses, or pairs, of strings.  This means that the fingering patterns are the same as for a four-string configuration.  You are simply pressing two strings down with one finger at one time—not too tricky once you get the hang of it.

Since this is a posting about ukuleles, we’ll leave it to other folks to discuss their favorite instruments.  Also, we will only focus on today’s so-called standard tunings.  For tenor and smaller-scale ukes this would be the good old “my-dog-has-fleas” tuning, often noted as “g-C-E-A” for the usual “high-g” or so-called “re-entrant” tuning, and “G-C-E-A,” for an octave lower G, so-called “low-G” tuning.  

Ninety-nine percent of the ukes sold today, and most on-line and printed tutorials, start out with re-entrant tuning and most ukulele strummers stick with that standard and feel no need to change. This combination has a tonal magic that has made the so-called “ukulele sound” famous.  If you do a lot of finger-picking or chord melody playing, however, the extra range offered by the low G comes in handy.  Also, if you are really dexterous, or use a pick, you can pluck either the high g or the low G on a multi-stringer.

For five-, six-, or eight-string ukes the tuning codes “Gg-C-E-A,” “Gg-C-E-AA,” and “Gg-Cc-EE-AA” are used.  Obviously, these ukes will have additional tuners on the peghead, and an appropriately modified nut and bridge to accommodate the extra strings. 

For an eight-string baritone uke, just pitch the strings down a fourth—“Dd-Gg-BB-EE” and so forth.  Confused?  Try not to think about it too much and let your hands and fingers try some of the multi-stringers when you can.

Now, to get REALLY confused, try one of the ukulele cousins: the Tiple—ten steel strings tuned “Gg-cCc-eEe-AA.” 

Or the Taropatch Fiddle—eight nylon strings tuned “gG-cC-EE-AA.” 

Or the Mandolinetto with eight steel strings tuned like a mandolin “GG-DD-AA-EE” or like a ukulele “GG-CC-EE-AA.” 

How about a five-string banjo uke? Actually a “piccolo banjo” from the 1920s.

Or the Guitalele—six nylon strings tuned “A-D-G-C-E-A.” 

Or a harp-ukulele.

And then there’s the Octophone the eight steel strings that can be tuned eight different ways! Go figure. 

Whew!  Too much bourbon on the front porch . . .

Anyway, one of the most popular tiple and ukulele performers of the day was Wendell Hall–the “Old Redhead.”

Tap or click on the image below to hear what was one of the most popular recordings of its day–believe it or not!

Here’s a more updated tune played on a 1949 Martin tiple. Click or tap on the next image to listen in.

Incidentally, the early pronunciation was “TEE-play.” Today, most folks call it a “TIP-ul.” Your choice!

To further complicate things, there are folks who want to play a standard uke and a baritone or multi-string without reaching for a second instrument.  The so-called “double neck” uke is the ingenious solution—one body, two necks. 

Check this out. Tap or click on the next image.

Listen to one of our favorite tunes on a harp-ukulele. Tap or click on the next image.

Of course, some folks can get carried away with this!

So, if you want to have some fun, show off with some multi- or paired-string ukes. 

Oh, yes. If you have WAY more strings than four, here’s what can be done with them!

Remember: “You can never have too many ukuleles (or strings)!” Take care, be well, and–above all–, STAY TUNED/Stay Tuned/stay tuned/stay tuned . . .

UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 12–21 March: Springtime, Stuck at Home

I’m not going to make light of the virus swirling around our country and our need to stay out of each other’s way and space.

Not much musical mirth in all that, but, we should take time to tune into our Happy Valley friends, “The Ukulele Scramble,” and listen to their take on communicable diseases.

Tap or click on the image to give a look and listen!

But, let’s move away from the virulent news of the day and take a look at what else is happening this week–the first day of Spring! So get out your uke, find lonely solace in that, and practice, practice, practice alone until we all get together to strum again!

Technically, this Thursday is the first day of Spring.  Ha Ha.

We New Englanders have a longing for the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring.  I guess that this is wishful thinking on our part.  But, Spring does happen even if the flowers are peeping out of the snow. 

Spring WILL come!  Won’t it?  Please . . .

Spring in ukulele land can be as colorful as it is in flower land and there are plenty of songs out there from the heyday of the ukulele that celebrate this.

How about a Hawaiian version of this tune? Islands instead of Rockies?

Tap or click on the following image for something a tad different!

And then . . . But I digress.

Moving on, one of the better Spring songs of the Roaring Twenties—one that was at the top of the charts when it was first published in 1929—was “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” performed by the so-called “Crooning Troubadour” Nick Lucas.

Tap or click on the next image for a peek at this tune in one of its earliest recordings.

Sadly, in my humble opinion, this lovely little tune was irrevocably spoiled by the parody performance of one Herbert Buckingham Maury,

for better or worse known as “Tiny Tim.”  Maury was a self-educated expert on the music and lore of Tin Pan Alley and a bit of an eccentric gadfly in the New York music world.  He only became “famous” after performing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in falsetto on the “Rowen and Martin Laugh In” back in 1968.  That, and subsequent performances on “The Johnny Carson Show,” turned what was a lighthearted love song into comedy and Tiny Tim into a costumed caricature of a musician. 

Needless to say, however, America loved it and we are stuck with the “earworm” version of Tiny Tim’s version today. Tap or click on the following image to listen, if you must . . .

At times Tiny Tim played the ukulele—which he carried around in a paper shopping bag—left-handed, but played the mandolin and guitar right-handed, though he retained the standard string placement for all three instruments.  Go figure.  The ukes that he played included a vintage Martin, a Favilla, and a Johnston metal resonator.  He taught himself to play using a method book that came with the Arthur Godfrey-endorsed Maccaferri Islander plastic ukulele.   It’s said he only played three or four uke chords at the most.  With a voice like his, that’s all you apparently needed!

Despite his popularity, it is said by many serious strummers that Tiny Tim tarnished the reputation of the ukulele for decades.  Even today, pull out your ukulele and, inevitably, someone will say, “can you play ‘Tiptoe?’”  SAD—Kinda like Spring snow! 

So, to come back to our senses, here is a real taste of Spring–Vivaldi on a Gypsy Ukulele! What’s not to like? Tap or click on the following image for a real musical treat!

So, Think Spring and stay connected with friends and family–albeit at a social distance. Take care, be well, and–above all– STAY TUNED!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020 No. 11–Saint Patrick’s Day, Pub-less this Year, Alas . . .

Keeping a “social distance” on St. Patrick’s Day is not an easy thing to do but, we ukers will survive even if we have to go “pub-less” and move our chairs and music stands at least six feet apart while the world sorts out how to deal with the gremlins trying to infiltrate our respiratory systems. Hopefully we all have enough Guinness stout and Jameson whiskey on hand to last the siege; and we have our ukuleles. Time to practice, practice, practice!

So, in keeping with my goal of recycling posts of the past, here’s one that a lot of folks liked from a few years ago. So put on something green and let’s go!

St. Patrick’s Day and musical tales of the “Emerald Isle” are low hanging fruit for those of us (both Alison and I) who have bent over backwards and actually kissed the Blarney Stone.  There are, however, way too many branches to climb on this tree for a simple ukulele posting.  Nonetheless, with a dram or two (or three) of Jameson “in the jar,” try I must and I will.

A rowdy celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in the US but only lately in Ireland itself.  It was always a religious holiday over there but seldom rowdier than a night of good “craic” at the neighborhood public house or “pub.” 

Needless to say, the ukulele is not a traditional Irish instrument although some can, of course, be found.

But, it’s only in the past few years that the ukulele began to increase in popularity in Ireland.  Now, what is know as the “Ukulele Hooley” is an annual event celebrated throughout the island and ukes in music stores and ukulele clubs can be found in almost every town.

Of course, there is a long, long tradition of Irish music going back to the early days.  Irish–and similarly, Scottish, Welsh, and English–traditional music has been collected, studied, and played to this day.   So-called Celtic music (pronounced “Keltic,” only in Boston is it “Seltic”) followed the early Ulster (Scots-Irish) migrations to the US and Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This migration of mostly Protestant “Orangemen” settled in the mountainous frontiers of America, such as Appalachia, and their music became the foundation on which old-time, hillbilly, country/western, and bluegrass music was built. 

Later, these and more contemporary Irish dance tunes and ballads went all over the world with the diaspora of mostly Catholic Irish immigrants during the potato famine years of the mid-19th century.

While the early migration brought traditional Irish/Celtic dance and ballad music to the countryside and mountains, the later migration brought this and newer music to the cities.  It was in the cities where nostalgia for the “Old Sod,” or “Emerald Isle,” and the whimsical, often satirical, and too often pejorative portrayal of the Irish immigrant rose. 

Needless to say, this was quickly picked up by songwriters—most of them non-Irish, many Jewish—on New York’s Tin Pan Alley and performed on Vaudeville stages and parlor pianos throughout the country.

It’s this latter migration that gave us St. Patrick’s day as we know it in this country and the “wearin’ o’ the green” that is celebrated today.

On St. Patrick’s Day nearly everyone aspires to be a bit o’ the Irish. Just remember that the three-leaf Shamrock is not a four-leaf Clover! But I digress.

And, let’s not forget the great Irish tenors of the past—a unique contribution to popular vocal music.  Anyone remember Dennis Day on the Jack Benny radio show?  And that great English/American/Irish Song  . . .     

Tap on the image below to see the YouTube:

In Ireland, the fellowship, banter, and fun conversation over a pint or a few at the local pub is said to be “good craic!”  (Pronounced: crack.)  And, a pub is a favorite venue for song.  

Here, folks with pints in hand will shout/sing a chorus as the house band (rarely with a ukulele but often with a tenor banjo) will run through verse after verse.  Here is what is said to be the most popular tune of this tradition— “The Wild Rover.”

Tap on the image below to see the YouTube:

If you’d like to give it a try yourself, grab your uke and a pint and give it a go. Here’s a chart for this song, with chord melody TAB, that I have arranged.  Try it, you’ll like it!

To end on a bit o’ good craic:

O’Donnel’s Missus was sittin’ in the pub with her ukulele in her hand and himself at her side.  “You have been” says she, “the rock o’ me life.  I could’na live without ya!”  “Dearie,” says he, with a blush to his face, “is that me you’re talkin’ of?”  “No, no Luv,” says she, “I’m talkin’ of me ukulele!”

A Sister, not a Missus  .  .  .

Avoid crowds, create your own at-home pub and . . . Stay Tuned!

UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 9—“Ladies’ Day” 29 February; Ladies and Their Ukuleles–Ukulele-Cake!

We are heading into that once-every-four-years event intended to keep the world from falling apart. No, it’s not the coming election. Rather, it’s February 29th–Leap Year Day! Aside from its calendaric necessity, that day has taken on mythological traditions the most important of which, in some cultures, is that this is the day in which women are encouraged to propose to men.

I’m not so sure that this means much in this day and age, but I’m willing to bend my ukulele theme to focus on the ladies and, of course, their ukuleles. Here goes!

Probably the event most linked with this date is–for those of you who remember the Great “Li’l Abner” comic strip–is Sadie Hawkins Day when the eligible boys try to outrun the anxious girls in a once-a-year race to the altar. Not much of a ukulele tune, but here is a rather bizarre take on Sadie Hawkins:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQDdIhXb6fI&list=TLPQMjgwMjIwMjB0FZbR9bDAWw&index=2

Now, after having said that my theme would be ladies and their ukuleles,

in my web wanderings I have been exposed to—as might be expected—a lot of material that I and many of you gentle readers might consider as prurient and inappropriate for innocent eyes. Not being one to trash perfectly good research, however, I soldier on. 

Still, there is a lot of material out there that is on the edge of propriety rather than over the brink and, to me, still worthy of a place in our visual exploration of ladies and their ukulele history past as well as present.

As a disclaimer, this posting will NOT focus on the “French postcard” school of erotica depicting semi-nude native girls or saucy dancehall belles even though, of course, their ukuleles may be of interest to a scholar or collector. 

But, I have found that there is enough material out there to adequately hold, rather than rivet, our attention.  So, here goes!

While there was a lot of 19th century pictorial “entertainment” in the form of stories told with stereoscope slides, it was in the 1890s when burlesque performers and actresses began using photographs as “business cards” to promote themselves, their talents, and their attributes.

These cards could be found pinned to backstage walls in most vaudeville theaters and became ubiquitous in other venues frequented by gentlemen of the day. 

Song with ukulele “Pinup Girl:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwzHqCrWBvs

And, so, the “pinup” got its name.   “Cheesecake,” as a synonym came along in the 1920s, particularly in New York’s deli-fueled theatrical world.  

Scholarly discussion today ranges from vivid to livid on this whole pinup/cheesecake thing. So, why not explore “Ukulele-Cake?”  

Admittedly, in the 21st century blue bubble of our Happy Valley, this can be a touchy subject. But, our pursuit of ukulele lore may oft take us into what some may call the darker corners of the music word, but we must bear (bare?) with it and pursue history where we find it.

And, yes; there is a brighter side to our little history . . .   In the early 20th century, in parallel with the more male-targeted cheesecake, magazine illustrations of attractive well- (and semi-) dressed women were seen by many as helping to define certain body images such as being clean, healthy, and wholesome. 

This was what both women and men thought a particularly beautiful or attractive woman should look like.  Alas, as time progressed, attitudes toward these images evolved from respectable to illicit—from “womanhood,” to “glamour,” to “girlie-girlie.” 

Needless to say, the ukulele as an oft-used prop covered (ahem) a lot.     

Anyway, cheesecake was really a “guy thing” and pinup girls became hugely popular during the early years of World War II. 

Many featured scantily, but tastefully (mostly), dressed (mostly) girls often—to stick with our theme—holding or playing ukuleles.

Pinup girls were featured on the noses of bomber planes during the war and they were pinned up in Army barracks and on Navy ships all over the world. 

They were used for training and recruiting posters—any way to catch and capture a young man’s attention. 

So-called “calendar girls” became a popular sub-species of a pinup. 

Pinup girls were also used in advertising, often having not much to do with either femininity or ukuleles! 

More recent “Beefcake” photos of similarly slightly clad men, also armed with ukuleles, are found but considerably less often.  Go figure.   

While there are pinups WITH ukuleles, of equal interest to us are pinups ON ukuleles. Both new and vintage examples can be found. 

Good taste?  Bad taste?  Offensive?  Fun? 

Your call, but I believe that it’s a genre of ukulele history worthy of our serious exploration and study. 

And, after all, don’t we all want to learn a bit more about our ukuleles and how folks have, shall we say, embraced them over the years? 

So, let’s end this musicological exploration with a good ukulele tutorial. Not “Pinup Girl,” rather “Calendar Girl:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWMtgip-dLM

There is so much ukulele lore to explore! You eligible gentlemen be on the lookout for the ladies today. But, Stay Tuned!