Friday, 25 January 2013

Ukulele Quote of the Day - and a new Ukulele Hero for me - Curt Sheller

"Woman is at a uke festival with a lovely soprano ukulele under her arm. Another woman walks up and gazes admiringly at the first woman's uke, at which point the woman holding the uke looks over and says with a smile; "I got it for my husband." Second woman nods and says, "good trade.""

Hadn't better show LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) that one. He's actually about to make me a bacon sandwich....

But the quote - I found on a great website I've just been perusing - it's
Curt Sheller 'All Things `Ukulele and Jazz Guitar and it's well worth a good look.

For example - Curt invites us to learn a new chord every day of the year... and there are plenty of top quality free lessons on offer. This makes Curt Sheller a dead cert as a Ukulele Hero..

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lewis Clifton talks about the Gibson banjo-uke.....

A couple of days ago, Strummin' Simon at the Ukulele Restoration Barn did a blog-post (see right) about the Gibson UB1 banjo-uke - with some great photos of one he has just restored for his own use - and so it's an ideal time to post an article by the talented young player Lewis Clifton, about the famed and sought-after Gibson banjo-ukulele in all its forms.

Part 1 of the ‘Kings of the Banjo Ukulele’ – The Gibson

The Gibson Banjo Ukulele has a very sharp and rich tone, which is iconic to the great brand of Banjo Uke. Gibson started the production of their banjoleles in the mid 1920’s and were manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A.
In those days the Gibson Banjo Ukes were cheap and affordable. The range of their Banjo Ukuleles begun with the ‘Bog Standard’ UB1 for $10 all the way to the Gold Plated De-Luxe UB5, for $55. Which was a lot of money in those days!
Every single Banjo Uke in the range has a unique features or sound to it.

To talk about the Gibson Banjo Ukes we must start from the beginning, with the UB1.

Most UB1s were made before 1930, so most will bear ‘The Gibson’ on the peg. (If it was post 1930 it will just have ‘Gibson’ on the peg). I’ve played 2 or 3 Gibson UB1s in my ‘Ukulele Career’ and every time I pick one up, the same words are on my tongue, “It’s SO tiny!”. The UB1 has a 6-inch pot, but surprisingly it has a powerful ‘punch’. All wooden parts are made from mahogany, flat back resonator, tone ring fitted inside the resonator, Nashville tailpiece, friction pegs with ivory thumb grip, 5 bottom tension rods and a full sized fret board with 3 position spots.

The next model up from the UB1 was the UB2.

The UB2 is very similar to the UB1, in fact It’s just a bigger version of it. The only real difference is that the UB2 has 14 bottom tension rods and an 8-inch pot.

Over the years there has been a lot of confusion over the naming of the UB2 and the small UB3. Most members of the George Formby Society call it ‘UB3 non-resonator’. The reason for this confusion is that Gibson named the uke as different names in their catalogues.

The UB3 ‘Non-res’ is by far one of the most desirable from the range. The famous ukulele king, George Formby owned one and can be seen playing it in his films, “Off The Dole”, “I See Ice”, “It’s In the Air” and “Trouble Brewing”. The UB3 has an 8-inch rim and a flat backed amplifying resonator finished in a dark antique mahogany with a sunburst effect on the back and the neck. The rosewood fingerboard is decoratively inlaid with ‘Mother of Pearl’ diamonds as is the peg head. This Gibson model is also fitted with a tone ring, which gives it its lovely, crisp, rich and sharp tone.

Now, to make things even MORE confusing, lets add The ‘Big’ Gibson UB3 to the mix!

There are 2 types of Big Gibson UB3’s, The Standard model and the De-Luxe model. The only difference between them is that the De-Luxe model is more decorative. The Big UB3 has 16 bottom tension rods, a walnut resonator with a nickel plated flange with diamond cut outs, friction pegs with ivory thumb grips, rosewood finger board, and 3 mounting screws. Lovely to hold with a nice thin neck so you can get a good grip on the uke. Once again due to the tone ring fitted it has the iconic Gibson sound. I’m lucky enough to own a De-Luxe Big UB3, and I must say, It’s a lovely uke! George owned 3 Big UB3’s, one he used in his film ‘I Didn’t Do It’ which was De-Luxe model and another he used in his last television program ‘The Friday Show’ which was the standard model, (which is now owned by Andy Eastwood).

The next 2 ukes are also very similar, just that one is gold plated.

The UB4 was made from beautiful burl walnut with a highly polished durable finish. Over laid flanged resonator, grip tight pegs, a rosewood fingerboard, bound with white ivoroid and inlaid with attractive white pearl ornamentations. All metal parts were nickel-plated.

The pre-mentioned UB5 was the ‘Top Uke’ in the Gibson range, which was very similar to the UB4 but the UB5 was Gold Plated, which added $10 to its value.

The Gibsons are certainly some of the best ukes out there, and my UB3 is definitely one of my favorite ukes!

Part 2 will be coming up, but this time it will be on ABBOTTS.

Till then, Keep Plonking!

Lewis Clifton

I'm glad Lewis enjoys writing, as well as playing his banjoleles so magnificently!
Thanks for this, Lewis - and I'm already looking forward to the next one!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Jazz on Uke - Great Chord Progression, three positions!

One of my personal targets a few months back, to make some real progress on the ukulele was to learn some chords up the neck of the uke - and I also wanted to get some jazz chords under my belt. They just sound so cool! Thanks to Marcy Marxer in Hawaii, here's not only a great sounding jazz chord progression, but she shows us three positions - the common positions low on the neck, and then two more positions going higher. It's a great tutorial video....

The chord progression is C6 - C#dim - Dm7 - G7. That sounds really good - but up the neck it's even better.

Thanks, Marcy! And - she's playing a Kala tenor.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

"By Special Permission of the Copyright Owners I Love You" - John Bianchi...

In my little corner of the UK, there are several degrees of frost, and there's fog... morning tea in bed, and an extra five minutes under the duvet... or ten.

Then I watch John Bianchi in New York, playing his uke first thing in the morning, in his car, at the side of the road, doing what he has to do to comply with parking restrictions... and I feel at least a little sheepish.

As a lover of 20's and 30's Tin Pan Alley music, I always enjoy John's singing and playing, and he never, but never disappoints. Please share the gem he has come up with this time.... sitting in his car in wintry New York...

He introduces the song in this wise...

"Here's one of the tens of thousands of tunes from the first part of the last century that pretty much no one living has ever heard. From the Broadway flop, "The Gang's All Here" - which starred Ted Healy (of Ted Healy and His Three Stooges - later shortened by giving Ted his walking papers), this 1931 tune is played on a rock-like Cordoba uke that has a nice THICK top, so I don't mind playing it in the 34F temperature of Monday morning."

Wonderful... if 20's and 30's music is a tiny bandwagon to be on - well I, for one, am up there on it with John B. And oh, to be able to play like that...

"Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" - Eugeneukulele

I'm delighted to post another great offering from one of my favourite ukers, "eugeneukulele" of Tasmania. Like all my favourite players, he just seems to have the music coursing through his veins all the time - and there's no doubt about about it; to be good, you have to play a LOT. One of the most famous players of all time, the great Roy Smeck, played for five hours a day, every day - no wonder he was good!

This blues is so happy, and I think that's a very nice change actually. Don't want to be blue all the time. The uke is a little soprano Bruko, solid walnut - and it has a great sound......

Eugene (Jon) writes about the song thus.......

"1920's. One of the early American Industrial Ballads.

Another in the long lineage of worker's complaint songs, this one has been performed by Leadbelly, Pete Seeger and others. Specific authorship is unknown - as with many of these songs - but clearly was written by some sharp-tongued worker as a wry musical ode to his time spent in Winnsboro's textile mills. The country-blues melody of the song is borrowed directly from a song called "Alcoholic Blues" which was popular at the time."

Yes - need to get back to my practice. Definitely.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Lewis Clifton plays TT Races - GFS June 2012

Yesterday I introduced you to Lewis Clifton, one of the up-and-coming young stars of the George Formby style and the George Formby Society. Here again he is playing the late great Dennis Taylor's Ludwig; this time it's his own personal favourite Formby song, TT Races. It's hard to believe that Lewis was only thirteen here.

I was lucky enough to have a good chat with Lewis at the last meeting or convention of the George Formby Society. When I asked him how long he'd been playing and how he learned to play, I was astonished to learn that he is self-taught, and learned from simply watching videos of Dennis Taylor, featured here the other day. He told me that he started with guitar, and quickly discovered the ukulele - his first was a little white Mahalo - the starter uke of many! And he has still only been playing banjolele for less than four years... to be so skilled at fourteen, and self-taught at that is impressive to say the least.

Needless to say a big fan Of George Formby, his favourite players are the late great Dennis Taylor and Dickie Speake. I think we'll be hearing a lot more of Lewis...

Watch this space for guest spots where Lewis will be talking about the greats of vintage banjolele world - the Ludwig, Abbott and Gibson. You need deep pockets for those... if only.....

By the way, as I said, Lewis is just one of the highly talented youngsters coming up in the banjo-uke world... watch this space also for more of them!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Pardon Me....Introducing Lewis Clifton!

On this blog over the months, I've played videos by most of my favourite banjolele players, but this is the first by young Lewis Clifton. If you watched the video of Dennis Taylor yesterday, look at the uke Lewis is playing here - yes, it is indeed Dennis's Ludwig. He was granted the privilege of playing it at the June Convention of the George Formby Society. And when you watch his rendition here of "Pardon Me" (1939, Gifford/Cliffe/Formby) you will see why. Lewis is one of the very accomplished young players who are the future of the society. He has a lovely relaxed style so reminiscent of Dennis Taylor. I love listening to Lewis play and sing! I think you will, too...

Enjoy that? I though you would..... thanks again to Peter Pollard (camera) and... Lewis is fourteen years old!

I enjoyed chatting with Lewis at the November meeting .... more of that next time!

Thanks for dropping by, friends!

A very real ukulele hero - Ex-NY Firefighter sings "The Bravest"

Here is the most moving performance of a song I have seen in years. When you read the context, you'll see why.

For the weekly "Season" contest on the UU Underground, the theme this week is "Back to Work". Kurt Siegel sang and played a song by Tom Paxton called "The Bravest". He has kindly allowed me share it with you, complete with his own introduction.

"This is my last one for this season, and is a bonus, therefore not eligible for judging.

Not my best work, but very, very hard to do. I've referred to it as "a little too close to home", and you'll see why.

As part of this season, Ginny asked that we try to do songs that have to do with our professions. And to explain what we do.

While I currently am employed as a barista, I am a retired Firefighter. In the course of my duties, I was also a member of the Upstate New York Urban/Technical Search and Rescue Team. I even designed the Team Logo!

The folks who trained us were members of the New York City FEMA team - truly the Elite. They worked with us as we learned the tools, the terminology, the basics. We got more proficient as the training went on, and had a response before we were technically ready to go, when a tornado rolled through the area. It was a sobering experience.

At one point during the training, one of the FDNY members made an off-hand remark that we thought was funny. "We'll be here any time you need us," he said. "But we're never going to have to call you guys. Unless, you know, the World Trade Centers collapse."

The Upstate NY team did respond to New York City on September 11, 2011. I was the EMS coordinator for my Fire Department, and was required to remain, making sure that we were covered in the event anything happened. After all, there were a number of High Priority sites right here: General Electric, two Nuclear Power Labs, and the State Capital less than 15 miles away.

My Chief released me on September 13, and I responded with the second group. We still didn't really know what we were walking into by then.

Tom Paxton wrote the song "The Bravest" on September 24, 2001. It had taken that long for many people, not just Tom, to be able to say, sing, or write what was slamming around inside of them. I first heard this song when Garrison Keillor sang it on "A Prairie Home Companion".

I cried.

As you'll see in the video, the song still makes me cry.

I did this as a one-take. I wouldn't be able to get through it again.

At the end of the video are some photographs. The first I got as part of a training class I was in some time after December 2001. The others are photos I took while I was on the site. There is no audio. Please don't watch all the way through if this might disturb you.

The final photo is a t-shirt back, with the names of our UTSAR instructors who we lost that day.

Thanks for putting up with me on this one.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Dennis Taylor and "I Don't Like" - GFS March 1996

When I began to research banjo-ukes about a year ago, preparing to buy my first, it wasn't long before I came across Dennis Taylor's great website - so useful and informative! Invaluable tips for learners and loads of photos and interesting stuff about many different kinds of banjo-ukes... he was clearly an authority. I say "was" - because sadly, Dennis is no longer with us. I went to my first meeting of the George Formby Society last March, and quickly learnt of the very high esteem in which he was - and still is held. The sadness at his absence is still palpable. I wished I could have seen him perform.

Well, fortunately for us, Peter Pollard was at that time happiest behind a camera, and thanks to him, here is a great video of Dennis performing at the GFS in 1996. It's "I Don't Like", a 1937 Formby number.

And thanks to Peter's lovely videos, Dennis continues to inspire new players... young Lewis Clifton, for example. More on Lewis next time.....

As for Peter, you'll catch him at the GFS meetings, not only happily videoing the performances for posterity, but singing and playing beautifully himself, too.

Thanks for looking in - I'm back to practising my split-stroke and the shake....

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

"Georgia On My Mind" - John Bianchi on ukulele

When you're feeling low, there's nothing like music to soothe the mind... many would reach for alcohol, but for me it has to be music, and this rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" (Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, 1930) by John Bianchi on his vintage Martin ukulele is just perfect, like warm sunshine on the soul.

His playing here is just sublime, to my mind, and his voice is perfect for these great songs from the 20's and 30's. He is so talented, so accomplished, he really should be a big star. How many times have I said that now? My very favourite uke and banjo-uke performer, without a doubt.

Please enjoy....then pop over to his blog, The Ukaholic.

Oh - and Happy New Year! Thanks for dropping by.....