Thursday, August 21, 2008
Me & Uke
I think I first fell for the uke back before my “real” musician days—I was living in San Francisco, & playing baseball with a lot of guys—& a few gals—from various punk & alternative bands; we ended up fielding a team in the mostly Hispanic Roberto Clemente league that played its games at Crocker-Amazon park, & mostly we got killed….
But I was also going to a lot of shows & listening to a lot of music, whilst meantime typing furiously at my various poetical endeavors. & one person from the baseball bunch who I knew a bit from another old poebiz buddy was Dani Leone who was not only a scrappy infielder & a surprisingly good contact hitter with a quick bat, but also played the baritone uke in a band called Ed’s Redeeming Qualities. I believe Dani played an old Silvertone, but maybe she can correct me if I’m wrong.
Ed’s Redeeming Qualities was a bit of a phenomenon back in those days (& in the days before I knew Dani & her assorted bandmates). They were quirky, literate, gave you the impression that you could do at least some of the things they did as well as they could—an illusion really, because all the Ed’s folks had lots of musical ability, could write catchy & intelligent songs, & were great at “showmanship”—a quality that doesn’t necessarily follow other types of performing talent. The band was started back in Durham, NH by Dani’s cousin Dom, who died tragically; then the remaining band members: Dani, Carrie Bradley & Nino Perrota, moved to Baghdad by the Bay just in time to catch a dip in housing prices thanks to the Loma Prieta quake. Later, Nino headed back for Ohio, while Jonah Winter (my poebiz buddy from Charlottesville, VA) moved to San Francisco & joined the band.
Anyhoo, when Dani played the uke she exuded fun, so who wouldn’t want to take up the uke? Dani was also one of the people who was instrumental in getting me to think that if you love music, you need to make music, not just listen to it (my dear wife Eberle is definitely one of the others). But truth be told, it wasn’t till some time later, after I’d already taken up the guitar, after I’d moved to Idaho, that Eberle bought me an Epiphone soprano for my 42nd birthday. We spent that weekend up at Burgdorf alternating between strumming the uke in our cabin & taking dips in the hot springs.
That was practically 10-years ago; since then I’ve acquired other ukes along the way: a Harmony soprano, both a concert-scale & tenor-scale Fluke; a Hilo baritone (a “beach” uke, i.e. a beater); a Lanikai baritone; the “no-name” vintage banjo uke that’s on the masthead here; & a Beltona tenor resonator uke.
The uke has been fun—Dani was right, as usual. It’s easy to play, though you can certainly find ways to use it—like chord melody etc. that aren’t intrinsically easy & can be plenty challenging. Nothing sounds quite like one—& if you spend a reasonable amount of money, you can get one that sure sounds pretty. A lot of the bad press about ukes I think comes from the $20 cheapies you can find at most music stores. No, they don’t stay in tune, & yes they do sound like a half-broken music box. But there are plenty of $100 guitars out there that sound extremely odd & are extremely unplayable—& once some poor kid has plunked down cash on one of those, he/she is out $80 more with nothing more to show for it than you get with a cheap uke.
TOMORROW: HISTORY OF THE UKE