Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ukulele, Me and The Making of Uncle Louie

1969 Kamaka Ukulele
I have had a longtime relationship with the Ukulele. Sometimes it just sat in the corner of the room collecting dust while getting the occasional strum from a guest.  Other times it assisted in serenading my future wife by asking for her hand in marriage.  Either way, it has always been there for me and my heartfelt love for the flea-sized instrument only continues to grow.
The first time I got my hands on a uke was during my college years.  I was driving away from Scott Guild's house on a summer visit and his mother yells to me, "we need to get rid of some of this junk for our move.  Do you want any of these instruments?" I took an old, beat up uke and a violin.  The uke was cracked but it still worked.  I gave it to my brother for a short while.  After college I noted it was just sitting on the shelf at his house, so I decided to fix it and learn to play a few songs.  Taking it into the shop, I discovered it was a Martin Soprano Ukulele from the early 50s and was worth some money.  I spent about $70 to have it repaired and I also bought a nice case for it.  I learned to strum it a bit, still just a minimal ditty was the only life it saw.  I decided it would be better fit in a collectors hands and I sold it (something to this day I regret. pic below).
Vintage Martin Ukulele
A few years passed before my next encounter.  This happened when I met Paul Berry.  He is a longtime friend of my Uncle Craig’s.  His family is from the Islands.  In 1969, Paul and my uncle went to Waikiki to visit Paul’s family.  At the end of the trip, one of Paul’s cousins raided another relative’s trinket shop and gave the young men a bunch of souvenirs to take back to the mainland.  Among the booty were two very nice Kamaka ukuleles that my uncle still owns.  Paul borrowed the Tenor Kamaka for 20 years and became really, really good on it.  He learned all the hawaiian classic songs.  When I moved down to the south bay area I was considered “family” and now the invitation was extended to me to join in on all of Paul’s families Luau’s and Pig Roast.  This is where I saw first hand how two corporate businessmen could capture the hearts of an audience with these tiny little instruments.  From that initial experience, I started to learn to play the ukulele.  It became a lot easier to learn when my Mom and Dad picked one up in Hawaii as a birthday gift.  I finally had my own ukulele, again. 
two 60s Kamaka's
(Uncle Craig's pair of Vintage Kamaka Ukuleles)

As we grow older, we have to learn to go with our strengths and rocking all night in a dive bar can take a toll on the body.  Needless to say, the ukulele is a great instrument to have lying around, pick up every once in a while and strum a tune.  But it has done more to me.  It captured my soul on the day my daughter way born.  I left the hospital early morning to run home for supplies.  It was a beautiful day in May of 2009.  I flipped on the radio and the IZ version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” had come on the radio.  Tears instantly came to my eyes as I heard the strumming of those short nylon strings.  I told myself I was going to pick up that uke my parents bought me a few years back and learn that song.
I did learn that song and several others.  Having a newborn baby sleeping in the other room inhibits your ability to pick up a guitar but not your ability to pick up a ukulele.  I used this time to learn several renditions of my favorite songs on Ukulele.  One day, in the fall of 2009, I was working out an arrangement of the Dean Martin classic, “That’s Amore”.  A good friend had called and asked if I would do some music for an independent feature length movie him and his friends were making.  Of course I would.  When he told me he wanted something soft, dark and moody but with a little Italian flair I knew I had the right song for him.  Below is a video of That’s Amore for the Film Uncle Louie.  I was able to sneak one other uke song into the movie too.  It is a version of Guy Lombardo’s “Enjoy Yourself (it’s later than you think)”.  I continue to strum the ukulele.  It’s cheap, portable and always brings a smile to my face.

Here is a video of "That's Amore" on Ukukele

The end
butt of two vintage Kamaka's

1 comment:

  1. Cool rendition. Love how Makenzie and Elizabeth make a little cameo in the video too!