Come Out and Join Me on March 12th

Gig Card

I’ve mentioned the weekly Acoustic Open Mic at The Torch Club (www.torchclub.net, 15th Street between I and J in Sacramento, across from Memorial Auditorium).  Hosted by Sandra Dolores (www.sandradolores.com), it’s a MidTown Sacramento institution.

The set-up is like many open mics.  Show up early, sign up for a slot, and be ready to do your thing.  Most Wednesdays it’s two songs or ten minutes, whichever is shorter.  But also most Wednesdays, Sandra sets aside the 7:00-7:30 slot for a “Feature Performer,” so that the performer can stretch out a little bit, and put on more of a show.  There’s no actual audition for the feature slot.  So long as you’re someone who’s shown up before and have met Sandra (so that she knows you’ll actually be there the night you’re scheduled), you just sign up ahead with her for an available date.

I do the feature 3-4 times a year, either alone, or with other musicians.  Wednesday night March 12th I’ll be back with the Ukulele Rob Trio (with two fun musicians who’ve done this with me before, Dean Chance on the bass, and John Wilusz on the chromatic harmonica).  We’ll be doing some songs popularized by Frank Sinatra that we didn’t do when we saluted Frank as the feature this past December.

Please come on down and take a listen.  Better yet, pick up your guitar, banjo, ukulele, or whatever (or polish up a comedy routine you do) and come to the Torch Club a bit before 5:30 and sign up for one of the regular slots.  It’s a wonderfully supportive audience of other musicians and bar patrons.

(Because the Torch Club doesn’t have a kitchen — it’s a bar only — it’s an over-21-only venue.  But if you’re hungry, there are fun restaurants on each side of the Torch Club where you can order something, and have it brought over to you at the Torch.)

See you there!  (And be sure to tip your bartender.)

 

Just another ordinary weeknight in SacTown …

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This sort of thing happens all the time around here.  Just another Thursday night, with Red’s Blues playing at the Torch Club.  “Red” is the wonderfully-voiced singer and entertainer Beth Grigsby, leading drummer Larry Carr, guitarist Robert Sidwell, and on bass, her husband R.W. (who was part of the team that put together Blind Pig Records’ 2014 Grammy-nominated album “Remembering Little Walter”).

As if Beth’s great vocals and all of the talent in her band weren’t enough, she always shows up with “guest artists” to spice up the mix.  So last night was another typical show, featuring …

Bay Area great Rusty Zinn (shown on the left — info at http://rustyreggae.com/bio/), who teamed up with none other than the amazing Charles Baty, co-founder of Little Charlie & The Nightcats (right — info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Charlie_%26_the_Nightcats).  “Little Charlie” can make a guitar do absolutely anything, and when Charlie and Rusty started in with some wonderful call-and-response solos, the house went nuts.

As I said, just another ordinary weeknight in SacTown.

Collectors, collectors …

A bunch of posts recently went back and forth on a ukulele-oriented bulletin board, starting with a non-musician who’d interited a vintage instrument made by C.F. Martin Co., and was looking to sell it.  Despite the urging of various posters that he start strumming the instrument himself, he let it be known that he really wasn’t interested in music, and had his own hobby:  Collecting vintage fountain pens.

So let’s compare:

Here’s a beautiful Parker pen from around 1914 that I found on the web.  It can be yours for only $2,650.

pen

But if you’re really interested in beautiful vintage craftsmanship, how about a Martin Style 2 ukulele from the 1920s?  There are quite a few of them out there for only around $1,600.  With the over $1,000 you’ll save by buying the uke rather than the pen, you can buy some cool duds, too, and go around looking like this:

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(That’s Cliff Edwards, aka “Ukukele Ike,” the wonderful singer and ukulele player who brought down the house when he premiered George and Ira Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” in the 1924 Broadway show “Lady Be Good.”  The show featured Fred Astaire and his sister Estelle, who were huge stars in their day, but Cliff kept getting called back for encores in the middle of the show.  His uke in the photo probably isn’t a Style 2, by the way.  The Style 2 had a white binding around the top.  More likely Cliff’s holding a Style O or Style 1.  The Pete Townshend of ukulele in his day, Cliff went through them pretty quickly.  But to the end he was a loyal Martin player.)

Western Swing Lives!

Band - Copy

I headed to a local club this past Saturday night to hear the great Junior Brown (www.juniorbrown.com).  Brown was fabulous, but just as fabulous was the opening act, The Sac-Town Playboys.

Led by guitarist and vocalist Geoff Miller (Rowdy Kate, Keri Carr Band, Twilight Drifters), the band included Olen Dillingham doubling on fiddle and mandolin; Ray Elzey on pedal steel guitar; Larry Carr on drums; and Zack Sapunor on the slap-happy doghouse bass.  Working on just a few days of rehearsal, the Playboys brought to life the spirits of such Western Swing greats as Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Spade Cooley, the Light Crust Doughboys, and Hank Thompson & The Brazos Valley Boys.

Western Swing may have peaked during WWII, when as many as ten thousand fans — many of them having recently come to California to work in the wartime aircraft and shipbuilding industries — would crowd the Redondo Beach Pier to hear great touring bands.  But for those who think Western Swing came and went, it never really “went.”  One just has to look a little harder these days.

The Sac-Town Playboys are one group it will be worth looking for.  No website yet, but one can only hope that they get together frequently to play this great music around Northern California.

 

Family Instruments

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A recent post on the Fleamarket Music bulletin board (www.fleamarketmusic.com/bulletin/default.asp) brought back some memories.  The poster was a non-musician who’d inherited from his late father a 1981 Martin tiple.  He was asking for advice about selling the instrument.  My advice:  Keep it, and get into music!

(For those of you who may not be sure exactly what a tiple is:  Pronounced either “TEE-play” or “tipple,” depending upon who you talk to, the instrument is based on various South American instruments, has ten strings in four courses — unison or octave, like a 12-string guitar — and was popular early in the 20th Century.  Martin made them in the 20s and 30s, resurrected them in later years, but, sadly, doesn’t make them now.)

The poster’s story took me back to my step-grandfather.  When I was little, he let me play his Martin bowl-back mandolin.  As I found out years later from correspondence with Martin, it had been made in 1902, ordered by his mother from the family’s Southern California farm, and shipped to him when he was a student at a boarding school on the East Coast.  I later found copies of the school’s yearbooks from that time, with photos of my step-grandfather proudly strumming in the school’s Mandolin Orchestra.

I never really took to the mandolin.  I was strumming a plastic ukulele at the time I first fooled around with my step-grandfather’s mandolin, to be replaced by my first guitar when I was in the fourth grade.  But I held onto the instrument, and would occassionally pull it out and strum it.

In 1994 the mandolin fell off a closet shelf during the the Northridge Earthquake, and was crushed by the heavier stuff that toppled onto it from the higher shelves.  I kept what was left, and sometime in 1999 or 2000 showed the mandolin to restoration expert Frank Ford at Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto.  (www.gryphonstrings.com)  I was disappointed to learn from Ford that the cost of restoration simply could not be justified, particularly as Martin had made tens of thousands of these mandolins during the instrument’s heyday, and that if I really wanted to play mandolin, I could find a good-condition Martin from the same time period for a fraction of what it would cost to repair my step-grandfather’s.

But something else that I learned from Ford brought a smile to my face:  In looking at the instrument he became suspicious of the tailpiece.  Bringing up his computer data for reference, he confirmed that the tailpiece wasn’t the original, and that it had been manufactured in the mid-1920s.  Ford also pointed out evidence of some small repairs that he theorized might have been done around that time.  About the time my step-grandfather had met my grandmother.  (They were married in 1928.)  Up until then, my image of my step-grandfather had been of an elderly, formal, and stern businessman.  He ran a farming company, but never left the office to go out on the farm unless he was wearing a three-piece wool suit and a fedora.  Where his employees drove Chevy pick-up trucks, he drove a big Oldsmobile sedan.  And I’d never heard him listen to music, let alone talk about it (even though his and my grandmother’s home included a beautiful baby grand piano that she played, and that — after having been carefully rebuilt and restored — sits in the living room of one of my brothers’ homes).

But when Ford talked about the apparent repair and change to the mandolin in the mid 1920s, all of a sudden I realized that my step-grandfather had once been a young man.  And that at some point in his late 30s, when he met my grandmother, he must have pulled that prep school mandolin out of its leather case and taken it to a music store in Los Angeles to have it repaired … so that he could woo my grandmother with it!

(My own woo’ing story:  I played guitar in all sorts of bands in high school and college.  For the love of music, and for that other reason that many young men take up the instrument.  But in the course of building a career and raising children the music took a long hiatus.  Only after the kids had left for college did I pull out the guitar again, taking jazz lessons from a great guitar player who was barely older than them.  Night after night I’d practice scales and arpeggios down the hall in our “music room.”  My chops – such as they ever were – came back very, very slowly.  About the only thing that would have sounded more awful than those rebuilding practice sessions would been if I’d instead taken up the clarinet or the violin.  But one evening after putting my guitar back into its case and turning off my amp, I walked into our bedroom to find my wife sitting up in the bed with a book in her hand, and a big smile on her face.  “That sounded really nice,” she said.  And I said to myself, “Wow.  The guitar’s STILL a babe-magnet!”)

A Brief History of the Reno Uke Fest and PlayUke, Part IV: Sellout!

I’ve been urging you to reserve early for Reno VI, and you’ve been listening.  As of today, all Super Passes and daily passes to the premium workshops are gone!  But there are still lots of opportunities to enjoy the Festival, including free workshops and ukulele entertainment.  And the Nugget still has tickets available for the Friday and Saturday night shows in its Celebrity Showroom.  Info at www.playuke.net.

But while Reno is PlayUke’s signature event, Doug Reynolds and Rich Dann are constantly busy thinking up other opportunities for ukulele enthusiasts to get together and have fun.  Twice a year folks in Southern California can take a short drive to the mountains above San Bernardino for the California Uke Academy.  And last year’s Old West Uke Train will be back this fall.

uke train

(That’s Doug’s wife Melinda and me, above, entertaining each other on the 2013 Old West Uke Train, while Doug eyes us warily.)

The first Old West Uke Train was a blast.  Along for the ride (and workshops and concert at Virginia City’s Silverland Inn) were folks like Brook Adams (www.brookadams.com), Michael Powers (www.michaelpowersmusic.com) and Italy’s fabulous Ukulollo (www.ukulollo.com).  And as for the train trip itself, aboard the historic Virginia & Truckee, the San Francisco Chronicle recently recognized it as one of the top draws in the West for steam locomotive afficionados (http://www.sfgate.com/travel/fiveplaces/article/Great-places-for-fans-of-steam-locomotives-5212647.php)

Sadly, not all of the Doug & Rich’s events are destined to become annual fixtures.  I had a really fun time at their first (and apparently last) Ukulele Picnic in Nevada’s oldest city, Genoa.  (Pronounced gen-OH-ah by locals.)  Dominator and I each presented workshops, and there was plenty of strum-along and barbecue.  A perfect combination.  But it was just a one-day event, and a long drive for anyone not from Nevada’s Carson Valley region.  (Of course, if the goal is to uke it up in an old city, I’ll go for a PlayUke event in Paris or Rome any day!)

Another wonderful event that may never happen again was the November 2012 Lake Tahoe Retreat, held at the Zypher Point Presbyterian Conference Center on the shore of Lake Tahoe’s stunning Zephyr Cove.

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An unexpected early snowstorm made travel to the retreat a tire-chain adventure, and the planned outdoor performances at the Center’s amphitheatre had to be moved indoors.  But what could be more fun than being snowed in with people like Sarah Maisel (www.sarahmaisel.com), Aaron and Nicole Keim (www.quietamericanmusic.com) and Jim D’Ville (www.playukulelebyear.com)??

OK … I’ll admit that being snowed in with Jim D’Ville is in a separate category.

But no matter rain nor sleet nor hail, no matter whether large crowds or a few folks popping in, no matter whether in the “Biggest Little City in the World” or a small town somewhere along a half-deserted highway, Doug and Rich are willing to try anything to provide fun for ukulele players.  And every time, it works!

 

 

Mardi Gras Music in Fresno!

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Are you in Fresno this weekend?  If so, be sure to drop in on the Fresno Dixieland Society’s 30th Annual Mardi Gras Music Festival.  (Day passes available.)  Info at www.fresnodixie.com.

Unfortunately a family obligation prevents my going down to Fresno this weekend, and I’m especially disappointed to be missing the super-talented Katie Cavera, who’ll be appearing there with Ray Skjelbred & His Cubs.

Katie is one super musician.    A one-woman explosion of musical sunshine, as a vocalist and bass, guitar, tenor guitar and banjo virtuoso.  And in recent years her armory of axes has expanded to include … ukulele!

Check Katie out at www.katiecavera.com.  You’ll find her with great bands, performing on her own, teaching, conducting workshops, or appearing in her husband Woody Pittman’s hilarious short films.

To everything, turn, turn, turn

Pete Seeger

A time to be born, a time to die.

God doesn’t make men (or women) like this very often.  Thank you Mr. Seeger for a lifetime of love, the struggle for justice, and wonderful music.

Ruth Etting – After You’ve Gone

Ruth Etting

Some of the greatest songs for a ukulele-playing crooner are getting to be close to 100 years old.

Case in point:  “After You’ve Gone,” written by Turner Layton and Henry Creamer in 1918.  I became interested in the song when someone pointed out to me that Frank Sinatra had recorded it, and I’ve begun working on it to add to my Sinatra tribute set.  But Ol’ Blue Eyes was pretty late to the dance.  He didn’t get around to recording it until 1984.

In the meantime, rather than figure out who’s recorded the song in the past 96 years, it’d probably be easier to make a list of who hasn’t.

Among the best versions is Ruth Etting’s, recorded in 1927.  And who is Ruth Etting, you ask?

In their biography, Ruth Etting (The Scarecrow Press, 2010), Kenneth Irwin and Charles O. Lloyd, describe Etting as “America’s Forgotten Sweetheart.”  Etting, who died at the age of 81 in 1978, left behind a wonderful legacy of recordings and films.  Check them out.  You’ll fall in love.