Frank Sinatra, Ukulele Player


Betcha’ didn’t know that.  I didn’t either, until I read James Kaplan’s biography, “Frank: The Voice” (Anchor Books 2010).  As a teenager, Ol’ Blue Eyes was entralled by the singing of a newly emerging crooner, Bing Crosby.  After seeing Crosby in the film “Waikiki Wedding,”  Sinatra took to wearing a yachting cap just like Crosby’s, smoking a pipe, and strumming a ukulele his uncle had given him.

Too bad Sinatra didn’t stick with the uke.  One can only imagine how hip his version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” would have been.  (As it turned out, it’s one of the very few great songs Sinatra never recorded.)

The book is great, by the way.  It ends in the 1950s with Sinatra winning the Academy Award for his acting in “From Here to Eternity,” so one hopes that the author has Vol. II (and maybe even Vols.  III and IV) in the works.

Do you like your music plain, simple, and GOOD?


Aaron Keim, who works at Mya-Moe Ukuleles, and previously was a member of the Boulder Acoustic Society, and his wife Nicole, record and perform as “The Quiet American.”  You can call it “roots.”  You can call it “Americana.”  You can call it “folk.”  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that with just a few instruments and some great stories to tell, Aaron and Nicole make wonderful music that you can listen to over and over again.  Their latest CD is “Songs from a Rocking Chair.”  Available at places like CD Baby, or their website, .

Purple Haze!


2014, the year of the 60th Anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster®, is the perfect year for the United States Postal Service to come out with its Jimi Hendrix stamp.  It’s been 47 years since I put on a set of headphones and first heard “Purple Haze.”  Seems like only yesterday!

Buy one of these great stamps and send me a letter!

Kiki Ebsen’s New KickStarter Project

Singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen’s been a favorite since I first heard her nearly ten years ago at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura, CA.  A wonderful talent in her own right, she’s also the daughter of the great actor, song & dance star and sailboat racer Buddy Ebsen.  After decades of her own contemporary music, she’s embarked on a project to record some of HIS favorite tunes, going back to his Broadway stage experience in the 1920s and 1930s.  A lot of the funding is through Kickstarter, where you can get in early and realize your life-long dream of actually being a producer of a hit record!  Check out the info on her own website at

And if all you know about Buddy Ebsen is “The Beverly Hillbillies,” go to your local library or used book store and find in the sailing/boating section a copy of his 1972 Prentice-Hall book “Polynesian Concept.”  Ebsen’s racing of a catamaran in the TransPac revolutionized multi-hull ocean racing.  Truly a man of many talents.


Jim D’Ville Down Under

You can go to Jim’s website via my Links page to wish him a safe trip home this week, but in the meantime, this photo from his website is a shocker.  Jim as a shy, retiring type, staying in the background?


You’re Lucky If You Live In Wisconsin …


… Because that’s where Marc “Lil’ Rev” Revenson can usually be found.  The former grade-school music teacher and university lecturer grew up in Milwaukee, where he still lives.  Since 2005 he’s been a full-time traveling singer, songwriter, storyteller and musicologist, entertaining folks at events from big festivals down to small-town library reading rooms.

I was privileged to catch up with Lil’ Rev last night at The Strum Shop in Roseville, CA, where he finished a recent — and all too short — California tour.  I’d first met him a few years ago at the Reno Ukulele Festival, and absolutely loved his shows and workshops.  Last night’s combination event (an hour of fun group ukulele teaching followed by two hours of performance) really brought home what Lil’ Rev does best.  He brings a tremendous amount of love and empathy for his audience, and all of humanity, and one can’t help leaving one of his shows without asking one’s self, “What can I now do to make this world a happier place for someone else?”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Lil’ Rev’s spirituality and inspiration reduces one bit the raucous humor he injects into so many of his stories and songs.  There’s that old movie poster slogan, “You’ll laugh! … You’ll cry! …”  If Lil’ Rev’s show was a movie poster, that’s exactly what it would say.

Check out his website at, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find an upcoming performance in a theater near you.  But if you’re out here in California you won’t have to wait too long for another show, IF you are signed up for PlayUke’s great “California Ukulele Academy Mountain Retreat” at the end of May.  Lil’ Rev will be coming back out for that, joining Fred Sokolow as an instructor.  Info at .

Coming up …

Thanks to everyone who came to the Torch Club last night for our Ukulele Rob Trio “feature” show at the Open Mic!

Coming up:  Lil Rev, from Milwaukee, is at The Strum Shop in Roseville, CA, tonight.  (Info at and

The 6th Annual Reno Uke Fest is coming up April 24-27, at the Nugget Hotel & Casino in Sparks.  I’ll be doing a Frank Sinatra-based combination workshop, performance, and sing-along (“Ukulele Rob Is Perfectly Frank … And So Can You!”) on Saturday the 26th, and the best part is that it’ll be FREE!  I’ll be on the public Festival Stage, open not only to Festival participants, to also anyone who just wants to drop by.  Info at .

In early May Baltimore-based Victoria Vox will be in California for a short tour, appearing in San Diego, Altadena, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Turlock and Roseville.  Info at .

And right after Victoria flies away, the wonderful Kiki Ebsen will be in town for just a weekend, with house concerts in Davis and Sacramento.  Check out her music and her latest KickStarter project at .

In the coming weeks I’ll have more details about all of these shows, right here on this blog.  Stay tuned!

Big Little Show Tomorrow Night

Or “little big show.”

Tomorrow (Wednesday) evening I’ll be back at Sacramento’s famous Torch Club (904 15th Street, between I and J Streets) with the Ukulele Rob Trio, featuring Dean Chance on bass and John Wilusz on chromatic harmonica and vocal harmony.  We’ll be appearing as the “Feature” for Sandra Dolores’ weekly Acoustic Open Mic.  We’ll be doing six great standards, including some Frank Sinatra hits that weren’t on our set-list for our December show.

We’ll be performing from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., but the Open Mic gets started at 5:30, and always brings out lots of great musicians.  And best of all, no cover charge.  (If you play an instrument or sing, show up, sign up, and perform some songs!)  More info about the Open Mic and our Feature in my February 26th blog post.  Information about the Torch Club, Sacramento’s premier blues bar, is at  And info about our Open Mic hostess is at

Sorry, but the Torch Club is an over-21-only venue.  Full bar with friendly, skilled bartenders and reasonable drink prices, but no kitchen.  However, on one side of the Torch Club is Zen Sushi, and on the other, the Republic Bar & Grill.  Go in and order some great food, and the nice folks at either restaurant will bring it right to your table at the Torch Club when it’s ready.

Finally, make a night of it!  The 9:00 p.m. show tomorrow night is Sacramento’s own Keri Carr Band, featuring Keri, western swing guitarist and vocalist Geoff Miller, R.W. and Beth Grigsby (R.W. on bass, Beth on vocals), Steve Randall playing the hottest Telecaster® this side of Bakersfield, and the ready-steady Larry Carr on drums.  There’ll be a small cover charge – only $5 – but it’ll be a tremendous value.  Great music.  Information about Keri & crew at

Hope you can make it!


Dave Van Ronk, Ukulele Player


He was a Greenwich Villager before “The Village” became a tourist destination, and a folksinger before the “Folk Revival” took the “folk” out of the music and replaced it with a lot of cash.  He was already a well-known performer when he befriended a young Bobby Zimmerman (Dylan), just arrived in The Village from Hibbing, Minnesota. And he was the inspiration for the recent Coen Brothers movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

The late Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) loved jazz, classical and folk music, but it was with folk that he realized his greatest successes (even when “success” meant that the coffeehouse owner let you sleep overnight on a couch in the kitchen, rather than having to search around for a friend’s apartment floor).

And it all started with Van Ronk’s first instrument, the ukulele.  As he describes in his autobiography (“The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” with Elijah Wald, Da Capo Press 2005), he first picked one up in the late 1940s, inspired by Arthur Godfrey.  The first song he learned was “Cool Water,”  the Sons of the Pioneers’ 1948 hit.  And when he bought his first guitar, he took the low E and A strings off so that he could learn with just four strings, waiting until his technique improved before first putting the A string back on, then the low E.