Where It All Began

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Consider this Part 1 of what might become a long and rambling autobiographical trip.  I recently bought a copy of “Under the Boardwalk,” the documentary about the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz.  The Club’s known as “the UCSC where you can get a REAL education.”  I went to the “other” UCSC, the University of California at Santa Cruz, so long ago that we had to walk miles through the snow to get to classes each morning.  It was through alumni activities that I first met fellow Banana Slug Sandor Nagyszalanczy, a uke player, performer and collector who’s been a big part of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz since its founding.

In the documentary Sandor displays a plastic “Carnival Aloha” uke from the 1950s.  His wife gave it to him some years ago as a Christmas gift, not knowing at the time that his very first musical instrument, given to him shortly after his family arrived in New Jersey after fleeing Hungary during Soviet oppression in the mid-1950s, was the very same make and model.

I’ve got my own plastic uke story.  In the photo above I’m sitting outside my childhood home in Southern California strumming what a contributor to another uke site tells me is a “Mauna Loa.”  The year is 1956.  It was my first musical instrument, and I recall it was given to me by an aunt who’d taken a trip to Hawaii with my grandparents (on the wonderful ocean liner the S.S. Lurline, of course).

My brothers and I grew up with music in the house.  My nearby grandparents had a beautiful baby grand piano that’s been restored and gets lots of use at one of my brother’s homes, and my grandfather had an ancient Martin mandolin that I’ve previously written about on this blog.

And I had a portable 45 rpm record player and a small collection of records.  After all these years it’s hard to remember just what I listened to, but two pre-rock & roll tunes that stand out in my memory were “The Music Goes Round and Round,” written by Edward Farley, Mike Riley and Red Hodgson in 1935 and recorded by Tommy Dorsey’s band, and “Three Little Fishies” by Saxie Dowell and recorded by Kay Kaiser and his band in 1939.  (Rock & roll came along pretty quickly, and those two platters were soon abandoned for new stuff from Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and Johnny Cash.)

That plastic uke diappeared a long, long time ago.  It would be fun to find one like it.  So if you see something that looks like this,

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… let me know.

In our next episode, the guitar makes it’s first appearance!