Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Oprah's Uke Club?!?

I read this today on Ukulelia and I thought I would post it here. Grab your ukulele surfboards, the third wave will be cresting soon. and when the wave has crashed on the beach and the hords of 'would-be' ukesters have abandoned their ukes for the 'next thing', I'll still be holding onto my uke, ready for the next wave. -Andy

The entire ukulele community is abuzz with the news that Emmy Award winning TV host Oprah Winfrey has announced the launch of Oprah's Uke Club. According to the Oprah Alert announcement (registration required) made today, Oprah was inspired by the recent appearance of actor and uker William H. Macy on her show (see our previous story here).

Evidently, Macy was teaching Oprah a few basic chords on his Flea Ukulele after the show and happened to mention that TV pioneer Arthur Godfrey played, and how his 15 minute on-air uke lessons resulted in the ukulele's skyrocketing popularity in the 1950s (what is affectionately known as the "second wave" of the ukulele). Oprah was intrigued, and immediately got the staff at Harpo Productions to work on a concept.

Oprah's Uke Club will premiere in the fall, giving Winfrey's massive marketing machine time to ramp up for the big launch (she'll be giving away ukuleles to her studio audiences for the entire first week--book your tickets now!). Patterned after the phenomenally successful Oprah's Book Club, the Uke Club will feature Winfrey and guest performers (Macy will be back first, natch) performing duets, and Oprah will teach basic chords and strumming. It's currently only slated to be be a once-a-week feature, but if it proves popular, who knows!

Macy himself connected Oprah with ukemeister Jim Beloff, who suggested a collaboration with his brother-in-law's Magic Fluke Company, maker of the Flea and Fluke Ukuleles. If you're lucky enough to own a "Poi-ple Fluke," our guess is that you're now in possession of a genuine collector's item, as it will now be retired and soon re-released with a custom faceplate as the Oprah Fluke (shown above). Beloff will also be supporting the show with a co-branded songbook, Jumpin' Jim's Jammin' With Oprah, featuring songs from the Broadway musical adaptation of The Color Purple, which Winfrey also helped produce.

I'm sure it's too much to ask, but it would be cool if Wesley Willis's paean to Oprah was one of the tunes!

This might very well prove to be the catalyst the brings about the true resurgence of what has been, at least twice in the last 100 years, America's favorite instrument. More information at the Harpo Productions site. And here.

Good-Bye Don Ho

From the Associate Press:

HONOLULU — Legendary crooner Don Ho, who entertained tourists for decades wearing raspberry-tinted sunglasses and singing the catchy signature tune "Tiny Bubbles," has died. He was 76.

He died Saturday morning of heart failure, publicist Donna Jung said.

Ho had suffered with heart problems for the past several years, and had a pacemaker installed last fall. In 2005, he underwent an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart in Thailand.

Ho entertained Hollywood's biggest stars and thousands of tourists for four decades. For many, no trip to Hawaii was complete without seeing his Waikiki show — a mix of songs, jokes, double entendres, Hawaii history and audience participation.

Shows usually started and ended with the same song, "Tiny Bubbles." Ho mostly hummed the song's swaying melody as the audience enthusiastically took over the familiar lyrics: "Tiny bubbles/in the wine/make me happy/make me feel fine."

"I hate that song," he often joked to the crowd. He said he performed it twice because "people my age can't remember if we did it or not."

The son of bar owners, Ho broke into the Waikiki entertainment scene in the early 1960s and, except for short periods, never left. Few artists are more associated with one place.

"Hawaii is my partner," Ho told The Associated Press in 2004.

Donald Tai Loy Ho, who was Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German, was born Aug. 13, 1930, in Honolulu and grew up in the then-rural countryside of Kaneohe.

In high school, he was a star football player and worked for a brief time in a pineapple cannery. After graduating in 1949, he attended Springfield College in Massachusetts on an athletic scholarship. He grew homesick, returned to the islands and ended up graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1953 with a degree in sociology.

Inspired by the U.S. military planes flying in and out of Hawaii during World War II, Ho joined the Air Force. As the Korean War wound down, he piloted transport planes between Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu and Tokyo.

When he returned home and took over his parents' struggling neighborhood bar, Honey's, he put together a band and started performing at his father's request.

"I had no intention of being an entertainer," Ho said. "I just played songs I liked from the radio, and pretty soon that place was jammed. Every weekend there would be lines down the street."

Honey's became a happening place on Oahu, with other Hawaiian musicians stopping in for jam sessions. Ho began to play at various spots in Hawaii, then had a breakout year in 1966, when appearances at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood helped him build a mainland following, and the release of "Tiny Bubbles" gave him his greatest recording success.

Soon he was packing places such as the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Stars such as Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra were known to be in the audience for Ho's shows.

Ho also became a television star, and hosted the "The Don Ho Show" on ABC from 1976-77. One of Ho's most memorable TV appearances was a 1972 cameo on an episode of "The Brady Bunch."

"I've had too much fun all these years," he said in the 2004 interview. "I feel real guilty about it."

Gov. Linda Lingle said Ho created a legacy that will inspire future generations of musicians in Hawaii.

"Hawaii has lost a true island treasure," she said. "He laid the foundation for the international prominence Hawaii's music industry enjoys today."

Besides "Tiny Bubbles," his other well-known songs include "I'll Remember You," "With All My Love," and the "Hawaiian Wedding Song."

In the final years of his life, Ho's heart problems couldn't keep him away from the stage. He was back performing at the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel on a limited schedule less than two months after his heart procedure in Thailand. His final performance was Thursday, Jung said.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Altered Baritone Part II

I just wasn't satisfied with my baritone as it was (go here for Altered Baritone part I) and so I decided to make a few more changes to my $20 junk shop find.
As you can see from the photo I stripped the old finish off and refinished it - I used Beechwood Casey Tru-Oil gun stock finish. I also made a new nut and saddle for it (Honduran rosewood) and stripped the black paint off of the bridge (which I think is maple).
I added a birds eye maple veneer to the headstock and Grover Champion Banjo friction tuners (used - given to me by a friend) to replace the ugly El cheapo geared tuners that once resided there. I added a strap button to the bottom and a strap (mandolin strap).
I also added the pickgaurd. I had some extra pickgaurd material left over from a repair job I did on my Grandfathers old Gibson J50 (which I recently inherited), so I made this from the leftovers. I wanted to go bigger but I just didn't have enough material. I really wanted to have it up nearer the shoulder and extended down to where you see it in the photo. It's really just an affectation on this uke as I don't play with a pick and the pickgaurd is not in line with where I strum the uke - but it looks cool.
At some point in the not to distant future I'm going to take the top off of this uke and replace it with a solid mahogany top, or perhaps a solid western red cedar top.
This uke used to be a Hilo, but you'll never find a Hilo that looks like this, and since I have altered this uke to the point where it is no longer recognizable as a Hilo, by sight or by sound, I have pasted my own label inside the sound hole.
It looks pretty darn good in this photo but there are a couple of little flaws that occurred during the refinish process. They do not affect the sound or playability but they do make me kick myself for having made those mistakes. Oh well. It's alright, I'm going to alter it again, I'm sure.

Oh yeah, I also just finished building my ukulele side bender.

Due to many other things going on in my life, this project was repeatedly put on hold, but it's finally finished and I am almost ready to start production of my second ukulele (the first was done in Indiana under the guidance of my former uke building instructor Geoff Davis of Hoosier Maid Ukuleles).

Saturday, April 07, 2007

why am I posting this?

It was just before midnight. I was feeling like I should acknowledge my friend's birthday and if I posted before 12 I wouldn't technically be late. I ran through it once and seemed to remember all the words, but when I started recording, my brain turned to tofu.

I suppose I could have done it one more time and edited a little, but the clock was ticking and I decided it was funnier this way. It also can serve as a lesson: another uker friend has repeatedly told me this, "practice slowly, again and again until eventually the song will be programmed in your mind (the chord progressions become second nature--you're basically playing them without thinking). If you practice too fast, you will program in the mistakes." Guilty.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Jake's Nashville Tix on Sale!

In a follow up on the post from a few months ago, the tickets for Jake's concert in Nashville are now on sale.

Click here to purchase your seats!

Hope to see you there!