RTU's Ukulele Consciousness - Archive 2

ROCK THAT UKE

Ukulele Consciousness with robert wheeler

Ukulele Consciousness Archive 1

Session #31 Session #32Session #33Session #34
Session #35Session #36Session #37Session #38
Session #39Session #40


Archives


Session #31 - May 27, 2004

BUSY DAY

Pausing in a busy day, so busy that I missed my hair appointment, napped through it, to bring up a small point on the joys and pleasures of the ukulele. 

As the year 2005 approaches I’m aware that I’ll be celebrating my 30th year of interest in the ukulele.  So how much is pleasure and how much is shit.   Do you count units of time or intensity?

 Today a man named Frank Corso delivered a painting to 30 Beaver Brook Road. 

I met Frank Corso some months ago at the shop of my luthier friend Julius Borges.  Julius has made a wonderful ukulele for me, which took some time, and is now working on a guitar/uke set.  Frank was working on a guitar of his own that was a maple clone of a 30’s Gibson instrument, with tree of life fret boards and all of the other bells and whistles.  It turns out that Frank was getting shop space and equipment usage from Julius in exchange for lessons in applying “sunburst” finishes to guitars, which Frank was applying to his maple Gibson clone.   Turns out that Frank has made over 17 guitars and about the same number of banjos.

 So I, with my usual depth, ask if Frank would like to see my ukulele.  He says “nice”.  I offer him a visit to my Uke Room.  He says “sure”.

So over a period of time I see Frank at the shop and on social occasions.  He always says…”Really mean to visit your uke room ……..” Eventually he calls and stops by.

Before visiting the uke room,  Frank had only seen one uke, mine, and he hadn’t been particularly crazy, he confessed,  about seeing a lot of them.  So he came into the room and played a few.  He was drawn to, and had talked about, the National metal bodied.  Turns out that Frank has 14 National metal bodied Guitars and endorses National instruments.

Never having played a uke before, he strums the National uke, and then a few more.  He asks, after playing about 10 ukes, for the National again.  Now a strange thing happened.  Between the time he put the National down, and when he picked it up the second time, he had somehow magically acquired the ability to play the damn thing. 

So he asks if he could buy the national and I say he will have to talk to the chief, my beloved fourth wife, whose uke the National is.  He will call back.

The very next day he calls back, must talk to the chief.  Hasn’t been able to sleep. Well not wanting to draw this out to much, Margie agrees to exchange the uke for one of Frank’s painting, painted, at her request, to include her childhood sheep, Patrick, and a scenic view of her childhood home, Martha’s Vineyard.  Margie has seen his art work on the internet and is crazy.  Over Frank’s art.

So today he delivers the painting.  Margie was out selling real-estate so I received the painting.

As I had been aware of his interest in what a concert uke was and what tenor was, I had some ukes out for Frank to play.  Three Martin’s – Style 1 – Style 1-C – Style 1-T.

Frank was pleased to see the various ukes and he began playing them.  It turns out he has absolutely lost it over ukuleles.  He’s searching the web.  He’s having National send him their latest and greatest models  of strings.  He’s surfing the Rock That Uke internet site, and others.  He’s got a pile of print-outs six inches thick.  He is getting ready, he thinks it will take 3 months, to use a uke on his next CD and in front of his adoring fans.  So he plays across the 3 ukes I’ve set on the dinning room table. 

Then Frank asks if he could play Julius’ spruce topped koa custom, which he had seen at Julius’shop.  When I get the uke of choice from my Uke Room, I also get the spruce topped Martin Employee’s uke, “Charley” ,  made by Charley Schaffer, Shop Foreman, circa 1924, which was the model and inspiration for Julius’ uke.

What Frank played, over and over, on all of the ukes, the playing accompanied with soft remarks about “projection” – “tone” – “holding the uke” - “etc.” – was an instrumental version of the classic song, “Sweet Sue”.  It was killer.  If his rate of improvement over the month since his first visit is any guide, another 2 months will be truly awe inspiring.


3 Martins


"Charley" (left) and "Julius" (right)


He must have felt an empty place in his ukulele experience, as he asked if I had a baritone.  After my brief remarks that a soprano ukulele is a ukulele, and I don’t have a Martin baritone, I went to the Uke Room and took the Vega Delux, created and designed by Eddie Connors, and which is strung reentrant, from the wall.  Frank played that for a bit, and then talked about the distinctive voices of all of the ukes he had played.



Eddie Connors baritone

It may be that Frank’s karma is so soothing and warm because his being a dynamite painter and a blues singer at the same time doesn’t seem to disorientate him much.  Or maybe it’s the energy he has acquired restoring his award winning 1933 Plymouth coupe.

So as I approach my 30th year of interest in the ukulele, I think of the massive amount of enrichment that this interest has brought into my life,  and I pause and wonder why anyone would want to piss me off over things ukulele.  It’s such a silly little thing.


 regards,

 robert - founder

 

Index


Session #32 - July 30, 2004

AM I STILL IN CALIFORNIA???

(Note: Click on the Very Tiny Naked Uke Guy below and a separate window will open
in which you can navigate the 5 pages that make up this Session.)

Very Tiny Naked Uke Guy by Meleda Wegner


Index


Session #33 - Sept. 29, 2004
(Happy Birthday, Bill)

MAINTAINS HIS INTEREST

Hey, kids! Click to read the Boston Globe with the founder!

Photo: Margie Wheeler

 

Index


Session #34 - Nov. 8, 2004

TAKING MY HEAD OUT OF MY ASS

One of the elements in my displeasure with the ukulele fest that took place in Santa Cruz, California, was the jarring difference between the happy uker community and the homeless community that shared that wonderland of sun, sand, surf, casino, and boardwalk. 

I took a large number of gritty black & white photographic images revealing the life and times of the homeless as yet another ukulele event wafted by.

I gathered together these images and struggled to weave words around them that reflected my concern.  It seemed an impossible task. 

After a time, looking at the images, one of them gave me a feeling that I had "been there, done that".  In the image, of a young man soundly sleeping amongst sea side activity accessories, the soles of his shoes, like the eyes of an animal in a night time nature documentary, gazed at me.  I'd seen that  soulful gaze before.

A session of Ukulele Consciousness, Session # 16 - May 16, 2003, titled "What's Afoot", has a photographic image of another soulful stare.  The sole of one of Herbert Khaury's high topped tennis shoes as viewed from outside the ambulance that was taking Tiny Tim away from a heart attack that pitched him from the stage as he attempted to entertain the participants of yet another ukulele gathering.

As I considered the sad fate of Tiny Tim, I kind'o got the feeling that I was trying to compose a complex, illustrated tale of the homeless at the Beach to reflect my more-caring-than-thou attitude.  Which is likely not true.

What is true is that the specter of the homeless, in a society with a façade of "things couldn't be better", scares the shit out of me.  There are, it would seem, elements in our society that can contribute to homelessness and then accept it as the self inflicted suffering of others.  

We should be OK.  After all we won the Cold War.  Didn't we?


Index


Session #35 - Jan. 11, 2004

ROCK THEM UKES

When I first met Greg Hawkes, I told him that I enjoyed his ukulele set.  I said to him, "It was contemporary and it wasn't a clown show."  Both to be admired in things ukulele.

As a trained and accomplished musician, Berkeley School of Music, keyboardist for one of a rock and roll band of note, "The Cars", Greg brings much to the ukulele.

contemporary fluke

contemporary oscar schmidt

vintage harmony

vintage c.f. martin

Strumming the Hapa-haole songs that your great-grandfather enjoyed is wonderful.

Playing, and singing, the flapper era tunes that your grandfather used to court your grandmother with is endearing.

Using the ukulele to accompany the music that our fathers slow danced through the forties and fifties, remembered their whole life through, is heart warming.

Sitting around and listening to Greg do one of "The Car's Greatest Hits", awesome.




(NB: These photos of Greg Hawkes were taken by robert wheeler at the Ukulele Noir concert in November, 2004, at the Sky Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts. The next Ukulele Noir will take place on January 18, 2005.)

Index


Session #36 - February 14, 2005

FACE VALUE

One gets the impression that millions of people, through the years, found pleasure and delight with the ukulele. 

The undeniable evidence that such an impression is true, is in the faces of banjo ukuleles that have survived.  Most particularly those that have had their blank faces covered with artistic renderings.

Given that a picture is worth a thousand words:



Dog on Uke.


It is, after all, a musical instrument...


...which invariably leads to dancing...


...and other activities. The dancing ends, but the melody lingers in the garden.





While it is unusual to find initials and dates on these decorated ukes, the owner of this New England moonlit garden-themed uke made use of the interior to list names and various edu-cational institutions, most notably Dartmouth and West Point. And a date: 1928.


...Well, maybe not that unusual. This vision of terpischore amidst flowers and paper lanterns has penciled along its interior rim the names of 33 individuals and their educational associations, with dates from 1925 to 1929. "Collegiate, collegiate, nothing intermediate..." Lyrics from an old song.


Flapper hair.  Flapper stare. Warning!!!!!
 

By the sea, by the beautiful sea. Do I see
a thigh? Good Grief!!!!!

Memories of a misspent youth. Edgartown
Light, Martha's Vineyard.


"See ya in the funny papers. Magee and
Jiggs. 1925 reality show.





"Barney Google, had a wife 3 times his
size. She sued Barney for divorce, now
he's living with his horse….."




When this uke was decorated in 1929, every-
one knew that Paul Whiteman had recorded
the Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson song,
"Making Whoopee." So the caricature of
Paul's face in the lower left corner with the
tag "Whoopee Man" was recognizable to all.



An old uke.  A blank face. Who could resist?
Not I.



With respectful regard for those who have gone before,
leaving endearing evidence of their pleasures behind,

From Littleton, Massachusetts

robert wheeler
founder


Index


Session #37 - March 18, 2005

APPROPRIATE EVENING DRESS

I found myself living in a beach community on the Pacific shores of Los Angeles, California, following a dynamic period in my life that had, in a relatively short period, included a classic nervous breakdown in a foreign country, a brief psychiatric  hospitalization, the dissolution of  one marriage, a struggle to re-establish myself in what might quaintly be called “my profession”, computer programming, encountering “the love” of my life as she boarded a trolley car on Market Street in San Francisco, stunned by her gray mini-dress, I followed her aboard, sat next to her, and then  pursued her into sharing an apartment, another marriage, and yet another dissolution.

Not being the most outstanding computer programmer in the world, which is a strange confession in a business of self proclaimed excellence, but averagely competent at best, my struggle to reestablish myself professionally encountered a couple of glitches, which, along with the other elements in my life, resulted in me sharing a dingy one bedroom apartment in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, with my two teenage children, a cat named Kilroy, who I permitted to wander off, when he became ill, to die, alone.

The Haight-Ashbury, at the dawning of the age of Aquarius, was not all bad.   As a new world  was blossoming all around me, I met new friends, and shared with them the cultural elements that created an historically unique time in our nation’s history.

I was rescued from my dismal state by a friend and colleague, who had returned from our shared European adventure and had secured a position with a firm that had achieved considerable success in the field of technology,  disseminating stock information, world wide.   This firm’s success had caught the attention of a major financial institution who, with sums of money and clever organizational skills, was able to alter the organization to apply its success to the transfer of real money, an activity referred to as “Funds Transfer”, and the development of credit card technology.

A phone call from my colleague, a meeting with a company official in a lounge at the Oakland

Airport, and SHUZAMMMMM!!!!!!!, I was tech-no-ported from a dingy apartment in the Haight-Ashbury to a luxurious sea side hotel.

After “settling – in” at the office, I rented a beach front apartment and began professional and personal regeneration.  Professionally my time with this organization was a bucket of fun.  It was the only firm that fired me twice. Once on the Pacific Coast and once on the Atlantic Coast.  A tale yet to be told.

My personal regeneration, after obtaining legal consul to aid in the disbursing of a percentage of my current income to deal with financial conditions from the past, involved women.  Quite a number of women.

It would be adolescently rude to present the tally of experiences in my personal regeneration process.  After all, as it turned out, the count wasn’t the important element to me.  It was the quality and character of each individual association.  I was, after all was said and done, a three time looser.   What could I learn?

As I perceived it, it wasn’t the things in men that could be viewed as major attractions to women that supported the most endearing relationships during my beach days.  The possibility of things like significant financial position, not anywhere near, or being tall dark and handsome, a condition that I had been forced to endure for years, were conditions which hopefully could encourage initial contact,  but where no guarantee of a comfortable and lasting, at least in beach terms, connection.

After some reflection and distance from the experience, experiences, I came to believe that laughter,  and good humor, were key to a comfortable and fulfilling relationship.  Being able to make a woman laugh, with pleasure and delight and joy, has importance in creating a warm and caring bond.

I can’t tell you what is necessary in a prospected companion to have this occur, but I’d be willing to bet that a happy and caring childhood wouldn’t hurt.

I’m not suggesting that something as self gratifying as, “..laugh at all of my jokes….”, is the model.  Laugh with you, not at you, is not even required.  Laughing at you, when done with caring, good spirit,  and respect, can generate feelings of warmth. 

In support of this proposal, examples from the beach relationship that contributed most to my understanding of this issue:

As a peer, she had a cubical, with metal partitions, of her own.  As I stood in the entry to her cubical, expounding on the meaning of life, or some such silliness, her warm face moved from merely pleased, to warmly amused, to hysterical delight, and back again.  I wonder what was causing this shifting of facial features.  Finally she explains.

 I’m standing on a rug, on a day of very low humidity,  with leather soled shoes.  As I stand there, shuffling, I create a static electrical charge which causes my contemporarily styled hair to rise.  As I move, in my shuffling, touching the metal partition causes an electrical discharge.  My hair returns to rest.

I go on for some time, oozing charm,  with my hair  behaving like the hair of a cast member in a “Three Stooges” movie. 

She laughed.

This time of my life was, because of circumstances completely out of control, a time without an automobile.  In keeping with her petite size and charming appearance, my peer had a petite and charming car.  Perhaps one of the most petite to emerge from the automotive industry of the United Kingdom. Soft top. Racing green paint.

While it wasn’t easy for me to get in and out of her car at any time, it was damn near impossible with the top up.  I would insert a portion of my body, fold part of my limbs and drag those in.  Fold more limbs, and then, by bending my head down to the middle of my stomach , get my whole body into the passenger seat.  Not uncomfortable, once settled.

Exiting required a reversal of the behavior for entry.  It was not unusual for me to wind up laying supine on the tarmac.  She said watching me recalled days when she was a child, and watched a small automobile enter the center ring of a circus.  Many clowns would emerge.

She laughed.

One night, at my beach side apartment,  as activities of the day quieted,  we sat in bed, with many pillows behind us.  I was reading a book, or a magazine,  and she had text books and spiral note books, and folders full of papers, and was busily scribbling away.  She was engaged in some sort of post graduate learning experience and was facing a deadline for delivery of some paper or perhaps some kind of test.

As I sat, contemplating all of these school supplies littering my bed, I said, “All we need is a letter sweater and pom-poms.”

“If there were pom-poms,” she said, “ there would be police!”

She laughed.

Being a beach resident permits the wearing of bright white trousers without being required to be employed in a medical profession or an ice cream stand.

I was wearing my bright new, bell-bottomed, of-the-period Levis,  as we dined in an Italian restaurant of some reputation.  This restaurant, Bruno’s, had been a favorite of mine during a time of previous residence in the Los Angeles Area.  I particularly was enamored of their Mushrooms Primavera.  An appetizer.  Breaded in a mixture of crumbs and grated cheese and lightly fried.

As we dined, in the midst of my chatter, with gestures, I swept my glass of Chianti, from the table onto my lap.  My crotch was drenched in bright red wine.

As we left the restaurant, with the lady in the lead, I tired to walk confidentially, ignoring the stare from others at the condition of my formerly  white pants.   

As we passed out through the entrance, I said, “I bet you think this is really funny!!!”

She did.

She said she was feeling uncomfortable with a teenage boy in the next bedroom.  “I would like to spend our time in a motel.”

“Do you know how much I pay for this beach side apartment?  Do you want to pay for the motel?”,  says I.

“I’ll pay half.”, says she.  Dutch treat. For a motel room. A first,

We found a nearby motel with a name and architectural detail that paid homage to the Spanish and Mexican heritage of California.  The décor of the room suggested ….????

“Does this room remind you of any thing?”

 "No.”

“A Mark of Zorro movie set? Zip, zip, zip.”

She laughed.

I jokingly suggested that, in my career, I’d been fired so many times that I felt like a machine gun.

She laughed.

She wanted to share part of her educational experience with me.

I was invited to attend a showing of a classical behavioral film.  An old grainy black and white movie examining the life of the parasitic Old World Cuckoo Bird. 

Now the behavior of the Old World Cuckoo that interests budding behavioral professionals, is how it deals with its reproduction.   Like what it does with the eggs.  The female lays five or six eggs in a couple of days, laying each egg not in a nest it builds, but rather in the nest of another bird whose eggs match the color of the Cuckoo’s eggs--dumping one of the other’s eggs to make room. 

This ends the Cuckoo’s parenting experience.

The Cuckoo’s egg hatches, the Cuckoo baby bird grows faster than its nestmates and, one by one, chucks them over the side while it grows bigger and bigger on the food brought to it by the pair of hardworking foster birds into whose nest the Cuckoo mom dropped the egg. 

Finally,  the young Cuckoo grows bigger than the adult host birds as it is fed and fed, overfilling  the nest, until one day it flies away, leaving the exhausted foster parents wondering what exactly they did wrong.  But maybe not.

Sitting in the darkened room, holding hands, we watched as the host chicks were dumped.  One at a time.  Plop, plop!

I’m not sure what this is supposed to do for a budding behavioral professional, but for me, each time I hear a cuckoo clock ………

Funny.

Not to suggest that all of life is fun and games, but a good spirited bonding can provide strength should things go amiss. 

At a point it was suspected that a tumor had developed in her brain.  I would accompany her to her diagnostic sessions, and wait while test where made. 

The testing involved, as I understand,  a substance that injected,  would permit some device to view the interior of her brain, and its condition.

This injected substance had the effect, following the test, of making her joyful and playful.  Actually manic.  She would run around the campus, where the medical facility was located, loving the flowers and the trees, and the world, leaping and dancing, and I would attend her.  Her behavior wasn’t radically different from that of other members of the campus community, so no one paid any attention.  After a time she would calm, and I would convince her that returning to her apartment and her roommate, would be a good thing.

After a few tests,  the suspicions where found to be false.

What with the power, social and financial, resources that the firm had, who employed, me  it could be expected that any social event that was sponsored, would be memorable.  Although all weren’t as memorable as the night our entire staff, both West and East Coasts, filled an airliner, flew to Los Vegas, Nevada, indulged in fine wine, distilled spirits, and dining, the Follies Berger, gambling and dancing, and returned to Los Angeles at five in the morning.

The holiday dinner and dance was to include “formal” dress.  The ladies in gowns and the gentlemen in suitable evening attire.  She had a lovely, backless, and essentially side less,  gown of amazing shimmering blue material, that she had only worn once before.

Not wanting, at that time in my life, to appear to be a member of a wedding party, I went to a shop in Santa Monica and gathered together party garb that in some way was influenced by the design spirit of the Mark of Zorro motel room.

As we moved through the night I became suspicious of the state her attire.  As we danced, I asked, “Are you wearing any underwear?”

She smiled.

After dinning and dancing with my colleagues and their companions, we retired to her apartment.  We were alone.  Her roommate was visiting mom.

Standing next to her single narrow bed, her arms encircled me and we gently made contact as I slowly untied the knot behind her neck that held her dress in place.  When the knot was untied, the material began to flow downward, but stopped where our bodies met.  I Moved away a bit, allowing the flow to continue.

Like a stream moving over moss-covered stones shaped over eons, the dress slipped to the floor, encircling her feet like a pool of shimmering moonlit water.  Gazing attentively at her perfect form, I noticed something that I had not seen before.  Each areola was hidden by a large Caucasian flesh-colored band-aid.

“What’s with the band-aids…” I inquired.

“I’m tired of having guys think I’ve fallen in love with them just because I walk pass an air conditioner”. 

I gently removed each band-aid.

She smiled.






Index


Session # 38 - April 17, 2005

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH


I headed down towards Bell Buckle Tennessee with my brand new Longworth ukulele, which had had been carried to Littleton, Massachusetts by the United States Postal Service.  The uke was safely stored in the overhead bin of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, which was to land me at the Nashville International Airport, where Mike Longworth would pick me up in his pickup.

The purpose of the journey was to investigate the possibility of improving the musical qualities of the instrument.  What with just a few ukuleles under Mike's belt buckle we both were looking forward to the investigation.

When we arrive in Bell Buckle, we talk about the uke, and shared dinner with Mike's wife Sue.  Mike says that in the morning we'll drop by Jim Grainger's shop, and ask him what he thinks about our problem.

Now Jim, a long time friend of Mike's, has a shop in Sparta, Tennessee.  His business is called Custom Fretted Instruments & Repair.  Jim had done some work on Mike's uke, particularly impressive was the killer sunburst he put on the spruce top.  It was the quality of work that was reflective of the reputation Jim enjoyed in that part of the world.

So I go upstairs to bed, enjoy a restful sleep, awaken and spruce myself up with a shower and a shave, dress, and head downstairs for breakfast.  Halfway down the stairs I see Mike lying in his reclining lounge chair, asleep, stretched out, with a cover pulled up to his chin, and a flesh colored bandage wrapped around his head and under his chin.


He looked like the honored guest at an Irish wake.

Now Mike had been in bad health for some time.  He had a bad leg, used a cane, and was a tad unstable.  During the night, Sue told me, he had lost his balance getting out of bed, and had fallen, striking his head on the side table.  Sue, while I slept soundly, had gotten Mike up, into her car, and to the emergency hospital.  When they got home, instead of going back to bed, Mike just got into his chair.

I thought that we might have to change our plans for the day, as Jim's shop was about 75 miles from Bell Buckle, but when Mike awoke, and had some coffee, he said we would go ahead with our plans, but I would have to drive the pickup.  He was sore and ached and was a bit grumpy, but he was up for the game. 

After a pleasant drive through Tennessee walking horse countryside, we arrived at Sparta.  Mike took a seat in Jim's shop.

Jim took a look at the ukulele.  He investigated it.

We three talked about the ukulele, and Jim tightened some strings and loosened some and stuck some kind of tape on the top and head and beat on it with small hammers and made careful measurementsand sightings.  After a time we agreed that the instrument's musical qualities had improved.

On the drive back to Bell Buckle Mike directed me to a store in a town along the way. This town was bigger than either Bell Buckle or Sparta, so it had a wider range of shopping opportunities.

What with Mike's accident, his spirits were unbelievably high that day.  His spirits, given the state of his health, were always in good shape.  They gave enthusiasm to his various enterprises.  Humor and substance to his personal associations.

A part of our relationship included pulling each other legs.  My most successful "pull" was to talk Mike into letting me take his picture while he wore his one size fits all baseball cap backwards.  As we were both of an age that only saw value in wearing your cap backwards if one was a baseball catcher, with a mask, a newsreel camera man, with a movie camera on a tripod, or an actor playing the bottom of the rung role in a "Our Gang" movie, Mike didn't want to do it.  It took me three days to nag him into posing.

When we got to the store, Mike got slowly out of the pickup and went inside.  As he went in, I got out of the driver's side, and got ready.  As Mike came out I asked for him to pause.  I exposed a frame on my film roll and got back into the pickup.

...On the way back to Bell Buckle, I asked Mike if the store gave him a discount.

Index


Session #39 - May 22, 2005

ELEMENTS

As there are elements that make up the structure of a ukulele, so too are there elements that make up the structure of our lives.  For Mike Longworth the design and rich history of an instrument developed and made by C.F. Martin & Co. of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, proved to be an influential element.

That instrument was the Style D-45 guitar.  “45” identified the level of decorative detail, mostly “pearl”.

As I understand it, from various published works and time spent hanging around with Mike,  the first D-45 was custom built for Gene Autry in 1933.  The instrument was in production until the Second World War began.  In that period, 91 D-45’s were created.

Following the WW II, the desire for D-45’s couldn’t be fulfilled with the existing 91, so Mike, who had developed skills in pearl inlay, would inlay D-28’s Martins with D-45 pearl design.  Mike would clearly label and identify his efforts.

While other “pearl artists” were doing the same sort of “decoration work”,  Mike’s work was of such quality that when C.F. Martin & Co., in 1968, re-issued the D45, they convinced Mike to move from Tennessee to Nazareth to apply his skills to this effort.

The acknowledgement of Mike’s association with the D-45 has extended beyond his sad passing.  In their “Sounding Board Newsletter”– Volume 18 – January 2005 – C.F. Martin & Co. announced the issue of a Mike Longworth Commemorative D-45.  The instrument, and the article in Volume 18 – available on Martin’s web site – clearly shows the high regard with which Mike is remembered by the folk at Martin.

When Mike retired and began making ukuleles,  he used as his inspiration for design the ukuleles made from 1916 up through his time, by Martin, arguably (though why one would want to argue, I can’t imagine), the most respected maker of ukuleles in the 20th Century.

Following his initial efforts,  Mike used the body shape design of ukes made for the Oliver Ditson Company.  This body shape followed the shape of the guitars  in the “Dreadnought” style, originally made at the suggestion of Ditson.  The characteristic of this body design is a somewhat proportionally wider waist. 


Of all of the ukuleles that Mike created, one stands out as respectful recognition of the Style 45, and its role in his life.  There certainly is a “top of the style” in the heap of ukuleles, the 5K, the most decorated Martin production model ukulele.  There might even be custom made Martin ukuleles that “one up” the 5K.  But I believe that Mike made one ukulele that links the elements of his association with the D-45 completely.

This ukulele was custom made by Mike for a client. 

Knowing that clients can have an influence on a maker’s work, that range from “Do exactly as I say”, to “Do what ever you want,” I’m not able to reveal the influence of Mike’s client on the creation of this ukulele.  Whatever.  This instrument surely exhibits the style 45 that is associated so closely with Mike Longworth.

While this ukulele may look like a production model Style 5K Martin Ukulele,  and may appear so “across the room”, there are details that are clearly “45”.

The principal wood for this ukulele is koa, with a mahogany neck and ebony fret board.

The binding on the sides, including the abalone pearl, including that at the joining of the neck and the body, is clearly “45”, and not 5K, as is the book matched back, with “45” style separator strip.  Another feature that is not 5K is the book matched top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The most obvious “45” characteristic of this uke are the decorative pearl position markers.  Also very signature is the abalone pearl boarding the end of the fret board.

Along with his own signature initial, Mike inlaid, using the “Martin” style font, the client's initials on the head.  The veneer of superb koa, matching in quality all of the instruments koa,  is beautifully bound.

Mike’s custom creation had a custom paper label, in addition to the scripted “” of identification.

The principal difference, as I understand it, between Mike’s instrument and the various legendary C.F.Martin 45’s, “D” and others, is that the finger board is not bound.  I don’t recall Mike ever saying to me that binding a finger board was a pain in the butt, but he gave me that impression.

While I’ve seen, in various places, references to “Baby D-45’s”, Mike Longworth clearly created the most endearing and charming “Infant D-45” ever.  Wherever it may be, lets hope that it is reverently swaddled and cared for.   And strummed.

What a wonderful piece of work you’ve done Mike Longworth.

Index


Session #40 - Aug.15, 2005

HER PASTIMES

Most of my ukulele journey has been a journey through hundreds of miles of barren sand, encountering only an occasional oasis of meaningful Consciousness.  I, like a dromedary or a bactrian traveling from water source to water source, accumulated and stored precious elements of my interest to sustain myself.  An occasional encounter with a kindred soul gave me hope.

Over time, the oases appeared to grow nearer to each other and the number of kindred souls grew.  And yet elements of this growth appeared irritating.  Unfulfilling.  After all, with an instrument as simple and unassuming as a ukulele one might expect that enjoying its pleasure wouldn't require long and costly travel or technology that ties the world  together in a screamingly demanding manner.

So can one imagine my delight to discover that in a nearby neighborhood beer bar, in Somerville, Massachusetts, The Sky Bar, folks were gathering on a regular basis to perform with ukuleles.  Not an open mike requiring grinding of teeth to remain polite.  Not for the little children.  A real adult bar with performers who were invited to perform. And paid.

Craig Robertson, Ukulele Noir organizer.

This Sky Bar situation had been organized by one man. Craig Robertson.  Craig is the only person that I've encountered in my life whose principal performance instrument is a mahogany Le Domino.

Craig has named this ongoing series of gatherings
Ukulele Noir.  Accessing the demanding world wide web will provide you with information.

The Uke Noir events are numbered. Ukulele Noir 1.  Ukulele Noir 2.  I love them.  Adults being entertained.  Cocktails and beer being consumed.  As my fourth wife loves both cosmopolitans and ukuleles, we eagerly attended Ukulele Noir 3 on March 29. (There has since been a Ukulele Noir 4 and Ukulele Noir 5.)


At one point on that March evening, a pleasant, unassuming young woman, Rachel Manke, climbed up on the Sky Bar stage, following a number of ukulele strummers of various skill levels, with one ukulele, a contemporary plastic bottle of water, half in the bag--she, not the bottle--and proceeded to present, with charming vocals and killer instrumental styling, wonderful offerings from the Great American Song Book (circa 1930's - 1940's - my personal favorites).  Be still my foolish heart!!!

Rachel's plastic water bottle was a reference to an earlier performer's glass beer bottle, which he drained, then pitched into the audience. Thank the powers that be the glass didn't break. Rachel's reference was complete when, upon draining her water, she pitched her plastic bottle similarly into the audience, producing an audience response of hearty laughter
.

Rachel Manke, aka, "Lady Smeck."

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Rachel has a nickname, though it embarrasses her: "Lady Smeck." The moniker has its roots in the years Rachel spent as a student of Joel Eckhaus (known and appreciated as "Ukulele Eck"). Joel was in turn a student of Roy Smeck, legendary "Wizard of the Strings" who played many stringed instruments other than the uke, but who always ended his shows with the four-stringer.  So in the musical tradition of classic piano players who studied with someone who studied with someone else who studied with Beethoven..."Lady Smeck" is likely completely appropriate.  In addition, Rachel not only plays music skillfully, she also flips the uke about in a fashion reminiscent of performance footage I've seen of Smeck, particularly in the Vitaphone short His Pastimes, which premiered on a program with the first Vitaphone feature film, Don Juan, starring John Barrymore, at the Warner Theatre in New York, August 6, 1926.

 

Roy Smeck, flipping his uke, as it were, in the 1926 Vitaphone short His Pastimes.

Rachel ends her set with the famous Roy Smeck uke flip (left), as does Ukulele Eck (right) at the Ukulele Expo in Providence RI, 2003.

If all that Roy Smeck had done in his long life was to play his ukulele in the first true talking picture, it might well have been enough.  But the richness of passing on his uke flipping skills may even be an even greater contribution to the world.

PS: By the way, Joel Eckhaus, in a addition to being a wonderful teacher and a killer performer, is also a fine maker of ukuleles and other stringed instruments.

Joel's appearance at Noir 4 not only included an unbelievably delightful duet with Rachel Manke, the reluctant Lady Smeck, but it also marked the introduction to the world of one of Joel's  outstanding ukuleles--this one an homage to, Les just say, "a legendary guitar from the past." With a golden finish just days old, the instrument was so appealing that my cosmo-and-ukulele loving fourth wife refused to leave the Sky Bar unless she could take it home.

She calls the uke "Paulette."

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