Science and the ukulele

In the Popular Science Monthly of 1925 (page 62), it was reported that Morris Rothman of Bayonne, New Jersey, had invented a walking stick that can convert instantly into a ‘ukelele’. From the photograph accompanying the report, it seems to have a very thin sound box. I’d prefer a ukulele that could convert into a walking stick — it would probably have a better tone.

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Top 50 Ukulele Sites

Just learned that the Backward Ukulele Player’s blog is (however briefly) among the top 100 ukulele site! Ummm… it’s the 100th.

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A few notes on Tiny Tim … 1968

The New York Magazine of 10 June 1968 (page 49) tells how Milton Glaser found a person, now known as Tiny Tim,

‘who sang tunes of the ’20s and ’30s with abandon, accompanying himself on the ukelele, possessed of such an astounding variety of voices that he could sing both the male and female parts in a Nelson Eddy–Jeanette MacDonald duet with uncanny accuracy, as well as recreate the quavery tones of a Rudy Valee or the endearing style of the young Shirley Temple.’

Within a week of the above notice, Life magazine (14 June 1968, page 10) speaks of Expo 67, where

‘surrounded by the boos of 8,000 dubious Canadians, [Tiny Tim] insisted on going through with all three of his numbers even though he had to use his ukulele to bat off the pop bottles being thrown at him.’

TT had both style and guts.

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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ukulele not sounding right?

LeRoy Olson told Popular Mechanics (November, 1928, page 129) what is wrong when a uke doesn’t sound right, and offered some advice (a little blunt at times)  on fixing it:

Loose pegs, defective strings, frets not accurately placed, or nut too high from the fingerboard.

Common [wooden] pegs are likely to slip after having been used a number of times; they can be enlarged by boiling them in water. If the pegs are of the non-slip style and will not work, the threads are stripped.

There is only one way to remedy defective strings and that is to buy new ones. If any frets are a thousandth of an inch out of place, discords often will be produced. This defect cannot be remedied.

If the nut is too high from the fingerboard, the strings, when pressed, will give sharp notes. It will be found that if the nut is filed down and new notches put in so that the strings are only a small fraction of an inch above the frets–but be sure they do not touch–an improvement in the tone production will be noted.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 6:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Buddy DeSylva: encouragement for the incorrigible ukulele player

Buddy DeSylva, part of the famous DeSylva, Henderson and Brown song writing team of the 1920s, missed out on a college education because of his ukulele playing — and it was a college professor’s daughter who taught him to play.

According to an article in Life magazine (30 December 1940, page 52), DeSylva’s academic career was ruined because he preferred to spend his days singing his own compositions to young ladies at the beach, accompanying himself on the ukulele. A talent scout spotted him, offered him $60 a week as an Hawaiian (?) entertainer, which, after only a brief delay, he accepted. He met Al Jolson at the night club, was taken by Al to New York, sold his first song, and his first royalty check was for $16000. He was 22 years old (1917), and he never looked back.

Of course, he had talent.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shades of the ’20s … in 1949

Life magazine noted in its 15 August edition of 1949 (page 26) that things were looking like the 1920s again. Only the previous week, it said…

A man went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A young woman is preparing to swim the English Channel. Ukulele sales were booming, and 38 new midget golf courses were going strong around New York City alone. Best of all, a man in Cleveland was sitting atop a flagpole.

What! No typewriters?

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Play the ukulele in 10 Minutes … (ad from 1928)

Apparently, in 1927-28, Ferry & Co. of Chicago was marketing a device that would allow people to play the ukulele by numbers. No knowledge of music, no practice required. All you needed to do was to strap the thingy to the fretboard over the first four frets, strum and press the numbered buttons (16 buttons, numbered 1 to 16).

Which buttons, when? Ah! You’d have to send for the free booklet “Ferry E-Z Playing Stringed Instruments”, which, I suppose would reveal enough to have people hand over the money (the price was not revealed in the advertisement).

Mail the coupon and learn “how I can get more fun out of life, make more friends, have greater opportunities for getting ahead by learning to play my favorite stringed instrument in 10 minutes. No obligation.”

Ad. spotted in Popular Mechanics, November 1928, page 186.

[Update: Popular Mechanics, September 1926, page 393, shows the device on a “Topsy” ukulele. From the illustration shown there, it seems that the buttons only ‘help’ in fingering the standard chords more easily.]

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Armed and dangerous…1933

Two young men escaped a police van as they were being transport to Pentridge Gaol, Melbourne. After a month, they were recaptured early Monday, 27 February 1933. In their possession were found a revolver, dynamite, gelignite caps and fuse, a banjo, and a ukulele. These were obviously desperate characters.

From The Argus 28 February, 1933, page 7.

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ukuleles in The Times…

American Slang (The Times, Friday, 8 May, 1931, page 12, col. E):

“A ukulele, besides its musical meaning, may be a drum of bullets to be fitted to a “typewriter” — the Thompson Machine Gun (the “Typewriter” link is not for the faint-hearted).

[For a real ukulele and typewriter combo, see this].

According to The Times, Friday, 30 October, 1970, page 15, col. A, the driver of London Cab 3899 might have given you a

‘quick burst of “Please don’t talk about me when you’re gone” on his ukulele while you wait at the traffic lights.’

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When the ukulele is maligned…

This might surprise some people, but the ukulele has not always been given due respect. I have recently found two examples of this. They follow (Warning — blog tone OTT):

1. In The Argus, 15 March 1930, it was reported on page 25 that, at a Conference in Nottingham of Free Church ministers, the Rev. Herbert Leggate of Manchester ‘described many young people today as having ukulele souls’. I take this to mean ‘light and frivolous’ souls. If I am correct in my inference, then ‘light and frivolous’ might have been a just description of young people at the time, but I want to know why the noble ukulele had to be maligned to make this point.

[Update on the Rev. Herbert Leggate (1891-1965?) regarding the young : The Times, 14 March 1930 (page 11, col. D) quotes him as follows — “The modern world treated the young harshly. Cinemas and wireless made it easy for them to live dangerously or romanically by proxy. A pleasure-mad world beseiged them with new escapes from boredom. Was it surprising that many of them had ukulele souls? But multitudes of them were too fine to drown the sound of the world’s anguish with jazzy music”]

2. In the novel, Unfair & unbalanced: the lunatic magniloquence of Henry E. Panky‎ by Patrick M. Carlisle, the new CEO of a failing company was giving a pep-talk to disheartened staff, and the narrator says: ‘Oh he played us like a ukulele’. Now, I might be too cynical in my reading, but it seems to me that we are to understand that the CEO had such control of the situation that he could ‘toy’ with the staff, make them do or believe what he wanted them to do. If my inference is correct, again, I say, not fair to associate the noble ukulele with a toy.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 8:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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