Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ukuleles In Old Time Music

 Amidst the dustbins of time, our fascination with all things retro, often feeds itself into a frenzy. What often begins as a romantic notion soon bubbles to the surface and some 15 years in the making, the Ukulele Revival has now taken on a whole new shape.  It has become one that is very different than anything i could have ever imagined when i first started seeking out likeminded strummers at uke expos, flea markets, music clubs, nursing homes, old time music circles and record collector gatherings in the early 90's.

The most obvious example today is the steady stream of international videos being made, and re-posted by Uke Hunt http://ukulelehunt.com/. Thus, the vibrant nature of our international ukulele community, represents a rainbow of styles, from Pop -n- Punk to Rockabilly-n-Cowboy; Hawaiian and Broadway, to Honky Tonk and Bluegrass.

Haunted though we may be, there is much yet to discover and not discounting the stellar array of singer-songwriters out there right now like Julia Nunes or my good buddy Victoria Vox,  some of us seek a drug that is as habit forming as any barbituite every swallowed by Johnny Cash or Mr. Presley himself.

As an old folk tale goes, most of us never realize that the gold was buried right under our own stove, and that we rarely have to go looking for it.  Most often, we walk right past it, without even seeing it like a missing chord or a four leaf clover. The thing that I speak of is ever present in this digital era.

Tucked away neatly, somewhere between the impressive sheet music archives of UCLA (http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/sheetmusic/) and dem' ol' Edison Cylinders waiting to be heard at UCSB (http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/ ) we find the garden of eden, a place where we can sit and chew on the fat of our musical heritage, and while doing so be redeemed, as we drink from the marrow that is our collective musical bloodstream....a place of Public Domain.

Which leads me to the reason for this post....

The wellspring that is Americana and all of it's antecendents largely goes untapped in the Uke world, above and beyond the "Hapa Bands," of dobro and uke, or the occasional celtic fiddle tune folks, few are tapping into the wealth that is American Stringband culture and repertoire. From another time and place, we discover that Folksinging, Freighthopper Utah Philips was right when he said "the past didn't go anywhere." Somewhere between here and there and the cracks between the piano keys, therein lies a treasure trove of antiquated songs so refreshing and whole, they can usurp any notion you might have previously held about what is truley mystical in American music lore.

We have all heard the now legendary story of how, the great Bluesman Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for uncanny gifts of melodic aptitude. What the story fails to teach us, is that Mr. Johnson wasn't the alone when he was standing at the crossroads on that moonlit night in Mississippi. When i say he wasn't alone, i'm not talking about legba, but rather, another brother of a different color, who like Robert Johnson, was also traveling a long dark road in search of a better life.

This, in turn leads us to Oh Brother Where Art Thou....a movie ,that suggests in all its humor, that we are one in the same...ebony and ivory, or to borrow from the TV sitcom theme Married With Children, "you can't have one without the other!"

So....

In the Fall of 2004, I, along with my buddy Deb Porter (http://www.debbieporter.net/), set out to remind both the old time music community and the larger public that whether they liked it or not the ukulele was coming back in a big way, and not only that, it had a history rooted in southern string band music, a history both forgotten and oft neglected. We married the influence of Hawaiians to Blacks, Blacks to Whites as well as the affect that  Anglo-String Band musicians had on their African American counterparts. This article was titled: Ukuleles In Old Time Music and dug deeply into the Jug Band, String Band and Hillbilly use of the ukulele. From Jimmie Rodgers to The Fiddlin Powers Family, its all there to be discovered for the discerning researcher of ukulele legend and lore.

For those who wish to read our article: Ukulele in Old Time Music here is the link to the original article published in the fall of 2004 in The Old Time Herald (vol.9 #4)

http://www.lilrev.com/articles/lilrev.com-oldtime.herald.pdf

I hope you enjoy this article. If you have any questions please write to me at: lilrev@lilrev.com
for more info.

At the time of this blog post, i am now working on a new article featuring todayscurrent crop of top "old time ukulele revivalists." So stay tuned!

Lil Rev
www.lilrev.com


                                               (Lil Rev circa 2011-Winter Tour in San Francisco)

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