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Ukulele - What the world needs now (is love) from Thomas Garoche on Vimeo.
Aldrine Guerrero of Ukulele Underground brightens the Holidays with this sing-a-long version of Let it Snow.
In the last few months, Al has published an exceptional book on How to Play Blues Ukulele
His fast fingering in this performance of The Pink Panther Theme explains how he can produce so much:
Surprisingly, with all this output, Mr. Wood has said very little about himself. Who is the man behind the ukulele? To find out, we asked Al the following questions:
Donnie Bubbles: Of all the musical instruments in the world, you picked the ukulele. What was it that drew you to the ukulele?
Al Wood: I started playing the guitar at about 13 and was a complete addict. A couple of years later I picked up a ukulele. Because I didn't want to waste time not playing something guitar shaped, I mostly played it while I was walking round the house, sat on the lav etc. I ended up playing it more and more.
I think the main appeal of the ukulele is the strings being inside out - much like my brain.
DB: What is your process for writing ukulele tabs? Do you work a song out by ear, start with sheet music for other instruments, talk to the artists?
AW: For chords, I always work by ear. For tabs, I work by ear if it's played on the ukulele (along with a video if there is one) or if the tune is simple.
Other than that, it varies a great deal. It's probably best to illustrate it with two tunes I'm working on right now.
One is a version of Davey Graham's Angi. I used to play it over and over on the guitar, so I'm very familiar with the tune and how it's played. I'm transposing in my head, using my ears and letting the arrangement develop in slowly when I'm playing it. With this one, I'm not tabbing anything until I've got the entire arrangement pretty well set.
The other one I'm working on is Edward's Lullaby from the film Twilight. For this one, I worked out the right hand of the piano on the uke and the left hand (the chords) on the guitar and tabbed them up. I jiggled the tab around a bit using Guitar Pro until I found the key I thought it would work best on. So now I've got the chords and melody in my head and I'm working up an arrangement by playing it over and over and I'll tab it once it's set.
DB: You are prolific, and almost everything you provide to the ukulele community is generously given free of charge. Do you have a day job to support this hobby/habit?
AW: After a number of jobs in accounts departments, it became obvious that I was completely unemployable. I have real authority issues and it became increasingly difficult not to say things like, "Why are we doing this like complete fucking morons?"
So now I have my own Internet business. And the ukulele stuff is a big part of it - hopefully I'll be able to ditch all the boring stuff and just do the music stuff at some point.
I see Uke Hunt as an investment in the future. Right now, the Internet is a massive opportunity for absolutely anyone to establish themselves in any field. That's mostly due to the big companies being completely clueless. Someone like Mel Bay should be working their asses off to make sure they're top of Google for 'ukulele tabs' and 'ukulele chords', but they're nowhere to be seen. And they certainly shouldn't be leaving the entire ukulele ebook sector to some no-talent English boy.
I think now is the time to build something that's the best in the world before the dip gets too big and the established sites are set in stone.
DB: Is there a Woodwife? Little Woodkids? Woodpets?
AW: No, no and no. I'm a loner at heart. I need time by myself and a lot of it.
DB: An intelligent, yet musically ignorant extra-terrestrial species overthrows the earth and abolishes ukuleles. What do you do to fill the void in your life?
AW: Start an underground newspaper and fight for the overthrow of the evil alien overlords.
To keep the project going and expanding, they need funding to provide ukuleles, kazoos and other accoutrements and that’s why the net’s best ukulele tabbers have got together to create an ebook with all the proceeds going directly to Ukuleles for Peace."
Merrill Garbus: Hmm. Well, my original uke was stolen at a show quite a few months ago now, and the mistakes I made on that one I tried not to make again (namely drilling a hole into it.) I have a Schatten autoharp pick-up mounted just below the sound hole. I got the pick-up in a hurry right before a tour, and the autoharp was the only one they had in stock. I have a lot of trouble with feedback (which probably has a lot to do with it being an autoharp pick-up, but I'm sort of attached to the sound now.) Because of the feedback I stuff most of the instrument with paper towels I find in the bathrooms of clubs, and then I use hockey tape to tape up the hole and secure the pick-up wires, etc.
The only other "modification" is that although it's a tenor ukulele, I tune it like a baritone, with the lowest toned string as a G, instead of a C as people tell me tenors should be tuned. My mom picked up my first instrument at an Army/Navy store in Maine and there was no one there to tune it correctly, so I sort of guessed, and then the songs came, and I couldn't turn back. I stick paper underneath some of the strings on the upper bridge because they're a bit loose on the instrument.
DB: Your sound is very unique, but I can't stop thinking of other artists while listening to your album, BiRd-BrAiNs. Songs remind me of Nirvana, Laurie Anderson, Billie Holiday and the Soweto rock of the 90's. Who do you think is the most influential on your musical style?
MG: Those are cool comparisons, and great that they're so disparate. There are many influences that pop into and out of this album. In making it I realized just how much of the 1980's are in my blood, which is maybe why it felt so appropriate to release it on cassette tape. Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual album, Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", Graceland, that's all in there. People tend to pick up on the African influence, which includes much music from Kenya and Tanzania where I spent some time, as well as Pygmy music of Central African Republic, dance music from Congo, and Johnny Clegg & Savuka from South Africa. I'm also an a cappella nerd, so anything having to do with multi-layered voices, doo-wop, etc., makes me a little nutso.
So to answer WHO is the biggest influence on this album? M.I.A. If I had to pick one person that made me want to do my own thing as a woman and explode onto recording devices all the sounds I have in my head, it's M.I.A. And Woody Guthrie. See, I can't even pick one person if I try.
DB: When you play live, you build your songs on short loops on stage and then play and sing along with them. When you are writing, do you start with these loops and pull the melody and lyrics out of them, or do you create the other way around?
MG: The loops definitely came out of a need for accompaniment, so I'd say usually I'm writing songs that I will later work out on the looping pedal for the live show. When I write a song I'm thinking about it pretty spatially, as in I'm considering the space it takes up, sonically and even visually. (I don't know if that exactly describes it, but I've been trying to articulate it to myself lately, and that's what I've come up with.) I've found it hard, because of the repetitive nature of the loop, to find the movement and space there, so I tend to work the other way, dealing with the live performance of a song after it's written.
But that said, because I was on tour so much this fall, I got really into improvising live with the looping pedal. I wouldn't say I was writing full songs on it, but I started to experiment with layering vocal lines, and then pounding out beats on the floor tom and looping that, and it was all very satisfying. I did actually come up with a song that way, which is all about repetition and a sort of meditative, driving beat, so I suppose the pedal is influencing me more than I think it is.
DB: At first glance, with the over-modulation and distortion techniques used on many tracks, your music is jarring, yet there are so many sweet, quiet moments on the disc. Do you feel you use these two poles more for balance, or juxtaposition?
MG: Probably a bit of both. I tend to loathe art and music that is oversimplified. Human beings are complex, I'm complex, you're complex. Music that contains no complexity, no tension, doesn't move me or affect me, so I seem to avoid it. I love simplicity, but even the simple moments on that album seem to have some twist to them that makes them weird, or uncomfortable, complicated. I also fear making music that doesn't inspire action in people. I don't want people to fall asleep, I want them to wake the heck up. Whatever that means: dancing, crying, yelling at me, cringing, dreaming, anything but falling into inaction, lifelessness. So spitting an odd sound out here and there and adding some thorns to the rose-songs always seems like a survival mechanism to me as a songwriter.
And balance, yes; perhaps I try to balance things too much, compulsively. But compositionally, whether it's about the composition of the entire album, or one song, or even a verse of a song, I am concerned with balance and proportion. If you work towards balance as a general rule, then you can wield imbalance as a powerful tool whenever you want to.
DB: I have seen footage of you playing violin. Are you classically trained? Did the violin influence your choice to play ukulele, or was it some other factor?
MG: Not classically trained, and you are kind to use the words "playing" and "violin" in reference to me! My dad plays Old Timey fiddle and he taught me after high school. I love playing the fiddle because of the double-stops, or two strings played at once. The fiddle can create this real blanket of sound, through drone and texture. I first started on the uke because I was a puppeteer and writing a puppet opera in which I needed an instrument that would fit in my puppet stage. When I picked up the tenor uke, it had the same power as the fiddle to create sound that was rich and dense at the same time as being flexible and open. I had never thought about the connection between those two instruments before, but they do have that in common. And with both, you don't have to do much to create a sound that is pretty enthralling and even physically pleasing. For someone like me with instrument phobia, both were perfect objects to pick up and play and enjoy, right there on the spot.
Masterful rendition of this Jimi Hendrix song...
This performance was suggested by Allison R from the fleamarket bulletin board.
Captain of Uke's Moveable Major Chord Form Lesson is very helpful for growing your chord vocabulary.
Any man with the gumption to rhyme "beer" with "see her" (say it like Marge Gunderson "be-er") deserves to win the MacArthur Genius Grant. Jacob allows you to download all three of his excellent album from his website for free. My personal favorite song is brains, brains.
A flamenco style original from Jake.
Web Site: www.JakeShimabukuro.com
James Clem is a famous blues guitarist. He plays with a loose confidence that is inspiring.
YouTube Channel: mrbissonet
Web Site: http://www.jamesclem.com/
Interview: Ukulele Hunt Interview with James Clem
Tabs: Sunny Side of the Street Chords and Lyrics - Ukulele
This is the first in Coveywood's excellent series of strum lessons.
YouTube Channel: COVEYWOOD
Michael provides his own rhythm section for this early start on Halloween.
I am a sucker for Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. Ukemike says he has another "old Pink" song coming soon with some extra-extra-special effects....