Fountain of Uke Interview W/Aaron Keim

Old Time Heart, Modern Day Troubadour:

This blog post is dedicated to Aaron Keim, whom many regard as one of the premier old time ukulele players, builders and music historians. 
Aaron Keim is a Ukulele player who has taken the road less traveled. Players like Aaron Keim, often shy away from the bright lights an big city, content like some forlorn 49'er, to make their camp near the riverbank, panning for gold by day and humming ditties by night.

 Aaron Keim has become a master of many things, but for those of us on the mainland who often get to hear him, he's golden, when he's reinventing the lost art of playing old time string band music on the ukulele. His music is filtered thru a prism of roots rock, punk, folk, balladry, labor history, ragtime, jug-band, early jazz, fiddle tunes, bluegrass and and a strong shot of old red eye 200 proof.

 Aaron is a true renaissance man who lives and breathes tradition without ever getting too stuck there; rather, he has one foot firmly rooted in tradition and the other, inching ever boldly towards something that is uniquely his own. He conjures up both troubadour and community artisan all at once, as a traveling ukulele teacher and performer. That he is also a well respected Uke builder for Mya-Moe Ukuleles is a whole nother story.

While Aaron builds everything from banjo-ukes to resonators and Pineapple Ukes, his real specialty is top notch Banjo Ukuleles in the concert/tenor realm. Today, Aaron is living his dream as craftsman, performer, songwriter, husband and music historian, comfortably wearing many hats... one might say he has the best of all worlds!

To many, Aaron is best known for his role as a founding members of the eclectic band The Boulder Acoustic Society (B.A.S).  B.A.S garnered a reputation for its witches brew, or rather their tasty gumbo of original & Traditional American Roots music.  B.A.S. was one of those rare bands that could stand at the edge of darkness, singing on some lonely delta-crossroads, while the devil looked on in envy, knowing full well, these guys wouldn't have to go looking to sell their souls in order to achieve musical recognition.

They could serve up a whooping dollop of invention, soul and reverence with a sock-hop playfulness, the likes of which we aren't likely to see anytime soon, amongst the current crop of singer songwriter-vote for me, let's form a string band, crowd of posers.  While this band is now just a memory, those B.A.S shows of yesteryear will live on in our collective memory, a reminder of what bold musical invention can and should be.

As a soloist, Aaron came out swinging as a "genre jumping, multi-instrumentalist," and true to his roots, the 2006 release Born in the Country, Raised in Town, with his wife Nicole, offered us a glimpse of things to come, with East Virginia, Hesitation Blues and Liza Jane, among others, fresh takes on oft neglected tunes that in turn have stood the test of time. While Born in The Country may have given us a glimpse of the greatness yet to come from this purveyor of old time jive, it appears that Aaron has really matured as a  songwriter, and his ability with some really memorable themes, has produced some really rock solid originals. Thus, 2009's The Quiet American and it's follow up The Quiet American Vol.II., both, brave in their battle cry, mixing tradition and originality with tunes like his heartfelt I Will Be The One, a 3 minute and 13 second finger-picking baritone uke ballad, that could crack the heart of even the most hardened Monstanto Exec; or take his Break The Hold, a driving, no holds-barred romp across the great plains of Aaron's heart, courageous in its content, pushing the ukulele into a ring of fire, while clocking a swift Colorado hay-maker in the face of the thousands who constantly presume that you can't play a sad or serious somg on the uke without it sounding happy!

                                                         The author and Aaron Keim at The Reno Uke Festival 2012

Noble in his cause to uplift that which has been forgotten, Aaron always delivers refreshing renditions of  chestnuts like Black Jack Daisy and Spanish Fandango, Wandering Boy, Old Greasy Coat, KC Jones and Whiskey Johnny to name a few. This music is suitable for working in the wood-shop, walking down back country lanes, bicycles rides for two, mountaineer encampments,
wobbly gatherings or anywhere people might find themselves in search of the "true vine."

So if you like a healthy does of claw-hammer ukulele, old time banjo, mountain guitar picking and upright bass. Your long overdue to catch Aarom Keim doing his thing. You'll be pleasantly surprised to find that this Quiet American, actually has alot to say!

Here's the interview I did with Aaron in Napa, CA at the September of 2011 Wine Country Uke Fest.

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Q & A with Aaron Keim:

 1) Where did you grow up? What was your earliest musical exposure?

I grew up in Janesville, WI.  My parents took me to concerts when I was very small.
 The first I remember was The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the Rock
County Fair.  The next that I remember was a performance of Handel's
Messiah.  I sang in church, joined the school band and choir, sang
countless camp songs in the scouts, started a high school garage band
and went to college for music education.

2) How did you come to the ukulele and playing old time music on it?

I started playing string band music in college on the upright bass.
We had a band called The Paradise String Band and we played Dylan/The
Dead/Bluegrass type stuff.  I found old time and the ukulele when I
came to Colorado in 2003 and got a job working at HB Woodsongs, a
music store.  There was a Martin uke that hung on the wall there and I
fell in love!

3) Who are your biggest influences on the ukulele?

I don't really listen to uke players at all (except for when friends
give me their new cd)  I mostly listen to old time songsters like
Mance Lipscomb, Bruce Molsky and Roscoe Holcomb, Americana/indie rock
like Wilco, Ryan Adams, Black Keys and Beck, jug bands, old gospel
music and blues.

 4) Why Old Timey Music? What is about that era and the music that really grabs you?

Well, I like old things and I like new things that are a response to
old things.  (does that make sense?)  Old time music has far fewer
rules than other kinds of old music (jazz, bluegrass) so it is more
open to creative modern arrangements!    My generation has been doing
this sort of things with lots of old art forms: letter press printing,
vintage clothing, re-purposed antique furniture, gardening/canning,
vintage cocktails, embroidery, etc...

5) What role do you see the ukulele playing in the old time music revival if any?

Well, one good thing about old time which is different than bluegrass
is that they are more welcoming of other instruments.  People don't
mind if you play ukulele, harmonica, dulcimer, squeeze box, tenor
banjo, long as you can play it!  A bluegrass jam usually
looks down at the instruments.

 6) One might correlate music in the old home place, with today's organic
ukulele club, festival and get together and strum happenings, and in doing so, speculate that if we are going to ever get America singing again, the uke might be just the ticket to get both kids and adults off their butts and into the jam circle. or simply just involved in the act of music making. Do you agree?

Yes, I think the 50+ age bracket that seems to populate most uke clubs
is re-discovering their own creative and musical side after years of
only watching "The Greats"  make music.  The younger crowd is really
into doing things themselves instead of buying/doing/believing what
media tells them to.  So they are way in to the ukulele as a way to
create their own music and social world.  This is happening at the
same time that string instrument building in America is in a major
golden age and the internet spreads it all around!  What a great time
to play the uke!

 7) When did you start building instruments and how does it deepen your connection to the music you play?

I started restoring instruments in 2003 because I was fascinated with
them and love taking things apart.  I started building in earnest in
2007 and Heidi and I started Beansprout in 2008.  2011 I joined up
with May-Moe.  Making instruments makes me a better player because I
am focused on sound, construction and playing techniques at the micro
level.  When it comes to my own instruments, though, I build the
plainest, simplest instruments I can.  They are tools that I need to
get a job done, not mythical creatures to lock in a case and hang on
the wall!

 8) You are often regarded as a great teachers and proponent of claw-hammer ukulele styles.
How did that come about for you?

I bought a banjo in 2007 and took a few claw hammer lessons from Paul
Weidig.  I also was pretty serious about the uke at the time and I
noticed the re-entrant ukulele tuning made claw hammer possible.  I
taught the technique at the Portland Uke Fest and then people started
emailing me for pointers.  I put up my first instructional video about
it and it just snowballed from there!

Aaron's website is: check it out!

Mya-Moe Ukuleles:  
"Quite simply the finest Custom Ukes being built today!" -Lil Rev

In addition to the many fine instruments that Aaron is building at Mya-Moe Central, he has also put together 2 adorable little back back pocket 2-Chord Songs Books for Ukulele. To order, contact him thru his website:

Thank you Aaron for this great interview and all that you have done to carry the roots music flag into the next era.

Lil Rev-Admin
(C) Fountain of Uke 2012


  1. Wow Revakowski, once you geet started you really geet it going my friend. I have enjoyed Aaron and BAS at Mike DaSilva's shop a few times. He's quite a teacher too. You multi-instrumentalist are an amazing breed. Jeff / Humble Uker / Humble Baritonics / The Barried DoGBonE

  2. Great interview. Love Aaron's playing and appreciate this blog!!!!
    Cathy Fink


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