Monday, April 30, 2012

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.



 ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q06F1QSo2ws )

 

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, etc...as 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: http://www.quietamericanmusic.com/Q/Home.html check it out!

Mya-Moe Ukuleles: http://www.myamoeukuleles.com/  
  
"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: http://www.quietamericanmusic.com/Q/Home.html


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


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Search of a Ragtime Uker

In Search of Ragtime Uker:

Growing up in Milwaukee, i remember the magic of summers off, hanging out at the park, playing ball, riding my mini-bike, sitting on the front porch listening to the Brewer's game on the radio, staying out late, and lighting fireworks in July. Yet, of all of these memories, one in particular plays itself over and over like a broken record...

Here it is...

I'm out in the street playing whiffle ball with my buddies, when i hear off in the distance a piano rag blaring thru a speaker, enticing all the kids to come closer, in a manner that would make Pavlov proud.

 As it gets closer, all of the kids in the street scatter to the four corners of the world running into our respective houses, only to return with our coins-a-jangling, and an intense salivation for something sweet.  Yep! The ice cream truck only played two tunes in my hood...1) Turkey In The Straw and The Entertainer by Scott Joplin, the great African American Ragtime composer. 

I remember humming that infectious melody thru the night, lulled to sleep by the summer breeze wafting thru my window and the remnants of Congo Square still buzzing in my ear like a bee sting.

The rest is, as they say history, as i never forgot how incredibly moved those kind of tunes made me feel each and every time i heard them played.

For those who have never listened to nor studied any of the great Ragtime composers let me give you a little background. "Ragtime is a musical composition for the piano comprising three or four sections containing sixteen measures each which combines a syncopated melody accompanied by an even, duple rhythm." (pg. 1 Rags And Ragtime: A history) But to put it in layman's terms, my grandpa said that "without Ragtime there wouldn't be no Irving Berlin, George Gershwin or Tin Pan Alley."
To him it was just that simple.

While most folks today recognize classic tunes like Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag ( which sold millions of copies of sheet music), The Entertainer, Dill Pickles and The 12th Street Rag to name just a few, what they don't know is that its syncopating patterns, owed themselves more to the Afro-American Minstrel Banjo than the piano players that Joplin inspired.

The 1st Ragtime piece was published in 1897 and remained vital until Tin Pan Alley, and changing tastes made it obsolete. While some saw it as a fad, none can doubt that it was everywhere in the early 1900's, from sheet music, phono records, and piano rolls to plays and derivative dance forms. Interestingly, even in its heyday, it has been said that no two ragtime players sounded alike. Just listen to The Library of Congress Recordings of Jelly Roll Morton and confirm for yourself that Ragtime, was so wide and varied that no two people could explain it in a manner that might hold some sense of cohesion. One thing's for sure, the emergence of Jazz and later Stride forms of piano playing, began to snuff out any chance Ragtime had at becoming a lasting, vital form of music.

The oversimplification of Ragtime by Tin Pan Alley writers led to the emergence of  what was then called: "coon songs." To make a coon song, you take a tad of syncopation, a bit of the ragtime chord cycle and some non-sense lyrics and make a tune.Think Bill Bailey, Alexanders Ragtime Band and Darktown Strutters Ball and then you'll start to get the sense of what i am talking about. Berlin went on to write, Yiddle On Your Fiddle And Play Some Ragtime, among the hundreds of other tunes that referenced the word Rag in it.

Even Ragtime's most honored players hold the key to some long lost history that American's have yet to claim, and so the dispossessed of Uncle Sam's Ragged-Time Band, walk the streets of her tired cities, weary of her broken promise, yet, refusing to be buried and simply forgotten. They were men like Brun Campbell "The Ragtime Kid," Charles L. Johnson, Percy Wenrich "The Joplin Kid," Charles Hunter, Louis Chauvin, Scott Hayden, Arthur Marshall, Scott Joplin, Blind Tom, and James Scott to name a few.

Today, there are a few modern day players breathing life back into the art form, as well as countless Ragtime Jazz Festivals like The Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Fest at MSU and The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Jazz Festival in Sedalia, MO. The music of Scott Joplin and his croonies continue to make their creep in and out of pop culture be it movies, commercials and the like.

 If the ghosts of Ragtime past can take any solice at all, it might be in knowing that more than a 100 years later, most musicologists agree on one thing, Scott Joplin is one of the founding fathers of American Music.

All of which leads us to the town of Lansing, MI where a fella named Brian Hefferan lives, works and plys his craft as ukulele player and music history lover!

Brian is something of an anomaly, in an era where everything sounds commercially identical and an American Idol mentality is teaching our kids that they need to look, sound, holler, and pretend to be something other than themselves. Brian Hefferan is a startaling breath of fresh air...not just because he is so firmly roots in the bedrock of Americana, but because he is of that rare breed of musician, who knows how to walk firmly entrenched in past while looking to the future....but the best part is that he and he's one heck of a fine ukulele player, with a unique style all his own combining bluegrass banjo rolls, with

I first met Brian in the mid 90's when Elderly Instruments in Lansing, began selling my first ukulele album: Uketown and featured it in their catalog as a hot platter.  Brian, knew everything one could hope to know about the ukulele and its early strummer's and crooners. He had amassed an impressive collection of 78's, sheet music, mp3s, phonograph records and instruments, and in so doing,  made quite an impression on any aspiring uke geek like me. Later we both showed up at The Midwest's Indy Uke Fest and from that moment on, i have been a Hefferan fan. Brian plays ukulele and sings and his talented and lovely wife Lynn plays a home-made upright bass, together they have revived everything from Sentimental love songs to obscure ragtime instrumentals and even early blues.

To say i am impressed with Brian's devotion to arranging early ragtime for the ukulele is an understatement. He painstakingly spends months working on a single piece of sheet music or early recording and perfects his craft of playing rags on the uke. I don't know of anyone else outside of the late John King who has so much enthusiasm for the old stuff and the best part about it is Brian is more than willing to share what he has learned with friends and fellow enthusiasts where ever he may be. To me, guys like Brian are a national treasure, both preserving our riches and treasures as a nation, as well as building on these respective traditions (See Brian's CD: Raspberry Rag: a collection of rooted original instrumental tunes), (Also check out Brian's CD Music Box Rag: A collection of Rags, Cakewalks & Marches from the dawn of the 20th Century)

While Brian doesn't tour as much as some, he can be found at Midwestern Ukulele Festivals and many events around his home state of Michigan serenading the masses with his authentic love for all things uke!

His website is: http://www.heftone.com/fabulous
His You Tube Channel is: http://www.youtube.com/heftone

Here is an interview i did with Brian in 2011 while i was touring in MI. It will shed some much needed light on his interesting approach to arranging rags on ukulele.


Enjoy!

Fountain of Uke Admin
Lil Rev
lilrev@lilrev.com 


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)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Blessings From The 2012 Winter Tour

Blessings From The 2012 Winter Tour:
Hello folks, after three months of touring, my family and i are just settling back into our home in Milwaukee, WI. Our tour was nothing short of magical as far as i was concerned. We started out in Indiana, then went onto, FL, TX, NM, AZ, CA, OR, WA, and finally finished our tour in Reno, Nevada at The World Famous Nugget Casino, for the Reno Ukulele Festival. Looking back at a vast array of ukulele clubs, house concerts, schools, music stores and festivals where i taught and/or performed, one might be led to ask, "what was your favorite stop or what are some highlights."

Well, to be quite honest, that is a hard question...because, i loved every moment of being on tour, none more, none less, just simply being....that's right, just simple being out on tour does it for me no matter where we are.  i simply love being out on the road. It sets my spirit free. If i have to stay put in one place too long, it never feels quite right to me. I was born to range, roam and  ramble, the wild, wide open spaces, and in doing so, like to think of myself as a Jewish Cowboy and I ain't talking about the blazing saddles kind neither. For most, they can't fathom living out of a van for 3 months at a time, however for me, i can't imagine, being in any one place too long. We live in a great big, beautiful, majestic land and all i can say is God Bless, The Great American Highway System.

While my wife, daughter and i have surely suffered vagaries of the road, over the last couple years, this year's tour ran flawlessly and we put on almost 16,000 miles over three months.I taught dozens of workshops and presented countless concerts as well.

We plan to make this trek again in 2013 before our daughter starts school and we'll need to devise a new plan.  

Fortunately, my wife Carol has been diligently videotaping and photographing as much as she can while we are on the road, and one day when life slows down enough, i aim to really take it all in and won't we have a time, looking back at all those memories that these tours generated for us and those whom we were privileged enough to connect with.

I am grateful to all of the Ukulele Clubs and Festivals that hired me to come and teach and/or perform for them. Words cannot express just how smitten i am with the whole Ukulele Revival.
I have made some real "keepers" for friends and every year, we look forward to  visiting our extended ukulele family in places like: Tampa, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Dallas, L.A. Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Eureka, Portland, Hood River, Bellingham, Anacortes and Seattle to name a few.

My tours would be nothing without all of these folks who take us in, feed us, provide us with a clean, safe place to rest our road weary souls, and best of all...we get to share a certain fellowship that is U-K-U-L-E-L-E. 


The year ahead, will find me writing a new book titled: Fiddle Tunes For Ukulele for my publisher Hal Leonard. I will be co-authoring this book with my old time music buddy, John Nicholson, whom i have been playing music with for over 15 years now.

While i will be mostly gigging in and around WI this summer, i plan to sojourn to TN, CO, NM and MI for various festivals, gigs, and private engagements. Watch my website calendar for more info: www.lilrev.com. Mostly, i will try to stay as close to home as possible and enjoy the WI summer with my family and friends.

Finally, there is the Milwaukee Ukulele Club and Festival (October 20th this year)!
http://mufest.com  that will keep me busy with the ukulele on a community
level here in Milwaukee, until we hit the road again in November for our
fall/East Coast tour.

Ukefully,

Lil Rev