Tag Archives: history

Always be yourself, unless you can be an ukulele player

The ukulele is one of the most famous and accessible string instruments of our time. From the moment it was brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants to the present day, this cute guitar has the power to make anybody smile. Today we are celebrating this with International Play Your Ukulele Day.

When Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias moored their ship the SS Ravenscrag on the Hawaiian coast in 1879 to cut down some sugar cane, no one could have imagined that this trio would change Western pop music forever.

The Jumping Flea

The local population welcomed the three guys with open arms. In turn, to thank the locals for their warm welcome, the woodworkers from Madeira gave away one of their homemade instruments. This small guitar inspired by the Portuguese cavaquinho is what is now better known as the ukulele.

Queen Kalakaua was captivated by the instrument. The cheerful sound and easy handling of the cute guitar made the ukulele very attractive to the queen. That was why she regularly played it during meetings in her palace.

Because of this love for the ukulele the instrument became a hit on Hawaii. The name ukulele refers to its cheerful sounds which, according to Kalakaua, resembles a jumping flea: a ukulele.

America under the spell of the ukulele

The “jumping flea” crosses over to America some thirty-six years after its arrival in Hawaii. The Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco marks the breakthrough of the small guitar in the United States. The first ukulele-hype lasts about five years from the exhibition in 1915.

During that period the instrument was often used by the composers of Tin Pan Alley–the place in New York where hundreds of musicians wrote pop music on a daily basis. Around 1920, the small guitar disappeared from the mainstream for a while but re-entered the scene again after the Second World War with Arthur Godfrey’s television programme.

For fifteen minutes, every week, Godfrey uses the television medium to teach his audience how to play the ukulele. As the television itself becomes more and more an accessible device after the war, the popularity of the small guitar is suddenly increasing again as well: the second ukulele-hype is a fact. The plastic version of the guitar, available through TV-pal, saw more than nine million copies of the instrument sold.

The United Kingdom jams along

The jumping flea not only jumps happily around in the United States. Certainly not.  When the British discovered the instrument, a true ukulele fever occurred in 1930. One of the most famous ukulele players of that time was the comedian George Formby.

Formby uses the instrument to accompany his songs during shows. One such song that is still seen as an ukulele classic is When I’m Cleaning Windows. It is the gateway song that encourages the general British public to buy a ukulele.

After the sixties the little guitar disappears back to the underground again and stays there until crazy hipster Tiny Tim scores the hit Tiptoe Through the Tulips. This gave the ukulele an eccentric stamp and it remained a popular instrument for artists outside the mainstream ever since.

Playing the ukulele

Playing the ukulele is not as difficult to master in comparison to a guitar. Moreover, the instrument is not as expensive as a guitar. The small size makes it easy to bring along on a trip with you, or to friends. That said, it is important to know how to tame the jumping flea, or in other words: there are two accepted tunings for the four strings.

The first one is in the key of D. The strings are tuned in A, D, Fis and B starting from the lowest and working your way up to the highest. The second tuning is in the key of C. Again we work our way from the lower strings up. This means that your strings are tuned in G, C, E and A. Keep in mind that the 4th string (the string closest to your chest when in playing position) is actually the second-highest sounding string, as opposed to a guitar’s sixth string that produces the lowest note on a guitar.

An ukulele also includes a variety of accessories that help you make playing even easier. Such as, for example, a tuning device, a sleeve, and a stand. Very similar to what you basically need for a guitar.

Play Your Ukelele Day

During the international Play Your Ukulele Day, we’ll do a shout out to everyone to pick up the little guitar and enjoy jamming along with hits as Somewhere over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, or Rise by Eddie Vedder.

And there are a few more tracks that you can use to steal the show today, that’s why we’ll list them below. But not before we’ve provided you with three cool trivia about the ukulele that you can tell your audience between the songs.

Did you know that Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison had a pile of ukuleles in his trunk for years. Just to hand out and jam with random people? Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder even recorded an entire album with the jumping flea! And one of the most famous pop stars of the moment is a very talented ukulele player.. Yes, we are talking about Taylor Swift.

Three tracks to steal the show on your ukulele

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole with the medley Over The Rainbow’ & ‘What A Wonderful World may seem like a challenge, but if you don’t try it, you won’t know if it works for you. With this medley you really have a twofer! Maybe you are in a more melancholic mood? Then play along with Eddie Vedder’s Rise. This song is of the soundtrack of the motion picture Into the Wild.

If you want to honour the classics, then squeeze your throat and do your best imitation of cult hero Tiny Tim. Tiptoe through the Tulips is for the real ukulele connoisseur. For more inspiration check out our ukelele channel. Enjoy and happy jamming!

Historical album of the month – Tokyo Tapes from Scorpions

Tokyo Tapes is the first live album of the German band Scorpions. This album, recorded in April 1978, is the official recognition of the rockers as a force to be reckoned with in the hard rock universe. Behind the recordings lies a moving story of five boys from Hanover who see their dreams come true.

Anyone who does their best can achieve anything. With this motto in mind, guitarist Rudolf Schenker founded the band Nameless in 1965. This is the very beginning of what later will become one of the most successful hard rock bands in the world. The international acceptance to the hard rock family takes place thirteen years later in Nakano Sun Plaza, Tokyo.

Scorpions

In 1966 Schenker dreams of conquering the world with his music. In addition to a good sound, this also requires a short, concise and catchy name. Something universal that conveys the hard rock message: Scorpions. Although the guitarist is already a rockstar in his head, Schenker must first make sure that his own city Hanover knows his band.

He works hard and manages to organize performances in venues. First in Hanover and later throughout Germany. Since Scorpions is one of the first bands on German soil to play American rock ‘n roll and hard rock, the act conquers their native club circuit in a few years’ time. After that the rockers head off to Europe.

Hardrock Made in Germany

German rock fans finally have an act they can be proud of. The sound of Scorpions doesn’t detract from the big bands of those days, like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rainbow. It’s downright hard rock Made in Germany.

Despite the band’s success in Europe, they have to work harder and harder to gain international fame. Their record company RCA publishes their records in minimum quantities. Schenker calls the label time after time to ask if his band’s albums can appear on the record shelves in cities where Scorpions are playing.

Big in Japan

Despite the limited distribution of the band’s albums, fans in Japan are able to get their hands on the first five records. Scorpions thus acquires a fixed fan base in the land of the rising sun. The rockers from Hanover find out how big this fan club actually is when they receive the invitation to play in Tokyo.

The idea of a live album gradually emerges when the men realize that a boy’s dream might really come true. “People sometimes say ‘Big in Japan’. That’s really the dream of course,” says singer Klaus Meine in a documentary about the album.

Boy’s dream

In the spring of 1978 the dream comes true and singer Klaus Meine, guitarist Rudolf Schenker, drummer Herman Rarebell, bassist Francis Buchholz and solo player Uli Jon Roth fly to Tokyo. This is the first time that singer Meine has ever boarded a plane. For Roth, the tour to Tokyo is the last time he plays with the band – except for later reunion concerts of course.

Little do they know that this trip to Japan will result in a double album that will take the band to a whole new level. Even though the rockers taste the first hint of stardom when they land in Tokyo. In the middle of the night, the rockers are greeted by a limousine that takes them to the hotel. At the airport thousands of fans are waiting to welcome the Germans as heroes.

Tokyo Tapes

The Tokyo Tapes LP is a compilation of two of the three concerts that Scorpions play in a sold-out Nakano Sun Plaza. “It was one of the most bizarre experiences ever. Before the first performance it was all so quiet. I asked the promotor if the venue was really sold out,” recalls Schenker.

“He took me with him and let me take a look from behind the scenes. The plaza was completely full and everyone waited in silence for us to come up.” When the band rushes to the stage the show breaks loose and everyone goes completely wild.

For reasons of safety, the public should not be standing during the performance. A few months before the Scorpions’ show, six people were crushed to death during a Rainbow concert and the authorities therefore forbid dancing and jumping during events of this kind. “During our show no one could stop the crowd.”

Kojo No Tsuki

During the soundcheck just before the first performance in the Nakano Sun Plaza, singer Meine whispers a melody in the ear of guitarist Roth. It is the Japanese song “Kojo No Tsuki”. Immediately Roth picks up the vibe and on the spot the band jams a perfect Scorpions version of the track. Later that evening the song is a hit.

“It all sounds like I’m fluent in Japanese, but I had quite a bit of trouble getting the intonation and pronunciation right,” says Meine in an interview. “I did get a tape with the song from the Japanese fan club, but we were touring and I didn’t have time to learn it by heart.”

When he confesses to his wife that he intends to read the text of a piece of paper on stage, she forces Meine to go through the song with her on a daily basis during cooking. “Through these kitchen sessions you can still wake me up in the middle of the night and I know the lyrics word for word.”

World Domination

The release of Tokyo Tapes in January 1979 on the USA market signals the international recognition of Scorpions. The double LP sounds so awesome, that America almost feels passed by the German rockers. “We were included in the international hard rock family in a heartbeat. Tokyo Tapes is the end of a chapter and the beginning of our global success,” says Rudolf Schenker.

Uli Jon Roth leaves the band after the adventure in Tokyo. No quarrels, no hard feelings, just the need to do other things. Matthias Jabs succeeds him. “Klaus had persuaded me to go to Tokyo,” says Roth. “I didn’t want to, but because we are such good friends, I did it. My only regret is that I didn’t do the USA tour before quitting the band. But you can’t have it all. Everything happens for one reason right.”