Nov 29, 2009

Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill...


When I lived on the Mississippi gulf coast from 1972 until 1978, I usually spent holidays with my brother Bill, his wife Joan, and their twin sons, Mark and David. Thus, it was normal behavior when I was found at Willy and Joani's, in Pass Christian, Mississippi, on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. We had finished our mid-afternoon turkey dinner and happened to have the radio on in the kitchen, as usual tuned to WWL in New Orleans ("50,000 watts of clear-channel power").

At that time, the afternoon DJ was a fellow named Eric Tracy. He, and sometimes his wife, Linda, did a mixed program of news, music, and talk. One of his specialties was bantering with the public on telephone conversations covering every subject under the sun. On this particular Thanksgiving, Eric had a problem. No one was calling in. He pleaded, "Folks, I really need you to call in. I'm dying on the vine. Call in and talk about anything, read a poem, I don't care." Eric needed help. Willy and I sprang into action.
Eric Tracy in the 1970's

I could recite a poem. As a kid, I often hung around with the Goble boys in Schenectady. One of them had written a lampoon on Thanksgiving poetry. I remembered enough that I could fill in the blanks on a poem.

And Bill and I had often played ukulele and kazoo duets after a few beers with our friends. We covered a lot of bluesy, old timey music -- Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Hard Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah, G-A!), Back Home Again in Indiana, 'Honi Kaua Wikiwiki' - On the Beach at Waikiki, and dozens more. In fact, my brother knew a remarkable body of lyrics to obscure vaudeville favorites, probably because he had studied ukulele under Vic Tyminski, an old vaudeville performer.

Bill tuned his uke; I carefully wrapped my comb with the lightest foil available (cellophane never works for long periods of performance). We called Eric Tracy. He was glad to hear from us. I began by reciting the long-dormant poem,
"Under the tunnel, across the bridge, to Grandmother's flat we rush.
The car knows the road, 'cause often we've goed, through the grey and greasy slush.
Down tha alley, across the street, the tenement now we spy.
Hurrah for the cheer, and the ice-cold beer, and Swanson's Chicken Pie!"
(With all due apologies to Lou Goble.)

Eric loved it, but the best was yet to come. We informed him that "Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill, the World's Most Famous Ukulele and Kazoo Duet" was about to perform. We opened with Way Down Yonder... Eric loved it. We followed with a few more of our best numbers. He loved those. As the top of the hour, Eric said, "Can you guys stay on the line? I need to go to some ads, but I want to talk to you." We stayed on the line.

Eric returned after a few moments. He said he loved our music and asked if we could come in to New Orleans some Saturday and record our repertoire in the WWL studios for him to use on his show as theme, lead-in to breaks, etc. He promised to take us to the Fairgrounds Racetrack as his guests. We agreed and a couple of weeks later did a recording session of a couple hours worth of music - ukulele, kazoo, and voice. And Eric kept his word -- we enjoyed an afternoon at the track as guests of WWL radio. For the next few years, I would hear my own music being played on the Eric Tracy Show as I drove home from work each afternoon.

Eventually, Eric left the New Orleans area. After my brother died, I regretted that I never had kept any recordings of "Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill." I eventually contacted Eric Tracy, who is now a radio personality at San Francisco's KFWB. He had been unable to keep the tapes we had recorded; They were property of the station. He and I agreed that they are probably long gone, especially after the ravages of Katrina. Ahhh, but the memories are wonderful.

Nov 22, 2009

Body Beautiful...

This week, Dan Shady successfully removed the steel outer shell from the rear of my 1932 Plymouth roadster. This is in preparation for restoring the wooden framing that supports the body. By 1932, Walter Chrysler was only producing the open cars - roadsters and phaetons - in the Chrysler Body Works. All closed car production had been contracted to the Briggs Body Company, and they had made the transition to all-steel construction. But my roadster is a great example of how cars had evolved from carriages, with a wooden structure underneath the sheet metal.

I feel fortunate to live close to Dan Shady, who has years of experience in the restoration of these wooden structures. We'll be reusing as much of this car's wood as possible, only replacing those pieces that are dryrotted beyond usefulness. We'll re-glue every joint using modern glues. Ain't it interesting how times and technology change?

Nov 16, 2009

The tale of one old ukulele...

My brother Bill was a wonderful ukulele player. He first got interested in the ukulele during the early 1950's when Arthur Godfrey promoted the instrument on his daily radio show. My recollection is that his first Ukulele was a plastic one that was sold by the Arthur Godfrey folks. Willy learned to play using self-instruction books and eventually got an instructor, a gentleman named Vic Tyminski, who had played the ukulele and sang on the vaudeville stage.

As Bill's playing improved, so did his desire for better instruments. At one time in the mid-fifties he acquired a Vega baritone uke. He bought and sold a few others. But his pride and joy was his Martin tenor ukulele. He special ordered it from Martin in about 1954. He was working at Goldstock's Sporting Goods on lower Broadway at the time and had saved up for months. He played this wonderful instrument until shortly before his death in 1994. Then I became its caretaker.

A few weeks ago I heard that a young man who goes to church with me, John Philip Williams, had played a piece in church on a ukulele (John had played with me and some friends in the Bermudagrass Boys, an impromptu bluegrass band that entertained at a church cookout a couple of years ago). His playing in church got rave reviews. It gave me an idea. I decided that John should be the next caretaker of that treasured 1954 Martin. A couple weeks ago I gave him the instrument. I asked him to play it, enjoy it, and eventually pass it on to someone whom he feels will enjoy and treasure it.

Sunday evening, Mary Ann and I went to a concert of guitar and vocal music put on by John Williams. During the concert, he played the old uke and sang a song dedicated to me and Bill.

I knew I had made the right decision.

Nov 15, 2009

More Weekend Festivities...


Every year for the last 19 years, our home town of Fayetteville has celebrated the second weekend in November as the "Host of Christmas Past." Our downtown merchants go all out to encourage shoppers, but it spreads way beyond that with outdoor food vendors, music, storytelling, a children's playzone at the museum with real snow, Santa Claus, and a wonderful costume competition. I participated as a "Town Crier" walking around the square and welcoming guests as I announced upcoming events. I even bought an old school bell on Ebay to play the role.

Mary Ann helped sponsor the event and took this picture of yours truly as I was preparing to leave...

Nov 11, 2009

Weekend Festivities


This past Saturday we hosted a celebration of Ebabe's Gifts' 1-year anniversary. We had an outdoor concert by Microwave Dave (our good friend Dave Gallaher) and the Nukes (Rick Godfrey on bass and James Irvin on drums) playing in the gazebo. The weather was absolutely perfect! We had a good crowd considering it was a multi-football game weekend. The event was catered by the Gourmet Grillers from Fayetteville.

The parking lot filled up and the crowd spilled over onto the road and our driveway but it never became a problem. Some of our neighbors joined us and a number of Huntsville friends drove up to join the celebration -- Charlie and Brenda Stroud, Monty and Dinah Love, Tex and Theresa Longcor, Richard and Booty Leach, Pat Lewis, Nancy Woodall, and others.

We fed a real crowd, everybody raved about the music, and Mary Ann retained her sanity! The store was busy all day long. If you live nearby, think about us as a source for your favorite Christmas items.