Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Good bye, Margaret

It was several years ago that I made the acquaintance of Margaret Wilton. A spunky senior living out at Lewisville Estates, she was avidly interested in all things musical, and especially passionate about the ukulele. She pestered for me to come out and give her lessons. She pestered me to bring our group out to Lewisville Estates. She pestered me to help her find rides to Dallas Ukulele Headquarters events.

In short, she was a complete joy.

Today, I wish we had gone out to play at Lewisville Estates more. Today, I wish somehow we’d been able to arrange more rides for her to DUH events. Not that it slowed her down at all: She formed her own ukulele club at Lewisville Estates, and also taught people how to play just about any instrument you could think of. She did anything she could think of to be an active, vibrant part of the community.

When she developed health problems and moved to a smaller facility, The Sterling House, she was again instrumental in bringing my band, The Douboys, to perform. And again, she’d developed quite a following.  She was teaching the Executive Director to play Dobro, and his wife to play ukulele. She painted bird feeders. We always looked forward to playing there.

Today, unfortunately, I was unable to see Margaret Wilton. She passed away, peacefully, in her sleep, two days ago. Instead of playing our concert today for Margaret, we played in her honor.

The music was rich, our audience was involved and engaged, and the show was great. Perhaps Margaret was hovering about for one last show, influencing our fingers and our voices. It was a glorious send off.

And today, it doesn’t matter what I wished for: She is gone. But I do have one more wish. I wish every senior I encounter was as spunky and persistent as Margaret. If that wish comes true, the world will be filled with beautiful music.

So long, Margaret. Safe travels. And God help whomever you ask for a ukulele if all they have is a harp.

Here's a link to Margaret performing with DUH at Lewisville Estates: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JU2CVnqG0o

(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bartender send-off

The Douboys, my little duo with Don Aspromonte, was asked to play at  Bolsa Restaurant here in Dallas as part of a going-away party for world-class bartender, Eddie "Lucky" Campbell.

We were honored to be part of the event, and also got mentioned in the write-up on Pegasus News. You can read about it and check out the pictures here:

http://www.pegasusnews.com/news/2011/jun/26/photos-bolsa-eddie-lucky-campbell-bar-main-st-new/#

Perhaps you need some entertainment to honor your own bartenders?

(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm published!

Hi, gang

I am pleased to announce that I am now in print! And it all came about with a concern from one of our Dallas Ukulele Headquarters members.

This member wanted our jam book, but didn't want to download and print it. Typically, when this issue has come up in the past, we have suggested going to the FedEx/Kinko's website. In this case, before giving that advice to our member, we checked out the website for ourselves. Frankly, it was kind of confusing. Not at all simple. I suppose you could easily put it on a thumb drive and walk into FedEx/Kinko's, but that is pretty high tech for some folks!

So, I wondered what was out there and available. And I was very pleased to discover a terrific option for people who want to just purchase a printed version. And now you can, in either hardcover or spiral bound. Please check them out for yourself. Or, better yet, if your group uses the Dallas Ukulele Headquarters Songbook, buy a couple!

Paperback edition:
http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/dallas-ukulele-headquarters-songbook/15983398

Hardcover edition:
http://www.lulu.com/product/hardcover/dallas-ukulele-headquarters-songbook/15983444

But wait: There's more! Years ago, when I was developing as a ukulele player, I started collecting ukulele jokes. Now, back then, the uke wasn't as cool as it is today, but still I have found the jokes useful in any number of performance situations.

I always said I'd eventually publish the joke book, and I was so excited about the jam books that I went ahead and did it.

So, let me present to you, the Mark Twang Ukulele Joke Book!
http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/mark-twangs-ukulele-joke-book/15997336

Let me know what you think!

-Mark "Twang"



(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Murder for Christmas

Christmas this year wasn’t about ukuleles. My raging UAS will have to wait for January for treatment. No new sopranos under the tree this year.


Instead, Christmas this year was about Dell Shannon. I refer to the writer, of course. Not Del Shannon, the performer (Who does play a uke, by the way!). No, this year, the focus was on Dell Shannon and her detective series about Luis Mendoza. I got 5 Dell Shannon novels. They were used, dirty, with torn covers and aged, yellow paper. Beautiful.

Dell Shannon doesn’t actually exist. It’s a pseudonym for Elizabeth Linington, a prolific writer who was the first female author in the Police Procedural genre. I haven’t read her explanation, but I think the heavily male dominated police procedural genre is the reason for the Dell Shannon nom de plume. A male name probably opened doors and brought readers. We are talking 1960 when the first Luis Mendoza novel appeared.

I remember Dell Shannon from used paperback covers in my youth, although I never read her. Somehow, her books never caught my youthful literary attention. Not enough explosions, I guess. I stumbled across her recently in a thrift store when I needed something to read and only had about fifty cents to spend. Once I read the first one, I was hooked. Apparently, at 47 years old, I don’t need as many explosions.

The novels were like a wild time machine. A crazy turning-back-of-the-clock. This was the 60’s from the 60’s. This wasn’t the reminiscing of a new millennium writer, or some recreation like the movie The Sting for 1936. This was the real deal. Luis Mendoza drove a Facel-Vega in the first novel: Have you ever even heard of a Facel-Vega? I never have. But then, I’ve never eaten a 15 cent hamburger, either.

These detectives thought nothing of having a hard alcoholic drink at lunch – Detective Mendoza prefers rye. (I actually got a little airline bottle of rye so I could taste it.) Imagine if a cop today had a bourbon with lunch?

No one in 1960 ever heard of the term “politically correct.” The men were expected to show personal restraint, and be responsible. What happened to personal responsibility?

No cell phones, no computers, no text messaging, no Wi-Fi, no “no smoking” restaurants. If you were out and about and needed to contact someone, you either had to drive over there or find a pay phone. If you wanted to play solitaire, you actually had to have a deck of cards.

It was a fascinating glimpse into a world that no longer existed. I was hooked. The interesting thing is, Dell Shannon books were hard to find. Really hard! I mean, there were enough James Patterson novels to brick over Alex Cross’s house, and you could hardly blink without tripping over a Mary Higgins Clark novel. Man, if Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson ever co-wrote a novel, that would be all she wrote! I looked in thrift stores and Half Price Books locations all over Dallas. Not much! What gives? Oh, the miracle of The Internet had copies of her novels, but somehow that was cheating. I wanted to find them the old-fashioned way: On the shelf!

I actually did some research on how long modern books would last – Maybe the majority of paper used in the early 1960’s just broke down and became dust after a few years? I was amazed at how few books from the 1960s were still in circulation. It used to be that if you wrote a book it was a sort of immortality. But the truth is far different: Dell Shannon was pulling a vanishing act. And it’s a real shame: This is a real glimpse into the world I was born into. This is what the world looked like that formed and shaped me. I guess you could say the world of Luis Mendoza is the world that eventually made me a ukulele player.

No, Luis Mendoza never played the uke, at least not based on the novels I have read so far. And no mention of ukes has been made so far. But I do wonder what the ukulele was like in 1962. I can’t really offer any strong research, but my guess was the uke was sadly beginning a decline. Lots of people still played the uke, but I think it was becoming a road to the guitar rather than a road to…well, more ukulele. There was no Mighty Uke, no resurgence. Every kid got one, and most grew out of it. Everyone had an uncle who made people sing along while he played and made everyone slightly uncomfortable. The uke was still mainstream, but it was Dad’s version of mainstream, and on its way to being a punchline. I’ll have to check with Fred Fallin or Jim Beloff for the history – This is just my guess.

I’m happier playing the ukulele today, and reading novels about the 1960s, then the other way around. But what a cool Christmas present!

(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's a Ukulele Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Dallas Ukulele Headquarters!



This weekend, DUH celebrated our 3rd Annual Christmas Party at the Fuqua Winery. This has become a very popular event amongst the DUH-ites, and one which sells out quickly.


Hmmm – Maybe that’s not the best way to put it: We don’t actually “sell” tickets to DUH events: There’s very rarely any cost. However, we do request reservations. Would it have been better if I’d said the 3rd Annual DUH Christmas Party was “Reserved Out”?


Perhaps it’s the free wine tasting provided by the winery. Perhaps it’s just jamming in a holiday environment. Perhaps it’s the tasty foods being pot-lucked by everyone. Is it the ribbons? Is it the tags? Is it the packages, boxes, or bags?


(Here’s the secret: My wife, Kathy! She makes sure that EVERY DUH event has her personal touch in every detail. But don’t tell: I like getting some of the credit!)


Reservations closed at 27, since the facility has 27 seats. However, we wound up cramming 32 people in there! A crowded, joyful, partying 32 DUH-ites.


People arrived early, and dropped in late. As usual, an amazing miracle took place: No matter how many people came, there was a ton of food for them to eat! And it was delicious: Everything from Spam Sushi to a queso with sausage dip, served with red and green holiday chips. Desserts were everywhere: I think I single-handedly ate most of the sugar cookies with green frosting.


I drank an entire bottle of the Fuqua’s fine Syrah, but the most popular bottle seemed to be delightful chilled champagne. I have to say there is something oddly normal about drinking wine while playing ukulele: It just seems natural and organic. Plus, there’s Dallas Ukulele Headquarter’s second motto: The more you drink, the better we sound.


(And our first motto? Come on, now! Without U, it’s just Kulele!)


My sincerest apologies to Doctor Uke, but we turned one of his Christmas Songs into a Drinking Song. This all started during our Christmas Concert rehearsals, during which wine was drunk. The song in question is Jingle Bell Rock. Here is how the drinking rules work.


1) Star playing Jingle Bell Rock.


2) Play until you hit a C6 chord.


3) Since the C6 chord is open fretted, hold the chord until everyone has used their chord hand to drink from their wineglass.


4) Continue playing until you get to the next C6 chord.


I hope Doctor Uke will forgive us. I do have to acknowledge Mark Taylor, our rehearsal videographer, who perfected the technique. For those who want to play along at home, here’s the music: http://www.doctoruke.com/jinglebellrock.pdf


Our party also featured a Yankee Swap. For those not in the know, the idea behind the Yankee Swap is simple: You are supposed to wrap up a hideous unwanted gift, and put it on a table with everyone else’s hideous, unwanted wrapped gifts. People pick numbers, and then select a gift from the table, or steal a gift someone has already opened.


At our DUH Christmas Party, not all the gifts were duds. In fact, there were actually two ukuleles in the packages of gifts! Well, they were the $7.00 ukes from the Christmas Tree Store, so not easily played, but still they were ukes after all! They were TREASURES to someone! Especially someone who changes out the strings and lowers the action. Diamonds in the rough.


And that’s the fun of it: You’d be amazed at how often some things get stolen! And at this year’s party, I was robbed often! My first item was a bottle of port wine, which I originally stole. The wine, of course, was stolen from me. Then I managed to get a gift bag with a thermos, two little airline bottles of liquor, and two packets of instant coffee – That got nabbed, too! Finally, I thieved a nice, leather covered flask set – Does there seem to be a liquor theme here? Well, I WAS drinking! Anyway, the flask got nabbed, too! Can you imagine?


The wild variety of items in the Yankee Swap included a bright purple handbag with a Playboy logo on the side, complete with two pink pom-poms. There was a pasta maker. There were lottery tickets. There was a bag with a serving tray and a travel diary. There was a Zhu-Zhu Pet. There was a hot chocolate a chocolate collection. Craziness!


I believe a good time was had by all. And when we got home, somehow all the leftover sugar cookies with green frosting made it home with me. Now how did that happen?


But the best news of all is the DUH Annual Christmas Party as economic indicator: I spoke with Winemaker Lee Fuqua after the party – The Fuqua Winery has hosted all three events, and Lee told me he sold more wine at this third event than any other. Drink up, America! Things are looking up!


(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Silent Night, Froggy Night

As they have in years past, Dallas Heritage Village asked Dallas Ukulele Headquarters to participate in their Candlelight Celebration. And as in years past, DUH put the word out for volunteers, and we rehearsed for a month to present our version of Christmas music.

I say “Our Version” – We got our music graciously from the tremendous Dr. Uke site, with the good doctor’s blessings. Now we did tweak it here and there: The good doctor wrote nothing for kazoo, and of course it wouldn’t be a DUH concert without kazoos. And you never really do know what our group will do with chord transitions! All the stuff that worked great, Dr. Uke shares the credit. If it didn’t work, it’s all about DUH.

Our rehearsals were all in a local barbecue joint, Marshall’s Barbecue. The food was good, adult beverages were brought in and shared, and everyone had a good time just rehearsing.

Now, here’s the skivvy on Heritage Village: This is a collection of 100+ year old buildings that were bought by the city and moved to Old City Park to preserve them. They have created a sort of little town, complete with doctor’s office, hotel, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and a church, among many more structures. For the Candlelight Celebration, the whole park is lit by candles in hurricane lamps, and people in period costume walk around. There are wagon rides, kettlecorn, barbecue, and all sorts of entertainment.

We were performing in the church, and we weren’t in period attire. Instead, we had cute embroidered shirts which read: Merry Christmas, Dallas Ukulele Headquarters, DUH-Humbug. Very cute. We were excited and ready.

And perhaps you can guess what happened: The Monday before the performance, I developed a sore throat. Perhaps I should have run to the doctor immediately, but I didn’t. Perhaps I should have stayed home and rested, but I didn’t. Instead, I continued working on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and my throat got continually worse. I could only speak in a whisper. I tried communicating with my wife, Kathy, via text message, but this annoyed her more than opening up a means of talking.

Finally, I stayed home to heal Thursday, but it was too late. I felt better as the day progressed, but not much. Kathy was terrific about fetching me tea, and bringing me comfort foods. My Facebook friends suggested salt water gargle, pickle juice gargle, Vick’s Vapor Rub on my chest, and just a bunch of well wishes.

Friday morning dawned, and I still couldn’t speak. My energy level was low. I decided I wouldn’t be able to sing at all for the concert the following evening.

Now in a way, this wasn’t too bad a crisis. I mean, it’s not like I’m Brittany Spears, and have thousands of people paying hundreds of dollars for them to come see me wiggle my hinny. There are no solo singers in our group: All I REALLY had to be able to do was say, “One Two Ready Go”

I couldn’t say “One Two Ready Go” – The best I could manage was a cracked and evil sounding “ribbit”

So, Saturday morning, as a last measure, I finally went to visit my local Doc-In-The-Box. She confirmed that my throat was inflamed. She even informed me that my ears were inflamed – Who knew? And she suggested the best treatment I could have was really over the counter. She said to get Theraflu.

So, we left. $150 lighter in the pocket for the visit, but with a lead to a $5 medicine recommendation that was doctor recommended. Well, recommended by THIS doctor, anyway.

We had little hope. But we took the Theraflu, and hoped for the best.

And I must say it was amazing. Did I sing? Not a chance! But the throat was tamed down enough that when it came time to perform, I COULD say “One Two Ready Go,” and mutter a few words about the songs we were playing.

And the crowd liked us: How could they not, really? Candlelit turn-of-the-century village, ukuleles, Christmas music. And this one, hoarse, froggy guy at the front announcing songs. I’d say we had the Professor Harold Hill effect working full time for us. And everyone BUT me sounded terrific.

Now, time to dope up on Theraflu before the NEXT concert…

(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

May the uke force be with you!

My wife and I just got finished watching a Star Wars marathon: Not exactly the most productive way to spend a weekend, but we enjoyed our time together. After all, we both grew up with Han Solo, Luke, Leia, and “May the force be with you”!


But being an adult now, something new occurred to me as I watched these massive starships go dashing across the universe, shooting lasers: The economics of Star Wars.

Those ships are massive: I mean, forget the Death Star, just a little fighter ship is pretty darned big. Lots of technical equipment, lots of weaponry. And they have artificial hands waiting to be slapped onto arms when the originals get chopped off. Why is it Star Wars characters seem to keep losing arms?

So, all of that stuff costs money. I am guessing lots of money. A typical fighter plane for the real US Air Force costs what, $500,000-$1,000,000? Maybe more then that? I can’t even imagine how a rebel force in the real world could ever come up with a standing army, let alone an air force. So, how does this band of “rebel fighters” finance all these incredible starships and fighter planes?

In one of the films, a Jedi Knight discovers a whole army of clones was built in secret. How was that paid for? Factories, laboratories, all that stuff. Amazing.

I think I have figured it out. Can you guess what it is? OK, here it goes:

Ukuleles.

See, we run into the very same situation with Dallas Ukulele Headquarters. After all, ukes cost money. Copies cost money. Websites, signs, and everything else costs money.

Now, it’s not exactly going to battle against the Dark Forces of the guitar world: We have no issues like that. So, the Ukulele Starship doesn’t need to be equipped with any weaponry. I suppose just a handful of untuned ukes would be a pretty powerful weapon, if needed. Or a way of clearing the neighborhood of cats.

In fact, sharing ukulele with the world is, in a way, harnessing the positive forces of The Force. People have a sense of creativity, accomplishment, and musical and emotional expression with the ukulele. A force for growth for people of all ages. And a great live entertainment for kids and seniors, even if they just listen. The uke is our lightsaber.

So, back to the money: Back to how we have built a ukulele star fighter.

Well, we haven’t. There isn’t a ukulele spaceship. Just a bunch of people. The shared vision of ukulele brings us together and keeps us together.

And the money? Well, there isn’t any. It’s true that when equipment has been needed, it sort of just appears. Someone always seems to have what we need ready to be donated. This has worked for sound systems, projectors, songbooks – I am very grateful. You might say I’m just using the force.

I guess I really don’t understand how the economics of Star Wars works. I don’t think you can “use the force” to build starships, or “give in to the Dark Side” to raise a droid army. Good thing I’m not a rebel commander. And that ukes are so much less expensive!



(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers. Please see our official website, www.ukulele.meetup.com/84/ for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing. Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me. And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps! And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)