Saturday, September 26, 2009

Herb Ohta Jr in Dallas

What do you do with Herb Ohta, Jr when he comes to Dallas?

Well, you go to his concert and attend his workshops, of course! Noel Tardy of did a great job of arranging for Herb Ohta to come to Dallas.

Click here for Hawaii Music Live!

But that’s not what I meant: I was talking about when he WASN’T doing workshops and concerts. Civic pride. Showing off the town. Making Dallas MEMORABLE, so he’ll come back!

Taking him to see the outside of “old” Cowboy Stadium and “New” Cowboy Stadium? (And what would he do at the stadiums anyway? Stand around outside in the rain and nod?) We discussed trying to make it all the way to The Stockyards in Fort Worth for a taste of the “real” West – We’d have made it, but just barely! Shopping was mentioned: The Galleria and Northpark Mall are well known, although probably nothing particularly exciting to world travelers.

Tip number one if you are entertaining performers: Ask them.

As it turns out, Herb and his promoter, Susie Kagami, had a “hankering” to try some “real down-home Texas barbecue” – They didn’t actually say “hankering” and “real down-home,” but we Texans knew what they meant! We decided to take them to Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, arguably the best barbecue in Dallas. I say “arguably” because EVERYONE has an opinion on this.

Click here for GREAT Dallas Barbecue!

Tip number two if you are entertaining performers: An army travels on their stomachs, and performers on tour are an entertainment army! It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be good.

Sonny’s is a very unique hole-in-the-wall. It’s a simple one room building. You go up to the counter and place your order. When it’s ready, you can sit at a handful l of old-time school room desk/chair combinations. They are open 10 am to 4 pm, unless they run out of food. Corporate lawyers sit next to blue collar construction workers. Or in our case, famous ukulele players.

It wasn’t too crowded, but Kathy and Susie wound up on the other end of the room from Herb and me. This worked out: We were able to talk a little football. Herb is a huge Cowboys fan, and was actually very interested in the new stadium. (Note to self: Try to bring Herb back when he can attend a football game next time.)

We did talk a little about touring, and wound up sharing a few interesting stories. The truth is, Herb and Susie are nice, charming people. They enjoy what they do, and they enjoy meeting the ukulele community and all their fans. I really enjoyed getting to know him, too.

I specifically did not talk about playing the ukulele: I was showing them the city, not trying to score a secret lesson. I also didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about our little club here, Dallas Ukulele Headquarters. OK, that’s not entirely true: Herb actually asked a lot of questions about how the group started. So, yeah, I admit, I talked about our little group.

Tip number three if you are entertaining performers: Get to know them. They are people, and in a strange city. Be yourself, be open, be friendly. Be a friend. They may not become your BEST friend, but they should be a connection.

When we finished lunch, we decided to take them to Hula Hotties. This is a Hawaiian Café opened in a somewhat Bohemian area of Dallas. I wrote a recent blog about Dallas Ukulele Headquarters performing there, and we are going back for another jam there in October. I had one reason in particular to go there: To see the look on owner Roger Simpsons face when I introduced him to Herb.

Click here for Hula Hotties in Dallas!

I didn’t mind bringing Herb into an area where he’d have to be a little bit “on stage” – Yes, this was his “down time,” but I wasn’t putting him in an uncomfortable situation. The big plus here was relationships: Roger was a part of the Dallas ukulele scene, a local business owner, and a supporter of Dallas Ukulele Headquarters. This was a little bit of meet-n-greet.

We were not disappointed. When I introduced Herb, Roger’s eyes grew wide as saucers, and he called out, “Jill! Jill! Get out here!” as his wife ran from the kitchen.

Roger was very excited, and talked about his home in Hawaii and different performers he knew. The restaurant was very Hawaiian, and a very comfortable place to kick back and relax. Of course, when you can have the great Hula Hotties baked goods and fine Kona coffee, how could you not be relaxed? Herb signed Roger’s uke, and a good time was had by all.

Tip number four if you are entertaining performers: Share your time with your entertainer with people who support your group. As long as it’s OK with your guest, this is a chance to build some bridges.

Our last spot was the Kennedy Assassination Site. OK, it’s a little dark, but EVERYONE who comes to Dallas wonders about it. On any day of the year, when you drive buy you will see groups of tourists pointing at the School Book Depository, the Grassy Knoll, or each other. It’s iconic. Heck, I didn’t even know what a “knoll” was except for the assassination stories.

We walked around a little bit, and the rainy weather let up for exactly the amount of time we were out of the vehicle. Susie and Herb pointed, got a souvenir map, checked for used shotgun cartridges in the grass, and we left. OK, it wasn’t a long stop, but it WAS what Dallas is KNOWN for.

Tip number five if you are entertaining performers: Show the local sights. When Herb and Suzie got to San Antonio, they did not miss The Riverwalk or The Alamo. It’s just that in Dallas, we have no catchy phrase like, “Remember The School Book Depository.”

The key thing I can tell you from this experience: Herb Ohta Jr is a very real person, and a great guy to know. In a way, this blog topic bothers me because I think of him as a friend now, not a “touring performer.” It feels a little awkward and uncomfortable writing about him this way, with little tips. He’s a buddy who I would gladly have over. This was a terrific experience. And I guess that’s as it should be. If you come away from your experience entertaining the out-of-town talent still thinking of your guest as “out of town talent,” perhaps you shouldn’t invite them back. Herb Ohta Jr? He’s welcome anytime.

Please see our official website,  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, September 14, 2009


Dallas Ukulele Headquarters now has their name out there in enough places that we get calls for performances pretty regularly. Many of these come from shrewd activities directors who are looking for entertainment for their senior residents.

1) Some find us on our main site: Dallas Ukulele Headquarters Home Page

2) Some find us in senior publications, like The Senior Source: The Senior Source

3) We even have one who found us by searching YouTube: Yankee Doodle Dandy

The important thing is that we have phone numbers and emails out there in various places. And our Internet presence is strong enough that if you enter "Dallas" and "Ukulele" in a search engine...There was no Google when Dallas Ukulele Headquarters started, but it's a convenient name, isn't it?

"There was no Google when Dallas Ukulele Headquarters Started"
(Here's a trivia question for you: Who came up with the name Dallas Ukulele Headquarters?)

Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is committed to bringing the ukulele experience to the community, but we are also sensitive to the fact that our members also donate their time and energy to the program. Balancing the needs of our members and the needs of the community requires some investigation:

1) Some facilities are extremely well funded, and I always ask if they have a budget. It's not offensive, and usually doesn't impact our ability to perform a concert. However, a facility that is well funded can usually provide a small per diem, which is a great help to participating musicians. This can offset gas costs, music printing, and other costs associated with just heading out to perform.

2) Is a meal served? Sometimes, a facility without budget does have the ability to provide food and refreshments to the musicians.

3) What sort of performance are you anticipating? Usually, facilities are thrilled if we come in, set up our music stands, and play right out of the book. There's a lower level of showmanship here, but also the ability for a lot more musicians to participate. It's much easier for me to get a performance group together if I am pulling from 160 musicians, then if a more specific kind of concert is anticipated. If soloists and a higher level of play is requested, I have a much smaller pool of musicians to pull from! I also have to make sure we have microphones and amplifier equipment.

4) How big an audience should we anticipate? If it's 5-10 people, one musician can easily sit down with them in a circle and put on a very nice, simple show. If there arre 50 people, I want to make sure all my musicians can be heard, and what kind of staging area is available.

This is a little bit of pulling-back-the-curtain, but it doesn't mean "No pay, no play" -- On the contrary, I know we can go into a facility and make an audience feel special. I need to make sure my members feel special, too. We have traveled fairly significant miles outside of Dallas to do a performance just because the facility WAS underfunded, and the people we were performing for had very little in the way of entertainment available.

Of course, there's always the After Party. We usually do something like this regardless of the performance, but it's always fun to go grab a bite to eat and perhaps imbibe after strumming. Nobody is particularly worried about per diem or audience size after the show. Usually, everyone feels good about performing, and we can swap stories about a blown chord or missed cue during the show. All the preparation and organization in the world comes down to this: We perform in the moment. And the After Party is a chance to relive that moment together.

Friday, August 28, 2009


My early posts to YouTube were just filmed using the built-in camera on my laptop. Nothing at all special. No editing. No enhancements. They barely had titles. And yet, my recording of "If My Nose Was Running Money" now has 801 views as of this writing. Hardly viral, but a pretty simple little piece. I know a few people who used it to learn the song -- But I think I just looked incredibly silly...

As I gave more thought to the potential of YouTube and the ukulele, I felt there were were two main purposes I could use the website for better then just trying to perform in front of a stationary camera:

1) Documenting events
2) Teaching beginner ukulele

To document, I mixed audio recording, still pictures, and limited video off my digital camera. The results were kinda fun, and were able (I hope) to capture the feelings of the event. The key, for me, was being able to use very talented artists who were attending and performing at the events. For Uke of the Irish, I was very fortunate to record some very good audio.

For teaching newcomers, my editing skill is an ongoing work in progress! But I have been able to put up a few tunes specifically to support our beginner workshops. Here are three, the simplest of them first...

And now we come to the big production number. Or should I say, Big Production Number! I think for many this is the fun of You Tube: To get on their and do something fun, silly, and entertaining to just about everyone who watches it.

Our Dallas Ukulele Headquarters video for Yankee Doodle Dandy is a case in point. My original concept was just to use the sheer mass of ukulele players I had at this party to show an ever increasing group. That might have been a pretty nice little video right there. however, the grand finale of the little two minute video was completely unexpected. I didn't know I'd have it available when the party began, and it was perfect because I think none of the viewers out there expect it either! Here's the video:

We were going to attempt to do a video for Chicken Dance yesterday, but we didn't have time. At the Brats, Beer and Beginner's Workshop, there was a lot of interest in our new projection system, and in fact we were going to use it as a giant teleprompter for the video. But when it came right down to it, our main purpose in gathering was to play, and that's what we did. And ate. The German food was wonderful. And drank.

Sweetie, Can you pour me a little more wine?

To finish out this blog, I received an interesting call from a local Senior Living Center, and they found us on YouTube. I haven't really thought about the full uses of this medium for Outreach to performance venues and to reach out to new members -- I've put the website in many of these videos, perhaps with the idea that new players would flock to us. But I've never had a venue find us this way.

Do you think the video that inspired the call was "If My Nose Was Running Money"?

(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, 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!)

Technology, Part Deux

Thursday night was the big night at Hula Hotties. It was our first visit to the tiny Hawaiian cafe and bakery, it was sold out, and it was also the debut of our big new concept: Using a projector for new music.

So, how did it go?

First of all, the venue is fantastic. The Hawaiian decor made the ukulele a very natural addition. Roger and Jill really opened the doors wide for us, and we stuffed more people in their then I could have imagined.

The Sound System Is Key To Any Open Mic Performance

Roger went all out setting up a sound system for us to use for open mic, and it really did a great job of making people heard. For those participating in the open mic, it was a very easy performance. Any mistakes made were solely the fault of the performer: No sound system snafus!

Food Is A Key Ingredient To A Jam Session Recipe: People Like To Eat!

Hula Hotties have a great menu, but more importantly it's different from the usual fare. Yes, you could get a burger, but it's not just a bacon cheeseburger and fries. No, your tastebuds were challenged by more tropical fare with extremely cool touches like little flowers in the salads. Great food!

And Finally: The Projector...

There were a few technical issues to work out. For this reason, I actually had only planned two songs using the projector tonight. And unfortunately, it almost didn't happen!

We had the equipment, but couldn't get the projector to speak to the computer. Fortunately, I had the extremely capable help of one of the group's strongest behind-the-scenes guys, Richard Muir, who came to the rescue. He got involved quickly, and wasn't going to give up until the thing worked!

Our hero, Richard Muir!

Plan B: Play the uke

So, while Richard worked with the equipment, I swithced to plan B. We hauled out the OLD technology, the songbo9oks, and we jammmed. Now this was really more about Open Mic, so we weren't jamming for hours, but people were there for a reason. Either to listen or to play. And just waiting wasn't accomplishing either of those things.

And people like playing. We were able to do some really fun things like having Roger accompany us on the saxaphone, and it keeps people engaged. For some, this is the only time they can squeeze in practice, so it's important to take advantage of the time available. Heck, I even got my wife, Kathy, up to sing with me.


Time marched on, and Richard kept armwrestling with the projector. The show must go on, as they say, and I had people signed up for open mic, so we moved on to The Main Event.

One of the highlights was getting to hear Roger play a few tunes. he's a songwriter as well as a musician, and can bear heard on Friday and Saturday nights at Hula Hotties. So, the set up was his home turf. We got to hear not just his ukulele play and melodic voice, but also the mixed in back up he had. Very professional sounding.

Now, I'm not saying that our own group wasn't professional sounding! But no one else had the back-up that Roger had. Instead, our own people, myself, Noel Tardy, Tim Hatcher, Katsu Nakayama, and Don Aspromonte did some new things. This is always a lot of fun, and as each person performed I found myself wishing I had the chart so I could learn the songs myself. For Don's songs, specifically focused on our beginner players, we will!

On a side note, I tried to video and tape each performer. If they came out well, it could be a nice gift back to the performer. Unfortunately, my little Zoom recorder sounded great on Roger, but didn't pick up anyone else well. And the video was a bit dark. Oh, well! Learning to get a good live recording is trial and error.

And finally: PROJECTOR!

Richard was successful at getting the projector going! And it did, in fact, prove to be a huge aid for people learning new music. It got everyone's eyes out of the sheet music, and got everyone focused on the same spot. I suggest a lot of white space, and very little in the way of backgrounds when using this technique. I put in a few small graphics, largely to differentiate when the screen changes.

We tried a beginner's song, a version of "Mama Don't Allow" with lots of simple three chord songs thrown in like "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Froggie Went a Courtin'" -- The idea is to demonstrate how many songs can be played with just a handful of chords.

We also did a much more difficult song: Optimistic Voices from Wizard of Oz. This was a little more difficult to get through but not because of the projector technique: Just because of the more complex music.

So, What Did We Learn?

It was definitely worth the wait to try out the projector. I highly recommend it to any group. I'd say the two biggest immediate changes will be:

  • Throw in a page before we start playing that has just the chord charts. This is much more important for a complex song then a simple one, but it gives everyone a chance to see if they have the chord knowledge necessary before playing in rythm and singing.

  • Throw in an "end" page to signify the song is over instead of letting the powerpoint just go dark. It just looks better!

So, what do you think? Love to hear your thoughts and ideas! Especially before our next event:

(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, 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, August 23, 2009


We are sold out for the Hula Hotties event on August 27th.

I know what you are thinking: Sold out? Wait a minute: How can you be sold out? You don't charge for these events, do you?

No, we don't charge for these events. Everyone is welcome. We encourage members to support our host establishments, but any donations are completely voluntary.

The thing is, Hula Hotties has 25 seats, and we have 25 reservations: Thus SOLD OUT!

So, what is it about Hula Hotties that has so captivated our members?

1) Hawaii -- Mostly we play Tin Pan Ally music, but Hawaii is an indelible part of ukulele music. And to have a Hawaiian Cafe open in Dallas is pretty much irrisistable. Isn't it?

2) Schedule -- Usually, our group gathers on Saturdays or Mondays. For this event, because of the restaurant's scheduling, Thursday was the date. You wouldn't think Thursday was such a hot outing night, but then we have some members who are stretched to attend our regular times. They may have flocked to this quickly, just because the day of the week is better. I think there's a scheduling lesson to be learned here.

3) Open Mic -- Not every jam session has an open microphone. We have a mix of performers, some who flock to center stage, and some who are shy. But for those who like to lead, the Open Microphone is not to be ignored. Meanwhile, we also have members who have less interest in playing and more interest in listening. For those, the more-polished songs of the Open Mic are good fun. We purposely don't make every jam have an Open Mic segment: We want it to be special, and for Hula Hotties that appears to be a contributing factor.

4)Food -- Oddly, although the focus of the group is ukulele play, the more varied the restaurant menu, the bigger the turnout. We actually have a Thai place scheduled in the near future. But the allure of Hawaiian food, just because it's different and new, undoubtedly plays a part. We have learned through trial and error that moving to different restaurants is very good for attendance. In the past, when we have settled on one particular venue for awhile, the attendance dwindles. It also means we have a wide rotation: We don't repeat a restaurant more then once every 6 months. We are fortunate to be in an area that has the highest number of restaurants per capita in the country!

5) Momentum -- I don't know how much this plays a factor, but we just finished a huge house concert with Bayless and Bernson ( ) -- The popularity of the concert may have spurned additional interest in this event. We also have Herb Ohta, Jr. coming in September -- ( ) -- This may have helped with Hula Hotties, too. Ride the wave. Gain enthusiasm. An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

Love to hear your thoughts on this phenomenon, too. Here's a link to the event so you can check it out -- Just don't plan on attending! (Although you can still be placed on the waiting list!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Technology and beginners....

Starting with our Hula Hotties jam on the 27th, we will begin testing some new technology.

Big special thank you to Mark "Spanky" Gutierrez and Kathy Levine for the great idea of using the computer projector for new music, and to Don Aspromonte for helping move the idea forward by bringing th projector and helping with the music...

What Mark does is use a computer projector to blow up music onto a wall where everyone can see it. This does a couple great things:

1) Everyone is looking up, where an audience would be, instead of buried in sheet music.
2) It cuts down on printing costs.
3) It saves all that hand out time -- "I need page two! I have two page ones!"

It amazes me how technology has changed with the ukulele. When I started playing, there wasn't much out there regarding chords, music, etc. Now, the technology allows key changing on the fly, huge collections of music, tips, chord bulding, printing software that doesn't have to be arm wrestled into a Word or Excel document, and recording equipment that is both inexpensive and fast. It's all been fabulous for the resurgence of the ukulele.

When I started, the only site out there, for the most part, was Now, there's a world of them -- There are now sites that just list other sites!

The uke is a very simple, basic instrument. I think the amazing fancy technology today is in part responsible for the resurgence and popularity of this little gem.

For me, I am happy to take advantage of everything I can to allow more people to enjoy the uke!

Not exactly viral, but....

The Dallas Ukulele Headquarters video from the 4th of July has now been viewed 500 times....

Give 'em The Finger!

One of the great things I have always noticed about the ukulele is the 1st position C chord: It’s made with one finger.

Now, the C chord is somewhat significant because of it’s simplicity and center in the music world. In truth, I suppose, it could be any other one finger chord: Am, Cm, and others.

In truth, “music” could be said to center almost anywhere. However, when you look at a piano, what note is in the center? The C. I rest my case.

Plus, when talking to beginners, it’s much better then saying something weird like “Except for jazz players from Chicago, who prefer 9th chords with a G root”. You want a strong, simple front for teaching.

I go about as overboard as I can when I talk about it: I want learning a handful of chords to be a watershed moment. I want it to be a door opening in someone’s life. I want people to feel phenomenal about learning the C chord.

After all, the ukulele changed my life. It gave me identity and focus and purpose. It gave me a mission and a theme. It colored my life. Hard not to get passionate about that when sharing with others.

And apparently, passion works. Passion teaches. Passion conveys meaning: Dallas Ukulele Headquarters has more people attending our beginner workshops then our regular jam sessions.

Glad to have them. Welcome aboard.

That’s the first thing I teach, and the first thing I share.