Renowned music publisher and uke collector Jim Beloff (above, with Tiny Tim) puts the spotlight on one of his prized instruments…
SOON after finding a Martin tenor ukulele at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, California in 1991, I was struck with ukulele acquisition syndrome or UAS. I don’t believe this particular disorder had a name in those early pre-Third Wave days but, nonetheless, I had it bad.
Suddenly, my heart would race if I happened to come upon any vintage uke or uke ephemera. In fact, anything seen from a distance that looked uke-ish at a flea market was likely to send me sprinting, even if it turned out to be a salad bowl or wall barometer. I was literally seeing ukuleles everywhere, even where they weren’t.
By 1993, my wife Liz and I had published our first Jumpin’ Jim’s ukulele songbook and my collection of vintage ukes was growing. In addition to area flea markets, Liz and I began to frequent antique malls as well.
It was at the Santa Monica Antique Market that we walked by a glass case with a weird-looking Martin soprano in it. At first, it was hard to make sense of the paint on it, but when I read the description, I began to get excited. The story was that the dealer, Wes Parker, a former Los Angeles Dodger, was given the uke in 1970 by Tiny Tim after a game and in exchange for a baseball bat (Tiny was a huge baseball fan, especially of the Dodgers).
The uke had splotches of paint on the soundboard, the words ‘Miss Vicki’ finger-painted on the sides and a koala bear sticker on the bottom. The price was US$295, which was less than a vintage Martin soprano without a celebrity connection. I had to buy it, but realised I wouldn’t be absolutely convinced of the provenance until Tiny Tim himself confirmed the story.
Later in 1993, I learnt that Tiny would be performing in a small Los Angeles club. Here was my chance to know with certainty that the uke had belonged to him. After the show, he stayed to greet fans and sign merchandise. When my turn came, I pulled the uke from its case and recounted the story. He looked the uke over and said the story was just as I said. Then he signed it.
By the way, it sounds great.
Jim’s excellent new book, UKEtopia! Adventures in the Ukulele World, is available now at Flea Market Music: fleamarketmusic.com