• Review: Pumpkin Spice & Parody by Scott Mead

    I can honestly say this is the first pumpkin-themed ukulele album I’ve ever reviewed. In fact, it’s the first pumpkin-themed ukulele album I’ve ever heard.

    California-based musician Scott Mead has focused on the fruit instead of ghosts and ghouls to celebrate Halloween and it’s just a lot of fun.

    The 10-track album starts with a solid original called It’s Beginning To Smell A Lot Like Pumpkin, but it’s in the parodies that Mead’s skill and sense of humour is most evident.

    Pumpkin Spice uses the John Mellencamp classic Hurts So Good as a base to lampoon the popularity of the seasonal seasoning and we’re left in no doubt as to Mead’s opinion of it: Pumpkin spice in my beer/tastes like a jack-o’-lantern’s ear. Paul Simon gets the Mead treatment with 50 Ways To Carve A Pumpkin and Eww, a send-up of Spandau Ballet’s True, is as silly as it sounds.

    Clever lyrics aside, Pumpkin Spice & Parody is extremely well produced. With nothing more than ukes, U-Bass, drums, percussion and voice, Mead has created an impressive sounsdcape.

    It’s not surprising that the artist lists “Weird Al” Yankovic and Dr. Demento as inspirations and I’m sure both of those gentlemen would get a kick out of this album. I certainly did.

    You can find Pumpkin Spice & Parody here: https://linktr.ee/gscottmead

  • Uke-In-Focus: Dead Mans Uke

    BASED in the UK, excellent father-and-son duo Dead Mans Uke – aka Tim and Jake Smithies – have a secret weapon in their musical arsenal: Tiny Tim’s Beltona resonator! We chat with Tim about the famous instrument and his connection with it.

    Whose idea was it to name your band after the ukulele?

    The name came from Jake. We were at a gig and I was talking between songs (like I often do!) and Jake said to me, “Why don’t you shut up and play the dead man’s uke?” We decided there and then it would be a cool name.

    Tell us a bit about the band…

    Dead Mans Uke are a two-man band playing old blues tunes, hokum, dirt swing and anything else we fancy on a double bass and resonator ukulele. We play shows in music venues, theatres, bars, festivals and much crazier places, from factories to boats, even a bay window in someone’s front room.

    How and when did you acquire the uke?

    I got the instrument around 2004, I think – I bought it online from a lovely guy in the US who was selling a lot of Tiny Tim things that he’d got direct from the family. I also have some of Tiny’s handwritten notebooks with old songs in them from when he used to go to the library to research old tunes.

    Amazing! How does it feel to own a piece of uke history?

    I love the fact instruments have a life of their own; they aren’t made to be kept in cupboards. Although this is a famous uke, it’s out there playing shows, too. I keep coming across stories of when people met Tiny and the uke and it’s fascinating to put all the pieces together. Whether it’s stories from the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain (Peter Brooke-Turner lent Tiny a uke of the same model, which is how he discovered Beltona) or the nice email we had from the lady who rescued the uke at the fateful gig where Tiny collapsed and took it to his hospital room. It’s just hanging out with us for a while is how I see it.

    What’s your opinion of Tiny Tim?

    I love him. He was an encyclopaedia of those Tin Pan Alley tunes and a true eccentric. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be as eccentric as him…

    Did either of you ever meet Tiny?

    No. Mel, our harmonica player, did. He was a compere at a club in Sheffield where Tiny was playing for a week and he worked with him. Says he was fun but also knew exactly what he was doing with his act.

    How does the uke sound?

    It’s got a great tone. It was made by Steve Evans of Beltona Resonator Instruments and has a low action and a bit of grunt for the bluesy stuff. The cone I have in it at the moment is by Delta Resonator Cones and I string it with Aquilas and let rip! 

    How do people react when you tell them it was Tiny’s uke?

    It’s interesting. Some people come and chat and tell stories. A lot of people know him from Tiptoe Through The Tulips being featured in recent movies.

    If you could meet Tiny, what would you say to him?

    I’d love to talk to him about the old singers he admired…plus that first album of his – it’s crazy!

    Get to know the lads at deadmansuke.com

  • Ukulele Stories: Lucy LaForge

    Cool, kind and talented – that’s how I’d describe Lucy LaForge.

    The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has made waves in the music industry with her indie band project Lucy & La Mer. She’s been featured in the LA Times and HuffPost and has performed at LA Fashion Week, as well as for the Mayor of LA. She’s also worked with major uke brands Kala and Fender.

    Away from music, Lucy is known for her mental health and LGBTQ+ advocacy and she presented a powerful TEDx talk in 2022 on the limits of binary thinking and how self-awareness can free us from the boxes we form around our identity. You can watch the talk below.

    It was lovely to chat with Lucy, so please have a listen!



  • Pro Tip: Perfect Practice by Daniel Ho

    WHETHER you’re strumming along to your favourite ABBA songs at the weekly kanikapila (jam session) or sitting at home working out a Bach Invention, good ukulele technique will increase your enjoyment, minimise frustration and prevent repetitive stress injuries. There is no right or wrong when it comes to technique. Hands and ukes come in different sizes and shapes, so the best gauge is if it feels comfortable to you. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

    Holding the ukulele

    Try to hold the ukulele in such a way that your hands are completely free to play the instrument. 

    The classical playing position supports the ukulele best when sitting. The ukulele is placed between the legs with the waist of the instrument resting on the left leg. Four points of contact – the right leg, left leg, chest and right forearm. Keep the instrument stable and allow the left hand to move freely around the neck.

    When standing, I always use a strap. This relieves your hands of the responsibility to hold up the instrument. Bach Inventions are even harder to play when you’re squeezing the body of the ukulele between your right forearm and chest and cradling the neck in your left hand!

    Left-hand Technique

    Use the tips of your fingers to depress the strings. The fingernails on your left hand should be as short as possible, preferably no longer than your fingertips.

    Unless you are barring a chord, make sure your fingers are always curved. They have more strength and leverage this way.

    Keep your fingers as close to the fretboard as possible. Pay careful attention to your pinky, as it is difficult to control.

    To minimise excessive wrist movement, keep your fingers generally parallel to the frets. An exception to this rule would be a G7 chord, which is more comfortable to play by slightly angling your fingers.

    Your thumb should press against the back of the neck, not to the side or over the top. It should function as a counter-pressure to your fingers playing the strings.

    The neck should not be sitting in your left hand between your thumb and index fingers. This limits your fingers’ access to the fretboard, particularly the first string (‘A’ string). 

    Right-hand Technique


    Classical-guitar technique is ideal for the ukulele because it uses the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers to pluck the strings – four fingers for four strings – perfect!

    The left sides of the fingernails should glance the strings at a slight diagonal – the index, middle, and ring fingers pluck up towards the right forearm, and the thumb plucks down towards the right. Picking this way generates a smooth, full attack and a warm tone.

    To produce a clear and balanced tone, pluck the strings over or around the sound hole. 


    There is no specific way to strum. Use whichever fingers feel natural to you and remember to keep your right hand relaxed. Most of the movement should be in your wrist and fingers, not your forearm. 

    Similar to fingerstyle playing, the strings are strummed over or near the sound hole. Down strokes sound heavier and are often played on the downbeats. Up strokes are lighter and used to accent syncopations and upbeats.

    I hope these suggestions help you to enjoy the ukulele even more and allow you access to a broader repertoire of music. If you start to feel pain while playing, try to identify the cause and modify your technique accordingly. If it continues, you may be playing too much and should probably rest your hands. Too much of a good thing is wonderful…but it can hurt.

    Daniel’s instructional books are available at danielho.com

  • Hall of Fame: Arthur Godfrey

    HE MAY not appear on anyone’s list of great ukulele players, but Arthur Godfrey certainly deserves his place in the KAMUKE Hall of Fame. 

    Born in 1903 in New York City, the ginger-haired entertainer got his start in show business as ‘Red Godfrey, the Warbling Banjoist’ on a radio program in Baltimore in 1929. Over the next two decades, Godfrey built up a loyal national audience, thanks largely to his laidback personality and an easygoing broadcasting style that was in stark contrast to that of his prim and proper contemporaries. 

    In 1948, Godfrey made his television debut and went on to become the most popular and powerful American media personality of the 1950s. Throughout his stellar career, there was one constant: the ukulele. Godfrey learnt to play while serving in the navy and would often sing and strum on his daily radio program and two weekly TV shows. He even hosted televised uke lessons in 1950. 

    Part-time actor Godfrey duetting with Doris Day in the 1966 film The Glass Bottom Boat

    Affectionately known as ‘The Old Redhead’, Godfrey was one of the first masters of on-air advertising and preferred to spruik products he actually used. When he promoted Mario Macaferri’s new plastic Islander ukulele, literally millions were sold, sparking the Second Wave of Uke. And, although it can’t be verified, Godfrey may well be the father of the baritone ukulele. There is no record of the largest uke size until the late 1940s, when Godfrey asked Eddie Connors to design one for him. 

    (L-R) Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Godfrey

    The one product ‘The Old Redhead’ regretted endorsing was Chesterfield cigarettes. He developed lung cancer in the late 50s and died of emphysema on March 16, 1983. 

    This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Review: FIFTY/50 By Christopher Davis-Shannon & Jacques Pellarin

    Honestly, I didn’t realise I needed a ukulele/accordion album until I heard FIFTY/50 in all its glory.

    I’ve been a fan of Philadelphia-based uker Christopher Davis-Shannon for a few years now, so I was intrigued when I heard he was teaming up with French accordionist Jacques Pellarin. The result is something quite extraordinary and delightfully surprising.

    The two instruments combine beautifully and neither is more dominant than the other. From the pre-war frivolity of Summer 1925 to the more introspective Media Luna and classic-sounding Lady Josephine, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The only non-instrumental track, Willow, features lovely vocals from Charlotte Pelgen, herself an excellent uke player from Germany.

    Davis-Shannon displays an impeccable sense of rhythm throughout and throws in a few flashy strokes where required, as well as some nifty picking. I don’t know a whole lot about accordion music, but it’s clear Pellarin is a master of his craft.

    Jacques and Christopher: serious musicians

    I think what I like most about this album is its authenticity. It reminds me of the stuff people were doing with the ukulele back in the ’90s and early 2000s, before the instrument was universally popular and social media algorithms were part of the consciousness. In short, it’s a little weird, in the best possible way.

    FIFTY/50 is available at Bandcamp

  • Uke-In-Focus: Tiny Tim’s Martin Soprano

    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

  • Ukulele Stories: Brittni Paiva

    As it says on her website, Brittni and her ukulele are a brilliant match: Both are humble in nature, small in size, and very powerful with proper delivery.

    We first met in Hawaii in the mid-2000s and I was blown away by her passion and creativity. A multi award-winning instrumentalist, she’s always pushing the envelope musically and is on the verge of releasing her sixth album.

    Brittni and I had a really fun chat and I hope you enjoy it!



  • Cinematic Strumming: Stanley’s Gig

    STANLEY’S GIG (2000)

    Director: Marc Lazard

    Stars: William Sanderson, Marla Gibbs, Faye Dunaway, Stephen Tobolowsky

    WITH Ian Whitcomb and Jim Beloff credited as ‘Ukulele Consultants’ and a vintage Martin O in a starring role, Stanley’s Gig is essential viewing. 

    Inspired by real-life characters, the film revolves around LA resident Stanley Myer (Sanderson), a divorced, broke, recovering alcoholic who dreams of a job playing his uke on a cruise ship to Hawaii. 

    Stanley tries his best

    With the help of his only friend Leila (Dunaway), Stanley gets an audition with a Japanese cruise company, but fails to win over the executives with his version of Makin’ Love Ukulele Style, mainly because he simply doesn’t look the part. 

    To make ends meet, he starts working at a nursing home, playing for the residents, and it’s there he meets Eleanor (Gibbs), a bitter, retired jazz singer who claims to hate music. 

    Eleanor and Stanley

    Imbued with a renewed sense of purpose, Stanley makes it his business to help Eleanor reconnect with the world, and in doing so helps himself. 

    While the picture quality and the dubbing on the songs is a bit patchy, it takes nothing away from what is a great little film about the power of music to heal and bridge generations. And it’s hard to fault a soundtrack that includes catchy Whitcomb originals such as Ukulele Heaven and The Uke Is On The March

  • Hall Of Fame: Tessie O’Shea

    WHEN people see or hear a ukulele-banjo (or banjo-uke or banjolele), they almost invariably think of George Formby, the English comedian with the naughty songs and the dynamite right hand. But there was another British entertainer treading the boards and strumming up a storm during the same period as George – the magnificent Tessie O’Shea.

    Born in Cardiff, Wales on March 13, 1913, Tessie was something of a child prodigy. She reportedly started working at the age of six and was booked for a solo appearance at the Bristol Hippodrome in England when she was 12. At 15, while starring in a revue in Blackpool, she first performed the song Two-Ton Tessie From Tennessee, which quickly became her signature tune.

    By the mid-1940s, Tessie was topping the bill at the London Palladium, a bona fide music hall star. Movie roles and hit records followed and, in 1963, Noël Coward created a part specifically for her in his Broadway musical The Girl Who Came To Supper. Tessie’s turn as Cockney fish’n’chips seller Ada Cockle garnered her a Tony Award and an American audience. She was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 and proved so popular that she was invited back the following year to share the stage with The Beatles.

    “Tessie was a powerful player,” says Chris Jameson, the owner of O’Shea’s Gibson UB5 uke-banjo. “You probably wouldn’t have lent her your favourite ukulele, if not because of her enthusiastic fan stroke, then maybe for her habit of throwing her uke in the air at the end of a song and not always catching it.”

    As Tessie’s career wound down, she moved to Florida, USA, where she lived with her friend Ernest Wampola, a well-known pianist and composer she had met during World War II, when they were both entertaining the troops. Ernest became Tessie’s musical director and manager and welcomed her into his family.

    In 1995, Tessie died of congestive heart failure at the age of 82. A fantastic player with an infectious lust for life, she deserves to be remembered as a ukulele legend.

    By Cameron Murray

    This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store