Monday, February 17, 2014

Percussive Uke

As an instrument, the uke has some limitations, but it's amazing what somebody who really knows what he is doing can manage ...

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Grape and the Grain

There's an old saying amongst drinkers: Never mix the grape and the grain. What this means is that if you are going to drink wine or beer, that's fine; or if you are going to have bourbon or scotch or gin or vodka, that's okay, but that you shouldn't do both, as this would make your hangover worse, should you overindulge.

I dunno how true this is, and I'm not a heavy drinker, at least not these days. As a lad, before I was legally allowed to imbibe alcohol, I used to go out and get plastered with the boys now and again. And I mean seriously three-sheets-to-the-wind, falling-down, room-spinning, toilet-hugging drunk.

I don't recommend this. Bad idea on so many levels.

And yet, I never had a hangover. Until that one time, in the summer of 1964 …

July, I was a working as a lifeguard, sixteen-years-old. Back then, there was a stretch of Hwy. 190, just west of the Mississippi River bridge, that was where Baton Rouge went to do serious bar-hopping. Outside Port Allen's limits, so these were freewheeling places, night clubs. I can't remember all the names, but there was the Club Louisianne, Major's, and Courvilles. This last was the biggest dive. They had live music, a dance floor, cheap drinks, and they didn't check ID's, so of a Friday or Saturday night, it was packed. Local rock bands with the knobs turned up to ten, hundreds of people jammed in, drunk, partying, getting into fights.

You didn't tell your parents, but you told your friends: Where you goin'? Across the river.

Sometime I look back and wonder: How did I ever think that was fun? Because I was young and stupid and drunk? Yep, that would do it.

It was interesting to watch the monkey dances. Two guys would step outside, recite their lists of felony arrests and convictions, and have at it until somebody couldn't keep going. 

Sometimes the deputies would get there before the fight was over, but they'd just watch and wait. Never saw 'em break up a fight.

This particular hot night, I was with my buddies, whose names are changed to protect the guilty: Hatcher, Roy, and Joe D. And Joe D's older brother Sammy was there, but not with us, he had a date.

We arrived, started drinking beer, and as the evening commenced and the place got more packed, ran out of money after a couple hours, so when people were up and dancing, why, we'd just pass by an empty table, pick up whatever they were drinking, and swill it down.

I seem to remember that John Fred and the Playboys were playing, but I could be conflating that with a New Year's Eve gathering. 

By this swiping of drinks, not only were we mixing the grape and the grain, but tasting things we'd never tasted before. Grapefruit juice and sloe gin? Oooh, nasty!  But, what the hell, it was free ...

I recall one event clearly, in which Hatcher, even more stoned than the rest of us, approached Sammy's date. Hatcher stood up as straight as he could and announced, in a loud, slurry voice, what he wanted to do to her, five words, crouched around the anglo-saxon term for sexual intercourse, ending in an exclamation point.

Sammy was in the toilet, else he would have punched Hatcher's lights out. His date, a lovely girl wearing the teased beehive hairdo of the day, smiled and said, "Sorry, no, I'm saving my moss for Sammy."

"Moss," here is a euphemism for, well … you  know what's it's for, if you recall a time when women didn't, um ... mow the lawn.

Somehow we eventually got out of there and home. I don't think I was driving, and I don't think Hatcher was, but I can't really remember that part, so that might have happened. The God who watches out for fools and children really has His work cut out for him watching out for foolish, drunk children …

Next morning, I had to go to work. And I had a hangover. First one, and it was a misery upon my head, to be sure. I sat in the hot sunshine atop the guard's chair, and every so often I would just lean forward and fall headfirst into the pool, in an attempt to make it better. It didn't help. And I got no sympathy from my fellow guards, either. Hangover? Haw, haw!

So, maybe it's not true, the grape and the grain thing, but aside from never stealing drinks again, I don't mix those past maybe a tasting of somebody's fine bourbon or scotch after wine with dinner. Haven't had a hangover since ...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not Your Grampaw's Yo-Yo ...

I might have mentioned along the way that my one innate talent, discovered when I was eight years old, was that I had a knack for the Duncan return top, aka, the Yo-Yo.

Those of you with no clue as what this is, go look it up.

I have stuck this into a book or two, and the basic story is simple: My mother sent me to William's five-and-dime store to buy something and I came upon a yo-yo contest in progress. These were held in the late spring, the Duncan Y0-Yo guy came to town, and you showed up and did tricks. You got two tries for each trick, the last one to miss was the winner, and the reward was a yo-yo with rhinestones embedded in the sides, and a qualification to enter the city championships at the end of the season. Place in the top three there, you went to the state finals. Win there, and it was worth a trip to this brand-new theme park in California, Disneyland, and the winner of the Nationals got a $5000 college scholarship, which back then, was a full-ride at the local U …

So I parked my Huffy bike and went into the store, got what I was sent to get, and on the way back to my bike, stopped to watch.

Hey, the yo-yo man said, Come on, you can do this, too.

Can't, I said. I don't have a yo-yo, and I have never used one before.

No problem, I'll lend you one, and show you what to do.

Okay. Why not?

There were eight or ten kids, and to make a long story short, I won the contest.

Never held one before, but the guy would show me the trick, and I was able to do it well enough to beat the other kids.

Might have been my peak athletic moment, that. 

Back then, there were a dozen or so basic tricks, with names like "Sleeper," "Walk the Dog," "Over the Falls," "Rock the Baby," "Skin the Cat," "Creeper," "Around the Corner," "Loop the Loop," "Around the World, "Barrel Roll," "Man on the Flying Trapeze," etc., none of them particularly hard, and having tasted victory, I was hooked.

From eight until fifteen, I was there every season. I always won at least one local contest, and then went to the city finals, where I lost. Last season I was eligible–fifteen was the cut-off–I placed second in the city, then fourth in the state championship. Won a radio.

I might have done better, but having discovered girls, my practice suffered. 

Well, along the way, I got fairly good. Could do some complex string tricks, though I wasn't ever able to do it with both hands at the same time, which is what you needed to get hired by Duncan. 

Fast forward fifty-odd years:

The old wooden yo-yo, with its fixed wooden axle evolved. There came the Butterfly, then weighted things with centrifugal this or that that would spin a little longer. I got a metal one a few years back and it spun longer than any I'd ever used.

But, wait! There came another generation of improvements, ball-bearing axles, yo-yos that spin but don't come back unless you do a special binding maneuver with the string, and Geez Louise, these things are to my yo-yo as the starship Enterprise is to a Model T.

I haven't been keeping up. How I know is, my nephew sent me a link to a video with a six-year-old kid at an international contest, and you would not believe what Yo-YoBaby can do. And I mean, you really won't believe what you are seeing if you are of my generation and you used to wait for the Duncan Yo-Yo guy to arrive.

I kept saying, "Holy shit! Holy shit!"

My mouth just hung open as I stared and drooled …

So I got one of the moderate-range yo-yos, (it's upgradable) and it spins, O how it spins! I can do just about every string trick I know, one after another, and of course, this six-year-old makes me look like the mummy's grampaw, but if I'd had one of these back in the day? I would have ruled!

My life would have taken another path, I am sure ...

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Winter Wonderland

Okay, so we didn't get as much snow as the picture in the previous post indicated, and not a third as much as they did just down the road in Corvallis; still, there is about six inches on the ground, with the prediction of more to come, possibly mixed with freezing rain, before normal, plain-old rain comes to wash it all away in a couple-three days.


Even though this was predicted, Thursday was a disaster on the roads around here as everybody decided to leave work early, and apparently at the same instant, snarling traffic. Twenty-minute drives took three hours. There were multiple-car pile-ups on the interstate, some deaths. We aren't geared for more than a dusting here, and people who blow past at forty in a twenty-five zone wind up in a ditch or sliding into somebody else as often as not. 

One of the reasons, after thirty-five years, I still avoid driving in snow if I can is not so much I'm worried about what I do, but what that fool who thinks Jesus is his co-pilot and caution is for everybody else ...

My wife took her car our yesterday and the 4WD was enough, sans chains, to get to my son's house and take him shopping (for tire chains, among other things) but the stuff is packed down pretty good on the roads now, it hasn't risen above freezing for four days, and where cars stop for lights, the snow melts and then refreezes. 4WD helps you get started, but it doesn't stop you on an icy road real well.

We have enough supplies so we don't have to go out, save to walk the dogs, and with their stubby legs, we'll have to stick to the walks or watch them plow with their bodies. 

So, as long as we don't lose power, we are okay.

One of the luthiers I follow who lives on the Big Island of Hawaii put up a picture recently. Showed his car with a few ice cubes on the hood, with a note saying the temperature had dropped to 58ยบ F. overnight. 

In my should-be-writing-but-ain't mode, I've gone over the songs and instrumentals I am essaying to learn upon the uke. About seventy-five minutes of material. Somewhat ambitious since I'm a slow learner, but I'd like to memorize them in the next month or so. I can mostly get through them all using the cheat sheets, and half the instrumentals and nearly all the vocals from memory. Of course, memory is the second thing to go. The first thing is … um … ah ...


Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Baby Elephant Walk
Falling Slowly
Game of Thrones
Stairway to Heaven
Something in the Way She Moves
Quigley Down Under
Ashokan Farewell
Chariots of Fire


Addicted to Love
A Summer Song
Bring it on Home
Cakewalk into Town
Hey, Jude  
Hotel California
Let it Be
Methamphetamine Mama
One Toke Over the Line
Political Science
Lonely at the Top
The Second Time Around
St. James Infirmary
Wagon Wheel
Woke up Dead Blues
Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Seventeen degrees at Steve's house, eleven o'clock on a Thursday, blowing snow starting to fall. The prediction is for anywhere from an inch to eight inches, depending on where you are in the valley, and there's a stiff east wind that drops the wind chill down into single digits. 

Hummingbird feeder is frozen solid, and the stream down the hill is about half iced-over.

Say it might be an actual blizzard in the Gorge.

Had to wear the heavy jacket and a hat and muffler, with the Thinsulate ski gloves, to walk the dogs. The Corgis with their double-coats seem unaffected; I use the ThunderShirt on the Cocker Spaniel, although her hair has mostly grown out since we got her.

I wanted weather like this, I'd have moved to North Freezing Dakota …

Monday, February 03, 2014


Some ukulele stuff I found interesting.

 Before you watch the video, the set-up:

Wooden musical instruments are said to open up after they have been played for a while. Exactly why is open to debate, but the notion is that, over time, the wood and glue set, and some kind of mystical attunement of the wood from the vibrations of the music all come together to make the tone louder and more mellow.

The phenomenon seems to be real enough; recordings of new instruments compared to the same instruments played a year or ten down the line seem to sound noticeably different, at least some folks' ears. 

Some woods open up faster than others. With guitars and ukuleles, the soundboards are often made from spruce, which opens slower than, say, cedar or redwood, which is also used for those instruments.

So, there is one theory that goes with the vibrations, and to that end, there are gadgets that can be stuck into the sound hole of guitar that will allegedly help it open faster.

I hadn't seen one like the machine in this video before. The luthier's name is Ron Saul, and while the whole video is good for me, if you fast-forward to the 22:30 mark and play it from there, you might find this section interesting. 

Amazing what somebody with an idea and skill with machinery can do, he puts his mind to it ...