Rock Gods Playing the Ukulele

There are two types of boys at school. Those that want to grow up to be footballers and those who want to be Rock Gods. I was firmly in the second group performing wailing guitar to a stadium full of adoring fans, but I ended up strumming my ukulele in my bedroom.

Guitar Gods it turns out – for all their Marshall stacks, packed stadiums and hordes of groupies – envy me playing my Eric Clapton ukulele ukulele in my bedroom. So, I’ve put together a few videos of guitar superheroes forsaking their wailing Lescasters and Stratopauls for the joys of the humble ukulele.

There are, of course, many who got started with the ukulele: Jimi Hendrix, Dick Dale and that to your right is a picture of wee Eric Clapton with his ukulele. But, there are also those who continue with their uke or come to it later in life.

Pete Townshend (The Who)

Pete Townshend was keen to remain a closet ukulele player. This track very nearly never saw the light of day. The Who’s produce John Glyns was listening to a demo tape made by Townshend loved the song and insisted he recorded it for the album. Townshend was not having it. He even insisted that including it on the album might push him into suicide. Luckily, he relented and decided that being a known ukulele player was, indeed, preferable to death.

Brian May (Queen)

Brian May is another childhood uker who never entirely grew out of it. His ukulele playing came to the fore with the very 30s sounding Good Company on A Night at the Opera. You can listen to the full song here.

The Beatles

John and Paul and George were both ukulele players, but it was George Harrison who was the real ukulele addict. So much so, one groupie complained that, “The entire time I sucked him off, he kept playing that damned ukulele.” Such dedication paid off though, this video shows him displaying some handy rolls and Formby-style split-strokes.

It cracks me up how out of time Ringo’s clapping is.

For more Beatles ukulele here’s George doing The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and here’s Paul McCartney playing Something at the Concert for George.

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello picked up the uke for the Scarlet Tide and, damn, it sounds great. The song picked up an Oscar nomination after it was included in the Cold Mountain soundtrack (in the Alison Krauss plus piano version). It was shamefully beaten by Annie Bloody Lennox’s lump of tosh from Lord of the Freakin’ Rings. But for this, he went back to the original ukulele version.

Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)

After five albums, Eddie Vedder was burned out on the guitar. After a discussion with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, he took up the challenge to write a sad song on the ukulele (a task Cornell thought impossible).

There are plenty of versions of this on YouTube, but I chose this one for the most angst ridden version of Happy Birthday you’re ever going to hear.

Angus Young (AC/DC)

He doesn’t actually play the uke in this clip, but his does his heal-kick with it – which is mostly what he’s famous for.

German TV presenter, Stefan Raab also introduced Will Smith to the ukulele.

If you’re a StumbleUpon user, give this page a stumble and educate the uke-ignorant masses.

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17 Comments

  1. Heather April 16th, 2008 10:15 pm

    I find that George Harrison anecdote disrespectful to both the fluffer and the ukulele.

    Gosh, I’ve really been coming off a a Nazi-feminist lately, huh?

    Um…boobies!

    There. All better.

  2. Woodshed April 16th, 2008 11:09 pm

    Lord above, it’s a good job you’ve never spoken to me in real life. Believe it or not, I’m censoring myself on here.

  3. Heather April 16th, 2008 11:31 pm

    Whatever do you mean?

    I’m actually quite vulgar and horrid, myself.

  4. seeso April 17th, 2008 12:15 am

    It is my dream to be fellated whilst strumming my ukulele.

  5. Heather April 17th, 2008 12:25 am

    Better than filleted whilst playing your uke.

    Badum bump!

  6. seeso April 17th, 2008 2:14 am

    Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? ;)

  7. Zak April 17th, 2008 3:30 am

    Frickin sweet!!

  8. Ian April 17th, 2008 3:38 am

    Let’s not forget Peter Frampton…. he learned to play on the ukulele… banjolele, I believe.

    Which might explain why a few of his main riffs fit perfectly on the uke….

  9. Tony April 17th, 2008 6:05 am

    Can anyone help me out with the picking order in Costello’s song? It’s quite different from most uke songs I’ve played so far. Or a full tab would be nice… *hint hint*

  10. tuscadero April 17th, 2008 12:31 pm

    I saw Paul play “Something” on his ukulele as a tribute to George during a concert in Boston a couple of years ago. I’ve wanted to learn to play ever since. I just got my first instrument this month and I’m hooked.
    When looking for a strap in my local guitar shop, the owner mentioned that one of kids she teaches (guitar) asked to learn “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” after seeing Jake’s version on YouTube. He had never heard the original version and thought it was written for ukulele.
    My 12 year old rolled eyes when I brought home my ukulele, but I caught him with it the other day, working out a Wilco song.
    Get those uke rockers out of the closet!

  11. LonnaB April 17th, 2008 3:20 pm

    I noticed that the George Harrison anecdote had been taken off of the about page after the new look was introduced.

    It sure didn’t take long to pop back up!

    I think the level of respect for both the young lady involved and the ukulele would be directly affected by choice in song.

    So, which song would you play?

    There might be more than one right answer.

  12. Heather April 17th, 2008 4:24 pm

    Woodshed, have you ever posted your version of the chords for The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea?

    I mean, I’ve found others, but none are as good and lovely as yours.

  13. Woodshed April 17th, 2008 5:47 pm

    Seeso: as dreams go, it’s not quite up there with Martin Luther King, but a worthy goal nonetheless.

    Zak: Thanks.

    Ian: Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten about Frampton. Do you know if there are any videos or recordings of him ukeing?

    Tony: It’s definitely on my list of stuff to work out.

    tuscadero: Nice work. I don’t think there’s anyone could resist picking up a uke.

    Lonna: It actually disappeared quite a while before that. It has to be on here somewhere. I hesitate to answer your question in case I further offend Heather.

    Heather: I was completely unaware I’d done a version of Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Mark Occhionero’s version is the definite uke version.

  14. Heather April 17th, 2008 6:01 pm

    I meant I wanted you to do it. I like yours – they make sense to me. His doesn’t. ‘Cause I don’t read music and stuff.

  15. seeso April 17th, 2008 6:15 pm

    LonnaB: I think I’d play something encouraging, like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

    You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
    You want it, you better never let it go
    You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
    This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

  16. Woodshed April 18th, 2008 10:48 pm

    Heather: Oh, I see. I’ll add it to the list.

    Lonna: I give in. It’d have to be the Beatles in tribute to George. In my case, It Won’t Be Long would be fitting.

  17. Remko April 19th, 2008 4:39 pm

    Loved the Beatles video. I never saw any video footage of George playing the uke before, and always wanted to.

    One thing, though: Ringo’s clapping isn’t out of time at all. It has an off-beat clap, though.

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