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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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