I don’t think there’s anyone who looks like they’re enjoying playing the uke more than Ukulele Bartt. And it’s highly infectious – I get an urge to pick up the uke every time I see him play. Particularly when he’s shredding the crap out of some flamenco ukulele.
Bartt has just released a new album, Under the Big Fat Moon , and was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
On first listen, there’s a strong Beatles influence on this album. Who else has influenced your songwriting?
Everyone says I’m George Harrison-ish. And I love Lyle Lovett’s sarcasm and Nanci Griffith’s sweetness. Then there’s Freddie Mercury’s crazy diminished chords, and Tchaikovsky and Johnny Winter and Hoagy Carmichael and Eddie Cantor and Bob Marley and Julieta Venegas and Anoushka Shankar and … uh … Oh, Brian Wilson, of course. I guess I love everybody!
How did you start playing flamenco on the ukulele?
I dunno how it started; I just play that way sometimes. I’m not a true Flamenco player like Paco de Lucia, but I’m crazy about Paco, and Flaco Jimenez and Los Panchos, too. I’ve been thinking of doing a Flamenculele album in Spanish. But Flamenco is usually sung in Spanish anyway, so maybe I’ll do it in English. Aw, heck. I might as well do it in French. Has anybody ever done a French Flamenco-ukulele album?
What makes the uke work well in this style of playing?
Flamenco sounds like crap on my Hawaiian ukes, but on my Candelas uke it’s muy magnifico. Candelas built Andres Segovia’s guitars, so they have lots of Flamenco secrets. Tomas Delgado spent more than a year buildi ng it for me. It’s the type of woods, the luthier’s techniques, and I guess it’s also in the way you play the thing: fast right hand and lots of finger-picking.
How do you make the ukulele work alongside big, loud instruments like piano, saxophone and drums?
Just get a bigger, louder amplifier!
The guys in my band are pretty danged good, so if it works, it’s because of them. Jon Gold is a blues piano monster; he’s from Oingo Boingo (the band, not the geographical location). And Tony DiGiovanni has drummed in Big Bands, and with heavy Jazz cats. I was a Rock guitar player and I’m a hard-core Boogie-Woogie guy, so I love putting that stuff into uke music. But I do love playing with the Hawaiian Braddahs, too. Especially just sitting on the beach with the ukes having a kanikapila.
“Happy Birthday” is probably one I’d skip. But I’ll try anything. I’m doing some Tchaikovsky, and I love playing funky stuff like advertising jingles or the theme song from “The Jeffersons.” My band does a great version of “Gumby,” too!
What’s in your uke collection?
The crown jewel is my Candelas tenor. Actually, it’s a little bigger than a tenor; it’s an eleven-er. It’s got tons of custom abalone and mother-of-pearl, with all sorts of little personal touches.
I’ve also got a nifty Ka maka soprano and a Mele tenor that I’ve wrecked from playing so hard. And a Lanikai 8-string electric, a bunch of Portuguese stuff: cavaquinhos and braguinas, a Romanian mandola, plus lots of guitars and basses, drums, a whole bunch of stuff. I’m addicted. I painted my face on one uke, with the sound hole as my open mouth. It’s pretty goofy.
As well as the uke, you play the Portuguese guitar. How do you go about playing an instrument tuned DABEAB?
It’s really tricky to learn the scales if you’re used to Western tunings, and it’s also a pain to keep in tune. It’s got 12 strings that are looped on both ends, and the tuning pegs are Old-World machine heads that screw up and down. They’re beautiful, but awkward.
There’s Coimba tuning (CGADGA) and Lisboa tuning (DABEAB), depending on which region of Portugal you’re in. Fado music is so dramatic, and the Guitarra Portuguesa is such an idiosyncratic instrument. After I heard Carlos Paredes play, I HAD to get one.
What on earth (or not on earth) is a Martian Moonboodle?
That’s me goofing around. I just had a little more space to fill up when I was writing the liner notes for my CD, “Under the Big Fat Moon,” and I wanted to see if anyone reads all the way to the bottom. Thanks for reading it!
What can we expect to hear from you in the future?
I’m planning a groovy instructional DVD. If anybody wants to tell me what they’d like me to include, I’d love it if you e-mai led me at UkuleleBartt@aol.com.
I’m going to do more international Ukefests, too.
My band is also doing a live worldwide Internet broadcast, so you can see us perform live on Saturday, April 4 at 8:00 PST (Los Angeles time). And you can e-mail the band during the show, so hopefully we’ll get some hellos from the far reaches of the planet. You just go to Bartt.net and click on the button and POOF! We’ll be on your computer. And tell them that Ukulele Hunt sent you!