It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of Beatles songs played on the ukulele. But even I am impressed by the Roger Greenawalt and David Barratt’s dedication to Beatles ukulele. Their first project was a performance of every Beatles song on the uke for 14 hours straight. Of course, it was all for a good cause. They gave all the money they raised to Warren Buffet.
Their current project, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, sees them team up with a string of guest singers to record every Beatles song, posting one song a week until 2012 along with an always enlightening essay on the song. The reworkings often give the tunes new and unexpected contexts such as the Alan Cohen Experience chanting the story of Oedipus on Your Mother Should Know and Adam Green serenading the girlfriend he drugged into a coma with I Will.
I caught up with the pair to discuss ukulele persecution, ennobled actors and why everyone loves the Beatles on ukulele.
How did the idea of playing the entire back catalogue of the Beatles in one day on ukulele come about?
Roger: Serendipity. I was uploading the Beatles catalog on iTunes and noticed it only took up 9.6 hours. I realized that you could perform every song in one day.
How did you physically manage to do it?
Roger: In reality it took 14 hours, there were 67 guest musicians and about 40 singers. Just moving that many people around wasted a lot of time. There were several bands carrying the songs behind me, because just uke would be too boring. And I took lots of breaks. We’re doing the gig again this year on December 5/6 at Spike Hill in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This time we’ll have a tough Sharon Osbourne-like stage manager to whip me in to shape and keep the show on schedule. And also this year, unlike last year, we will have about 50 original uke arrangements which to do, which you can hear at: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele
Beatles covers are very popular on the ukulele. Why do you think that is?
Roger: The Beatles can’t help but make sense on ukulele. Because the Beatles began in John Lennon’s mind. And his first instrument was a ukulele. He continued to use ukulele voicings on guitar for his entire career. His songs, and George’s in particular, are completely idiomatic and always work on uke.
McCartney’s writing is as logical as Mozart, and also translates to uke easily.
The big kick of playing their songs on uke is that it gives you a clear insight into their compositional thinking. A lot of what they did was just put their fingers on the most natural, loudest place on each instrument they used. This is good thinking. You see the logic of what they are doing, and admire how they are always sailing with, not against, the natural forces.
Which songs are you most looking forward to tackling? Are there any songs you’re dreading having to tackle?
Dave: The really bad ones are the most fun to do. We saved the embarrassing Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by recording it much slower, in minor, as a non-ironic murder song. Revolution No. 9 is improved as a heavy metal sing along.
The really good ones are more difficult. How do you better Hey Jude or Something? To improve Let It Be we would have to get Barack Obama in to do the vocal. Do you have his number?
Which guest singers have you got lined up?
Dave: We cannot be completely candid about this, as there are many stars who have said yes, but not recorded yet. We can disclose that Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian MacKellen are reworking Oh Bla Di Oh Bla Da in the style of Samuel Beckett. Ben Kweller is somewhere in Texas recording She’s A Woman. Ryan Miller of Guster is down for I’m Looking Through You.
Who would be your dream guest?
Roger: Paul McCartney singing and playing Something. I think it will actually happen.
Dave: My dream is Britney Spears and Morrissey doing A Day In The Life as a duet. Britney, of course, would be singing Paul’s part.
Lastly we would like Jane Asher to contact us directly at 347-529-6500.
Here’s a question you asked Warren: With a Hawaiian president, do you think the mindless persecution of the ukulele finally cease?
Dave: The mindless persecution of the ukulele will never cease until Roger and Dave have total political and spiritual power over every sentient being in the universe. This is what we stand for. That, and peace and love. Aloha.
Have you got any plans for the next project once this one is over in 2012?
Roger: I don’t anybody besides Dave and I who has the next three years planned out, so what’s next is not our biggest focus. The constant challenge is this self-imposed, long-term deadline every week. We will either pull it off or not. That will make or break us.
You can keep up to date with the project and download all the songs so far on The Beatles Complete on Ukulele