Monday, July 26, 2010

Spare A Thought for Ukulele Ike

Here's a short article on Cliff Edwards/Ukulele Ike by my Australian uke historian, martin uke playing friend, Terry C. He has composed a few wonderful articles for HU over the past two years and he has compiled some photo/audio slide shows for YouTube and you will see one in the YT video below. HU
By Terry C. July 26, 2010
Spare a thought for the great Cliff Edwards, known as 'Ukulele Ike'. A huge talent from the 1920's. In his heyday he had it all, a successful recording career, his own radio show and the lifestyle of a movie star.

Sadly, he died penniless and alone in a small, sparely furnished apartment in Hollywood.

The photo above was taken in 1969 by Richard Lamparski, who was putting together a 'Whatever Became Of' book at the time. If you look carefully, you can see that there are no strings on Ike's uke; his index finger is inside the soundhole. By the time this photo was taken he had long sold all his expensive Martin ukuleles except for this one, his last Martin Tenor uke. Lamparski says that the ukulele was in a closet and had to be dusted off for the photo. It was obvious from his arthritis that Edwards no longer played it.

The interview he gives is possibly the last before his death. Listen to it here:

Ike's tenor uke is loosely tuned on many recordings. Not exactly what you'd call 'slack-key' tuning but some felt it gave his ukulele playing too 'wet' a tone, too fish-like a quality, not bright enough. Yet, if you listen carefully to Ike's playing you can hear a master at work. He uses rhythm and syncopation to great effect with consummate ease. He seems to drop exactly on the right note at just the right time. Many of his songs contain his signature single-note slide, a simple and effective technique he developed over the years. Many enthusiasts believe that Ike's playing was quintessential ukulele; essence of pure uke; the ultimate in ukulele perfection.

Listen to his sublime singing and playing here:

Lamparski, writing at the time, stated: 'After his roles in the Disney pictures concluded in the mid 1940's, Edwards began his real decline. For many years after this time he has had little or no work. He has suffered the restrictions of being a pensioner. His health has been especially poor these past few years. He lives alone in a partly-furnished flat above Hollywood Boulevard. It is difficult for him to walk and he seldom leaves his house. Many years ago he was married, briefly, to a girl named Nancy Dover but he has nothing to say about her, other than that she was very pretty. A few years ago (in the 1960's) Disney Records released on the Vista Label a record called 'Ukulele Ike Happens Again'. But the voice that once sold over 74 million single records could not even sell out the first pressing.'
For those who want to hear from a large Ukulele Ike recording collection, check out UKULELE IKE Red Hot Jazz. You will find it in the sidebar titled MUSIC.
Also Terry C. sent me YT videos of Ukulele Ike playing in Western Movies in the 1940's. There he's playing 4 string tenor guitars but his singing and playing are much the same sublime and comedic quality that we admire in this ukulele master...
The voice of Jiminy Cricket.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this remembrance of Ukulele Ike. Mr. Edwards was a great ukulele player with a wonderful voice, but he certainly had his troubles. I have posted one or two of them here: