Sunday, November 23, 2008

I am nearly ready to admit that I am in the tank for Obama. I always hated that term, because it implied I was no longer paying attention, but I'm confronted by the evidence of my unreachable gone-ness. I just watched a five minute raw video of Barack Obama trying to get from one end of a Chicago lunch joint to the other, and I know I'm going to watch it again. Next time someone tells me I need my head checked, I'm going to give it more consideration.

While watching it all I could think of was this ad, which shows in our market all the time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wonkette ran a quickie about their blog's session with the non-Freudian analyst at I had to find out what it thought of my little blog. Ready?

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:
ESTP - The Doers

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Does this explain how crappy I am at updating regularly?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

I hoped this would be funny, but I didn't expect to start crying. This sums up the whole last eight years for me.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I start getting proud of my music and I see stuff like this and get back to work.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sorry so long since the last entry. I'm hunkered down with production on my new record, UKEBOX EXOTICA these days, and a few projects for clients. But Pip R. Lagenta, whose YouTube videos of raccoons and skunks in his kitchen have been embedded here, came down to Nabolom Bakery yesterday to catch some of our music in his magic box.

Kurt Stevenson on nylon string guitar picks out the Patsy Cline hit "Crazy" (4:50) from Willie Nelson's perfect pen. Later, on returning from our mid-point break, Don McClellan on dobro calls "Sand" (7:59). Don proves he knows his Jerry Byrd records, and I return the favor with a vocal as learned from Merv Griffin. Kurt gets back to the bandstand in time to take a spin with that melody, and Ed Johnson holds down the low end with his washing tub bass or "floor banjo." Finally I can't resist a tune Kurt taught me, "Sakuranbo" (2:36), from a Trio Los Panchos Lp.

If you're a glutton for punishment, Mister Lagenta has posted seven (!) of our songs there, including a couple in which Art Peterson of Those Darn Accordions makes a guest appearance. I hope you will let any fans of the electric ukulele know where to find these clips.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


On a box dot net server I have uploaded files of music recordings I've made. The links to my music you find on the pages of this web log are on that server. This morning I was at box, looking at the download activity for my posted files, and I wondered who all those people might be. The comment level for my posts is hardly a puddle, but some tunes there have been downloaded hundreds of times. I hope you, dear reader, will send up a flare as you surf on by, and let me know just a bit about who was interested enough to download the music. Nothing at all personal is intended.
Here's a YouTube of a young ocarina virtuoso who, apart from his recognizable expressivity, is entirely unknown to me. I admire this kind of finesse, although those cursed with perfect pitch may not wish to view the clip repeatedly.

I don't know the fellow, but I feel sure that were we to find ourselves together, strangers snowbound in an airport for a day, we would part with a wordless but deeply sympathetic understanding of each other and a couple hundred euros apiece in change. That's one ukulele player's reve du jour.

Friday, May 02, 2008

In the mid-seventies I was heading into my senior year at high school. My last campus tormentor had graduated in June, and I was looking forward to a year of not flinching and hiding. I watched my schoolmates coming out of band practice with their horns and drum gear, and looked down at my ukulele without a case. The Aragon High School jazz band had no use for a ukulele.

I was thinking about stealing a new last name, and imagining a future in journalism that was shaped more by romantic ideas of Herman Mankiewicz and H. L. Mencken than by anything possible in 1975. I had written for the school paper and now my oldest friend from first grade and two friends of his and I were starting an independent paper through school clubs. It was probably the apex of my being full of myself. Belated apologies to all who knew me.

Into this reflective time of stormy youth came illumination from the heart and soul of Leonard Bernstein, whose first ballet score, the jazzy, slangy Fancy Free, had been rattling around my head for a whole year. My local public tv station, KQED, was showing THE UNANSWERED QUESTION: Six Talks At Harvard on Saturdays in the second half of summer. I was not the same kid after the first talk, Musical Phonology.

The series is still available in hardcover, VHS, and DVD. It still turns me on, even in four minute chunks. One of those is below via YouTube.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some have asked me about my "Lazy Bones" video posted at YouTube, wanting to know what I was thinking when I performed the tune in a recumbent pose. I am sure Perry Como would have seen nothing amiss in my approach. As evident in the clip above, he loves to bogey.

God bless Eugene Levy; here's hoping he's got a piece of the American Pie DVD action.

He sings pretty good. And Catherine O'Hara got her autoharp game on!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

David Julian Gray at NPR got in touch late last year to report that he found my CD weeks before and bought it online. He said he'd like to pass them around and see if anyone else there got enthusiastic about it. It's hard to tell about genuine enthusiasm (a pretty reserved bunch by all accounts), but someone decided there was some good bumper music on the album. Here's a link to a page at NPR's site where you can see the tune used and follow a link to a player that will play a chunk of the music for you. I hope it helps more people find my music!

NPR Morning Edition music cues played on March 31, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Friend of Friends of Old Puppy Galen A. Tripp has uninvited houseguests. Cute, though.

Monday, March 10, 2008

This weekend promises to be one filled with music played on the ukulele. This Saturday, March 15, after the weekly ten a.m. meeting of the Friends of Old Puppy at Nabolom Bakery in Berkeley, guitar hand Kurt Stevenson and I will decamp for a duet recital at the new Down Home Music Store (formerly Hear Music) from three until five p.m. We're there to promote my CD of ukulele instrumentals, UKEBOX. Come on by and check out Chris Strachwitz's new bundle of retail joy. :^)

On Sunday, March 16, Kurt will accompany me for a duet recital at Da Silva Ukuleles in Berkeley from seven thirty until nine thirty p.m. Admission is fifteen dollars (sliding).

I've added a link to an mp3 of Kurt and me as we take stock of "Chi Mi Frena" from Donizetti's "Lucia Di Lammermoor." I think the fact that Kurt learned the song from a Shirley Temple movie is somehow evident in his interpretation.

Chi Mi Frena - Kurt Stevenson and Steven Strauss

Monday, February 11, 2008


"Attend the tale of Sweeney Floyd
Of seven seasons he enjoyed
And though the series was not renewed
He left all the scenery properly chewed..."

Thanks to Cynthia Strauss for sharing this with me, Kerry Parker for sending it to her, and Nina Feldman for including it in her humor distribution. Genius shall be rewarded - with multiple postings.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tim Fox doesn't really look like this, but he seems to like it better than his actual appearance. I can relate.

He hired me to play bass in his jazz quintet last year at the Hillside Club, and I just found out that there's a recording of my vocal turn posted on the 'net, through the courtesy of the man who put together the concert and engineered the audio, the spectacular Bruce Koball.

My song for Tim Fox

Here's the Hillside Club's writeup for the gig.

Dangerous Rhythm
In Concert
Friday, 19 January 2007 at 8:00 pm

The Berkeley Hillside Club is proud to present DANGEROUS RHYTHM in concert. This group of virtuoso players is a marvelous musical experiment performed to answer an intriguing "what if" question. Join us in the acoustically- wonderful Hillside Club for this evening of musical mischief.

What would swing have become had it not turned into bop? This is the musical premise behind guitarist Tim Fox's group, DANGEROUS RHYTHM. Playing mostly original compositions and the occasional not-so-moldy oldie, this group will get your toes tapping, your heart pumping, and your mind racing. Veteran bassist and vocalist Steven Strauss (Penelope Houston, the Hot Club of San Francisco, Old Puppy), vibraphonist and aspiring ukulelist, Gerry Grosz, accordionist extraordinary, Dan Cantrell (The Toids, Peoples Bizarre, Tom Waits), and percussionist Brian Rice (the Paul Winter Consort, Mike Marshall's Chôro Famoso, Wake the Dead, the pickPocket Ensemble) complete the group.
It's Twenty-First Century Swing, folks. Accept no substitutes.

Read my old post about Bruce Koball here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I wasn't always this jaded thing you see before you. There was a time, so long ago, when I could be charmed by razzmatazz. I was young once, and doo-wacka-doo hadn't done a doggone thing to me. Before I even had a ukulele, I would get down a tennis racket and pretend to strum along with a record I got out of the library, an Lp by hometown gents The Goodtime Washboard Three. I noticed it was on Berkeley's Fantasy Records label, known home to cultural icons Lenny Bruce, Vince Guaraldi, and Korla Pandit. When finally I got my hands on a ukulele I couldn't wait to learn the chords to play their erstwhile local radio sensation, "Oakland."

"Where did all those people go
When Frisco burned?
They all went to Oakland
And never returned..."

Oakland magazine has a nice little write up about the song, and the Three, and how it all came to be. The writer points out that appropriately enough it is no solemn civic anthem, but something along the lines of "fight - fight - fight!" There's even a link to an mp3 of the song (not the original recording).

If you learn it, too, we can sing it at Berkeley Ukulele Club!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My high school avatar of cool
R. S. Eisenberg at his latter day workbench

Friday, January 11, 2008

I checked in with one of my favorite music blogs today. "Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anyplace Else" has been a reliable source of lost and forgotten music, recovered and restored by hand, and presented with an earnest appreciation for the music itself. Lee Hartsfeld of Ohio is the man who does all the work, and in appreciation for that work I do now salute him, as I have done before in these pages.

Numerous other sites on the 'net have processed and posted their audio finds. WFMU's Beware Of The Blog holds days on end of listenable artifacts of our culture, but the hipper-than-thou commentary that goes with it makes me queasy. I've been depressed by the general lack of appreciation there for anything that does not rock. To me it evinces a naive terror of becoming a square, of risking one's reputation as a hip person, a fate awaiting anyone who fails to die young. An hour clicking links at BOTB is like hanging out with a clever, talkative guy who's been collecting rock records and wearing the same leather jacket since his twenties. (Here I really ought to explain that three of my favorite people meet that description head on. I love them.)

Pulling up examples of what can be thought of as other people's mistakes may be entertaining for a few minutes of distraction, when you're stealing 'net time from the boss; that specific demographic can only have contributed to the success of WFMU's blog. Having taken the time to look over a hundred plus entries, I'm struck by how often the entry seems motivated by irresistible urge to stick it to anything resembling the man. (Steve Allen's late eighties touring contract, including fresh fruit requirements and instructions on caring for his hairpiece? Irresistible, perhaps; admirable, perhaps not.)

Don't get me wrong. I understand entirely the urge to disempower the oppressive forces of one's own mind. If the Brady Bunch theme has an evil hold on your consciousness, by all means, cast it out, with extreme prejudice. These people bust their hump to prepare and present stuff they think is dumb. "Can we agree this is not cool?" It gets my goat, because a whole lot of stuff they post just to piss on there, I hold close to my heart.

Lee Hartsfeld shares my beef with the spirit of BOTB, and unlike me (known the world over to run from any fight), has had the stones to write to them about it, earning only their scorn, prompting the administrators there to block some of his comments. I think he's been most offended by the editorial assumption that all those visiting the blog would agree that any religious expression is misguided at best. The things they've said about Little Marcy!

Lee recently posted a batch of sides including a cover of John Lennon's "Imagine," sung by Andy Williams. He shared a couple of sincere and contentious opinions about the recording: that the lyric was not as deep as its fans have held, and that Williams' voice was "better" than that of the songwriter.

One visitor, commenting on his entry, must have presumed Lee's motive was to hold Williams, a hopeless square, up to ridicule (as would happen routinely at BOTB); subsequently he seemed blindsided by Lee's spirited defense of and genuine appreciation for the singing of Andy Williams. His rejoinder was a sputtering paraphrase of "how am I going to get laid if anyone sees me hanging out with you, Uncle Elmer?"

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

John Turturro wrote and directed a big crude singalong musical of blue collar New Jersey and somehow I missed it. I saw a couple of other clips a few weeks back on youtube, a funny song and dance with Kate Winslet, but when I saw this one today I put "Romance And Cigarettes" at the front of the Netflix queue. I can't wait to see the rest of this movie. Dreamgirls it obviously ain't.

I have had the chance to hang with some old world blue collar cats, bruisers and freight men, and their capacity to fall apart in the arms of song has made an indelible impression on me. The assumption that these guys are too tough to be soft hearted does them no service. In this clip, I wait for the shot of the welder pushing his visor up and extending his blowtorch as he sings.

Turturro's master stroke at the end of this clip is what to do after a big heartache song and dance. The shirt pocket pat.