Outside of Hawaii, the ukulele’s historical second home was the vaudeville vogue of the preceding half of the 20th century. If you crave to listen to some advanced ukulele techniques then Music Hall is a wonderful place to explore for that is where you’ll find the music of the Roy Smeck.
Born in 1900, Pennsylvania, Smeck was a virtuoso ukulele performer. There isn’t an advanced strum, fan or roll you won’t find in his music and not content with outclassing us all in technique, Smeck would entertain while he was doing it. Tossing the uke into the air, spinning his instrument like a Rockabilly bass player or tapping the woodwork with percussive breaks, Smeck could charm his audience without the need to ever worry about things like vocals. Whatever advanced techniques guitarists of the latter half of the 20th century came up with, Smeck probably did it first without a Marshall in sight.
“The Magic Ukulele Of Roy Smeck” is the perfect place to discover this great man. Backed by upright bass, electric guitar and a lightly brushed drum kit the first tune, “Twelfth Street Rag” is just exquisite and establishes the landscape for this wonderful collection of tunes. It’s most interesting to see how the electric guitar takes such a comfortable back seat to the ukulele providing punctuation and a little counterpoint to the solo instrument.
“Ain’t She Sweet” and “Five Foot Two” are found at many a ukulele club night but they’re never played like this, Smeck mixing rhythm and melody together again lightly peppered by the guitar, the former also showcasing his percussive techniques too.
“Waltz Of Yesteryear” shows a silkier side to Smeck where the uke takes a solo melodic role in which he packs a great deal of expression and soul and the guitar again beautifully plays an answering role to the questioning melody.
Not to be overlooked, the bass of Mitt Hinton, drums of Osie Johnson and the five credited guitarists (Al Casamenti, George Barnes, Joe Puma, Tony Mottola and Smeck himself) add a great deal to this album, allowing the star to shine whilst fusing perfectly in their supportive role.
Perhaps to some this style of music is now simply a waltzing relic of yesteryear itself, but if you’re a ukulele player you simply must listen to music of Roy Smeck. He is a stunning exponent of the instrument we love and you can learn more of the true soul of the instrument from one listen to “The Magic Ukulele Of Roy Smeck” than many hours pouring over “how to” YouTube videos. The flamboyant skill squeezed into these two and a half minute tracks is not “old world” but simply out of this world.
“The Magic Ukulele of Roy Smeck” is available to buy or stream from most online music retailers in CD and MP3 format. You can read all about the great man himself on Wikipedia.