Happy New Year and welcome to another issue of UkePrints. We’ve taken a small hiatus over the winter break but we are now back in action! Looking forward to spreading more wonderful ‘ukulele music and giving a chance to our readers to find new artists or celebrate in the classics. So without further ado. . . .
Today we have an artist who is a long time fixture in Hawai’i’s music scene. William Kahaialii, known affectionately as Uncle Willie K in the islands, hails from the island of Maui where he started playing music by the inspiration of his father. Though he started on the blues, Willie K plays a wide range of different genres of music that he’s not only proficient in, but excels. His eclecticism and raw talent have sky-rocketed him to success as he has recorded and collaborated on more than a dozen albums, many of which have received Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. Willie K now has turned his attention to promoting festivals, as he is in his 4th year of running his annual Uncle Willie K’s BBQ Blues Fest featuring musicians such as Steven Tyler from Aerosmith to blues musician Taj Mahal.
Recently recorded at the NAMM (National Association of Musical Merchants) Show in a hotel room by the convention center, we get to hear Willie K play the blues standard Stormy Monday on his 5-string custom Kanile’a model in a very intimate setting. Unconventional and only done by a few practitioners, Willie K uses a brass slide and achieves the sound of a delta blues guitar on his ‘ukulele (that wound low G provides the extra twang). His control and precision on the slide is quite a feat considering the accuracy required for a short scale instrument. His natural sounding vibrato makes his ‘ukulele sing
(0:03) as he falls into rhythm with the classic Robert Johnson turnaround (0:06). He takes the first twelve bars to set up the feel of Stormy Monday with various blues licks. While many blues players on slide guitar will use an open tuning, Willie isolates the top 3 strings in standard tuning (GCEA) to create a major triad for his chord changes on fret 5 for the IV chord (0:23) and fret 7 for the V chord (0:32,). Like a locomotive, Willie K’s voice hits hard as he begins singing the first verse of the song (0:41). While his vocals are the focus, he never neglects his ‘ukulele as he moves in between call response (0:48, 0:58, etc) and playing in unison (0:55, 1:25, etc) with his voice. His 24 bar solo is sweet, lyrical, and yet possesses the moan of a broken hearted man (1:41). Vibrato (1:45, 1:52, etc), strong dominant 7th tones (1:47, 2:18, etc), and half step movements (2:05, 2:12, etc.) give a diverse range of dynamics and harmonic direction. I particularly love when he enters in with almost a whisper with a sound like Muddy Waters (2:12). He gives one last plea in his final verse before he comes to conclusion with one more Robert Johnson turnaround (3:09).
And yes, da buggah definitely work! She go far!
UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.
‘Ukulele Artist and Educator