Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 26, 2011

Back To The Beatles – On Uke


As I have written before, I participated in two Beatles tribute bands over the years – the first one during the 90s in Brazil, and the last one until late summer 2002 after I relocated to New York.  Ever since dropping that project, I ventured into other sides of music (as a journalist) while plucking my bass at church and doing occasional gigs with different musicians.  However, I never forgot about the music that had been such an integral part of my life for so many years even if I distanced myself from it as a musician.

A few weeks ago, I received an invite from a friend about music producer and multi-instrumentalist Roger Greenawalt’s Beatles Marathon in at the Brooklyn Bowl. I immediately told her about my background with the music, and a few days later I found myself a Greenawalt’s studio for a rehearsal. He greeted me warmly and asked me about how versed I was with this music, and I responded by playing a handful of tunes along with the two I had selected to play as a front man during the two-day event. For about two hours, we ran through a number of tunes, and I promised to return the following week to work some more (I had a gig that same weekend with my band Bossa d’ Novo, and had to work on those tunes as well, in addition to a rehearsal with my church band – when it rains, it pours).

On the week of the event, I also found the time to meet with my longtime friend Mike Rimbaud, who was also set to perform at the event. We ran through “I’ll Cry Instead,” “No Reply,” “Taxman” and “For You Blue,” and on Thursday before the weekend I met with Greenawalt again to go through a few more tunes.

On Friday, January 14, I met with the guys in my band for a bossa gig at The Full Cup, a Staten Island coffeehouse that is also a performance space. Sadly, only a few people showed up in spite of all my work in publicizing the show and inviting people to come – it was a huge disappointment, as we had so much invested on that particular gig.

On Saturday things were completely different. I made my way to the Brooklyn Bowl early and sound-checked my Hofner bass as soon as I got there. Shortly after 6 PM, I joined the Uke Mob (pretty much everyone who showed up with a ukulele) for Yellow Submarine’s “All Together Now” and The White Album’s “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.”  After that, I was coming and going all night as some performers provided their own backing bands (which gave me ample opportunity to sample a few glasses of wine between songs).  I remember being a bit disappointed for not playing some of my personal favorites, but was amazed how many bass lines I still remembered from the tribute band days. I left at around midnight after playing with Mike (he was scheduled a bit late, and I was supposed to leave around 9 – but I wound up staying anyway). There was a book onstage which I peeked at from time to time for songs I had never played before. I also contributed harmonies for many singers who came by themselves, and even played on a snippet of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” that a duo included as sort of a joke (I knew that from my folk band days).

For a performance that was pretty much unrehearsed (I met many of the performers as they walked on stage), things were pretty tight – most of the musicians knew the songs well, so as long as we played close to the original, things were fine. On some songs it was kind of rough, as various performers decided to make changes on the songs or play at awkward keys – but most of it went without a hitch.

The place was pretty full – lots of families with kids and random Beatle fans alongside many, many musicians. I got home and went immediately to sleep, as I woke up early the next day for part two of the show. On Sunday, I arrived there early again, and once again we started with the Uke Mob. Mike also returned to play on ‘my ‘songs (Harrison’s “For You Blue and “Taxman”). I took a break as a jazz band entered around 5, and ended my participation with a keyboardist on “Penny Lane.” After that number, a bassist walked on stage, and I took the opportunity to pack my stuff, say goodbye to Roger and leave.

I must say that the performance was a LOT of fun. Roger Greenawalt (who was featured on Time magazine the following week) put together a great show with a group of fantastic musicians, and it was also fantastic to go through those songs again. But if I am invited again next week, I will make sure to study the more obscure songs more closely….


  1. Sounds like a good time was had by all. Still have issues thinking of the Uke as a real impact instrument on the music scene. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

    Nice article though…


    • Actually David the ukelele is having sort of a comeback in the music scene thanks to luminaries like Jake Shimabukuro… there was a nice piece about that on Time magazine

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