Ukulele Books
by Peter and Donna Thomas

spacing 260 Fifteenth Avenue Santa Cruz CA 95062 (831) 475-1455


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Ukulele Books

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A History of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz
(the UCSC where you get a real education)
written by Peter Thomas in February 2011

My grandfather played the saxophone, but my father played ukulele. I took some guitar and harmonica lessons in high school, then played bass guitar in a too loud band in college. One day, years after college, my brother came to my house with a ukulele. “Why don’t you get one too,” he said. “We can play with Dad and be like the Partridge Family.” I found a ukulele at the flea market, brought it home, and started playing. Time passed. At a meeting of book collectors in Los Angeles, I met Janet Klein. She had fallen in love with the ukulele but not yet gathered together her Parlor Boys. She introduced me to Jim Beloff, who also bought his first uke at a flea market. Jim was Mr. Ukulele, having just published his first songbooks and his “The Ukulele: A Visual History”. Back home, I searched for uke players and found Ukulele Dick, who must have owned at least half the ukuleles in Santa Cruz County at the time. Not much later, quite randomly, at a Santa Cruz museum reception, I saw a fellow with a Hawaiian shirt covered in ukuleles. He was Sandor Nagyszalanczy, who seemed to own the other half of the ukuleles in Santa Cruz. Or so I thought. Ukulele Dick introduced me to Tony Graziano, who had recently started building ukuleles based on old Martin patterns. In April of 1998, Tony invited me to go with him to a “Ukulele Festival” in Hayward. I spoke to Jim Beloff and discovered he was also going to the festival, as were Janet and several of her Parlor Boys. I decided to have a party the Friday before the festival to introduce them both to the ukulele players in Santa Cruz. Problem was, there weren’t many ukulele players in Santa Cruz. To “stack the deck”, I invited several very good musician friends, handed them each a ukulele, and challenged them to play something. I called the event “Ukulele Extravaganza”, a sort of show-and-tell open mic. It was a wild success and word spread around the community and the country. It was repeated six years in a row, with people coming from everywhere to attend, like Fred Fallin from Chicago. The final Extravaganza was so large we put a video camera in the living room, wired to a TV in the garage, so everyone could see and hear. After the fourth Ukulele Extravaganza I was sharing a booth with Tony at the Hayward Ukulele Festival, selling a book Donna and I made titled “A Brief History of the Ukulele”. A tall fellow with a huge mustache and a big smile stopped by, introducing himself as Andy Andrews from Santa Cruz. Andy had just returned from vacation in Hawaii and, while surfing in Waikiki, struck up a conversation with an older Hawaiian. The Hawaiian asked what else he did beside surf. “You mean for fun? Not much.” Well,” the Hawaiian replied, “I’m seventy and still surfing, but maybe you better find something…” “Any suggestions?” “Take up playing the Ukulele.” Finishing the story, Andy asked me, “Is there a Ukulele Club in Santa Cruz?” I told him about the Extravaganza and the great party he just missed. Almost in passing, I said, “I have a list of folks around Santa Cruz who are interested in the ukulele. If you want to help start a club, and will do the hard work of being the secretary, I will be President.” I gave him my card. Six months later Andy called saying he was ready to start the club, and we began planning. We decided it would be a club with no rules, and no dues either, so that anyone and everyone could come, and no rules. The name was obvious to both of us. Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz. UCSC. It was Andy who added the moniker: “The place where you get a real education.” We held the first meeting at my house on the third Thursday in January of 2002, and figured five or ten people would come. A previous interview my wife Donna and I had with the arts editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel led to an announcement in the paper. The result: twenty to thirty people showed up with ukes in hand. I did not know half of them, and almost everyone else did not know each other either. The moment was magic and the club was born. There were way too many people to fit in my house. In addition, we wanted this to be a club, not a private party. Andy took names, added my mailing list, and created our first master email list. In 2002 not everyone had email, so Phil Hayes offered to call anyone who didn’t. We announced our second meeting, which was held at a brew pub named 99 Bottles. A second notice in the Sentinel brought another twenty people to the club. We were floored. The agenda was simple. We had a few strum-alongs, a little bit of ukulele education and a performance. Ukulele Dick was the first “special guest performer” and Tony Graziano gave the first Tech Talk. Our first strum-along, “Under the Boardwalk”, quickly became the club’s anthem. The club was a force of nature. Those first meetings were a whirlwind of enthusiasm, with kindred spirits meeting and plotting, bands forming, and friendships growing. After the third meeting, it was clear we had already outgrown 99 Bottles. Andy knew of a restaurant, closed on Thursday nights, where we could meet and the Harbor Café became our second home. (I always say that our secret for success is to meet in a restaurant with a bar and room for music.) After several more meetings we had seventy-five or eighty people crowded into that little restaurant. The Ukulele Club had outgrown the Harbor Café. Next, we moved to the Ideal Bar and Grill, an ocean-front restaurant near the Boardwalk. That lasted until Andy organized Uke Fest West in 2004 and the club burst at the seams again. I thought of using Bocci’s Cellar, where the Jazz Society met every Sunday. When Andy went to check it out, he found Roger Barnes, the owner, was born in Honolulu and played ukulele. It was a match made in heaven. More than once Andy said to me, “I bet this club will probably go another six meetings, and then years from now people will look back and say, “Remember that Uke Club? Wasn’t it amazing?” But the club never stopped. We split the work evenly; we each did whatever we wanted. Andy had a way with words, acting as the meeting MC and creating the song charts. I organized the sound system, the house bands which played short sets before the meetings, and generally tried to create hilarity out of order. We both contacted people to play at the meetings. The list of Ukulele Club performers is a who’s who of the ukulele world. We had amazing luck getting musicians from all over the world to play for us for free. With no dues, thus no treasury, we could only give them our aloha and a sincere “Hana Ho”, and encourage members to buy their CDs. “This is the best crowd I have ever played for” was a regular complement. Over time, Sandor took on the role of educator, giving “Tech Talks,” and becoming our official “Techmeister.” Marty Carlson began organizing workshops before the meetings and Dave Egan ran the soundboard. The club was a catalyst for valued friendships, love relationships, and even led to several marriages. Members died and babies were born. My wife Donna and Andy’s wife Pam sold at least four tee-shirt printings and hundreds of starter ukes. We sent hundreds of ukuleles to school kids and organized ukulele campouts. (Credit for naming the Big Sur campout goes to early member, Patrick Fullan. In a dream, he saw a vision of burning ukuleles. Geno Galli offered to build a giant ukulele we could burn at the campout. We called it “Burning Uke” and the name stuck.) The club was given a community arts award and won more than one first prize ribbon at the Aptos Fourth of July Parade. Michael McGee did a wonderful job running the parades. The club spawned many bands and smaller groups, most prominently, the Sons of the Beach. They started small, just ten good friends sharing coffee. Then Micky Tomlinson took up the uke and soon everyone was playing. Now every Saturday morning over a hundred people show up to be led by Donna Ruiz, strumming ukuleles and singing on the beach by the harbor. The club lasted much longer than we imagined in our wildest dreams. Andy retired in 2010, and he and wife Pam moved to Hawaii. At the same time, Donna and I set off on a six-month road trip, leaving the club in the capable hands of Sandor and Marty. This brings us up-to-date, when Bruce Zimmer created this book to capture many of the club’s familiar faces. I hope you can put names to the faces. I also hope Bruce’s photographs help you both recall good times from past meetings and anticipate the pleasures, friendships and surprises yet to come at the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz. Peter Thomas, Santa Cruz February 2011

© 2002 Peter and Donna Thomas