Monday, 4 September 2017

You Can't Play Motown On A Ukulele

Or so I've been told. The other evening I turned up with my Uke at an open mike session to find they had booked an act who specialised in Motown. One of the locals looked at me and pointed to my Uke and told me there wasn't an open mike tonight, and "Any road, you can't play Motown on ' Ukulele!"

And this got me thinking. It was once said that white men couldn't sing the blues. That was back in the sixties when people like the Stones, John Mayal, Duster Bennett et al were busy reviving a genre that had all but died Stateside. Old Stagers like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy whose careers had been floundering for some time found to their delight that they had an audience in the U.K.

Then the purists came a long and started saying that white men can't play the blues. It may have been true if the more talented of the white men were mimicking rather than emulating their mentors. But on the whole, even when they did covers they weren't trying to mimick the fine old black men from the U.S. They held the men in the profoundest of respect. Instead they played the blues their own special way.

Other bands have done similar things over the years, Madness's covers of ska classics are done reverentially. As kids they were immersed in this music, they enjoyed it, and they wanted to play it, and they did it very well.

So, what is all that wrong with accompanying Motown on a uke? I turned to YouTube to see if I could find exemplary performances of Motown involving a ukulele. I found dozens of covers for the most part played by white men, and often not very well. Again there hadn't been enough care to avoid mimicking, and instead developing an individual style. Then I found what I was looking for. This clip presents an excellent vocalisation of the classic Motown number 'My Guy'.

I hope that finally puts to bed the idea that you can't do Motown on a ukulele.



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