With a Little Help from Their Friends


MORRO BAY A ukulele as a rock and roll instrument? Whoever heard of such a thing? Must be Hawaiian entertainment. No. It’s right here in Morro Bay with the Rock.N.Ukes!

A hard-core group of musicians had a need to play rock songs of the 1960s and 1970s. It didn’t matter if they didn’t have electric guitars and synthesizers. They had their ukuleles. Thus, began the formation of a group that meets once a month thanks to their host Lee Vaughn at the Wine Seller in Morro Bay.

“We first started three years ago,” explained Barbara Ignatius, “and each person brought five songs to share on paper copies.”

This soon proved to be a disaster with papers flying all over the place. So, Barbara’s husband, Howard took it upon himself to create a library of songs that they could choose from and build a set for performing. They publish the set before each event and use a donated projector to display them for everyone to follow along.

The group also realized early that they needed a theme each time they played to help them focus their efforts. One theme they adopted permanently is their Beatles theme song,

“With a Little Help From My Friends.”

Now they have a house band with John Rickenbach on bass guitar, Jay Courtney on guitar, Karen Worcester on flute, piccolo and mandolin, Leslie Thompson on drums and ukulele and Barb and Howard Ignatius, Alan Hopkins, and Karen Kolba on various ukuleles.

Just like with guitars, there are more than one kind of uke. The group trades off leading vocals or invites people from the audience to come up and sing. But singing isn’t the only thing that happens. As the room begins to fill, persons enter carrying all kinds of instruments, mostly ukuleles, and they settle in the two front rows and beyond. As the main group begins to play the chord configurations and beat accents as well as the lyrics to the song show up on the screen. Suddenly there is music coming from everywhere! Everyone is strumming and singing.

Ignatius says this is their favorite part of doing this, when group members bring other ukulele players and/or their significant others to sing or just listen. Everyone’s complete attention is held at the wine bar while they are singing and playing, but they will hush up someone who is not engaged and keeps chattering in the background. This is serious Rock and Roll!

“It is amazing at how much community effort goes into this group,” Ignatius said. The group’s first drummer, Jeff Bacon designed their first logo for a T-shirt and other promotions. They also host out-of-town musicians and have put on several concerts with the Indy group Whitherward and world-renowned performers and instructors Heidi Swedberg, Daniel Ward, Mark Baker and Victoria Vox. “We held our first ukulele workshop last year when Heidi and Daniel headlined the “Beach Therapy Ukulele Retreat,” Ignatius said.

Playing ukulele is relatively easy and in as short as a half hour one can be playing simple tunes. The group practices three times a month learning 18 to 22 songs a month. It seems a lot, but with an online library of approximately 550 songs, they are always playing something new. Obtaining modern rock-style songs is not difficult. Many come from guitar music and are adapted for the fingering of the ukulele.

Technology has made a difference for performers and this group puts it to good use. Howard Ignatius, who is also a well-known photographer, has put together the apps and the links that are sent to anyone signing up with the group.

Wednesday, Feb. 6, saw the group’s three-year anniversary playing at the Wine Seller and the evening was celebrated with songs for a theme on old age. Beginning with Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” the group launched deeply into the theme with Tom Rush’s “The Remember Song,” and then “Little Old Lady From Pasadena,” “Remember the Music,” and “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Howard performed a solo on “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair,” and the highlight of the evening, “I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.”

Ashley Norton of the group Witherward performed “Time After Time” and helped on tambourine on other songs. She will return to sing on March 6 when the group will do songs to the theme, “Poets of the 60s.”

Rock.N.Ukes plays the first Wednesday of each month from September to May from 6 to 8 p.m. There is no cover charge, but they do ask everyone to purchase a glass of wine or soda or even a great sandwich from Ley. Most of all they want everyone to enjoy the evening.

“Our guiding principle is to have fun,” Ignatius said.

Rock.N.Ukes will also play in the Uke Fest in Arroyo Grande on Saturday, May 18, at Arroyo Grande Centennial Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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© 2019-Morro Bay Life


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