|Monday Nov. 22, 2003|
Strum along with Loki
"He has this kind of style from another era - from
the '20s. He identifies with another time," says John Quigley, general
manager at the University of Colorado's radio station, KVCU (1190 AM).
Quigley met Ukulele Loki, 25, and his co-host, Uncle
Jeff, at Radio 1190 two years ago. Sunday nights from 5 to 7 p.m. the
two spin an eclectic mix of old-time, "Americana" music on their
specialty show, "Route 78 West."
Loki and Jeff frequent garage sales, dusty corners of
record stores and even grandparents' attics in search of old 78-rpm records
to play on their show. They pay about $1 for each record.
The 78-rpm recordings are different from the vinyl records
most listeners are familiar with. 10 inches in width and made out of shellac
(a byproduct of the resinous secretions of the lac insect - eeww!), they're
no longer compatible with any but specialized record players. But, thanks
to digital audio technology, the two are able to burn the recordings to
compact disc, reviving and preserving this music for a new generation
They define the music they play as everything from honky
tonk to Western swing, spaghetti Western to surfing music, and everything
in between. You never quite know what you're going to get when you tune
in to "Route 78 West," and more often then not, the music is
scratchier than Uncle Jeff's Southern drawl. But with Loki at the helm
and the bearded Uncle Jeff interjecting tidbits from his seemingly endless
knowledge of music, the listener is sure to be taken on an entertaining
audio journey into the past.
But the revival of old Western sounds is just one of
Loki's many unique musical interests. He thrives for anything vintage.
And he does more than just listen to it - he lives it.
Loki picked up a ukulele three years ago after a visit
to his grandmother's house. There he found some sheet music from the 1920's
and noticed that each of the songs had a part written for the ukulele.
"The ukulele was the guitar of old-time music. It
was in every song," says Loki.
Picking his way through his grandmother's music, he eventually
became an accomplished ukulele player. Today he frequents retirement homes
in and around Boulder, playing the old songs and providing what he calls
"musical therapy" for the original listeners of this musical
"I like that era of music. And I also like that
era of people," he says.
He tells the story of a woman that he visited at Frasier
Meadows Manor Retirement Home. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease and
was unable to recall anything from her past. But when Loki played a song
for her, she sang every lyric along with him.
This experience helped Loki realize the power of music.
As Loki claims, this kind of music - especially the stuff
he plays on "Route 78 West" - is poised for mainstream (re)acceptance.
"All the hip young kids are wearing cowboy hats
and pearl-snap shirts," Loki points out. "Remember when everyone
used to say, 'I hate country music?' Now people are saying, 'I hate country,
but Johnny Cash was pretty cool...'"
He thinks old honky-tonk Americana is the next big thing.
You should think twice about questioning Loki, because according to him,
whenever he gets interested in something, "it gets big."
But what about ukulele music? Are the "hip young
kids" ready to embrace the jug band, Dixieland, and fox-trot tunes
that the ukulele is synonymous with? Loki seems to think so.
As he explains it, the ukulele is the most non-threatening
instrument out there.
"Nobody can't love the ukulele," says Loki.
"I can walk into a bar, walk up to a 6-foot, 200-pound guy and play
a love song to his girlfriend. The guy will just smile and laugh."
Moreover, the band that Loki is spearheading has a formula
that is sure to garner some attention for the ukulele and its music. The
Crispy Family Carnival Spectacular is a neo-vaudevillian circus sideshow
- complete with a bearded lady, fire eating, and knife throwing.
"We've even got a nine-foot albino python,"
Loki is the ukulele-toting emcee for the band, its ringmaster.
His instrumental riffs and verbal patter separate the appearances of bizarre
talents and sideshow oddities, performed primarily by the band's co-founder,
Crispy. (It's just Crispy. Sideshow performers don't reveal their last
The two started the band after Crispy returned from studying
at New York's Coney Island Sideshow School, bringing back to Boulder an
array of sideshow stunt secrets.
Loki warns that all the tricks they perform are not illusions.
He laments that they have to carry a $2 million liability insurance plan
for the band alone - a decision this journalist encourages after accidentally
cutting her leg on Loki's "blade box" knives.
As their Web site declares, "The Crispy Family's
lighthearted approach to the macabre has made audiences gasp with horror
and squeal with delight." This summer, the band regaled audiences
with two performances on Lollapalooza's third stage when the festival
rolled through Denver. They're also performing this weekend at the Bug
Theater in Denver.
So is the world ready for Ukulele Loki and his bizarre
antics? Perhaps. In the meantime, he will continue to carry around his
ukulele bringing smiles to Boulder.
"If nothing more," he says, the ukulele gives him "a license for unbridled clowning and fun."