Frankie Keane: Singer-Songwriter, Stage & Screen Actress

Seeing a theatrical or musical performance is a shared experience.  As Jacques said in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”   We all experience a birth and a passing – a beginning and an end.  Or maybe it doesn’t really end after all?  “Hereafter” is a musical that  brings to the stage an exploration of what happens after that inevitable final curtain call.

In the Big Apple, along comes an artist named Frankie Keane.  Within her was an intense desire to sing, write songs and act.  Where else could you go, but the city that never sleeps?  Eventually she met Vinne Favale, whom she helped in the creative process of writing the musical “Hereafter.”  In addition to being a part of the creative team, Frankie Keane is a cast member playing the role of “Anita.”

In our interview with Frankie Keane, we encounter someone passionate and open, with a desire to bring her heart to the stage and into the lyric and melody of the songs she writes and sings.

Let’s meet Frankie Keane.

Livingston Taylor: Teacher, Singer-Songwriter, Guitarist, Pianist

A very fascinating interview with an interesting man, Livingston Taylor talks about many topics including performance, songwriting, the record industry, and the life of an artist.

 

Livingston Taylor is a teacher first and foremost.

You will probably find him…

1. Energetic

2. Enthusiastic

3. Thought-provoking

4. Interesting

Some of you may be inspired.  Some of you may agree and embrace the ideas he expresses here.  Some of you will disagree fervently, but one thing is for sure.  You will certainly have lots to think about.

Some who listened to this interview said it was the most interesting interview I was ever given, and for that I must say THANK YOU LIVINGSTON TAYLOR.

Ladies and gentlemen, the man I am talking to is Livingston Taylor.

Paul, nice to speak with you this day.

Thank you for making the time to do this.

Good. My pleasure.

My first question. Who is Livingston Taylor?

It’s a, it’s an interesting question; perhaps not very interesting, necessarily, to anybody but me. What, what I am at my core is two things. I am really energetic and I am ferociously curious. I’m curious about everything that is, everything that exists, everything that might exist, everything that has existed. I just, I very much enjoy my own brain. I like the presence of my brain. I like being in the company of my mind. I like where it goes. I have a good time thinking about stuff. And I think about the minutiae – of whether it was wise for Kim Kardashian to continue on with the marriage or whether she should have, in fact, called it off early. That’s important to me. I’m curious about it because I’m curious about human nature and about celebrity. I’m delighted with celebrity and people’s fascination with it, and I have it, too. I am, in fact, interested on the, not the Montel show, on the – well, whichever show it is, whether the person is or is not the father of the baby (laughter). So but, by the same token, I’m also very interested in things such as does an expanding universe, when you have the singularity of the Big Bang, does the Big Bang – to me, to have the epiphany the other day of an ever-expanding universe, leaving room – nature abhors a vacuum – and leaving room for, for the Big Bang to simply show up. Right now, what we envision is all this stuff around us and the Big Bang needed to intrude on what was already there but the fact of the matter is that it simply appeared because nothing was there. And I love thinking about the Big Bang. I love the singularity of the event horizon of black holes. I love physics and I love astrophysics and atomic particles and quarks and gluons and smashing atoms together. And so, to me, it’s not incongruous to be interested in whether Kathie Lee Gifford should get another facelift and whether it’s possible to create an event horizon by centrifugal force, so you would spin a flashlight at a speed that the centrifugal force would be such that you would create an event horizon. I love centrifugal force and how it feels like gravity and what is the interchange between the two. Oh, by the way, I’m interested in everything in between as well. And so, it’s a rich life and it’s an interesting life and it’s also a life that – I don’t do well with, with great fame. I like a little fame. Fame is like Tabasco sauce. A little bit can be very pleasant. Boy, a lot can be terribly corrosive. So, far better to have too little than too much.

With all of your interests, could you pick one that is your greatest interest?

Well, my greatest – the question is “how does music fold into all of this?” And what music is and does, is music is the foundation that – music is the roadmap home, so I can go on mental adventures. I can journey through subatomic particles. I can go to the farthest reaches of the universe. I can leave this universe and go into different dimensions. I can go into some very bizarre places and music becomes the roadmap back home. I’m always bemused when people speak about music education as being not important to the sciences or to, to the learning experience and then they’ll cut their music programs. And I want to take them by the neck and throttle them and say ‘Are you out of your mind?’ There was nothing but time and tonality so the human brain can go on the adventure. It’s not by accident that Albert Einstein played in a string quartet – fairly badly, if I’m to understand (laughter) – but, um, but music is the roadmap that allows you to go on the adventure, not vice versa! It’s just, it is so crucial and so fundamental. And so, with that in mind, about 22 years ago somebody asked me to teach at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and I was on that in a nanosecond because I knew Berklee simply to be – have an opportunity to be – one of the most interesting higher education experiences on the planet. And it has become that. It is, arguably, the hippest academic destination on the planet now and people come to the Berklee College of Music from all over the world. And, and they’re coming there, ostensibly, to learn music but it always makes me laugh because I know they’re coming there, and they’re coming to me, to learn how to be on the adventure and how to read the roadmap back home. Here it is, guys. Welcome to it. so the excitement is so high. It’s so huge. Yeah.

A lot of times, when I’ve asked that question “Who is” so-and-so to the guest, they give me a label that we like to, as humans, sometimes just include ourselves in a group, like ‘Oh, I am  songwriter.’ ‘Oh, I am performer.’

Umhmm.

One could say that you’re a songwriter.

I certainly am a songwriter and a singer and a guitar player and a pianist.

And a teacher?

And a teacher.

So of those different, I guess you could say ‘occupations,’ does one of them burn brighter than the others for you?

I am a teacher at my core. I have always been a teacher and I am a teacher. I love teaching, not because of the information I give but because of the information I get. Only in teaching – I don’t know anything and I explain this to my students very early and very quickly – if you’re expecting to take my class because I know something, believe me, you know much more than I do. I was born dumb, I grew up dumb, and I’m dumb today and I can prove it. You know more than I do. I am here to teach you because in teaching you, I learn more. And I’m so amused when they say ‘Oh, how nice of you to spread your wisdom.’ And I go ‘What??? Please! I got no wisdom!’ I mean the only – I do know, there are a couple of things I know. One piece of advice I have to my students is never assume grand parentage or pregnancy because the penalty for getting them wrong is unrecoverable. Have a good life! Bye (laughs). You know, I mean it’s a, I – so there are little things that, that I know and I can say but vast knowledge comes from these Berklee students who, by very virtue, by the very virtue that they’re at the Berklee College of Music, they already ran an unbelievable gamut to get there. They got the hay beat out of them for the decision they made to be a creator. Everybody doubted the wisdom of that but they didn’t. And so, when I get in their presence I’m with my people and I look at them and I go ‘You – are – me. Let’s go. Let’s start the adventure right now.’ And the adventure, the music, is the conduit. Again, it’s how we report on the adventure. We give information about what the adventure we’ve been on so we can report on it in our music, and we can sell those reports, continue to finance the adventure.

One of the things that you have taught a lot about is performing. Is that correct?

Yeah, that is the course I teach. It’s called ‘Stage Performance.’ Yeah.

With that said, if it’s easy to put into words, what makes a good performer?

What makes a good performer is a combination of technical precision. (Emphasizing each word) You – need – to – practice – and – be – good. So you need technical precision and you need to tell stories that are compelling to the human condition – and they can be very simple stories. They don’t have to be complicated. And, above all else, you have to watch the music land. I was at Eddie’s Attic last night to hear a couple of young players and they were good. They had some real sparkle but I was, I was really surprised at the mediocrity of the guitar playing of both of them. They simply didn’t know much music and had they been my students I would have taken them aside. I would have said ‘This guitar playing is going to need to be better. Now, here’s how you make it better. You’re going to need to practice.’ And we’re defined by our ability, not by our strengths, but our ability to work on our weaknesses. You need to identify them and you need to work on them. You need to use your strength to lift your weakness. You’re strengths aren’t your problem. Your weaknesses are. Go to work on them! And they don’t have to improve, surprisingly. They don’t have to get better. It’s nice if they do but they don’t. Your working on them is enough.

Does that ever stop, though?

No. No, it never stops. You do run out of time.

Right.

You run out of time and you run out of the ability, you run out of the physicality to continue to do it. You, Paul, are 30. I am 61 and, physically, physically I am losing strength and it’s very clear to me that by the age of 80, the physicality required would be – and it may happen tomorrow afternoon; it may happen this afternoon but certainly by one’s early 80’s, the physicality required becomes really difficult.

How important do you think it is for musicians to both see other musicians playing and also to listen to music, like just as in recordings.

I don’t think it’s important to, well I’ll answer the questions in reverse, to listen to music. Music finds you all the time. I think it’s important to listen to music and when something interests you, either in the positive or the negative, that you find it, study it, disassemble it. If something is successful and you don’t like it, it’s not the problem with the music. The problem is with you. If it has appealed to a lot of people, if it’s found itself to a place of success, that’s worthy of study. Conversely, I beat on my students all the time about studying great songs. I like them to go back when songwriters, when great songwriters were writing for great singers. So I’m very interested in the pre-singer/songwriter age. The problem with singer-songwriters is that they tolerate the incompetence of both. As a singer, you tolerate your incompetence as a songwriter and as a songwriter, you tolerate your incompetence as a singer. I don’t like that. I like it to be two separate entities. One can only imagine that a Johnny Mercer, or a – writing a song that, that Frank Sinatra is going to record and sweating the details of that song. A great song gets informed not only by a great writer but by a great singer and the singer – well, one can only imagine Frank Sinatra being very concerned that he’s going to do justice to a Johnny Mercer song. So, these tensions are very important for the artistic reality. Now, what happened is we moved into multi-track recording. You would never, you would never have a singer/songwriter – you know, outside of a Pete Seeger or folk music or, or blues, you know, delta blues kind of things – you’d never have a big pop recording before multi-track recording with a singer/songwriter. And the reason why is that you had 70 people there, all recording at 11:00 on Tuesday , and you had, you had to have a professional singer and you had to have a professional songwriter because everything had to be done. And you would start a take and you needed a great singer to sing that take and sing it right, from the get-go. They need to sing well from the first take. Everybody needs to play well from the first take. There’s so much that can go wrong that everybody needs to be professional. It needs to be at a high level. Multi-track recording came in in the early ‘60s and that laid the groundwork for singer/songwriters – for Jackson Browne, for my brother James, to a lesser degree for myself, others. The question is where did the discipline come from at that time and the discipline came from the gatekeepers – the heads of the record companies, the people who controlled the recording studios and the pressing plants that allowed access to the distribution network. And those gatekeepers were the discipline because they were all forged in the reality of pre-1960 recording. And they came into the 60’s, into multi-track recording, insisting on that discipline at a distance before you were going to be allowed in to the distribution network that they controlled. And that is why it was so good. You had the freedom to exploit and market the chaos of the artistic experience, and the discipline’s exoskeleton of, that the gatekeeper provided, i.e., do it right or you’re not coming into my network. And if you don’t come into my network, you’re not going to survive as a musician, as a creator. And that’s why my students, who were born in 1990, ’93, ’94, are listening to music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s something we never did in the ‘60s and ‘70s because every week was a brand new (imitates sound) ‘beep, beep, beep’ – another dump truck backing up of new music. We didn’t have to listen to music that was six minutes old because it was all out of that factory and it was a very efficient factory. Oh, by the way, if you wonder if I want to get back to that, I don’t want to go back. I want to go forward and recreate it, with the internet as the underpinning of it. We need gatekeepers and the only reason why you get gatekeepers is because there’s enough money around to interest people in being gatekeepers. Great art is the result of wealth concentrating talent. Let me repeat: great art is the result of wealth concentrating talent. No wealth, no concentration of talent. It’s diffuse. It’s not great. It can be good, it can be sparkly, it can have moments of genius. Great art? Do you get the Sistine Chapel without the Catholic Church? (Laughter) I mean, not only Michelangelo to paint it but what about, what about the architect and the craftspeople to build the building that it goes in. Nah! We need gatekeepers. So when people look for an income stream through the internet and who should get paid – I love it when they say ‘Oh, artists, artists should be paid fairly.’ and I laugh out loud. Of course they shouldn’t! Artists have never been paid fairly because when you are in the throes of creative genius you are at the absolute top of the human experience. Money is a poor substitute for the genius of creativity. And the only people who complain about having been ripped off are people whose muse has left them and now they are poor and uncreative, and rightfully complaining.

Hmm. Wow.

Wow, huh?

(Laughs) Yeah. It’s a lot to think about.

Yeah.

It’s very interesting. One thing that you said that really, really had me interested was when you said, “I tell my students ‘Listen and look at great songs.’ ” So with that, what would you say make a great song a great song?

Well, it’s, it’s interesting. It can be a number of things. First off, like when you leave – move from one dwelling to another, there are things you decide to bring with you and things you decide to leave behind every time you move. And the songs that we have today, that have been brought forward from the era before multi-track recording, the reason why I’m very, very suspect of anything sort of post 1960 – and that’s a pretty arbitrary number – but I’m, I’m suspect of that because that entire record industry that formulated that, that created all of that is completely gone, never to come again. It is not coming back. That infrastructure is going to need to be reinvented. And I think there’s great things to be learned from that but I want my students approaching the lessons from early, coming in from 1955 forward, not going back and weeding through Taylor Swift, Mylie Cyrus and New Kids on the Block or whatever that … the blizzard of information in – and by the way, any of these young contemporary artists may, in fact, be creating stuff that gets carried through, that society says that they want to carrying on and take with them every time they move and that’s, but, it’s – I can’t weed out what it is. So I can’t direct my students in that direction. What I can do, is I can direct them as a, for guideposts to all of that creativity that we decided to carry forward. Ella Fitzgerald singing George Gershwin’s, George and Ira Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me. That’s worth listening to. John Raitt singing Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ from Oklahoma!. Opened on Broadway March 31, 1943 and was just so explosive and it’s so good. Oscar Hammerstein, II is my favorite lyricist and, uh, if I go down this road with you right now, I will never get out of this (laughter). So Rodgers and Lorenz Hart – Larry Hart – and the growth of Rodgers and Hart, and eventually Richard Rodgers can’t, can’t live with Lorenz Hart. He can’t work with him. He’s just, it’s too crazy. It’s too much. And so then he starts working with Oscar Hammerstein, II. (Recites lyrics of I Have Dreamed from The King and I)

I have dreamed that your lips are lovely.

I have dreamed what a joy you’ll be.

I have heard every word you whisper

When you’re close to me.

How you look in the glow of evening

I have dreamed and enjoyed the view.

In these dreams I have loved you so

That by now I think I know

What it means to be loved by you.

            I would love being loved by you.

Whoa! Whoa! That, with Richard Rodgers’ changes? Whoa! So I’m saying to my kids ‘Go, go, go back, go back. Find that. None of your contemporaries will know this! Steal this. Go back. Take this! Steal it. Make it your own. Bring it with the precision and the accuracy of vocal tuning and the, uh, and the techno-reality of the world you live in. It’s so good. You’re going to make it so much better than it was.’ I want my kids moving forward. I want new income streams. I – people ask me do I worry about my songs being stolen, i.e., our music being exploited. Well, no. I’m not worried about it being stolen, I’m worried about it not be stolen. I want to be exploitable!

Right.

My problem is that nothing is exploitable because there is no income stream to be exploited, and that’s a frustration.

You just were reciting those lyrics. Would you say that you’re more attracted to the lyrics of a song or the melody?

Lyrics are everything! You must be telling stories compelling to the human condition. If you don’t tell stories that are compelling to the human condition then make sure you are stunningly good looking, i.e. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift – I love looking at her and because she is so beautiful, I will tolerate any level of mediocrity in her story lines. Here’s the problem. She’s not going to be that beautiful that long. I say to my students all the time ‘You’re greatest liabilities are good looks and talent because the world does not belong to the beautiful and the deserving. It belongs to tenacious and the fortunate.’ And you need to tell great stories. And when you are beautiful and talented, you get looked at. But they’re going to pay you, eventually, for you to look at them …

Hmmm.

… not them to look at you. This is why my brother, James Taylor, and Carole King can sell out sports arenas on tour. Was it a burning desire to see the stunning, sexual engines of James Taylor and Carole King? I think not. What people wanted to see, is people wanted to hear the stories that moved them. And I say this to my students all the time. When you are 70, someone is going come to you and they’re going to walk up and they’re going to say ‘I hurt so much. I am in so much pain. Could you please tell me the story that you told when I didn’t hurt so badly?’ And you’re going to look back at them and you’re going to go ‘Of course I’ll tell you that story.’ and they will feel better. And you will be of real service, and that’s what we’re talking about! So do I beat on my kids? You bet! I’m hard on people. I expect them to be of service! To whom much is given, much is expected. And I am a, quite a bear about this. And, yup, the better you are in my classes, the more trouble you are in.

(Laughs) Wow. If you could reflect, what is the best thing about being Livingston Taylor?

Well, the best thing about being Livingston Taylor is that – again, I’ve been blessed with real energy and real curiosity. I don’t know anything but – and I’m always bemused whenever I hear one of my contemporaries speak about ‘Oh, this person is so smart.’ Please do not confuse intelligence with good fortune! They’re not the same thing. Listen, I love good fortune, and I admire and applaud good fortune but it is not – “bright” is not “lucky” and “lucky” is not “bright”. So let’s be very, very careful. Also, be advised that success has a thousand parents. Failure is an orphan. When you lose money in Las Vegas, there is no noise. There are all kinds of bells and whistles when you win. There will be no noise when you lose. So let’s be very careful about confusing good fortune and success. So to me, my great joy is that I’ve been able to be energetic and curious and now I have the – at this age, not only am I energetic and curious, I now know (knocks on wood) at the core of my soul that I don’t know anything. So, everyday I get to be an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

I have two final questions. One may seem light-hearted but I believe that this reveals a lot about a person. What is your all-time favorite meal?

Ahh, that’s a, that’s a really, that’s a really good question. I, certainly my, my favorite meal would be a really well done roast chicken; rice, white rice; peas, small peas – love peas. Along with that would be a glass of soda water, bubbly water, no ice, no nothing, And along with that would be, for dessert, would be a piece of what they call icebox cake, which is chocolate coconut cookies sandwiched in between whipped cream and let stand for 6 or 8 hours. And that is, that’s a very pleasant meal for me.

Well, the last question is open-ended. We have this age where it used to be when you were on the radio or on television, it would be heard by the people in that area, or seen by the people in that area. Now we have the ability to communicate with people all over the world. So, for anyone who is listening to this interview, wherever they are, what would you say to them in closing?

I would say in closing that, first, that I love them. And that I love them just the way they are. I don’t need them to be thinner, to be fatter, I don’t need them to stop smoking, to stop drinking. I don’t need them to be anything because – but what they are right now, because I love people just the way they are.

That sounds great.

Good!

Well, Mr. Taylor, I thank you very much for this interview. I will have a lot to think about.

All right, Paul. It’s nice to see you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Ralph Shaw: Ukulele Player, Recording Artist, Singer-Songwriter, Entertainer

Ralph Shaw is an entertainer who performs on a banjo-ukulele.  He is a witty recording artist and showman with a love and passion for performing.  He’s also a great songwriter who’s tender and comical songs are deceptively sophisticated.  In addition to his original songs, he interprets many of the classic songs from the Tin Pan Alley era of American music.

His work, including five solo albums and a book, has played a crucial role in creating the current ukulele boom. He joins us to talk about his musical world, his songwriting and more. Hailing from Yorkshire, England and making his home in Canada, it was a pleasure to interview him and also have him perform a song for the listeners.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure I welcome the king of the ukulele, Mr. Ralph Shaw. Thank you so much for joining us.

Well, it’s my pleasure. I must say, though, I get a little bit embarrassed by the ‘king of the ukulele’ these days. I gave myself that name when there were pretty well no other ukulele players around and now there’s a lot of player much better than me.

Well, there is only one Ralph Shaw.

That’s true! As I often … I guess we can all be kings and queens in our own little world, can’t we?

That’s true. I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up for you?

Wow, that’s a big question. Ukulele related, I’d have to say the very first ukulele I ever held belonged to my grandfather. He played with it in the 20’s and this was just an old instrument that was just kicking around the house. And my father put real string on it, you know, like hairy gardening string so it was totally unplayable. So, for me, the ukulele was a mystery object. And I grew up in a little village in Yorkshire, in England. So…I’m not sure what TV shows you might have seen – there was one called All Creatures Great and Small – but it’s sort of wind-blown moorland, you know? So it’s a fairly harsh climate. Probably similar to the Scottish highlands, that kind of thing. They had a lot of farm folk around there and, you know, it wasn’t – as a teenager it wasn’t easy to get around. At the time it seemed quite normal but I realize, especially by today’s standards, that I spent a lot of time doing my own thing. You know, creating my own entertainment. When I got gifts, you know, it was often like real tools for woodworking and, you know, painting. So there was always this element of creation, making up your own stories and games. And getting into trouble and, you know, all the usual things. But lots of outdoor play as well. And I guess – I think part of me actually believed the reality of what you’d see on television. So when you saw these fictional situations of how pop stars lived – I’m thinking now, for example, the Beatles, how they would all go in separate doors and when they got inside the house it was all just one room. I think I believed a lot of that kind of thing. You know, when you watched an Elvis movie where Elvis would sing and suddenly everybody would join in. I think part of me always believed that that could happen. And I think, to some extent, it still does and that’s what I go out with, as an entertainer, you know? I believe that people will just join in with my little musical world. And quite often, they do which is wonderful.

Well, you mentioned the Beatles. What type of music did you grow up liking the most?

Actually, funnily enough, not the Beatles. I was born in 1964 so I think by the time I was really listening to music the Beatles were quite passé so it was – I don’t remember hearing their music as a child, which surprises people. So, yeah, they’re not a part of my scheme at all. I mentioned Elvis. When I was around 13 years old, they showed Elvis movies every day through the Christmas holiday so (laughs) it was quite neat to grow up with that as a kind of entertainment. My grandfather, on the other hand, he lived just around the corner and he was one that would sing songs when I was a child so I grew up hearing a lot of those songs. And I’m not even – I couldn’t even name you too many titles right now. It’s just that when I was very young my mum, she thought ‘this kid knows a lot of songs!’ You know? I was four years old and she wrote down about 25 songs that I was singing. And I didn’t – you know, they weren’t kid’s songs, right (laughs)? They were just – these were things I had learned from my grandfather. But then, later on, you know, I would listen to what my friends listened to and like what they liked. So I picked things up like there was Led Zeppelin for a while. There was ELO. There was Pink Floyd. In my early teens I got this book called The Encyclopedia of Rock, which for me, was like the internet of the day because you could look up, you know, a band or a musician you were interested in and then it would be cross-referenced to the links to other parts of the book where other band members had been in their band or they played music with someone else. So, so it was from that that I then discovered my own music that my friends didn’t even know about. And it was through that that I got interested in all sorts – Frank Zappa, Little Feat, Arlo Guthrie. It just became a real eclectic kind of mix of music that I liked then.

Your first album, The King of the Ukulele, the songs are all from the Tin Pan Alley. In my humble opinion, you made those songs magical. They’ve been recorded so many times, but some of my favorite versions of those classics are the ones that you recorded. You did a beautiful version of Blue Skies with that long harmonica intro. I’ve played a lot of those songs on the air. You did a beautiful version of Puttin’ on the Ritz. You had a few humorous songs, too, that I’d never heard of – Taking My Oyster for Walkies. So tell us about your love for those songs.

It’s so wonderful to hear you say that, Paul! Let me tell – if I can, can I tell you a story of something that happened just a week ago? I got a phone call from a fellow in England. He’s an artist. And every two or three years he calls me up just to tell me something, you know. And he’s got this rich, plum English voice. And he told me about how he’s just received a terrific shock. He thought one of his neighbors, an elderly neighbor, was in trouble. He’d pretty well gone to kick the door down, you know, because he thought he was in danger. And then he realized he might be visiting a friend. And then it turned out that this elderly neighbor was visiting a friend. But Giles, he said ‘Ralph, I was very much in shock!’ he said. ‘So I listened to my iPod. And I’ve got thousands of songs. You wouldn’t believe how many songs I’ve got. And I thought ‘What do I really need to listen to at a time like this?’ and straight away, Ralph, I thought of you, and “King of the Ukulele”! (Laughs)’ He said ‘I’ve got, you know, Frank Sinatra and Joan Stafford, the Beatles, the Stones’ – he’s reeling off all these names – he said ‘but Ralph, it was you that I thought of!’ (Laughs) You know, so that, it was so neat. They happened for me when I started to play the ukulele because I thought I would play rock songs, but I found that a lot of modern music sounded very boring when played with the ukulele. They’re very simple chords. And reaching into the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s – those songs, I discovered, are so well-written, melodically. The chords, the lyrics, everything was so clever. And, in fact, it ws all so good that I stopped writing my own songs at that point. I thought why write my own not very good stuff when there is this treasure trove of songs to draw off? So, yeah, I recorded those and produced, I must say, by Geoff Gibbons who did a great job there. I really don’t know what to say – why people like my versions of them. It’s, uh, I just sing them in the way I feel they should be sung and I do seem to have a sort of Tin Pan Alley/Vaudeville aspect to my style that seems to suit those songs quite well.

You did a second album with a lot of old songs on there. You did La Mer and then there was one song that sticks out in my mind. I believe the title was I Just Wish I Was in Love?
Uh huh.

Tell us about that one.

Well, there’s several songs on that album that aren’t old songs but they sound like they could be. So this one is one that Geoff Gibbons, again the producer, he showed up at the door as I, you know, when I arrived for the recording session and he said ‘Ralph, I had a dream about you last night.’ He said ‘You were in a park. You were like Gene Kelly. You were dancing and you were singing a song.’ He said ‘And I don’t, I don’t remember the, all the words, but you were singing ‘I just wish I was in love’ and I remember the tune.’ So he played me the tune and sort of what lyrics he could remember and then left it for me to write the rest of the song. So I spent the next day or two finishing that song off. And it was probably a year or two later that I realized that this song he had thought of as Gene Kelly – and Gene Kelly is famous for Singing in the Rain, you know, ‘I don’t care what’s coming. The sky can pour down with rain. I don’t care, ‘cause I’m in love!’ right? Well, this song has the exact opposite sentiment. This song says ‘Everything in the world is perfect. The sun is shining, children are playing but what does it all matter? What does it all mean if you don’t have someone to love?’ Just a needs reversal there.

I don’t want to put you on the spot here, but do you happen to have a ukulele handy?

Oh, I do have one. I always have one by my desk. I don’t know if it’s in tune (plays a few notes) – umm, not too bad.

Would you care to play that for all the listeners out there?

Hmm, OK. Let’s, uh, let’s play something I’ve just – this is something I’ve just been working on so it’s sort of fresh in my mind. (Performs Mr. Sandman)

There you go.

Thank you on behalf of all the listeners. Thank you so much!

Hey, you’re very welcome. Thank you.

Mr. Shaw, one thing that I’ve heard you say several times – well, I’ve seen you write – is respect for the ukulele. What does that mean to you?

Back, back when I wrote that – and, you know, I think I put that in the liner notes of The King of the Ukulele album – that was at the time when the ukulele was treated as a joke which, in a lot of ways, I didn’t mind because, as an entertainer, I could walk on stage with a ukulele and people would just start smiling straight away because it was something goofy and silly. But with that statement, I also wanted people to realize that it’s a musical instrument and that it has, you know, it has so much potential Any kind of music can be played on it. Just because it’s small and got four strings, you know, doesn’t make it silly. A violin is small and has four strings, too. So that was really my intent. It was, it was before the present ukulele boom took off. It was to let people know, yeah, here is an instrument worthy of being looked at, worthy of being noticed, worthy of being taken up by all kinds of musicians. And it’s, it’s quite wonderful. This is probably now 16 or 17 years after I wrote that and I don’t need to say it anymore. There is, there are so many great players that have taken up the ukulele and they’re doing all kinds of things with it. And I don’t think, I don’t think it’s ever going to fall back into that ‘Tiny Tim’ niche goofy status anymore. I think it’s, um, here to stay as a recognized instrument. You know, that happened with the saxophone, it happened with the banjo. You know, these were all new instruments at one time that people saw as novelties and then they became established things and I think we’ve hit that point now with the ukulele.

You have two new albums out. Tell all the listeners about these two new records of Ralph Shaw’s.

Yeah! They’re called Love and Laughter. And I mentioned earlier that I stopped writing my own songs when I discovered the Tin Pan Alley era. Well, after a few years, I did start writing songs again and what those oldersongs did for me – really studying the songs of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, all these great songwriters – it made me a much greater self-critic of my own work. I’ve learned to know when a song is not finished. I think a lot of, a lot of modern songwriters, you know, write songs and the first thing they write, the first thing they put out, they think it’s a done deal. And I’ll listen to it and I go ‘Oh, they could have done so much more with this. They could have made it so much better.’ And so, that’s what I’ve done with my songwriting, which falls into two categories. I have funny songs and I write songs on the theme of love as well, like so many popular songs. And, and I just felt that they – I had enough of each and I felt that they should be in two separate categories so I made two individual CDs, one called Love, one called Laughter. And pretty much, all originals.

Do you have a favorite song of yours that you’ve written?

Ahh … oh, dear. For different reasons, I sort of have different favorites. I, I must say I’m a big fan of the sort of the genre of double entendre songs so it sounds like you’re singing about one thing and you’re actually singing about something else. And one of my favorites in that line – it’s almost unplayable (laughs) because it’s kind of naughty – but it’s one called Bird Lover that’s on the Laughter album. And I think that’s going towards being a triple entendre song and it’s a song that – it just amused me so much to write it. And it really is quite, if you have a mind for that, it’s quite sexually raunchy and yet, it’s just seems to be an innocent song about a cat. I had a lot of fun writing that one but I must say, I’m a little bit careful where I sing that one (laughs).

I understand.

One of, one song that’s very special for me that’s on my Love album – in fact, it starts the album – it’s called Fair Kathryn which I wrote for my wife – who, uh, who just came in and brought me a cup of tea right now. That’s a nice one as well. It’s got sort of a British feel. It’s upbeat and yet there’s a lot of poetry in the words. I, I like it when a song comes to me and it seems to be something outside of myself. I can look at it as if ‘Wow, that was neat. I don’t know how that happened, but there it is.’ And that’s one of those songs.

When you go down the path of being an entertainer, a ukulele entertainer no less, you’re choosing a different path in life, one could say (laughs). So I’d like to ask you what kind of adventures have happened to you as a result of this journey that you’ve been on in music?

I have to say, Paul, you ask just the best questions (laughs) though, you know, you’re sort of hitting on the things that are, really, kind of big issues in my life. Yeah, and this choice to be an entertainer, it was really a naïve choice, you know? I believed all those movies, you know, where a little band just gets together to rehearse, the next thing somebody notices them and then they’re thrust into the limelight and then they’re – that’s it, they’re famous forever! I believed in that story for many years and I think part of me still does. I’ve always loved the idea of entertaining, you know? It’s something I would do – I would write songs, I would write funny poems. And when I found a book in the library called The Independent Entertainer that was written by a clown, it made me realize that you could make a living as an entertainer. And I did. I became a clown first. That was my first thing. I would carry the ukulele around in a guitar case which also contained the clown props. And then, bit by bit, as I became more proficient at the music, then I became more of a, you know, ukulele entertainer – “king of the ukulele”. But it’s not an easy life. I thought it was going to be just fun and games all the way, you know? And as time goes on and as I understand more and more about the business, I realize what a ‘business’ it is and how much you have to do. And when people have succeeded, what, you know – what things they’ve had to, you know, to do to get to that point. Some do fall into it. Some do have the lucky breaks, you know? But many don’t. You know, most, are just out there hustling for gigs, and playing the gigs, and working on it all—and, uh, there’s a lot of hard work that you don’t see. And most people do not realize it. All they see is a happy guy onstage with a ukulele, right? And if you’re going to go onstage with a ukulele, no one wants to see a miserable guy. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got going on with the rest of your life, you’ve always got to be that cheerful person. But quite honestly, 95% of the work is going on behind the scenes. And it, yeah, it’s kind of slugging away, really. You know, just doing what has to be done. You know, I thought I could escape being a slave to a job and, in a way, I have done. You know, I love being self-employed. I love being able to do this for a living, but it’s still work. It’s still a job, even if it is more of a calling (laughs) at this point.

What is the best thing about being Ralph Shaw?

Oh, my goodness (feigns a groan) – oh, dear Paul, what the …! (Paul laughs) Oh, no. I don’t know … I don’t know. Like, I am, I am a bit of manic-depressive kind of a character, I have to say. You know, there are times where I’m just so full of joy and music and happiness and other times where I’m not, so I would probably answer that question in different ways, depending on when you catch me. I think, professionally, I really love the way people that like what I’m trying to do and get what I do and respond to it. You know, like you have, have done. You’ve expressed that. And I run a ukulele club in Vancouver, here where I live. And people come out to that. We’re playing along and I run the show and I keep it fun. We have over 140 people coming out to it now! And just to see the delight in all their faces. You know, all these people who come with their ukuleles – you know, they’ve all got their problems in life but by the time that evening is over, everybody, every single person, they’re just beaming. They’ve all got big smiles and they’re all leaving and going off into the world. I just imagine each of them going into their, back into their homes – not with any – just full of this good feeling. And they’re, individually, going to be spreading that wherever they go. I’d have to say that if there’s one thing that keeps me going in what I do – and it’s the thing that I love most about what I do – it is spreading, you know, I’m this little nucleus of positivity that ripples out and puts good into the world and helps others to do the same thing for themselves in their world.

For anyone who listens to this interview, or who reads the transcript, what would you like to say to them?

Don’t give up your day job (laughs) unless becoming a professional entertainer is something that you pretty much have to do, do it. Be happy with whatever you’re doing because everything we do, every life is worthwhile and everybody, I’m discovering, has their problems and their trials in life so we really have make the most of whatever we’ve got and work with that to the best of our abilities.

Now, for my last question: who is Ralph Shaw?

Hmmm, I don’t know. Can you give me a bit more to go on (laughs)?

Well, somebody might see you and say, oh, from a distance, Ralph Shaw is a singer and ukulele player and recording artist or an entertainer. But sometimes we view ourselves differently, or we think there is a part of us that not everybody gets to see. So I guess I’m asking ‘Who is Ralph Shaw at heart?’

You know, that’s a very good question. It’s a really good question. I don’t know. I think I’m still on the journey to finding myself. I really get what you’re saying. You know, ‘you’re looking smart in your suit and your fine moustache and everything’ (laughs). You know, I’m in my cycling outfit – I was just out on my bike. I don’t wear a bow tie. You know, whenever I perform I’m always in a suit and a bow tie and that’s what I present as Ralph Shaw, the performer. But when I’m not like that – I’m not wearing a bow tie all the time. You’ll have to get back to me on that, Paul. Until I reach some moment of enlightenment, where everything all comes into some great oneness, I’m still toying around with these aspects of myself that do different things and play different parts and different roles.

Well, that gives us an excuse to have another interview someday.

(Laughs) I would love that Paul! This has been so neat to talk to you.

Well, thank you very much for this interview. I can tell you, on a very personal level – we’ve never spoken, we’ve emailed several times throughout the years, and I have an autographed photo of you where you drew a little palm tree in the corner of the photo – your music has brought me some joy in my life and I appreciate that.

I must say, Paul, our correspondence has been very, very encouraging for me as well. And it has been over a few years. I was expecting you to look a lot older than you are so congratulations on looking so young (laughs).

Well, thank you very much for that. Keep playing the ukulele and keep singing and making this great music because it’s what the world needs.

Thank you so much, Paul. You keep putting it out there. All the best, mate.

All right. Have a good one.

Yeah, you too. Bye bye. Hey, I wasn’t expecting such an impressive moustache, by the way! (Laughter)

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.