Saturday, January 10, 2015

History of the Ukulele Fight Club

The following is from Thom Pallozola, the founder and Ukulele Fight Club after being asked to summarize the history of our clubs.  He is our Tyler Durden.

The Ukulele Fight Club came about when I talked to a friend named Johnny Vegas about getting some folks together to jam on ukuleles at the bar he was tending. This was around Feb of 2010. We started to get together every week. It was originally made up of pro musicians that weren't working on Wednesday nights and Johnny wasn't hosting his Wed Night Stag Nights. There is a great video of us doing an open mic just a 100 feet from the bar where we met. We just walked down the alley, did our three songs and piled off the stage. It was a stage set up for duo/trio groups and we had over ten people on it. It is funny at the end of the video seeing all of the people coming off the stage! It was sometime during these jam sessions that Johnny made a poster that invited folks to come to a ukulele fight. I loved the poster and Johnny and I came up with calling ourselves the Ukulele Fight Club. That was the beginning. Interesting side note that most people don't know about St. Louis and the ukulele is we have the oldest ukulele club in the country here, the SLUG's. There are around 39 years old now!
The Flea Bitten Dawgs came about because of a song. I 've been involved with a local community radio station, KDHX 88.1FM, for over 26 years. Starting in 1999 one of the DJ's and myself have hosted benefits for the station. I had a core group of top St. Louis jamband musicians that would help me with these shows. Our first year it was an all acoustic show with out using a PA! The next year was an electric jam. Every year was something different. In 2010 I came up with the idea of a night of Grateful Dead music played on ukulele's! The group consisted of 12 ukulele players, a drum kit, percussion, bass, keyboards plus a sax player and a trumpet player. It was a big success! From there we started doing it every year. Last year we changed the donation to a group called TOCO which is a small not for profit which helps families in need. PBS did a segment for broadcast about my involvement with ukuleles and the Whole Earth Nuclear Ukulele Orchestra, which is the name of this group.
This might seem off track but you'll understand why this fits into the Dawgs beginnings! As a promo for the first show I asked David if he'd play a song with me and have it recorded at KDHX. Before we started to work on the song David had been very anti-ukulele! The song I wanted us to learn was Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby" which was a favorite with Jerry Garcia and David Grisman hence the Grateful Dead angle for the show. David didn't own a ukulele at the time so I loaned him one of mine on a Thursday, we rehearsed the song on Sunday and Monday, and went to KDHX on Tuesday to record the song. Neither he nor I knew they planned to video the song so we are dressed like we just came from cleaning out the basement! That video has over 10,000 hits on Youtube. The whole time we rehearsed in David's kitchen his wife kept shouting at us, "That's really great..." As we rehearsed we go off into jamming on other songs and just having fun on the ukuleles. It was because of that song that we formed the band. The name is derived from the fact that David Grisman was called the Dawg in the Garcia/Grisman duo and that the word ukulele means jumping flea in Hawaiian. That's where the name "Flea Bitten Dawgs" came, we are old dawgs bitten by fleas!
Here are some links for you to look at.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


We're doing a little overhauling here. Cleaning things up, making things nicer.

Directly above, you'll be able to check out information about the specific clubs, eg. jam times and locations, as well as links to their respective facebook pages and email addresses.

You'll find posts here from time to time with recaps of gigs, festivals, or whatever else we wanna talk about.

Over on the right side, you'll see links to other ukulele sites, stuff we feel worthy of showing you guys. Below that, you'll find a depository of all of our song sheets - what we play and how we play it. It's the quickest and easiest way to get a little song book printed off and ready to jam. You'll also see links to our calendars which will tell all about upcoming gigs and jams or anything else we've got going on.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or death threats feel free to leave a comment below, or shoot us an [email].

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2012 Ukulele World Congress

4th annual Ukulele World Conference (UWC)

Jeesh, where to begin?  At the beginning, I suppose.

Last Thursday afternoon Ruth, Patrick and I left Lee’s Summit for our first UWC experience.  We drove to our first stop in Union, MO to spend the night with my sister, Christy.  Instead of going right to bed, like smart people, we decided to consume adult beverages and jam for a few hours.  So it goes.  The following morning we dragged ourselves out of bed, repacked the car, including Christy’s luggage and person, and headed east towards Needmore, Indiana four persons strong.

Needless to say it was a very long car ride, but the weather was good and the company was great.  We arrived at the Brown County Inn in Nashville, IN in the early afternoon.  After grabbing a quick nap at the hotel, we headed to “the fields.”  Side note:  on the drive, shortly before Nashville, a tire blew on the semi directly in front of us.  No time to swerve, I drove right over it causing minor damage to Christy’s car.  Relevant to story?  Not really but keep reading.

Ok, for those of you who don’t know what UWC is, here is my take.  Every year (4 so far) during the first weekend of June Mike, the owner of Mainland Ukuleles, invites uke players from across the world to camp, jam, eat, perform, etc.  Cost to participants: $0.  Seriously, no charge.  Plus tax and shipping it is still zero dollars.  The daily format is simple.  Open mic starts at 5:00 and rarely ends before midnight.  After that is sleep.  Before open mic is whatever you want to do which is usually jamming, rehearsing, napping, eating and visiting Nashville.  Nashville, by the way is a groovy little tourist town with lots of stores, shops, wineries and whatnot.  The UWC participants were people from all over the USA and several from out of country.  Australia and Bermuda were represented as well as (I think) Thailand.

Back to the meat of things:  The first thing we did at the fields was unload the car and set up a little camp of sorts – tarp, cooler, chairs, etc.  Then we just stood there and took it all in.  I for one had been waiting for over a year to get there so to me it seemed a bit surreal.    “The fields” are actually one big field split by a small stream and surrounded by tall trees.  There is a small roofed stage with lights and amps powered by a generator.  The sound system is maintained from the back of an old patchwork ambulance.  There is also a large tent with tables underneath for food and peddling.  The field is, of course, dotted with tents and campfires.  Add to the scene 150 to 200 folks roaming about in various degrees of uking and about-to-be-uking.  It was pretty cool.  We visited with old friends, made some new ones, strummed a bit and waited for the show.  The open mic was a lot of fun to watch.  Like our jams, it is an anything-goes format so there was music from varying genres and eras played by artists at various skill levels.   Shortly after dark the bonfire was lit and it was so absolutely welcome.  The temp had been dropping all day.   There was lots of visiting, laughing and jamming around the fire.  Around midnight we headed back to the hotel smiling but weary.  We found out later that the jamming ended after 4:00am.  Someday when I’m younger maybe I’ll stay up with them.
Saturday we took our time getting up and ready, spent some time in Nashville, ate lunch at the hotel, then headed back to the fields.  It was the same format as Friday but this time we planned on signing up to perform.  We met up with our St. Louis UFC brethren to work on some songs.  UFC/StL was represented by Brad G., Michelle S. and Thom P.  Thom, for those of you who don’t yet know, is the founder of UFC.  I’ve described him before as the Peter Fonda of Fight Club (Easy Rider Reference) but it is probably more applicable to call him our Tyler Durden.  Duh.  We worked up a mini set list (2 song max) and went through the songs a few times together with enough time left to do some jamming.  Great time it was; I wish we could have done that all day.

We had signed up to be the first on stage and 5:00 rolled around in short order.  We took the stage and, in my opinion, did awesome!  We opened with Istanbul and finished with You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.  Michelle took the lead vocal on You Aint’ Goin’ Nowhere and she sounded great, as always.  The crowd seemed very responsive to us.  Uber positive feelings after.  Then something really cool happened.  We were gathering ourselves to walk off the stage when from the crowd we hear, “Wait, wait, do another!”  “Yeah, another one!”  Holy shit, they wanted an encore!   With only a little shuffling we landed on the song Blister In The Sun.  This one went quite well also, methinks.  I walked off the stage very proud to be a Fighter.   After our set several of us were approached by other ukers with words of praise and encouragement.

A few artists later, Christy and I were due on stage and we performed Love Song and Summerfly.  Christy, of course, did the singing with me acting as humble accoutrement.  This set was also very fun.   As much as I love playing with the Fighters, the sibling thing can be pretty damn special as well.

So, as is expected post performance, the debauchery began.  The rest of the evening was spent listening to other artists, jamming around the fire, enjoying adult beverages, making new friends, falling down and generally having a great time.  We headed back to the hotel some time after midnight.

Our heads hit the pillows and then it was immediately Sunday morning and time to leave.  Again, we didn’t get in a hurry, just packed and left.  I must say that travelling with others is almost always a pain in the arse.  Not so with this crowd.  I think we left around 10 or 11 with a long road trip ahead of us.  Ok, here’s the sort of circular part of the narrative.  Twice before noon a tire exploded under a semi directly in front of us.  Christy was driving this time and was able to avoid the debris, unlike me.  I’ve seen evidence of these blowouts but in my 26 years of driving I’ve never witnessed one so close.  Now, 3 in 3 days!  Maybe I’m making too much of this, but it was pretty weird.  Karmic?  I dunno.  Bad roads?  Is a tire recall Imminent?  Who knows; just weird.

Anywhoo … trip home was uneventful other than eating at Lion’s Choice.  I love that place.  We arrived back on God’s side of Missouri shortly past 8:00 pm, which left us with about 73 hours of ukulele adventure and memories.   Back to the real world.  So it goes.

Keep strumming and whatnot,

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Denver Ukefest

Over the weekend of May 18 - 20, a few of us had the opportunity to attend the 5th annual Denver Ukefest.  Jealous?  Get used to it - we’re awesome.  Here’s a sort of run-down on the stuff and stuff.

Friday morning, May 18th at 4 damn 30 in the morning, UFC/KC members Kent, Don, Luke, honorary member Moorea, and me (Joe) headed west in a Prius loaded to the brim with ukes and Fighters. Our goal for the day was to get to Denver in time to participate in a workshop taught by Jake Shimabukuro.  We arrived with more than an hour to spare and were able to attend.  After picking up a few tips from Jake, it was off to the hotel to recuperate from the long drive.  Sleep I did (can’t speak for the others) and then it was off to the concert.  Jake Shimabukuro was the main show and he was as great as you would expect.  The opener was The Quiet American led by Aaron Keim.  Also a great show.  Btw:  Aaron helps build Mya-Moe ukuleles which are incredible.  Check’em out:

Saturday was filled with workshops.  There were workshops for all level of players.  Everything from basic chords to strum patterns to magical, mysterious music theory.  The highlights for me were the classes by Aaron Keim and Aldrine Guerrero.  Aldrine is the brains behind the Ukulele Underground  In between workshops there was a lobby full of vendors selling all things uke.  We got to test drive some wonderful instruments by Kala, Oceana, Mya-Moe, Kamaka, KoAloha, Kanilea and others.  I felt like a kid in a candy store where all the candy is WAY more than I could afford.  Maybe next year I’ll bring an extra 2 or 3 grand.

Saturday evening we went to a great pub for dinner.  Highly recommended.  After dinner it was off to the final concert.  The main acts included Tina And Her Pony, The Hapa Hillbillies, The Denver Uke Society, Aldrine Guerrero, and Nellie McKay .  Between acts there was a small side-stage that featured Victor & Penny (from KC!), The Quiet American and Danielle Ate The Sandwich.  There were probably a few more, but I’ve tossed (in recycle bin) the programs.  Very entertaining marathon of a show.  My favorites were Aldrine Guerrero and Nellie McKay.  Aldrine was a student of Shimabukuro and you can tell.   Great stage presence, incredible uke skills and sings wonderfully to boot.  Nellie McKay…well check her out.  Very interesting person.  Fun show but not sure how to explain.  Wide range of style, amazing vocal skills, uber-clever songwriting.  She’ll be performing at the JCCC performing arts center next year and I’ll probably go.  I know that Don plans on buying tickets.

Sunday brought us home and back into the real world.  On our trip back we stopped by the Brew Top hoping to catch the last of our scheduled jam but we walked in 15 minutes after the rest of you walked out.  That was a bummer but it was worth a shot, eh?

- Joe

Dever Ukefest

Friday, May 4, 2012

I am Jack's calloused fingers.

Welcome to Ukulele Fight Club. You're here because somehow you found out about us. A flier in a bar or a music shop. You might have even seen one of our gigs, perhaps. Either way, you're here now, and that's what's important. We hold meetings all over, so make sure you click your area in the menu up there to find where we'll be jamming or playing next.

Unlike a real fight club, though, we're about as underground as a beanstalk. We jam with people of all experience levels and musical tastes. Tell your friends. We can't cause any mayhem without members.

So, join up and jam up.