There are plenty of stringed instruments out there -- guitars, banjos, zithers, harps, ukuleles, mandolins. But, as St. Louis musician Bryan Ranney warns, they're not the same thing, dammit.
Besieged over the years with questions about the latter two mentioned above, Ranney is out to set the record straight during his recently launched "Not a Ukulele" tour. Ranney tells RFT Music that upon seeing him play his mandolin, audience members have pondered what it is, grasping only that it's a strangely shaped guitar-type thing and automatically (and kind of inexplicably) assuming that it must be a ukulele. Early on, Ranney even considered creating t-shirts saying "Not a ukulele."
"The idea came to me again a couple of months ago. I thought, 'Hey, I've got a friend who makes t-shirts; I should just run with this,'" Ranney recalls. "From there, I thought I should make a sticker, and then it became a brand for the tour."
Now Ranney is putting that mandolin directly in music lovers' faces, in all its not-a-ukulele glory. During the tour -- which kicked off with a sold-out show in Chicago and will head to Arkansas and beyond -- Ranney wears his mandolin pride on his sleeve.
"I hear that sometimes ukulele players get asked if they're holding mandolins. It's like, 'Well, that's not a guitar...'" Ranney says. "But this isn't about educating the public about what a mandolin is; it's about pointing out that it's not a ukulele."
For readers who don't know, a mandolin and a ukulele look nothing alike and produce different sounds. A mandolin has a neck similar to that of a guitar, but the body has a round or teardrop shape and features a traditional sound hole or a curved F-hole. You can hear the mandolin in popular songs like Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" or R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," shown below:
A ukulele, on the other hand, usually is shaped much more like a traditional guitar, though there are varying styles and sizes. The body often is in a figure-eight or "pineapple" shape with a round sound hole. Many people know the ukulele from Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" or from this classic Brady Bunch episode:
Ranney, who will play some "Not a Ukulele" gigs solo and some with other musicians, says he's planning fourteen or fifteen trips as part of his tour this year. Locally, Ranney will perform a show with St. Louis' Jane Godfrey and Eric Barnes, and Nebraska's the Mrs. Dunbars at 7 p.m. Saturday, January 24, at 1900 Park.
After the concert, make sure to ask Ranney about SpongeBob SquarePants. A friend had cryptically asked Ranney if he'd be up for a singing gig on a Monday morning, and upon saying yes, Ranney received an email with a file from Paramount Pictures -- a song from The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water that's slated to be released in February.
"I tried to Google it so I could figure out what the words were, and then I realized, 'Oh, this movie isn't out yet -- nobody knows what the words are,'" Ranney recalls. "I had it [the song] in my possession for about twelve hours before I had to sing it, and somehow I didn't mess it up live on TV." Watch the clip from KSDK-TV here.
Oddly enough Ranney already had some experience with SpongeBob, having performed Ween's "Ocean Man" from the first SpongeBob movie with local band the Feed just a few months ago for a Ween tribute night.
"This is actually my second SpongeBob song in less than six months. Apparently my new genre should be SquarePants music," Ranney laughs.
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