|INTERVIEW WITH THE CRAZY EMPEROR
This nice interview was arranged by Chuck, Member of the Billy Goat Riders in Beligium.
King Kukulele ... Some will say "King WHO" and some will immediate remember this remarkable gentleman. He travels around the world entertaining and enchanting his audience with his music and jokes and the only things he needs are 4 strings, 12 frets and a lot of improvisation. Let's call him the modern-age, jetlag TROUBADOUR.
Did you play another instrument before you started playin' ukulele?
I started on the trumpet in school when I was about 10 or 11. I played that until I was about 16. Later I took a class in piano and studied singing and musical theatre in college. Before the ukulele took over my life, I was playing guitar a little, I am self taught. I never took lessons or classes, I just got songbooks with the chords and lyrics out of the library or from a store. It was mostly just for fun.
It's not a very common instrument, so how comes you chose that one?
Well in my earlier years I was mainly acting in Los Angeles in TV shows, or films, or commercials. I was in a theatre company, but it wasn't really a money making deal. About ten years ago I split up from my girlfriend and I
really needed to get out of LA for a while to clear my head. I headed to Maui, Hawaii for a couple of weeks and met a guy who was playing the ukulele. I tried it out. I loved it. It turns out he came from the same area as me in California, and he had a friend who played ukulele in LA with senior citizens, about 50 of them, every monday. I remembered my dad and uncle played the uke when I was young, and my dad still had one at home in a closet. When I got back to LA I started to play ukulele with these older people every monday and I started to learn all the great old songs from the 30's, 40's, and 50's. After that it just took over my life and its been and adventure ever since.
Did you learn it all by yourself? Or did you get lessons?
I never did get any lessons on the ukulele. I think of it like playing the guitar only I don't have to work as hard. I learned alot of the songs I do from my friends in the senior citizen group. If you're ever in LA on a monday you can come and meet all of them in Newport Beach, California.
They're great people. I bet they'd love to hear some billybob on the uke!
When did you realize that you could make a livin' out of it?
Well it actually started out as busking and grew from there. I went to Hawaii for two weeks after I broke up with my girlfriend and I liked getting away from home so much that I started packing my bags for a round the world trip. Four months later I was in Paris singing the "Hawaiian War Chant" on the metro for francs. From their I went to Ireland and got a job in a cafe owned by Bono from U2. It was called "Mr. Pussy's Cafe Deluxe" and I had my first ukulele job their in August of 1994. One night U2 came in with REM and they watched my crazy little ukulele show. Then on New Years Day of 1995 Ben Stiller came up on stage and sang a couple songs with me. He's a great guy, I started to call him a chicken for not coming up to sing a song, I was clucking really loud and running around like a chicken, and the next thing you know he's on stage singing away. I respect that guy alot. I left Ireland, travelled with my uke through 20 countries, and arrived home after a year and a half with no money, no job, and no place to stay. From there, I just started getting more work from the ukulele then from the acting. Which is O.K. with me.
You've worked in Disneyworld, how was it like and what exactly was your job?
I started working at Disneyland when I was 18 and I was dancing in parades and in funny costumes and it was a great time. I lost my job there four years later, at that time I was telling stories and walking around playing with kids. I returned to Disneyland years later for various jobs that
would come and go. One time I was dancing, one time doing comedy as a crazy scientist, and one time I had a great job playing guitar as a TV cowboy. I was on stage pretending to be making a TV show. It was alot of fun. This year I appeared as a hillbilly palying my "banjo-lele" and goofing around. It was alot of fun.
You've played all over the world, even Japan, is King Kukulele that popular?
I wish I could say that King Kukulele is famous in every country and I wish I could say that someday King Kukulele will take over the world! But first I think I am going to take over the United States and try to clean up this mess that George W. Bush is making. If I could do something about this nutty "President" maybe I would be much more popular. For now I am happy to be able to make a living making people laugh.
Ever thought about recording a cd, or video?
To prepare for the 8 months that my band and I worked in Japan, we recorded a CD to sell there. That was in February of 2001...we didn't finish it. It is floating somewhere in space until I get my butt in gear and do that last couple of tracks. Life has been really crazy but the band wants it to be
finished. As for as videos go, I have been talking to someone about putting out a video that would include music and travel.
I've seen you several times at the Rockabilly Rave (UK), and allthough there are always damn good bands playin', I wonder why King has never been on stage over there? Would you do it?
The TRUTH is, Jerry Chatabox is afraid that if he put me on the stage, it might be too much for the people to handle. They only have one ambulance. And sometimes girls faint when I sing. I first met Jerry at the "Las Vegas Grind" which was put on by the guys that do the "Viva Las Vegas". He said that he wanted me to be part of the Rockabilly Rave Weekender and I thought that'll be the day, well here it is three years later and I haven't missed one. Jerry puts on a fantastic show
You're a damn good entertainer, have you ever had bad experiences?
OH YEAH! I invented a trick in Japan that makes it possible for me to throw my ukulele at the audience and catch it again. Noone ever gets hurt,
except one time. I threw the ukulele too fast, it came back too fast and I didn't catch it in time. It hit my face and cut my lip, I didn't know it at first so I kept on singing. Then I felt all the blood dripping down my face, there I was singing in front of 100 Japanese people with BLOOD dripping all over my face. I went to the hospital and get two stiches...and from then on I throw the ukulele slowly.
When you play in Japan, does the audience always understand your humour? Your jokes? Or do they laugh after every sentence?
I think we were smart in Japan. We didn't expect anybody to understand English. We only counted on them enjoying the sounds and getting the visual humor. I learned a little Japanese, and sometimes just a little language is enough to be funny, but mostly I would run around and chase kids, steal baby strollers, throw the ukulele, kick the plastic lobster and make it chase kids, bounce the rubber puffer fish off my head and sing very silly. These are all ways of making people laugh without any language being spoken. We loved and we think they loved it too.
You're a real "Tiki's fan"... I guess you've visited a lot of 'em all
over the world? Belgium, for example?
I try to see as many tiki bars as I can when I am travelling, and a hobby of mine is to try to see all of the Trader Vics restaurants that I can. I think Trader Vics is the biggest chain of tiki restaurant/bars in the world. So far I've seen the Trader Vics in Beverly Hills, Emeryville, Chicago, London, Osaka, and I performed at the Atlanta Trader Vics for the "Hukilau 2002". That was alot of fun. Playing at the Tikis in Gierle was a real highlight too because its very far from the big city. I played the opening of another Tiki Bar designed by the same guy, Josh Collins, in London called South London Pacific. In LA I live close to alot of great Tiki Bars and restaurants, but to play in Europe will always be more exciting and fun. I love Europe.
Do you have other plans in mind for the future?
I guess I am lucky to say that I am doing what I would like to do. My other plans are just to continue enjoying entertaining people. I would like to get more work, travel more, and maybe get King Kukulele into the movies. There is a short film project that started this last summer which has King Kukulele trying to stop the destruction of the planet Earth by an angry Tiki God. I'm hoping that goes well, the producer is looking for more money to
You've bought your house in L.A., do you think about settlin' down? Wife... children... Or will King continue touring all over the world?
I would love to have a wife and kids, I think that would be really cool. I just don't know if I want to stop touring the world. Could I take the wife and kids with me? ...Please? The problem is I don't have kids, or a wife, or a girlfriend. Its hard to get a girlfriend when you wear a grass skirt all the time. I think I have to stop wearing grass skirts and start dressing like SHAG.
What's your ultimate dream, King?
My ultimate dream would be to be making movies, singing at night, and travelling around too. Then I would like to open a huge Tiki nightclub with live hula dancers and fire dancers and waterfalls and featuring the music
of The BillyGoat Riders! Now if I could just find where I put that magic wand. Then I am going to get into politics and run for Govenor of California and then President of the United States. YAHOOO!!