An Interview with Celebrated Blues and Ragtime Musician Del Rey: “Hooked By That Sound.”

 

Noted blues, jazz and ragtime singer, guitarist and ukulele player Del Rey will bring her resonator guitar and ukulele stylings to the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn in Harrisburg on Saturday, April 13th at 7:30 pm.  The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website. Tickets are $24 General Admission, FREE for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online.


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Earlier this week, Del chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter via email about her discovery of traditional blues and ragtime, her introduction to the resonator ukulele, and her passion for telling the stories of great, largely unsung, female musicians. 

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You’ve mentioned how your journey to ragtime and blues really began when Lou Curtiss, proprietor of Folk Arts and artistic director of the San Diego Folk Festival got you into some older recordings when you were a teenager.  What were some of these records and what about them spoke to you?

When I stumbled into Lou Curtiss Folk Arts Records I stumbled into a several wonderful art worlds. First there were the up and coming musicians playing gigs in the tiny store: I saw inspirational early performances of Tom Waits, The Summerdog Bluegrass Band, Pop Wagoner-all playing to 30 people wedged under the record bins. Lou ran the San Diego Folk Festival too, where I saw Lydia Mendoza, Martin Bogan and Armstrong and Sam Chatmon. So I got to hear and learn from a lot of real characters. 

Then on record, there was everything from Memphis Minnie to Seven Foot Dilly, 78s to LPs, and Lou had a good way of playing you things and making cassettes that gave me a good idea of what songs I wanted to learn. 

What first called you to the ukulele?

My friend Sandy Hines from (at that time) Charleston SC was the first real ukulele fanatic I met. It rubbed off on me hanging around her and I found a cheap pineapple uke at the flea market. Then my guitar maker, Ron Phillips made a me a superior metal resonator uke and I was really hooked by that sound. 

What were some of the hurdles you experienced converting your guitar style to ukulele?

The change from guitar to ukulele made me think about chords differently and understand them better. The shapes are clarified, being only four notes. Even though I use the re-entrant string as a time-keeping note with my thumb, I’m also attracted to how that high sound inflects chords, with the sweet brightness of ukulele.

What about resonator guitars and ukuleles do you love so much?

Sparkle! Metal resonator instruments made of nickel silver like mine have a lot of sparkle. 

Who are some of the figures you touch on in your Women in American Music presentation, and why so you think projects like this are important?

Women In American Music is a project where I talk about a few of the incredible stories of women musicians often left out of standard music histories. Vahdah Olcott Bickford a classical guitarist who helped make guitar the popular instrument it is today; Memphis Minnie, one of the most influential fingerstyle blues guitarists; Carrie Jacobs Bell, songwriter and music publisher;  Lovie Austin, pianist, arranger, songwriter and bandleader; Mary Osborne, electric bebop guitarist…it’s an ever changing list of women who interest me who played great music. 

You’ve been really prolific over the last two years! What can you tell us about your last two records, Communique in 2018 and Solo in 2017?

My latest albums are Comuniqué and Solo. The latter is a response to requests for an absolutely solo cd of me singing and playing uke and guitar. It’s recorded in a very unadorned manner, “straight to tape” as they used to say. Comuniqué is a collaboration with Suzy Thompson, the great blues singer and fiddler, and bassist Matt Weiner. They are two of my favorite living musicians and we play everything from Bessie Smith to originals on that one. 

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Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He is on instagram

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