"....it brings a steady flow of tears to my eyes that the young 'uns of today don't know jack about the Wizard of the Strings and his wonderful ways." -- Don Pauldo de Boletus
|Roy was born in 1900 in Reading, PA, where his father bequeathed to him the sum total of his musical knowledge: 3 chords. But from those humble beginnings, Roy became a self-made string instrument virtuoso and played the vaudeville circuit in his early days. In 1926 he appeared in one of the first sound films ever made by Warner Bros./Vitaphone (the first music video!). The Vitaphone was a projector/sound machine that synchronized a moving image with an audio disc record at 33 1/3 speed and played from the innermost groove to the outside edge. The first nationally promoted Vitaphone talking picture was "Don Juan," starring John Barrymore, and the production was accompanied by other short entertaining video pieces including one entitled "His Pastimes" featuring our man Roy. (Al Jolson's "Jazz Singer" was issued a year later.)|
The "Pastimes" piece made an instant celebrity out of Roy and was just the beginning of six decades of accomplishments on the banjo, guitar, steel guitar and uke. In addition, Roy invented the Vita-Uke marketed by the Harmony Company. He also put his name to several other uke, guitar, Hawaiian guitar, steel guitar, and banjo models made by Harmony, and made over 500 recordings for Edison, Victor, Columbia, Decca, Crown, RCA and others. He wrote instruction/method books for guitar, Hawaiian guitar, uke and banjo by the dozens (hold the huevos, please); arranged innumerable(?) tunes for the uke; and made the first multiple-soundtrack movie for Paramount Pictures.
Roy played at FDR's presidential inaugural ball in 1932; George VI's coronation review in 1939; and toured and played in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, Canada, Puerto Rico, Korea and, of course, Hawaii. He appeared on TV with Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, and Jack Paar. In short, Roy has done it all.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, though, was very simply being the foundation of popular music through his happy, hopping ukulele music of the twenties and thirties when uke was king. He was a tireless performer who played nearly everywhere, would stage a uke contest for amateurs in cities he would visit, and would appear in local music shops along the way for free demonstrations on his vita-uke
Roy recorded hundreds of songs, on his own and with other groups. Many are on 78rpm records, and a good number can be found on LPs. In hopes of reviving an interest in Roy's musical contributions, and in the power of happy music in general, here is an (as yet) incomplete listing of Smeck-ola!
Roy Smeck on LP: