Roger Greenawalt on Music and Business Part 2: The Beatles Complete and Beyond

Leah Siegel sings "Oh Darling" with Roger on Ukulele In Part One of my conversation with Roger Greenawalt, I learned about the life of a record producer at Shabby Road Studios and how some producers work with artists. In the continuation, I learn more about Roger’s inspiration behind the annual Beatles Complete and his other title, the ukulele carrier.

“For three and a half years, I’ve been carrying this [the ukulele] everywhere,” Roger explains. “It’s an ongoing permanent art exhibit. This performance is forever. I also do it to constantly interact with people, and I sort of know the range of reactions.

“Today, for example, a woman jogged by and said “go on brother.” That was one reaction. A very common one I get is when a mother is with her kid, and she points me out to her child, but she doesn’t need to because children usually directly engage with me and follow me with their eyes. Then, there are those that pretend not to see or hear me.”

I asked Roger whether anybody ever approached him and asked to play his ukulele. He says:

“No, actually, the opposite happens. I’ll show you.

“Someone will come to me and say “wow that ukulele is so cool” and I will put it in their hands.” Roger hands me the ukulele to demonstrate. “I would tell you to put one finger right there and strum steadily.”

I placed my finger on the first string right on the third fret, and strummed as Roger sang an English lyrical improvisation of “Frere Jacques.”

“I’ve taught them a song they will always remember for the rest of their lives,” says Roger. “I’ve had people come back to me after I taught them the song, and they would say “I will always remember that first song.””

My personal experience interacting with Roger on the ukulele was exciting, especially when I realized playing the ukulele is really just playing a fragment of the guitar. According to Roger, many skilled guitar players express the same realization about the ukulele.

“That’s what I realized when I started playing,” he echoes.

I then asked Roger why chose the ukulele as a trademark instrument, and then why dedicated an annual music event to The Beatles.

“Multiple factors,” explains Roger. “A) People love the ukulele.

“I started playing the ukulele right after September 11th (2001) and like many people that year, I was in a lousy mood. Then, one day, my cousin who lives San Francisco – he is a book publisher and a talented amateur musician – invited me to visit. So, after the flights started up again, I took a plane to San Francisco.

“When I went to see him, I learned that he had just been in Hawaii cheering himself up from a break-up. He picked up the ukulele and started learning songs. It just made him happy; it’s this happiness machine. And, the appeal of the uke keeps getting bigger.

“B) There is the undying universal appeal about the Beatles.

“They have been a unique phenomenon throughout the years. The passing of their music from generation to generation has been frictionless. Kids continue to like their music and they keep getting bigger every year. They are the second best selling artist of the last decade after Eminem. So, these are both two good things.”

Roger continues, “Then, if there are 60 artists and they each have two friends, there is a good chance these two people will show up to watch them perform. So, there will be 60 different people in the show, and they will bring in an audience of 120.

“That’s why the event works.”

Yuzima jams with Roger at the Beatles Complete on Ukulele to "Hey Jude" Based on my experience, The Beatles Complete on ukulele does work in attracting a crowd. I remember the 2012 show, which fell on the first weekend in January. People packed the space in front of the stage, shoulder-to-shoulder. I remember singing to Yuzima’s rendition of “Hey Jude” with my sister as we stood among the crowds. To our right stood two Brooklyn bachelors sporting wind breakers and beanies, while to our left, a father was raising his toddler-aged son on his shoulders to see the musicians on stage.

However; I also do admit that outside circumstances, which are not related to music, also play a determining factor on whether the next show the following year will produce a greater turn out than the one prior. For example, this year’s show fell on a weekday, which probably prevented families from attending. In addition, it was also one of the coldest nights in January, a factor that might have discouraged many from coming out. Roger comments:

“If it was not the coldest night that day, the place would have been packed.”

Luckily, people, whether they are returning attendees, new comers to the area, first-timers, or tourists, will likely come to Brooklyn Bowl next January to hear the cheery sounds of the Beatles on Ukulele and hopefully remember it as an event that brightened their beginning of the New Year.

The same applies to many of the musicians that return the following year to perform a set. It gives them a great performance opportunity; a chance to jam with similar groups like them from the Williamsburg area; and a moment to make themselves known to a new group of Brooklynites.

As Roger prepares for next year’s Beatles Complete on Ukulele, he will also continue to work closely with artists looking to really make their big break on the New York City music scene. Roger talks about two musicians in particular.

“Lovely Liar,” he explains, “is a collaboration between me and Tatiana Pajkovic. She is tall, authoritarian, fabulous and tense. She has a Billy Holiday-kind of tone to her voice, and her style ranges from stately mid-twentieth century to French disco.”

Roger is also working with another act called Reno is Famous. Reno is a world class dancer who is a member of the Ballet Company of the Metropolitan Opera.

Roger describes her as “A very well-thought of modern dancer making her way to rock star.” He adds, “Her repertoire includes aggressive punk music ranging to electronic dystopia; a style that is much darker than Radio Head.

“This one’s really close to my heart. I’m making all the soundscapes [in her music] and it includes experimental elements of all my favorite things like strong acoustic ukulele and guitar riffs. It also includes reggae bass, funky drums, and hooks and groves…”

My interview with Roger has come back full circle to his work at The Shabby Road Studios.

In Part One, I learned of two very important pieces of advice that Roger has for aspiring professionals: musicians must always make room for business if they want economic success; and that the more an artist adapts, the faster his or her circumstances will change for the better. In Part Two, I learned about his inspiration behind playing the ukulele and the annual Beatles Complete.

Reviewing our conversation, I realize that Roger makes room in his studios for artists of all backgrounds. A musician can be inspired by a genre that is not widely heard in America, or have performance experience within a different art form other than popular music. If the artist is willing to commit to his or her craft, and willing to work with an experienced professional like Roger in making excellence in music; they will learn a great deal about how to work in the industry, and continue on their professional path with, hopefully, more confidence.

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The Beatles Complete on Ukulele with Roger Greenawalt: A Breath of Fresh Air

The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at the Brooklyn Bowl is a musical collaboration between young singer-songwriters on the New York City music scene and lifelong instrumentalists that met for the purpose of celebrating the canonical music of one of the most world renowned British bands.

Image Music producer and ukulele player Roger McEvoy Greenawalt led this event for the fourth time. This year, the back-up band he played with was The Angry Buddhist East Band. On stage, from 8:00pm to 12:00am this past Wednesday, Roger was also joined by a number of musicians of different professional backgrounds.

The Brooklyn-based experimental singer-songwriter, Alyson Greenfield was the first artist to jam with Roger on a cover of “Glass Onion” and “I Will.” The electric violinist who has toured the world with Cyndi Lauper, appeared on Saturday Night Live and the Late show with Conan O’Brien, Deni Bonet helped Roger and the back-up band transform the upbeat “Please Please Me” into a folky minor-key serenade. Avi Wisnia worked with Roger to turn “She Loves You” into a slow and sensual cover that echoed the pop singer-songwriter’s signature Bossa Nova sound.

Additional artists that joined Roger that night included: Mike Rimbaud, who covered “Can’t Do That”; Olivia Mancini who performed a rendition of “I’m Looking Through You”; the ukulele female duo, Supercute that performed “Getting Better”; Leah Siegel who performed “Oh Darling”; the underground industrial rock musician, Yuzima who covered “Hey Jude”; Craig Greenberg who together with Joy Askew performed a rockin’ version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; and many more.

One might call this event a breath of fresh air, especially if the individual looks to get away from the confines of mosh-pit concerts or the house DJs in New York City’s most expensive clubs. The Beatles Complete on Ukulele allows Brooklynites to enjoy music among a crowd of respectable musicians and audience members. On this note, I will talk about some of the reasons why this event is attractive, as well as reasons for why some people might be turned away. 

A Wide Range of Listeners

The meeting of musicians of all ages and different musical backgrounds attracts a crowd of people that come from different walks of life and span across a wide age range. Some audience members might have formed a friendship with the musician from past shows, and have come to this event to lend their support and see a familiar friendly face on stage. Some might have just come from work, looking to have good and clean musical fun.

The majority of the audience absorbed the atmosphere and performance vibe just in front of the stage. The bar in the back of the performance space, just at the right of the coat check, was occupied by individuals that had planned social meetings with several of their closest friends and acquaintances, and purposely wanted to keep the music in the background. However; this is not to say the music didn’t reach them at all in the foreground of their conversations.

As I waited at the bar for a Brooklyn Lager and a long flat bread pizza, I listened to Craig Greenberg and Joy Askew play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and applauded them. A British man in a long black blazer and shades to my right joined me in my applause and remarked “This band definitely rehearsed!” I responded with a nod of agreement.

Everyone enjoys themselves and the music 

I watched Yuzima lead the crowd in a sing-along to Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” – a moment that lifted everybody’s spirit and created a sense of community in the audience. Earlier in the program, Leah Siegel sang her rendition of “Oh Darling,” in which she gracefully choreographed a physical performance that communicated beautiful anguish. This performance could only make some of the feel like Leah was specifically singing to them.

 Whichever artist came up to the stage, Roger was always in the foreground interacting with the main act. This makes audience members, especially those who are new to the Beatles Complete, naturally think that Roger is a part of all these groups. As for those who are returning for a second time to watch this line-up, they will also feel like Roger is a part of every musical act. Roger’s complete sense of comfort and joy in performing with each consecutive performer might attribute to this visual affect. Some might even begin to wonder how he finds the energy to stay on for the entire four hour program.

Ticket holders get their money’s worth   

I applaud the musicians for overcoming the distractions from the bowling area adjacent to the main stage. Every musician that night performed with Roger and The Angry Buddhist East Band like they were at an intimate venue. Attendees can rest assured that they will get their money’s worth at the Beatles Complete.

On this note, I should mention the ticket is only $10.00. However; if you are very pleased with what you hear and see, you will probably feel compelled to enjoy some food and drink. Now, here is where I believe concert attendees will run into a petty and annoying detail: Brooklyn Bowl is an expensive place.

Price for food and drink a little bit high

The drinks are all over $6.00 and customers can only use credit cards for a minimum of a $10.00 purchase. Although this might be great for attendees that crave food; a dish as simple as a Margherita flatbread pizza is at least $10.00. This and a drink come to $20.00 per individual, and this is only bar food! In addition, the kitchen closes at 11:00pm – something that audience members must research in advance.

Although I can come to understand the kitchen has to close at some time; the price for food and drink is still a little bit high. However; I do say the price is definitely worth the great experience at The Beatles Complete.

Avoid the “Gypsy Cab” after the show

I must also warn concert attendees that if they wish to take a cab home, they must vigilantly seek a yellow cab service as opposed to the white or black Lincoln Town Cars that are used in the highly popular and dodgy “gypsy cab” scheme. The outside of Brooklyn Bowl will be lined with both real taxi cabs and false ones.

See who is active on the NYC Music Scene

In conclusion the positives of The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at Brooklyn Bowl weigh out the negatives. The greatest strength about this performance includes Roger Greenawalt’s love for the Beatles, ukulele and collaboration with great artists on the independent music scene.

I am happy to share some very muffled-sounding videos from Wednesday night’s performance right here on my Youtube channel. I apologize for the poor sound recording quality but I hope readers form a good idea about the experience they might have if they’re interested in coming out to Brooklyn Bowl either for next year’s Beatles Complete led by Roger or other musical occasions. And then, of course, there is always the bowling.

Finally, for those real music lovers out there; The Beatles Complete is a great opportunity to see who is active on the independent music scene of New York City. Most of the artists that performed with Roger on stage that night are very likely to have something new – an album, a tour, or exciting musical project – taking place in the New Year.

So, to those that came out to the Beatles Complete last Wednesday night, I hope they enjoyed themselves and the musical experience. For those who did not, I encourage them to learn more about the musicians, including Roger Greenawalt, and make a trip to Brooklyn Bowl for next year’s performance.