Jammin' on the Ukulele

Article excerpt

Herb Mooney has never been to "Hawai'i," but he's sure he'd fit in if he ever got the chance to visit.

Rows of toes tapped almost in unison as Mooney and a dozen other members of the Steel City Ukuleles tickled their four-strings.

Yes, the group can play Hawaiian faves, but it won't take long before you hear a chorus of high-pitched covers of "All I Have To Do is Dream" by the Everly Brothers and "Hotel California" by the Eagles.

These were their last few strums, their last plucks before an open-mic jam session from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Hambone's restaurant in Lawrenceville.

Mooney, a self-described "tropical nut" who lives in Shaler, turned to the ukulele only five months ago, but says he's ready for Sunday.

He played bagpipes for years while living in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. There came a point when he was out of work and had to sell his bagpipes.

Mooney landed a new job in Pittsburgh and promised himself he'd return to music after he got back on his feet. Only this time, he chose the ukulele over the bagpipes.

He bought his first ukulele on eBay for $200, and brushes up on the instrument by watching video tutorials on YouTube.

"This is my first time back into music and it's been great," Mooney says. "It feels natural."

The Steel City Ukuleles group meets twice at month at the Wilkins School Community Center in Swissvale.

Don't mistake ukuleles, or "ukes" as they're known to fans, for small guitars.

They're not.

For one thing, they have four strings; guitars have six.

And then, there's that sound, that high-pitched lilt that has long been associated with music from Hawaiian and Polynesian culture. …