Roy Smeck: The Wizard Of The Strings In His Life And Times

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Becoming one of the first stars of stage, screen, radio and television.

September – Geezer Music Club

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He would play one or more current popular tunes on the banjo while also playing a small harmonica. Over the next ten years, Smeck polished his act, incorporating a variety of dance steps and adding more amazing tricks. He added a jew's harp to the banjo and harmonica, and learned to flip the harmonica over with his tongue, even pretending to swallow it only to pop it back to his lips.


As the popularity of Hawaiian music on the mainland grew, he added the ukulele, switching instruments in mid-tune. Then he began do such gymnastics as playing behind his back, spinning the instrument around, blowing across the sound hole, plucking the strings with his teeth and tongue, and bowing the strings like a violin.

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After studying fellow performer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, he came up with a way to imitate the sound of Robinson's tap dancing on the ukulele. His amazing dexterity made him one of the more popular acts on the vaudeville circuit, and landed him a small spot in film history.

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In , as movie studios were experimenting with a variety of sound technologies, Warner Brothers shot a short that showed Smeck performing his act at the Manhattan Opera House, using the Vitaphone system. The Vitaphone synchronized a film projector with a record player.

Vintage Two-Hand Tapping by Roy Smeck, "the Wizard of the Strings" — Video

A 33RPM record provided the soundtrack for the silent film. The film allows us to witness Smeck in his prime, and it still blows away people who thought that T. By the time he died in , Roy Smeck was in his nineties and many years removed from his heyday as a performer, which began in the s.

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  5. Although I don't go out of my way to scan the daily obituaries, you might have noticed that I occasionally mark the passing of a performer by reposting an earlier article I've written about them. I couldn't resist writing about this. I used to tease Mrs.

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    BigGeez about how I'd like to someday buy a big fancy Harley so that her and I could travel the country. Of course, I was kidding and she knew it -- but she still usually responded by threatening me with a big knife.

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    I don't believe we've featured a lot of calypso here on the ol' GMC, although Harry Belafonte did make an appearance at one time. But when writing recently about Jimmy Soul, whose music was often calypso-flavored although he was from North Carolina , I discovered an interesting fact.