The Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp have been featured performers at the Black Swamp Arts Festival, the Fayette Opera House, Tiffin’s Friday Night Live, and Lansing’s Mighty Uke Day. The GRÜBS cover pop, rock, swing, folk, country, and show tunes – from Bertolt Brecht to Harry Belafonte to James Brown to the Beatles and beyond – and they perform original songs, too. Northwest Ohio’s premier ukulele quartet plucks and strums a full range of ukes, from bass to sopranissimo, to support their rich vocal harmonies, and they get audiences tapping their toes, singing along, and asking for more!
The GRÜBS: A History
The Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp began one Christmas here in the Great Black Swamp, in Bowling Green, Ohio. In a moment of fateful inspiration, Jason Wells-Jensen left a cute little ükulele under the tree for Sheri, who had so far been making most of her music on a classical guitar. The gift came with joyous doses of recordings by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Jake Shimabukuro.
After Sheri came up for air, nothing would ever be the same. The ükulele next spread its magic over Jason Wells-Jensen (who should have known it would happen) and then to good friends Anne Kidder and Geoff Howes. And they knew that it was much more than a hunch that this group must somehow form Northwest Ohio’s finest ükulele-and-vocal ensemble. The rest is musical history … or at least that’s what the biographers will say someday!
The GRÜBS made their debut as a quartet in the spring of 2013 at the Downtown Bowling Green Art Walk, playing in a parking lot for a small gathering of friends. Things really took off from that parking lot, and two years later the GRÜBS were featured entertainers at the Art Walk After Party.
The quartet plays all kinds of ükuleles, from Jason’s stately bass uke, to Sheri’s tenor, to Anne’s plucky baritone and adorable little sopranissimo, to Geoff’s incredible slide, resonator, and 8-string ukes.
Four ukuleles and four lead singers and lots of harmony too, because you can’t resist singing in harmony with all that ükulele goodness in the air.
The GRÜBS cover every kind of music they can think of, from pop, rock, swing, folk, country, and show tunes to Bertolt Brecht and Harry Belafonte, and from James Brown to the Beatles and beyond.
They have a growing number of originals, too, some of which are featured on their self-titled EP, released in September 2014. And all the Christmas music you ever wanted on ükuleles is on Uke Tide, released November 2015.
The GRÜBS have performed at many fine venues such as the Black Swamp Art Festival (their favorite festival), Toledo Train Day (a Toledo favorite), Lansing’s Mighty Uke Day (Michigan favorite), and the Leisure Time Winery in Napoleon, the Stones Throw Tavern and the Sunset Bistro in BG, and Coffee Amici in Findlay (local favorites where you can eat and/or get awesome coffee and good wine).
They’re always trying to spread the ükulele joy by performing, and also by offering lessons, workshops, and classes for beginner and intermediate ükulelists.
The GRÜBS would like to apologize to whatever band is now not making it big because we stole Geoff Howes out of the parking lot of Shatzel Hall and took him to Ükulele Indoctrination camp. He has emerged unharmed, and although we have detected the presence of mandolins still here and there at his house, he is our awesome jack of all ükuleles. He plays slide and eight string uke and, because he knows more about classic rock and folk than just about anyone alive, he is the source of endless fantastic suggestions for new songs for us. He’s sort of a mild mannered guy, so when he first mentioned that he also could “add a little harmonica” (if that were allowed), we all just sort of smiled and agreed, with no idea what incredible things were just around the corner. One of the best moments we collectively had as a group recording Uke Tide was when Geoff threw down the harmonica solo on “Old Lang Syne Blues”. He’s a one-take harp wonder. In real life, Geoff is a happily retired professor of German.
Anne Kidder is magic. Seriously. We have direct, incontrovertible observational evidence that Anne makes everybody sound amazing. Any time the GRÜBS are singing together, and the harmonies are ringing, you know it’s because Anne is there in the mix. It usually works like this: someone will sing a melody, and the rest of the group will go “Yeah, that was ok… Anne, what would you sing with that?” And she’ll say something self-deprecating and then pop out with something lovely that ties the whole thing together. That was what happened with “Where you Go” from our first EP; she just made it happen. She’s one of the members of the band who also has guitar skills, and has been making joy with her music all her life. She plays baritone and sopranissimo ukulele, and because she is naturally one of the nicest people we know, it’s always Anne that we send out into the audience to entreat volunteers to come play with us on “My Dog Has Fleas” and such things. Resist her if you can! Anne is holding onto her day job as a banker (for now).
It maybe sounds like a cliche just now, but it really is all about that bass. A bass turns a herd of stragglesome ükulelists into a tight little band. At least in the hands of our bass player it does. Jason Wells-Jensen has been laying down hot bass lines in lots of different contexts with lots of different basses for years, but we think it was the U-bass that really lit his fire. The GRÜBS like playing in venues where there is a nice wooden floor so we can feel the low notes booming solidly right through the soles of our feet. Jason could make a good living as an arranger of hit songs, but please don’t tell him so. We’d really like to keep him. He’s also the master mash-up finder. In one of his coolest moments, he created the arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on our Uke Tide album and has been responsible for many similar flashes of brilliance. During non-GRÜBS moments, he teaches linguistics and directs a choir.
Sheri Wells-Jensen is an all-around virtuoso (or is that virtuosa?), as a teacher, colleague, friend, and spouse, and not least as a parent. To our great benefit, she also applies her virtuosity to music, as our lead ükulelist extraordinaire, a singer with conviction, and our local goldmine of original songs. “Where You Go” and the instrumental “Stewart Morris” are staples of our performances that are every bit as good as or better than our cover tunes. When it’s time for lead lines or mood, her finger-picking skills always come through. We try not to take it for granted. Luckily we can listen to our recordings to find out what small miracles she’s creating over in Melody Land or the Improvisation Zone while we’re just concentrating on getting the chord progression right. She consistently coaxes the proper tenor from her tenor ukes. If we need a mood boost, we just glance at her blissed-out smile. Her unfaltering cheerfulness keeps all of us going. In her spare (that is, non-ükulele) time she is a professor of linguistics and English as a second language.