Uncle Itch was a folk music enthusiast. You could always hear him singing Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger or Peter, Paul and Mary songs. Some songs he sang just stuck with you. I still can’t get the song, “The Cat Came Back” out of my head whenever he’s around. His main instrument was the guitar, though that didn’t stop him from attempting other instruments. He has also learned to play the fiddle, mandolin, and harmonica as a performer. He told us that he took piano lessons as a child for a short time and in Junior High School he played the trumpet. As an adult he tried learning the viola, string bass, saxophone, and both hammered and mountain dulcimers, but just couldn’t stick with them.
With all of those instruments, he is best known in our family as the player of the weird instrument. Having attended a number of Folk music festivals in his life he drifted to the odd music makers, which he always shared with us. He’s played on a saw, wooden bones, the bodhran, the jaw harp, limberjacks, the washboard, jug and spoons. From his instruments one can see that jugband music has affected his musical entourage.
As he got older he was also influenced by the music of Peter Schickele’s “PDQ Bach”. New instruments that were added to his repertoire were mailing tubes, shower hoses, and basically anything that could make a noise. His reputation seemed to follow him around. He told us once that when he was visiting England people kept coming up to him with all sorts of odd fireplace hoses, and broken pieces of iron and plastic with, “Ken ya make music outta this?” He always seemed to find a way to.
One could say he was a Jack of all trades (musically) and a master of none (Well maybe one or two). That never stopped us from wanting to hear him play on his latest creation or sing a new song, much to my parents’ befuddlement. “Why does he waste his time playing those things? How will he ever become successful in music? He could be so much more!”
Who knows maybe someday, somewhere there will be a great need for a player of the esoteric. If so, we know the man. All in all, he’s still our Uncle Itch, and we’ll keep him.