BY JIM D’VILLE | FROM THE SUMMER 2022 ISSUE OF UKULELE
Nashville’s Bob’s Your Uncle is not a ukulele band; it is a band that uses ukuleles. That is the description given by co-founder and lifelong Nashvillian Bob Tigert. And no, he is not the “Bob” in the band name. For that explanation, we need to travel over to England, where “Bob’s your uncle” is a phrase commonly used to say, in effect, “there you have it,” or “there it is.” It’s origins (late 19th century? early 1920s?) are debated by people who care about such things, but all you need to know is that it is the name of Nashville’s hardest-working ukulele-centric band. The current lineup consists of Tigert on ukulele and harmonica, Jim Alderman on accordion and guitar, Tim Davies on percussion and ukulele, and Bart Smith on bass and guitar. All four members provide vocals.
The band’s nucleus dates all the way back to the LBJ administration of the 1960s. “Jim and I played together in high school in Nashville,” Tigert says. “After college, we played together in at least three different bands over the years. Then, about seven years ago, Jim and I started playing as a guitar duo. We then added Tim on percussion and ukulele. We also brought in Bart on bass and guitar and David Martin on resonator guitar.” In the early days, their performances were humble: “We did a couple of farmer’s markets once a month for like three or four years. They’re not the greatest gigs, but we got paid for rehearsing… and free veggies! We’d play three hours on a Saturday morning and be done by lunch.”
Over time, the farmer’s market performances led to gigs at wineries, clubs, and other concerts. Tigert says, “We became one of the busiest bands in town. Although we weren’t making hundreds of dollars apiece yet for each gig, we would be doing up to nine gigs a month.” Combined with rehearsals, the frantic pace led to the newly retired David Martin dropping out, so the group retooled as a quartet.
Initially, Tigert only played acoustic guitar, but one fateful night, the charms of our four-string wonder began casting a musical spell upon him. “I was producing a record for a woman that played the ukulele,” he recalls. “One night we had a studio recording session booked. She called and said she couldn’t make it. I was like, ‘We have a session booked!’ Still, she wouldn’t come. So I went down to Carter’s Vintage Guitars, a premier music store here in Nashville, and told Walter, the owner I’ve known for decades, ‘I’ve got a session booked, and I’ve got to play a ukulele.’ What am I going to do? He said, ‘Take this one.’ The only thing I noticed about it was the $3,500 price tag!” After getting back to the studio, it only took Tigert one strum to realize, “This is not a plinkity-plink instrument.” A year later, he bought a Kanile‘a ukulele on a trip to Hawaii, and the die was cast.
Bob’s Your Uncle plays a mix of cover tunes and about 65 percent original material, with genres including, but not limited to, Motown, rock ’n’ roll, country, and jazz. One of the first songs the band worked up was The Beatles’ “She’s a Woman.” Says Tigert, “I do a Merle Travis style of picking, and when I started playing ‘She’s a Woman’ on the ukulele, I thought, ‘This works better on four strings than it does on six.’”
Some people might shudder at the thought of a Nashville-based band with lead instruments that include ukulele and accordion. Jim Alderman, who played drums professionally for years, explains how his role of lead accordion in Bob’s Your Uncle came about. “I was playing drums with a band in Texas, and one of the guys gave me an accordion. He said, ‘Here, you should play this.’ I never took any lessons; I just started playing it like a piano that had tipped over.”
Tim Davies plays percussion and ukulele in the group, but just saying “percussion” does not do justice to the sonic textures he adds to the band’s big sound. “I started with just cajon and shakers,” he says, “but now I’ve got two cowbells, woodblocks, electronic triggers for snare and cymbals, and the latest addition, a glockenspiel.” Bob’s Your Uncle is not Davies’ only ukulele endeavor—he is also president of the Nashville Ukulele Society and plays in the all-ukulele band the Ukedelics.
Bart Smith plays bass and guitar and says the band uses the ukulele as both the main rhythm and lead instruments. “When people unfamiliar with the band see the ukulele, they seem to expect us to start playing ‘Tiny Bubbles,’ so they are quite surprised when we kick off a Jimi Hendrix or a Who song.”
So what role does Tigert’s lead ukulele play in the band’s overall sound? “The ukulele sits on top of what the rest of the band does,” he says. “On the high end, the ukulele sets the groove and gives definition to the texture of our sound. Whereas the bass and percussion handle the low end.
The accordion is the ethereal texture that ties it all together. I think audiences are attracted to us because they can’t believe the sound we’re creating with the instruments we’re using.”
Before Bob’s Your Uncle, Tigert did his songwriting on guitar. Now, he says, “When the ukulele is the sole lead instrument in the band, writing on the ukulele is imperative if you’re going to be honest to the song.”
Alderman also writes original material for the band, but Tigert notes, “Jim doesn’t write on the uke, but I’ll take his songs and arrange them on the ukulele.”
Lisa Webb, a Nashville singer-songwriter who often sits in with the band (and also performs in the ukulele duo Webb-Tigert), comments, “Bob’s Your Uncle is a solid machine. They are all thorough musicians, all pros. Plus, they like to feature other younger musicians from time to time, providing them much-needed performance experience. And friends are always welcome to sit in.”
The band has recorded three albums: Songs About Love and Stuff (2017); Cortez Avenue (2018); and The Charm (2019). Naturally, the pandemic made live performances and recording any new material all but impossible for about two years, but Tigert says a new album is finally in the works. And when it comes to producing music videos for the band, they have an ace in the hole—Tigert’s video experience. For decades, he ran a wildly successful video production company shooting non-network films worldwide. In the process, he garnered 72 video awards. So, as you would expect, BYU’s music videos are top-shelf productions.
The group has cultivated a loyal following in the Nashville area with its unique blend of jug band, R&B, hillbilly, salsa, and squeezebox rock ’n’ roll. But it’s not just from the diverse musical menu they serve up. It’s the amount of joy emanating from the stage as they play. These guys love sharing their music, and it shows.