Ken Lelen

Ken Lelen
Ken Lelen sings great American ragtime, jazz & swing and performs on vintage acoustic guitars for an authentic, back-in-the day sound.

Friday, September 23, 2016

2017  Concert  Schedule

Date       Community   or   Venue   and   Location             Concert Theme
Feb   23     Pine Run, Doylestown PA                         When Love Was Nifty
Mar     2     Friends Village, Woodstown NJ                Juke Joint Jive
Mar    28     Jefferson's Ferry, South Setauket NY        Big Band Idols
Mar   30     Bronxville Public Library                        She Did It Her Way
                 2:30 pm
                 201 Pondfield Road, Bronxville NY 10708
                 914-337-7680   —
Apr   12     Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                        T B A
Jun     9     Lake Prince Woods, Suffolk VA               Great American Nightclub
Jun   1 9     Havenwood, Concord NH                         T B A
Sep   21     Friends Village, Woodstown NJ                Sunny Side of the Street
Oct   19      Wilmington Memorial Library                Tin Pan Alley Cats
                 2:30 pm
                 175 Middlesex Ave, Wilmington MA 01887 
                 978-658-2967   —
Nov    8     Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                        T B A


                                          ©  2017 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

2016  Concert  Schedule

Date       Community   or   Venue   and   Location             Concert Theme
Jan   19    Lincoln Cultural Assn, Philadelphia PA     When Love Was Nifty
Feb   11    Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                  Legendary Love Songs
Feb   11    Pine Run, Doylestown PA                         Torch Song Embers
Mar   26    Maplewood, West Yarmouth MA               Radio Ramblers
Mar   27    Residence Otter Creek, Middlebury VT    Broadway Mementos
Apr     7    Lions Gate, Voorhees NJ                          Sunny Side of Street
Apr   20    Greenwood Mens Club, Worcester MA     Sunny Side of Street
Apr   28    Shannondell—Ashcroft, Audubon PA       Broadway Mementos
May    3    The Oaks, Orangeburg SC                        Legendary Love Songs
May    5    Springmoor, Raleigh NC                          Radio Ramblers
May  22    Chandler Center for the Arts                 When Love Was Nifty
                Randolph VT —
Jun   13    Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                  Big Band Idols
Jun   17    Lake Prince Woods, Suffolk VA               She Did It Her Way
Jun   20    Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                        He Did It His Way
Jun   22    Bermuda Village, Advance NC                 He Did It His Way
Aug    7    Oak Crest Village, Parkville MD                Radio Ramblers
Aug  18    Wilmington Memorial Library                 Big Band Idols
                Wilmington MA
Aug   19    Havenwood, Concord NH                         Sunny Side of the Street
Sep   20    Friends Village, Woodstown NJ                Tin Pan Alley Cats
Sep   24    Mansfield Public Library                        He Did It His Way
                2:00 pm
                255 Hope Street, Mansfield MA 02048
                508-261-7380 —
Sep   25    Residence Otter Creek, Middlebury VT    Big Band Idols
Sep   26    Carpenter-Carse Library                        In The Mood
                7:00 pm
                66 Ballards Corner, Hinesburg VT 05461
                802-482-2878 —
Oct      6    Crane's Mill, West Caldwell NJ                 Great American Nightclub
Oct    12    Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                  Broadway Mementos
Oct    19    Heath Village, Hackettstown NJ               She Did It Her Way
Oct    24    Shannondell—Bradford, Audubon PA      She Did It Her Way
Oct    27    Springhill, Erie PA                                  Sunny Side of Street
Nov     1    The Arbors, Manchester CT                     Torch Song Embers
Nov   10    Springmoor, Raleigh NC                          Torch Song Embers
Nov   11    The Oaks, Orangeburg SC - Veterans Day      Radio Ramblers
Nov   14    Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                        Torch Song Embers
Nov   30    Meadowood, Lansdale PA                        Radio Ramblers

                                          ©  2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Concert  Themes
Updated for the 2017 concert season
Every song tells a story

Vintage Music Concerts trace musical, romantic and historic themes with fun anecdotes, savory musings and wry commentsAudiences love the wit and warmth of each program. Hosts say a themed event is easy to promote.

Offering great American ragtime, jazz and swing, Vintage Music Concerts feature vintage acoustic guitars for an authentic, back-in-the-day sound with no pick-ups or electronic gimmicks.

Updated for the 2017 concert season, here is the latest collection of themes performed in Vintage Music Concerts.

• • • • • • •

Great American Nightclub
Back in the day adult couples dined and danced at supper clubs, hotels, night clubs, cabarets and restaurants, so we'll offer a concert of standards, jazz hits, novelties and romantic tunes performed by saloon singers, ballroom bands and jazz combos. Concert will revive the musical glow of Vaughn Monroe in 1946 at the Meadows near Boston, Blossom Dearie singing Comden and Green tunes in 1959 at Danny's Skylight Room in New York City or Ronnie Scott's in London, Slam Stewart and friends in 1969 at Morey's in Binghamton, and Bobby Short in 1973 at New York's Café Carlyle.

Big Band Idols
Features songs immortalized by the vocalists, musicians and band leaders who fronted Big Bands, society orchestras and jazz combos during the Swing Era.

When Love Was Nifty
In the decade before Elvis and his rowdy friends came on the scene, American pop music began shifting to appeal to both adult interests and youthful ideas of romance.

She Did It Her Way
Concert celebrates the lives, romances, careers and hit songs of such vocalists and recording artists as Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Patti Page, Ella Fitzgerald, Mildred Bailey, Ruth Etting, June Christy, Dinah Shore, Kate Smith, Frances Langford, Judy Garland, Helen Forrest, Rosemary Clooney, Sophie Tucker, Jo Stafford, Bessie Smith, Marlene Dietrich, Margaret Whiting, Boswell Sisters, Andrews Sisters, DeCastro Sisters, the Incomparable Hildegarde and others.

He Did It His Way
Concert celebrates the lives, romances, careers and hit songs of such vocalists and recording artists as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Mills Brothers, Fats Waller, Fats Domino, Eddie Cantor, Gene Autry, Al Jolson, Nick Lucas, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mercer, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Gene Austin, Ozzie Nelson, Hoagy Carmichael, Cliff Edwards, Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong, Elmo Tanner, Les Paul, Nat King Cole and others.

In The Mood
Concert features the memorable tunes of the 1940s that changed Americans by injecting deep emotion in popular music and evoking moods that resonated with folks on the Home Front and Front Lines.

Juke Joint Jive
Memorable toe-tappin' hits for stage door johnnies, lindy hoppers, swing shift maisies, bobbie soxers, drugstore cowboys, jitter buggers and zoot suiters.

Broadway Mementos
The hit tunes used by producers, composers and musicians on the Great White Way to advance story lines, promote ingenues and spawn ancillary income from sheet music sales, 33-, 45- and 78-rpm recordings, juke boxes, radio airplay or the movies.

Hollywood Souvenirs
The power of song selection gave movie producers a way to turn their celluloid dramas and zany comedies into nationwide hits. You'll be surprised how many movies spawned some of the great songs you know.

Bye Bye Blues
Concert spotlights the hit tunes of the Depression that young urban audiences called their own because since it featured the popular singers, memorable lyrics and rhythmic music they could dance to.

A Fine Romance
Features the romantic ballads popular with the generation that rationed its romance and deferred its affairs "for the duration" of WW II.

Folk Song Boomers
Concert offers topical, folk, traditional and protest songs of the 'Fifties and 'Sixties that were hits favored by America's post-WWII generation.

Jazz Before Bebop
Concert of tunes popularized on record and radio in the 'Twenties + 'Thirties by the originators of jazz: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones, Mildred Bailey, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Richard Whiting and others.

Legendary Love Songs
Offers amorous lyrics and memorable melodies that evoke old flames, moonlit nights, romantic affairs, heartthrobs and heartaches.

Radio Ramblers
For years Americans turned to a console, portable or tabletop device to catch the latest tunes, news, drama, comedy, games, sports, shopping and gossip, so this concert salute the songs, singers and shows of radio's heyday.

Ragtime Rascals
Concert of hot sweet jazz and insouciant jive tunes that were notable for clever lyrics, rapid rhythms and memorable melodies. Spread by radio, talkies, 78-rpm records, tin lizzies and bootleg liquor, these songs were the hits for doughboys, flappers, bootleggers and other speakeasy denizens in the Roaring Twenties.

Sunny Side Of Street
Covers mirthful songs that softened the Great Depression's bite, offered pithy personal advice and poked fun at society's upper crust.

Tin Pan Alley Cats
Songs and stories behind the hit songs of Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Johnny Mercer, Jule Styne et al.

Torch Song Embers
Offers favorite songs of people who moon for the One Who Got Away, idolize a misbegotten heartbreaker or can't forget some long-ago romantic rendezvous. Wistfully memorable and bittersweet, these full-blown romantic tunes prove it's better to love and lose than to never love at all.

Vintage Songs + Vintage Guitars
For an authentic, back-in-the day sound we pair popular tunes of the 'Twenties, 'Thirties and 'Forties with the playing of steel-stringed, acoustic guitars made in the same decades.

Writers - Singers - Performers
The established stars of Tin Pan Alley, Hollywood and Broadway lost their grip on pop music when talented upstarts — Paul Simon, Neal Sedaka, Jimmy Webb, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, etc. — began writing, recording and performing their own hit songs during the 'Fifties and 'Sixties.

© 2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 29, 2016

Gene Autry Round-up guitar restored 
   Plays 1930s hokum and 1940s swing better than ever
   Bares Singing Cowboy's partnership with catalog firm
                                                ©  2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

c. 1940 Gene Autry Round-up guitar made by Harmony
Company and sold in Sears, Roebuck catalogs at $9.95

This Gene Autry Round-up is one of a limited number of signature cowboy guitars made between 1939 and 1941 by Harmony Company of Chicago and sold through Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs of the day.

It cost $9.95 and included Gene Autry books on writing songs and playing guitar, collection of cowboy songs and mountain ballads, set of guitar strings, pick and capo. An artificial leather case cost $3.00 more.

Built like a poor man’s J-185, it has a small jumbo body with maple back, sides and neck that are finished in a painted flame-pattern sunburst. It has a spruce top with a dark red-brown sunburst, firestripe pickguard and D-shaped neck with 14 frets to the body.

Unlike most Gene Autry guitars from the 1930s and 1950s, this model does not have a western scene on the lower bout. Instead, the words Gene Autry are painted in white on the fingerboard in lariat letters. The slotted peghead is decorated with a painted emblem — a buckin' bronco rider with lasso under the model name — Round-up.

The guitar length is 39¼ inches; the body is 19 inches; lower bout width is 15 inches; body depth is 3¾ inches at end block. The scale length is 25¼ inches; sound hole diameter is 3¾ inches; nut width is 1¾ inches; string spacing at the bridge is 2-1/8-inches.

Finally, the top, back and sound hole were edged in white celluloid binding. The dyed pear wood fingerboard has a total of 19 frets and pearl markers at the 3rd 5th,  7th, 10th, 12th and 15th frets.

Date stamp, FON and model number
The interior has a smudged black ink stamp indicating 1940 production and faint evidence of a blue and silver Supertone label, the brand Sears used on musical instruments. In addition, a Harmony factory order number (4728) and Round-up model number (244) in white paint are visible on the back surface just below the neck block.

Acquired for a net cost of $2,500 at the summer 2016 Philadelphia Guitar Show from a dealer in the Pittsburgh area, the instrument is in good condition. It has lots of dings, scratches and finish cracks. Likewise, the body, top, fretboard and headstock have an overall dull finish from 75 years of dust, dirt, smoke and what-have-you.

The original machines — nickel-plated plank tuners with white buttons — were replaced by period tuners. Adequate yet balky, these machines were recently replaced by modern repro tuners that work better.

Long ago a reinforcement bolt was installed through the neck block and into the heel. It has been patcsmall hed and finished over.

Converted from ladder-braced to x-braced
In December 2014 luthier James Burkett of Dothan AL reset the neck and added a straight Gibson-style rosewood bridge. This new bridge replaced an oversized bridge that had replaced the original ebonized wood unit.

Burkett also opened the back of the Round-up to remove the original ladder bracing and replace it with traditional X bracing. He then installed two scalloped tone bars off the X brace, a maple bridge plate, three braces astride the sound hole and a tapered brace perpendicular to and under the fingerboard tongue.

Finally, the original frets were ground down. Though somewhat drastic, this fret dressing was an attempt to maintain playability, Burkett said, yet avoid a more drastic planing and refret of the entire fingerboard — a measure that could have erased the precious Gene Autry signature.

At my request, the luthier's art has been memorialized with the addition of a wood patch he sent me to place inside the body of the guitar. Above Burkett's signature the patch reads: "Repaired & X-braced 12/14/2014."

New sound from an old Round-up
Like other x-braced spruce and maple jumbos, this guitar has a focused sound and distinct maple fade. It also offers the expected percussive bass, clean-as-a-whistle midrange and crisp treble chime. It handles flatpacking and fingerpicking nicely.

It's a converted guitar, and like other guitars I've owned that were converted from ladder bracing to x-bracing, they were no longer fish, no longer fowl. Kay, Gibson and Harmony conversions, no matter. They seldom offer the wide sonic palette of an x-braced guitar and they didn't deliver the woof and zing of a ladder-braced guitar.

In my view, this Gene Autry Round-up doesn't sound like a ladder-braced guitar or an x-braced guitar. Instead, it is graced with an original sound and deep-in-the-gut feel. In short, it is a well-made, played-in older guitar without a hairy aroma or stiff demeanor. Here, I'm using words to describe sounds and I know it's an effort burdened by vanity and limitations.

Nevertheless, this Round-up is a 
gentle beast that was restored to offer musical enjoyment for another 75 years. Performing with this instrument in my Vintage Music Concerts will safeguard the legend of America’s singing cowboy — Gene Autry — even as it preserves the 1930s hokum and 1940s swing music it was born to play.

Three Gene Autry guitar models from Sears
Between 1932 and 1955 Harmony produced three inexpensive guitar models with Gene Autry’s name and western scenery painted on spruce tops, according to cowboy guitar collector Steve Evans, co-author of Cowboy Guitars, a 2002 book with photos and commentary on hundreds of these vintage instruments.

Offered through the Sears, Roebuck catalog, these musical instruments were not toys. They were built with solid wood tops and bodies and priced just under $10. 
They sold like hot cakes to young fans of Gene Autry.

Like his other licensing deals, the radio personality, recording artist and matinee movie star earned a royalty (less his agent's 25% fee) on the sale of the Sears guitars. Though the exact amount is unknown, we know he reaped a 5% royalty on the wholesale value of cast-iron cap pistols sold by a Ohio hardware firm.

In 1938, the first year of sales of the guns, which bore Autry's signature below the
 barrel, Autry netted $15,458 in royalties, according to Holly George-Warren, author of Public Cowboy No. 1, a 2007 biography. The pistols and guitars — along with brushless shave cream, hair tonic, comic books, cowboy hats, song books and other items — were among hundreds of product "tie-ups" decorated with Gene Autry's brand over the next two decades, George-Warren said.

1932 Sears catalog listing for the first Gene Autry Roundup guitar

         Roundup  —  The earliest iteration was a 12¾-inch wide flat-top with mahogany body, spruce top and 12-fret mahogany neck. Made from fall of 1932 to fall of 1933, the first Roundup (different spelling than 1939 – 1941 model) was a decent instrument that sold for $9.75 (without case). According to the catalog copy, the spruce top was graced with a “striking western ranch scene” and “a reproduction of Gene Autry’s signature."

In 1934 the Roundup was produced with a larger (13-in. wide) birch body and lower price of $8.25. A year later the spruce top took on several color tones and the body width grew to 14 inches to accommodate a longer-scale neck with 14 frets clear of the body.

                                                                                                                       PHOTO: James Burkett
Color variations on four mid-1930s Gene Autry Roundup 
guitars. All have solid spruce tops, b
ody length is 39 inches and the body width is similar to Martin 00 or Gibson LG-2, according to luthier James Burkett, who is restoring them. Scale length is 25¼ inches, same as 1940 Gene Autry Round-up guitar described herein.

In 1939 Harmony introduced its grand concert-sized version of the Gene Autry Round-up (different spelling than 1932 - 1933 model) guitar. It featured a maple back and sides, maple neck and "selected spruce top." Named after "the famous cowboy of radio and pictures." It was the largest catalog guitar to bear Autry’s name, yet it cost a modest $9.95.

1939 Sears catalog listing for Gene Autry Round-up grand concert guitar

Peghead on 1935 Gene AutryOld Santa Fe archtop
          Old Santa Fe  —  A 14-fret archtop with figured maple body, spruce top with a sunburst finish and steel-reinforced neck. Produced from fall of 1935 to spring of 1936, it was discreetly decorated with Autry's signature in the lower bass bout below the f hole. The peghead had the stenciled image of a white church steeple and the words Old Santa Fe.

         Melody Ranch  —  Except for the depths of WWII, these low-cost flat-tops were made from 1941 to 1955 with a sign post and Melody Ranch stenciled on the peghead.

Gene Autry Melody Ranch guitar
All of Harmony's Gene Autry guitars (except the Old Santa Fe archtop and 1939 - 1941 Round-up) were graced in stenciled images of a western theme. They depict a cowboy with lasso and a galloping horse splashed across the lower treble bout, a wagon pulled by an oxen team across the lower bass bout, and a forested mountain scene above the bridge.

Sales of these low-cost guitars were good but the competition was intense. Indeed, between 1930 and the mid-1960s a huge variety of cheaply made guitars with stencil-painted motifs in a host of themes were offered by the major catalog firms, including Sears, Roebuck & Co., Spiegel and Montgomery Ward in the U.S. and the T. Eaton Company in Canada.

Mutual promotion by radio stars and catalog firms spurs guitar sales
The Round-up, Old Santa Fe and Melody Ranch guitars made by Harmony and sold through Sears catalogs drew lavish attention to Gene Autry. They helped him promote and sell his movies, recordings, music books, personal appearances, guitar playing, even his horse.

Other singing cowboys — including Wilf Carter, the Lone Ranger, Carson J. Robison and Roy Rogers — saw a chance to promote their radio shows, recordings, oater movies and personal appearances by obtaining endorsement deals of their own. They all figured instrument makers and catalog companies could make, promote and sell cowboy guitars emblazoned with their names.

Soon enough guitar makers and catalog companies realized they could sell these low-cost, high-volume items with generic motifs — sans endorsement deals that cost them royalty fees. This meant cowboy guitars would not only be adorned with artful renderings of wagon wheels, bronco busters and singing cowboys, but you could find guitars covered with boats, volcanoes, flowers, lily pads, stars and stripes, flamenco dancers and palm trees as well.

More than three dozen examples of these stencil-painted guitars from the 1930s to 1960s with western, nautical, patriotic, floral and other motifs have come up for sale at Matt Umanov Guitars in New York City. Offered in a single lot, they are part of the dealer's huge collection of vintage catalog guitars amassed over several decades. Below are a few examples:

For more on Matt Umanov's catalog guitar collection, see References at end.

Merchandising madness of musicians who "partner" with product firms
Over time, instrument makers and catalog companies offered guitars in cheaper and coarser materials, including plastic and fiberboard. They also began to put western motifs on other objects — clothing, toys, furniture — and pitch these wares to younger and younger buckaroos.

These last few measures represented the epitome of creative marketing for vendors in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Today, we’d just call it line extension. Indeed, Autry's product "tie-ups" resemble the retail promotions, on-line sales and merch table displays of cheap imported goods with an arena rocker's name.

Still, the variety of promotional merchandise offered today may be broader. Of course, it includes tee shirts, baseball caps, posters, baby bodysuits, tank tops, stationery and bumper stickers.

But such merchandising madness extends to hoodies, perfumes, gloves, leather bracelets, scarfs, cell phone hardcases, refrigerator magnets, sneakers, thongs, and, oh yes, $428 signature guitars.

                                     © 2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved


James Burkett, luthier, Dothan AL                                 jtb @
Ed Hyp, guitar dealer, North Huntingdon PA                 alleghenyvalleyguitars @
Matt Umanov + catalog guitars, New York NY        —      http://
Public Cowboy No. 1 — The Life and Times of Gene Autry — by Holly George-Warren, Oxford University Press, © 2007.

Singing Cowboys — by Douglas B. Green, Gibbs Smith, Publr., © 2006.

Singing in the Saddle — The History of the Singing Cowboy — by Douglas B. Green, Vanderbuilt Univ. Press, © 2002.

Cowboy Guitars — By Steve Evans and Ron Middlebrook, Centerstream Publg., © 2002.
© 2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved