By Michael Aushenker
Yes, the Ooks of Hazzard play ukuleles.
But no, don’t ask them to sing that familiar TV theme song by Waylon Jennings.
And while the Ooks’ cover of MGMT’s electronic rock hit “Kids” quickly landed 100,000 hits after it was posted to YouTube (and has since climbed to more than 674,000 views), yet another hipster, tongue-in-cheek novelty ukulele act is not what the Ooks of Hazzard strive to be.
The goal, said Ed Marshall, one of the band’s tenor ukulele players and chief songwriters, is to defy people’s expectations of the ukulele.
“We just like the feel and the sound of it. It’s different, it’s fresh, it’s new,” he said.
Venice resident Marshall founded Ooks with fellow tenor ukuleleists Charlie Diaz and Patrick Hildebrand after they first performed in 2010 at an open mic jam at Talking Stick on Lincoln Boulevard. The Ooks began, in truth, with a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone.”
“It sounded good and people liked it. We invited other friends to come along with us,” Marshall explained. And so, the band swelled to its current roster, which also includes Nick Dean on ukulele bass, Rick Torrez, another tenor ukulele, drummer Matt Pecu, baritone ukulele player Sam Morrow, and Diana Hobbstetter (a.k.a. Misses Hobbs), on accordion.
Out of fear of falling into novelty or karaoke territory, the founding Ooks boys make a concerted effort to craft original songs. They include “Waiting,” which lyrics talks of a geographically challenged couple in love who feel connected when they’re gazing at the moon; “Tumbleweed,” a number written by Diaz about “being pushed around and not having any control or power,” according to Marshall; and “Smile Like a Baby,” a ditty championing an adult’s drive to retain his or her insouciant, childlike spirit.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction when we all get together and play,” Marshall said.
Marshall was working on production for Devo when the New Wave rock legends were scheduled to play “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and got the inspiration to film the MGMT cover video in an attempt to get Ooks of Hazzard on Kimmel’s show. While the talk show appearance never materialized, the Ooks’ MGMT cover went viral.
Since then, the Ooks have been invited to play nationwide. Last October, the band played the Denver Ukulele Festival. In November, the Ooks traveled to the South to perform on Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour, a program that reaches 500 radio stations, and they played with the Conservatory of Music in Sioux City, Iowa.
As an instrument, the ukulele seems to be trending of late. In recent months, ukulele acts Livi Yiu and Punch have played the Witzend. “Even Eddie Vedder came out with a ukulele album,” Marshall said.
Many of the Ooks have jammed with other musicians. Notably, Torrez played guitar for Dave Wakeling’s version of The English Beat.
And since Marshall is in such close proximity to Devo, the Ooks created a cover of “Beautiful World” and have impressed front man Mark Mothersbaugh with their quick rise to notoriety.
“Mark was asking me how he can get 100,000 hits for the new Devo album,” Marshall said, chuckling.
The Ooks of Hazzard perform at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by Wait for Green, Emily Elbert, Zach Provost and Bryan Rooney, at the Witzend, 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. $10. Call (310) 305-4792 or visit witzendlive.com or theooks.com.