Tony Gamble’s unique road from successful “hired gun” guitarist for other artists’ studio projects and tours, to his dynamic new EP, Ukulele Flamenco, offers a master class in how discovering and cultivating new creative passions can lead to unexpected opportunities.
In 2005, when YouTube was in its infancy, a video of renowned Hawaiian ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro playing “While My Guitar Gentle Weeps” became one of the first viral videos on the site and catapulted the performer to international superstardom. Gamble saw the clip, and it changed his life.
When Gamble’s friend from Warner Bros. animation showed him the clip, he said, half-jokingly, “Wouldn’t it be weird if I got a uke and became famous for it?” His pal replied, “Dude, if anyone could do it, you could.” Having gotten tired of the years-long grind of being a supporting player, Gamble bought a ukulele and quickly became a serious student of the instrument. When he put some early demos on his Myspace page, he scored over 10,000 listens in a few days and quickly earned the attention of industry people.
Gamble also became a sensation in Hawaii, where he appeared on numerous radio and TV outlets (including the local NBC morning show) and signed an endorsement deal with KoAloha Ukulele, a company that specializes in handmade high-end instruments. He calls Breaking Tradition, his first uke album released in 2006, a “shred rock-Latin uke project, with distortion, like what Steve Vai would play if he recorded a ukulele album.” It earned Gamble a 2007 nomination for Rock Album of the Year from the Na Hoku Hano Hano Awards from the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts. The same year, he was nominated for Ukulele Album of the Year by the Hawaiian Music Awards. In 2012, he followed up with another uke album, Echoes in the Silence.
When Gamble signed his current deal with Maximo Aguirre Music Publishing (MAMP) in 2018, he hadn’t picked up the uke in several years. As part of his contract, he began writing and recording Another Rainy Day, a flamenco fusion album featuring him on acoustic guitar. He shot several videos in support of the 2019 release.
“In the meantime, I wanted to start playing the uke again,” he says. “I began writing songs on the uke that were along the same lines as those on that album, but didn’t tell anyone at MAMP. I knew if they weren’t keen on the concept of a flamenco uke album, I wouldn’t have done it. I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone outside my head. I posted a clip on social media and mentioned I was recording some uke. One of the ladies in the MAMP office who follows me saw it.”
A week later, Aguirre called Gamble, told him he heard about what he was doing and said he wanted to hear some of the new music. Loving
what he heard, the publisher commissioned Gamble to record and release not only the Ukulele Flamenco EP, but also another album of 10 songs that’s on the MAMP publishing site for licensing opportunities.
“Since I started playing,” Gamble says, “I’ve thought of the ukulele as the coolest instrument in the world. Finding this niche for myself, I learned that if you put a capo on the fifth fret of a guitar and then play the top four strings, the tuning becomes that of a uke. It’s such an unassuming instrument and it’s great to be able to show people its range beyond the Hawaiian standards most people associate it with.”