(5/23 Update: “Bruce Off Broadway” will have a summer residency at The Saint in Asbury Park. Shows are June 22, July 20 and Aug. 24; visit thesaintnj.com.)
Most people see the ukulele as a limited instrument. But for singer-songwriter Jim Boggia, it’s all about possibilities.
“The classic line with the ukulele that people say is, ‘You can’t play a sad song on the uke,’ ” he says. “Well, you actually can. The ukulele is great for playing sad stuff because it’s gentle and it’s nylon-stringed and it can be very beautiful. I tend to think more in terms of, where can I bring this that maybe people aren’t necessarily expecting somebody to do on a ukulele.”
Boggia, a Michigan native who has lived in Philadelphia for more than 30 years, will do just that at the “Bruce Off Broadway” shows — yes, Bruce Springsteen songs, played on ukulele — he will present at The Saint in Asbury Park, March 23, and The Mercury Lounge in New York, March 24. He will also open for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York, March 17, though this will be a regular set, with maybe a uke tune or two thrown in.
Boggia says he first started getting serious about the ukulele nine years ago, and has been playing a uke version of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” for years.
When Springsteen began his “Springsteen on Broadway” run last year, Boggia says, he came up with the idea of an all-ukulele “Bruce Off Broadway” show.
“Then it was just a matter of going through the catalog and finding other songs that seemed to work really well on the uke,” he says. “A lot of that is just about where the key sits in relationship to the record and my voice and how it plays out on the uke.
“One of the things I really like to do is to take bits of the arrangement that are on the record and try to find out how much of that I can get into an arrangement on four strings. It almost sounds counterintuitive: You would think you would take simpler songs because it’s the uke. But I’m doing some things off of Born to Run like ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,’ with the horns. You know, like, ”Growin’ Up’ has that great piano line. I do, basically the Patti Smith version of ‘Because the Night,’ which has that really beautiful piano thing that winds up being a really nice fingerpick-y thing on the uke.”
This is a new project, and will surely evolve over time. One song he hopes to master on uke at some point, he said, is “Jungleland,” adding that he’s going to have to put a lot of time into that one, to get it right.
When he’s not playing his own music, or doing the “Bruce Off Broadway” shows, Boggia sometimes plays with the Beatles cover band, The Fab Faux, a gig he particularly loves because The Beatles were his “gateway drug” to music, he says.
He says he’s considered an “auxiliary” Fab Faux member, subbing for three of the musicians when they can’t make shows. “And then when they do bigger shows where they need extra musicians, I’m the guy that they call,” he says.
He says that even though it’s too early to start thinking seriously about a “Bruce Off Broadway” album, that is a possibility, somewhere down the line.
“It’s surprising how, even just playing a couple of shows, how many people have come up and asked that,” he says. “So I think that there’s interest there, in it. It would definitely be fun to do.”
Boggia will present “Bruce Off Broadway” at The Saint in Asbury Park, March 23 at 7 p.m., and The Mercury Lounge in New York, March 24 at 7 p.m. He will also present a non-“Bruce Off Broadway” set to open Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ 7 p.m. March 17 show at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York.
For information on Boggia, visit jimboggia.com.
Here are some videos of Boggia playing Springsteen songs on ukulele: