By Greg Olwell
You may know Robert Armstrong for the distinctive LP and CD covers and liner notes he created for vintage recordings or his comic character Mickey Rat. Or you may know him as the popularizer of the term “couch potato,” which was coined by a friend and turned into a popular series of comics he drew with Jack Mingo and Al Dodge.
Armstrong is also a musician who has played ukulele, guitar, and steel guitar with the Cheap Suit Serenaders, Sourdough Slim, and ukulele chanteuse Janet Klein. (He also plays musical saw, which he does well enough that Milos Forman employed Armstrong for the soundtrack to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)
He’s also used his graphic arts talents to transform a few ukuleles into playable art. Using ukuleles built by guitar maker Kenny Hill, Armstrong created the “Yowl-A-Lele” and a tribute to Herbert Khaury, aka Tiny Tim, among others. I saw these instruments on display at Gryphon Stringed Instruments about 15 years ago and they were even more beautiful in person.
Check out Robert Armstrong’s website to see more of hand-painted instruments, and don’t forget to look at his other artwork, too. His latest recording, Ken and Bob Escape to Jazz Island is a riotously fun (and virtuosic) album with a very simpatico Ken Emerson.