BY DANIEL WARD | FROM THE SUMMER 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” is one of those timeless songs that defies all the rules of popular music. It doesn’t matter what style you like or how old you are, this one is a true classic.
At the 2020 winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California, Ukulele magazine was lucky enough to run into the very guy that played the iconic ukulele part on “Raindrops,” Michael Anthony. Michael was a top-call session guitarist in Los Angeles from 1960 to about 1980 and played on all sorts of things most of us will remember. He was in the orchestra for The Carol Burnett Show, played on Hanna-Barbera cartoons like The Flintstones, TV shows like The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, Dr. Seuss specials, Starsky & Hutch, and even Columbo.
As a second-generation member of the famous L.A.–based studio group known as “The Wrecking Crew,” Michael’s strings also appeared on hit records with Diana Ross, the 5th Dimension, the Mamas & the Papas, and Barbara Streisand, to name just a few. Big movie scores were also done by the Crew, such as The Eiger Sanction, The Fury, the theme from Mahogany (“Do You Know Where You’re Going to?”) and, of course, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where “Raindrops”—music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David—comes from.
We caught up with the 78-year-old musician again in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he now lives and continues to perform and teach jazz. After some delightfully spicy red chili enchiladas at the famous local restaurant Cervantes, we went to his house and Anthony pulled out the very ukulele on which he had played “Raindrops.”
It’s not an amazing instrument by any stretch. The track was played on an Orlando model 338 baritone uke built in Japan in the ’70s. It hasn’t been played much in recent years, so it was a bit of a struggle for him to suddenly play it with out-of-whack action and strings that wouldn’t tune quite correctly up the neck. It was one of those moments that affirms why we love the ukulele so much.
After some more questions, Michael was kind enough to forge ahead on the old uke, playing the intro and then adding a quick chord melody with those great jazz harmonies—precisely the type that Burt Bacharach is famous for. We captured it on the fly with an amateur iPhone video. He had even kept a hand-written chart for the song.
All the younger players around Albuquerque and Santa Fe refer to Michael Anthony as “Uncle Mike.” He has done wonders working with the New Mexico Jazz Workshop and the Outpost Performance Space to keep music and the musicians who play it alive and well in the Southwest. Thank you, Uncle Mike!