Photo by Alvin McGovern
About Fish with FeathersFish with Feathers is Larry Vitalo and Brenda Watkins, a Chicago-area duo of singer/songwriters who accompany themselves on ukulele, harmonica, guitar, shaker egg, and kazoo. They write and share songs that tell a story—sometimes with gentle melancholy, but mostly with humor and the occasional touch of the macabre.
Larry and Brenda met when they both began attending the weekly ukulele meet-ups started by a mutual friend. They soon discovered that their musical styles meshed and complemented each other’s, prompting Larry to invite Brenda to join the Urban Prairie Players, a band which he had co-founded. The resulting sound led the two like-minded musicians to form Fish with Feathers.
Larry and Brenda both like to rummage through dusty boxes at antique and thrift shops, searching for old sheet music of the Tin Pan Alley and early Blues songs which influence their music. They include many of these old songs, as well as more contemporary ones, in their live performances.
Photo by Jeff Elbel
Multi-instrumentalist Larry Vitalo (ukulele, guitar, harmonica, kazoo, and vocals) began his adventure in music at the age of ten when his parents bought a piano and he decided he was going to learn to play it. He stopped playing piano after a number of lessons when he found he had no passion for it. But then he got a guitar and took his first lessons from a relative. He's never stopped playing guitar.
His first harmonica came from a friend who was giving it up. The friend also gave him a book and video. Larry refined his harmonica playing skills while driving to and from work, picking it up whenever he was caught in traffic jams or at railroad crossings.
Larry Vitalo's curiosity about ukulele came when traveling in a car one snowy February day and hearing the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole on the radio sing and play, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” After he started playing the uke himself he came to realize that it is his true instrument of choice. The only problem he has found with ukuleles is that they are small, cute, and multiply like the Tribbles from an episode on Star Trek.
The ukulele also unlocked the doors to the creative process of songwriting for Larry, and he primarily enjoys writing short winded novelty songs.
Larry Vitalo says the kazoo is another wonderful little instrument he enjoys playing, and it is a true joy to play it along with the ukulele; they go together like peanut butter and jelly on bread. He also says he plans to annoy people with his singing and playing for many years to come.
Photo by Jeff Elbel
Brenda Watkins (vocals, ukulele, percussion, and guitar) grew up on suburban Long Island, New York, and moved to the Chicago area with her family as a young adult. She has always loved to draw and to sing, two talents she inherited from her dad. She became fascinated by popular music at a very early age—her mom recalls Brenda watching American Bandstand faithfully as a toddler! The arrival of The Beatles inspired her to pick up a guitar, and she quickly discovered a knack for playing by ear. She bought her first ukulele in 2008 at the suggestion of a friend; little did she imagine at the time where this would take her.
Brenda penned her first song lyrics inside the speech bubbles of the characters in a comic book drawn for her own amusement while she was in college. It wasn’t until after she started playing the ukulele that she began writing tunes for her lyrics.
While the guitar is an instrument Brenda Watkins has mostly strummed solo and for no audience except her cats, the ukulele has led her to play and perform with other musicians. In addition to FWF, Brenda is a member of the Harrison Street Ukulele Players (tinyurl.com/harstukeplayhome)The Beatleleles, a Beatles cover band.