Baby Gramps plays on a bill with Indecisive Rhythm and Space Cretins at Seattle's Funhouse on Dec. 26.

Share story

Baby Gramps is like a musical history lesson imparted by a boxcar-hopping Muppet elf. Of indeterminate age (we’ll estimate somewhere between 55-140 years old) and mysterious origins (born in Miami, moved to Seattle decades ago, time elsewhere in between), Gramps could be considered a local institution if only anybody knew who he is. So here is your primer.

Baby Gramps sings in a voice that sounds simultaneously like a twanged rubber band, a Tex Avery cartoon and Tuvan overtone chanting. He plays a battered and ancient steel guitar in a brilliant, percussive style, sometimes with his elbow. He collects weird instruments like cigar-box fiddles and musical saws and is a chronicler of forgotten song styles from American history’s back alleys: hobo ballads, sea chanteys, work songs, nursery rhymes.

He’s a cunning linguist — his most famous original is “Palindromes” (“Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo/Mr. Owl ate my metal worm”) and a sly humorist. He’s a seat-of-the-pants performer, improvising, goading his audience, never playing the same song the same way twice. He’s a truly unique phenomenon. What else do you need to know? Oh yeah — he plays the Funhouse, Seattle’s diviest punk-rock dive, the day after Christmas.

Jonathan Zwickel: