During my travels to the USA I’ve met so many interesting people. This story is about how I met Doc Kazoo. My meeting with Doc Kazoo came about as the result of a number of extraordinary coincidences, which began in my home town of Nantwich. But first, for those who don’t already know, I will explain what a kazoo is.
What is a kazoo?
A kazoo is a small musical wind instrument, made out of wood or metal. The player hums into it, rather than blowing. It sounds something like the primitive instrument many people used to make in their school days by folding paper over a comb, then putting it to their lips and humming, making a buzzing sound. I’ve since learned that the kazoo is a popular instrument in jug bands, carnival marching bands, folk and ukulele bands, and it is sometimes used in jazz bands.
So what is the connection between Doc Kazoo and Nantwich? And how did I come to be meeting him? After all, we live over 4,000 miles apart, me in the UK, and Doc Kazoo in Florida.
This extraordinary chain of events
The extraordinary chain of events that led to our meeting began in Nantwich, at the annual Jazz, Blues and Music Festival during the Easter weekend in 2014. One band I went to see that weekend was called The N’Ukes (short for Nantwich Ukuleles). While watching them, I noticed that one of the players was playing a small wooden instrument which I didn’t recognise. After the band finished their final set, I went up to him and asked him what this instrument was. He told me it was a kazoo.
My curiosity was spiked
Later that evening, when writing up my on-line diary, I looked up the word ‘kazoo’ to check how to spell it. I was also curious to find out more about these intriguing wooden instruments. As I browsed, one particular website caught my eye. It belonged to someone called Doc Kazoo. The thing that particularly caught my attention was a poster on his site. It was advertising The N’Ukes upcoming gig in Audlem, near Nantwich, the following month. Why, I wondered, would someone from Florida be advertising a Nantwich band’s gig in the UK. After all, they were on opposite sides of the Atlantic, with over 4,000 miles of water between them. Intrigued, I researched further.
What I Discovered
I discovered that Doc Kazoo (real name: George Collins) has a small factory, which he calls The Great AsWeGo Kazoo Factory. It is in a workshop alongside his home in Eustis, Florida. Here he makes wooden kazoos and a number of other wooden instruments. It looked fascinating.
Just ten days after making this discovery, I was due to leave for the USA. Looking at the map, I realised that George’s home was only a half-hour drive from Sanford, where I was going to be staying for the first part of my trip.
I like to keep my journeys short during my first few days, giving me time to get over jet lag. However, a week earlier, I’d found I was going to have some free time the day after my arrival. The person I’d hoped to visit that day wasn’t well and had called off my visit to her. So, before leaving England, knowing that I would have these few hours spare, I contacted George, asking if I could come and visit him. He replied, saying that I was welcome. He gave me his address and phone number, and sent me some pictures to help me find his place. As it gets too hot for him to work later in the day, he suggested that I get there before 11am. So, on a sunny April day, I found myself driving to his place.
Finding Doc Kazoo’s Home
My GPS (SatNav) led me to his home and I could easily recognise which gateway to turn into from the pictures he’d sent me. I turned into a long, tree-lined, dirt driveway, which opened out onto large grassy meadow. As I pulled up I saw his factory, or workshop, on my right. It looked like a large garage, blue-grey in colour, with wide double-doors. It was situated a couple of hundred yards from his house, which I could see further up the driveway. The doors of his workshop were wide open, so, after parking my car, I went over and called his name. George came breezing out and gave me a hearty welcome, ushering me inside.
His workshop was crammed full of tools. Racks, holding lengths of wood in different colours, lined one wall. Kazoos, some completed, some part-made, were on small racks on the work benches. Various other wooden instruments were around the work place. The fragrance from all the different types of woods filled the air.
George showed me round before giving me a demonstration of how he makes these kazoos. He first chooses the right piece of wood, then carves out the basic shape before proceeding to hollow it out and shape it. He has created his own design of reed for them, using small pieces of plastic from carrier bags obtained from one particular supermarket. After a lot of experimenting, he had found that the plastic used in these particular bags gives the best sound.
The link with Nantwich
Talking to him, as he showed me round, I found out about his connection with The N’Ukes. I discovered that the kazoo that I’d seen being played in Nantwich was one that he had made. In fact, he had made several for that band. These included some that they would be selling at the Audlem festival to raise money for the charities they were supporting.
George gets orders for his kazoos from people all over the world. For everyone who wants it, he makes a video of their own kazoo being made, which he then ships to them with their order. The video camera he uses to film his work is one designed for underwater use. It’s the only type that will keep the ever-present wood dust out of the workings.
Most of the kazoos he makes are made to order, but he keeps a few ready for impromptu sales. I bought one of them as a memento of my visit. I also took quite a few photos of George and his workshop to show my friends when I returned home.
After he’d finished showing me round his workshop, he showed me his small vegetable garden. It is between his workshop and another building. It is fully enclosed to keep the rabbits from eating his lettuces and radishes, and the other crops he grows for himself and his wife, Lynette Auberjeunois. I was sorry not to have been able to meet Lynette, as she was asleep at the time. She is a composer and flute instructor and she does much of her composing during the night, which is why she sleeps during the day.
George the Photographer
George is also a very keen photographer. His speciality is taking photos of the wonderful sunrises, sunsets and cloud formations, as seen from his home. He also photographs his animals, visiting birds and his neighbours’ horses. Some photos are aerial shots he takes using his drone-mounted camera. Many of his photos are on his Facebook page.
He also told me about his time in the navy, part of which he spent stationed in Scotland, and how he managed to get his own van shipped there, and back, by the navy.
A couple of hours later, we bade each other farewell, saying we hoped to meet again some day.
My second meeting with Doc Kazoo
The following year, in September 2015, he welcomed me back again. My visit was a surprise to him as, although I had tried to phone him beforehand, I’d failed to reach him. It turned out that this was because I had one digit wrong for his phone number. Anyway, as I was going to be passing close to his home, I decided to drop by on the off-chance he was there. Fortunately for me, I got there in time to catch him before he had to leave to take his dog to the vet. He gave me a warm welcome, as before.
Since my previous visit, he’d updated the design of the kazoo reeds. He gave me some to bring back to the UK, both for myself and for Barry, the N’Ukes’ kazoo player. It was good to see George again and we had over an hour together before I had to resume my journey and he had to head for the vets.
I am so glad to have gained George as another friend to add to my ever-growing list of friends on the US side of the pond.