In the early 1970s—the era of psychedelic rock, heavy metal, and punk—the ukulele's second wave of popularity gradually waned with interest shifting to the guitar as the major medium of individual musical expression. The last and perhaps most tragic figure among entertainers to promote and sustain interest in the ukulele was Tiny Tim, who performed classic Tin Pan Alley songs in a distinct novelty style. Born Herbert Khaury (1932-1996) Tiny Tim appeared in a variety of clubs in New York City and is remembered for his recording of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" from the album God Bless Tiny Tim (1968) and appearances on TV's Laugh In, and his on-air marriage in 1969 on the Tonight Show. His appearance and demeanor were eccentric: shy and demure, he was also very tall with long, curly hair and an extraordinary falsetto voice. Sadly, Tiny Tim closed the era of extreme popularity of the instrument on the mainland without making a bridge to the future.
Among innovations achieved at the close of the second wave of popularity, Swagerty ukes, commonly referred to as Kooky-Ukes, deserve special attention. Built in 1964 by Ancil Swagerty (1911-1991) as a piece of wall art, these oddly-shaped instruments were transformed into good sounding, playable "ukuleles." The Swagerty line included the tripartite-soundhole Treholipee and Kook-a-la-lee (both were four-feet long with "paddle-shaped" tuners) and the Surf-a-lele. All three models were endorsed by renowned American musician, comedian, and writer Steve Allen and were proclaimed as instruments making "a new sound for a new generation." The Kooky-Ukes were sold in national department stores and Southern California music stores. They represented a connection to the beach and the outdoors, and were promoted as a part of surfing lifestyle. While the production of these instruments was discontinued during the seventies, they were an important link to the current third wave of ukulele popularity in their connection to the aesthetics of simplicity and a natural way of life.
Although production and sales of ukuleles fell to almost zero during the 1970s, the instrument was able to survive and gradually started to come back in the late 1980s and the 1990s. This time, Hawaiian annual fairs and festivals, uke enthusiasts from Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada (where the ukulele has been a part of the elementary school music curriculum) and mainland ukulele clubs helped to foster renewed interest in the instrument. Or perhaps the contemporary ukulele renaissance was internally fueled by the cultural movement away from materialism toward a simpler, unpretentious way of life. With this quest for simplicity and beauty in everyday life, and an appreciation for inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature, the ukulele has become an antidote to the frantic, commercialized lifestyle that has been omnipresent during the last several decades.
The contemporary renaissance of the ukulele as an instrument would be unthinkable without the revival and new appreciation of Hawaii's national traditions of music. The ukulele virtuoso and composer Eddie Kamae (born 1927) stands as a primary proponent of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance. In 1960 he founded the legendary Sons of Hawaii with virtuoso slack key guitar player, Gabby Pahinui (1921-1980). Kamae is credited with inspiring younger generations of musicians in Hawaii and on the mainland, and encouraging a renewed appreciation for traditional Hawaiian music and culture that led to the world-wide revival of the ukulele as a legitimate musical instrument.