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Originally published Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 7:53 PM

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An introduction to Baby Gramps, a musical enigma

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

Special to The Seattle Times

On the Internet

See and hear Baby Gramps in action on the "Late Show with David Letterman" at, search Baby Gramps Letterman.

Nightclub preview

Baby Gramps, Indecisive Rhythm, Space Cretins

9 p.m. Saturday, The Funhouse, 206 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; $7 (206-374-8400 or

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:

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