Backstage Stories

Piano Man

January 19, 2024

Piano Man

Former piano tuner for The Granada Theatre turns 100

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For nearly a century, music has been central to Ray Uhrig’s life. The Granada’s former piano tuner and the historic theater both turn 100 this year.


Tragedy into Triumph

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This adage perfectly describes how music came into Uhrig’s life. Born on March 19, 1924, tragedy struck just three years later when spinal meningitis left him blind.

“Back in those days schools weren’t integrated and I went to the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind,” Uhrig explained. “Music had a big emphasis in their program so I naturally fell into it.”

During his 12 years at the school, Uhrig learned accordion, piano and violin, and sang in the choir. The school offered vocational training in the art of piano tuning and Uhrig studied the trade throughout his high school years.

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From Colorado to California

Uhrig ended up being the valedictorian of his class and was also awarded a guide dog from the sorority Beta Sigma Phi of Sterling, Colorado. The sorority covered the expenses for him and his mother to journey to California, where they participated in a 30-day training program at a guide dog school and brought back his German Shepherd, Nicki. As luck would have it, the owner of the guide dog school also helped her students locate jobs in the area and she found a placement for Uhrig with Lockheed Martin.

So, in 1943 Uhrig moved to the Burbank area and started painting small parts for the defense contractor. Two years later, with WWII winding down, Lockheed was starting to lay people off. At the same time, Uhrig had the fortuitous chance to relocate to Santa Barbara for a job as a piano tuner.

“A friend of mine was supposed to get the job, but he didn’t want it and I got the chance to replace him,” Uhrig said.

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Tuner to the Stars

For nearly 30 years Uhrig worked for H. T. Bennett’s Music Company on State Street as their piano tuner. At the time The Granada Theatre was primarily a movie house. When it staged a live production, the theater would rent a Steinway Concert Grand from Bennett’s, and Uhrig would come with the piano to tune it.

“I got to meet some great musicians who performed at The Granada including George Shearing and Roger Williams,” Uhrig said.

While Uhrig’s career was focused on making other musicians sound great, he never stopped making music himself.

In the early days of living in Santa Barbara, he performed with a band that played for old-fashioned dances held at Oak Park on Friday nights. He passed down his love of music to his two sons, Charlie and Bryan, both of whom naturally play piano as well as trumpet. For a while, Uhrig and his son Charlie and a family friend comprised CU Later, a band focused on swing tunes and rock and roll.

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Charlie still plays in several bands in the Santa Barbara area including Echoswitch, an 80s cover band that also sees Uhrig’s two grandsons playing guitar and fronting the band on vocals.

Uhrig’s great-grandson Cameron is in the choir at San Marcos High School and there is a chance the group will be tapped to perform during The Granada’s 100th Anniversary celebrations this year, bringing the Uhrig family’s connection to the historic theatre full-circle.

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