Tee Jay at work in downtown Victoria. “I am absolutely over the moon with excitement,” he says.

Tee Jay at work in downtown Victoria. “I am absolutely over the moon with excitement,” he says.

Busker finds his niche with ukulele

Tee Jay and his Amazing Blazing Ukulele to perform at Granville Island

Terrence Groom reaches for his ukulele and quickly positions his fingers on the four strings of the instrument.

He begins to strum slowly and then breaks into a quick rhythm of a classic rock tune from Pink Floyd.

Welcome to Tee Jay and his Amazing Blazing Ukulele.

Groom, also known as his busker pseudonym Tee Jay, is one of the most popular buskers in downtown Victoria, but this year, he’s taking his act to another level.

Beginning this spring, he’ll perform for hundreds of thousands of tourists after gaining a spot in Vancouver on Granville Island’s Busking Roster.

“I am absolutely over the moon with excitement after being chosen to perform at what I consider to be the Madison Square Gardens of busking in Western Canada,” says Tee Jay, a James Bay resident.

“I will always treasure the memories I have of performing here in Victoria where I was able to hone my craft to the point where being chosen to perform at Granville Island could become a reality for me.”

The road hasn’t been an easy one.

The gay, HIV-positive, recovered drug addict has been in and out of jobs and relationships and been denied by his family.

Tee Jay, 49, has been a musician and performer for more than 40 years. He picked up drumming at age four, but took up any instrument he could get his hands on.

In Grade 6 he was first introduced to the ukulele and joined the Island Ukuleles, a performance group which twice competed in Hawaii.

After high school, Tee Jay put the ukulele away and concentrated on a rock music career, playing drums for several heavy metal bands, even a Rush tribute band.

It wasn’t long before his life spiralled into the darkness of the internet porn industry. He discovered crack cocaine and crystal meth and soon after was diagnosed HIV-positive.

Tee Jay returned to Victoria seven years ago because his life was a mess.

A friend bought him a ukulele in 2011. The instrument sat on his mantle for a few months until one day Tee Jay was watching a TV program on the making of the Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon, and he picked up the ukulele.

“It [playing the ukulele] came back just like that and it blows me away at the proficiency that I attack the music,” he says.

Tee Jay wasn’t settling on typical ukulele music. Instead, he would make daily trip to the library and find music books and learned how to arrange the music to suit the instrument.

The result? A stylish rendition of both classic and contemporary rock tunes.

“It’s so very interesting – you go to pick up an instrument 20 years later – you approach it from such a different angle that you did initially,” Tee Jay says.

In the spring of 2011, Tee Jay performed for the first time on Government Street with ukulele in hand. Soon, he was strumming away on tunes from Elton John to Pink Floyd and pretty much everything in between.

“You have to get notice and I did,” Tee Jay says.

Last summer he split his time between Victoria and Vancouver and soon Granville Island came calling.

Tee Jay is one of 132 buskers that will perform on the island this year, said Una Memisevic, Granville Island Cultural Society busking program manager.

She said all buskers are encouraged to apply for positions.

Tee Jay will be only one of two ukulele performers at Granville Island this year, and he plans to make the most of his opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to bringing something new and something vibrant. Granville Island is made for showcasing.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future

Royal BC Museum dives into the world of orcas with upcoming feature exhibition

Joan Miller with the Vancouver Island North Regional Film Commission says there’s much room for optimism in the region rebounding from COVID-19 and is excited about what the future holds for the region. Black Press File Photo
North Island film industry optimistic about post-COVID rebound

Interest in filming here is still high, according to film commission, once things open back up

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, has been filming in Langford and Colwood over the past two weeks. On April 7, filming will take place on the east side of the Esquimalt Lagoon. (Black Press Media file)
Netflix series ‘Maid’ filming in Colwood

10-episode Warner Bros. production filmed exclusively in Greater Victoria

Victoria mural artists Joshua Lundrigan (from left) and Paul Archer join Rob Chyzowski, co-owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner in front of an Archer-designed mural that went up on Thursday at the Inner Harbour restaurant. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Positivity rules with new outdoor mural from Victoria artist

Paul Archer teams with Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner for patio project

Donna Jones, who was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley, is the executive director of the documentary ‘Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence’. (Submitted)
Islander produces documentary offering hope to those with addictions

Donna Jones and husband Brent just released Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence

‘Frank Ney’ by Patrick Flavin, ‘Millstone River Upper Falls’ by John Collison Baker, ‘Labyrinth of Dreams’ by MA Molcan, ‘On the Other Side’ by Liana Ravensbergen, ‘December Snow’ by Laurel Karjala and ‘Jacks Point’ by Dana Smiley (cropped, clockwise from top-left) are among the works in the Nanaimo Arts Council’s latest exhibition. (Photos courtesy Nanaimo Arts Council)
Nanaimo Arts Council presents its first online gallery show

Submissions now open for upcoming ‘Ekphrastic Celebration’ show

Dorothy Sevcov’s exhibition ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ is on display at Art 10 Gallery until the end of the month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Experimental paintings now on exhibit at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Dorothy Sevcov’s ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ on display through April

Courtenay artist Christine Boyer presents Alongside My Path: Native Wildflowers of Canada at Gallery Merrick from April 9 to 23. (Photo courtesy Christine Boyer)
Island painter shows off the wildflowers of Western Canada in first solo show

Courtenay’s Christine Boyer presents floral exhibit at Nanaimo’s Gallery Merrick

Nanaimo Harbourfront Library librarian April Ripley led the effort to create a Vancouver Island poetry booklet in recognition of National Poetry Month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Harbourfront Library publishes booklet for National Poetry Month

Collection features winners of ‘Poem in your Pocket’ contest

SENCOTEN language revitalizationist and filmmaker Renee Sampson’s short film, Bringing Our Language Back to LIfe, shows online during the Reel 2 Real International Youth Film Festival, April 14-23. (Photo courtesy Wapikoni)
SENCOTEN language featured in short film created on Saanich Peninsula

Renee Sampson film highlights importance of passing on traditional languages to youth

The area surrounding the Chemainus Rotary Club’s bunker door is one of the new surfaces that will feature a mural. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Up to three new murals coming to Chemainus

Project will be coordinated between the Rotary Club and Festival of Murals Society

Jules Sherred, photographer and owner of Polaris Creative, is putting together an exhibit that combines two of his greatest passions: food and advocacy for those with disabilities. (Polaris Creative photo)
Kickstarter launches for fully accessible exhibit focused on food

Raising awareness has been Sherred’s life’s work.

Sooke artist Jessica Ruth Freedman is one of nine virtual in-residence artists who share the creative process, conduct webinars, write and offer sage advice with artsUNITE, a free online wayfinding platform for artists. (Contributed - Jessica Ruth Freedman)
Sooke artist joins artsUNITE, getting creative through pandemic

National program brings much-needed support to arts community

Most Read