Tue, 28 October 2014
You have already read that after her separation from Hula Records, the entrepreneurial Genoa Keawe – with a little funding help from some good friends who truly believed in her – went into the record business for herself. Thus Genoa Keawe Records (or, as the label logo reads, simply “GK”) was born. Aunty Genoa was practically a one-woman corporation – serving in every role from distributor to bookkeeper. But the most important hat she would wear would be that of A&R (artists and repertoire) and producer – giving several up-and-coming artists and some deserving old-timers the opportunity to make their mark on the Hawaiian music scene on record. Unlike other record companies which focused on quantity – churning out as many records as humanly possible in a year in order to maximize revenue – GK Records focused on quality – producing very few records throughout its history, but focusing on artists with broad and lasting appeal and songs to match. As such, like Aunty Genoa’s first two LPs for her own label, pretty much everything else she produced for her own label was an instant classic – recordings which can still be found in Hawaiian music collections to this day on glorious-sounding digitally remastered CDs. Here are just a few songs from these beloved recordings.
Perhaps the best loved of all of the GK Records output – arguably even more than Aunty Genoa’s own recordings – may be Peter Sings… by Peter Ahia. A member of Aunty Genoa’s working band of that period and a young man she was grooming for his own stardom, Peter did leave an indelible mark on the Hawaiian music scene with his light and airy tenor voice that simply floated across the room. With good looks to match the voice, Peter was a sensation. Sadly, his life would be cut short, but not before leaving us this classic of Hawaiian music found in nearly every thorough collection. With Peter on this recording you hear most of the members of Genoa’s regular working group including John Lino on piano, Val Kepilino on bass, and the too seldom heard Herbert Hanawahine on the steel guitar. I chose a Val Kepilino composition, “Mele O Lana`i,” to share because it is favorite of one of Hawai`i’s youngest up-and-coming artists who only just happens to be Aunty Genoa’s great-granddaughter. This is for you, Mālie Lyman.
A great friend of Aunty Genoa’s until the end, Kealoha Kalama cut one sole classic LP for GK Records. Simply entitled Kealoha Kalama & Her Hawaiian Echoes, the group was comprised of founders Peter Mendiola and Arthur Hew Len, Larry Ah Sing, and – once again – steel guitarist Herbert Hanawahine. (The group predates the addition of Kalama who was originally their featured hula dancer before she was their featured singer.) The selections on the album are perfect for the hula – which is only fitting as Kalama is now recognized as one of Hawai`i’s great hula artists and teachers. Here she sings Lena Machado’s composition “Pua Mamane,” the origins of which you read about previously at Ho`olohe Hou.
Some of those up-and-coming artists Genoa felt should have the opportunity to be heard on record also just happened to be her sons. Gary, Sam, and Eddie – known on their recording debut as The Aiko Brothers – laid down the tracks for the recording that would be the biggest departure for GK Records as it did not feature music for the hula. The aptly titled Hawaii Now featured the boys’ vocal harmonies on a number of originals by then neophyte on the Hawaiian music scene, Gordon Broad, as well as their unique take on a movie theme (“I Am Hawaii”), one contemporary song from Hawai`i (Kui Lee’s “The Days Of My Youth”), and another contemporary selection from a songwriter who would soon relocate from his mainland home and make his mark on Hawaiian music (“Goin’ Out Of My Head” by Teddy Randazzo, a former teen idol who would come to Hawai`i and produce iconic albums for the Beamer Brothers and Marlene Sai). The brothers Aiko even give us an interesting read on the usually very serious “Old Man River” arranged a la Count Basie. But the only traditional Hawaiian song the gentlemen tackled was Charles E. King’s “Leilehua” heard here. The liner notes (written by the Honolulu Advertiser’s Wayne Harada) referred to the Aikos as “hip Hawaiians” offering up “a hybrid of contemporary kanaka.” But the experiment was not entirely successful. The sons’ vocals rivaled the best vocal groups in Hawai`i (such as The Invitations or The Surfers) or anywhere, for that matter, but the arrangements simply did not stand the test of time. It is likely for this reason Hawaii Now is one of the few GK Records titles which has not been rereleased in the CD era.
One of Aunty Genoa’s fellow artists going back to the 49th State Records days, Joe Keawe (no relation) returned to the recording studio at Genoa’s urging after a nearly two decade absence for the 1977 GK Records release appropriately titled “Hawaii’s Falsetto” Joe Keawe Returns. Featuring all hula standards – just like the records they waxed in the 49th State days – including three from the pen of Lena Machado, Joe Keawe Returns is another invaluable addition to any Hawaiian music collection. It also features some outstanding musicians too rarely heard on record including “Little Joe” Kekauoha (formerly of Lena Machado’s group) on percussion, Jake Holck on guitar, Jesse Kalima on `ukulele, Genoa’s son, Sam Aiko, on bass, and Hawaii Calls steel guitar legend David Keli`i (one of the recordings Keli`i made in the modern era, so his steel can really be heard well here). Uncle Joe and the gang perform a Hawaiian favorite, “Kaimana Hila,” a song that dates back to the earliest edition of the Charles E. King songbook but the melody for which has been altered over the years to sound nothing like the original song sheet. (The alterations are often credited to Andy Cummings.)
Again, if you’re wondering why we’re listening to these recordings from my scratchy old LPs in low resolution 128 kbps MP3s, it’s my subversive way of encouraging you to run out and pick up these recordings in digitally remastered CD format. (Click on the link to any of the album titles above for purchasing information from mele.com.) You deserve to hear these beautiful tracks in all of their hi-fi splendor. While Ho`olohe Hou often shares music gratis, this is usually in cases where the music is no longer commercially available and there are few other means of finding and hearing it. But GK Records lives on and has gone to the effort of remastering its catalog for a new generation of listeners to enjoy, and we should support those efforts whenever possible. Mahalo!
Next time: Aunty Genoa briefly puts down her bookkeeper’s pen, picks up a microphone, and gets captured live on record for the first time – with a most unlikely backing group…