Mon, 15 April 2013
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Don Ho. This is as difficult to explain as if I were obsessed with Barbie’s Dream House. But there you go. Those of you who know me – or those of you who merely follow this occasional blog – know that I have been obsessed with Hawaiian music all my life. But now we’re talking about Don Ho, and Don Ho is not Hawaiian music. That is neither a criticism of Ho nor a value judgment against Ho’s fans (among whom I count myself the leader of the club). It is simply a reflection of the reality I have encountered across the 48 contiguous states: That whenever I mention that I perform “Hawaiian music,” that is typically met with some mocking version of “Tiny Bubbles.” “Tiny Bubbles” likely should not be considered Hawaiian music. But those who are not Hawaiian by birth or who have never lived or spent any considerable time in Hawai’i should not be expected to understand this distinction – that Hawaiian music is a genre of music, not music from a specific place or made by a specific person of a certain ethnic descent. A quick analogy: Should one consider a Britney Spears album recorded live in Madrid a form of Spanish music? Should one consider Menudo’s songs Puerto Rican music? Should one consider a Chris Botti album recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra some kind of British music? No, no, and no. Menudo were young men of Puerto Rican descent, but they were clearly a modern pop “boy band.” Chris Botti will always be smooth jazz – no matter where he records or with whom he records. So we should not immediately jump to the conclusion that music made in Hawai’i or by a Hawaiian is necessarily Hawaiian music. It might be. And it might not.
So, if Don Ho was not Hawaiian music, what was he? Simply put, Ho was one of the finest entertainers of his generation – able to wrap audiences of women and men alike around his little finger like so much lo mein noodle – and a much underrated pop singer combining the swagger of Dean Martin with the vocal technique of Frank Sinatra who, no doubt viewing Ho as an apostle, eventually signed him to a recording contract with his own Reprise Records. Ho’s history is well documented elsewhere. That was not my aim by celebrating him today on the fifth anniversary of his passing. My purpose was to attempt to put Don Ho’s legacy in context – give it some perspective. For while he was known as a savvy businessman, the life of the party he conducted every night from the portable pipe organ that was as much a prop for his ever-present Chivas Regal and soda as the Rat Pack’s rolling bar, a raison d’etre for hundreds of thousands of co-eds who went to unknown expense to cross the great Pacific Ocean to flock to Honolulu at the infancy of jet air travel just for a chance to taste the sweat on his lips or rub up against his velour shirt, and a most dignified ambassador of the then new 50th state to the rest of the nation and the world, Ho is rarely spoken about for what he was: a damned fine singer of popular songs. Sinatra knew it. The critics got it. And even legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb knew it – well enough to pen the Vietnam protest song “Galveston” for Don Ho. (It’s true. Ho’s version was released first in 1968; Campbell’s not until 1969. And Webb was documented as preferring Ho’s version because Campbell’s too peppy performance belied the somber and serious tone the composer had intended.)
So despite that there may no connection between Ho and Hawaiian music except that both were born in Hawai’i, I have had a lifelong obsession with this man. I remember running home from kindergarten in 1976 to catch “The Don Ho Show” on ABC every day (and mourning its much too short run). I remember foraging through flea market bins to find the much elusive Ho albums released as promotions for the Singer Corporation. Then already long out of print, you had to have actually purchased a sewing machine to receive those LPs, and only true fans knew that the two Singer releases contained songs that were not available on any other Ho releases. I caught Ho on such talkfests as those hosted by Merv Grffin, Mike Douglas, and Dinah Shore and – as the adult collector I became – ultimately located the “holy grail” of Ho TV appearances on “The Joey Bishop Show.” I became a collector of Ho ephemera of all sizes and shapes – the concert tour magazines, the table tents from his Las Vegas casino/hotel appearances, newspaper clippings, reviews, “Billboard” magazine spreads… As the writer of the liner notes from his Instant Happy LP wrote, “You wonder what the hell Ho’s got?” I didn’t wonder what Ho’s got. I understood well what Ho had. What I wanted to understand was how he got it.
And to this day, every time I step foot on stage – whether I am performing Hawaiian music or jazz or anything else – I pray that a little of the Ho swagger and confidence shines through. Because after all the reading and studying and listening to the man for nearly 40 years, the only thing I have come to understand is that you have to be born with whatever it is that Ho had.
So when I finally had the opportunity to host a radio program, I was able to publicly celebrate my hero, my Don Ho – regrettably, not until his passing. But I felt the need to honor him in a way that none of the media outlets had. Because, predictably, every news outlet played a snipped of “Tiny Bubbles” – a song which Ho had confessed he had come to revile in much the way that Sinatra came to despise “Strangers In The Night.” And if there is anything that his fans understood, it was that there was nothing predictable about the man who Kimo Wilder McVay introduced every night at Duke Kahanamoku’s in Waikiki as “the wild, the unpredictable Don Ho.” So my radio segment focused on those recordings in which Don gave his most tender and poignant readings of some beautifully written songs. No “Tiny Bubbles,” no “Pearly Shells,” no co-ed audience sing-alongs. Just Don and the microphone.
Just the way it all began.
If you haven’t already been listening to the audio clip, I hope you enjoy this segment from the Ho’olohe Hou radio program. Grab your Chivas or whatever warms you up as the sun goes down, and toast each other with the toast that Ho himself coined.
Suck ‘em up!
Wed, 20 February 2013
While we cannot cover the entire recorded history of Pua Almeida on the Waikiki Records label in a blog - with or without the constraints of time and word count - I needed to hear more than I offered up in my last post. I hope you agree. So here is still more of Pua Almeida from his most fruitful recording period of the early 1960s on Waikiki Records.
As noted in the last post, during this period Pua did not always record with his regular working group. But the group heard on this first selection is not merely “all-star,” but also “multi-generational.” From the Waikiki LP “My Son Pua,“ Pua plays the steel while his hanai father Johnny Almeida tinkles the mandolin and Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln sings the Prince Leleiohoku composition “Moani Ke ‘Ala.” Uncle Johnny then joins the vocal chorus before Pua takes over singing “The Girl In The Yellow Holoku.”
Credited to Pua Almeida and His Sunset Trio, the John Keawehawai’i composition “My Yellow Ginger Lei” could be found both on a Waikiki 45 r.p.m. and on the compilation LP “Do The Hula.” You hear the steel guitar of Billy Hew Len and the alternating piano and glockenspiel of Benny Saks, but we are left to wonder who is playing the ‘ukulele counterpart to Pua’s vocal. As mentioned previously, the “trio” in the group’s name is somewhat of a misnomer as there are at least six musicians here - steel guitar, rhythm guitar, ‘ukulele, bass, drums, and glockenspiel. Trio, indeed!
From the Waikiki compilation LP “Ku’uipo My Sweetheart,“ Pua Almeida and the Moana Serenaders give us “Lihue” featuring Billy Hew Len on steel and Pua and Kalakaua Aylett trading vocals. And from another Waikiki compilation entitled “Quiet Lagoon,” Pua and the Sunset Serenaders give us another rendition of “Sweet Someone” (a different version than we heard in a post a few days ago by Pua with Chick Floyd from the “Little Grass Shack” LP). This simple version features Billy Hew Len on a pedal steel guitar this time around. Both “Lihue” and “Sweet Someone” were released as 45 r.p.m. singles as well.
From my favorite Pua LP, “Surfrider,” Pua Almeida and His Polynesians offer a rollicking Latin-themed version of “Nani Ko’olau.” The steel guitar sits this one out, and instead we have the piano take the lead as with the group led by Pua’s friend and contemporary, Jesse Kalima.
And then a true curiosity. Some will contend that Pua made four LPs for the Waikiki label. But there were, in fact, only three. One was released twice with two different titles and two different covers! The album originally released as “Poolside Music Hawaiiana” was later re-released as “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua.” More curious still is that one song from the original LP was swapped out for a different tune on the reissue. The bizarre little tune has been forgotten by many, but here again at long last I give you Pua’s version of “Some Hawaiian Is Lying.” The swingin’ number features a great steel guitar solo by Joe Custino. One can only wonder why Waikiki Records chose to replace this song with another for the reissue. (Political correctness?)
And, finally, why not close the set with the song with which “Some Hawaiian Is Lying” had been replaced? From the Waikiki LP “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua” we hear the lovely medley of “Kai Hawanawana” and “Honolulu Tomboy” in fox trot tempo. In addition to Pua and the gang, we predominantly hear the fancy mandolin work once again of Pua’s hanai father, John Kameaaloha Almeida.
Next time: A tune by Pua that I would place a bet you have never heard before - only from the vaults of Ho’olohe Hou…
Tue, 19 February 2013
Engineer Young O. Kang had been cobbling together equipment to bring Hawaiian music recordings to the world since the early 1940s. But by 1958 Kang was finally in business for himself - with state of the art equipment - courtesy of local Hawai’i entrepreneur Tommy Kerns. Together Kerns and Kang founded Waikiki Records, and for an eight year period from 1958 to 1966, they produced some of the finest sounded recordings of Hawaiian music to date by some of the most popular artists of the era - including Pua Almeida who recorded three LPs for the label in addition to countless 45 r.p.m singles and songs that appeared on compilation albums. Piecing together a complete discography of Pua on Waikiki can be difficult since not all of the 45 r.p.m. singles (or their “B” sides) appeared on the LPs or compilation albums or vice-versa. So while I devote my life to finding all of it, let’s enjoy what we already have for a while…
Also notable during the Waikiki Records period is that Pua did not always record with the same musicians. This is why I previously wrote that the obscure LP “Pua Almeida Sings with Billy Hew Len and the Moana Surfriders” may be our last best chance at hearing Pua’s steady working group. Some of the Waikiki sides are cited as being by the Moana Serenaders, some by the Moana Hotel Orchestra, and others still by Pua Almeida and His Polynesians, Pua Almeida and the Sunset Serenaders, or even Pua Almeida and the Sunset Trio (even when there are conspicuously more than three musicians playing). This means that we get to hear Pua in combination with different musicians - most unidentified - while trying to maintain his unique “sound.” Some of the musicians are recognizable by their unmistakable styles, so I will try to cite a few along the way.
Don McDiarmid‘s hapa-haole “Do The Hula” is - according to different sources - either by Pua Almeida and His Sunset Serenaders (45) or Pua Almeida and His Sunset Trio (LP). So clearly these were groups assembled solely for the recording sessions but which had no name recognition as a live working ensemble. Otherwise somebody at the record company would have been more careful about the naming conventions. This is Pua on the steel guitar - what little we hear of him, anyway. Steel guitarists are quick to admit that the difficult instrument requires so much concentration - it is not an instrument that can be played by feel since it has no frets, so you must constantly watch where you’re putting your hands - that it is also difficult to play steel and sing at the same time. So you hear only the steel intro and a few accents here and there - one sure sign that this is Pua focusing on the singing and ignoring the steel. Another essential clue, however, is the intro which features large, growling chords as opposed to single string soloing - a signature of Pua’s steel playing. The 45 r.p.m. version is plagued by an annoying echo on the vocal - not a hallmark of Young O. Kang’s sound. A mastering error, perhaps? So the version you hear now comes from the Waikiki compilation album “Do The Hula.”
The vocals toward the end of “Pearly Shells” share this same “echo” affliction as the 45 r.p.m. version of “Do The Hula,” so this was clearly a deliberate engineering approach (which may or may not have been executed successfully). This song is credited to “Pua Almeida and His Sunset Serenaders” and features Billy Hew Len on steel guitar and the deep bass voice of Sonny Kamahele leading the call-and-response with Pua. So that is likely Sonny’s rhythm guitar you hear as well.
Danny Stewart’s lovely but seldom heard “Nohea” abandons the steel guitar altogether for something more like the Latin sounds Pua had been cultivating earlier and features - like recordings by his friend and contemporary Jesse Kalima - the piano. The lovely and sensitive jazzy guitar solo you hear is Pua! Aficianados of Pua’s music have long been aware of his sensibilities with an archtop guitar - playing his jazzy style on a Gibson L-5 with a DeArmond pick-up with which he is pictured on the cover of “Surfrider” from which this cut was taken. Pua was called upon frequently during this period for both his rhythm guitar playing and provided sultry improvised guitar intros and endings on recordings by the Hawaii Calls radio show orchestra, Mahi Beamer, Eddie Kekaula, the New Hawaiian Band, and even Tennessee Ernie Ford. In fact, the recordings on which Pua performs uncredited as a sideman might outnumber those on which he was cited as leader.
Available both as a 45 r.p.m. single and on the LPs “Poolside Music Hawaiiana“ and “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua,” “Ahulili” is credited to Pua Almeida and His Polynesians and offers us two surprises - a lead vocal by Kalakaua Aylett and steel guitar by Joe Custino.
Next… Pua caresses a composition by his hanai father, Uncle Johnny Almeida, with both his voice and his steel guitar. The simply lovely “Lei Mokihana” is one of my favorite recordings by Pua. How do we know this is Pua on the steel guitar? Listen first to the intro in which Pua plays huge, beautiful chords with a shimmering vibrato. The vibrato is a signature part of Pua’s style. Another signature - listen at around 10:28 in the set - is Pua’s reverse strum (from the highest string to the lowest) very close to the bridge - providing an eerie, almost harp-like presence. That, too, is right from the Pua playbook, and he does it to end the vamp after nearly every verse. (Pua had developed that technique long before as you will hear it more than 20 years earlier on his recordings with Randy Oness and Alfred Apaka.) And again, note that the steel guitar playing ends when the singing begins - a sign that the steeler and the singer are one and the same.
The Latin rhythms return with “Papalina Lahilahi” taken from a Waikiki 45 r.p.m. and credited to Pua Almeida and the Moana Serenaders. This is probably closest to his working group at that time. Pua trades vocals with Kalakaua Aylett who is also likely the rhythm guitarist, and we hear the steel guitar of Billy Hew Len and the vibes of Benny Saks.
Closing the set we hear the Sam Koki composition “Hoe Hoe” (sometimes affectionately referred to as “Sam Koki’s Hukilau”). Also found on the Waikiki LPs “Poolside Music Hawaiiana“ and “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua,” this one is also credited to Pua Almeida and His Polynesians and again features vocals by Kalakaua Aylett and steel guitar by Joe Custino. While both Pua and Joe play a very jazzy chord melody style on the steel guitar, those familiar with the nuances of different steel players know that this is Joe’s tone (a little more harsh on the treble side than Pua’s tone), attack, and almost complete lack of vibrato - more like a string organ than a steel guitar. For comparison, listen to Joe’s earlier work with Honey Kalima or the Chick Floyd group which performed weekly for the Lucky Luck Show.
Next time: Can‘t get enough of Pua on Waikiki Records? Neither can I…
Tue, 19 February 2013
Despite being an island in the middle of the Pacific, Hawai’i has always been subject to the influences it has imported. From its food to its clothing styles, Hawai’i has long been a melting pot of cultures ranging from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to the other South Pacific peoples.
But nowhere is the melting pot theme more apparent than in Hawaiian music. Already on this blog we have discussed the influences of American big band jazz and small combo jazz and the incorporation of the rhythms of the Latin Americas. But what happens when you take everything you have ever heard and thought about music from around the world and throw it into a cosmic blender?
Between 1958 and 1960, two records of “Hawaiian music” were released on the popular Liberty Records label based in Hollywood. The covers bespoke something slightly less than traditional Hawaiian music but, rather, some cheesy mainland version of it. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The covers featured scantily clad women, and the titles could not have been more ill conceived - one completely unmemorable (“Little Grass Shack”) and the other an odd play on Parisian men ogling dames on the Champs Elysées (“Hu La La”). Now add to this a name not yet immediately associated with Hawaiian music - Chick Floyd - and all elements considered lovers of Hawaiian music would have immediately passed this record over as another affair from the Longines Symphonette. Who was going to shell out for a recording of Hawaiian music by “Chick Floyd and His Orchestra” when pressed to make the choice between available Hawaiian music recordings by a guy named Floyd and other guys named Aloma and Pineapple?
But this is one of those cases where the whole is clearly more than the sum of its parts. So let’s look at the parts.
In the 1930’s Chick Floyd was the arranger with Orville Knapp’s orchestra. This was not a jazz band per se but, rather, a band that played “sweet music” - something slightly less than jazz, but heavily arranged and intended for the dance halls as opposed to pure listening pleasure. The band featured a sweet music singer - Edith Caldwell - whom Chick wasted no time wooing and marrying. As arranger for the band, Floyd relied on exaggerated brass and unison saxes - a sound later perfected by such arrangers as Billy May. But success was fleeting. Chick and Edith gave other bands a go, but their success - and the marriage - were ultimately doomed. Eventually Chick moved to Hawai’i and started a new orchestra which was the featured band for the Lucky Luck Show. Chick also went on to arrange albums for such talented Honolulu-based singers as Lani Kai and Ed Kenney.
In January 1954, Don the Beachcomber brought pianist Martin Denny to Honolulu for what was to be only a two-week engagement. But like Chick, he fell in love with the islands and stayed. More than this, the inspiration of the melting pot that was and is Hawai’i helped Denny forge a new sound all his own. By 1955, Denny and his group were performing at the Shell Bar of the Hawaiian Village Hotel. It was in this exotic setting that Denny’s new sound was born. To try to outdo the sounds of the frogs croaking in the nearby pool, Denny and crew began a unique approach to vocalizing with a series of bird calls. To make matters more exotic still, Denny used the burgeoning jet plane to import instruments from all over the world. The Martin Denny Group was reinventing the standards written by the Gershwins and Cole Porter by arranging them for entrancing rhythms on percussion instruments from around the world while issuing bird noises from deep within their lungs. Denny and crew were soon signed to Liberty Records, and label head Si Waronker branded this new sound “exotica.“ Martin soon after became the label’s A&R man in Honolulu - seeking out the best and brightest in talent from the islands.
By 1959, the “Hawaii Calls” radio broadcasts heard around the world were nearing their 25th anniversary. So the luminaries of the show’s cast were already becoming household names beyond Hawai’i’s borders. But there was still more local talent that were not “Hawaii Calls” regulars but who were becoming wildly popular with the tourists. In a stroke of genius, Martin Denny decided to bring together members of the “Hawaii Calls” orchestra and chorus, members of his own band, and to stir this soup, arranger Chick Floyd. And to round out the cast, Floyd brought some talent of his own - members of the cast of the evening Polynesian show at Don the Beachcombers, a show for which Floyd was now the arranger. This amazing all-star cast led to the two presumably “cheesy” albums mentioned earlier - “Little Grass Shack” and “Hu La La.” The albums were not cheesy at all, as it turns out, but two of the finest examples of the blending of Hawaiian music and other cultures on record. Some - but not all - of this talent was credited on the album covers, so for many years those who have had the rare pleasure of hearing these recordings may have wondered just what and who they were hearing. Pua Almeida was a key vocalist on both albums. So in this segment, we feature songs from both albums which highlight Pua’s voice while identifying the contribution of the other players along the way.
The set opens with an obscurity only recorded once. From the “Hu La La“ LP, “There’s Still A Lot Of Steam In Kilauea” was written by Sam Kaapuni who became famous for his work with the California-based Hawaiian music group known as The Polynesians. On this tune, Pua Almeida trades lead vocal duties with Hawaii Calls’ cast member Sonny Nicholas. You also hear Martin Denny’s piano (despite that he goes uncredited), Julius Wechter (then of Denny’s group but later of the Baja Marimba Band) on vibraphone, and the bass clarinet of Denny group collaborator Willard Brady.
From the “Little Grass Shack” LP we hear Pua take the vocal lead on the lovely “Sweet Someone” - a song adopted by Hawaiian musicians but which was actually made popular by Nat King Cole’s brother, Eddie Cole, and his musical partner, wife Betty, during their long engagement in Honolulu. Again, the “sweet music” style arrangement centers on Denny’s piano and an unidentified woodwind section.
Also from the “Little Grass Shack” LP, we then hear “Hukilau” again featuring Pua and Sonny Nicholas on lead vocals - getting their Bobby Darin on - and the backing vocals of the “Hawaii Calls” vocal chorus comprised of singing sisters Nina Keali’iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela Rodrigues. None of these artists are identified in the liner notes.
And the last song has been one of my favorites since childhood. Pua takes the vocal lead on a Chick Floyd original, “Late At Night” and turns in what may be his most haunting performance ever. We again hear Denny’s piano, the flute and oboe of Willard Brady, the steel guitar of Danny Stewart, and a vocal chorus consisting of Pua, Sonny Nicholas, Sonny Kamahele, and Sonny’s sister, Iwalani Kamahele whose high soprano in octave unison with Pua give this number an even more haunting quality.
And these are just the selections from these two LPs which feature Pua! There are 18 more selections across these two albums which feature other greats of Hawaiian music of this period exotically interwoven with the members of the Martin Denny and Chick Floyd aggregations. We will get to these other tunes eventually. But if you ever passed up one or both of these LPs on your crate-diving adventures, don’t think twice should you ever see them again.
Next time: Pua transitions gracefully from the jazzy 50s to the groovy 60s…
Mon, 18 February 2013
These three songs are from a 1959 G.N.P. Crescendo compilation LP released on the mainland entitled “Hawaii - A Musical Memento of the Islands” - which is a curiosity on many levels.
G.N.P. stood for “Gene Norman Presents.” Norman was a jazz impresario whose Crescendo label released recordings by such legends as Lionel Hampton and Charlie Shavers. What would such a jazz promoter want with Pua Almeida, Haunani Kahalewai, Andy Cummings, Benny Kalama, or Ray Kinney? What commercial value would they have to him? Apparently, Norman knew better as he released three records of Hawaiian music between 1957 and 1961. The label still banks on these recordings, too. Although they have not been continuously available, they have been available in almost every format from the LP to the cassette tape to the CD and now MP3 which can be found on such reputable download services as iTunes and Rhapsody.
But what of the origins of these recordings? How much credit does the jazz impresario deserve for assembling this talent into an all-star cast for a stellar recording from end to end? Perhaps none at all! As mentioned on this blog previously, during this period it was becoming more and more common for the small labels in Hawai’i to license their masters to larger record companies around the world - not merely for the additional revenue, but for the greater purpose of spreading Hawaiian music as far and wide as possible. Hula Records licensed recordings of Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, and Genoa Keawe to London International Records, Bell Records licensed Alfred Apaka and George Kainapau masters to Urania Records, and on and on and on. So it may have been with these G.N.P. releases most of which have their provenance in 10” LPs from years earlier released by Terna Hawaii Recording Co.
This might require further exploration. When the long playing record was introduced in the late 1940s, it was the same 10” in diameter as the previous 78 r.p.m. format. Playing at the 33 1/3 r.p.m speed, it could hold multiple songs as compared to the 78’s single song format - hence the term “long playing.” The LP employed the 10” size of its predecessor because turntables were being built to accommodate both formats. Had the LP increased in size - as it later did after some experimentation at Columbia Records - manufacturers of record players would have needed to redesign their turntables for the larger size record (and, ultimately, throw away a lot of parts inventory).
So the 10” LP had a short period of popularity from about 1948 to 1955 when the 12” LP as we know it overtook it in popularity. This means that songs by Haunani Kahalewai, Andy Cummings, and Ray Kinney released on Terna 10” records predate 1955 and, therefore, long predate their appearance on the 1959 G.N.P. label to which they were licensed.
But this only accounts for a few of the artists. What about Pua Almeida? The songs by Pua which appear on the G.N.P. Crescendo album do not appear on a previous Terna release or - for that matter - any release from Hawai’i. Were these recorded for Terna and locked up in a vault somewhere? Were they released as obscure Terna 78 r.p.m. singles? (I have seen a few of these from Haunani Kahalewai.) Or were they recorded fresh by Gene Norman for his 1959 release? This is an issue of tremendous interest since it would help us not only date the recordings, but also help us elucidate whether they were recorded on the mainland where Pua spent much of the mid-1950s or in Hawai’i where he had already returned by 1959 and was the featured entertainer at the Moana Surfrider Hotel.
Either way, the one element that binds these disparate recordings by Haunani, Andy, Ray, and Pua into a cohesive whole is the hula. The Terna Records titles from which most (but, now we know, not all) of these recordings came were labeled “Hawaiian classics for the hula.” This means that much of the experimentation we heard previously in Pua’s music would not be possible in music for the hula which relies heavily on repetition of such elements as the vamp (or transitions from one verse to another). So perhaps because this is music intended for the hula, we hear a much more traditional Pua Almeida here. To assert his uniqueness, Pua must rely on certain other signatures to achieve his “sound” - the tight vocal harmonies and rhythmic arrangements which this time around rely not on elements fromt the Latin Americas, but rather on traditional Hawaiian percussion found in the ipu (or gourd), pu’ili (split bamboo sticks), and 'ili 'ili (lava rock stones). We hear two of the three selections from the G.N.P. release here - Maddy Lam’s “Ku’uipo Onaona” and Lilian Awa’s “Mahina O Hoku.”
In these recordings we also can begin to understand the key to Pua’s success on the entertainment scene in Waikiki during this period: He could do it all, from traditional music for the hula done in his own unique style to music for couples dancing under the moonlight. Such was the magic that was Pua Almeida…
Next time: When the new sounds of exotica met the traditional sounds of Hawai’i and some Pua Almeida you’ve likely never heard before…
Mon, 18 February 2013
After successful engagements throughout the 1940s at such popular night spots as the Queen’s Surf, Trader Vic’s, Lau Yee Chai, Club Pago Pago, Waikiki Tavern, Don the Beachcomber, and Pearl City Tavern, in 1947 Pua left Honolulu for the mainland where so many of his contemporaries of the Hawaiian music world were finding great success. He brought three musicians and a single hula dancer for a six-month engagement at the Pago Pago Club in Colton, CA. By 1950 he was entertaining in Okinawa for five months before returning to Honolulu briefly to join Annie Hall’s quartet as steel guitarist and featured vocalist. The quartet did not strictly perform Hawaiian music - not entirely a new experience for Pua.
But he soon returned to Hawaiian music and the mainland - opening at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena with Eddie Bush, George Kainapau, and Alfred McIntyre. His next stop was the famed Seven Seas supper club at 6904 Hollywood Boulevard - directly across the street from the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Playing evenings here with a group led by none other than Sam Koki, Pua spent days doing television shows and recordings. In 1954, at the recording studios on the lot of M.G.M., Pua recorded the first ever long playing record of Hawaiian music. Entitled “South Sea Island Magic,” it was released both as a booklet set of 45 r.p.m. records as well as in the burgeoning 10” long playing format. The record featured Pua along with Sonny Kamahele (later of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts and recordings), Sam Kaapuni (later of the mainland group The Polynesians), and Sam Koki. The much sought out recording - a seldom found and much too expensive eBay item - has never been released on CD or MP3. You hear two sides - literally and figuratively - of that group here. On the more traditional side, we hear Pua lead the group in Ray Kinney’s hapa-haole classic “Hawaiian Hospitality.” On the slightly jazzier side, we hear the still seldom heard Jack Pitman and Eaton Magoon novelty number “Fish and Poi” in a swinging arrangement which mirrors the west coast jazz sounds of such combos as led by Nat King Cole, George Shearing, or Joe Bushkin - the piano essentially taking the lead with the guitar occasionally doubling the piano an octave higher. And while Pua and Sam Koki were both steel guitarists, it is Pua Almeida you hear doing the steel chores here as characterized by his major seventh chords.
Next time: A return to tradition in another out-of-print classic from Pua Almeida in the 1950s…
Sun, 17 February 2013
Charleston Puaonaona Almeida was born February 17, 1922 in Honolulu. The too few historic documents which speak about Pua at all refer to his “father,” the legendary composer and musician John Kameaaloha Almeida - affectionately known as “Uncle Johnny.” But in fact, Pua was not John’s son. He was his nephew. Uncle Johnny took Pua into his home in the Hawaiian tradition known as hanai in which a child is informally adopted and raised as one’s own. Not only were they - by blood or by fate - father and son, they also had an amazing musical relationship which might only have been possible because of these family ties. One can only wonder if Pua’s musical talents would have flourished had it not been for the tutelage of Uncle Johnny.
Pua first performed professional with Uncle Johnny at the Club Pago Pago in 1941. He later perfomed at the Ramona Café until the tragedy at Pearl Harbor, and during the ensuring war, performed in U.S.O. shows as well as with an orchestra led by Randy Oness.
We begin this look at Pua Almeida’s career with the earliest recordings we can locate. Many believe the earliest recorded work from Pua are the 78 r.p.m. sides he recorded for the Bell Records label in the late 1940s with the group led by Randy Oness. But there are some commercially unreleased recordings which date back just a little earlier than that. Some of you may be old enough to remember movie shorts - so named because they featured short performances of music and dance which could be shown between the movies at the Sunday matinees in the 1940s. Pua did a few such shorts which are the first recordings heard here. First we hear Pua in a short featuring a composition from Uncle Johnny, “Ho’oluana” in which Billy Hew Len plays the steel guitar and we hear for the first time Pua’s unique rhythm guitar playing. His rhythm guitar playing is reminiscent of jazz guitar legends such as Freddie Green and is punctuated by syncopated passing chords such as you hear around 0:58 into the set. You then hear the same group perform another Uncle Johnny Almeida composition, “Ku’u Ipo Pua Rose.” Loosely arranged, you will hear Pua say “lawa” to indicate to the band and hula dancer that the song will end with that verse - which they end on a seventh chord and a guitar roll, a nod to the vaudeville era still in their rearview mirror.
We then hear two of those Bell Records 78s. For the sake of comparison, we hear the same two songs on the commercially released Bell sides as we heard on the movie shorts a moment before.
Notice the different approach to “Ho’oluana” - clearly arranged for the dance hall in the big band style so popular on the mainland at the same moment in time, a style which was ushered in by the bands of Sonny Cunha, Johnny Noble, and Harry Owens in the preceeding decades. Pua assembled an orchestra comprised of four saxophones, two trumpets, a trombone, drums, piano, bass, rhyhtm guitar, and steel guitar. These are the sounds one might have heard at the Club Pago Pago in this period - the unique melding of the Hawaiian and jazz idioms well represented by the slurping saxophones and muted trumpets combined with a more Hawaiian style rhythm section featuring the steel guitar and a vocal group right out of the playbook of Tex Beneke and the Modernaires who sang with Glenn Miller’s group at about this same time. Pua leads the first vocal chorus punctuated by the trumpets and saxes and then juxtaposed against a chorus of steel guitar and clarinet duet - the steel guitar played by Pua and the clarinet by Randy Oness. At 4:50 we hear Uncle Johnny sing a chorus of his composition, and then Pua and the vocal group pick up the tune in the out chorus. You may need to rewind to discover that this version is at a tempo intended for dancing while the earlier version from the movie short is taken a much more peppy clip.
And, finally, a second version of “Ku’u Ipo Pua Rose” recorded for Bell Records by Randy Oness’ Select Hawaiian Serenaders. This should be considered an all-star group which later spawned legends in their own right including Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs (who went on to lead the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders), Buddy Peterson, Steppy de Rego, Pua Almeida, and a then still up-and-coming singer named Alfred Apaka. Pua plays steel and sings every other verse, while Alfred Apaka leads the group on the alternating verses.
Next time: Pua enters his most prolific period - the 1950s…
Sun, 17 February 2013
Six years ago to the week, when Ho’olohe Hou was in the third week of its first incarnation as a podcast, the show quickly gained acclaimed among musicians in Hawai’i for a two-part episode on the legendary Pua Almeida. You see… Hawaiian musicians owe a debt to Pua for revolutionizing Hawaiian music, and yet few who don’t own an old-fashioned record player have ever heard his music because while he was one of the most prolific recording artists ever, only about a half-dozen of the sides he cut have yet seen the light of day on a CD or MP3.
Flash forward six years… I spent much of this week perusing the reboot of the seminal book on Hawaiian music. Originally published in 1979, Dr. George Kanahele’s “Hawaiian Music and Musicians” has been the bible for fans and students of Hawaiian music for over 30 years. Oddly this veritable encyclopedia of the history of Hawaiian music did not contain an entry on Pua Almeida except as a footnote to the entry on his hanai father, legendary composer and entertainer John Kameaaloha Almeida. It is criminal, then, that the 2012 version of the book - updated by music reviewer and local Honolulu entertainment columnist John Berger - still does not contain an entry on Pua Almeida.
Just as the podcast aimed to do six years ago, this blog will strive - this week, on the occasion of his birthday, and hereafter whenever the opportunity permits - to preserve the memory and the unique sound of Pua Almeida and his many rare talents.
This means I have a lot of work ahead of me. Pua was not the first Hawaiian music I heard as a child. I did not discover him until my impressionable teen years. But what an impression he left on me. Pua’s approach to Hawaiian music was like no other - a combination of traditional Hawaiian, jazz, Latin, dance hall, country, and - frankly - whatever the hell else fancied him or the amazing musician friends with whom he surrounded himself who assisted in crafting his unique sound. So Pua and his group became the template for my own approach to Hawaiian music. From the first moment I heard him, I have spent my lifetime since amassing as much Pua Almeida material as I could lay my hands on - including ridiculous bids some years ago now on an eBay auction of items from Pua’s estate. In fact, I have made discoveries of unreleased Pua Almeida music as recently as two weeks ago in a private collection that has been shared with me.
So with this wealth of material to draw upon, where does one begin? Eventually, I will attempt to cover Pua’s many accomplishments chronologically - indicating where Pua and his fellas wove together past and present to create an unpredictable future and why these inventions were historically important. For example, if you are a fan of Roland Cazimero’s guitar stylings, thank Pua Almeida whom Roland counts among his chief influences on the guitar. Do you enjoy the steel guitar of Jeff Au Hoy? Jeff found his lifelong passion for Hawaiian music listening to Pua Almeida records which often featured the steel guitar of Pua’s sidekick of many years, Billy Hew Len.
So until I sort out all of this music and history to present in some coherent manner, a quick overview of Pua’s music for the still indoctrinated…
The first amazing thing to note about Pua is how prolific his recording career was for having been cut short by heart problems shortly before his 52nd birthday. He recorded hundreds of sides across more than a dozen labels - not only as the featured artist, but also as a much in demand sideman for both his amazing rhythm guitar work and his unique steel guitar stylings. You hear Pua’s steel guitar playing on this first mid-career cut heard here, “Waikiki Is Good Enough For Me.” You also hear for the first time Pua’s penchance for changing up tempos and rhythms - switching abruptly from the opening fox trot to a Latin swing anchored by the bongos during which Pua takes a steel solo that is more bebop than Hawaiian, filled with blue notes and often playing behind or ahead of the beat. Take note also that this was clearly not music intended for the hula. The hula vamp - a chord sequence of a set number of beats and measures which indicates to the hula dancer when the song has begun, when it is about to end, and when the verses will change - has been abandoned for the more inventive, intricately arranged intros, endings, and transitions associated with such mainland jazz aggregations as the George Shearing Quintet. This is not music for the hula. This is music for the dance hall.
On “Waikapu,” Pua hands the steel guitar bar over to his longtime collaborator, Billy Hew Len, discussed on this blog at length previously. Billy went back and forth between pedal and non-pedal steels throughout his career, but the pedal steel is clearly at work here - which was one of the signatures of Pua’s sound as he had been employing Billy since the 1940s, long before Billy had become the much in demand steel player he became by his most prolific period, the 1960s. You also hear the violin - or, more appropriately, the fiddle - the combination of pedal steel guitar and fiddle giving the tune an almost western swing air. The violin was an unusual sound to hear in Hawaiian music during this period or even still today, but it was by no means new to Hawaiian music as there were violins all about the court of King David Kalakaua. You also hear for the first time Pua’s incredible voice. If Pua had been a contestant on “American Idol,” Simon Cowell might have referred to his style as “affected” - meaning somewhat unnatural or forced. You will often hear Pua elongate and contort the Hawaiian vowels. Sometimes the Hawaiian words become almost unrecognizable. He also had a tendency toward excessive vibrato. Some might call Pua’s voice an acquired taste, but it was nonetheless always recognizable - even in the large chorus of the “Hawaii Calls” radio broadcasts of which he was a member for many years. But more about that later…
Finally, what seemed to be a natural transition to me - from a song about Waikapu on the island of Maui to a hapa-haole (or English language) song about the “Maui Girl.” Anchored once again by the Latin American sound of the bongos, Pua’s version of the song would be as at home on an Xavier Cugat album as on this Tradewinds Records release. And now you hear Billy Hew Len on a non-pedal steel guitar.
One of the most charismatic figures in the history of Hawaiian music, Pua Almeida is too good for a place in an encyclopedia. He deserves a place in the hearts of all Hawaiian music lovers the world over. And my goal this week is to ensure that happens - once and for all.
More about Pua Almeida soon… This is Ho’olohe Hou. Keep listening…
Sun, 3 February 2013
There is woefully little information about a Hawaiian songstress once so popular on stage and TV across the country that like Madonna or Cher she was known by just her first name: Haleloke.
Perhaps you have already read that Haleloke Kahauolopua was born on February 2, 1923 in Hilo on the island of Hawai’i into a musical family. It was only natural that she would be discovered. And discovered she was – over and over again, first by the “Hawaii Calls” radio program which she joined in 1945 and soon after by Arthur Godfrey who whisked her away from the Big Island to the Big Apple to join his wildly popular radio TV programs in 1950. While Godfrey almost single-handedly repopularized the ‘ukulele on the mainland U.S., through her weekly appearances Haleloke became the symbol of Hawaiian song and hula for an entire nation. She eventually became so popular that a Haleloke doll was produced.
During this period of tremendous acclaim, Haleloke recorded some records with mainland musicians and produced by Godfrey who accompanied her on ‘ukulele and occasional vocals. I keep one of these sets close by as it is one of the most prized possessions in my vast collection. On this 1951 set of four 78 rpm discs entitled “Hawaiian Blossoms,” Haleloke delivers seven Hawaiian standards and one mainland take on hapa-haole song in her deep, husky alto. Her voice is most striking and unusual for that time since so many Hawaiian vocalists of that period – both the men and the ladies – were known primarily for how high they could sing (called “falsetto” or “ha’i”).
An issue we will revisit from time to time again is the question of what is Hawaiian music? “Hawaiian Blossoms” lacks certain essential Hawaiian qualities – possibly because the only Hawaiian involved in the recording was Haleloke herself. The musicians all hailed from the mainland as did Archie Bleyer who was the arranger for Arthur Godfrey’s TV show. Haleloke delivers each song in a distinctly Hawaiian way, but the musical settings may not seem as Hawaiian. This is not to say that those without Hawaiian lineage cannot deliver a song in the Hawaiian style. But we might argue that doing so requires a lifetime of study and practice – that “Hawaiian” cannot be summed up to notes on a page that just anybody musician should be expected to pick-up and be able to recreate Hawaiian feeling and emotion.
This should not imply that “Hawaiian Blossoms” is not worth a listen. To honor Haleloke on the anniversary of her birth, I have chosen two selections from this 78 rpm set which represent seldom heard compositions by any artist – “Ku’u Ipo” (often associated with George Kainapau and composed by steel guitarist Andy Iona and bandleader Johnny Noble) and “Lei Aloha” (an oft forgotten beachboy song written by an oft forgotten beachboy, Chick Daniels).
Perhaps because she did not enjoy the life of a superstar or the fast pace of New York city, by the mid-1950s Haleloke retired to Union City, IN.
Direct download: Haleloke_Kahauolopua_-_Hawaiian_Blossoms_Excerpts.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:06pm EST
Fri, 1 February 2013
Mel Abe is one of the most underrated of the steel guitarists from Hawai’i. Unless you are a steel guitarist, you’ve likely never heard of him. He appeared uncredited on a number of classic recordings. In fact, his name only appeared on one album cover ever. And yet he must have been some hell of a musician to assume the steel guitar chair vacated by the untimely passing of the legendary Jules Ah See.
Masao Mel Abe was born on February 1, in Waimea, Kaua’i. Like so many amazing musicians, he learned to play the steel guitar by watching and listening to the greats and emulating – counting Dick McIntire and Eddie Bush among his heroes, but first and foremost admiring Jules. (It is no small irony that because of their names, “Abe” and “Ah See” are always one right after the other in such tomes on the subject as “The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment” and “The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and its Great Hawaiian Musicians.”) He joined the Hawaiian Village Serenaders – led by arranger Benny Kalama and so named because they held court in the Tapa Room of the Hawaiian Village Hotel – after the passing of Jules Ah See in 1960. The group had been supporting legendary artists from Alfred Apaka to Hilo Hattie. So the steel player had to be really good.
On record, at least, Mel Abe demonstrates the technical prowess of Ah See – the tone and the technique – if not, perhaps, Jules’ jazz sensibilities. But that assessment is not entirely fair since artists tend to be much more careful in situations where they know they are being recorded – such as live recordings where there is no opportunity for a second take. Much of what we know about Jules’ jazzy side is from any number of bootlegs that have emerged over the years during which he would have had no idea he was being surreptitiously recorded and could simply “let loose.” Mel does not really “let loose” on record but instead provides a fine example of Hawaiian style playing when the steel guitar is not the solo instrument but critical support for the singer.
And you hear his able support on the first medley. Hilo Hattie (née Clara Haili) recorded two live LPs in the early 1960s featuring the same incarnation of the Hawaiian Village Serenaders. On this 1965 RCA Victor release - “Hilo Hattie with the Hawaiian Village Serenaders Recorded Live At The Tapa Room” - Auntie Clara sits out while bassist Jimmy Kaopuiki sings “Dance The Hula In The Moonlight” and Benny Kalama sings “Dancing Under The Stars.”
Mel Abe and Benny Kalama’s Hawaiian Village Serenaders backed many a fine singer during this period - both in live performance and in the studio. Another of these recordings on which Abe is not credited is the 1963 Ed Kenney classic “Somewhere in Hawaii - Ed Kenney Sings.” On the uptempo numbers on this amazing LP - such as “Hula Belle” and “Ukulele Island” - you can hear Abe incorporate his influences - here, a little Jules Ah See and a little Barney Isaacs - into his own amalgam of a style. In fact, a listener could be fooled into thinking that this is Jules Ah See, but sadly Jules passed away in 1960, and “Ed Kenney Sings” wasn’t recorded until 1963.
Next we hear Mel with Hawai’i’s Ambassador of Aloha, Danny Kaleikini. Before his more than 25 year stint at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, Danny was emcee of the evening lu’au at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - hence the LP “Luau At The Hilton Hawaiian Village.” But contrary to the title, this was not recorded live at the luau. This was a studio effort - hence the pristine recording quality. The recording likely features the support of musicians who comprised the Hawaiian Village Serenaders, but besides Abe - who identified himself as the steel guitarist in his own biographical information - the other players are unknown. In the vocal chorus we can hear the voices of what may be Sonny Kamahele and Jimmy Kaopuiki. Here we get a glimpse of Abe’s tender side on the ballad “Sands of Waikiki,” and on “Kona Hema O Ka Lani” we hear more of Mel’s influences such as the single string work reminiscent of Dick McIntire. This beautiful recording has been remastered and re-released on both CD and MP3.
The last selection is one of my favorites because I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know the featured artist, Sonny Kamahele, graduate of both the Hawaiian Village Serenaders and the Hawaii Calls LPs and radio broadcasts. Mel and Sonny had a long friendship and musical relationship dating back to the Hawaiian Village Serenaders days. In fact, after the demise of that group, Mel went on to perform with Sonny for many years in the Surf Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. In the early 1970s, Sonny and Mel did an LP together for a record label based in Toronto, Canada and masterminded by steel guitar aficionado Tom Shilstra. The album - “Beautiful Hawaiian Steel Guitar” - is strictly instrumental featuring the dual steel guitars of Mel and Sonny (who was also a fine steel guitarist, more of whose steel playing you will hear on Ho’olohe Hou soon). To help you distinguish between Mel’s and Sonny’s playing styles on “Sophisticated Hula,” Sonny played primarily in an unorthodox D9th tuning. So his style is based on large, full chord strums and deep, growling glissandos that signal the chord changes. For the most part, one might think of Mel as the featured soloist in a band such as Count Basie’s and Sonny as the Basie saxophone section. And the tune opens with unison playing by Mel and Sonny that is so tight that they sound like one huge steel guitar.
Because of his facility with the instrument, his tasteful approach to backing a vocalist, and the diminishing number of steel guitarists through the 1960s and 70s before the resurgence in the popularity of the instrument, Mel can also be heard on numerous recordings of this period with Marlene Sai, Mel Peterson, Eddie Kekaula, and others. This means that we will hear more from Mel Abe in the future on Ho’olohe Hou…
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this blog post contained a selection which may not have featured Mel Abe after all. A version of “Puka Shell Lei” from Sonny Kamahele’s album “Mine ‘Til The End of Time” offers a fine steel guitar solo which - according to the liner notes - was most likely Bernie Ka’ai Lewis. With my thanks to a great friend, fellow collector, and Hawaiian music enthusiast Norman Markowitz for the possible errata notice. However, that is not the end of the story. The steel player on “Puka Shell Lei” may or may not have been Bernie Ka’ai Lewis. In the Hawaiian music industry, there is a long history of erroneous or incomplete liner notes that don’t tell the whole story. Bernie Ka’ai Lewis would have celebrated a birthday in September. When Ho’olohe Hou honors him, we will return to the issue of the “mystery steeler” and do some A/B comparisons of Abe’s and Lewis’s styles. In any case, because of this possible gaff on the part of your friendly blogger, I have reposted this Mel Abe tribute with four additional tracks on which I can confirm that the steel guitarist is - beyond a shadow of a doubt - Mel Abe based biographical and discographical information offered by Abe himself.
Thu, 31 January 2013
George Manoa Huddy III was born January 31, 1927 in Kapa’a, Kaua’i. Little is known - or, at least, little is documented - about Huddy’s life and work. All we have are his beautiful compositions, and there are even too few of those at that.
If you are a fan of Hawaiian music, you have no doubt heard one or more of George Huddy’s compositions and didn’t even know it. Of the handful of songs he composed, most were instant classics and are still performed today. It seemed only appropriate on his birthday to share some of these songs so that those who might hear this will forever after associate the songs with George Huddy’s legacy. And while I would often tell you a great deal about the songs and the artists, on this occasion I am going to let all of that remain a mystery that unfolds when you press the “PLAY” button. For the most part, the voices should be as familiar as the songs.
This may be an opportunity for our readers to share your remembrances of George Huddy with your blogger. If you knew George Huddy or his family, I would love to learn more about a man whose work I admire so much and ultimately share any discoveries about him here on the anniversary of Huddy’s birthday next year.
Wed, 30 January 2013
There are some songs in the vast Hawaiian canon that are too rarely heard and even less often recorded. While there are Hawaiian standards that have been recored literally dozens of times, if we scour the song folios dating back 100 years, some of the most beautiful lyrics and melodies have been recorded a scant once or twice. Many have never been recorded at all.
The contribution of Charles E. King - whose birthday would have been celebrated yesterday - as composer, collector, and publisher of Hawaiian songs cannot be underestimated and cannot be covered in a blog post or even a week’s worth of blog posts. So we will return to his legacy when time and space permit. But for now, suffice it to say that King published at least two invaluable folios of Hawaiian songs. Both titled as “King’s Songs of Hawaii,” they are referred to affectionately by Hawaiians by the color of their covers - the “Blue Book” and the “Green Book.” “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” is one of these lovely oft forgotten King compositions.
Another out of print classic by Kihei Brown - whose birthday we also celebrate today - is the Hula Records release “Right On Keia” on which Kihei and his trio give us a stirring rendition of “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha.” As I listen, I am looking at the score of “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” in my 1950 edition of King’s “Green Book,” and the “stirring” is more the work of the composer than the trio who reproduce the composer’s intentions pretty faithfully. One might think that the dramatic changes in tempo are a feature of the arrangement. But the score indicates that the tempo changes are a feature of the composition - interpreted just as King notated them in the score. It is these tempo changes that create the “drama” in what is otherwise a vaudevillian chord sturcture.
Kihei Brown’s version of this song was the only one to be heard for more than 40 years. But then enter the young Hawaiian music group known as ‘Ale’a who recorded “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” for only the second time for their 2004 CD “Kaulupono.” Who is to say whether or not the gentlemen of ‘Ale’a ever saw the Charles E. King score of the song? So we are left to ponder whether their stirring rendition is the result of faithfully adhering to the score or following the recorded example set by Kihei Brown and his trio 40 years earlier. (Because Hawaiian music is part of a larger oral tradition, many Hawaiian songs are handed down simply by hearing and repeating rather than by the printed sheet music - which in many cases does not even exist.) In either case, the group recognizes the vaudevillian character of the chord changes and plays them up with the addition of the piano - ably handled by Aaron Sala in the unique tradition of Hawaiian-style piano discussed here previously.
What better way to connect past and present then hearing two versions of the same song by two different artists recorded nearly 40 years apart? And what better way to celebrate the birthdays of Kihei Brown and Charles E. King?
Wed, 30 January 2013
Thomas Kihei Desha Brown was born January 30, 1925 into the very musical Brown family of Hilo, Hawai’i. His musical career began by singing with the famed Haili Choir of Hilo which spawned two groups: the Hilo Kalimas and the Hilo Hawaiians. With both of those groups - both family affairs including cousins Bunny and Buddy Brown - Kihei became best known for his beautiful falsetto voice.
Like many other Hawai’i artists of the 1950s and 60s who were making a splash beyond its borders - Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai, Charles K.L. Davis, and George Kainapau come to mind - Kihei and the Hilo Hawaiians were signed to a mainland recording contract with Decca Records. The upshot of such an arrangement is that while the recordings these artists made with such a prominent label received worldwide exposure, ironically very few of the records were shipped to the islands. So while you will find Hilo Hawaiians LPs in flea markets and swap meets across the U.S., you would be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find one in Hawai’i…
…Except for one. Kihei and the Hilo Hawaiians made one album in 1960 for an organization - Hawaii Hosts - that promoted tourism in the wake of Hawai’i’s then recent statehood. Early pressings of “Honeymoon in Hawaii” were accompanied by tourist information and a 40-page booklet filled with pictures of “paradise.” The combination of music, images, and words were enough to send anybody to their nearest travel agent. The question is how was this recording distributed? Record stores? The tour company? It is a question worth pondering because there would seem to be more copies in circulation of this one recording from Hawai’i than any other. In any record store on the mainland U.S. - from Los Angeles to New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska - you will unearth not one, but several copies of this gem. Fortunately for all of us - through a labor of love - “Honeymoon in Hawai’i” is again available on a beautifully remastered CD. According to a Honolulu Magazine article, John Tsukano, Jr. personally financed the rerelease of this classic recording in honor of his father who had produced the original recording. After his father’s passing, John found the master tapes among his father’s things. And given that “Honeymoon in Hawaii” had recently been named one of the 50 all time greatest albums of Hawai’i by Honolulu Magazine, John knew that it was his obligation to the group and to his dad to bring the music back again for a new generation. The first song you hear - “Nani Waialeale” - is from one of many well worn and loved vinyl copies of the album I have amassed over the years. (I have so many copies that I could open my own record store and stock it with only this record.) The song features the steel guitar of Arthur Kaua.
“E Hilo Nani E” is from one of the Hilo Hawaiians’ two Decca Releases - “Memories of Hawaii” - and features Kihei Brown’s beautiful and lush falsetto. Both this and the other Decca LP - “The Splendor of the Islands” - remain out of print.
Like the two Decca Releases, the Hilo Kalima‘s “Your Musical Trip Around The Island of Hawaii“ (besides possibly winning the award for Hawai‘i LP With The Most Syllables In Its Title - I‘ll have to check on that!) also received distribution across the country and around the world. Hula Records - the oldest continuously operating record label in Hawai’i - frequently licensed its master tapes to other labels to further the distribution of Hawaiian music. Recordings by Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, Genoa Keawe, and the Hilo Kalmias - to name just a few - were licensed to London International Records. So you will find titles such as “Your Musical Trip“ with both a Hula and a London label. “Kona Hema” is taken from that LP and was so popular that it also appeared on the Hula Records compilation LP “Hawaiian Stars.” Notice the use of the ‘ukulele as the lead instrument here. This was a rather new concept in Hawaiian music which ushered in the 1960s - a trend led by such ‘ukulele wizards as Eddie Kamae and Jesse Kalima who felt that Hawaiian music did not necessarily require a steel guitar to be considered “Hawaiian.”
I can locate a half dozen Kihei Brown releases, but only one - “Honeymoon In Hawaii” - remains in print in any format. This is so very sad given Kihei’s talents and contribution to Hawai’i. But this also means you’ll be hearing more from Kihei Brown on Ho’olohe Hou, and soon…
Tue, 29 January 2013
Today Iolani Kamauu is known for his magic as an arranger working in tandem with his wife whose star rose so very quickly over the last decade, Natalie Ai Kamauu. The combination of Nat’s angelic voice and Iolani’s musical settings forged a new era in Hawaiian music - a sound uniquely their own. But Iolani was a fine musician long before his musical - and life - partnership with Nat.
Nearly 25 years ago Iolani joined forces with Trevor Maunakea, Kanamu Akana, and Alden Levi to form the group known as Kawaiola. Their one and only recording together - “Ho’oheno I Ka Pu’uwai” - is really quite lovely in the vein of the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau and later Ho’okena. It must have been difficult to be a musician in Hawai’i in the 1980s - to straddle the sensitive border of tradition and progress. But Iolani and Kawaiola did this with tremendous artistic - if, perhaps, not critical - success. Combining traditional instrumentation with their own unique twist on church choir-style harmony, listen to how they handle such Hawaiian chestnuts as “Kaulana O Waimanalo” and “Maika’i Ka Makani O Kohala.”
Hauoli la hanau e Iolani!
Mon, 28 January 2013
And I almost forgot… Leinaala Haili left one more important on-going legacy in Hawaiian music: the group now known as Maunalua.
It has been nearly 20 years since I was sitting with Bobby Moderow of Maunalua talking story at a ridiculous hour in the most bizarre of locales - a hotel lounge in Princeton, NJ. Princeton University has been called “home” and eventually “alma mater” by a number of students who come here from Hawai’i to study, and so the institution has had at various points throughout its history a very active Hawaiian student organization eager to share their culture with the local community. In 1994, Bobby made the journey - along with kumu hula John Lake - to take part in a weekend of Hawai’i Club of Princeton events. Bobby and I played music for long hours and talked even longer, and I recall the story of how his group - Maunalua - got its start. The group had no name and only two permanent members when Auntie Leinaala Haili started coming to see them every Friday without fail at Roy’s Hawai’i Kai. Sometimes she would sit in with the group, but mostly she would goad them into making a record. After many years of this goading Hawaiian style, the boys relented, and the debut album - simply entitled “Maunalua” - was a radio darling and a multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner. In the more than a decade since their recording debut, the group has gone on to become one of the most artistically fruitful and commercially successful Hawaiian groups of all time.
By the time of the recording of their second CD - “Kuleana” - Bobby and crew reciprocated the goading and dragged Auntie Leinaala to the recording studio for what would be her final recording ever - the tender and poignant “Pua Tuberose” heard here. This precious meeting of Leinaala Haili and the sweet male harmony voices was never to be repeated. Note that Leinaala did not ever previously - despite five full-length releases - record with a chorus of male voices. So this was also a once-in-a-career event. More remarkably still is that the 80-year-old Leinaala in this recording sounds in no way, shape, or form different than the Leinaala of 30 years before - the tone, the phrasing, the breath control…everything still in perfect form, the consummate professional until the very end.
Dedicated to Bobby, Kahi, and Richard - great friends of mine who carry the torch of those who came before because they feel it is their kuleana.
Mon, 28 January 2013
Jessie Makanui Leinaala Amaral Haili was born January 29, 1923 in Lahaina, Maui. She rose to fame because of her very natural and unforced female ha`i - or the equivalent of the male falsetto - that was simply beyond compare. Throughout her professional career she perfomed literally everywhere: the Sierra Café, the Niumalu Hotel (now the Hilton Hawaiian Village), the Moana Hotel, the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Queen’s Surf, the Kaimana Beach Hotel, the Kuhio Hotel, Don the Beachcomber's, Waikiki Lau Yee Chai, The Clouds, and Yoko's at Kapahulu. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s she recorded five LPs for the Makaha and Lehua record labels - each one more beautiful than the last. On all five of these albums she collaborated with an arranger we have speaking about at great length recently - Benny Saks - and so she is also at least partially responsible for ushering in a more modern era of Hawaiian music. And because Leinaala worked with Benny Saks, this means we have one more opportunity to hear from his frequent collaborator - steel guitarist Billy Hew Len.
Benny, Billy, and Leinaala kick things off with a rousing rendition of Uncle Johnny Almeida’s “Maile Swing.” Almeida’s uptempo compositions were always infused with the many jazz influences that inspired him. But “Maile Swing” may be his swingingest effort ever, and Benny’s arrangement only swings it harder. This is no typical Hawaiian song form. For example, listen to the chord structure of the bridge - switching from major to minor in the middle of the bridge. This is not traditional Hawaiian music as it was known up to that point when Almeida penned this ditty around 1946-7. Saks jazzes it up even more by changing the typical “V” chord to a “V9” chord - also right out of the jazz playbook. And then there is that unique instrument heard throughout the tune. Known as the melodica, it sounds like a harmonica, but it is, in fact, a handheld keyboard instrument that one blows into to produce tone. (You may recognize this instrument from the iconic introduction to the 1972 Chi-Lites hit “Oh, Girl.“) Hohner only invented the instrument in the 1950s, so again Saks shows us his cutting edge by introducing the melodica to Hawaiian music. (In fact, the melodica may not have been used in Hawaiian music before or since this effort.) The combination keyboard/woodwind design of the instrument is what allows Benny to bend the notes in his introduction and solo into the blue notes associated with jazz. And then another very jazz-oriented idea: the trading of choruses among the soloists. Benny takes the first half of the improvised instrumental chorus, while Billy takes the second half on the steel guitar.
On “Pa’ahana,” Benny Saks surprises and titillates by turning back the hands of time with an instrumentation comprised solely of steel guitar, slack key guitar, and bass - Hawaiian music at its simple best. The steel guitar is Billy Hew Len once again, and the slack key guitar is a guest turn from none other than Sonny Chillingworth. You may recall when discussing Billy Hew Len that he performed live regularly in the 1970s with Sonny Chillingworth and Myra English. This selection gives us a hint at that empathetic interplay of Billy’s steel and Sonny’s slack key one might have heard on those evenings at the Dolphin Room of the Outrigger Hotel. This is also a rare recording of Sonny playing a nylon string guitar as he was better known for playing steel string acoustic guitars or his now legendary orange Gretsch semi-hollow body.
On the classic “Na Pua Lei ‘Ilima,” Saks tastefully combines the traditional and the contemporary. He takes the tune at a slightly more sprightly clip than usual for the hula. Then he employs the hula rhythm typically associated with the ipu heke but instead on the tambourine - the ubiquitous sound of groovy hipster 60s music. Once again, the steel guitar is Billy Hew Len.
On “Ka’uiki,” the steel guitar sits out and the ‘ukulele takes the lead role. None of the supporting players are immediately identifiable here, but the male harmony voice you hear is likely Cyrus Green as he played a similar supporting role on other Lehua Records releases of this period, and Green‘s voice is largely unmistakeable.
Finally, as in other Benny Saks arrangements you may have heard here recently, this version of “Punahou” is focused on the interplay of Billy Hew Len’s steel guitar and Saks’ piano. The arrangement plays not only with melody but rhythm. Listen to the introduction where the piano relies on long rests between ideas while the steel guitar plays a seemingly neverending cascade of triplets.
When one listens to Auntie Leinaala sing, one immediately recognizes not only a voice that rises above the rest, but also a personality that rises above the rest. Her voice is characterized by a certain simple elegance. You might picture her in a shiny holoku ready to perform for kings and queens. Yet those who knew her say that she was kolohe - or rascal - both on stage and off. Entertainment writer Wayne Harada captured her best in his Honolulu Advertiser obituary when he discussed Leinaala’s legacy with other Hawaiian music icons who knew and admired her.
While I must usually report that the selections heard on Ho’olohe Hou are out of print, happily that is not the case with Leinaala Haili’s catalog. In 2012, Lehua Records remastered and re-released all five of her albums direct to MP3 which can be downloaded from iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, and other reputable download sites. I can highly recommend four of them, but one - “Hiki No” - is not up to modern standards since Lehua returned to the monophonic master for its reissue (likely because the original stereo master was lost or damaged).
Leinaala Haili would have been 90 years old today. I hope you enjoy hearing this voice again - or, perhaps, for the first time…
Fri, 25 January 2013
Charlotte Iwalani Wilson Kahalewai was born January 25, 1934 in Waihe’e, Maui into a most musical family. She started singing at the age of 6 for U.S.O. shows and cut her entertaining teeth at Lani Wai and Wailuku Gardens before becoming a regular on the Hawaii Calls radio programs and studio recordings. Through the 1950’s Iwalani performed at the Top Of The Isle and the Waikiki Biltmore and in 1958 was hired as featured singer and dancer with Alfred Apaka and the Hawaiian Village Serenaders in the Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Room.
After Apaka’s untimely death in 1960, Iwalani sang at Don The Beachcombers and recorded with sister-in-law Haunani Kahalewai on her Decca and Capitol Records releases heard around the world. Through the 1960’s and 70’s she performed with Alice Fredlund’s Halekulani Girls and the Charles Pokipala Trio at the Halekulani Hotel, the Danny Kaleikini Show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, the Moana Hotel and Queen’s Surf luaus, and with Tavana’s Polynesian Show at the Ala Moana Hotel, as well as continued frequent guest appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio show.
Most recently, Auntie Iwa performed in the 1990’s Hawaii Calls revival radio program, The Sounds of Aloha, and she performed right up until her passing with the Royal Hawaiian Band as well as in numerous live Hawaii Calls tribute shows with show veterans Nina Keali’iwahamana, Boyce Rodrigues, and Gary Aiko. Her last recent recording was a duet with Jeff Teves on his recent release Lovely Sapphire Of The Tropics.
Ironically, despite being featured as a soloist on numerous LP and CD releases by other artists, Iwalani only made one solo album: the 1960’s classic "An Hawaiian Happening," which brought Hawaiian music into a new era courtesy of the progressive sounds of arranger-conductor Benny Saks. This beautiful LP has recently been digitally remastered and reissued and is essential listening for anyone interested in hearing Auntie Iwa’s unique way with a song and a snapshot of the blend of rock, jazz, Latin, and other influences that pervaded Hawaiian music in the 1960’s.
To honor Auntie Iwa, I put together a set of some of Iwalani’s finest outings – most no longer commercially available. The set opens with Iwalani’s first ever commercial recording – “Blue Mu’umu’u” – with the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus and continues with an excerpt of a very rare radio broadcast from the Tapa Room with the Hawaiian Village Serenaders – including a duet with Alfred Apaka. There are two selections from Iwalani’s An Hawaiian Happening album. (Listen for one of the hallmarks of Benny Saks’ 1960’s arrangements – a full drum kit!) Then Iwalani leads the Halekulani Girls on the sad and poignant “Mi Nei” from their out-of-print 1977 LP "Dreams of Old Hawaii." And the set closes with two out-of-print recordings Iwalani made with Hawaii Calls veterans Gary Aiko, Nina Keali’iwahamana, and Mahi Beamer in the 1990s.
Hawai’i lost this most beloved and recognizable voice on August 4, 2009. I hope this musical tribute brings back fond memories for those of you who knew and loved Auntie Iwa.
Fri, 25 January 2013
By the time the 80s rolled around, Billy Hew Len was the elder statesman of the local music scene – having known, played with, or recorded with every shining star in the small constellation of Hawaiian music luminaries. He continued to work the Waikiki hotel lounges as well as the evening lu’au which catered to tourists – making him one of the most heard steel guitarists ever and a sound instantly recognizable with Hawai’i.
In Hawaiian, hana hou means “encore” or – literally – “do it again.” Hana hou, Billy. Hana hou…
Wed, 23 January 2013
And speaking of birthdays, why would Ho’olohe Hou celebrate the birthday of a Gypsy jazz guitarist? Perhaps because of his undeniable influence on music all over the world – including Hawai’i…
As mentioned in our discussions of steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, Django Reinhardt was a jazz violinist whose career radically changed course after a caravan fire robbed him of the use of the pinky and ring fingers of his left – or fretting – hand. Django turned to the guitar and developed a fiery Gypsy style like no other guitarist before or since and which required only two fingers and a thumb. Many who followed tried to emulate Django’s style with all five fingers, but none has come close. And this is because – like so much Hawaiian music – Django’s style could not be boiled down to technique. It doesn’t come from the hands. It comes from the soul.
This blog is reserving a more in-depth discussion of Django’s influence on Hawaiian music until such time as we can begin to seriously explore the development and evolution of Hawaiian music in a more chronological fashion. But we also could not let Django’s birthday slip by unnoticed. So here is what we might say for now…
As early as 1926, Django began recording with an aggregation he formed which became known as le Quintette du Hot Club du France with his lifelong musical partner, Parisian violinist Stephane Grappelli. The group – which consisted of violin, lead guitar, two rhythm guitars and upright bass – was a veritable freight train of rhythm. They could play at lightning fast speeds, but the rhythmic aspects of their playing even translated into their ballads. The popularity of the group around the world could be keenly felt – even among Hawaiian musicians, especially those rooted on the mainland U.S. where the sounds from Europe more quickly arrived than they did more than twice as far away in Honolulu.
Rather than show the influence of the Reinhardt/Grappelli relationship on a traditional Hawaiian song, how about turning that concept on its side and hearing an example of a Hawaiian group doing a jazz standard in the style of the Hot Club? Django and crew recorded “Limehouse Blues” no fewer than five times over their 25 year recording career. I have chosen a 1926 version since it most resembles – in tempo and arrangement – a version by Johnny Pineapple’s New York-based group dating to the early 1940s. Johnny’s group was then known as “Lukewela’s Royal Hawaiians” – “Lukewela” presumably being a Hawaiian equivalent of “Roosevelt,” in honor of New York’s famed Roosevelt Hotel which the group called home. With Johnny’s group, the role of Django’s lead guitar is played by the fiery steel guitar of Johnny de Toro and the violinist is the amazing Tony Atero.
There is more to Django’s influence on Hawaiian music than this one example. And I look forward to returning to the subject – but not before the time is right.
Direct download: Limehouse_Blues_-_Two_Versions_-_Djangos_Influence.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:52pm EST
Tue, 22 January 2013
Billy Hew Len continued to be the preeminent force in steel guitar in the Honolulu music scene in the 1970s. In addition to a regular engagement at the Dolphin Room at the Outrigger Hotel in Waikiki with singer Myra English and slack key guitarist Sonny Chillingworth, he was also performing at Chuck Machado’s luau show and doing occasionals with good friends Genoa Keawe and Violet Pahu Liliko’i. And he made at least one iconic recording that has represented Hawai’i well for nearly 40 years.
I wanted you to get an idea for the unique sound that Billy and Sonny Chillingworth created to support Myra English’s vocals. They did a few recordings together, and the first selection here comes from Myra’s classic Hula Records LP “Drinking Champagne.” This is generally the sound you would have heard at one of Myra’s performances in the Dolphin Room but with a twist. Myra did not have the benefit of a bass player at the club as she did in the recording studio. When performing live, the low bass notes were provided by Sonny Chillingworth’s unique guitar style which was much like the stride piano style of Fats Waller or Teddy Wilson – alternating a running bass line with chords and occasional single note fills. Although known as a slack key guitarist, Sonny played this “stride guitar” style in standard guitar tuning. Myra did three LPs for Hula Records – none of which have been reissued in their totality on CD or MP3. But you can hear some selections from all three original LPs on the Hula Records reissue “The Best of the Champagne Lady.”
Next up is one of the most iconic – and also most controversial – recordings ever to come out of Hawai’i. “Steel Guitar Magic Hawaiian Style” was an album of steel guitar duets by Billy and Barney Isaacs. Recorded for the then still new Music of Polynesia label under the direction of orchestrator Jack de Mello, the album was not in as traditional a vein as the albums offered by the popular labels of the last decade – Hula, Lehua, Makaha, and Sounds of Hawaii. Even as the latter two labels began moving Hawaiian music into a new era by incorporating elements of rock, jazz, and Latin music (see the last post on Billy’s collaborating with arranger Benny Saks), “Steel Guitar Magic Hawaiian Style” had wound back the clock on Hawaiian music. Jack de Mello felt that he knew what appealed to the tourists, and so he incorporated many of the pre-statehood elements of Hawaiian music into this recording. And perhaps he was right for this is the only Hawaiian music recording of which I am aware that has been continuously in print for 40 years and which continues to sell, I have seen versions on long playing vinyl record, 8-track tape, cassette, CD, and now MP3, and yet I never find a copy in the music collections of Hawaiians. So who bought them all? The recording brings to mind an on-going issue which will be explored and re-explored in this blog over time – specifically the question of “What is Hawaiian music?” Because once an attempt is made to define Hawaiian music, then attempts can be made to judge some music as being more Hawaiian than other music. A controversial topic indeed. This recording appeals more to mainlanders’ sensibilities of what “Hawaiian music” should sound like and the images that it should conjure and sounds far more like the brand of “Hawaiian music” that was being recorded on the mainland and which was criticized – if not reviled – by traditionalists in Hawai’i - leaving Hawaiians to ponder whether or not it is indeed “Hawaiian music.” Of importance today, however , is simply the interplay between two greats of the steel guitar, Barney and Billy.
Finally, a glimpse of Billy in his evening performances at Chuck Machado’s luau. You hear the voice of emcee Doug Mossman (also known for his role as “Moki” on the original “Hawaii Five-O” television series) who goads Billy into a medley of the beautiful waltz-time steel guitar standard “Whispering Lullaby” followed by his rendition of a country/western classic, “Steel Guitar Rag,” popularized by country steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe. Hawaiian steel guitarists are too often judged by their approach to tunes written specifically steel guitar – among these “Sand,” “How D’Ya Do,” and “Whispering Lullaby.” In case you have never heard this version before, it is Billy’s only recording of “Lullaby” from an album that was likely only given away to visitors to the lu’au. “Chuck Machado’s Luau Recorded Live On The Beach At Waikiki” remains out of print.
Tomorrow: We wrap up our week-long tribute to Billy Hew Len’s career with a look at his too few commercial recordings in the 1980s before his untimely passing in 1987…
Tue, 22 January 2013
While Ho’olohe Hou has so far been concerned with the forgotten figures of Hawaiian music, scrolling around Facebook today inspired a new topic – “Facebook Friends,” dedicated to my friends (real and virtual) who continue to make beautiful music for Hawai’i and the world. And a birthday is the perfect excuse to celebrate!
For more than 30 years Haunani Apoliona has been a foremost ambassador of Hawaiian music around the world, a composer of beautiful Hawaiian-language compositions, and one of the rare female practitioners of the art of the slack key guitar. But only Hawaiians can say whether they cherish Haunani more for her contributions to their music or for her advocacy of native Hawaiian causes and issues in Washington, D.C. as a representative of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).
My fondest memories of Haunani are spending evenings at the Rainbow Lounge of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel with her musical partner of the last three decades, Jerry Santos, and the seminal Hawaiian folk music group Olomana which keeps alive the sounds and songs of a bygone era of Hawai’i. In the last 20 years Olomana has only produced one CD - “E Mau Ana Ka Ha‘aheo“ (1991) - but there was also one solo CD from Jerry Santos – “Expecting Friends” (1989) - which featured Haunani and one solo LP from Haunani which featured Jerry - “Na Lei Hulu Makua, Na Wahine Hawai‘i“ (1986). The latter is of particular interest because it remains out of print – never seeing the light of day on CD or MP3. Haunani continues to wrestle with the numerous issues of rereleasing her own work.
To celebrate her birthday, I give you one of my favorite selections from that LP – a medley of songs by venerable composer of Hawaiian songs Helen Desha Beamer – with the hope that the entire beautiful album will be available for a new generation of Hawaiian music lovers to enjoy soon.
Hau’oli la hanau e Haunani Apoliona!
Mon, 21 January 2013
My wife asked me why I suddenly became eager to blog about Hawaiian music and its heroes again. I said that it was for the same reason that she blogs about young adult literature. There are things about which we are passionate – things that became all-consuming in our lives – but we have not been able to overcome the obstacles to making the way to the inside of our passion. Like kids on a playground who don’t get picked for a kickball team, my wife and I must be content to watch the game when we would desperately like to be playing it.
So my wife writes about great young adult novels and their authors instead of writing the next great YA novel herself. And I am writing about Hawaiian music when all I long to do is make Hawaiian music.
For nearly 40 years I have studied - in depth, as you can no doubt tell from these blog posts - Hawaiian music and all of its figures - the heroes, the unsung heroes, and even those who worked behind the scenes. I used to joke that I collected Hawaiian records the way other kids in my New Jersey neighborhood collected baseball cards. I knew all the players and all their stats, but for some reason nobody ever wanted to trade with me. But at some point it was no longer enough to listen to Hawaiian music. I was eager to play.
I first learned to play ‘ukulele before I was five years old by listening to and emulating those whose styles most appealed to me - Eddie Kamae, Jesse Kalima, and Herb Ohta. Then around the age of 8, I bought Keola Beamer’s primer on slack key guitar and taught myself. At some point I added steel guitar to the growing list of instruments I was trying to learn - copying licks from such greats as Joe Custino, Lovey Lui Conn, Jules Ah See, Barney Isaacs and (of course) Billy Hew Len. As a teenager, I wanted to sing falsetto like Mahi Beamer, Dennis Pavao, or Robert and Roland Cazimero. And I did not find it one bit ironic that my singing hero was Aunty Genoa Keawe. I was a young man learning to sing like a woman. ‘Ukulele, slack key guitar, steel guitar, and falsetto singing were my passions, but they were also my deep, dark secret. There were enough reasons for the others at school to ridicule me - bad skin, bad hair, bad clothing choices, a life made in a trailer park, a mother who was a raging alcoholic, and what teachers convinced me was an off-the-charts IQ. Why give them one more reason? In those days, it felt like I had few friends, but I had lots of aunties and uncles far, far away in a place I had never even visited it. My heart and my soul were in Hawai’i as were the aunties and uncles I had yet to meet.
While other kids dreamed more practical dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, chefs, and teachers, I dreamed of playing Hawaiian music. If you’re a white kid in New Jersey, dreaming of becoming a musician in Hawai’i is just plain stupid. Who knew there was any sphere in which being a white male would be a disadvantage?
And yet, like a damned fool, I continued to practice as if that dream could become a reality. I played and sang at parties for the local Hawaiians who accepted me as one of their own. It never escaped me that their hearts soared to their home far away whenever I sang a forgotten song in the Hawaiian language in the falsetto style. At one of these gatherings, I was approached by a calabash auntie and uncle from Philadelphia, Frank and Winnie Jankowski. (And, make no mistake, despite marrying into that very Polish name, Auntie Winnie was Hawaiian born and raised who studied hula with none other than Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln.) Without conversation, Frank handed me a videocassette with a Post-It Note attached which read simply “You could do this.” It was a videocassette of the TV broadcast of that year’s Aloha Festivals Frank B. Shaner Falsetto Singing Contest. The winner that year was unknown to me. His name was Cody “Pueo” Pata.
Starting in 2003, I began making an annual journey to Hawai’i to compete in this contest. That first year - in July 2003 - I dialed the radio in the rental car to station 105.1 - KINE - to hear the morning show then hosted by Brickwood Galuteria and Frank B. Shaner who - to my surprise - were joking about the contestant from New Jersey. Frank defended me - saying to Brickwood, “No, really, just wait ‘til you hear this guy.” I picked up the Honolulu Star-Bulletin where they interviewed Shaner about the contest named for him, and he talked about the contestants, to which I became yet another tagline: “There is even one from New Jersey!” And I knew that I was somewhere between a dark horse and a cruel joke. And - dare I say it? - I lost. And it wouldn’t be the last time.
The Aloha Festivals sponsored contests first on Hawai’i, then O’ahu, and later Maui, and eventually even Kaua’i. So the next year I hedged my bets and entered the contest on two different islands - taking third place on Hawai’i and second place on O’ahu. And I was quite content with that and vowed never to return - at least, not to compete, since I had been told by many Hawaiians that a “haole is never going to win that contest.”
The advent of the internet nearly ruined Hawaiian music for me. I was able to put myself out there for the first time and seek advice and assistance. But instead of advice and assistance, for the most part I received a warning. I learned – quickly – that there is a difference between music for the sake of music and music that perpetuates a culture. And because of Hawai’i’s sordid history with the white man – honored last week on the 120th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy – the Hawaiian people are understandably very protective of what remains of their culture. So I was given myriad reasons why I should not perform Hawaiian music which ranged from you’re not Hawaiian to you do not speak the Hawaiian language, so you should not sing it to you have never even been to Hawai’i to now that you've been here, you should move here. This would have hurt badly enough coming from the Hawaiian people, but many of these criticisms, in fact, came from the legends of Hawaiian music that I so admired and wished to befriend and learn from.
And so, I gave up Hawaiian music and falsetto singing and the contest.
In September 2005, I received a phone call from the O’ahu contest’s new host, radio personality Harry B. Soria. He said that the Aloha Festivals couldn’t find my audition tape or any entry forms for me. They assumed they must be lost in the mail in that great distance between Honolulu and Trenton. I explained that they were not lost - that I simply wasn’t entering. Harry said, “I really think you should. And there are only nine entries so far. And you keep taking second or third place. It’s as if that tenth spot were reserved for you.” So I entered the O’ahu contest, and because it was convenient, I entered on the Big Island as well. Between marriages and going more broke by the day, I shelled out for the plane ticket - all the money I had left in the world. I rented a car on a credit card I knew I likely wouldn’t pay when the bill arrived. And I planned to sleep in that rental car in various Zippy’s parking lots across O’ahu. I stopped into Harry’s Music in Kaimuki to see a friend I had made at the first contest - Alan Yoshioka. He asked me where I was staying, and I told him a in a car behind Zippy’s Vineyard. And he protested and said, “No, you stay with me.”
The night before the O’ahu contest, I went to hear my friend Halehaku Seabury-Akaka play at a great little night spot that has since become a favorite of mine: Chiko’s. And he was performing with one of my falsetto heroes - Keao Costa, then of the group Na Palapalai. I sang a few songs with the group, and then I bought Keao a beer. A beer turned into a six-pack and several shots of something that tasted like straight Hershey’s syrup. He asked what I was singing in the contest, and I told him Uncle Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln’s “Kawaihae Hula.” He said, “Sing it. Now.” So I started singing, and he stopped me after four bars. He asked why my vowel sounds all sounded the same - why I could not hear the difference between “ai” and “ae.” Good question, Keao. “You cannot get away with that when Tony is a judge” - referring, of course, to composer, kumu hula, and falsetto singer Tony Conjugacion. We then started repeating “Kawaihae” one after the other. Kawaihae. Take a shot. Kawaihae. Drink your beer. Kawaihae. Take another shot. And I was getting the lessons I desperately sought from one of my heroes in a bar at a ridiculous hour while doing beer and shots.
And it was then that I realized that Hawaiian music is not an academic thing at all. I had been doing it all wrong.
The next thing I remember is waking up in my car on Ala Wai Boulevard - close to (but not in) the parking garage of the apartment Alan Yoshioka loaned to me. It was perhaps the scariest moment of my life. And there was only one hour until sound check.
That evening, September 24, 2005, on the grand stage of the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where so much Hawaiian music history had been made, and after the big build-up of an introduction in which Harry joked with Karen Keawehawai’i about guessing the zip code of Ewing, NJ, I took the stage with my now great friends - the group known as “Na Hoa” - and sang “Kawaihae Hula.” And nobody - believe me, nobody - was more surprised than me to win not only the falsetto singing prize, but a second newly instituted prize for accuracy in the Hawaiian language. (Thank you, Keao!) Back home in New Jersey, the album covers from my favorite Hawaiian LPs – most on the venerable Hula Records label – graced my walls. And now through some miracle I had earned a recording contract with that same Hula Records. We recorded the album the following July, and you hear two of those songs here. You likely never heard these songs on the radio in Hawai’i. And – unlike the handful of falsetto contest winners CD releases previously – it did not earn the coveted Na Hoku Hanohano Award. And I did not relocate to Hawai’i because even I realized that winning that contest – one song, one night – did not, in fact, change my life. All of the obstacles still existed.
This may sound like nothing to you, but in my mind I overcame insurmountable odds and harsh criticism to fulfill a dream. I haven’t told this story often. It’s old news now. And you probably think I choose today to retell it because we are celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. But that is only half the reason. The other half is that in a few hours I head to the hospital for a surgery that is long overdue and which may change my voice forever. The hope is that it will be better. But it could go either way. The real hope is that this procedure improves my quality of life – whether or not I ever sing again. Surgery also invariably – no matter how minor – makes me come to grips with my own mortality. It’s a simple procedure, it’s not even a dangerous procedure, but one of my heroes of jazz – violinist Stephane Grappelli – died from a simple appendectomy because of an error in dosing the anesthesia.
Should I not sing the same way tomorrow as I did today, I will at least still have my hands to lay upon steel guitars and ‘ukuleles. I had a dream, and for one brief shining moment I lived it. Tomorrow may be the day for a new dream. And should there be no tomorrow, at least I left my voice on an aluminum disc and an MP3, and maybe someday someone will hear it and judge it without conditions and preconceived notions such as, “Oh, and he was from New Jersey.”
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my voice to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray Hawai’i my soul to take…
Ke Akua bless my wife, my beautiful family, my faithful dog and cat, and all of my Hawaiian friends who ultimately told me “can.”
~ Bill Wynne
Direct download: Bill_Wynne_-_Aloha_Festivals_Falsetto_Contest_Winners_-_Volume_7_-_Excerpts.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:50am EST
Mon, 21 January 2013
After the loss of his left hand in a tragic accident, Billy Hew Len miraculously regained the ability to play the steel guitar through a one-of-a-kind invention: a leather glove with the steel bar attached to it. But this was still a less than perfect compromise that still required that Billy work exponentially harder to conquer what was already one of the most difficult of musical instruments.
Ultimately Billy turned to another device that would help him overcome his deficits and create his own sound, but he took an even bigger risk in doing so. For while the steel guitar is a uniquely Hawaiian invention, the pedal steel guitar was a product of the mainland U.S. Billy began playing the pedal steel guitar which was primarily associated with the country/western music of Nashville and which was much maligned by steel guitarists in Hawai’i - still today even as it was back then. But he discovered - for he was nothing if not practical - that he could do with his feet what the Hawaiian steel players did with their hands - such as the aforementioned bar slants. Most agree that Billy developed a sound on the pedal steel guitar that was uniquely Hawaiian - not country/western - and time and again throughout his career Billy went back and forth between the pedal and non-pedal steel guitars - depending on what the market demanded and the performers he accompanied desired.
And in creating a whole new kind of Hawaiian music for a new generation, arranger Benny Saks required the pedal steel as only Billy could play it.
Benny Saks (professional name of Ben Sakamoto) was a pianist and vibraphonist, but his magic was in arranging for the great vocalists of Hawaiian music. He was the “house arranger” for Mahaka Records through the 1960s as well as an occasional arranger for recordings on the Sounds of Hawaii label - two companies aimed at endearing Hawaiian music to younger, hipper audiences. As such his memorable arranging work is heard behind such amazing voices as Myrtle K. Hilo, Marlene Sai, Kai Davis, Frank and Cathy Kawelo, Bill Kaiwa, Iwalani Kahalewai, Billy Gonsalves, and Leinaala Haili. And wherever Benny was, Billy was there too on these iconic recordings.
Courtesy of Lehua Records which inherited the libraries of both of these iconic record labels over time, some of the recordings featuring Billy and Benny - such as those from Bill Kaiwa and Iwalani Kahalewai - have been reissued on CD. Others - such as those by Billy Gonsalves and the Paradise Serenaders - have been licensed by Michael Cord for his Hana Old Records label. This post will therefore take a look - as it usually does - at those recordings which remain unavailable after so many years.
You would be hard pressed - no pun intended - to find a copy of the first recording as it was not released on any of the major record labels in Hawai‘i. As the label is not identified anywhere on the recording, we should consider it “private issue” and, therefore, of very limited distribution. The singer is Ilima Baker (wife of Pua Almeida sidekick and Moana Serenaders’ guitarist and singer Kalakaua Aylett) who headlined in such venerable venues as the Moana Hotel and the Niumalu Hotel (on the site of what is now the Hilton Hawaiian Village) since before she graduated from high school. Even if you have never heard the name or even the voice, fans of Hawaiian music have felt her legacy as she brought the popular Hawaiian standard “In A Church In An Old Hawaiian Town” to prominence. To my knowledge, there is no other commercial recording of Ilima Baker except for this one LP simply entitled “Ilima” which featured the arranging of Benny Saks and the steel guitar of Billy Hew Len. This most unusual album features hymns and Christian songs on one side and Hawaiian standards on the other. But the most unusual thing about the album is the song you hear - Ilima’s voice accompanied only by Billy’s steel guitar and Ambrose Hutchinson’s kaekeeke, or bamboo organ which consists of bamboo pipes of varying lengths in order to tune them to various pitches which - when tapped on the ground - create a percussive tone much like a giant xylophone. I can find no recordings that feature the steel guitar and kaekeeke before or since this rarity.
Inexplicably, as diligent as Lehua Records has been about its reissues, only one of three sessions from Myrtle K. Hilo - the “Singing Cab Driver” has been re-released. Pity…for Auntie Myrtle has a kolohe (or rascal) way with a Hawaiian song and we are depriving Hawaiian music lovers of more of the joy of the collaboration of Billy Hew Len and Benny Saks. “Piukeone” comes from Myrtle’s Makaha Records LP “Will You Love Me When My Carburetor Is Busted.” And on it you can hear the sound that Benny was cultivating for the new generation - including a full drum kit used to infuse traditional Hawaiian songs with the modern rhythms of rock-and-roll and the Latin Americas. Until this point in the history of Hawaiian music had the rhythmic focus ever been on the snap of the high hat cymbals? Not so much.
On Bill Kaiwa’s second Sounds of Hawaii release “More From Bill Kaiwa - The Boy From Laupahoehoe,” Benny returns to the swinging jazz idioms that go back to his earlier time with Pua Almeida and the Moana Serenaders. His ear ever to the ground to pick up the rumblings of the musical happenings on the mainland and beyond, Saks incorporates the Hammond B-3 organ that was being popularized on the Blue Note jazz recordings of Jimmy Smith (among others). Never before had the jazz organ made its way into the Hawaiian music idiom. In fact, not even in jazz had this combination of instruments ever really been used for anything beyond instrumental music. So in using the Hammond B-3 to back Bill Kaiwa‘s vocals, Saks’ invention anticipates the changes in American popular music that would be heard only a few years later in such legendary recordings as Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night” album on which arranger Ernie Freeman plays the Hammond B-3 himself. The xylophone - played by none other than Saks - adds a playfulness to the proceedings. And Billy Hew Len’s pedal steel guitar is here again as well.
Marlene Sai - known affectionately by friends and family as “Auntie Goofy,” a nickname given to her by Don Ho - is one of the most recognizable voices in Hawaiian music. From Marlene’s Makaha Records LP entitled “Not Pau,“ in this version of Alvin Isaacs’ composition “Lei Momi,” Saks returns to the lounge sounds of the Shearing jazz unit with Billy’s steel guitar and Benny’s piano playing complimentary block chords in rhythm. This recording also offers proof that the arrangements were quite organic - often being worked out during the recording session - and that the new multitrack recording technology allowed them to change things on the fly and splice together a best take from several pieces of less perfect takes. Listen carefully around 5:57 in the sound clip and you will notice that Billy played a glissando - in which the bar is used to slide from one fret to another - that gets abruptly cut off. This is a really bad edit on the part of the engineer. It must have been decided that Billy would instead start playing the counterpoint theme with the piano in that first verse, and so they simply did a second take with Billy playing that theme and not-so-seamlessly spliced the takes together.
Finally, on a slightly more relaxed arrangement of Leinaala Haili’s version of Lena Machado‘s composition “Holo Wa’apa” from the Makaha Records LP “Hiki No,” Benny gives himself and Billy the freedom to noodle to their heart’s delight. The steel guitar takes the traditional role of playing “fills” or “accents” in the spaces between the vocals as well as in the vamps that connect the verses in this more traditional hula ku’i, while the piano takes on the more rhythmic role of aiding the drummer in propelling the Latin beat. Again, Saks does his homework as this is the same sound of the piano as heard in the famous Latin dance bands led by Xavier Cugat and Perez Prado and their more avant garde disciple Juan Garcia Esquivel.
Tomorrow: Billy Hew Len still going strong in the 1970s…
Sun, 20 January 2013
We’re spending the week looking at Billy Hew Len’s life and music not only in honor of his January 18th birthday, but because he was one of the most recorded and most sought after sidemen in the history of Hawaiian music. But his story is also an inspirational one - a tale of triumph over adversity. As a student of the steel guitar myself, I listen to Billy Hew Len for endless hours, and I aspire to attain his level of not only technical proficiency, but also creativity and inventiveness. But, alas, apparently I have a handicap. I have two hands.
Billy Hew Len only had one.
Like Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt before him who reinvented his playing style after a caravan fire which left two fingers of his fretting hand paralyzed, Hew Len’s accident was also the genesis of his distinctive style. Billy became fascinated with the guitar around the age of 10. When his cousin would leave for work, Billy would sneak into his room and “borrow” his cousin‘s guitar and play all day. (Some days he didn’t sneak the guitar back and time, and his cousin would scold him.) At the age of 15, Billy quit school and went to work in a garage. And then, one day, a tragic accident… A planing machine took Billy’s entire left hand - clear at the wrist. Thinking that any potential career in guitar was now over, Billy fell into a depression.
Billy’s mother encouraged him not to give up and turned to anyone she thought might be able to help. Enter Edwin T. Morrell, an elder in the Mormon church who also worked with the disabled. He spoke to Billy and asked him what he liked to do, and the dejected lad said, “Ah, nothing.” But his mother interjected, “Billy plays the guitar!” And Mr. Morrell promised that he would find a way to help Billy play the guitar again - even in his new, differently-abled condition.
Mr. Morrell took Billy to a leather shop - you know, the kind that made saddles in those days. He explained Billy’s situation and gave him a drawing of a device he thought would ultimately help Billy. And the leather worker made it: A glove that would fit snugly over Billy’s wrist and to which they could attach the steel bar for which the steel guitar takes its name. Billy saw the glove but was only mildly encouraged. He expressed the practical concerns of a musician far more seasoned than his years should imply: How will I attain the vibrato that is the signature sound of the steel guitar and which begins and ends with the wrist? Will I have to shake my entire arm back and forth? And what about slants? Steel players slant the bar forward to create one kind of chord and slant it backward to create another kind of chord. How am I going to do that without a wrist?…
But, somehow, miraculously, and through no small effort, Billy did. And if you have ever seen the much too little video that exists of Billy playing (such as the “Hawaiian Rainbow” documentary discussed in my last post), you can easily see how Billy overcame the very real limitations he predicted. But more than that, you can see how he turned such limitations into the assets that became his unique playing style.
In order to better understand the evolution of Billy’s unique approach to steel guitar, it is probably best to look at his career in chronological order - starting with the late 1940s through 1959. Even if you have heard these recordings before, you may not have known that it was Billy doing the steel guitar work on these sides since it was not customary to list the names of the sidemen on recordings - only the name of the leader. But aficionados of steel guitar know a certain player when we hear them by certain characteristics of their playing. And those aficionados will tell you that there was no other like Billy Hew Len who is instantly recognizable from the downbeat.
The first partial selection - the master is inexplicably incomplete - is the audio track from a movie short - the kind you would have seen before or between the feature films at the old Sunday matinees. You hear Billy playing a song long associated with steel guitarists, “Moana Chimes,” accompanied by a band led by his longtime musical associate, Pua Almeida. This is the earliest work I could locate in my archives by either Almeida or Hew Len. And, ironically, “Moana Chimes” is the song Billy played on his last commercial recording - the Robert Mugge documentary “Hawaiian Rainbow.”
We then hear Billy leading the Moana Serenaders, the group primarily known for its association with Pua Almeida. But on this Decca side - “Hula O Makee,” found both as a 45rpm single and on the compilation LP “Stars of Hawaii” - the leader of the group is George Keoki. This record - although rare - comes up in conversation among Billy Hew Len “completists” often for it is indeed a curiosity. First, nobody with whom you will speak - in Hawai’i or beyond - recalls an entertainer by the name of George Keoki. But as often happened in those days, an artist under contract to one record label was forbidden to record for other record labels lest those releases compete with each other for sales or radio play. So many - not only in Hawai’i, but also in the worlds of pop and jazz - recorded for other labels under pseudonyms. If there is no such real person as “George Keoki,” could it be Pua Almeida incognito? Somebody else? Perhaps we will never know since the other curiosity about this recording is that both the 45rpm and LP versions list the vocalist as Billy Hew Len as well. Billy Hen Len…the singer? Yes, those who knew him claim that he could sing and sing quite well, but we have had rare opportunity to hear him take the vocal lead on record. The 45rpm and LP date to the 1950s and remain out of print more than 50 years later.
The next selection is not merely one of my favorite things Billy ever did or even one of my favorite pieces of Hawaiian music. I think it is one of the greatest things ever laid down in a recording studio! There is so much going on here that I don’t even know where to begin… First, this is not a regular recording group. It is a once-in-a-lifetime all-star band under the direction of arranger Chick Floyd (whose work you have heard previously on Ho’olohe Hou with both Lani Kai and Lucky Luck). But he is leading the best of the best in the 1950s Hawaiian music scene - including members of the Hawaii Calls orchestra and chorus featured on that weekly radio broadcast (the voices and instruments of Sonny Kamahele, his sister, Iwalani Kamahele, Pua Almeida, and Sonny Nicholas), the Tahitian drummers that performed nightly in the Polynesian show at Don the Beachcomber’s (where Chick Floyd was the musical director), members of the Martin Denny group (such as Willard Brady, Augie Colon, Harvey Ragsdale, and Julius Wechter) that was experimenting with combining traditional Hawaiian music with the instruments and rhythms of other world music, and not one… not two… but three steel guitar legends - Barney Isaacs, Danny Stewart, and Billy Hew Len. Now, there is a precedent for steel guitar duos in Hawaiian music which came about by necessity (which we will discuss in a future Ho’olohe Hou post). But a steel guitar trio is rare. More rare still is that all three gentlemen are playing the much maligned pedal steel guitar (which we will talk about in tomorrow’s Ho’olohe Hou post). “Nani Waimea” is from the 1959 classic Liberty LP “Hula La,” and I can safely write that nothing like it was done before or since. This beautiful recording also remains out of print.
And, finally, more from the on-going collaboration of Pua Almeida and Billy Hew Len from one of Pua’s most rare recordings - the 1960 LP “Pua Almeida Sings with Billy Hew Len and the Moana Surfriders.” Throughout this album, the inventive arrangements - no doubt the collaboration of Pua, Billy, and Benny Saks who went on to be known as the foremost arranger of Hawaiian music recordings in the 1960s - are indicative of the melding of traditional Hawaiian sounds and the jazz arrangements of such combos as led by Nat King Cole, Joe Bushkin, or George Shearing. Like Shearing’s group, the combo is a quintet anchored by upright bass, rhythm guitar, percussion, piano and vibes (handled most ably by vibraphonist Saks). In that formation, the group might be considered staunchly jazz. But the addition of Hew Len’s steel - such as on the swinging “E Liliu E” - brings it all back to Hawaiian style. And like the earlier “Hula O Makee” by this same group, you will also hear the introduction of a drummer/percussionist. Here the group outright swings, but often the percussionist dabbled in Latin rhythms as few did before this group (with the notable exceptions of Lena Machado and Jesse Kalima).
Tomorrow: Billy Hew Len swings into the 1960s in grand style at the side of friend Benny Saks…
Sat, 19 January 2013
It has been some time since I sent a Facebook “friend” request to someone whom I noticed “liked” our mutual friends’ posts about vintage Hawaiian music. I wrote and told him that we should be fast friends because he has impeccable taste in Hawaiian music. Now, more than two years later, my friend and new Ho’olohe Houfan Kamarin Kaikea Lee writes to me to inquire about a song forgotten by all but the old timers…
He was listening to a classic 1960s album by Pua Almeida called “My Son Pua” on which he sings a medley of two songs - one Hawaiians sing all the time to this day (Helen Lindsey Parker’s classic “Akaka Falls”) and a song you will rarely hear anymore. He asks about this song which begins with the magical words, “The winds from over the sea sing sweetly aloha to me…” And how can a song go from there to anywhere but heavenly?
The seldom heard but heavenly waltz-time tune is often simply called “The Winds From Over The Sea” for its first line, but its real title is “A Song To Hawai’i.” The rightful composer has been contested, but as noted by ethnomusicologist Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman (in a scholarly article, "Aloha Aina": New Persecptives on "Kaulana Na Pua", The Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 33, 1999), at least two generally credible sources credits J.D. Redding with composing the song: Jack Ailau’s Buke Mele Hawaii and Charles E. King’s Book of Hawaiian Melodies (1923 edition). Interestingly, despite that the song dates back to at least 1923 - and possibly earlier - I cannot find in my archives or in any publicly available electronic materials (spelled Google) any versions recorded until the 1960s and none recorded since. This song seems to have had a very specific moment of popularity in time, and we can only speculate about the sudden fervor (statehood and the ensuing spike in tourism?) and its just as sudden demise (perhaps the somewhat archaic waltz time which renders the song impossible for the hula). It is all very odd because scores of other hapa-haole songs (songs which extol the beauty and virtues of Hawai’i but written in the English language) remain very popular despite their quaintness in these modern times.
I located a number of versions of the song - all dating to the early 1960s. A sole instrumental version is not included here, allowing us to focus on several vocal versions which are notable on any number of counts and which allow us to hear the beautiful lyric over and over again.
The first is a version that some in the know might think is still in print but which, in fact, is not. There is a practice among record labels that I personally find confusing - reissuing “Best Of”or “Greatest Hits” collections by an artist but recycling the cover art from an iconic recording by that same artist. One might look at the cover of the reissued collection and say - inaccurately, based on the picture - “I had this record when I was a kid. How I would love to hear it again.” I can cite numerous cases of this grievous error in the Hawaiian, jazz, and pop music worlds. And one of these is a collection entitled “The Best of Lucky Luck.” Lucky Lucky was the public handle of Hawai’i radio and TV host Bob Luck who could find his way through a song with his own unique panache - especially when accompanied by a stable of some of Hawai’i’s finest musicians. “The Best of Lucky Luck” was issued using the same cover art as the original 1960s release “Have Fun With Lucky,” but while many of the songs on “Have Fun” were reissued for the “Best Of,” not all of the songs were - specifically, those that featured these illustrious sidemen but not Lucky Luck. (The rest of the “Best Of” is rounded out with selections released previously only as 45rpm singles.) So those who picked up “Best Of” may ultimately have found their favorite song missing. And one of the missing is “Winds From Over The Sea.” Under the leadership of arranger Chick Floyd, the amazing singer and songwriter Mel Peterson gives us a charming rendition while the familiar voice of Charles Kaipo Miller makes it a medley by singing “Aloha No Au I Ko Maka” in Hawaiian - all wrapped up in Joe Custino’s lush steel guitar. This version has likely seldom been heard since its release nearly 50 years ago and has yet to see the light of day on CD or MP3.
We then hear from Hawaiian baritone Bob Pauhale Davis who recorded all too rarely himself but who was called upon to participate in numerous sessions for Margaret Williams’ Tradewinds Records label in the 1960s. We hear him sing “A Song To Hawai’i” here with the assistance of a trio of ladies’ voices known as The Kamaha’os and slack key guitarist Leonard Kwan (who is not playing in the slack key style and likely not even in a slack key gutar tuning). This is from the Tradewinds album “Party Songs Hawaiian Style,” and in stark contrast to the Mel Peterson/Charles Kaipo Miller version which is exceedingly well produced in the recording studio, the Bob Davis version is the kind of simple folk music you would hear at backyard parties - then as even still today. And, frankly, most of the time, I prefer that style.
We then hear from one of my favorite albums of all time from one of my favorite performers - composer, hula master, and falsetto singer extraordinaire Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln from his eponymously titled LP also on Tradewinds Records. With the able assistance of Lei Cypriano, Annie Hu, and most underrated and seldom heard steel guitarist Eddie Pang, Bill launches into “A Song To Hawai’i” in his full baritone - which, despite the beauty and fullness of tone, may be a momentary disappointment for those expecting his soaring falsetto. But Uncle Bill ultimately does not disappoint. (He never could!) After a brief ritard after the first chorus, he launches into a chorus of falsetto yodeling typical of the singing style of the paniolo (cowboys) of his once home of Hawai‘i island (sometimes erroneously referred to as the Big Island). And then another ritard and Uncle Bill is off to the races with a near double-time waltz chorus of falsetto yodel. Curiously, he pronounces “winds” with a long “i” sound - a deliberate old-school mispronunciation intended to conjure up thoughts, perhaps, of old western films and Nelson Eddy.
Both the Bob Davis and Bill Lincoln recordings are available in MP3 format from iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, and other reputable download sites courtesy of Cord International/Hana Ola Records. But as cited in a previous Ho’olohe Hou post, these might not be considered remasters since they do not sound noticeably better in their digital reincarnation than the vinyl originals. The versions here are from my original vinyl copies.
But all of these versions left me hungering for… I don’t know. Something was amiss. Each of these versions was different, and yet somehow none managed to capture all of the beauty and magic of the lyric. I then listened to the version my friend Kamarin first mentioned to me which began this whole pursuit - the version by Pua Almeida. And I was immediately reminded of an earlier Ho’olohe Hou post about the Makaha Sons’ Moon Kauakahi and his aim to make the sensibility of the arrangement of a Hawaiian song reflect the story the lyric is typicallyleft to convey on its own. And Pua Almeida’s version of “A Song To Hawai’i” does this. Performed as a medley with “Akaka Falls,“ the song opens with the ethereal harp of De Wayne Fulton - the cascading arpeggios of chord tones mimicking the falls and its splashes and ripples. When we get to “The Winds from Over The Sea,“ Will Brady’s flute obbligato floats mystically over Pua’s voice like a tone poem to those winds. The medley closes with a reprise of “Akaka Falls” in which the flute and harp dance together like the winds and waters they portray - a love song to Hawai’i in both words and music.
Dedicated with aloha to Kamarin Kaikea Lee for the joy in hearing these treasured recordings again.
Fri, 18 January 2013
It’s been more than three years since my wife and I went to the movies to see Julie & Julia. In the movie Nora Ephron cleverly weaves together two stories: how now famous chef Julia Child struggled to find her place in the world of French cooking and how an aspiring writer struggled to find her place in the literary world. Despite that this might be characterized as a “chick flick,” I had no difficulty relating to either Julie’s or Julia’s story. In fact, they are in many ways the same story. And it is my story.
Julie trudged away at a job that was not her passion, and yet she injected into it all of the passion one could muster because the job – helping the injured and the relatives of those who perished in the World Trade Center wade through the bureaucracy surrounding insurance claims - required it. Her true passion is for writing, but she can’t get a manuscript read to save her soul. Julia had a successful husband but no passions of her own – until, that is, she and her husband settled in Paris, and she discovered French food! Julia, an American woman in a strange land, decides to attend the distinguished Cordon Bleu school of French cooking – a school not merely male-dominated but French-dominated. Julie and Julia’s lives converge when Julie tries to give her life meaning by blogging about cooking her way through Julia’s classic cookbook Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Julie was told she would never be a writer. And Julia was told she would never be a chef. And both wondered if their pursuits were truly their passion and their destiny or merely something to pass the time until they pass from this life.
I recently celebrated 24 years at my job. I really quite enjoy my work (and I think I am pretty good at it, if I do say so myself). But I have never called it my “passion.” My passion is the music, dance, and culture of Hawai’i. I have been immersed in Hawaiian music since I was born – despite that I am not of Hawaiian descent and I was born and raised on the East Coast. I will save the story of how one falls in love with Hawaiian music so far from Hawai’i for another time, but to make a long story short… By visiting flea markets, junk shops, swap meets, used record stores, and through the generosity of local Hawaiians who wanted me to hear good Hawaiian music, I amassed an outrageously large collection of classic Hawaiian music recordings. And not content to merely listen, I taught myself to play ‘ukulele, steel guitar, slack key guitar, and sing in the Hawaiian language. But who would I do any of that for in New Jersey?
In the beginning nobody in Hawai’i wanted to hear from a guy in New Jersey who says he plays Hawaiian music. That has changed considerably in recent years, and I am very fortunate to have been increasingly accepted into the sacred circle of Hawaiian musicians – some legends whose album covers have graced my walls since I was a child and others simply legends to me because I sit in awe of their talent and their gracious willingness to teach me Hawaiian things. If I were wise, I would move to Hawai’i where I could study – live, breathe, drink, eat – Hawaiian culture. But for all the right reasons, my life is here in New Jersey, and here I will remain – for the time being…
Meanwhile, I have wanted to contribute meaningfully to the Hawaiian music community, but I wasn’t sure how. You have read by now the story of how it all began with a Hawaiian music blog and podcast called Ho’olohe Hou (Hawaiian meaning “to listen again”) through which I intended to share rare music from my vast collection. The first podcast focused on the Hawaiian steel guitar virtuoso Billy Hew Len – whose style inspired me to take up the steel guitar myself in my early 20’s. Like Julie’s blog about cooking, my podcast about Billy Hew Len caught fire and was the talk – albeit briefly – of the user groups and online forums about steel guitar and Hawaiian music. While I could not get recognition as a musician, I was now recognized for writing and talking about Hawaiian music.
And so there we were. Bill & Billy.
It is neither irony nor coincidence that every time Bill resurrects this blog, it is around the time of Billy’s birthday which I celebrate like some fanatics celebrate Sinatra’s or Elvis’s birthday. January 18th is a celebration of not only music in my home, but a celebration of life. My father played the steel guitar, and it never inspired me to do the same. But when I heard Billy Hew Len, I thought that was one of the greatest sounds I had ever heard come out of a musical instrument, and I had to learn to play. But more than this, Billy overcame insurmountable odds to become one of the greatest steel guitarists of all time. Despite the many who told him that he couldn’t, he did anyway. When many told me I couldn’t - or shouldn’t - perform Hawaiian music anymore, I did anyway. While many Hawaiians heed the call that Eddie would go, I instead ask myself… What would Billy do?
Seeing Julie & Julia made me wonder if Hawaiian music were really my passion or if it was merely something I do to pass the time until I pass from this life. I’ve thought about this off and on over the years. And by now you should know the answer I come up with over and over again. I enjoy so many things that could occupy my time - reading, writing, gardening, home remodeling, cooking, theater, and spending quiet time with my wife and my dog. But the truth is that I have forsaken many of my other passions for Hawaiian music. The music of Hawai’i got me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. So now I feel it is my duty and obligation to the Hawaiian people – and especially the musicians who have been so generous with their time, their mana’o, and their aloha – to do something, however insignificant, to help preserve the Hawaiian music of a bygone era. The Hawaiians would no doubt refer to this as kuleana.
And so exists this blog and my annual celebration of my hero - which now, courtesy of Facebook, I can easily share with other Hawaiian music lovers. For the next seven days I will share some highlights from Billy Hew Len’s illustrious career as well as some rarities and no doubt some obscurities that even his most ardent fans have never heard before. In case you like what you hear, the first three selections here are from currently available recordings. The first is from “Hawaiian Rainbow,” the Robert Mugge documentary on Hawaiian music that is still available on DVD and which I consider essential viewing. The next is from Lena Machado’s only full length recording from the LP era, “Hawaii’s Songbird,” which has been beautifully remastered and reissued on CD and MP3 courtesy of Cord International/Hana Ola Records. And finally you hear Billy with Elaine Ako Spencer in a song originally from her LP “Mele Hali’a Aloha” but which has been resissued on CD under the title “My Hawaiian Souvenirs.”
Because every Hawaiian music collection is incomplete without a little Billy Hew Len.
Hawaiian music is my raison d’etre. And Billy Hew Len is one of the primary reasons I will never let it go. This is Ho’olohe Hou. Keep listening…
Sun, 13 January 2013
The post is inspired by my friends Claudia Goddard and Wanda Certo - each of whom have requested specific songs or albums since the launch of Ho’olohe Hou just a few days ago. Together they inspire a new theme/segment for Ho’olohe Hou which we will call “By Request“ (both because it as a common disk jockey turn of phrase and the title of a classic album by Hawaii’s “first lady of Hawaiian music,“ Genoa Keawe). I think of this as sort of a public service for those seeking more music by their favorite artists or hard-to-find songs. Mahalo for the inspiration, Claudia and Wanda!
Wanda Certo writes because Kihei and Mapuana de Silva will be exploring the song “Makapu’u Lighthouse” in an upcoming hula seminar, but few recordings of the song were ever made. I am aware of two.
A version by Genoa Keawe first appeared on the 49th State Records LP from the late 1950s, “Rhythm of the Islands” - a compilation album comprised of tracks by various different artists. This album - like most of the 49th State catalog - was out of print for many years. But “Rhythm of the Islands” - and numerous other 49th State label albums - have recently been reissued direct to MP3 by Cord International/Hana Ola Records courtesy of Michael Cord. You can find these recording on iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody, and other download services, or if you are “just browsing,” members of Spotify can listen to these for free as part of their monthly subscription fee. Sadly and with complete honesty and no malice aforethought, I cannot recommend these reissues because of their sound quality. Notice that I repeatedly refer to them as “reissues” and not “remasters.” This is because despite that Hana Ola Records was previously known for its diligence in bringing less than pristine masters up to more modern standards, in most ways the latest MP3 reissues sound no better than their vinyl originals - complete with clicks, cracks, pops, and scratches. The version I give you here comes from one of these reissued MP3s but not until I personally made an attempt at improving the quality.
The other version remains out of print - but shouldn’t be due to its historical importance. Kekua Fernandez’s version of “Makapu’u Lighthouse” dates to the early 1980s and was only ever available on cassette - which, for the most part, accounts for its poor sound quality (which I have also attempted to remedy). The album “Ka Momi O Ka Pakipika” is nonetheless a treasure. If we divide Hawaiian music into two camps - the music in the style aimed at tourists, and the kind one hears in backyards all over the islands - Kekua and his friends and family - great names of Hawaiian music such as Leilani Sharpe Mendez, Violet Pahu Lilikoi, Ainsley Halemanu, Noe Kimi Buchanan, John Lino, and steel guitar legend Billy Hew Len - play the backyard music that tourists will rarely hear as well as the songs that have long ago been forgotten such as “Makapu’u Lighthouse.” Of these Hawaiian music legends, only Noe and Ainsley remain and carry the torch of this pleasing old style. And “Ka Momi O Ka Pakipika” was one of only two full length albums released under Kekua Fernandez’s leadership. This is why it is all the more the pity that it has not been made available digitally for the next generation.
I needn’t tell you what “Makapu’u Lighthouse” is about since it is sung in English. But like many mele pana - or place songs - it extols the virtues of a locale that is very special to the Hawaiian people. I was excited to receive Wanda’s request because the lighthouse is a place very special to me and my family, too. The hike to the peak which is home to the lighthouse is breathtaking, and the observation deck of the lighthouse offers unparalleled views of Waikiki. It is a place we love so much that an entire wall in our home is dedicated to its splendor - including the photograph that accompanies this post. It is no doubt difficult to appreciate at its current resolution, but proudly I say that it was taken by my wife, Cherylann.
So, what, you ask, did Claudia request? More next time…
Sun, 13 January 2013
Our tour of Hawaiian songs which reference the telephone ends with two versions of the sad song which by its very title implicates the device in a romance that ends badly.
In Hattie K. Hiram’s composition, “Telephone Hula,” an unanswered telephone signals a love that has gone astray. Like an episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” our spurned lover sets out on foot in a huff to find out just where their partner has gone and who they might be with - except that unlike our previous example (“Aia I Kohala” - see last Ho’olohe Hou post), in this case it is the woman who has been unfaithful. The song - and Kimo Alama Keaulana’s translation - read as follows:
Ai `auhea, ai iho `oe, ai a ka po nei
Ai a ka tele, ai a ka fona, ai e `uhene ana
Ai i laila, ai aku wau la, ai kou wahi
Ai a ka pa’a, ai a ka puka, ai a aka laka `ia
Where were you last night?
When the telephone was ringing
I was at your place
And found the door securely shut
And it only goes downhill from there. But this song merited its own post for a number of reasons beyond the lyric content.
For starters, this is not the first incarnation of the song. A little research reveals that there was an earlier incarnation of the song - by the same composer - entitled “Aia A Hone Ana.” Sonny Cunha is known by some as the composer of the Yale Fight Song (“Boola Boola”) and by others as one of the father’s of modern Hawaiian music because of his penchance for incorporating the complex rhythms and harmonic structures of the jazz idiom into his arrangements of traditional Hawaiian songs. But like his contemporary Charles E. King (also mentioned in the previous post), Cunha is also known for gathering and publishing Hawaiian songs into some of what are the earliest commercially available folios of Hawaiian music. Here is a link to the 1914 edition of Cunha’s folio “Famous Hawaiian Songs” - fortunately available to all of us free of charge courtesy of the Google Books project. This link is indexed directly to the page where “Aia A Hone Ana” appears from which you can see that the lyric shares much in common with the song it became, “Telephone Hula,” but with a considerably different melody.
The two versions presented here - recorded nearly 40 years apart - show the evolution of the presentation of a Hawaiian song - the relationship of traditional Hawaiian music with what is most often called “contemporary Hawaiian music.“ The first is a mostly traditional approach to “Telephone Hula” recorded for the 49th State Records label in the early 1950s by Genoa Keawe and her musical mentor, John Kameaaloha Almeida, both of whose voices you hear. Like much of the music on this label, this version of the song at first appears to be intended for the hula - the verses threaded together with the two measure instrumental interlude often called the “vamp” which signals the end of one verse and the beginning of the next. But then we are surprised by a full instrumental chorus - a slack key guitar solo (one of the earliest on record). With the appearance of the instrumental break, this can no longer be considered music for the hula since the movements of the hula dancer follow the story told by the lyrics. In short, no words, no hula. But in almost every other facet most would consider this traditional Hawaiian music.
Now listen to the version from the 1990s by the venerable Makaha Sons. On several occasions I have had the privilege of sitting and chatting with the Makaha Sons’ musical mastermind, Dr. Louis “Moon” Kauakahi - endless hours spent better understanding Hawaiian music and his approach to it. In light of the Makaha Sons becoming - over time - a name synonymous with Hawaiian music around the world through their exhaustive touring, Moon once explained to me his philosophy of arranging for the broader world audience. He felt that the presentation of the song - the arrangement - should mirror musically what the lyrics were trying to say - especially for audiences that do not speak the Hawaiian language. Essentially, Moon was saying that if the lyric spoke of passion, the music itself should be passionate; if it speaks of humor, the music should be equally humorous; and if it speaks of mischief, the music should be mischievous, too. Moon said the same a few years later to author Jay Hartwell in his book, “Na Mamo.” “I try to let the audience understand the meaning of the Hawaiian words by the feeling of the music itself,” Moon said. “If the audience can feel what the song is, they have more or less translated the song - into much more than what it literally meant.“ There are few better examples of this than the Makaha Sons’ arrangement of “Telephone Hula” - which is clearly not intended for the hula. Instead of the vamp (typically, in the hula ku’i song form, a II7-V7-I chord progression, or A7-D7-G in the key of G), Moon opts for something starkly different. As an intro, ending, and even in place of the expected “vamp” between verses, Moon utilizes a steady bass line - in the key of D - with an alternating pattern of D-major and A-minor chords and a melody of his own creation focused on the 7th and 9th tones of the scale. What does all of this mean to the listener? Well, listen for yourself. The alternating D-major and A-minor chords establish the mystery. You might hear the same in the soundtrack of a BBC-produced episode of Sherlock Holmes or even “Murder, She Wrote.” The 7th and 9th tones pose a question because they do not offer any musical resolution. “Resolution” is the musical concept that songs or sections of songs come to some point of completeness that the human mind understands - even if one does not consciously understand harmonic concepts. As music is comprised of cycles of tension and release, resolution, then, is the musical feeling of relief or release - that there is nothing more to follow. 7th and 9th tones typically indicate movement from one chord to another. 7th and 9th chords are typically not a beginning or an ending; they are a transitional tool, a means-to-an-end. With this repetitive chord progression alternating between major and minor and the question posed by 7th and 9th tones, like the great classical composers Moon has set up the listener for a mystery that may never be solved. And what of the pahu drum that punctuates the introduction and is heard throughout? Could it be the incessant pounding on a door that goes unanswered? Or frantic footsteps in the night in search of the missing? This is Moon Kauakahi’s genius.
And with this stroke of genius Ho’olohe Hou concludes its weekend-long examination of the telephone in Hawaiian music.
Sun, 13 January 2013
As Martin Short used to say in his recurring role as Ed Grimley on “Saturday Night Live” whenever the phone would ring, “The phone has such a sense of mystery to it, I must say.” He was so frightened of whoever might be on the other end of it and what they may have to say that often he ended up just letting it ring - never answering it at all. As we’ve learned from “Downton Abbey,“ such is the angst that came with the installation of the first telephone: Who knows if it rings for good or bad? In this continuing series on the telephone in Hawaiian music, we find examples of both in songs that span more than a century of Hawaiian song.
The earliest reference to the telephone in Hawaiian song that I could locate dates back to the Hawaiian chant form. “Aia I Kohala Ka’u Aloha” may be found in Mary Kawena Puku’i’s book “Na Mele Welo.” A love chant set in the district of Kohala on the island of Hawai’i (often incorrectly referred to as “the Big Island”), it is also the first reference in Hawaiian song to the telephone as a harbinger of bad news. I use the term harbinger since - like Ed Grimley - we cannot be sure if the fear that the singer’s lover - and husband of her six children - has taken a new lover results from some gossip shared via the telephone or if it was because our singer was calling her lover incessantly and - like Ed Grimley - he never answers. The chant says…
Na ke kelepona au i ha`i mai
Ua noho hope `oe no ko lei
It was the telephone that told me
That you are again with your darling
…before - as the chant goes on to say - tears begin to fall. This is the beauty of Hawaiian song: More often than not, it insinuates - not states - leaving any number of interpretations to the listener. Because this mele ho’oipoipo -or love chant - may date back more than 100 years, one would be hard-pressed to find a recording of it. However, it was performed as recently as 2005 at the Merrie Monarch Festival by Maile Francisco of kumu hula Sonny Ching’s Halau Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu - a performance so inspired that it garnered Maile the coveted titled of Miss Aloha Hula. I encourage you to check out the performance here.
Alice Rickard wrote “Kaimuki Hula” some time between 1928 and 1942. How do we know this? The song appears in one of many volumes and printings of “King’s Songs of Hawaii” compiled by composer Charles E. King. Ethnomusicologist Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman explored these invaluable volumes with me - explaining that there were numerous editions of these over the years, not all of which contain the same songs. My copy of King’s “Green Book” dates to 1950. In it, the reader can clearly see when songs may have appeared in multiple volumes because they receive multiple copyright dates. Most songs in my edition have a 1942 copyright, but those that were published previously and which appear in an earlier volume also have a 1928 copyright date. So I am essentially triangulating the date of “Kaimuki Hula” based on its most recent copyright date and the copyright dates of other songs appearing in this volume. The song speaks of an affair which was supposed to have been a secret but which likely wasn’t - as evidenced by the recurring refrain hu ana ka makani e, which means “the blowing of the wind” but which is no doubt a Hawaiian-style poetic reference to gossip. There is a mention of the telephone here too:
He aha nei hana a ke kelepono la
Ke kapalulu nei o ke aumoe la
Is that the sound of the telephone?
Ringing so early in the morning?
This is likely a reference to the lovers arranging a meeting at an hour when nobody is likely to hear the details of their impending rendezvous. There are too few versions of this song, but I chose to share one by Myrtle K. Hilo from her album “The Singing Cab Driver” which is still available for purchase or download.
My second favorite composer of Hawaiian songs (I dare not rank them, but I have a most favorite which I will talk about at length in due time) is the legendary Lena Machado. Dubbed “Hawai’is Songbird” because of her powerful voice, Auntie Lena is best remembered as a songwriter who composed both rollicking uptempo numbers filled with kolohe - playful or even naughty - wordplay and love ballads worthy of Cole Porter and Richard Rogers - occasionally in English, but more often in the Hawaiian language. Lena was also a foremost exponent of Hawaiian music - traveling around the world as an ambassador of Hawai’i and its unique culture. My favorite Lena Machado composition is entitled “Aloha No.” Now, let us not confuse the meaning of “no” in English and its sound-alikes in almost every other language which typically mean “no,” “not,” “negative” or “opposite.” In Hawaiian, “no” is a modifier, an intensifer - like an adverb - which means “really,” “truly,” or “a whole hell of a lot.” So “Aloha No” might be translated as “This is the real deal!” According to the the book “Songbird of Hawai’i” by Pi’olani Motta and Kihei de Dilva, “Aloha No” is one of many songs Auntie Lena wrote for her husband, Luciano. It dates to 1949 when one of her many tours took her to San Francisco and away from Uncle Lu - for while he had previously been one of the musicians in Lena’s traveling group, Lu was by this time staying behind at home to care for the children. (In this way her family life - like her music - was most progressive.) Auntie Lena simply couldn’t sleep without Uncle Lu beside her side, and the song speaks of their frequent telephone conversations in which she longs to know that he can’t sleep either.
Ho`ohihi ko`u mana`o ea
I ko leo ma ke kelepona
E haha`i ana i ko moe `ole i ka po
My thoughts are caught up
By your voice on the telephone
Telling me of your sleepless night
I love that this is the rare Hawaiian song which promotes the use of the telephone as an instrument of keeping love alive when two are apart. And yet it has been too rarely recorded. There are versions by Tony Lindsey in the 1960s, Robert Cazimero in the 1970s, and the most recent version by Ata Damasco in the 2000s. But I share with you a version by Kanilau from their out-of-print CD “Ka Lihi `O Ka`ena.” My mind shoots to this version because of my recent exchanges with one of Kanilau’s members, kumu hula Tiare Noelani Ka`aina, who inspires her friends and followers daily on Facebook.
And finally, the latest entry I could find in the catalog of Hawaiian songs referencing the telephone - this one with words from P.K. Kuhi and music by Ken Makuakane. “Aia I Waimanalo Ko Nu’a Hulu” appears to be at the same time a modern love song and one of the continuing cycle of chants for Queen Kapi’olani. (And I confess to having difficulty researching this, and so I have called on none other than Ken Makuakane for assistance. I will update this post with any new information.) It would at first blush appear to be another of the many Hawaiian songs of illicit affairs of the heart with its references to entrancing thoughts, the royal flag which flutters proudly, and traversing a forbidden sea (references to the sea and sea spray being among the most common references to love-making in Hawaiian poetry).
‘Iniki welawela a ka ‘ehu kai
Lamalama ‘ula i ka lani ali‘i
Li‘ili‘i na hana a ke kelepona
Ha‘iha‘i ‘olelo me ka huapala
You felt the sharp pinch of the sea spray
That are brightened by the beauty of royalty
It takes only a minute by telephone
To start a conversation with a sweetheart
Here again the reference to the telephone is likely as an agent in brokering the meeting that will end in delight for those on both ends of the line. This song can be found on Ken Makuakane’s beautiful 2010 CD release “Kawaipono” - available at the iTunes Store or wherever Hawaiian music CDs are sold.
Are there other references to the telephone in Hawaiian song? Indeed, there is one more of which I am aware. A story for another time - very soon.
Sat, 12 January 2013
The last Hawaiian royals were a most cosmopolitan bunch. Perhaps because of their close relationship with England’s Queen Victoria, King Kalakaua and his family were exceedingly educated, forward-thinking, and heavily influenced by all things British. If the British royals had it, so soon would ‘Iolani Palace. This was not selfish thinking by any means. The Hawaiian royals were all about their people, and bringing the most modern innovations to Hawai’i was well-intentioned and did ultimately benefit all Hawaiians.
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. By 1881, the Central Telephone System was chartered in Hawai’i. And almost immediately Kalakaua requested telephones be installed in his business office in the palace (“The Library”) as well as in his boathouse at Honolulu Harbor. If you could not find the king in “The Library,“ it was likely because the king did most of his entertaining of dignitaries and other visitors at his boathouse where he could now be easily reached by telephone.
Palani Vaughan chronicled the arrival of the telephone - and how the king embraced it - in the 1975 song “Wili! Wili!” This was just one of dozens of songs Palani wrote and recorded during the 1970s for what ultimately became a four album song cycle dedicated to the Hawaiian royal family - a series entitled “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La.” In this collection, Palani not only recorded songs by the four royals (King Kalakaua, Princess - and later Queen - Lili’uokalani, Princess Likelike, and Prince Leleiohoku - collectively known as na lani ‘eha or “the heavenly four”), but he also wrote original works praising the royals and their importance to Hawai’i’s history in moving their traditions forward lest they altogether die. Musically and historically, I personally feel that this is one of the most important works to ever come out of Hawai’i. But as well respected as Palani remains as a cultural expert and historian, much of those four albums remains out of print after nearly 40 years. Some - but not all - of the songs appeared on two “Best Of” collections in the early 1990s. But this was just a handful of the songs, and many of my personal favorites - such as “Wili! Wili!” - were overlooked in that effort. Many of you may be hearing this song for the very first time.
Some important notes - as well as some trivia - on this song:
“Wili! Wili!” might be considered a Hawaiian onomatopoeia - a word that in itself sounds like the sound it is intended to describe (like “ding-dong” describes a bell in English). “Wili! Wili!” here does not refer to the phone ringing but, rather, to the sound of the turning of the crank on the earliest telephone.
Although Palani’s compositions were startlingly fresh at the time (few original songs were being written in the Hawaiian language at the time as this predates the renaissance of the language in Hawai’i schools), the compositions also deliberately mirrored the songwriting style established 100 years before by na lani ‘eha. Among the most refreshing elements of the new style, most notable is the use of several different languages - not just Hawaiian - within the same composition. “Kelepona” is a cognate, of course - a Hawaiian phonetic equivalent of the English “telephone” but using only the Hawaiian alphabet and phonemes. But why “boathouse?” There is surely a Hawaiian equivalent for the English “boathouse” or, at least, one that could be derived through combining forms (such as the Hawaiian for “garage” - “hale ka’a,” or “car house”). But Palani takes the road less traveled and uses the English - an element he repeats in his other compositions, likely because it is what na lani ‘eha would have done. But why did the royals do this? For starters, the royals did not do things the way others did them. They were trendsetters - not followers. But more than this, the royals were exceedingly educated - most of them speaking Hawaiian and English and at least a third language and in some cases a fourth (typically French or Spanish or both). (Prince Leleiohoku’s “Adios Ke Aloha” uses words from all four languages, but that is for another time.) So one might say that they were “showing off” - which was, of course, their privilege as the royal family.
Finally, the song is anchored by a lead ‘ukulele style in which the ‘ukulele is strung with steel - not nylon - and the strings are plucked in rapid succession - not strummed. This is a distinctive style which lovers of the Hawaiian music of today should instantly recognize. This is a very young Bruce Spencer, son of Hawaiian music legend Elaine Ako Spencer and former member of one of today’s most popular groups in Hawai’i - multiple Na Hoku Hanohano-award winning group Maunalua with whom he is heard on their first three albums.
Editor’s Note: This post should be rife with Hawaiian diacritical marks that are most important in elucidating the pronunciation and meaning of Hawaiian words. I continue to struggle with making these diacriticals appear properly in the blog. This post is dedicated to my many friends who are speakers of ka ‘olelo makuahine with my humblest apologies and my commitment to bettering the appearance of your beloved language on this blog.
Wed, 9 January 2013
I was somewhat remiss, I think, in discussing The Surfers in the context of their work with Elvis on the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack without first discussing them as the unique vocal and instrumental group they were on their own and the electrifying stage personalities they became.
There are few musical aggregations in the history of Hawai’i - or anywhere, for that matter - in which all the participants were as strong vocally as they were with their instruments. But The Surfers were. While the arrangements may seem dated so many years after, the musicianship is undeniably timeless. And the vocal harmonies were as intricate as any offered by the finest jazz vocal groups before or since - reminiscent of the Four Freshmen or the Hi-Los in the 1950s or their contemporaries of the time, the Manhattan Transfer. As rare as this combination is - in Hawai’i, only the Aliis or Society of Seven came close - now add Clay and Al Naluai’s rapport with an audience and fearlessness for doing anything to make an audience come alive in the tradition of the Smothers Brothers.
From time to time we offer a segment we call “Waikiki After Dark” in which we recreate a moment in the history of Hawai’i nightlife with a rare live recording. I recalled seeing The Surfers only once. The year was 1976, and I was waiting for the afternoon kindergarten session, plopped in front of the TV set in our New Jersey living room waiting dutifully for the short-lived “Don Ho Show” to air on ABC. Don’s guests on this particular day were The Surfers and they performed a serious vocal number - the beauty of which was not lost on this six-year-old and which literally and figuratively knocked me off my chair - followed by a hilarious comedy bit which riffed on a popular song from a 60s Broadway musical. As I taped the show every day, I still have that show, but it is of the poorest sound quality. Little did I know until years later that the songs and the comedy routine The Surfers performed on Don’s show that day - which made me a lifelong fan - were also a regular part of their evening show at The Outrigger Hotel which was captured one fateful evening and issued on record as The Surfers - Live. After an overture befitting a Las Vegas show group - which, essentially, they were - the lads launch into a medley of tunes about people (including the audacity to cover an iconic Streisand staple). In the short a capella section, listen to the close harmonies - often just one full tone apart, known in harmony language as “seconds,” impossible but for only the finest singers with the best tuned ears. Then the boys caress a Paul Williams classic, and then finally their comedic take on one of the numbers from “Hair” which they use to educate their most willing audience with a fictionalized account of Hawai’i history.
Despite the changing times and changing styles, the powerhouse performing style that was The Surfers remains a classic.
On one of my many visits to Hawai’I, in 2008, a friend and fellow musician called me to ask me where I was on the island. I told him I was in Kaka’ako. He told me to head toward Kapahulu and meet him at the Elks Club. He didn’t tell me why. Once we met up, he signed us in, ordered us some beers, and then called the evening’s entertainment over to our table - which, to my delight, was The Surfers’ own Pat Sylva. We chatted, and soon after I was sitting in with Pat, singing “Waikiki” near Waikiki while looking out at the surf rolling in on Waikiki while Pat played the piano for me. And for one brief moment even I was touched by the greatness that was The Surfers. That was a dream come true.
Hawai’i misses you, Pat. This is dedicated to you and to the great friend who made sure I didn’t miss out on the opportunity to know such an amazing musician and person - Ocean Kaowili.
Tue, 8 January 2013
Lani Kai got his show business start in 1959 when he auditioned for the TV series “Adventures In Paradise.” He had only hoped for a part as an extra but ended up a cast regular. Lani was called upon for numerous other roles, whenever a handsome, well-built Polynesian man was needed - including the role of Carl, a beach boy in the Elvis Presley vehicle “Blue Hawaii.”
But Lani Kai was much lesser known as a singer. His clear tenor was well suited to both traditional Hawaiian-language songs and the English language hapa-haole standards. You’ll recall from the earlier post about The Surfers that MCA was the parent company of both Decca Records and Paramount. Perhaps to capitalize on his success on TV in ABC-Paramount‘s “Adventures,” in the early 1960s Decca released “Island Love Songs,” an album of Hawaiian songs by Lani Kai using local Hawai’i musicians arranged and conducted by Chick Floyd. Chick’s arrangements - a combination of the more traditional ‘ukulele and steel guitars and the burgeoning exotica movement which incorporated flutes and Latin percussion - suited Lani’s larger than life personality which could not help but translate to his vocal style. Like the "Hawaii Calls" radio broadcast which was still popular during this period, the album featured the dual steel guitars of Barney Isaacs and Danny Stewart.
There isn’t a single song on this album not worth hearing again and again. So it was difficult to choose something to share with you. Ultimately, I chose the swinging “Seven Days In Waikiki,” a Jack Pitman composition seldom performed then or now, and “Moana,” another seldom heard gem from the pen of Lani’s beach boy friend, Alex Kaeck of the vocal group The Invitations.
Lani went on to record only one other album in his lifetime - the ill-conceived Disco-oriented “The Many Sides of Lani Kai,” an album comprised solely of Jerry Marcellino originals, in 1979. But with “Island Love Songs,“ Lani left an indelible footprint on Hawaiian music history for the lucky few who can locate a copy of this long out-of-print LP.
Tue, 8 January 2013
For most of his career, Elvis was backed on stage and screen by an incredibly talented vocal group he cultivated called The Jordannaires. But when it came time to film “Blue Hawaii” in 1961, a slightly different vocal flavor was in order.
Years earlier, in 1957, at Glendale Junior College in California, musical brothers Al and Clay Naluai teamed up with two other Hawaiian boys, Bernie Ching and Pat Sylva, who - like them - could play every instrument they put their hands on. In addition to their talents on guitars, piano, vibes, even trombone, these young men could all sing really, really well. Together they joined the college choir, and eventually the choir director asked these four Hawaiian friends to arrange some traditional Hawaiian songs for their unique vocal style which they would performas a spotlight act during the choir’s concert performances. They took up the challenge, and The Surfers were born. The Surfers made a handful of records for the Hi-Fi Records label which featured their unique harmony style - reminiscent of such mainland vocal groups as The Hi-Los, The Four Freshmen, and The Lettermen - and went on to do more of the same and better when signed to Decca Records (when they - for reasons unknown - changed their name to The Hawaiian Surfers).
Decca’s parent company - MCA - also controlled Paramount Studios which produced Elvis’s films. According to an interview with the surviving Surfers, Clay once recalled, “On the soundtrack recording, they wanted to have an authentic Hawaiian sound. So they asked us if we'd be willing to do the soundtrack album with him." On March 21, 1961 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, three days of recording sessions commenced in which The Surfers added their touch to the legacy that would become “Blue Hawaii” and its iconic soundtrack. If you are a fan of Hawaiian music or The Surfers but it escaped you that it was their voices in the film, it is likely because - despite their rugged Hawaiian good looks - The Surfers were not asked to actually be in the film. They were guns for hire - voices intended to add the Hawaiian touch to the music, which - second only to the local scenery - may have been the most “Hawaiian” aspect of the film.
Elvis and The Surfers were beyond a shadow of a doubt a successful combination. The “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack album was #1 around the world - holding the top position for 20 weeks in the United States and remaining on Billboard's Album Chart longer than any other Elvis album. Moreover, the single - "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" on one side and "Rock-A-Hula Baby" on the other - earned a Gold Record. You may not have known that it was The Surfers - not The Jordannaires - whose voices graced what may be Elvis’s most popular and enduring ballad - or that it was Alan Naluai - not Elvis - who sang the most memorable introduction to “Rock-A-Hula Baby.” Both deserve a listen again. Rather than the released soundtrack versions, I offer you an unreleased version of “Rock-A-Hula Baby” with some of the playful studio banter still intact and an alternate version - with a slightly different arrangement than heard in the film - of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
Tue, 8 January 2013
Nobody would accuse Elvis of performing what would typically be thought of as “Hawaiian music” - not even in any of the three films he made in Hawai’i. But Elvis did associate with some greats of Hawaiian music, and these local Hawai’i musicians and personalities added more than a little local flavor and flair to the precedings.
In honor of what would have been Elvis’s 78th birthday, I am thinking of ways to celebrate with some rarities that show how Hawai’i musicians contributed to some of the most memorable moments of the The King’s legacy. Stay tuned to this space for two more posts today. (We can’t celebrate his birthday tomorrow.)
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 4:57pm EST
Tue, 8 January 2013
Hal Aloma was born Harold David Alama on January 8, 1908. He attended Kalihi-Waena School and McKinley High School before dashing off to the mainland and New York City where he became extremely popular for his modernized hybrid of Hawaiian music.
A composer, singer, and eventually band leader, Hal Aloma was first and foremost a steel guitar player with a style like no other. Upon his arrival in NYC, he started out as the steel guitarist with Lani McIntire at New York’s famed Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room,” and then later led his own band in this same location as well as the Luau 400 and various night spots up and down the east coast. He appeared on television shows hosted by Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, and Perry Como, and was even a mystery guest on the game show To Tell The Truth. Aloma also appeared in the MGM film Ship Ahoy with Tommy Dorsey. He capped off his amazing career as the first band leader at the Polynesian Village for the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Although born Alama, Hal changed his name to Aloma - presumably to capitalize on the popularity of a Polynesian-themed film of that era, Aloma of the South Seas. He was the brother of another Hawaiian entertainer, Sam Alama, a singer and composer who left a lasting legacy with a song still sung today, "Kanakanui Hotel."
As a songwriter, while not as prolific as, say, Harry Owens or R. Alex Anderson, Hal’s paeans to his homeland are often just as beautiful - a few even catching on with local Hawai’i artists. I have heard his “Echoes of the South Pacific” covered by such Hawaiian music traditionalists as Violet Pahu Liliko’i, and his “Wikiwiki Mai” has been recorded over and over including a memorable rendition by Charles K.L. Davis.
Hal was an extremely popular recording artist - landing a coveted record contract with Dot Records in the late 1950s. His recordings sold extremely well on the mainland, but you will rarely find one in the used record shops throughout Hawai’i. This may be because the local music trade was focused on its local artists, or it may indicate that Hal Aloma’s brand of modernized, mainland-influenced Hawaiian music was not the appetite of local Hawai‘i listeners. I have chosen two songs - both Aloma originals - from his Dot Records period - tracks that are about as different as they can be. The first is a rollicking hapa-haole swing number, the aforementioned “Wikiwiki Mai,” in which you will hear the influences of the mainland dance hall jazz combos, including - again - the drum kit with its persistent ride cymbal and occasional gentle “crash.” You will also immediately notice that there are two steel guitars - a sound typically identified with the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts. The two steelers here are Hal and his great friend, NYC local Sam Makia who also left an enduring legacy. I have as many Sam Makia sides in this collection as I do Hal Aloma, and as my father was an occasional musical partner of Makia in later years, I can safely identify the lead steel on “Wikiwiki Mai” - a solo played with what I can only call “wreckless abandon” - as Sam. The other number is far more traditional - a modern take on chant which Hal called his “Hawaiian Love Chant.” The chant is in the expected rhythm and minor key and sung in Hawaiian, but it is then followed by a fox trot-style hula tempo sung in English. In both cases, despite the changing times and changing sounds, I hope you can also still hear all that is innately Hawaiian in Hal Aloma’s music.
Direct download: Hal_Aloma_-_Wikiwiki_Mai-Echoes_of_the_South_Pacific.mp3
Category:Steel Guitar -- posted at: 7:35am EST
Mon, 7 January 2013
From time to time we will look at two versions of a Hawaiian song from different periods to see how they compare and contrast. But what if the versions were recorded nearly 40 years apart and yet are practically identical?
Singer Leinaala Haili recorded Bina Mossman’s composition “Ku’u Home Aloha” for her No Ka Oi album on the Makaha Records label in the mid-1960s. We have been talking a lot about the changes in Hawaiian music during this period. One of the leaders in this “new sound” in Hawaiian music was arranger Benny Saks. When you listen to this version of the song, you will hear the indelible stamp that Saks left on his kind of Hawaiian music. Besides the drum kit (which was a stranger to Hawaiian music until this period), you also hear a departure from the typical introductions and endings. In the hula ku’i form, you would typically hear the three chord vamp (II7-V7-I or A7-D7-G in the key of G) that signals the transition from one verse to another. This three chord vamp had doubled as an introduction and ending to most Hawaiian songs until this period. But the chords that Saks chooses for his introduction come more from the R&B and doo-wop idioms. (Listen closely and you might be able to superimpose the melody of “Blue Moon” or “Silhouettes” over those chord changes.) Then listen again and you will notice that Saks goes even further by doing the introduction and (what would ordinarily be) the vamps between verses in an asymmetrical time signature. Try counting it out and you will find a pattern of beats something on the order of 3-3-2-4. He is moving from waltz time to march time to the typical hula tempo. But because of this pattern of beats typically foreign to the hula ku’i form, this can no longer be considered music intended for hula. Finally, the series of chords used in the introduction comes not from the Hawaiian music tradition but, rather, from the type of small combo jazz being put forth by the George Shearing Quintet. Even the instrumentation mirrors that of Shearing’s classic combo - piano, vibes, bass, guitar, and drums. Saks even mimics the Shearing arranging style by having piano, vibes, bass, and guitar play in unison. Simply add Billy Hew Len’s steel guitar for a slightly more Hawaiian touch, but those steeply trenched in tradition may ask anyway… Given all of these variations from the norm, is this even Hawaiian music?
But that is a debate for another day. The question really becomes… Is it really possible to top such beauty? The answer appears to be “no” since the song has only been recorded once since Leinaala Haili did it. And when Raiatea Helm and her producers took it on for her Sweet & Lovely album, they wisely decided on an arrangement that would ultimately be an homage - a beat-for-beat, note-for-note faithful recreation of the Leinaala Haili/Benny Saks original.
To this day, I have wondered how many of today’s generation recognized this homage since we so rarely hear Leinaala Haili or this version of the song anymore? But what better occasion than Bina Mossman’s birthday to hear these two beautiful voices in agreeance on the beauty of the mele and how to present it?
This is Bina Mossman’s “Ku’u Home Aloha” - then…and again.
Mon, 7 January 2013
When celebrating Bina Mossman’s birthday, I almost forgot her most famous composition of all.
It has been a few years now since the participants in the Hawaiian music forum known as taropatch.net were having fun reminiscing about Auntie Bina Mossman's ode to California, "Kaleponi Hula." This short, yet most intriguing song speaks of a young man journeying from Hawai’i to California who asks his sweetheart what type of souvenir she might enjoy. The young lady then begins a laundry list of the latest and greatest fashion accessories. Those who understand Hawaiian poetry and its hidden layers of meaning - referred to as “kaona” - may or may not find some additional social commentary in this list of items.
Regrettably, there are few versions of the song still in print on CD or MP3 for us to enjoy. But to aid the members of taropatch.net in their discussion, I threw together a short montage of excerpts from four very old out-of print versions of the song - by Uncle Johnny Almeida, Charles Kaipo Miller, Alice Fredlund with the Halekulani Girls, and Sonny Chillingworth. The Puerto Rican-influenced katchi katchi rhythms of the Sonny Chillingworth version again speak of the changes in Hawaiian music occurring in the late 1950s and 1960s. And aficionados of Hawaiian music will recognize that one of the voices harmonizing with Sonny is none other than Nina Keali`iwahamana.
The Hawaiian language lyric and English translation can be found in Na Mele o Hawai’i Nei - 101 Hawaiian Songs by Samuel H. Elbert and Noelani Mahoe.
Mon, 7 January 2013
Bina Mossman was born on this day - January 7, 1893. She is remembered for a great many contributions to Hawai’i.
Bina was the founder and leader of her eponymously titled Bina Mossman’s Glee Club for 30 years from 1914 to 1944, and then later the leader of the Ka’ahumanu Choral Group which performed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Halekulani Hotel, the Hawaiian Village, the Queen’s Surf, the Moana Surfrider, and Princss Ka’iulani from 1952 to 1968. The latter group also toured the mainland and performed at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.
Auntie Bina was also extremely active in the community and in politics - first as member and, later, president of the Republican Women’s Club, then the Territorial Legislature between 1939 and 1945, and finally as the Republican National Committeewoman from 1940 through 1957.
But of utmost importance to the history of Hawaiian music are her compositions. Auntie Bina wrote some of the most beautiful and memorable songs, and for this reason they have been recorded time and again by Hawaiian music artists from every generation.
Because Ho’olohe Hou prides itself on unearthing forgotten Hawaiian music and artists, I thought we might honor Auntie Bina by featuring her compositions performed by several different generations of Hawaiian music artists - and all from recordings long out of print. Here are the songs and the artists:
Ka Pua U’I - John Pi’ilani Watkins
He Ono - Kui and Nani Lee
Kipikoa - Tony Lindsey and Friends
Ku’u Lei - Auntie Agnes Malabey Weisbarth and The Ho’oipo Trio
Niu Haohao - Sam Kapu
Ko Kapa Ana Mai - Na Keonimana
Laelae - The Sandwich Isle Band
For more information about these artists or the albums from which these cuts were drawn, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sun, 6 January 2013
For many Hawai’i locals, Al Lopaka’s name will conjure up great memories of good times spent on the town at restaurants and clubs no longer there - laughing and listening to music. Singer and comedian Lopaka held court at a number of night spots including Kalia Gardens, Lopaka’s Lanai, Cock’s Roost, Honey’s, Kilani Tavern, the Queen’s Surf, Polynesian Pavillion, Duke Kahanamoku’s, and Latitude 20.
If Wainani Kanealii’s recording epitomized the sound of Hawai’i in the 1960s, then Al Lopaka and his band can be considered the instantly recognizable sound of Hawai’i in the 1970s. This is not the music of the steel guitar, the ‘ukulele, and the upright bass. This is the music of the electric bass, the electric piano, and the jangly Fender Jaguar. In short, the music - like the performer himself - is electric. It is Hawai’i-meets-the Wrecking Crew. The music jumps and rocks. There are few Hawaiian language lyrics. It is music intended to appeal to both the local co-eds and the tourist trade. This is perhaps why his album covers branded him as “the Sound of Young Hawaii.”
In addition to his musical endeavors, Al was an avid polo player - playing frequently with fellow Hawai’i music legend Gary Aiko. Sadly, Al’s life was cut short by a fatal polo accident in 1985 at the age of only 42. Who knows how large Lopaka’s star might have shined in Hawai’i or around the world?
In his too short lifetime, Lopaka only released three albums, and only one of these remains in print. This is an excerpt of a long out-of-print live recording entitled Al Lopaka Live! At The Hale Ho - an album funded by Don Ho, released on Ho’s label, and produced by Ho’s producer H.B. Barnum. Don no doubt took an interest in Al because of the striking similarity in both their singing style and rapport with the audience. At times, if you close your eyes and you hadn’t been told who this performer was, you might think this was Honey’s-era Don Ho. Even Al’s band - in its instrumentation, energy, and use of the intricate backing vocals - is reminiscent of Ho’s own cohort of so many years, The Aliis. This recording serves as an excellent time capsule of Hawai’i nightlife in the 1970s.
Today would have marked Lopaka’s 70th birthday.
This post is dedicated to Al‘s great friend Gary Aiko.
Sun, 6 January 2013
Hawai’i musician Halehaku Seabury-Akaka and I were recently discussing the fine and rare art of Hawaiian-style piano. And we concur that one of the best today is Iwalani Ho’omanawanui Apo. (You can just call her “Ho’o.”) When asked who she felt was the greatest on the piano in Hawai’i, Ho’o cited the late, great Leila Hohu Kiaha.
A recipient of the Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 - which she knew she had been granted but regrettably passed away before receiving the honor - Auntie Leila’s unique piano playing is heard on too few recordings. Most of these were in association with singers Kawai Cockett and Tony Conjugacion, but sadly most of the sides with Cockett have been out of print for decades.
Here is one such example of the great “Hawaiian swing” style of piano playing from Auntie Leila. Because there are so few practitioners of this piano style remaining today - Ho’o Apo, Aaron Sala, and C. Lanihuli Lee come to mind - we rarely have the opportunity to hear the piano played in the Hawaiian band. But when there is no lead guitarist - such as a steel guitar or slack key player - present, the piano takes the lead - becoming responsible for the vamps that transition one verse of the hula ku’i song form to the next. As no singing occurs through the two-bar vamps, this is the best opportunity to sneak a listen at the real talents of the pianist. You will hear that the style - as offered here by Auntie Leila - is characterized by arpeggiating (or rolling the notes) in a chord for rhythmic effect as well as block chords that mimic the strumming of the guitar or ‘ukulele, often in syncopation (or slightly off the beat from) the other rhythmic elements in the band. This aspect of the style may be rooted in ragtime piano playing. At the same time, she might play single note “fills” in those gaps of each verse where no singing takes place so that a song maintains its momentum - particular if there is hula to go with the song. But she is also ever careful to remain tasteful and respectful to the singer and not “overplay.”
This song - “Ha’aheo ‘Oe Maui” - is from Kawai Cockett’s LP simply entitled “Kawai.” I enjoy this more every time I hear it since it not only features the sounds of the Hawaiian-style piano played as it should be by Auntie Leila Hohu Kiaha, but also the ‘ukulele strummed like nobody else could - or ever will again - by Kawai Cockett. Uncle Kawai’s contributions to the history of Hawaiian music cannot be underestimated, so you will no doubt hear from him again here soon.
Released in 1981 on the Lohe Records label, it has been more than 30 years since this recording has been available in any format.
This post is dedicated to my friends Kamala Lovena Aina-Cockett and Ha’aheo Cockett.
Sun, 6 January 2013
Hawai’i musician Keith Haugen and I agree on practically everything. One of these many things is that one of the great voices from Hawai’i of all time belongs to the lovely Wainani Kanealii Yim.
In the mid-1960s, Wainani recorded her one and only solo album - Songs of the Pacific - for the Sounds of Hawaii label. Featuring music of Hawai’i, Tahiti, New Zealand and beyond, the album continued to stretch the boundaries of Polynesian music. During this period, Hawaiian music continued to evolve to include elements of the burgeoning sound of rock-and-roll, and this is evident in the production of Paul Mark - a staple of the Sounds of Hawaii label - and the often hip arrangements of Lydia Wong. For example, it was still unusual to hear the sound of the slack key guitar atop the “snap” of the snare drum. The result is an exquisite melding of the traditional and - a term that had not been coined yet - contemporary Hawaiian music.
On this recording, Wainani’s voice is joined by those of Lydia Wong and Iwalani Kahalewai. And the slack key guitar is none other than at the hands of “Atta” Isaacs of the famed musical Isaacs family of Hawai’i. I love the song you hear here - Maddy Lam’s composition “Ke Anuenue” - because it incorporates all of these elements - the voices in typical Hawaiian harmony, the slack key guitar, and the gentle nudge of the drum kit. This song - as the rest of the album - signals a new era in the music of Hawai‘i.
Not too long ago I would have bemoaned that this beautiful album is no longer available. But Lehua Records - owner of the Sounds of Hawaii catalog - has been working diligently to make these recordings available again rather expediently - direct to MP3. Fortunately for all of us, Songs of the Pacific is now available from iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody, and Amazon.
And why Wainani, and why today, you ask? Because just yesterday Auntie Wainani celebrated a birthday. Hau’oli La Hanau e Wainani! And mahalo for your beautiful music.
Sun, 6 January 2013
Gabby Pahinui is a Hawai’i folk hero known primarily as the progenitor of all slack key guitarists who followed. This is because Gabby’s slack key guitar recording of “Hi’ilawe” is one of the earliest commercially available recordings of the art form and also largely because he was damned good at his craft. But among steel guitarists, Gabby is known for his fine steel guitar playing which was too seldom heard on record.
From time to time, Ho’olohe Hou will pull out some examples of Gabby’s steel playing. But this example is about as rare as they come. It is difficult to say what makes it more rare: that it is the only long playing record by a fine vocalist, Sam Kahalewai; that it features compositions by the great songwriter Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, many never recorded before or since; that it is a rare example of Gabby’s steel playing at his uninhibited finest; or that it was published by Four Winds Recording of Hutchinson, Kansas. The album - A Lei of Songs from Sam - dates to the early 1960s and features Sam Kahalewai, Alvin Isaacs, Norman Isaacs, and - of course - Gabby.
Those who knew Gabby speak of his influences - from big band jazz to the Beatles. But you don’t need to speak of them to be able to hear them. In this cut - an Alvin Isaacs composition entitled "Sing Your Cares Away" - Gabby’s all too brief solo begins at about 0:58. And almost immediately you will hear that Gabby punctuates the single note solo line in much the same way as a solo trumpet or saxophone player might in a small jazz combo. This is Hawaiian music, and at the same time it is bebop. There are non-chord tones (often referred to as “blue notes,” from which “the blues” get their name). And then a series of 9th and 6th chords which, too, are more typically associated with jazz than Hawaiian music. This is a rare example of “let loose” kine Gabby steel playing, and I hope to find more examples to share in time.
Sun, 6 January 2013
Ho’olohe Hou is a blog dedicated to preserving Hawaiian music of a bygone era. Much of the music discussed here will be forgotten by all but the families and friends of the artists and the very few (but ever growing number) of the more faithful practitioners of Hawaiian music. But how do we do that constructively and promote conversation about the music? One song and one artist at a time, of course!
When this blog was previously accompanied by a podcast and - later - a radio program, I divided those programs into several thematic segments. My goal with the new incarnation of Ho’olohe Hou is to revive those segments not as a lengthy and difficult-to-digest program, but with several short blog posts several times a week. If you have three or four minutes to spare, you should be able to keep up with the happenings at Ho’olohe Hou.
Here is a sneak peak at what we might discuss in the coming weeks, months, and - hopefully - years…
Artists/Musicians - Discussion of a singer or musician and their importance to the history and evolution of Hawaiian music. In time, we will have the opportunity to explore the girl singers, the boy singers, the falsetto singers, and even the vocal groups. We will also explore the men and women who mastered the steel guitar, slack key guitar, ‘ukulele, and the oft-overlooked bass.
Composers/Songs/Songwriting - Exploration of the unique art form that is the weaving of words into a lei that is a song for all of Hawai’i and Hawaiian music lovers everywhere to cherish.
Waikiki After Dark - A once popular radio program broadcast across Hawai’i live from a Waikiki night spot, “Waikiki After Dark“ featured the best of the best of Hawai’i’s entertainers. This blog will attempt to recreate magic moments from a forgotten era through live recordings of the legends of Hawai’i night life. This means not only musicians who performed Hawaiian music, but also the sometimes under appreciated performers from Hawai’i who expressed themselves through other genres such as pop, rock, country, jazz, and even classical music.
OOPs - The double-entendre is that while we all know what an “oops” is, the gaff to be explored here is why a classic recording from Hawai’i has been allowed to go - as collectors say - “out of print” (OOP). This segment will explore rare recordings from the vinyl (and even shellac) era which inexplicably have not been remastered for the CD or MP3 era.
Rarities - Recordings from my personal collection which are extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind.
Periods/Evolution/Influences - Maybe three different categories or perhaps just one all encompassing one, we will explore the various periods in the history of Hawaiian music over the last 100 years - from the earliest recording to the most recent - as well as the subtle or not so subtle transition from one period to the next and the various influences from within and outside of Hawaiian music that informed those changes.
Then and Again - To illustrate the evolution of Hawaiian music, it can be useful to listen to the same song fashioned in different ways by different artists over time.
Three Of A Kind - A whimsical contest in which we will hear three songs and you guess what those three songs have in common - for a prize!
Precious Meetings - The pairing of two outstanding Hawaiian music artists who came together for a brief, magical moment in the recording studio to create something that was truly more than the sum of its parts.
Hawaiian Music Around The World - A look at artists from outside of the islands who fell in love with the music of Hawai’i and who spent their lives sharing the joy of Hawaiian music in their homelands.
Birthdays/Passings - We will celebrate days throughout the year when legends of Hawaiian music first arrived as well as those saddest of days when they left us for the heavenly choir.
These themes will become searchable categories and tags on the Ho’olohe Hou blog. Note that a blog post may be associated with more than one tag.
And these are just a few of the ideas for themes we can use as a launching pad for discussing the beauty and uniqueness of Hawaiian music and aritsts from Hawai’i. If you think of others, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Category:general -- posted at: 8:20am EST
Sat, 5 January 2013
If a tree falls in the woods and there‘s no one around to hear it, does it still make a sound?
So many greats of Hawaiian music have passed unceremoniously from this life into the next. Sometimes all we remember are their names because their music has been of so little importance - at least commercially, since record companies are businesses, after all - their voices and the magical sound of their hands upon the instruments they mastered has been lost forever - gone with the demise of the vinyl record, never to see the light of day on a CD or an MP3.
To say that Hawaiian music has been a huge part of my life would be an understatement. Hawaiian music has been my life. Hawaiian music filled my home before I was born. My father is still a much called upon steel guitarist. My mother danced hula and played the bass. I was born into a home steeped in Hawaiian music. With instruments lying about the house, I learned to play ‘ukulele, slack key guitar, steel guitar, and bass. I learned to sing falsetto songs in the Hawaiian language by listening to the numerous Hawaiian music recordings stacked in dusty corners in the basement and the attic. And I researched the stories behind the songs in order to better understand them. The conundrum is that - try as I might - I cannot find anyone in my lineage who was of Hawaiian descent.
Over the last 40 years, I have amassed more instruments and more Hawaiian music recordings - many rare and out of print. I began making an annual mecca (and sometimes more often than that) to Hawai’i to learn more about this unique music and culture and to meet my heroes of Hawaiian music. The most beautiful thing about pursuing my interest in Hawaiian music has been the amazing friends I made. The more lovers of Hawaiian music I chatted with, the more I understood that there was no small number of treasures from my Hawaiian music collection that few in Hawai’i had ever heard. The advent of the internet made it possible to share these recordings with my friends in Hawai’i. And so six years ago - on a Twelfth Night in 2007 - I decided to launch a blog and a podcast which I dubbed - with the assistance of Hawaiian language expert Keith Haugen - Ho’olohe Hou, which means “to hear again.” The goal was to entertain and educate at the same time - a sort of NPR version of a Hawaiian music radio program. The show quickly gained a following - particularly among musicians in Hawai’i. But the program was immediately fraught with difficulties. On the personal front, producing a two-hour radio program each week actually took me in excess of 20 hours. I had no idea what I was doing, and the bulk of that time was spent on my learning curve and on remastering from archaic recording formats to make the music presentable for the 21st century. And then a number of friends and fans suggested that what I was doing was not entirely legal because of the complex web of copyright law - a web that has yet to be untangled. Fearing repercussions, I gave up the ghost after only nine episodes.
Then, a brief reprise for Ho’olohe Hou in August 2007 in the form of Las Vegas-based internet radio station 50th State Radio. Through that medium, my show could be broadcast legally and all royalties and mechanical licensing fees paid to musicians and composers. I was relieved, but that relief was short-lived. After producing and airing only an additional two dozen episodes, I learned that the station’s owner passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. And amidst the sadness, 50th State Radio and Ho’olohe Hou passed with him.
Finally, one more go at it. At the urging of ethnomusicologist Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman, in August 2009 I started the blog again but not the podcast while podcasting royalties were still in a state of uncertainty. I quickly realized that writing a blog about music without being able to hear the music was like doing an interpretive dance about a fine dining experience.
So, why now? What’s changed? The thousands of recordings in my vast and ever-growing Hawaiian music collection are like so many trees in a dying forest. Here they sit, collecting dust in a mausoleum of Hawaiian music which is situated - most ironically - in New Jersey. They do not make a sound. Unless I spin one of them, alone - in which case they make a very lonely sound. Facebook was in its infancy when I last maintained Ho’olohe Hou. Although I was not a fan from the start, Facebook has become an invaluable tool for keeping in touch with my friends in Hawai’i on a daily basis and - much to my surprise - for making new friends who love Hawaiian music as deeply as I do. Whenever I post clips of forgotten Hawaiian songs and artists to my Facebook page, the “LIKES” are innumerable. I have also spent a considerable amount of time researching the concept of “fair use” of copyrighted materials for educational purposes. Fair use guidelines are not really “guidelines” at all. Any use of copyrighted material is subject to scrutiny by the copyright holder. However, there are a number of tests of what constitutes “fair use.” Most of these almost anyone can comprehend and abide by. The quantity of material shared publicly by an artist or composer in the name of “fair use” should be a bare minimum. The less shared, the more likely it would be deemed “fair use.” The material shared should not compete with material available commercially. This means that in order to be considered “fair use,” the material should not be available for purchase elsewhere - potentially jeopardizing the livelihood of the arists. The material should not be able to be retained by the listeners, such as through a download. This would surely violate the previous tenet of supposed “fair use” material competing commercially. And the material used as a “fair use” example for educational purposes should ultimately educate through critique or criticism of the music or artist - which had been the goal of Ho’olohe Hou from the beginning.
So, this is a new beginning, and this is my charter for Ho’olohe Hou: This blog and related Facebook page will continue to be dedicated to the preservation and sharing of rare Hawaiian music. Examples of music by artists and composers will be shared in the smallest possible quantities with an emphasis on music no longer commercially available so that no artists’ livelihoods are jeopardized through these efforts. However, occasionally more recent music samples may be necessary to illustrate the continuum - or juxtaposition - of the past and present of Hawaiian music. For this reason all music samples will be shared using a proprietary player which does not promote the downloading and offsite saving of this music so that these efforts do not compete with music which may still be commercially available. All music samples will be posted for the sole purpose of illustrating the various aspects of Hawaiian music and its evolution and will be accompanied by appropriate critique or commentary to provide each music sample with the appropriate historical context. And any parties claiming to be the artist or owner of the copyright of these materials may request to have samples of their work removed from this blog, and all such requests will be honored - no challenges, no questions asked.
Most importantly, I hope this will be the longest post on this blog for the here ever after.
I do hope that the intersection of the blog (hosted by Liberated Syndication, or Libsyn) and Facebook will serve as a springboard for stimulating discussion of our mutual interest: Hawaiian music. In the coming days, in addition to music posts, I will begin to jot down my ramblings about the themes I hope to explore here. If there are themes or artists you would like to hear more about or from, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s hoping this grand experiment is a success once and for all. Mahalo for the continuing privilege and honor of contributing to the colorful and varied history of Hawaiian music and the entertainment industry in Hawai’i.
As I used to say to begin each week’s program… It’s time for more music and memories of Hawai’i. This is Ho’olohe Hou. Are you listening?
Me ka ha’aha’a,
Hawaiian Music Enthusiast
Category:Announcements -- posted at: 11:37pm EST