Sun, 7 September 2014
In our last segment we discussed Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs the composer and his countless songs that have become woven into the lei that is now considered “traditional Hawaiian music” despite that – in his time – Isaacs was considered a trendsetter both in terms of his sound and his approach to songwriting. Here are still a few more classics from the pen of Alvin Isaacs performed by his friends, admirers, and even his own family.
“Sing Your Cares Away” is an Alvin Isaacs composition performed by Sam Kahalewai with Alvin Isaacs himself in the studio on the rhythm guitar, his son Norman Isaacs on bass, and at the steel guitar – brace yourselves – none other than Gabby Pahinui. Fans of Hawaiian music immediately recognize Gabby’s name as the folk hero most frequently associated with slack key guitar. But steel guitar aficionados know Gabby first and foremost for his unmistakable touch and tone on the steel and his ever tasteful and jazzy playing. Gabby only gets the 16-bar intro and a 16-bar solo break in the middle section (which, at these tempos, is about 26 seconds of air time), but any Gabby fan would recognize him from two notes. This is from one of the most rare items in my collection, the LP entitled A Lei Of Songs From Sam. Clearly labeled “Recorded in Hawaii” on the LP’s cover, the record was pressed and distributed by Four Winds Recording of Hutchinson, Kansas! It is among the most coveted albums by fans of Gabby’s steel playing or Alvin’s compositions of which a half dozen are featured (only one of which has been recorded since – “Ki`ipau Chant” which was covered by Teresa Bright in the 1990s). In my discussions with the Pahinui family, Gabby’s son, Martin, and grandson, John (affectionately referred to as “Gabby” for his grandfather) are searching desperately for the master tapes to broker a rerelease. But did I mention that the record company was in… Hutchinson, KS?
The golden throated Ray Kinney sings one of Isaacs’ most popular and enduring compositions, “Nani,” which simply means “beautiful.” The Hilo-born Kinney rose to prominence nationwide when he opened at New York City’s famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in 1937. (Kinney’s Hawaiian Room days are chronicled elsewhere at Ho`olohe Hou.) By the time of this recording – 20 years later – Kinney was already an elder statesman of Hawaiian music – serving both as performer and entertainment director for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. Many of the voices in the chorus are almost recognizable but – alas – undocumented. But steel guitarists everywhere do not require documentation to be assured that the steel player here is again Alvin’s son, Barney. This lovely selection is from the 1957 Liberty Records LP entitled Remember Waikiki.
“Ta-ha-ua-la” is Papa Alvin’s twist on the “Hawaiian War Chant” (which is neither a chant nor about war but, rather, a princely love song written by Prince Leleiohoku of Hawai`i’s last royal family – all of whom were talented composers). The original lyric was co-opted by composer/arranger/publisher Johnny Noble for the modern era, and the uptempo arrangement stuck despite that it belies the lyric’s gentle and loving nature. Because turnabout is fair play, Isaacs took Leleiohoku’s original lyric and re-co-opted it in this tongue-twisting number performed by the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus (of the famed radio broadcasts) from one of their earliest LPs, the 1958 Capitol Records release Hula Island Favorites. In the first verse you hear the male chorus (which includes a then very young Danny Kaleikini in one of his first appearances on record) led by Sonny Nicholas, but none other than Haunani Kahalewai leads the vocals for the rest of the trip. You also hear the ladies vocal chorus of sisters Lani Custino and Nina Keali`iwahamana plus Punini McWayne. The steel guitarist is the great Jules Ah See.
Closing out this set, Alvin’s son, Norman Isaacs, sings dad’s composition “Ku`ulani” which was released both as a Waikiki Records single and on two of its compilation LPs (Duke Kahanamoku’s Favorites and In Hawaii The Story Starts). As Alvin’s son, Barney, served as a sort of “house arranger” for Waikiki Records during this period, this is again Barney’s steel guitar you hear along with brother Norman’s bass and lead vocals (which range from tenor through a typically Hawaiian falsetto) and the backing vocals and rhythm guitar of their friend, Gabby Pahinui. You will hear more from Norman Isaacs again when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates his October birthday.
Next time: The story behind Alvin Isaacs’ most beloved composition…