Alvin Isaacs (We’re Just Getting Started!)

We have been discussing Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs the composer whose songwriting output is seemingly innumerable. I have never seen a list of his compositions. I just keep throwing platters on the turntable, and with each spin, I hear a song and say, “He wrote that too!” It is harder to find a Hawaiian music album that doesn’t offer an Alvin Isaacs song than to find one that does. So here are still a few more from the pen of Alvin Isaacs as recorded by some of the shining stars in the Hawaiian entertainment constellation of the 1960s. 

I recently introduced the segment here at Ho`olohe Hou entitled “OOPs” – classic Hawaiian music recordings which inexplicably remain out of print (or “OOP”). The first song in this set comes from just such an out of print recording – one for which, if I could obtain the master tapes, I would fund the remaster and rerelease myself. (It is that important.) Known largely only by collectors of Hawaiian music recordings, Hula La – a 1959 Liberty Records release – was an all-star affair which married superstars of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts (Sonny Nicholas, Sonny Kamahele, Danny Stewart, Barney Isaacs, and Pua Almeida) with members of the Martin Denny band (Julius Wechter on vibes, Willard Brady on woodwinds, and Augie Colon’s variety of percussion) all under the direction of Chick Floyd (a former mainland big band leader and arranger who relocated to Hawai`i where he arranged for recordings by Ed Kenney and Lani Kai as well as the Lucky Luck TV Show) for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Liberty Records clearly aimed to capitalize on the current music craze known as “exotica” – a hybrid of Hawaiian songs and exotic percussion (and occasional bird calls) that as such would not be native to Hawai`i but perhaps some fictitious jungle elsewhere in Oceania. (While the craze likely began with Les Baxter’s 1952 LP Ritual of the Savage, the subgenre was eventually named for the 1957 Martin Denny LP Exotica and its many follow-ups Exotica II, Exotica III, etc., etc.) As Denny was under contract to Liberty at the time both as an artist and as A&R (artist and repertoire) man on the ground in Hawai`i, the soil was fertile for such a musical experiment. What resulted was not so much “exotica” as it was really very forward-thinking Hawaiian music. The album is an essential addition to every Hawaiian music collection, but alas it is out of print. It contains the one and only ever recording of Alvin Isaacs’ pseudo-chant composition “Hula La.” Given that this Isaacs composition was published by the same publishing house as every other song on the LP (Exotica Publishing Co.), it is highly likely then that Isaacs was commissioned to write the tune to fit the title of the LP (and not that the LP was titled for an existing Isaacs tune). The lead vocal is by none other than Pua Almeida – making this a rare entry in the Pua Almeida discography as well. Ho`olohe Hou will return to Hula La for more of these exciting sounds soon, no doubt.

One of Alvin’s most enduring compositions, “Aloha Nui Ku`uipo” (still often performed today), is offered up here by my friend and hero, the late Sonny Kamahele (recently celebrated here at Ho`olohe Hou). From his 1960s Sounds of Hawaii label release ironically titled Sounds of Hawaii, Sonny is joined here (likely, as there are no session personnel listed in the liner notes) by his regular working group of the period which included such fellow Hawaiian music legends as Cy Ludington, Mel Peterson, and steel guitarist Eddie Pang. It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting at the Halekulani Hotel’s House Without A Key at sunset listening to Sonny sing the very same song right in front of me. It was a staple of his repertoire – as were countless other Alvin Isaacs songs. 

The unmistakable voice of Aunty Genoa Keawe sings “He Nani Helena,” the song Alvin wrote for Helene Owens, the wife of his great friend and once musical associate, Harry Owens. This is from Aunty Genoa’s 1960s release “By Request” which she produced for the then brand new record label which she owned and operated. She is joined here by her band of that period – and for many years to come – her good friends Vicki I`i Rodrigues and Pauline Kekahuna on the dual rhythm guitars, Violet Pahu Liliko`i on upright bass, and steel guitarist Benny Rogers. 

Finally, from the 1970 Lehua Records LP eponymously titled Bunny Brown’s Hilo Hawaiians, Bunny Brown and company deliver another Isaacs classic, “Analani E.” The group – which hailed from Hilo on the island of Hawai`i and which originated in the famed Ha`ili Choir there – changed personnel over the years. But this incarnation was comprised of Bunny Brown, his two sons, and steel guitarist Arthur Kaua. This is one of the few recordings featured at Ho`olohe Hou that is still available as a CD or MP3 download courtesy of the care and diligence of Lehua Records. 

So by now we have heard all of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs’ compositions, right? Join us next time to find out... 

Next time: The Alvin Isaacs composition most recorded outside of Hawai`i – a story that involves both Nat King Cole and the Andrews Sisters?...


Direct download: 10_Alvin_Kaleolani_Isaacs_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:Composers -- posted at: 4:48am EDT