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.