Live Genoa (Part 2)

This is a story in two parts, and I suppose we find out together how the story ends… 

And now, without further ado, here is our superstar of Hawai`i, Genoa Keawe herself… 

  • Val Kepilino, Emcee, Aloha Grill 

If I were to write the liner notes for the recording you are currently listening to, that would be the sum total of it – quoting directly from songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Val Kepilino who was the bass player – and, more often than not – the emcee for Genoa Keawe’s band of the 1970s. Because this line says it all. Unlike the other live recording of Aunty Genoa which feels somehow unnaturally un-live, this live recording portrays the real Genoa Keawe. 

This is Genoa Keawe herself. 

But there are no liner notes for this recording. No cover. And no retail store. This is – plain and simple – a bootleg. And Aunty Genoa would not have been pleased. 

In 1969, Francis Brown (no relation to the Brown `ohana of Hawai`i) won the Pennsylvania Lottery – at that time, a cool million dollars (or, in 2014 dollars, $6,485,858.31). Affectionately known as “Brownie,” he was a haole with the heart of a Hawaiian who loved Hawaiian music and who also just happened to play and teach the steel guitar. One has a lot of options when suddenly the beneficiary of such luck. Brownie decided to pack up and take his wife to Hawai`i for a seemingly indefinite stay. Fortunately for us, one of the things he packed was a portable open reel tape recorder, and this would be no small feat in that era since “portable tape recorder” meant something almost as large as a valise and just as heavy as one, to boot, since it would have a hard, protective case (and two detachable speakers) – the entire bundle at least an 18” X 18” cube and weighing as much as 25 pounds. I know. I am using one as a foot rest as I write this. 

Being a steel guitarist himself, Brownie’s aim – besides luxuriating in the sun on Waikīkī Beach with an endless stream of Mai Tais served directly to his chaise lounge since tipping would no longer be an issue – was to seek out all of the great steel guitarists he had only heard on LP records, perhaps get to know them, and capture them live with the not-so-portable gear. (This is not unlike what went down in March 1947 when saxophonist and amateur recordist Dean Benedetti went – with an even larger recorder in tow – to hear the great Charlie Parker during his extended run at the Hi-De-Ho in Los Angeles.) Such massive amounts of equipment cannot be concealed, nor do I think Brownie would have dared try. Rather, every time he went to a music venue, he directly sought the band’s permission to record, and when granted (which, in those days, it typically was as ideals about copyright and intellectual property had not yet matured as perhaps they have by now), Brownie would typically pick the table closest to the steel guitarist – resulting in a lot of steel guitar-intensive recordings but which, with a little modern equalization, can still be made listenable. 

Surprisingly, Brownie and his wife, Celia, did not make Hawai`i their permanent home. They did eventually return to their suburban Philadelphia home. My father’s lessons were long over, and he was already a professional working steel guitarist himself with his own hula floor show. But he and Brownie remained friends, and so the teacher ultimately bequeathed to his prized pupil the tapes he made on his extended vacation. And the current, future, and permanent home of these tapes is now the Ho`olohe Hou archives in which I am sitting. Many did not weather the ravages of time. My father – perhaps not fully understanding the historic and cultural treasure trove bestowed upon him – for many years stored the tapes under less than ideal conditions – from our garage to our attic to my grandparents’ largely outdoor shed. So when I received the tapes, few survived in any usable condition – leaving me with nothing more than box after box with scribbling on it promising of the delights within but an essentially blank tape. 

But nearly two hours of tape from the Aloha Grill joyously survived. Featuring the same working group that Aunty Genoa kept throughout the 1970s and which you heard previously in an excerpt from the professionally recorded Aloha To Aloha Grill - Val Kepilino on bass, John Lino on piano, Herbert Hanawahine on steel guitar, and the voices and `ukulele of Pua Rogers and Peter Ahia – the live recording Brownie made captures much of what the official live release did not. There was no editing – just a complete, unexpurgated performance. There are no fade-ins and fade-outs – just enthusiastic crowd chatter, sing-alongs, uproarious applause, and shouts of “hana hou.” There remains the witty banter Aunty Genoa exchanged with her band members (such as the seemingly endless ha`ina verses of “`Ahuili” when Aunty Genoa sings “How’s your lili?” and Peter responds first “Fat!” and then on the next go ‘round “It’s teriffic!”) There’s the kolohe. (Nobody – and certainly not the dignified Aunty Genoa – could sing the variation on the ha`ina verse of “`Ahulili” knowing that a tape recorder was running. “Ding-dong bell,” “doggy in the well…” Hawaiians understand the references, and thus it shall remain.) There are the dedications to friends, tourists, or the bowling team that just walked in. You can hear the guest performances which that evening included falsetto singer Lani Shon and composer/singer Maddy Lam (who graced the audience with both her voice and hula). You can hear Aunty Genoa make the audience part of the show (beckoning “Come up here and dance, Mrs. Kaleikini,” a reference to Ruby Kaleikini of Waianae for those who knew her). You can hear the smile and the wink. 

While Aunty Genoa previously gave us an album that was presumably live, this amateur recording by a visiting tourist is life itself. 

But it is surprising that Brownie got out of Aloha Grill with both microphones unscathed. For while he no doubt requested permission to record that fateful evening, the question is permission from whom? Aunty Genoa greatly frowned upon unofficial recordings – not merely because capturing music for free was often a surrogate for actually buying the LPs the artists worked so hard to create and which were their livelihood, and not merely because of “union rules” (although those are the rules since union musicians are supposed to be paid for every different medium in which the performance is captured and rebroadcast). She frowned upon the practice of live recording because it is disruptive to the artists – putting them on guard, killing the relaxed atmosphere on stage – and disruptive to the audience (“Careful! Don’t trip on that cord.”). I have been in the audience at the Waikiki Marriott when Aunty Genoa has respectfully and tactfully explained to a patron why they absolutely must turn off their camcorder or (more recently) iPhone – because the musicians’ union has made it the artists’ responsibility to police such matters in the absence of a union official, and not policing it could result in fines and penalties for the musician (with no commensurate repercussions for the offending audience member). Brownie had somebody’s permission to record that evening. But I highly suspect it was not Aunty Genoa’s or the tape recorder would not have run nearly as long and her performance would not have been nearly as relaxed or candid. 

A previous version of this article ended with my stating that I was fairly certain that tūtū would disapprove of sharing a bootleg recording of her performance. And yet I shared it anyway. I added that if it were the grievous error in judgment I myself believed it to be, the Keawe `ohana would let me know respectfully, tactfully, and lovingly. And they did. It is with tremendous humility that I remove this recording at the request of my friends – along with offering them my sincerest apologies.  

When I said at the outset that we’d find out together how the story ends, now you know what I meant. If you were one of the few to have heard this precious clip before it was removed, you know how lucky you were. 

Me ke aloha pumehana, 

~ Bill Wynne


Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:12pm EST