Sat, 29 November 2014
At various points in my life Pua Almeida has been my raison d’etre. He is one of the most influential Hawaiian musicians of all time – with a unique voice possessing just enough affectation that it is immediately recognizable, having developed his own unique style on every instrument so that his playing is unmistakable, and having gone against the tide to revolutionize Hawaiian music by incorporating elements from jazz, rock, and Latin music into the traditional Hawaiian idiom throughout the 1950s and 60s. A few years ago, while perusing the reboot of the seminal book on Hawaiian music, John Berger’s update of Dr. George Kanahele’s Hawaiian Music and Musicians which has been the bible for fans and students of Hawaiian music for over 30 years, I recoiled at the reality that this veritable encyclopedia of the history of Hawaiian music inexplicably did not contain an entry on Pua Almeida except as a footnote to the entry on his hānai father, legendary composer and entertainer John Kameaaloha Almeida. Such an omission is criminal given Pua’s importance to Hawaiian music and how universally beloved he is by Hawai`i’s musicians of all generations.
This oversight in Kanahele’s original 1979 edition was the impetus for the first Ho`olohe Hou podcast in 2007. And discovering that this grievous error was repeated in the latest edition was the inspiration to relaunch Ho`olohe Hou as a blog in January 2013. That is how important Pua Almeida is to me, and Ho`olohe Hou continues to strive to right such wrongs for the many legendary musicians that time has somehow forgotten.
But, anyway, I tell you this because there is little more that I can tell you about Pua Almeida now that I didn’t already recount in a length series of posts dating back to February 2013. (You might visit the Ho`olohe Hou home page and scroll back to this period to read about the man and his music and hear many of his recordings – all sadly out-of-print in this era.) What you need to know as we examine the period during which Pua became a member of the Hawaii Calls family around 1957 is that by that time he was already a 15-year veteran of the Hawaiian music scene and had 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 have read here previously about the recording contract show creator Webley Edwards forged with Capitol Records which featured such artists as Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai, and Mahi Beamer. If you are listening to one of those albums, you are no doubt hearing Pua Almeida’s work – either as a rhythm guitarist or, in the case of Mahi Beamer’s second album (simply entitled Mahi), as steel guitarist. (Few know that was Pua playing steel guitar – along with future Hawaii Calls steeler Danny Stewart – since their names do not appear on the album covers.) And like his Hawaii Calls bandmates Jimmy Kaopuiki, Sonny Kamahele, Benny Kalama and Sonny Nicholas, Pua was also present for the recording sessions which featured the show’s guest stars like Tennessee Ernie Ford and Ethel Nakada.
In other words, Pua Almeida was ubiquitous in Hawaiian music for decades and a guiding force in the last great period of Hawaii Calls. So we owe it to ourselves to hear Pua in a context in which he was not previously featured at Ho`olohe Hou: As a member of the Hawaii Calls group.
If the lei is the most precious symbol of affection the Hawaiians can give, what could be more precious than a lei of flowers? A lei of stars, perhaps? In 1949, composer R. Alex Anderson published the now classic “I’ll Weave A Lei of Stars,” one of the most beloved of all of the hapa-haole songs sung by Hawai`i’s singers. Anderson composed so many hapa-haole songs that it is impossible to recount them all, but along with “Lei of Stars,” “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Haole Hula” are probably my favorites.
Johnny Bond was a country-western singer/songwriter from Oklahoma who turned out many a hit not only for himself, but also for such country music stalwarts as Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. This may be why his “Jim, Johnny, and Jonas” does not have much of a Hawaiian feel to it. And yet it became a staple of the Hawaii Calls show when it was performed time and again by its singing star of the 1950s, Alfred Apaka. (It was even included on one of the Apaka LPs that he recorded with the musicians of the Hawaii Calls group.) But after Apaka’s untimely passing, would Hawaii Calls audiences still want to hear the song? Host Webley Edwards tested those waters by handing the song that Apaka previously owned instead to Pua Almeida. From this 1962 episode, this may likely be Almeida’s first ever performance of the song since we can hear him fumble the lyrics that he had probably never sung before. As Benny Kalama and Nina Keali`iwahamana recounted in a 1980s interview with KCCN Radio about their time with the program, in live radio such mistakes abound, and Hawaii Calls was no exception. But the show must go on!
Hawaii Calls outlived Pua, but not by much. He passed away much too young at the age of 52 in February 1974. Given how little of Pua’s music is available in the CD or MP3 era, I hope you have enjoyed hearing two selections by Pua that he never recorded or released for his own albums. Like the other Hawaii Calls stars of that era, it would be great, too, if we could actually see Pua perform since there is as little video of him in circulation as there is audio.
Next time: Pua Almeida strolls and sings for us for the first time since his passing more than 40 years ago…