Mon, 18 February 2013
After successful engagements throughout the 1940s at such popular night spots as the Queen’s Surf, Trader Vic’s, Lau Yee Chai, Club Pago Pago, Waikiki Tavern, Don the Beachcomber, and Pearl City Tavern, in 1947 Pua left Honolulu for the mainland where so many of his contemporaries of the Hawaiian music world were finding great success. He brought three musicians and a single hula dancer for a six-month engagement at the Pago Pago Club in Colton, CA. By 1950 he was entertaining in Okinawa for five months before returning to Honolulu briefly to join Annie Hall’s quartet as steel guitarist and featured vocalist. The quartet did not strictly perform Hawaiian music - not entirely a new experience for Pua.
But he soon returned to Hawaiian music and the mainland - opening at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena with Eddie Bush, George Kainapau, and Alfred McIntyre. His next stop was the famed Seven Seas supper club at 6904 Hollywood Boulevard - directly across the street from the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Playing evenings here with a group led by none other than Sam Koki, Pua spent days doing television shows and recordings. In 1954, at the recording studios on the lot of M.G.M., Pua recorded the first ever long playing record of Hawaiian music. Entitled “South Sea Island Magic,” it was released both as a booklet set of 45 r.p.m. records as well as in the burgeoning 10” long playing format. The record featured Pua along with Sonny Kamahele (later of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts and recordings), Sam Kaapuni (later of the mainland group The Polynesians), and Sam Koki. The much sought out recording - a seldom found and much too expensive eBay item - has never been released on CD or MP3. You hear two sides - literally and figuratively - of that group here. On the more traditional side, we hear Pua lead the group in Ray Kinney’s hapa-haole classic “Hawaiian Hospitality.” On the slightly jazzier side, we hear the still seldom heard Jack Pitman and Eaton Magoon novelty number “Fish and Poi” in a swinging arrangement which mirrors the west coast jazz sounds of such combos as led by Nat King Cole, George Shearing, or Joe Bushkin - the piano essentially taking the lead with the guitar occasionally doubling the piano an octave higher. And while Pua and Sam Koki were both steel guitarists, it is Pua Almeida you hear doing the steel chores here as characterized by his major seventh chords.
Next time: A return to tradition in another out-of-print classic from Pua Almeida in the 1950s…