Waikiki & Honolulu in the 70’s & 80’s

I have written here many times – but you may only be reading for the first time – that despite being a child of the 70s, the first sounds of Hawaiian music I heard actually dated back to the 1950s. This might be because I was born in Philadelphia and there were 5,000 miles between my home and Hawai`i. This was a long distance for new music to travel, and local stores simply didn’t carry the latest releases from Hawai`i. But it was more likely because my father was a steel guitarist, and the heyday of the steel guitar was the 1950s and the stars of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts and LP records. By the 1970s, there were few remaining steel guitar legends, and as a result Hawaiian music was evolving not to rely upon its once signature sound any longer. 

But there was a different sort of divide occurring in the Hawaiian entertainment scene – a divide I would never have explored had I been confined solely to my father’s tastes. Fortunately, we had many friends on our coast who happened to be Hawai`i expats, and when they would return from their annual visits home, they would bring me suitcases filled with the latest releases (often on 8-track tapes, which is pretty indicative of the era). And even to my six-year-old ears (although, admittedly, my ears were more mature than some many years my senior as I was a musician’s son and a budding musician myself), the growing dichotomy in the music scene in Hawai`i was clear. Half of the records were by groups that incorporated more traditional Hawaiian sounds (and lyrics in the Hawaiian language) with more modern rhythms and influences from far beyond the islands’ boundaries (such as rock, jazz, classical, Latin, and country). (Never 5,000 miles away would I have heard the phrase “Hawaiian renaissance.” Of course, the hindsight of history being 20/20, I don’t think Hawai`i knew it was experiencing a renaissance of music and culture while it was happening.) But the other half of the records sounded just like what I heard on the radio in my suburban New Jersey home. The only difference was that the groups might be wearing aloha shirts or the album cover might be adorned with a red anthurium blossom. (Some of you know precisely what album cover I just referenced.) To my ears, this was not Hawaiian music, but it was clearly music that resonated with Hawaiians, and so perhaps not at all ironically this continues to be the prevailing music on Hawai`i radio nearly 40 years later – as if Hawai`i were stuck in a bit of a time warp, as if it were trying to capture and continuously relive something precious about its past, the halcyon days of our youth, making life not unlike a perpetual Kui Lee song. 

Some of those musicians are gone, and others remain and are still active on the local music scene. But almost all of their fans continue to reminisce – on a daily basis – about hanabata days and the music that was the soundtrack of their life. It was with the goal of reminiscing in mind that entertainer Jeffrey Apaka spawned the wildly popular Facebook group Waikiki & Honolulu in the 70’s & 80’s – a follow-up to his wildly successful first attempt, Waikiki & Honolulu in the 50’s & 60’s – with the mission of sharing pictures and remembrances of the people and places that made the era so very special. As I said about the other Facebook page (where I have spent countless hours scrolling the page), I love reading and learning from this page’s nearly 2,800 participants. Invariably when talking about venues that have been lost to the ravages of time and progress like so many grains of sands on Waikiki Beach, up pop the names of the entertainers who made those places so much more special. And then maybe a picture of them to jog the memory. And every time I think to myself… A picture of a musician is like a poem about a great meal. It is the wrong medium to describe such a fully sensory experience. What you really need to do is hear those musicians. But like the venues where they performed, most of the recordings have also been lost with time – many released on vinyl only once and never re-released in the digital era because the master tapes are long gone or their keepers feel that they no longer have any commercial value. 

And it is with this aim that Ho`olohe Hou begins a new category of articles with related sound clips which I have simply entitled “70s and 80s.” I have scrolled back through months of activity on the Waikiki & Honolulu in the 70’s & 80’s Facebook page and noted all of the mentions of the great entertainment venues and the names that have been dropped who made those venues famous, and I will offer brief articles about those venues or entertainers with appropriate sound clips included to more fully recreate the era for those who were there to better reminisce and for those of who weren’t to try to put ourselves in that unique and rare moment in time.

I will also be resurrecting a segment that I have not addressed since the days when Ho`olohe Hou was a radio show. The segment was inspired by the old radio program broadcast from the Moana Hotel in the 1960s – Waikiki After Dark – which did remote live broadcasts of the great musicians of the era since there is nothing that recaptures the atmosphere of those nights – glasses clinking, laughter, sing-alongs, applause – like a live recording, and there are many in the Ho`olohe Hou vaults. So from time to time I will offer up these recordings in the segment simply entitled “After Dark” since – after all – some of this magic happened outside of Waikiki , with legendary entertainers performing from Kane`ohe to Waianae to the North Shore, and even Maui, Kaua`i, and the Big Island. 

If you’re clicking around www.hoolohehou.org, just click on the decade or topic in the navigation pane – “70s/80s” or “After Dark” - where eventually all of the entertainers from each of these great eras will be represented. And who better to start with than an artist who got his start on the cusp of the 70s – thecreator of that fabulous Facebook group himself?...


Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 8:01am EDT