The Memory of Al Lopaka

For many Hawai’i locals, Al Lopaka’s name will conjure up great memories of good times spent on the town at restaurants and clubs no longer there - laughing and listening to music.  Singer and comedian Lopaka held court at a number of night spots including Kalia Gardens, Lopaka’s Lanai, Cock’s Roost, Honey’s, Kilani Tavern, the Queen’s Surf, Polynesian Pavillion, Duke Kahanamoku’s, and Latitude 20.

If Wainani Kanealii’s recording epitomized the sound of Hawai’i in the 1960s, then Al Lopaka and his band can be considered the instantly recognizable sound of Hawai’i in the 1970s.  This is not the music of the steel guitar, the ‘ukulele, and the upright bass.  This is the music of the electric bass, the electric piano, and the jangly Fender Jaguar. In short, the music - like the performer himself - is electric. It is Hawai’i-meets-the Wrecking Crew.  The music jumps and rocks.  There are few Hawaiian language lyrics.  It is music intended to appeal to both the local co-eds and the tourist trade.  This is perhaps why his album covers branded him as “the Sound of Young Hawaii.”

In addition to his musical endeavors, Al was an avid polo player - playing frequently with fellow Hawai’i music legend Gary Aiko. Sadly, Al’s life was cut short by a fatal polo accident in 1985 at the age of only 42.  Who knows how large Lopaka’s star might have shined in Hawai’i or around the world?

In his too short lifetime, Lopaka only released three albums, and only one of these remains in print.  This is an excerpt of a long out-of-print live recording entitled Al Lopaka Live! At The Hale Ho - an album funded by Don Ho, released on Ho’s label, and produced by Ho’s producer H.B. Barnum.  Don no doubt took an interest in Al because of the striking similarity in both their singing style and rapport with the audience.  At times, if you close your eyes and you hadn’t been told who this performer was, you might think this was Honey’s-era Don Ho.  Even Al’s band - in its instrumentation, energy, and use of the intricate backing vocals - is reminiscent of Ho’s own cohort of so many years, The Aliis.  This recording serves as an excellent time capsule of Hawai’i nightlife in the 1970s.

Today would have marked Lopaka’s 70th birthday.

This post is dedicated to Al‘s great friend Gary Aiko.

Direct download: Al_Lopaka_-_Live_at_the_Hale_Ho.mp3
Category:Waikiki After Dark -- posted at: 4:41pm EST

Hawaiian-Style Piano

Hawai’i musician Halehaku Seabury-Akaka and I were recently discussing the fine and rare art of Hawaiian-style piano.  And we concur that one of the best today is Iwalani Ho’omanawanui Apo. (You can just call her “Ho’o.”)  When asked who she felt was the greatest on the piano in Hawai’i, Ho’o cited the late, great Leila Hohu Kiaha.

A recipient of the Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 - which she knew she had been granted but regrettably passed away before receiving the honor - Auntie Leila’s unique piano playing is heard on too few recordings.  Most of these were in association with singers Kawai Cockett and Tony Conjugacion, but sadly most of the sides with Cockett have been out of print for decades.

Here is one such example of the great “Hawaiian swing” style of piano playing from Auntie Leila.  Because there are so few practitioners of this piano style remaining today - Ho’o Apo, Aaron Sala, and C. Lanihuli Lee come to mind - we rarely have the opportunity to hear the piano played in the Hawaiian band. But when there is no lead guitarist - such as a steel guitar or slack key player - present, the piano takes the lead - becoming responsible for the vamps that transition one verse of the hula ku’i song form to the next.  As no singing occurs through the two-bar vamps, this is the best opportunity to sneak a listen at the real talents of the pianist.  You will hear that the style - as offered here by Auntie Leila - is characterized by arpeggiating (or rolling the notes) in a chord for rhythmic effect as well as block chords that mimic the strumming of the guitar or ‘ukulele, often in syncopation (or slightly off the beat from) the other rhythmic elements in the band.  This aspect of the style may be rooted in ragtime piano playing.  At the same time, she might play single note “fills” in those gaps of each verse where no singing takes place so that a song maintains its momentum - particular if there is hula to go with the song.  But she is also ever careful to remain tasteful and respectful to the singer and not “overplay.”

This song - “Ha’aheo ‘Oe Maui” - is from Kawai Cockett’s LP simply entitled “Kawai.”  I enjoy this more every time I hear it since it not only features the sounds of the Hawaiian-style piano played as it should be by Auntie Leila Hohu Kiaha, but also the ‘ukulele strummed like nobody else could - or ever will again - by Kawai Cockett.  Uncle Kawai’s contributions to the history of Hawaiian music cannot be underestimated, so you will no doubt hear from him again here soon.

Released in 1981 on the Lohe Records label, it has been more than 30 years since this recording has been available in any format.

This post is dedicated to my friends Kamala Lovena Aina-Cockett and Ha’aheo Cockett.

Direct download: Haaheo_Oe_Maui.mp3
Category:Piano -- posted at: 10:13am EST

Hau’oli La Hanau e Wainani!

Hawai’i musician Keith Haugen and I agree on practically everything.  One of these many things is that one of the great voices from Hawai’i of all time belongs to the lovely Wainani Kanealii Yim.

In the mid-1960s, Wainani recorded her one and only solo album - Songs of the Pacific - for the Sounds of Hawaii label. Featuring music of Hawai’i, Tahiti, New Zealand and beyond, the album continued to stretch the boundaries of Polynesian music.  During this period, Hawaiian music continued to evolve to include elements of the burgeoning sound of rock-and-roll, and this is evident in the production of Paul Mark - a staple of the Sounds of Hawaii label - and the often hip arrangements of Lydia Wong.  For example, it was still unusual to hear the sound of the slack key guitar atop the “snap” of the snare drum. The result is an exquisite melding of the traditional and - a term that had not been coined yet - contemporary Hawaiian music.

On this recording, Wainani’s voice is joined by those of Lydia Wong and Iwalani Kahalewai.  And the slack key guitar is none other than at the hands of “Atta” Isaacs of the famed musical Isaacs family of Hawai’i.  I love the song you hear here - Maddy Lam’s composition “Ke Anuenue” - because it incorporates all of these elements - the voices in typical Hawaiian harmony, the slack key guitar, and the gentle nudge of the drum kit.  This song - as the rest of the album - signals a new era in the music of Hawai‘i.

Not too long ago I would have bemoaned that this beautiful album is no longer available.  But Lehua Records - owner of the Sounds of Hawaii catalog - has been working diligently to make these recordings available again rather expediently - direct to MP3.  Fortunately for all of us, Songs of the Pacific is now available from iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody, and Amazon.

And why Wainani, and why today, you ask?  Because just yesterday Auntie Wainani celebrated a birthday.  Hau’oli La Hanau e Wainani!  And mahalo for your beautiful music.

Direct download: Ke_Anuenue.mp3
Category:Female Vocalists -- posted at: 9:29am EST

Gabby Plays Steel

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.

Direct download: Sings_Your_Cares_Away.mp3
Category:Steel Guitar -- posted at: 8:52am EST

Themes (Or... What Are We Doing Here?)

Ho’olohe Hou is a blog dedicated to preserving Hawaiian music of a bygone era.  Much of the music discussed here will be forgotten by all but the families and friends of the artists and the very few (but ever growing number) of the more faithful practitioners of Hawaiian music.  But how do we do that constructively and promote conversation about the music?  One song and one artist at a time, of course! 

When this blog was previously accompanied by a podcast and - later - a radio program, I divided those programs into several thematic segments.  My goal with the new incarnation of Ho’olohe Hou is to revive those segments not as a lengthy and difficult-to-digest program, but with several short blog posts several times a week.  If you have three or four minutes to spare, you should be able to keep up with the happenings at Ho’olohe Hou

Here is a sneak peak at what we might discuss in the coming weeks, months, and - hopefully - years…  

Artists/Musicians - Discussion of a singer or musician and their importance to the history and evolution of Hawaiian music.  In time, we will have the opportunity to explore the girl singers, the boy singers, the falsetto singers, and even the vocal groups. We will also explore the men and women who mastered the steel guitar, slack key guitar, ‘ukulele, and the oft-overlooked bass.

Composers/Songs/Songwriting - Exploration of the unique art form that is the weaving of words into a lei that is a song for all of Hawai’i and Hawaiian music lovers everywhere to cherish.  

Waikiki After Dark - A once popular radio program broadcast across Hawai’i live from a Waikiki night spot, “Waikiki After Dark“ featured the best of the best of Hawai’i’s entertainers.  This blog will attempt to recreate magic moments from a forgotten era through live recordings of the legends of Hawai’i night life.  This means not only musicians who performed Hawaiian music, but also the sometimes under appreciated performers from Hawai’i who expressed themselves through other genres such as pop, rock, country, jazz, and even classical music.

OOPs - The double-entendre is that while we all know what an “oops” is, the gaff to be explored here is why a classic recording from Hawai’i has been allowed to go - as collectors say - “out of print” (OOP).  This segment will explore rare recordings from the vinyl (and even shellac) era which inexplicably have not been remastered for the CD or MP3 era.

Rarities - Recordings from my personal collection which are extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind.

Periods/Evolution/Influences - Maybe three different categories or perhaps just one all encompassing one, we will explore the various periods in the history of Hawaiian music over the last 100 years - from the earliest recording to the most recent - as well as the subtle or not so subtle transition from one period to the next and the various influences from within and outside of Hawaiian music that informed those changes.

Then and Again - To illustrate the evolution of Hawaiian music, it can be useful to listen to the same song fashioned in different ways by different artists over time.

Three Of A Kind - A whimsical contest in which we will hear three songs and you guess what those three songs have in common - for a prize!

Precious Meetings - The pairing of two outstanding Hawaiian music artists who came together for a brief, magical moment in the recording studio to create something that was truly more than the sum of its parts.

Hawaiian Music Around The World - A look at artists from outside of the islands who fell in love with the music of Hawai’i and who spent their lives sharing the joy of Hawaiian music in their homelands.

Birthdays/Passings - We will celebrate days throughout the year when legends of Hawaiian music first arrived as well as those saddest of days when they left us for the heavenly choir. 

These themes will become searchable categories and tags on the Ho’olohe Hou blog.  Note that a blog post may be associated with more than one tag. 

And these are just a few of the ideas for themes we can use as a launching pad for discussing the beauty and uniqueness of Hawaiian music and aritsts from Hawai’i.  If you think of others, drop me a line at 


Bill Wynne

Category:general -- posted at: 8:20am EST

Twelfth Night Again - And Another New Beginning

If a tree falls in the woods and there‘s no one around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

So many greats of Hawaiian music have passed unceremoniously from this life into the next. Sometimes all we remember are their names because their music has been of so little importance - at least commercially, since record companies are businesses, after all - their voices and the magical sound of their hands upon the instruments they mastered has been lost forever - gone with the demise of the vinyl record, never to see the light of day on a CD or an MP3.

To say that Hawaiian music has been a huge part of my life would be an understatement.  Hawaiian music has been my life. Hawaiian music filled my home before I was born.  My father is still a much called upon steel guitarist.  My mother danced hula and played the bass.  I was born into a home steeped in Hawaiian music.  With instruments lying about the house, I learned to play ‘ukulele, slack key guitar, steel guitar, and bass.  I learned to sing falsetto songs in the Hawaiian language by listening to the numerous Hawaiian music recordings stacked in dusty corners in the basement and the attic. And I researched the stories behind the songs in order to better understand them.  The conundrum is that - try as I might - I cannot find anyone in my lineage who was of Hawaiian descent.

Over the last 40 years, I have amassed more instruments and more Hawaiian music recordings - many rare and out of print.  I began making an annual mecca (and sometimes more often than that) to Hawai’i to learn more about this unique music and culture and to meet my heroes of Hawaiian music.  The most beautiful thing about pursuing my interest in Hawaiian music has been the amazing friends I made.  The more lovers of Hawaiian music I chatted with, the more I understood that there was no small number of treasures from my Hawaiian music collection that few in Hawai’i had ever heard. The advent of the internet made it possible to share these recordings with my friends in Hawai’i.  And so six years ago - on a Twelfth Night in 2007 - I decided to launch a blog and a podcast which I dubbed - with the assistance of Hawaiian language expert Keith Haugen - Ho’olohe Hou, which means “to hear again.”  The goal was to entertain and educate at the same time - a sort of NPR version of a Hawaiian music radio program.  The show quickly gained a following - particularly among musicians in Hawai’i.  But the program was immediately fraught with difficulties. On the personal front, producing a two-hour radio program each week actually took me in excess of 20 hours.  I had no idea what I was doing, and the bulk of that time was spent on my learning curve and on remastering from archaic recording formats to make the music presentable for the 21st century.  And then a number of friends and fans suggested that what I was doing was not entirely legal because of the complex web of copyright law - a web that has yet to be untangled.  Fearing repercussions, I gave up the ghost after only nine episodes.

Then, a brief reprise for Ho’olohe Hou in August 2007 in the form of Las Vegas-based internet radio station 50th State Radio. Through that medium, my show could be broadcast legally and all royalties and mechanical licensing fees paid to musicians and composers.  I was relieved, but that relief was short-lived.  After producing and airing only an additional two dozen episodes, I learned that the station’s owner passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  And amidst the sadness, 50th State Radio and Ho’olohe Hou passed with him.

Finally, one more go at it.  At the urging of ethnomusicologist Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman, in August 2009 I started the blog again but not the podcast while podcasting royalties were still in a state of uncertainty.  I quickly realized that writing a blog about music without being able to hear the music was like doing an interpretive dance about a fine dining experience.

So, why now?  What’s changed?  The thousands of recordings in my vast and ever-growing Hawaiian music collection are like so many trees in a dying forest.  Here they sit, collecting dust in a mausoleum of Hawaiian music which is situated - most ironically - in New Jersey. They do not make a sound.  Unless I spin one of them, alone - in which case they make a very lonely sound.  Facebook was in its infancy when I last maintained Ho’olohe Hou.  Although I was not a fan from the start, Facebook has become an invaluable tool for keeping in touch with my friends in Hawai’i on a daily basis and - much to my surprise - for making new friends who love Hawaiian music as deeply as I do.  Whenever I post clips of forgotten Hawaiian songs and artists to my Facebook page, the “LIKES” are innumerable.  I have also spent a considerable amount of time researching the concept of “fair use” of copyrighted materials for educational purposes. Fair use guidelines are not really “guidelines” at all.  Any use of copyrighted material is subject to scrutiny by the copyright holder.  However, there are a number of tests of what constitutes “fair use.”  Most of these almost anyone can comprehend and abide by.  The quantity of material shared publicly by an artist or composer in the name of “fair use” should be a bare minimum.  The less shared, the more likely it would be deemed “fair use.”  The material shared should not compete with material available commercially.  This means that in order to be considered “fair use,” the material should not be available for purchase elsewhere - potentially jeopardizing the livelihood of the arists. The material should not be able to be retained by the listeners, such as through a download.  This would surely violate the previous tenet of supposed “fair use” material competing commercially.  And the material used as a “fair use” example for educational purposes should ultimately educate through critique or criticism of the music or artist - which had been the goal of Ho’olohe Hou from the beginning.

So, this is a new beginning, and this is my charter for Ho’olohe Hou: This blog and related Facebook page will continue to be dedicated to the preservation and sharing of rare Hawaiian music.  Examples of music by artists and composers will be shared in the smallest possible quantities with an emphasis on music no longer commercially available so that no artists’ livelihoods are jeopardized through these efforts.  However, occasionally more recent music samples may be necessary to illustrate the continuum - or juxtaposition - of the past and present of Hawaiian music.  For this reason all music samples will be shared using a proprietary player which does not promote the downloading and offsite saving of this music so that these efforts do not compete with music which may still be commercially available. All music samples will be posted for the sole purpose of illustrating the various aspects of Hawaiian music and its evolution and will be accompanied by appropriate critique or commentary to provide each music sample with the appropriate historical context. And any parties claiming to be the artist or owner of the copyright of these materials may request to have samples of their work removed from this blog, and all such requests will be honored - no challenges, no questions asked.

Most importantly, I hope this will be the longest post on this blog for the here ever after.

I do hope that the intersection of the blog (hosted by Liberated Syndication, or Libsyn) and Facebook will serve as a springboard for stimulating discussion of our mutual interest: Hawaiian music.  In the coming days, in addition to music posts, I will begin to jot down my ramblings about the themes I hope to explore here. If there are themes or artists you would like to hear more about or from, drop me a line at

Here’s hoping this grand experiment is a success once and for all. Mahalo for the continuing privilege and honor of contributing to the colorful and varied history of Hawaiian music and the entertainment industry in Hawai’i.

As I used to say to begin each week’s program… It’s time for more music and memories of Hawai’i.  This is Ho’olohe Hou.  Are you listening?

Me ka ha’aha’a,

(Humbly yours),

Bill Wynne

Hawaiian Music Enthusiast

Category:Announcements -- posted at: 11:37pm EST