Sun, 7 September 2014
In our last segment we discussed Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs the composer and his countless songs that have become woven into the lei that is now considered “traditional Hawaiian music” despite that – in his time – Isaacs was considered a trendsetter both in terms of his sound and his approach to songwriting. Here are still a few more classics from the pen of Alvin Isaacs performed by his friends, admirers, and even his own family.
“Sing Your Cares Away” is an Alvin Isaacs composition performed by Sam Kahalewai with Alvin Isaacs himself in the studio on the rhythm guitar, his son Norman Isaacs on bass, and at the steel guitar – brace yourselves – none other than Gabby Pahinui. Fans of Hawaiian music immediately recognize Gabby’s name as the folk hero most frequently associated with slack key guitar. But steel guitar aficionados know Gabby first and foremost for his unmistakable touch and tone on the steel and his ever tasteful and jazzy playing. Gabby only gets the 16-bar intro and a 16-bar solo break in the middle section (which, at these tempos, is about 26 seconds of air time), but any Gabby fan would recognize him from two notes. This is from one of the most rare items in my collection, the LP entitled A Lei Of Songs From Sam. Clearly labeled “Recorded in Hawaii” on the LP’s cover, the record was pressed and distributed by Four Winds Recording of Hutchinson, Kansas! It is among the most coveted albums by fans of Gabby’s steel playing or Alvin’s compositions of which a half dozen are featured (only one of which has been recorded since – “Ki`ipau Chant” which was covered by Teresa Bright in the 1990s). In my discussions with the Pahinui family, Gabby’s son, Martin, and grandson, John (affectionately referred to as “Gabby” for his grandfather) are searching desperately for the master tapes to broker a rerelease. But did I mention that the record company was in… Hutchinson, KS?
The golden throated Ray Kinney sings one of Isaacs’ most popular and enduring compositions, “Nani,” which simply means “beautiful.” The Hilo-born Kinney rose to prominence nationwide when he opened at New York City’s famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in 1937. (Kinney’s Hawaiian Room days are chronicled elsewhere at Ho`olohe Hou.) By the time of this recording – 20 years later – Kinney was already an elder statesman of Hawaiian music – serving both as performer and entertainment director for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. Many of the voices in the chorus are almost recognizable but – alas – undocumented. But steel guitarists everywhere do not require documentation to be assured that the steel player here is again Alvin’s son, Barney. This lovely selection is from the 1957 Liberty Records LP entitled Remember Waikiki.
“Ta-ha-ua-la” is Papa Alvin’s twist on the “Hawaiian War Chant” (which is neither a chant nor about war but, rather, a princely love song written by Prince Leleiohoku of Hawai`i’s last royal family – all of whom were talented composers). The original lyric was co-opted by composer/arranger/publisher Johnny Noble for the modern era, and the uptempo arrangement stuck despite that it belies the lyric’s gentle and loving nature. Because turnabout is fair play, Isaacs took Leleiohoku’s original lyric and re-co-opted it in this tongue-twisting number performed by the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus (of the famed radio broadcasts) from one of their earliest LPs, the 1958 Capitol Records release Hula Island Favorites. In the first verse you hear the male chorus (which includes a then very young Danny Kaleikini in one of his first appearances on record) led by Sonny Nicholas, but none other than Haunani Kahalewai leads the vocals for the rest of the trip. You also hear the ladies vocal chorus of sisters Lani Custino and Nina Keali`iwahamana plus Punini McWayne. The steel guitarist is the great Jules Ah See.
Closing out this set, Alvin’s son, Norman Isaacs, sings dad’s composition “Ku`ulani” which was released both as a Waikiki Records single and on two of its compilation LPs (Duke Kahanamoku’s Favorites and In Hawaii The Story Starts). As Alvin’s son, Barney, served as a sort of “house arranger” for Waikiki Records during this period, this is again Barney’s steel guitar you hear along with brother Norman’s bass and lead vocals (which range from tenor through a typically Hawaiian falsetto) and the backing vocals and rhythm guitar of their friend, Gabby Pahinui. You will hear more from Norman Isaacs again when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates his October birthday.
Next time: The story behind Alvin Isaacs’ most beloved composition…
Sun, 7 September 2014
September 8th marks the anniversary of the birth of Helen Desha Beamer whose influence on Hawaiian music and hula are still keenly felt nearly a century-and-a-half later. Join me for a week-long tribute to this grande dame of Hawaiian culture...
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Sun, 7 September 2014
When last we discussed the music of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, we discussed “Papa” the musician – the new sound he heard in his head and how he realized it with what is now considered to be a “supergroup” known as the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders (comprised of now legendary George Kainapau’s falsetto, Tommy Castro’s unique steel guitar playing, and the falsetto voice and forward-thinking arrangements of Benny Kalama). But we cannot forsake Alvin Isaacs the prolific composer whose songs – both the Hawaiian-language and hapa-haole (English-language songs about Hawaiian themes) – have stood the test of time. In this segment we listen to a few of Papa’s songs that have become classics but which were recorded by his contemporaries in Hawaiian music from the 1950s and 60s. You are a bound to hear a voice you haven’t heard in a very long time (or may perhaps be hearing for the first time), and you will no doubt hear a song Isaacs wrote and mutter aloud, “I love that song… I had no idea he wrote that!”
First, the quintessential version of perhaps the most often performed and recorded Alvin Isaacs’ composition by Hawai`i’s most famous voice. Alfred Apaka sings “Nalani” which he recorded in June 1947 with a group led by Randy Oness and featuring Pua Almeida on steel guitar. During the middle of the last century – for a variety of reasons – “Nalani” may have been the most recognizable Hawaiian song across the country and around the world. We will explore the long and storied history of “Nalani” here at Ho`olohe Hou soon.
Singer, dancer, bandleader, and actor Ernest Kawohilani – known professionally as “Prince Kawohi” – is probably best known for his long affiliation on stage and TV screen with the orchestra led by Harry Owens – giving him national exposure. Here the “Prince” delivers one of Alvin’s least recorded compositions, “Uina Uina.” Recorded in Los Angeles in 1955 when Hollywood was a hotbed of the finest ex-patriot local musicians from Honolulu, the session likely included musicians who worked together regularly on stage and in the local clubs at the time including Sam Koki, Sonny Kamahele, Sam Kaapuni, Harry Baty, Pua Almeida, and almost certainly Danny Stewart on the steel guitar.
“Ho`omalimali” means “to flatter.” And the lively and humorous “Ho`omalimali E” is sung here by Fely Gabriel – a “vibrant, wriggling package of dynamite from Alohaland” according to the program from the 1964 New York World’s Fair where she appeared with the Hawai`i delegation led by Sterling Mossman. Gabriel had a long career in both California and Hawai`i – including appearing in Alfred Apaka’s show at the Hawaiian Village Hotel. The selection is from a Waikiki Records compilation LP. Gabriel sings here in front of a band led by Alvin’s son, Barney Isaacs, on steel guitar (a sound which graced many a recording of his father’s songs) and which includes other son, Norman Isaacs, on the bass and – whoa! – Gabby Pahinui on guitar. As I am always eager to meet the living legends of Hawaiian music, I feel very fortunate to have recently made Fely Gabriel’s acquaintance. Hopefully I will be able to share more about her life and career with you soon.
Known as “Hawaii’s First Lady Of Song” for her voice boasting a more than three-octave range and which was heard around the world every week for years on the famed Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts, Haunani Kahalewai soothes the savage beast with “Moon Of The Southern Seas” from the 1960 Capitol Records LP of the same name. Haunani’s Capitol-era recordings featured musicians from the Hawaii Calls radio program (arranged by Benny Kalama), so most of her output during this period features Jules Ah See on steel guitar. But Jules passed away earlier in 1960 when this LP was released. For these sessions, you hear Jules’ great friend, Barney Isaacs, once again on steel guitar.
Next time: More Alvin Isaacs’ compositions by some of Hawai`i’s finest voices…