Enter Aloma of the South Seas…

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Our investigation into the Lani McIntire aggregation’s tenure in the Hawaiian Room has so far led us to believe that he worked this room – in various combinations – from 1938 until 1951. And we have made tremendous use of the discographical information to determine that Bob Nichols was the first steel guitarist with McIntire during this period and that Sam Koki came second. So, who’s on third? 

By all accounts (and, again, I whine that among the leading books on Hawaiian music and steel guitar, a total of two lines have been written on this subject), Hal Aloma held the steel guitar post at the Hawaiian Room during the early 1940s after Koki’s departure. According to the only source available, despite getting an early start in Hawaiian music back home in Honolulu, Aloma rose to prominence once he was recruited by McIntire to assume the Hawaiian Room steel guitar throne. The discographical information corroborates this since Aloma’s first session with the McIntire big band took place in January 1944. Hal went on to record some (now acclaimed) sides under his own name in NYC a little later in the year between February and March 1944. But his turn with McIntire the month before appear to be Aloma’s first appearance on record – indicating that he was in NYC in the right period to be Koki’s successor in the Hawaiian Room. 

But Aloma may have joined the McIntire group at the Lexington Hotel even earlier than this. We stated earlier that Koki had left the band by 1942 (based both on the date of his last recording session with McIntire on June 30, 1942). Surely the Hawaiian Room did not go without the sound of the steel guitar for a year-and-a-half from June 1942 until January 1944. But it is important to note that this same period saw no new recordings by McIntire’s orchestra – or almost any artist, for that matter.  On August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) launched a strike against the major American recording companies because of disagreements over royalty payments. According to Wikipedia, “Beginning at midnight, July 31, no union musician could record for any record company. That meant that a union musician was allowed to participate on radio programs and other kinds of musical entertainment, but not in a recording session in a recording.” While never cited as such, for this writer the strike marked the death knell of Hawaiian music on the mainland U.S. Hawaiian music was already waning in popularity, and as a purely business argument, there would be no good reason for the major labels to continue to produce Hawaiian music records if they were as costly as any other type of record to make but would now have to pay greater royalties for shrinking revenue. McIntire’s recording home for nearly a decade, Decca Records, was among the first labels to settle with the AFM in September 1943, agreeing to make direct payments to a union-controlled “relief fund.” But by then I believe it was too late. McIntire’s next records – as well as those by most of the other notable mainland Hawaiian music artists – over the next few years were released by Decca, Capitol, or Columbia but, rather, by such forgettable budget labels as Sonora, Varsity, Variety, Allegro, and Elite. (McIntire would not be affiliated with a major label for another six years when he would cut sides for MGM.) 

As more than merely an interesting aside, this AFM strike resulted in a new era of “Prohibition” for record labels – many of which made the conscious (albeit unconscionable) business decision to bootleg themselves and their own artists. It is now widely understood by the record collecting community that the upstart Royale, Varsity, Allegro, Elite, Halo, and Concertone labels were all owned and operated anonymously by the Record Corporation of America (RCA). In order to continue generating revenue during this strike while averting paying royalties, a label like RCA would release its back catalog (or – worse still – as yet unreleased recordings by its currently signed artists) under the presumably completely disassociated vanity labels. And in order not to bristle the artists themselves, they would have to use pseudonyms for the artists. So a recording made Johnny Pineapple might be released under the not so veiled moniker of “Johnny Poi.” This must have confused the market terribly and – to my mind – further led to the demise of the popularity of Hawaiian music during this period. The most notable example of this pseudonymous preposterousness arose when one label began issuing one of its real artist’s recordings under the real name of another real artist. For a period of time, recordings made by Hawaiian notables Bernie Ka`ai Lewis and Danny Kua`ana were released under the name Lani McIntire. And why not? Lani McIntire was still popular and his group still going strong at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room five years running. Why not capitalize on that? Who but the most ardent fan or savvy Hawaiian music analyst would know the difference? And the hoax continues to be perpetrated on “crate-divers” to this day – many picking up what they believe to be a Lani McIntire treasure on Royale for a mere $1 and never realizing that the group on the record is Ka`ai and Kua`ana. (The joke is doubly funny when one realizes that the second cost cutting measure employed by these labels during this period was the use of an inferior shellac in the manufacturing of these records – resulting in a super thick and sturdy platter but with such substantial surface noise that the artist and the music in those grooves becomes virtually unrecognizable anyway.)

So, anyway, given that McIntire cut no records for the duration of the strike, we cannot be certain whether Aloma assumed the Hawaiian Room steel guitar post in July 1942 (when Koki left) or January 1944 (when McIntire released his first records using Aloma). But this is immaterial since regardless of when the Aloma era began, it is now regarded as a golden era in Hawaiian music and the Hawaiian Room. Here are just a few of the memorable sides those 1940s sessions yielded. 

The set opens with “Na Pua O Hawai`i” which features Hal on both steel guitar and lead vocals. The session personnel – except for Aloma and McIntire – are unknown, but as with other McIntire sessions, given the presence of the woodwinds, brass, piano, and drums, these are highly likely fellow musicians working in the Hawaiian Room under McIntire every evening (or, at least, the big band sound that visitors to the Hawaiian Room were likely to hear). The opening steel chorus reveals Aloma’s preferred soloing method of chord melody (i.e., harmonizing the melody with full chords which requires playing very quickly across multiple strings rather than one at a time – a very difficult technique). And the modulation in the out chorus reveals that Aloma also possesses an appealing falsetto which would may have been lacking in the Hawaiian Room since the departure of George Kainapau and Danny Kua`ana before him. 

“Okole Maluna” features similar big band instrumentation as that heard on “Na Pua O Hawai`i.” The winds and horns take the opening chorus this time followed by a jaunty single-string steel solo from Hal – demonstrating that he is more than a one-trick chord melody pony. Lani takes the lead vocal on this song about a popular Hawaiian toast which is not very Hawaiian at all. (“Okole maluna” is the literal translation of the English “your bottom toward the moon,” but the term “okole” refers to a very specific location on the posterior typically used indelicately as a reference to one who is – simply put – not nice.) 

“Makala Pua” [sic] (real title “O Makalapua”) is one of the many Hawaiian songs that honors its royal history – this one referring to Queen Lili`uokalani by her many nicknames (such as “Kamaka`eha” and “Makalapua”). The tasteful arrangement gives us something new: a string section. As there is no pictorial evidence that the Hawaiian Room ever employed violins and violas, this addition was likely only for this session and marks a rare recording by McIntire in such a formal setting. But such is called for in a song honoring a queen. The vocal trio is Hal, Lani, and (likely) Lani’s brother, Al, who was still with the orchestra during this period.  

The next selection is most surprising and evidences that this New York City-based group has both some seriously deep Hawaiian roots and a finger on the pulse of modern music. “Tomo Pono” is a playful song known primarily to residents of the island of Hawai`i (sometimes referred to erroneously as “the Big Island”). The song lends itself to the boogie woogie arrangement – an arrangement which demonstrates that McIntire (and whoever his arranger was during this period) was abreast of the public’s tastes in music. (Although boogie woogie existed as a solo piano form since the 1920s, it was not fully expanded into big band form until more than a decade later. A version of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" - considered the first boogie woogie “hit” in 1928, first recorded by its composer, piano player Pine Top Smith – arranged for big band and recorded by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra band was not merely a huge hit for Dorsey in the mid-1940s but became the swing era's second best-selling record.) In this arrangement, the steel guitar trades quick boogie woogie “fours” (four bar solos) with the winds and brass. And the vocal trio – likely Hal, Lani, and Al again – do the syncopated rhythmic lyric justice at about 150 bpms (beats per minute). 

Despite that the documented discography of Aloma with McIntire ends abruptly at 1944, one source indicates that Aloma spent four years in the Hawaiian Room with McIntire – bringing us to 1948. But that is not the end of Aloma’s story either. Like nearly all other Hawaiian Room alumni, Aloma – barely thirty when his first stay at the Hawaiian Room came to a close – went on to a long and varied career in Hawaiian music, perpetuating his culture for audiences on the mainland from NYC to Florida when capped off his amazing career as the first band leader at the Polynesian Village for the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida on October 1, 1971. Ho`olohe Hou has honored Aloma previously, and his swingin’ small group sides from the late 1950s are worth a listen. 

Next time: Aloma is out. Next?!...


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Lani_Mcintire_with_Hal_Aloma.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 7:39pm EDT

Ho`olohe Hou “Sharing Is Caring” Contest

They say that one writes for themselves. They also philosophize about whether or not a tree falling in the woods makes a sound if there is nobody around to hear it. Either way, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the blog I call Ho`olohe Hou for many years now, but I have most enjoyed it since creating a Facebook page where you – the reader – can respond to what you read and hear. The Facebook page currently has nearly 450 faithful readers – based on page “LIKES” – and has received more page reads/listens since January 2013 (when I relaunched Ho`olohe Hou as a blog) than in the previous five years combined. August saw a record-setting 1,231 reads/listens. 

The goal now – despite that I continue to write for myself and talk about the people and the music that move me and why – is to spread the news about Ho`olohe Hou. And with Facebook, that is as easy as a click to share a post. You have seen the ambitious roster of artists and topics that I have lined up for October. What a tremendous opportunity to share this music with Hawaiian music-loving friends or with those who have not yet experienced the joys of Hawai`i, its special people, and its unique musical heritage. During the month of October, I am going to try to provide an unprecedented amount of content – as many as 50 new posts (in honor of Hawai`i being the 50th state). If every fan of Ho`olohe Hou shares just one post, and if each post garners just one new page “LIKE,” the blog can more than double its readership in only one month. 

To encourage you to share the music that moves you – or even the music that doesn’t – I am sweetening the deal. I will be counting the post shares for the month of October, and the reader who shares the most posts will receive two free Hawaiian music CDs (up to a $30 value plus shipping) from the inventory of Me Ke Aloha, my “go to” web retailer for all new Hawaiian music releases. You’ll simply go shopping, select any two single CDs, tell me what you choose, and I will order it for you and have it shipped directly to you. It’s that simple. You get to go shopping with me. Don’t know what to pick up? The first page of inventory at Me Ke Aloha is an embarrassment of riches. I highly recommend two new releases by my friends Keikilani Lindsey and Kapono Na`ili`ili (both of whom will be featured on Ho`olohe Hou soon, once I can catch them standing still long enough to chat with them about their music). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. You have to win first. And in order to win, you have to play. So keep reading and start sharing! 

Mahalo nui for your support and encouragement and for taking this opportunity to broaden Ho`olohe Hou’s reach and increase our happy family!

~ Bill Wynne


Category:Announcements -- posted at: 7:17am EDT

Koki, Koki! Lend Us Your Steel…

Ho`olohe Hou continues to honor the musicians of the Hawaiian Room – the New York City venue which for nearly 30 years delivered authentic Hawaiian song and dance to exceedingly appreciative mainland audiences.  

Our investigation into the Lani McIntire aggregation’s tenure in the Hawaiian Room has so far led us to believe that he worked this room – in various combinations – from 1938 until 1951. And in the absence of photographic evidence, we have used the discographical information to determine that the great Bobby Nichols was the first steel guitarist in McIntire’s employ. Let’s make us of this same data to determine which steel player came next. 

I mentioned previously that Nichols’ was the sole steel guitarist to appear on recordings by McIntire-led aggregations in the Hawaiian Room era in New York City through March 21, 1940 (when there was a first – and only – appearance by steel guitarist Bob True, a steel guitarist about whom surprisingly even less is written than about Nichols). But beginning with an April 14, 1941 session in NYC, the legendary Sam Koki became McIntire’s go to steel player for sessions for at least the next two years. Not only is there pictorial evidence that Koki worked the room with McIntire, we also have as-close-as-possible-to-first-hand-accounts. According to current Hawaiian music artist singer Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom whose grandmother, Jennie Napua Woodd was the featured dancer (and occasional featured vocalist) in the room during this period, Koki was clearly there every night dutifully behind McIntire because Woodd was dating him. Fair enough. Given all of these tidbits, can we assume that Koki succeeded Nichols in the coveted steel guitar chair of the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room? 

With regard to Hawaiian music and – specifically – steel guitarists, Ho`olohe Hou has spent a great deal of time and energy trying to sort out legend from lore. And like so many other Hawaiian music artists, there may be more of lore about Koki than legend. Much of what has been written about him is purely anecdotal and, therefore, ultimately, contradictory. One source indicates he arranged for certain major motion pictures, but more reliable sources indicate that the same arrangements were done by Hollywood heavyweights. (I am referring here to Koki being credited as the arranger of “Sweet Leilani” and other hits from the score to the Bing Crosby vehicle Waikiki Wedding. Koki may have appeared as a steel guitarist on screen in the film, but sources dispute that he was the orchestrator or even that he played steel guitar on these songs.) Many sources have him recording with such non-Hawaiian artists as Gene Autry, but the discographical information puts Koki in the wrong place and time to have been on the sessions. And many believe that whenever Koki was in the recording studio that he was necessarily the steel guitarist when – in fact – he often traded steel chores with other band members who did an equally admirable job. (This is true of many sides by Sam Koki and His Paradise Islanders on which it is assumed that Koki is the lone steeler, but those “in the know” that the vast majority of the steel playing on those sides was performed by fellow steeler Danny Stewart.) Part of the lore is that affixing Koki’s name to any work during this period largely made it gold by association (or Iona’s name, for that matter, with whom Koki got his start). I do love unraveling the legend and the lore, but as there are many more Hawaiian Room steel players to tribute and very short little time remaining to pay tribute in the time I have allotted, I am going to have to reserve a full-scale investigation into Sam Koki for another time.  

Also interesting, however, is that most of Koki’s steel work on McIntire recordings during the Hawaiian Room era is with the smaller group of the Hawai`i delegation – not the big band sound one would have heard every evening at the venue. In no attempt to pull a “bait-and-switch,” I am going to here feature selections where Koki is playing steel with a similar group of the period, Mannie Klein’s Hawaiians, an aggregation which on record sounds much more like McIntire’s Hawaiian Room big band. An unusual name to lead a Hawaiian music group, Klein was considered one of the finest and most sought after trumpeters of the swing era. Starting out with the orchestra of Paul Whiteman in the late 1920s and working his way through numerous famed big bands through the band led by Artie Shaw in the 1940s, Klein forged an interesting alliance with Andy Iona at some point in the 1930s – Klein appearing on sides led by Iona for Columbia Records in Los Angeles in August 1934. Then, in an interesting turn, Klein decided to make similar records as leader under the name of Mannie Klein and His Swing-A-Hulas in May 1938. These sides featured Koki on steel and are some of the swingingest sides of the era if not – I dare say – some of the most Hawaiian (and not merely for a group led by a Jewish trumpet player). I thought it would be more interesting to hear Koki in the large group setting – even if it is not with the McIntire band – than it would be to hear him in the small group for which recordings abound. 

I have always loved all the irony around composer R. Alex Anderson’s “Malihini Mele.” The nonsense song – written mostly in the English language – co-opts Hawaiian language words and expressions to create a song that seemingly makes sense to any non-native speaker. The irony of course is that Anderson himself was a haole poking fun at haoles. This is one of the earliest recorded versions (the song was only copyrighted in 1934) dating to a May 1938 session in Los Angeles. Klein and Koki are the only session personnel identified. I love the way the song sneaks up on the listener – starting out as a whispered ballad (as if we’re learning a secret of all of this Hawaiian gibberish) and breaking out into a double-time swing chorus before slowing down to a bluesy ballad for the out chorus. Despite that Koki only gets an 8-bar break for a solo in the bridge of the uptempo middle section, I have always considered this one of the finest steel solos on record. 

From the same May 1938 session that gave us “Malihini Mele” comes “Moonlight In Waikiki” with a very straight-forward, very traditionally Hawaiian-style steel guitar solo by Koki. 

The closing tune features a vocalist who – we can be relatively certain by his tone and phrasing – is not a Hawaiian. The mystery vocalist is none other than Tony Martin who would not yet be a household name until signing with first 20th Century-Fox and later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a series of well received musical movies from the late 1930s through the 1940s. (He was also married to popular actress/dancer Cyd Charisse.) Here Tony sings the Alice Johnson composition “Aloha Ia No O Maui” – redubbed the “Island of Maui Hula” for this mainland U.S. release. Despite never having sung the language before, Martin’s attempt is admirable – clearly having been coached by Koki, the only Hawaiian on the session. The song nearly passed as “Hawaiian” until Martin scats behind the vocal trio on the repeat of the chorus. The tune was recorded in a session for Conqueror Records on June 5, 1938. 

Sam Koki’s last documented session with McIntire – and his last in New York City for a while – would be on June 30, 1942. At least one source says that Koki was with McIntire at the Hawaiian Room for two years, and the dates of the first and last recording sessions would serve to corroborate that. But there are no new recordings by the McIntire orchestra for another two years – a mystery for another time. Also for another time is the rest of the Sam Koki story as he went on to have a prosperous career in Hawaiian music for nearly another 30 years, mostly on the West Coast. Ho`olohe Hou will revisit the life and music of the enigmatic Koki when we celebrate his birthday next July. 

Next time: Koki is out. Next?!...


Direct download: Hawaiian_Room_-_Sam_Koki_with_Mannie_Klein.mp3
Category:Artists/Personalities -- posted at: 9:58pm EDT