Sat, 1 November 2014
When discussing the famed “Hawaiian Room” of the Lexington Hotel which had its heyday from its opening in 1935 through its demise in 1966, we talked about the earliest part of the career of a man who would become an icon of Hawaiian entertainment. Alfred Apaka had a humble start in entertainment, but with a voice and good looks like he possessed, he would eventually be rubbing elbows with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, and Dorothy Lamour. Apaka was not the first to be discovered and urged to take Hawaiian music beyond its island borders and across the mainland U.S. and around the world. But more than a half century later, Apaka’s is the name that is best remembered – perhaps thanks to his recording contracts with Decca and Capitol Records which can be found even in the record collections of those who do not consider themselves Hawaiian music aficionados. For a brief shining moment, Alfred Apaka was a household name – from the finest stages to records to TV – but as almost everyone who loves Hawaiian music already knows, the flame flickered out all too quickly and too soon when Apaka succumbed to a heart attack on a paddle ball court. He was 40 years old.
Time and history are funny things – distorting truths in order to romanticize them. Most historians agree that Apaka’s passing left a void in the Hawaiian entertainment scene, and this is true. But there were still many fine voices left – many of them still very young – who would carry Apaka’s mantle. If one is looking for an Apaka sound-alike, there is none more uncanny than Eddie Kekaula who was not impersonating Apaka but who simply sounded like him without even trying. Still, the void in the Hawaiian Village Hotel’s Tapa Room – where Apaka held court for nearly six years before his untimely passing – was filled with a woman: Mrs. Clara Haili Inter, better known to Hawai`i as Hilo Hattie.
More tragically, Apaka left behind a 13-year-old son, Jeffrey. Rightful inheritor of his father’s good looks, talent, and self-effacing charm, Jeff hit the entertainment scene running in September 1968 – barely 22 years old (although many started out even younger) – with an engagement at the Sheraton Hawaii Hotel, followed almost immediately with appearances at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in October of that same year. A rising star, Jeff hopped a flight to the mainland for an extended engagement at the Huntington Sheraton in Los Angeles, the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, and hopping another flight in the other direction for performances at the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo. And, the only thing Jeff and I have in common: We have both been first call performers for the Hawai`i Visitors and Convention Bureau. All of this acclaim landed Jeff a recurring guest spot on the weekly Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts – just like his father nearly 20 years earlier.
And this is where time and history get it wrong, I think. Despite that Jeff’s career has come full circle and he now appears weekly at the Hilton Hawaiian Village – just steps from where his father performed five decades earlier, steps away from the bronze statue that honors dad – Jeff is not now – and never was – a tribute act. He has not capitalized on the name. He does not exclusively perform his father’s repertoire. He is simply one of the countless sons or daughters of Hawaiian music legends who chose to forge the same path as their famous parents. Just as nobody accuses brothers Norman, Atta, and Barney Isaacs of riding their father’s coattails or Nina, Lani, Lahela, or Boyce Rodrigues of buying their way into a career in Hawaiian music solely on the name of their famous mother, neither is Jeff Apaka’s success the result of entertainment nepotism. Simply put, Jeff Apaka was and remains the real deal.
When Jeff was just breaking into the business, he made this very clear with his first recordings – despite recording under the Hawaii Calls moniker, forging a new sound that was not all `ukulele and steel guitar. Jeff’s first foray into a recording studio showed that he was not merely his father’s son by bringing to the table new compositions offered up in a style that bespoke a new Hawai`i – a young Hawai`i. Hence the title of the Capitol Records LP The Young Hawaiians which featured Jeff in the company of such other up-and-comers as Alex McAngus, Boyce Rodrigues, and Varoa Tiki. Here Jeff sings “Wonderful World of Aloha” from the pen of arranger/conductor Jon DeMello (who would later help give rise to the voices of Nina Keali`iwahamana and the Brothers Cazimero) and “Young Hawaii” which was composed by a pair of `ukulele wunderkind, Herb Ohta and Alvin Okami (the latter of which went on to found the KoAloha `Ukulele Company). The trio of ladies’ voices on “Wonderful World” are the aforementioned Rodrigues sisters (Nina, Lani, and Lahela, also of Hawaii Calls fame, and daughter of former Hawaii Calls cast regular Vicki I`i Rodrigues). The Fender Rhodes electric piano and the full drum kit (rarely used in Hawaiian music until the advent of rock-and-roll) signal the young Hawai`i of the album’s title, while the one holdout of old Hawai`i – the steel guitar – is wielded by Barney Isaacs (son of Hawaii Calls veteran Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs). “Wonderful World of Aloha” is special for a number of reasons, but chief among these has to be that three legacies of Hawaiian music – and the Hawaii Calls broadcasts, in particular – are perpetuated in this recording while managing to take Hawaiian music in new directions.
Many will no doubt hear shades of the elder Apaka in son Jeffrey’s voice. But seasoned musicians can hear more deeply that he is by no means a carbon copy. He proved that he was his own man – his own personality – in these early recordings, and he continues to prove it every time he steps on stage. He is simply the next in the many legacies of Hawaiian musical families – this one starting not with his father but, in fact, with his grandfather – and regardless of how time and history cast him, you really have to listen for yourself to understand what Jeff Apaka is all about. And when you do, you will understand that Jeff’s arrival on the Hawaiian music scene did not fill a void. Rather, Jeff Apaka forged a path forward while leaving open a crack in the door to a precious past that should not be forgotten…
Sat, 1 November 2014
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 EST
Sat, 1 November 2014
Whether in my capacity as musician, record collector, or writer, I have always felt the 1950s and 60s were the golden era of entertainment in Hawai`i. Most of my favorite singers and performers hit their stride in these decades, and because of the increase in tourism spurred by the greater availability (and, therefore, ever decreasing cost) of jet air travel, Waikiki and Honolulu ensured that they rolled out the red carpet – one restaurant or nightclub after another popping up with the aim of serving up food, fashion, and frivolity Hawaiian style. And Hawaiian style begins with music and hula.
Sadly most of the entertainers are gone, but many of their fans are still here to tell the tale. It was with the goal of reminiscing in mind that entertainer Jeffrey Apaka spawned the wildly popular Facebook group 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. I have spent countless hours scrolling the page and learning from its more than 3,000 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 “50s and 60s.” I have scrolled back through months of activity on the Waikiki & Honolulu in the 50’s & 60’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. 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. 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 – “50s/60s” 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 the creator of that fabulous Facebook group himself?...
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 7:42am EST
Sat, 1 November 2014
I had any number of goals in mind for this space when October began. But the overarching goal was to make reader/listeners more engaged. And at this I think that – together – we succeeded in spades.
How did I go about it? By providing an unprecedented amount of content for Ho`olohe Hou – perhaps for any blog or podcast ever. (I have no way of proving my last assertion, but it makes me feel terrific nonetheless!) Here is the month by the numbers…
Number of articles: 66
Word count: 79,163
Page count: 241 pages
Hours of music presented: 10 hours 45 minutes
Hosting space utilized: 714.19 MB (I had to double my hosting plan)
Hosting plan cost: $40
Hours spent writing: 150 hours
Hours spent editing/remastering music: 16 hours
Number of new segments/themes introduced: 4
(“OOPs,” “12 Records That Changed My Life,” “Precious Meetings,” and “`Ohana”)
Number of contests: 2
Number of contest winners: 0
Number of new page “LIKES”: 116 (from 449 on 9/30 to 565 on 10/31)
Total article reads/listens: 1,837 (a one-month record)
Highest one-day read/listen total: 229 reads/listens (a one-day record)
I could slice and dice these numbers in any number of ways, but I like to think of it like this: At 79,163 words and 241 pages, in only one month I wrote a small book about Hawaiian music. If this were a podcast, you would likely get a new one-hour program each week – a maximum of five hours of music. I more than doubled that! Either way you look at it, you responded enthusiastically with more reads/listens than ever.
Mahalo nui loa!
Some things I did not do in October…
Read a book or magazine
Take out the garbage or recycling
Put away my clean laundry
Fix the leaky roof
Rake the leaves
Unclog either of two clogged sinks
Take a turn against any of my 31 opponents in Words With Friends
Renew the registration for my car (resulting in more than $300 in tickets)
In the business world, this is what would otherwise be known as “opportunity cost.” But how did I end up here? Two reasons.
First, due to an extended illness (which continues to linger undiagnosed), I did not do much of anything in the month of September. That includes blogging. The theme and continuity of Ho`olohe Hou is largely predicated on the anniversaries of historic events and dealing with them in chronological order, but blogging only occasionally through September meant there were events in September about which I didn’t write and which I felt couldn’t wait another year. So although you may not have known, I was writing September’s and October’s articles at the same time. And I posted them in chronological order. (If you read Ho`olohe Hou through the Facebook feed, you could not have known this because Facebook dates articles as they appear. But the main blog – at www.hoolohehou.org – allows me to cheat the publication date of each article – so they remain chronologically intact.)
Second, some of these topics proved to be “rabbit holes” that I was chasing down seemingly endlessly. I wake up one morning and think I could write five or six articles about this. But then once I start to do the research and hear the music, I realize that there is more there “there” than I originally realized – stories left untold, mysteries to unravel. In fact, I covered only four topics in depth through October, and here is how those topics break down by the numbers:
Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs – 14 articles – 126 minutes of music
Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room” – 16 articles – 175 minutes of music
Lena Machado – 15 articles – 131 minutes of music
Genoa Keawe – 17 articles – 189 minutes of music
(There were four articles on miscellaneous topics and an additional 28 minutes of music.)
And because of a compulsive desire to tell the whole story, let’s just agree to say that I went a little crazy. But it also takes a considerable amount of time to sort out “facts” from “lore” – to find a second and third piece of corroborating data, to say meaningful things, to spell all the names right, to get the dates and the players right, to put every `okina and kahako where they belong, and all in order not to become the Wikipedia of Hawaiian music. And I suppose that is a little compulsive in its own way, but I have read so many unreliable sources on Hawaiian music that even I don’t know where to turn anymore sometimes, and I don’t want to become simply another unreliable source.
Was it worth it? More than I can say in another 79,163 words. So I will simply say hiki nō (Hawaiian for “of course”). Those of you who do not miss a single post at Ho`olohe Hou may recall a month ago my asking for your help in achieving 500 “LIKES” on our Facebook page. We only needed 50 “LIKES” to achieve that goal, and I really thought that was a stretch. But we more than doubled that number and increased our reader/listenership by more than 25%. The monthly total of 1,837 reads/listens isn’t merely a record. It is a record by leaps and bounds – blowing the previous monthly total of 1,231 reads/listens out of the water. And the one-day record of 229 reads/listens beats the previous record of 164 reads/listens by a mile-and-a-half. (And I know I have Aunty Genoa to thank for this. Mahalo, aunty!)
But I have to get back to some of those other items on my list now. So Ho`olohe Hou may slow down a little bit through the remainder of 2014. I have a number of topics I want to cover, but I have a plan for covering them in a less rabbit hole-like manner. More about that tomorrow…
If you have clicked “PLAY” on the audio track that accompanies this post, you are listening to a preview of a topic I will be covering throughout the month of November. And you may be wondering to yourself… What do these songs have to do with Hawai`i or Hawaiian music? And that, after all, is why Ho`olohe Hou exists: To preserve the forgotten songs and voices of Hawai`i. If you want to know more, stay tuned for our next exciting episode…
This is Ho`olohe Hou. Welcome to my world!
~ Bill Wynne