Iva Kinimaka at the Garden Bar

I am a man of many interests. Take this blog, for example. I am a musician, and I also fancy myself a writer. Sometimes I can bring these loves together and write about music. But what if one of your loves is on the stage and the other is more behind the scenes? In Iva Kinimaka’s case, he is equally as comfortable in front of the microphone as he is serving something slightly different for his audiences – from the kitchen where he will whip up a myriad of culinary delights. And he, too, has always managed to find ways of bringing his loves together. 

Kinimaka discovered cooking when he was only 10 years old – egged on (bad pun intended) by his mother. In the 1970s while he was headlining at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel – the engagement which inspired this article – he opened up a lunch wagon at Sandy Beach. Kinimaka did double-duty by serving up both food and entertainment as a headliner for Paradise Cruises before settling in at home in Kalihi with Iva's Komplete Katering, purchasing and renovating Diner's Drive-In in Kalihi (at the corner of King and Waiakamilo), and finally Iva’s Place (right across the street from the drive-in) where he could combine his two loves again – even singing from the kitchen while cooking courtesy of a wireless microphone. 

But Kinimaka’s music career spanned more than 30 years – starting out in the '60s with Kimo Garner (Loyal's brother) at Tropics (corner of Seaside and Kalākaua in Waikiki), then opposite Don Ho at Duke Kahanamoku's at the International Market Place, then the Cock's Roost before settling in as headliner at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel in the 1970s. I consider his first appearance on LP to be a hidden gem. Self-produced for his own KiniKim label, Iva hit record stores in 1972 and featured an eclectic mix of old school traditional Hawaiian songs, newer compositions by some local up-and-comers (including two by Al Nobriga), a traditional Japanese song, and a classic of country-western. I have chosen two of my favorites from that LP to share with you here. Notice that they have in common with the Emma Veary LPs of the same period the large orchestral arrangements – flutes, strings, and the like – turning “My Sweet Sweetie” into something like a lullaby. And “Ua Noho Au A Kupa” reminds us that Iva possesses a sweet falsetto to boot. 

Iva’s sound would grow more “contemporary” with time. It would be a few years yet before he would turn out the hit that made him a household name – a song which you still cannot go a day without hearing on local Hawai`i radio. 

Next time: The song Iva wrote for his daughter which would become his trademark. And whatever happened to Al Nobriga anyway? And who was that band opening for Iva every night at the Garden Bar?... 


Recipe – Iva Kinimaka's Old Fashioned Beef Stew 


4 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil  

6 to 8 cloves fresh garlic, smashed  

1/4 pound fresh ginger, smashed  

4 pounds boneless stew beef ("clod" or "knuckles")  

2 pounds lean beef short ribs, cut in 1-1/2 by 1-1/2 inch pieces  

1 tablespoon Hawaiian sea salt or to taste 

8 cups water or to taste 

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice  

Chili powder to taste, optional  

4 medium-size salad potatoes, peeled and cut in sixths  

2 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths  

3 medium-size turnips, peeled and cut in sixths  

2 medium-size round onions, peeled and sliced  

Carrots and celery to taste, peeled and cut in chunks, optional


As told to Catherine Kekoa Enemoto of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in its April 2, 1997 issue


Direct download: 01_Iva_Kinimaka_1.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:55pm EDT

Kui and Nani Lee

Like Don Ho, Kui Lee’s story has been chronicled over and over again. (I have heard that there has long been a biopic about him in the works, and this would be most welcome.) But most of what I learned about him I learned by spending endless hours talking story with his widow. To the world she was Nani Lee. But to me she was simply “Auntie Frances.” Through her I came to understand Kui’s life, his work, his motivation and inspiration, his politics, his time… Kui was a complex – dare I say “enigmatic” – figure. Like many local Hawai`i musicians before and since, he divided his people. Many thought that Kui wrote of the modern Hawaiian in a style to which his generation could no doubt relate. Others felt he had abandoned his roots – admonished him for writing songs in English. Unlike some other local musicians, Kui didn’t care. He pursued fame – it was in his blood – but was fairly certain he couldn’t find it in his Hawai`i home. He cared about being true to himself – the hallmark of an artist. 

Kui was not merely an amazing stage presence and musician. He was also an astute businessman. Kui continued to assemble his portfolio until he was appearing in the finest showrooms in New York City and making appearances on the Steve Allen Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Arlene Francis Home Show, and the Patti Page Show. But Kui was also practical. He combined his love of music and his need for a steady income by taking a position writing songs for other singers – and even commercial jingles – in the famed Brill Building in NYC where he rubbed elbows with such up-and-coming songwriting legends as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Neil Sedaka, and Carole King. 

Kui returned to Hawai`i in 1961 bringing with him great success and an even greater prize – a wife. He met singer and hula dancer Rose Frances Leinani Naone – a Hawaiian girl born in New Jersey – when she auditioned to perform in the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City where Kui spent the last year and a half of his mainland career as a choreographer and knife dancer. The couple was earning $1,700 a week when Kui decided to pack it in and go home. The couple started over much more modestly in Hawai`i – at a small mom-and-pop joint in the neighborhood they made their home, Kane`ohe. The place was called Honey’s. Should it matter that the club was owned by a family named Ho and that the house band was led by their then unknown son, Don? It turns out it matters a great deal. In fact, it is the very definition of “serendipity.” 

It would be an understatement to say that in the early running Kui made a nuisance of himself at Honey’s. According to Jerry Hopkins’ “Don Ho: My Music, My Life,” Kui would show up at the club at 10 o’clock in the morning and urge Don to hear a new song he had written, and Don would tell Kui that the songs – because of their complex melodies and harmonic structures – weren’t “Hawaiian” enough for Honey’s local audiences. And the criticism was mutual. Kui – no stranger to large mainland showrooms – would offer Don unsolicited advice on everything from lighting and staging to his singing, remarking, “When you sing, you look like you’re constipated.” It is difficult to conceive that a relationship born in perpetual appraisal and fault-finding would culminate in a lasting friendship and artistic collaboration that endured until Kui’s early demise. But both became huge stars through this no doubt symbiotic relationship. With this bickering, each propelled the other on to greater heights – each becoming a legend in his own right, but the whole always remaining greater than the sum of its parts. Don needed Kui’s songs to become legend. And Kui – despite being the consummate showman – needed Don’s charisma and universal appeal to bring his songs to a worldwide audience. 

Despite Don joking to Nani that he would hire her for the band but “definitely not your husband,” both became regulars in the Honey’s Kane`ohe group – eventually moving with the venue and its entire entourage to Honey’s new location in Waikiki. 

Occasionally, Don would allow Kui to emcee the evenings at Honey’s, but he did so with great trepidation. Despite being first and foremost a musician, Kui was sharply funny – often turning his rapier wit on the audience, earning him the nickname “Hawai`i’s Lenny Bruce.” (In the Jerry Hopkins book on Ho’s life, comedian Eddie Sherman recounted that one evening at Honey’s in Kane`ohe, Kui spotted a haole couple at the front of the audience and quipped over the microphone that in Kane`ohe “the haoles sit at the back of the room.”) You will hear some of Kui’s political incorrectness on the first tune in this set – his own rewrite of the folk tune “Cotton Fields” which he recast for local audiences as “Taro Patch” – as well as near the end of the set, a duet with his wife, Nani, on Bina Mossman’s “He `Ono” during which Kui takes time out to provide some revisionist history of the "discovery" of Hawai`i and explain some of the ethnic make-up of Hawai`i (perhaps for the haole at the back of the room).  

But there are tender moments here too. Many of Kui’s fans believe that some of his finest compositions take on their poignancy because he composed them after he was already diagnosed with cancer. He knew that his life was to be cut short, and this resulted in such lyrics as “If I Had It To Do All Over Again,” made popular by Don. But more poignant than this is hearing him sing his own “When It’s Time To Go.” 

When it’s time to go 

Will I be a bore 

And react, my friend 

Like a fool once more 

I listen to this song and can't help but highly suspect that this is one of those songs that Don would not have liked when Kui brought it to him - with its meandering jazz chord structure and an unexpected shift from major to minor and back again. Don told Kui, "Just play five simple chords and you'll be surprised how beautiful the song can be." And yet I cannot imagine a more beautiful song in any genre from any land.  

And Nani sings her husband’s “Where Is My Love Tonight?’ like the seasoned pro she was – a vocal performance that would have stood comparison to such jazz chanteuses of the era as Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, and Morgana King. 

Kui and Nani would go on to headline their own act in Waikiki – most notably at the Queen’s Surf. And Kui would record one full-length LP of (mostly) his own compositions with New York City’s finest studio musicians. The Extraordinary Kui Lee was released in late November 1966, but he would never fulfill the promise of its title. He died less than two weeks later on December 3, 1966.  


Direct download: 02_Waikiki_Swings.mp3
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:42pm EDT

Emma at the Halekulani

Emma Maynon Kaipuala Veary Lewis started her music career somewhat inauspiciously – singing with the E.K. Fernandez circus at the tender age eight. But after winning any number of talent and singing contests, Emma was singing at every major Waikiki nightspot while still in high school. She went on to study opera and perform in the stock companies of such Broadway shows as Carousel, Showboat, Pal Joey, West Side Story, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song. But she is best remembered for a series of four LP records she made with arranger/producer Jack de Mello.

The recordings were not unique but, rather, a throwback to another era. Veary’s specially trained voice required a very specific king of instrumental support – a type of support that de Mello specialized in. It was the kind of music one might have heard a half-century earlier when Charles E. King arranged his own compositions for trained voices like those of Sam Kapu and Helen Desha Beamer. In 1925 such arrangements would have been the popular music of the day. But in 1975, this music might be considered classical because of the orchestral arrangements involving large string sections and even a harp. But regardless of the era in which the music is being performed, some compositions require just such instrumental support and the rare vocal technique that Veary brought to the table. Ethnomusicologist and kumu hula Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman comments on this at her blog:

De Mello had already been arranging and recording Hawaiian songs with full symphonic orchestra. Adding Emma Vearyʻs classically trained bel canto voice completed the sound of taking Hawaiian songs into the sonic world of classical music… Emma Vearyʻs voice is classic. It is a trained, disciplined voice. Which is exactly what is required to sing many of the songs written by Charles E. King. These songs have melodies that require vocal technique. Many of these melodies are unforgiving to singers without vocal training, as they struggle to complete entire phrases on one breath, or soar over a range of notes while barely hitting some or most (or all!) of the pitches in tune.

(You can read more of Dr. Stillman’s comments on her blog. You will find that – like me – she is a huge fan of this style of music and of Ms. Veary.)

It is not clear after all of these years whether it was Veary’s remarkable recordings that led to her engagements at Waikiki’s finest showrooms throughout the 1970s – including lengthy stays at both the Halekulani and Royal Hawaiian Hotels – or if it was her sold-out performances at these prestigious venues that led to her recording contract with de Mello’s Music of Polynesia record label. In either case, the records are our gateway to those performances, venues, and Veary’s voice in that era. Although, admittedly, her voice sounds pretty much the same today as it did 40 years ago as evidenced by the 2011 PBS Hawai`i TV special in her honor captured live under the kiawe tree at the Halekulani Hotel’s House Without A Key. I have pulled together some of my favorite selections from Veary’s four 1970s-era LPs with de Mello. Some (but not all) of these selections were available briefly on CD in the 1990s as part of a “Best Of” collection, but it is sadly out of print.

It would also be interesting to hear Veary live at one of these venues during this period. There are no known recordings of Emma at the Halekulani where she was appearing on July 4, 1974 according to the entertainment pages of the Hawaii Tourist News which inspired this series of posts. But there was surely a recording of Emma captured live at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Next time: Emma at the Royal in 1976... And who was the gentleman performing a little bit farther down Kalia Road at the Hilton Hawaiian Village?...


Trivia: Emma Veary’s manager was also her husband, and he also happened to be famous in his own right. Name him. (Difficulty Rating: Easy)

More trivia: The three songs I chose to accompany this article have something in common. What is it? (Difficulty Rating: Medium if you’re a Hawai`i local. Hard as hell if you’re not.)


Direct download: 01_Emma_Veary_1.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 7:39am EDT

The Waikiki and Honolulu Music Scene – 40 Years Ago

Scrolling through the page of one of my favorite Facebook groups – “Waikiki & Honolulu in the 1970’s and 80’s – I was inspired by a post by a friend I had previously met elsewhere on the great big World Wide Web. John Charles Watson is a Hawai`i local who shares my passions for Hawaiian music and record collecting. But it was not a recording that John posted that sparked my interest. It was a newspaper page. 

It was on August 13, 2014 that John posted to the group Facebook page the adverts for who was performing where around Waikiki and Honolulu more than 40 years earlier – the week of July 4, 1974 – according to the “Entertainment” pages of that week’s issue of the Hawaii Tourist News. This intrigued me. While this was 40 years ago, it seems like just yesterday to me. The voices mentioned in that paper performing here and there are voices I still hear in my home every day. Because I was a child of the 70s, many of these were the voices which caused me to fall in love with Hawaiian music (despite that I was born in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey, and have no Hawaiian lineage or other connections to Hawai`i whatsoever). It was and was always about Hawai`i’s music to me, and so I made a life studying it and learning to play it myself. A quick Google search revealed that some of these popular entertainers of the 70s are still alive and active in the local music scene, while a few others are sadly gone. 40 years is a long time. But the major take-away for me was that reminiscing about musicians with newspapers clippings and photos doesn’t fully honor them or our memories. What we need to do is hear these voices and musicians again. Because relatively few local Hawai`i musicians found fame outside of their island borders, their original vinyl LP releases have rarely been reissued as CDs or MP3s because they would not be commercially viable. Almost everybody who had a vinyl record lost them to the ravages of time – threw them away, gave them to the Salvation Army (which ultimately threw them away after trying to sell them for 20 years), or used them to play frisbee with Fido. Despite that I am a record collector (with more than 25,000 titles in my collection), I have never understood the psychology of the record collector. Sure, some of their values have gone up, and others down. But that is not why I started collecting or continued collecting. I collected because I was a musician, and these records were a valuable learning tool – a place to hear songs and voices I could hear nowhere else. But now I understand there was another value to these nearly 10 tons of vinyl threatening the joists on every floor of my home: Sharing these memories with you. 

Over the next few days I am going to explore in music – and perhaps a few words – the artists featured in the July 4, 1974 Hawaii Tourist News entertainment pages. But that is merely the tip of a very large iceberg (or, in the case of Hawai`i, perhaps a volcano is more appropriate). I will then continue to work my way out from that year – both backward and forward – to resurrect from the detritus of time and mind more of these voices and musicians to jog our memories about good times and people and places we might have forgotten, as well as attempt to show how the music of the 1970s is connected to the music of Hawai`i’s past and present. My goal is to weave a lei of the stars of the Hawaiian music scene of an entire century or more but – curiously – by starting in the middle. I will use the magic of the internet to help tell this story by hyperlinking to other articles and more music by artists and songwriters related to the subject at hand. Simply click on the highlighted names or phrases in each article to bring you to similar articles and more music and – hopefully – more memories of a life in Hawai`i – a life I have never known, but which I can know through all of you, if you are willing to share with me as I have chosen to share with you. 

This should be an interesting adventure for me, but more importantly, I hope there is adventure in store for you, too. 

But where shall I start? I suppose it should be ladies first 

Next time: The lady who held court at the Royal Hawaiian and Halekulani Hotels…


Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 7:22am EDT

Don Ho – The Early Years

I hesitate to tell the story of Don Ho yet again since almost any fan of Hawaiian entertainment in the 1960s and 70s knows it backward and forward and could tell it equally well. The really short version (and to set straight the oft-inaccurate Wikipedia)…

James Ho and his wife, Emily “Honey” Ho, opened a bar and restaurant in Kane`ohe on the windward side of O`ahu in 1939 and raised their six children in the house adjoining Honey’s Cafe. Son Don graduated from the University of Hawai`i in 1954 with a B.S. in Sociology in 1954 before spending the next five years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Don left the USAF in 1959 to return home upon hearing that his mother was ill. And this is where time and history usually give the story a glorified spin. Most say that Don’s aim was to revive his parents ailing business with entertainment. But the truth is that Don Ho came home to sweep the floors and take out the trash. Accounts vary about whether it was Don who suggested to his parents that they liven up the joint with music or if his father suggested it to him. But, no matter how it went down, to stack cliché upon cliché, a star was born, and the rest is history.

I think history often overlooks the important part of the story – that Don was a sociology major. In other words, he had a formal education in what makes people tick. Don was not a great musician. He was merely a passable musician. But he was inarguably one of the finest showmen who ever lived – the ultimate crowd-pleaser. He was also a fine singer with the ballad phrasing of Dean Martin and the up-tempo swagger of Bobby Darin. (I personally feel that history has underrated his vocal chops and branded Ho as a novelty act. But we have the recorded evidence to prove otherwise – that while he may not have been much of a musician, he was the consummate “singer’s singer” – a topic I will directly address another time). He made accommodations for his lack of musicianship by surrounding himself with a bevy of better musicians. And he used his understanding of people and his natural good looks and machismo to hold court every night - the President and his Cabinet, as it were, with Honey’s as his Oval Office, a Hammond organ for a desk, and a Chivas Regal and soda the beacon inspiring everyone not to “Vote For Ho” but, rather, to “Suck `Em Up.”

And, oh, yeah, it worked! Honey's became the hotspot for local entertainment and the growing family of regular customers including the servicemen from the Kane`ohe Marine Base, co-eds, and occasional tourists who would hear what was going on outside of Waikiki (from which tourists rarely ventured in those days) and have to find out for themselves what all the fuss was about. To capitalize on the growing tourist trade and Ho’s burgeoning popularity, in 1962 the family up and moved Honey’s from Kane`ohe to Waikiki at the corner of Lili`uokalani and Kalākaua Streets. (When I am walking through Waikiki, I stand on that corner in awe and reverence at the Hawaiian music greatness that graced that location and mourn the reality that the only remnant of those glory days is the “don” in the sign for the McDonald’s that now stands there.)

So here is part of the magic that Flip McDiarmid captured when he visited Honey’s Waikiki one evening with a portable tape recorder. Regardless of the genesis of these recordings or the motivations behind them, ultimately we should be thankful that we have this permanent record of an important era in the history of the entertainment scene in Hawai`i. Listen to how comfortable Ho is – the instant rapport he has with the audience, everybody his friend, even the ones he’s never met before. That’s Ho the sociologist. And as they say, you can take the boy out of Kane`ohe, but you can’t take the sociologist out of the boy. (OK, they don’t say that.)



Direct download: 01_Waikiki_Swings.mp3
Category:50s/60s -- posted at: 6:34am EDT

Waikiki Swings

In 1962 – long before Don Ho would become famous – Hula Records’ owner Donald “Flip” McDiarmid II heard about the magic that was happening at Honey’s Waikiki every night. So he went over there one evening with a portable tape recorder and captured part of the magic of an evening at Honey’s exactly as it happened. The material recorded that evening was eventually released on the Hula Records label under the title “Waikiki Swings” despite that the recording was of subpar sound quality. It sounded like what it was – a “bootleg.” I spoke to Flip in his home shortly before his passing in 2010, and this tape was one of the topics I broached. According to Flip, he had taken the recorder in to capture some of the magic that evening so that he could review it to see if he had an album in the making in order to offer a deal to the participants in the band at Honey’s. If the deal had come to fruition, Flip would have returned with a professional remote recording crew and made an “album.” No such deal ever came to fruition. Don held out for a national deal – which came after his show moved to Duke Kahanamoku’s at the International Marketplace in Waikiki just a year or two later. However, according to others familiar with the situation, there was no such deal in the making; the recording was a bootleg – pure and simple – and when Don released his first two live albums nationwide for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records label in 1965, Hula Records released the bootleg from Honey’s in 1966 to capitalize on Don’s burgeoning success. Making the accusation even worse, some involved with the performance captured that evening claim that they were never paid when “Waikiki Swings” was released. I am not an investigative journalist. So I chalk up these conflicting tales to there always being “two sides to every story.” And if time has the capacity to heal many (surely not all) wounds, it may merely be because memory invariably fades and, with it, the scars. 

Regardless of McDiarmid’s motivations, nobody can deny that he captured an important moment in Hawaiian music history – a pre-fame Don Ho and possibly the only extant live recordings of some other Hawaiian entertainment legends. Moreover, nearly every song performed that evening – regardless of who took the stage – was written by Kui Lee. 

I hope you enjoy these sounds of a forgotten era – a simpler time when fun was cleaner and the consequences less dire. This record is long out of print – as it should be since many involved claim they were never paid for its release – but it is historically important nonetheless as it offers us a rare glimpse of some multifaceted entertainers and dynamic personalities before they were famous – and one, sadly, who was cut down in his prime and would never know the fame he so justly deserved. 


Category:50s/60s -- posted at: 4:57am EDT