#3 - The Brothers Cazimero - Christmas Collection

I don’t want to say that The Brothers Cazimero have been around a long time. But their first release came out on 8-track. And their first Christmas album was released on both vinyl LP and cassette. 

But that is by no means a dig at two gentlemen who arguably did more to perpetuate and further the Hawaiian music tradition in the 20th century than any other artists. There might not have been any such thing as “contemporary Hawaiian music” were it not for their seminal contribution (Guava Jam, from the group known as the Sunday Manoa which featured brothers Robert and Roland Cazimero and wizard of all stringed instruments Peter Moon). At the very least the duo lit the spark that became the blazing inferno now known as the “Hawaiian Music Renaissance” of the 1970s. And they did it by remaining both largely respectful to their past and true to themselves as artists. Make no mistake, in their younger days they took more than their fair share of cracks for jazzing and rocking Hawaiian music a little too much, a few more still from such mentors as Alice Namakelua and Eddie Kamae for singing a few Hawaiian lyrics incorrectly. (Some still have not forgiven them for their version of “Morning Dew” which by Robert’s own admission was well off the mark with regard to their use of the Hawaiian language.) But these are the growing pains of musicians that would become artists, and now it is Robert who is grooming the next generation of Hawai`i’s musicians. 

I do not know a life without The Brothers Cazimero. Cherished aunties and uncles would make their annual trip home to Hawai`i and return to the East Coast with 35mm films (this was the pre-iPhone era, after all) of the boys at Chuck’s Cellar or Waikiki Lau Yee Chai, and I was enthralled. I kept wondering… How do two guys make so much music? They sound like five or six! Of course, the answer was two-fold and lies both in their soaring, intertwining voices – diving and swooping in and around each other until they sound like a choir of thousands – and in Roland’s unique 12-guitar style, approaching the guitar like an orchestra with an eye (and ear) toward laying down a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for their singing as well as playing melodic counterpoint at the same time, often wiring his pick-ups in stereo so that half of the notes come at your left ear and the other half at your right. They were ahead of their time in more ways than we can count. 

And so nearly a decade into their career as a duo after the untimely implosion of the Sunday Manoa, the brothers finally gifted us with their first of what has turned out (so far) to be three holiday-themed releases, Christmas Collection in 1984. It is exactly what you would expect from the groundbreaking duo and perhaps more – their creative juices sprinkled with the magic dust of Christmas to make everything that is uniquely Cazimero even moreso (as if that were possible). From the pahu drum that opens “We Three Kings” (a nod, no doubt, to their own king, David Kalākaua, and his revival of the hula), you knew from first listen 30 years ago (has it really been that long?) that this was going to be a holiday album like no other previously from Hawai`i. Robert and Roland created a template that would be followed for the next three decades – setting the stage for such inventive outings as those from Keali`i Reichel and Willie K. In short, the brothers – like Lena Machado, Kahauanu Lake, and Eddie Kamae before them – made it alright to push the boundaries of Hawaiian music as long as one foot was kept firmly in tradition, all was done with impeccable taste and respect, and the whole thing was wrapped up in something uniquely Hawaiian. 

And this is precisely what Christmas Collection was and remains three decades later. Robert and Roland melded their contemporary take on songs and hymns that remind us of the true reason for the season (“Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”) with such winter-themed chestnuts as “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.” And Roland, the baby of the massive Cazimero `ohana, summons up his inner wonder when the big, burly Hawaiian sings “Me & My Teddy Bear.” 

In short, Christmas Collection was a joyous romp that inspired many similar creations from the artists that would follow in their footsteps. And to show our gratitude for forging a new path in Hawaiian music and for many years of enjoyment, the brothers have more than earned this position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i.  You can hear the entire delightful album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. Because the album has been packaged and repackaged over and over again throughout its 30 year history, you will today most likely find it under the title Cazimero Christmas Favorites which also features a few selections from their follow-up holiday release. 

Next time: #2 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i… 


Direct download: 3_Christmas_-_Brothers_Cazimero.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 4:56am EDT

#15 - The Sons of Hawaii - Christmas Time

The Sons of Hawaii’s history has already been well chronicled – by Kamae himself, a man of many talents including documentary film maker, as well as by collaborator James Houston in their story of Kamae and the Sons simply entitle Hawaiian Son. But at the holidays, we must acknowledge a Sons’ LP that did what no holiday album from Hawai`i dared to attempt previously: Turn time backwards. Which, after all, is what so many of us seek to do at this time of year, a time that is largely about memories.

The cover hinted at the delights within – a tree-sheltered grove, the glow of the porch light from a mythical one-room house beloved by its fictitious family, kupuna in rocking chairs being serenaded by their nephews with guitars and `ukulele, the family mule listening attentively, all rendered in oil as only artist Herb Kawainui Kane can. (There were more Kane works commissioned for the half-hour television special Eddie produced to accompany the release of the album.)

And then there is the music. The Sons went through a lot of changes over the years – Gabby Pahinui eventually out of the group over (among other things) his repeated disputes with Kamae over what constitutes “Hawaiian enough.” Then there were guitarists Bobby Larrison and Atta Isaacs, both fine additions to the group but perhaps not the sound Kamae had been searching for. Ironically it was the incarnation that featured a slack key guitarist and composer a generation younger that helped Kamae find the sound he was looking for that was sodeeply rooted in the past. Fortunately, young Dennis Kamakahi was willing – and able – to take the trip back in time with Kamae. In the very beginning of their time together the group would open each performance by saying, “We are The Sons of Hawaii, and we are  Hawaiian.” But even in its early days the group’s music was not staunchly traditional – bringing to bear elements from the jazz, classical, and rock idioms. By contrast, the 70s version with Kamae, Kamakahi, bassist and arranger Joe Marshall, and steel guitar legend David ‘Feets’ Rogers was the most Hawaiian aggregation leader Kamae had assembled to date – opting not for the tricky diminished and augmented runs that previously characterized their intros, endings, and solos, but, rather, for a true folk music sound, completely acoustic (except for Rogers’ steel guitar) and completely (there is no other word for it) raw, as if they were sitting around the porch waiting for the mule to bray.

Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii opens with “I Love Christmas,” now a staple of the Hawaiian holiday repertoire but then a brand new composition by Eddie and wife Myrna with a little help from Hawaiian language and cultural expert Mary Kawena Pukui. Because the song is really for the kids, the Sons share the stage here with the Honolulu Boy Choir. The album would be classic if only for this contribution to the Hawaiian holiday cannon. But it also holds in store other delights – two new compositions from the pen of then 26-year-old Kamakahi (such as “Christmas Memories” heard here on which Dennis harmonizes with himself through the magic of a recording studio), Feets’ dazzling steel guitar work on “La Kalikimaka” (or “Christmas Day”), and Kamae’s vocals on “Ho`onani I Ka Hale” (the song you know better as “Deck The Halls”).

A careful curator of his own legacy (and owner of his own production company, Hawaii Sons), Kamae has not permitted the online music streaming services access to his catalog. But you can purchase the MP3 version of the complete album from iTunes and Amazon.com.

A few years ago this album would have ranked even higher on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. But so many wonderful holiday albums have come out of Hawai`i in just the last 20 years that Christmas Time with Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii has dropped a few places on the list – but not in my heart.

Next time: #14 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 15_Christmas_-_Eddie_Kamae__The_Sons_of_Hawaii_-_Christmas_Time.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:46am EDT

#18 - Jerry Byrd - Christmas in Hawaii

When Ho`olohe Hou was a radio program, I offered a segment entitled “Unlikely Heroes in Hawaiian Music” which featured artists who should not have attained such popular or critical acclaim in the field of traditional Hawaiian music because of their perceived natural, physical, geographic, or ethnic limitations. And the first such artist I featured was steel guitarist Jerry Byrd. 

Jerry Byrd was not a Hawaiian but a haole from Lima, Ohio. As he used to tell his own story, Byrd fell in love with the steel guitar as a child after begging his parents for the money to go a Chautauqua, the traveling shows popular in the early 20th century which featured everything from educational and religious lectures to the latest hits from Broadway or the Metropolitan Opera. (President Theodore Roosevelt referred to the Chautauqua as “the most American thing in America.”) At the particular show Byrd attended he heard a traveling music troupe from Hawai`i which was led by steel guitar. It was love at first listen for Byrd, and the rest – as I often say here – is history. Byrd did not go on merely to become a steel guitarist. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest steel guitarist of all time for his unparalleled technique – things he could do with this most difficult of instruments with only a straight steel bar that many of Nashville’s finest have not been able to do since with a bar and eight, nine, or ten pedals. He was dubbed the “Master of Touch and Tone” and inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1975 – among the first to receive the honor. 

But I, for one, don’t think this is Byrd’s most important contribution to the world of music. Byrd toiled somewhat in obscurity – as far as Hawaiian music is concerned – near his Midwest home until 1970 when he made the permanent move to the mecca of the music he so loved. But he relocated to Hawai`i with a specific mission in mind: To revive the Hawaiian steel guitar, which by the 1970s was a dying art with a only a handful of the last generation of the living legends still performing or recording. With grants from the State of Hawai`i, Byrd began to teach and ended up with two budding protégés and future legends themselves: Alan Akaka and Casey Olsen. In recent years Akaka has taken on teaching nearly full time – breeding yet another new generation of steel guitarists. In short, Byrd almost single-handedly revived the steel guitar in Hawai`i - despite being a haole from Ohio. 

Christmas In Hawaii is a fine example of Byrd’s virtuosity on the instrument. With the help of longtime friend and musical partner, Hiram Olsen, on the guitar and vibraphonist Francis Ho`okano (of Harold Haku`ole’s “Sometime Group” which recorded with Noelani Mahoe and the Leo Nahenahe Singers on their Hawaiian Christmas), this release by Byrd nearly 40 years ago remains the only recording of steel guitar instrumentals for the holidays in the Hawaiian style. And once you listen, you will understand that you have heard nothing like it before and that despite his Midwest roots, Byrd – as often remarked by his peers – was as Hawaiian as they came. 

Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you can still enjoy the entire album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

Next time: #17 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 18_Christmas_-_Jerry_Byrd_-_Christmas_in_Hawaii.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#19 - Waimanalo Keikis - Mele Kalikimaka

Researcher, teacher, author, and musician Noelani Mahoe already made Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i with her 1965 Tradewinds Records release Hawaiian Christmas. And she does so again with an even more iconic album from a decade later on which she added “choir director” to her list of accomplishments – Mele Kalikimaka by children’s choral group, the Waimanalo Keikis. 

According to musician, composer, and journalist Keith Haugen who wrote the liner notes for the album, it was recorded – as so many Christmas albums are – in July. But while this might make a difference in L.A. (Mel Torme and Robert Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” – “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire / Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” – in July in Hollywood to try to cool off during a marathon songwriting session), the weather would not be much different in Honolulu whether it be July or December. In Hawai`i, you have to work to create a Christmas mood, but those who know Auntie Noe know that she has the Christmas spirit every day of the year – making her the perfect choice to lead this choir of young people on any day in any month. 

The album – only the first by this aggregation – would catapult the youth choir to heights rivaled only by the more famous Honolulu Boy Choir. As Haugen put it on his own blog: 

And in 1978, on behalf of Governor Ariyoshi, we recommended the Keikis as representatives of Hawai`i for a major cultural program in Japan. The host group - Kokusai Bunka Kyokai - said "no," they wanted older students, since groups coming from other countries were all high school and college age students. But when they heard the Keikis singing at Blanche Pope Elementary School in Waimanalo, they said "YES!" For many of the touring Hawaiian children, it was the first time they had been off the Island of O`ahu. Some had never even been to Honolulu before that trip to Japan. 

The Waimanalo Keikis would go on to record another popular LP as well as accompany Keith and Carmen Haugen on their beloved Chasing Rainbows LP in 1978. But unlike other children’s choral groups from which the children ultimately graduate by virtue of maturing and changing voices – never to see each other again – the group reunited 30 years after the release of their Christmas album to celebrate its rerelease on CD. As Haugen put it, “They sang together for the first time in a quarter century and, although their voices have beautifully matured, they sounded great, remembered their parts, and had fun.” 

I have written here before many times of my friend, Hawaiian music stalwart Harold Haku`ole who appears on countless Hawaiian music LPs, often uncredited. I used to sit and talk to Harold for countless hours, and the conversation would invariably turn to his steel guitar playing which was immediately identifiable to other steel players after only a few notes. Uncle Harold would insist that he only played the steel in a recording studio once –  for his friend Noelani Mahoe’s most recent CD, Eia Au O Noelani. And I would politely argue with him, “That’s not true because I have the albums, and I have heard you play steel guitar on albums dating back four decades.” And we would agree to disagree. But Haugen – who was in that classroom for those warm-ish July recording sessions – confirms that it was indeed Haku`ole on the steel guitar that day. 

Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you and your `ohana can join my family in celebrating the season by dialing up the album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

Next time: #18 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Trivia: One of today’s popular supporting musicians in Hawai`i was also a Waimanalo Keiki. He has never made an album under his own name, but he has recorded with some of Hawai`i’s most popular artists of the last 30 years. Guess who? (Difficulty Rating: Hard if you’re merely guessing. Easy if you’re information literacy skills are well honed and you are near an iPhone, iPad, or computer.) 


Direct download: 19_Christmas_-_Waimanalo_Keikis_-_Mele_Kalikimaka.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:12am EDT

#20 - Christmas with the Honolulu Boy Choir

People often ask me how I amassed such a vast collection of Hawaiian recordings. Naturally there was no one source of all of these beautiful recordings. Many were gifts from cherished aunties and uncles. Some were the result of scouring record stores in every city I have ever visited. Some were from the eBay era – paying top value for practically one-of-a-kind must haves from such unlikely regions of the world as Australia and France. And, on rare occasion, it has been through the kindness of strangers who knew I would preserve this music long after it had been forgotten by others. 

In the 1970s and 80s the place to find Hawaiian music was the House of Music, a retail store which occupied a significant amount of square footage in the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu and which was managed by Hawaiian music historian Lydia Ludin. I sometimes fancy myself a Ludin acolyte. If you called her up on the phone and asked her which albums Sonny Chillingworth played guitar on, she could tell you without even pulling a 3x5 card out of a file box. Before the Internet made the world a slightly smaller place and eBay made it possible to find anything you’d ever wanted (or once had and somehow lost), when I got my first job and made my first buck, most of it went to the House of Music which was only a phone call away. Eventually I befriended their shipping department, the head of which was a Hawaiian who hailed from Chicago but who had returned to his O`ahu home, Art Ryan. Art and I chatted monthly for a period of years, and so he knew better than anybody how much money I dropped on that store. 

One day around 1989-90, I returned home from work one day to find an unusually large box from the House of Music, and I wondered what it could possibly be when I hadn’t ordered anything. I opened it to find more than 100 sealed records on the Hula, Lehua, Makaha, Mahalo, and Waikiki labels – some of which I owned but which had seen the ravages of time, and some of which were completely new to me. It turns out that the House of Music was having a sidewalk sale – an opportunity that this New Jersey resident obviously could not take advantage of – and without my knowing, Art shopped the sale for me – holding back one copy of every record he put out in the bins. And every sealed, brand new record was marked at the whopping price of 99 cents! The lot was accompanied by a note: 


We had a sidewalk sale, and I didn’t want you to miss out. You probably have most of these, so only pay us for the ones you don’t already have. 


Uncle Art 

Obviously I paid for the entire lot since I was shocked that anyone would think of me from so far away, because I valued my relationship with the House of Music, and because the sealed copies of records I already had were in much better condition than my time-worn copies. 

Sadly, that was my last communication from Art Ryan. I never heard from him again, and my collection grew so vast, so quickly that some of the records from that sidewalk sale are still sealed nearly 25 years later. Perhaps I should have a sidewalk sale? 

Among the albums in the box that I had not heard before were two by the Honolulu Boy Choir whom I had only seen on TV specials hosted by Jim Nabors or Dolly Parton. Having sung in choirs most of my young life, I was naturally enthralled. This was a top-notch choir of young men rivaled only by the Harlem Boys Choir (whom I had first heard live in Toronto at a week-long choral festival in 1989). And from the arrival of that box, Christmas with the Honolulu Boy Choir has been a staple of holiday listening for my family ever since and ranks among Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. 

Because the album has been rereleased in the digital era, you and your `ohana can join my family in celebrating the season by dialing up the album on Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming music services or by purchasing the MP3 version from iTunes, Amazon.com, and practically anywhere MP3s are sold. 

And whenever you think of Christmas and Hawai`i, remember the kindness of my friend Art Ryan and consider giving someone you love the gift of Hawaiian music. 

Next time: #19 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


#22 - Have A Merry Karen Christmas

Although perhaps better known as a comedienne, as a showroom performer Karen Keawehawaii could do it all – from emcee to singer with a cry-like break in her voice (what would be called ha`i for the male singers) reminiscent of singer/composer Lena Machado. Perhaps Karen heard the resemblance too for she would cover at least two Machado compositions on each of her first five LPs. 

But it is as funny lady that Karen may be best known – starting out as co-host of Channel 9 bingo with Kirk Matthews and parlaying this into a career hosting a variety of local radio, TV, and live events. One of these was the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contests in the 2000s in which she joked about my non-resident status by introducing me as being from the “08638” and “area code 609.” 

Have A Merry Karen Christmas is a beautiful album which would rank higher on Ho`olohe Hou’s 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i if it were not such a “period piece.” Although her voice harkens back to a golden era of singers from Hawai`i, the recordings alas cannot be considered quite so timeless since they were recorded in the 1980s, and Hawaiian music in the 1980s was stuck in the unique sounds of the 80s – right down to the keyboards and drum machines. But there are moments on Have A Merry Karen Christmas that may be among the most beautiful of any of the holiday recordings ever produced in the islands. On the two cuts I have selected for your enjoyment – my two favorites from the album – Karen achieves a soulfulness reminiscent of Mahalia Jackson – proving again that Karen was more than a funny lady, but also a true singer’s singer possessing genuine “chops.” 

Although Karen remains active on the entertainment scene, she picks and chooses her public appearance opportunities now – as befitting a living legend. Sadly, none of Karen’s LPs or CDs have been rereleased in the MP3 era, and all of her CDs are out of print. And so it has been nearly 30 years since most have heard Have A Merry Karen Christmas – an album never available in the digital era, an album so rare that there wasn’t a single image of its original cover on the Internet before this blog post. I hope you enjoy hearing these Christmas treasures again and honoring a tremendously funny and loving lady who once honored me with a funny and heart-warming introduction on one of the most important evenings of my life. 

Next time: #21 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 22_Christmas_-_Karen_Keawehawaii_-_Have_A_Merry_Karen_Christmas.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:44am EDT

#23 – Melveen Leed – Christmas with Melveen

In the 1970s Melveen Leed forged a new path in Hawaiian music by combining traditional Hawaiian songs and hapa-haole classics with the sounds of her heroes in Nashville. Hawai`i’s answer to Connie Smith or Donna Fargo, Leed’s music was still somehow Hawaiian because of the material she chose. But these now countless albums (there might have been a dozen over a 15 year period) were produced by Charles “Bud” Dant who despite being based in Hawai`i previously had his roots in all kinds of music on the mainland. To achieve just the sound Leed was seeking, Dant enlisted a raft of Nashville’s finest session players – often referred to as the “Super Pickers,” guys who had backed everyone from Dolly Parton to Willie Nelson. But it would hardly be reasonable to import a dozen guys from Nashville to Honolulu for the recording sessions. So, instead, Dant sent Leed to Nashville where she could not only record with their best and brightest but also soak up a little down home spirit. Then Dant took those tracks into Honolulu’s Sounds of Hawaii studios where he added the Hawaiian touches – most notably, the steel guitar of Jerry Byrd (who, ironically, was not Hawaiian but himself an import from Cincinnati).

And now that you know how all of those classic Hawaiian country sides by Melveen Leed were made, forget all of it. Because Christmas with Melveen was a different affair entirely.

Many have since forgotten that before she was the “Hawaiian Country Girl,” Melveen was a pop and jazz singer who worked the hotels and nightclub of the Waikiki strip singing everything from Cole Porter to Antonio Carlos Jobim to native African fare. (Her latest, I Wish You Love, marks a return to her jazz roots.) So for her sole holiday release, still under the direction of Bud Dant, Melveen completely abandoned the country persona she created and instead reached deep into her bag of tricks to show us everything she can do and every influence that has ever weighted upon her. First there is her straight-ahead pop take on the Mel Torme and Robert Wells classic, “The Christmas Song” (my personal favorite Christmas song). Then there is her jazzier approach to what I have always simply called her “Bells Medley” (“Carol of the Bells,” “Silver Bells,” and “Jingle Bells”). (I hope you appreciate how she manages to continue to swing “Jingle Bells” mercilessly even as Bud Dant superimposes the 3/4 time counterpoint over her 4/4 jam.) And, the piece de resistance, Melveen’s surprising version of “Ave Maria” – a song we might never expect her to tackle, but she proves (as she always does) that she has the chops, at times approaching the gravitas of a Beverly Sills and the soulfulness of a Mahalia Jackson.

If for no other reason, I love Christmas with Melveen because it is one of the rare recordings on which Melveen in her many facets sparkles like the diamond she is – warranting this album a spot among the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. Fortunately for all of us, Lehua Records has re-released this classic in the digital era, and you can find it on such services as Spotify and Rhapsody.

Next time: #22 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i 


Direct download: 23_Christmas_-__Melveen_Leed_-_Christmas_with_Melveen.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:41am EDT

Hawaii Calls - Sonny Kamahele

Google “Sonny Kamahele” and the first search result is indeed an oddity. In an entry on “The Best Luxury Hotels on Oahu,” the online version of Frommers travel guide is quick to point out that although most cannot afford to stay at the “money is no object” Halekulani Hotel, one must still drop by some evening at sunset and sip a mai tai at the House Without A Key while Sonny Kamahele serenades them.  

But Uncle Sonny left us more than 10 years ago now. This Frommers entry then either speaks to the editors’ inattentiveness or the seeming invincibility of the gentleman with arguably the longest career in Hawaiian music show business. Who ever thought the immortal Sonny Kamahele could ever die? Certainly not me.  

Solomon “Sonny” Kamahele was born August 28, 1921 in Honolulu, Hawai`i. I don’t even know how to describe adequately the career of someone who – in a more than 60 year career as a singer, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and arranger – literally and figuratively “did it all.” Sonny’s was no doubt one of the most illustrious careers in the history of Hawaiian music. He was already a first call musician when Alfred Apaka recruited Hawaii Calls cast member Benny Kalama to be the musical director for his show at the then recently opened Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1957, and Benny turned around and enlisted Sonny for the group that would become known for the hotel where they held court, the Hawaiian Village Serenaders. After Apaka’s passing, the group would stay on at the hotel to support shows by such other legends of Hawaiian entertainment as Hilo Hattie while throughout the 1960s Sonny led his own group at this same hotel’s Surf Room. And all the while Sonny was also an in demand studio musician who appeared on more recordings than one can count (often uncredited except to those who recognize his guitar playing or his voice). 

Sonny also toiled largely anonymously as a critically important member of the Hawaii Calls program’s orchestra and chorus – lending his guitar and voice for both the radio and short-lived TV versions of the program as well as on innumerable recordings which found their way around the world courtesy of Webley Edwards’ multi-year contract with Capitol Records. Like so many in the rhythm section of that program – Jimmy Kaopuiki, Sonny Nicholas, and others – Sonny rarely received the credit he deserved. He was too rarely given a vocal solo, but you would occasionally hear his voice pop out of the texture of the chorus – especially if he was singing in his lowest register. 

And, oh, that voice! Sonny’s gorgeous pipes ranged from the highest, sweetest falsetto you have ever heard down to his lowest basso profundo which he used to great effect on the Hawaii Calls novelty numbers. And he was the last of a rare breed of rhythm guitarists who played in the real old style – part guitarist, part drummer, heavy on the syncopation, an upstroke as well as a downstroke with the pick. (Today’s Hawaiian rhythm guitarists do not value the upstroke highly enough, I fear.) And many may have already forgotten that Sonny was handy with a steel guitar, as well – mastering the seldom used D9th tuning.  

Perhaps because so many of the show’s other stars had either passed away, gone on to greener pastures, or altogether packed it in, Sonny began to stand out more on Hawaii Calls by the 1970s. Here he is featured on two numbers from shows selected from the 1972-73 season – both of which honor Queen Lili`uokalani. 

“E Lili`u E” is a mele inoa or “name song,” a song honoring a person – not anonymously like some love songs, but by name. Here the song honors the queen – referring to her as “Lili`u,” for short. But it is not often remembered that the song was not originally for her. The song dates back a little farther to a chant composed for her sister-in-law, Queen Kapi`olani, and was entitled “E Kapi`olani E.” 

By contrast, “Anapau” is a mele ma`i, a song composed to honor royalty by honoring instead their genitalia – a uniquely Hawaiian tradition. This should not be considered vulgar for it is these organs which are the source of life. The reference to Lili`uokalani’s life-giving organs here is the song’s title which means “frisky.” But the song was also sometimes referred to by the title “He Mele Ma`i No Lili`uokalani,” and, like “E Lili`u E,” was originally a chant. This is what makes the arrangement you are listening to all the more interesting since the use of instruments on a song that was originally a chant opens up a world of possibilities – arranger Benny Kalama altering the chords for certain verses to use the IV9 (or subdominant 9th chord) where one would usually expect the I (or tonic). 

I knew Sonny personally from the final period of his career which he spent at the Halekulani Hotel’s famed House Without A Key. I used to go listen to him play with The Islanders, a group led by steel guitarist Alan Akaka, at the venue local musicians once referred to affectionately as “HWAK” where they performed for nearly 20 years from September 1983 until Sonny’s retirement in August 2003. I miss Sonny in as many ways as he had talents. I not only miss his music, I miss his spirit and his kolohe nature. Unlike some of the other relationships I have had the privilege of forging with Hawaiian music legends, it would be disingenuous of me to call Sonny my “friend.” We didn’t know each other well enough. But we shared many a lovely evening after his performances at HWAK, sitting under the kiawe tree hours after the gig ended until Halekulani staff ultimately had to kick us out or sweep around us. He regaled me with stories of a Hawai`i – and a Hawaiian music scene – that I will never knew. Sonny was my hero, but he also personally knew so many of my other heroes that he was my “one degree of separation.” Despite being a legend, Sonny was a most unassuming presence – dressing to the nines in the all-white uniform he himself conceived of for the Halekulani gig (and which the bands which came after still wear to this day), but playing a vintage Gibson archtop so ravaged by time that it was held together with duct tape. And that pretty much sums up the Sonny I will always remember. 

Next time: A Hawaiian Christmas classic that would not have been the same without Sonny…  


Direct download: 04_Hawaii_Calls_-_April-May_1972.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:34am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Boyce Rodrigues in the 70s

You likely read here previously that after sisters Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela Rodrigues, Boyce was the last member of the musical Rodrigues family (whose matriarch, Vicki I`i, was with the show’s cast from its inauguration on July 3, 1935 until 1951 when daughter Lani largely replaced her) to arrive on the set of Hawaii Calls – joining the cast in 1962. But he would stay until the show’s untimely demise in 1975. It would not be long before he would be an audience favorite, catapulting him to stardom in showrooms across Waikiki. During the period when these Hawaii Calls shows were taped in the early 1970s, Boyce would also be headlining at Primo Gardens at the Ilikai Hotel and co-starring in sister Lani’s “Return to Paradise” production there. But a few years later, he would buy a property in the 1600 block of Ala Moana Boulevard and open Watertown – a place that would become the Green Lantern of its generation, the place where all of the other entertainers would go to hang out after their Waikiki gig was over for the night, the result a perpetual all-night jam session featuring Hawai`i’s most famous musicians. Like the rest of the Rodrigues’ `ohana, Boyce was a tremendous addition to the Hawaii Calls cast – jovial and ready to sing a comic hula, or using his baritone on a haunting love ballad. Here we listen to him do a little of both. 

Boyce opens this set with “Hula `Oni `Oni E.” (“`Oni” means “to wiggle.”) I have said time and again that some of the best comic hapa-haole songs were composed by songwriters with no ties to Hawai`i. This song – a favorite among hula dancers – was composed by Cliff Bernal and Joaquin Cambria whose only other composition on record seems to be the “Rhumba Havana.” Boyce is joined by his singing sisters here for a family affair, and there is a brief, but rollicking steel guitar solo by Barney Isaacs. 

I have mentioned already the issue of limited repertoire on this program – with songs being recycled from time to time. You may recall hearing Alfred Apaka sing “Dreams of Old Hawaii” when Ho`olohe Hou examined Hawaii Calls in the 1950s. The song was composed by singer, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader Lani McIntyre for the 1944 film of the same name. McIntyre gave Apaka one of his early breaks when he recruited a still young Alfred to star in McIntyre’s show at the famed Hawaiian Room of the Lexington Hotel in New York City. But with Apaka gone now, Boyce would step up and sing the song that once belonged to Hawaii Calls’ former boy singer. 

Finally, Boyce gives us a song that would be the title of his then forthcoming album, “Happy Me.” When we spoke of Ed Kenney’s performance of “Pearly Shells,” I noted that while ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tatar believed that song to be one of the most successful adaptations of a Hawaiian song into English, I disagreed because the resulting English song doesn’t tell even remotely the same story as the Hawaiian original. If we are looking for a better example of an adaptation of a Hawaiian song into English, it might be “Happy Me” which like the original, “Laupahoehoe Hula” by Irmgard Aluli, tells the story of a young Hawaiian man and the simple pleasures he finds in everyday life in Hawai`i. Ironically, the English versions of “Pearly Shells” and “Happy Me” were both written by Leon Pober (who also wrote “Tiny Bubbles” which is not an adaptation of any song). 

We will hear more from Boyce as we continue our look at Hawaii Calls in the 1970s. 

Next time: A look at a long-time Hawaii Calls cast member who only took center stage in the 1970s… 


Direct download: 02_Hawaii_Calls_-_April-May_1972.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 7:01am EDT

Hawaii Calls – Jimmy Kaopuiki in the 70s

When we spoke about Hawaii Calls bassist and vocalist Jimmy Kaopuiki and his work on the show in the 1950s and 60s, I pointed out that his was one of the many voices that led off the show week after week but which Webley Edwards rarely announced. So to the radio audience Kaopuiki largely toiled in obscurity – which is the lot in life of a great rhythm section player. And Jimmy was one of the best ever. 

Nonetheless, over the last few weeks I have aimed to give Kaopuiki his due (which is long overdue). Here are a few of the numbers with which Jimmy opened the radio show during the 1972-73 season. 

“Tomo Pono” is an old song from the Big Island. It is rarely sung, and on the rare occasion it is, it is usually on the back porch at a pa`ina. (Which is why I was delighted to learn that the song was done once again by the group Waipuna on their album just released last month.) Hawaii Calls’ largely mainland haole audiences would not know that this is one of the most explicit of all of the Hawaiian love songs. As orthographer Jean Sullivan put it, if this song had been written and recorded in English, it would have warranted an “Explicit Lyrics” warning label. Also called “Hō`ese Pue Ana `Oe” (which means “that thing you’ve been concealing”), Jimmy says it all when he sings, “Hō`ike i ka mea nui” (“Show the big thing then already”). 

“Maile Lau Li`ili`i” is a love song by former Lexington Hotel Hawaiian Room bandleader Ray Kinney with an assist from David Burrows. It is a love song in which the lovers are described as various elements occurring in nature around Hawai`i – the maile vine with the palai fern, the `ie`ie vine with the `iwa`iwa frond, and so on and so forth. The metaphor here (or kaona, as the poetic technique is known in Hawaiian) is that these elements not merely co-exist in nature, but are somewhat symbiotic – often wrapping themselves around each other like lovers. Here Jimmy receives a little help from the ladies vocal trio of Nina Keali`iwahamana, Lahela Rodrigues, and Lani Custino. 

“`Uhe`uhene” opens another program for a rollicking hula number in which the ladies used their `uli`uli, small, hollow gourds filled with seeds and capped with the feathers of Hawaiian birds to be used as a rattling percussion implement for the hula. The song, composed by Charles E. King, is often referred to as the “Hawaiian Shouting Song,” but it, too, is a love song which utilizes a fishing metaphor and challenges the fisherman to catch the fish of his choice before another fisherman takes his shot and their lines get all tangled up. 

“Hola E Pae” is – surprise! – another love song, but not one with a happy ending. Sometimes referred to as the “Five O’Clock Hula,” this mele speaks of the gentleman who paid a visit to his lover at the appointed hour – only to discover that someone else had beaten him there. This is one of the rare occasions that we can distinctly hear the twin steel guitars Hawaii Calls always employed – in this case handled by Barney Isaacs and Joe Custino (husband of Lani Custino). In this most interesting arrangement by then musical director Benny Kalama, Jimmy splits each phrase with the ladies trio or the entire chorus, and the key goes up-and-down a half step even in the middle of a verse – very unusual for a Hawaiian song. 

Now I don’t want to say that these songs were taken at a rapid tempo, but Jimmy and the gang just whipped through four songs in 4 minutes 37 seconds. 

You will hear still more of Jimmy Kaopuiki as we continue to celebrate Hawaii Calls in the 1970s. 

Next time: Another gentleman who joined the cast in the 1960s sticks around Hawaii Calls until the bitter end…


Direct download: 01_Hawaii_Calls_-_April-May_1972.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:02am EDT

Teddy Randazzo - Side 3

Teddy Randazzo often referred to himself as a “misplaced Hawaiian.” Many of us can relate to this sentiment – that no matter where we were born or whose blood flows through our veins, we believe we may have been Hawaiian in a previous life (or pray we might be one in the next). Randazzo had a long association with Hawai`i dating back to his days as a teen idol in the 1950s. In 1957, Randazzo was starring opposite Tuesday Weld and Alan Freed in the rock-and-roll film Rock! Rock! Rock!, while a young Tom Moffatt was a budding disk jockey in Honolulu. Moffatt thought that Randazzo was the real deal and spun his records frequently – more frequently, perhaps, than they were heard on the mainland U.S. For this reason some of Randazzo’s records which flailed in the rankings elsewhere sold more copies in Hawai`i than anywhere else. Because of his early popularity there, in a way Randazzo always belonged to Hawai`i.

When Teddy married Hawai`i born Shelly Kunewa, he had no excuse finally but to make Hawai`i his home. Tired of touring and performing and preferring a quieter life close to home and family, Randazzo settled into writing, arranging, and producing records for others. But even before Randazzo called Hawai`i “home,” when old friend and fervent supporter Tom Moffatt launched Paradise Records in 1978 and signed slack key guitarists and brothers Keola and Kapono Beamer for the first release on his new label, he also enlisted the talents of Teddy Randazzo as arranger and co-producer who flew in from the mainland for the assignment.

Those of us who can relate to the feeling of being a “misplaced Hawaiian” can likely also relate to another feeling: That bittersweet melancholy that invades your soul every time you board the plane to leave the islands for home that makes you wonder if you will ever return – that you might be leaving for the last time. For the recording sessions, Keola Beamer brought to the table what is to date the quintessential song to capture that very feeling, even moreso than Andy Cummings’ “Waikiki” 40 years earlier. “Honolulu City Lights” became not merely a sentimental favorite among Hawaiians and Hawaiians-at-heart, but made Hawaiian music history by becoming Hawai`i’s’ biggest selling song of all time. While the song is a beautiful marriage of lyric and melody, arguably the song would not have achieved nearly the success it found without the artfulness of the arrangements and production of Teddy Randazzo. Together, the Beamers and Randazzo achieved perfection and were rewarded with six Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards (for Best Contemporary Hawaiian Album, Best Song and Best Single for "Honolulu City Lights", Best Composer for Keola Beamer, Best Produced Album, and Best Engineered Album for Herb Ono). In an era now referred to as the “Hawaiian music renaissance” when local musicians were experimenting with every outside influence they had been bombarded with since statehood, Randazzo’s tasteful string arrangements, the restrained use of the drum kit, and the folk spirit of two young Hawaiian men with their slack key guitars played in such a manner that you could actually hear the `aina firmly embedded under their fingernails helped Hawaiian music evolve at a pace that was neither too slow nor too aggressive, but just right – achieving a sound that was perfectly at home in Waimanalo, Omaha, or Los Angeles in that era.

It was a sound that helped bring Hawaiian music to the masses.

Randazzo applied similar production wizardry to Hawaiian classics such as Auntie Irmgard Aluli's "Puamana" and John Pi`ilani Watkins’ “Nanakuli” a few more Beamer originals, and a now iconic slack key instrumental. “Kaleponi Slack Key” was heard by locals daily for over two decades when it was adopted as the closing theme song for the KHON 2 news. And the Beamer original "Only Good Times" was featured in a surf film starring Jan Michael Vincent. As a collection, the album Honolulu City Lights was a cohesive whole – one of Hawai`i’s first concept albums – and became the standard by which all other Hawaiian music albums would be judged for at least 15 years (until it was matched – or surpassed – by Keali`i Reichel’s Kawaipunahele in 1993). And in 2004, a panel of respected local Hawai`i musicians and recording industry veterans convened by Honolulu Magazine ranked Honolulu City Lights #1 on the list of “50 Greatest Hawai`i Albums of All Time.”

Co-producer Frank Day told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s John Berger on the 20th anniversary of the record’s release, "Between the vocals that the boys did and Teddy's arrangements, I got goose bumps. It was a classic song that said a lot and it had emotional lyrics -- a perfect combination." But hindsight is 20/20. Keola and Kapono Beamer went on to wax two more LPs for Moffatt’s Paradise Records – inexplicably both without the assistance of Randazzo – and neither attained the success of Honolulu City Lights. Some most unkindly consider these two LPs “flops” – which commercially they were (although artistically the records had their better moments). Both Keola and Kapono went on to enormous solo successes, but the brothers have not recorded together again in nearly 30 years. One can only wonder if the two follow-up LPs had been recorded with Randazzo if they would have achieved a three-peat.

What Hawaiian music history often forgets, however, is that Randazzo followed up Honolulu City Lights with an equally artful endeavor for singer Marlene Sai. This time around, however, Randazzo had even more creative control not only as the sole producer and arranger, but also by contributing more than half of the album’s dozen songs. One of Teddy’s originals written especially for Marlene Sai has become almost as iconic and well-loved as anything the Beamers did the year before, and like “Honolulu City Lights,” it was no doubt the combination of songwriting poignancy and Randazzo’s production magic that made “I Love You” a sentimental local favorite. And then, again, just as he did with traditional Hawaiian standards for the Beamers, Randazzo applied some modern touches to Hawaiian classics – resulting in one of the finest versions of Uncle Johnny Almeida’s “Maile Swing” on record. (That version of that song made it on to every mix tape I made from the 1980s through the 2000s.) And while this album was remastered and rereleased briefly on CD in 1998, I personally think it is criminal that this album that I consider to be a classic is again out of print in any format.

This day began when Teddy’s wife, Shelly, reminded family and friends that today is the anniversary of her husband’s passing. But as long as we are talking about Honolulu City Lights, it should not merely be a footnote to this story that Shelly would never have even gotten to know Teddy had it not been for this album. Shelly was good friends with Sweetie Moffatt (wife of Tom Moffatt) from their days doing promotions together for Hawaiian Airlines. And although Shelly first spied Teddy in New York City, it was while Randazzo was staying at the Moffatt’s Nu`uanu home while working on the Honolulu City Lights album that the two fell in love.

Because this story desperately needed a happy ending…


Trivia: What famous local Hawai`i music icon played piano on the Beamer recording of “Honolulu City Lights?” (Difficulty Rating: Easy if you know the few great pianists in Hawaiian music history. Medium if you’re s good guesser!)

More trivia: Teddy Randazzo based the string section arrangement for “Honolulu City Lights” on a melody written by the Beamers' great-grandmother, Helen Desha Beamer. Name the song. (Difficulty Rating: Hard as hell for anybody but a local Hawai`i musician or a Beamer historian.)



Direct download: 03_Teddy_Randazzo_-_2014_Tribute.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:46pm EDT

Zulu Swings Waikiki

Zulu Kauhi is where my two seemingly disparate series of articles – one on entertainers who got their start at Honey’s in Kane`ohe in the 1960s, and another on entertainers performing in Waikiki the week of July 4, 1974 (according to that week’s issue of the Hawaii Tourist News) - intersect…

Gilbert Francis Lani Damian Kauhi was born in Rainbow Falls, Hilo, on the island of Hawai`i, on October 17, 1937.  He was three-quarters Hawaiian and one-quarter English (courtesy of a grandfather from Michigan). Explaining his unusual nickname, his mother assured an interviewer that she sent her son off to school with his hair neatly combed but that it would become disheveled at football practice. Since he and his teammates were studying the Zulu – a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa – in a social studies class, his buddies likened Gilbert’s hair to that of these African natives. They nicknamed him “Zulu” – a moniker which he stuck with (or one of several variants such as “Zoulou,” which he claimed was the French Tahitian spelling) throughout his career.

Zulu and his family moved to Honolulu where he became one of the noted Waikiki beach boys – giving surfing lessons and outrigger canoe rides to tourists. There are conflicting accounts of Zulu’s schooling – several indicating that he attended the prestigious Kamehameha Schools, and others stating that he attended Saint Louis School in Kaimuki but dropped out after the 10th grade and worked in construction before serving four years in the U.S. Coast Guard. But formal schooling anywhere likely would not have changed Zulu’s destiny. A natural musician and comedian, Zulu and his buddies formed a group called “Zulu and The Polynesians” which performed at parties for “all of the food they could eat.”  Later he formed a Polynesian revue which toured Japan and entertained on cruise ships.

Throughout the 1960s Zulu’s entertainment career unfolded slowly but carefully. He appeared in numerous Hollywood productions based in Hawai`i, starting with the Hawaiian Eye TV show in 1959, followed by the films Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Diamond Head (1962), Rampage (1963), and Hawaii (1966). He also worked as disc jockey at radio station KHVH and was appearing nightly at a club called Honey’s in Kane`ohe – a breeding ground for a raft of future superstars in Hawaiian entertainment, recruited by the owner’s son, a still then virtually unknown Don Ho. When Ho hit the big time and moved his act to Duke Kahanamoku’s at the International Marketplace in Waikiki, Zulu started another band, "Zulu and the Seven Sons of Hawaii," which – despite that Zulu could sing in five languages – performed primarily Hawaiian music.

Zulu’s big break finally came in 1968 when he went to a cattle call audition for a new CBS detective series to be filmed in Hawai`i and quite unexpectedly landed the role of Kono Kalakaua on Hawaii Five-0. The role was perfect for the large and occasionally acerbic Hawaiian who could say more with a look or a head butt than with words. But it was – at least, anecdotally – words he would exchange often with series star Jack Lord that got Zulu fired from Five-O in 1972 after only four seasons.  

Zulu continued appearing in films and television shows such as Magnum, P.I., Charlie’s Angels, Midnight Special, The Glen Campbell Show, The Brian Keith Show, and Roger That. But it didn’t matter how much film or television work rolled Zulu’s way. Hawaii Five-0 was Zulu’s launch pad into a successful career as a showroom headliner – singer, comedian, or both – in and around Honolulu which included first a stint at Duke Kahanamoku’s (after his former boss Ho’s departure) and then an unprecedented (except, perhaps, for Ho) five-year, $2.5 million contract with the C’est Si Bon Showroom in the Pagoda Hotel & Restaurant.

As there are no known live recordings of Zulu in 1974 when he was headlining at Duke Kahanamoku’s at the International Marketplace (a coveted seat vacated by his former boss, Don Ho), I thought it would be interesting to revisit the earliest part of Zulu’s career and his start with Ho at Honey’s in the early 1960s. As you have already read here, Flip McDiarmid captured some of this magic 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, nobody can deny that McDiarmid captured an important moment in Hawaiian music history – including a pre-fame Zulu Kauhi. In this set you hear Zulu lead the Honey’s pack first on the comic “Coed Song” and then a romp through Charles E. King’s “Ne`ene`e Mai A Pili.” But you’re hearing something else as well. You should be able to hear some other future legends we’ve already discussed in the mix here: Assisting Zulu here are Kui Lee (the high voice in the vocal group), the voice and guitar of slack key legend Sonny Chillingworth, and the voice and `ukulele of Alvin Okami (now best known as the proprietor of the KoAloha `Ukulele company).

Zulu – Caricature by Josh Pincus

After a series of legal and health woes, Zulu passed away on May 3, 2004 at the age of 66. He will always be remembered as the wise-cracking, face-stuffing Kono Kalakaua. But I thought we would take this opportunity to remember the exciting stage presence and the beautiful voice that Zulu possessed – perhaps the greater of his gifts than his acting talents.

Although there are many wonderful pictures of Zulu in circulation, I chose instead this amazing caricature by artist and Hawaii Five-O fan Josh Pincus. Visit Josh’s website for more of his amazing creations.

Next time: Zulu reunites with old boss Don Ho for a rare moment on TV… And the 70s showmen who could rival Zulu and Iva Kinimaka


Direct download: 04_Waikiki_Swings.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:54pm EDT

Barry Kim at the Long House

According to the Hawaii Tourist News “Entertainment” section for the week of July 4, 1974, along with Iva Kinimaka and Na Keonimana, the Hilton Hawaiian Village was also serving up the contemporary sounds of Barry Kim.

Barry Kim’s music followed a similar template as other performers of the era – characterized by synthesizers, drum machines, and the rhythms of the disco age. This was not music for the locals. This was music clearly aimed at the tourists, which is why artists like Barry Kim and Iva Kinimaka could survive the lounges and showrooms in Waikiki in this era.

Barry Kim – Hawaiian Favorites (LP)

The set opens with a number from Barry’s 1980 eponymously titled LP Barry Kim. “This Is Love” is indicative of the flavor of Waikiki showroom entertainment in the 1970s and 80s. But while the Barry Kim LP is a departure from the usual Hawaiian standard repertoire, on his earlier 1970s LP entitled Hawaiian Favorites, Kim gives this same treatment to a half-dozen or so Hawaiian classics – from “Blue Hawaii” to “Beyond The Reef.” He also tackles a few modern classics. This may be where the LP falls short – even for its era – since those modern classics were already classics – the originals of which really could not be topped. For example, written by Marcus Schutte, Jr. and arranged by the composer for Gabe Kila & The Nanakuli Sons, the original version of “Paniolo Country” – which renounces the industrialization of the islands and extols the virtues of Hawai`i country living – opens with the mooing of cows and the strains of a banjo. It segues into a more modern 70s beat, but there is a hoedown breakdown in the middle section. By comparison, when you listen to Barry Kim’s disco-ized version, you realize that it may be an appropriate setting for the lyrics since the synthesizers, effects-laden electric guitars, and drum machines Kim utilized fly in the face of the song’s message about getting back to something simpler. But such was the sound that Waikiki entertainers had to embrace in order to be commercially viable for mainland audiences.

But I could say the same of countless acts of the 1970s and 80s. Short of the Kodak Hula Show, this was an era in which it was difficult to find Hawaiian music in Hawai`i. Or, perhaps more appropriately, the pendulum of tastes in local music swung so wildly in one direction that it practically snapped before finding a happy medium.

Next time: A few better versions of “Paniolo Country”… More of the history of the entertainers who graced the many stages of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel… And where is the “Hawaiian music renaissance” that has been written about?…


Direct download: Barry_Kim_1.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 5:56am EDT

Na Keonimana

In the early 1970s, four gentlemen united with the goal of taking Hawaiian folk music in new exciting directions. This was, of course, the goal of many music groups in that era – at least those comprised of up-and-coming teens and twenty-somethings. But this quartet succeeded in accomplishing something truly special. Yet surprisingly they remain underrated (by some) if not altogether forgotten (by most). Despite the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, this was a group comprised of some pretty good parts – most of whom went on to amazing careers in their own right. 

John Kekuku was a singer with a way with an `ukulele. Keli`i Taua was a budding songwriter who could also sing and play guitar. Mike Ka`awa, already a veteran of the Hawaiian music scene having led his own trio as well as participating in the group Anuenue (with Moe Keale, Imaikalani Young, and Paul Martinez), chose the 12-string guitar with which to express himself. Together, under the leadership of bass player and singer Allen Pokipala, the group known as Na Keonimana (Hawaiian for “the gentlemen”) were opening for Iva Kinimaka in the Garden Bar of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1974. And together they were among the many forces forging a new sound for a new era in Hawai`i. 

Their debut album would not appear until two years later. Entitled Hoihoi (Hawaiian meaning “entertaining,” “amusing,” “happy,” or “joyful”), the LP offers up a combination of traditional Hawaiian classics and five brand new Keli`i Taua compositions. Remember this was in an era when few spoke the Hawaiian language, so most groups of this time period were performing “covers” of songs written decades before. But Taua was actively adding to the canon of Hawaiian-language compositions – making Na Keonimana rare from the words hele aku. But they also managed to tastefully (and “tastefully” is the operative word here) combine the traditional Hawaiian songs of decades earlier with new and exciting rhythms and the instrumentation of the modern Hawaiian folk music scene. Their sound was in many ways like what other groups were attempting, and yet it was somehow different. And the intangible ways in which it was different would soon become tangible with a second album and the imitators that would follow. Regrettably, the imitators (or apostles – however you wish to look at it) would become more famous than their predecessor, and Na Keonimana would fade into obscurity. But, arguably, certain other recording projects that are considered by most fans of Hawaiian music to be culturally and historically significant might never have come to fruition if Na Keonimana had not come together first. 

Hawaii Tourist News – Entertainment Section – July 4, 1974

Most of the members of the group would go on to tremendous successes apart that perhaps they might not have achieved together. Keli`i Taua became a prolific songwriter whose songs were covered by everybody from the Brothers Cazimero to Sean Naau`ao. He also did several solo LPs which artfully combined his contemporary compositional style with his expertise in ancient chant (paving the way for others such as Tony Conjugacion and Mark Keali`i Ho`omalu). Allen Pokipala became radio personality Bruddah Poki (remember “Poki In Da Pala?”) who discussed Hawaiian music and culture every week on his KPOA program. And, of course, Mike Ka`awa’s successes are too numerous to mention – ranging from his collaborations with Dennis Kamakahi and Ledward Kaapana to his tenure with Eddie Kamae’s last incarnation of the Sons of Hawai`i. 

Hoihoi lived up to its title as exceedingly enjoyable. But if there was any shortcoming of this debut LP, it may be that it was too happy. The 70s were a troubling time for the world and for Hawai`i, in particular, as it came to grips with statehood and the struggle to maintain a cultural identity. Maybe Hawai`i needed a dose of happy in that moment in time, but it would have been more historically accurate if the album had exhibited the schizophrenic nature of the decade – sometimes elated, sometimes brooding. It would be Na Keonimana’s follow-up LP that would more appropriately reflect the times and the mood of the Hawaiian people, and for that reason I consider it a classic which should be explored in depth. 

Next time: Na Keonimana’s second – and final – LP is one for the ages… Plus the album that is considered a classic which might not have been possible had Keli`i Taua and Mike Ka`awa never combined their creative forces…


Trivia: Na Keonimana would not live in obscurity forever. When the group was elevated to a headliner, who was their not-yet-famous opening act?


Direct download: 01_Na_Keonimana_1.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:55pm EDT

Brickwood Galuteria

He was an account executive and tour director for Hawaiian Airlines. Then he was a radio personality for KCCN 1420AM, KCCN FM100, and Hawaiian 105 KINE. He served as chairman for the Democratic Party of Hawai`i in 2004. Then for a very short while he was a consultant. Then he became the Hawai`i State Senator representing Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kaka`ako, McCully, and Mo`ili`ili. 

And somewhere in between he was a professional musician and singer. And, I mean, a really mean guitar player and a damned good singer. So good, in fact, most of us have forgotten that Brickwood Galuteria won the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Male Vocalist of the Year in 1985 for his LP entitled Brickwood Style. 

Having attended Kamehameha Schools (where music is a staple of the curriculum and which is famed for its annual song contest), and being son of a renown contralto and nephew to none other than Richard Kauhi (arguably the most revolutionary musician in the history of Hawai`i, infamous for blending Hawaiian music with jazz and R&B), it was inevitable that Brickwood would at least have an avocation in music. But for a while it was his (as they say in the music business) full-time gig. Galuteria up and quit the comfort of Hawaiian Airlines and struck out as a professional musician – performing at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for three years with the venerable Marlene Sai before forming his own group, No`eau. Then in 1985 he self-produced his first – and still only – full-length LP with the assistance of such fine musicians as Paul Martinez on `ukulele, Sean Naleimaile on bass, Dean Slocum on keyboard, Kahale Moore on percussion, Bruce Hamada on drum programming, and the vocal arrangements of Imaikalani Young. 

And the record truly was a winner – not merely at the Hōkū Awards – for it held in store something for every type of fan. It offered traditional Hawaiian standards in the Hawaiian language as well as slightly more modern fare including one original from Brickwood’s own pen. The set opens with the original, “Sommer Girl,” which Brick wrote for his then five-year old daughter. (The keyboards and drum machine are our clues that this was definitely recorded in the 80s.) Then the group rips through slightly more traditional numbers arranged in the jazzy style of Uncle Richard Kauhi – “Kuwili” and “A`oia” – on which Brickwood shows off his guitar work and where you can also really appreciate Imaikalani’s vocal arrangements. 

I have a special place in my heart for Senator Galuteria… When I first participated in the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest in 2003, they decided that year that each contestant would have their own celebrity announcer to read their bio and introductions. And mine was Brickwood. I think I made an impression on him since every time after when I competed again, Brickwood would give a shout out and “good luck” to the “guy from New Jersey” on his morning drive radio program. It is with tremendous pleasure that I resurrect this classic recording from one of the classiest guys I know.   


Direct download: Brickwood_Galuteria_1.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:17pm EDT

Hula (No Flash Necessary)

In the 1930s (just as it remains today), most tourist lu`au took place in the evening – commencing at sunset in order to maximize the romanticism of an island paradise. Fascinated tourists snapped picture after picture of the show – the myriad musicians and hula dancers – only to develop the film and discover nothing more than a purple-hazed blur. The combination of the low light of evening and primitive cameras made it impossible in that era for tourists to capture some of the most unique things about a visit to Hawai`i. 

In the midst of the Great Depression, then vice-president and manager of Kodak Hawaii, Fritz Herman, hatched a plan. He enlisted Louise Akeo Silva to launch a daytime hula show on the lawn behind San Souci Beach – across from Kapi`olani Park, near the Waikiki Shell concert hall, close enough to Waikiki for the least energetic tourist to make the walk. A daytime hula show would allow tourists to return home happily with crystal-clear photos of swaying hips and the flourish of the feathered uli uli – all exceedingly adequately lit by Father Sun. But Herman had only one purpose in mind: To sell film. 

When the show opened in 1937, it featured five dancers, four musicians, and an audience of only 100 tourists. But at its peak, the show presented as many as 20 female and six male hula dancers, 15 musicians, and two chanters and played to as many as 3,000 tourists each week. (Many of the cast of musicians and dancers were members of the Royal Hawaiian Girls Glee Club.) During its 65-year run, the Kodak Hula Show entertained and educated more than 17 million visitors. 

Over the years many in the Hawaiian music and hula community accused the Kodak Hula Show of pandering to the tourists with a preponderance of hapa-haole music (songs about Hawaiian people, places, and ideals but sung in the English language). But in its time, the show was an as authentic as possible representation of traditional Hawaiian music and hula as could be found in post-statehood Hawai`i when – as we have heard elsewhere at Ho`olohe Hou ­– Hawaiian music was evolving to incorporate such foreign influences as rock, jazz, R&B, and – a few years later – even disco and reggae. So despite that this was merely a haole gimmick to make money off of the Hawaiian people and their unique culture, the Kodak Hula Show represents an important bridge from the music and dance of Hawai`i’s past and present. It withstood all of the changes and influences that took hold of the acts up and down the Waikiki strip and remained true to its roots. And in some ways tradition won as the kind of music presented at the Kodak Hula Show during this tumultuous period is being performed again by some of the most popular acts in Hawai`i. 

Hawaii Tourist News – Entertainment Section – July 4, 1974

Everything old is new again. 

Listen to this set list… It is clearly aimed at teaching tourists something about Hawaiian culture – even if its corporate producers didn’t care – as it is filled with standards of the hula (and one Tahitian otea, or drum dance). The set opens with “Ula No Weo” which, in the words of kumu hula and ethnomusicologist Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman, was used by the Kodak Hula Show over its many years as a “cornerstone mele to demonstrate ancient Hawaiian dancing.” “Hanohano Hanalei” was likely used to demonstrate the use of the uli uli, a small, hollowed out gourd decorated with feathers and used as an implement in the hula. Then there is “Ho`onanea” (a more modern hula at the time, discussed here at length recently when Ho`olohe Hou celebrated the birthday of its venerable composer, Lena Machado) followed by “Kawika,” formerly a chant honoring King David Kalākaua but here taken in the more modern auana hula style with guitars, `ukulele, and even steel guitar. And they managed to cram all of that education into five minutes! I chose these songs specifically to demonstrate that the notion of the show being “too touristy” was merely a perception since the set list for the typical Kodak Hula Show elucidates that there were more Hawaiian-language song selections than hapa-haole. 

The music heard here is from a record largely geared toward tourists. Although Music from the Kodak Hula Show was not recorded live during the show, it does feature the same musicians who worked the show daily throughout the 1960s. It would be nice, though, to see the Kodak Hula Show one more time for the music is nothing without the hula. 

Next time: A tourist captures a few minutes of the Kodak Hula Show for posterity… But where was the rest of the traditional Hawaiian music in Waikiki in the 1970s?… And what happened to “Kawika” when a new generation of Hawai`i’s musicians got a hold of it…


Trivia: What veteran of the Hawaiian entertainment scene of the mid-20th century was a regular cast member of the Kodak Hula Show almost from its very beginning in the 1930s? (Difficulty Rating: Easy if you have Google.)


Direct download: Kodak_Hula_Show.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 4:58am EDT

Iva Hits Hard… Softly

Iva Kinimaka’s debut LP (1972’s eponymously titled Iva) featured the sound prevalent on record and in Waikiki showrooms during that period. Like Emma Veary’s LPs (and, for that matter, her live act) of this same period, Iva employed a larger orchestra complete with horns, strings, and even a harp. And it featured a mix of old school traditional Hawaiian songs, a traditional Japanese song, and a country-western hit, but very few compositions by contemporary songwriters (and only one, in fact, from Iva’s own pen). He followed it up a few years later with Swinger of Waikiki (for California record label Kolopa) which demonstrated that Iva was changing with the times. But it would be a decade before Iva would find the song and the sound that would “stick.”

Just as the ocean heats up and cools off more slowly than the land surrounding it, Hawai`i’s tastes in music have historically run the same way. Hawai`i embraced reggae in the 70s (a decade after the mainland U.S.) and its taste for the style still haven’t waned. Likewise, Hawai`i embraced disco in the 80s (years after the mainland U.S. had decried it as the most vile form in the history of music, even by those who were boogieing down under a mirror ball just a few years earlier). So while Iva Kinimaka’s disco-flavored release Just Singing It All may have been a little late for the rest of the world, it was just in time for local Hawai`i audiences. But it was a non-disco-flavored outlier that put Iva permanently on the map and earned him his rightful place in Hawaiian music history – an original that he wrote for his daughter, Chamonix. Since covered by more than a dozen artists as diverse as slack key guitarist Keola Beamer and sumo-wrestler-turned-singer Konishiki but with the most popular turn being taken by the Peter Moon Band, Iva struck a kind of gold that has no diminishing returns with the ever popular “He Aloha Mele.”

Arranged by guitarist Jimmy Funai (formerly of the Buddy Fo group but who was a recording session first-call through the 70s and 80s and who is still active today), “He Aloha Mele” – with its jangly acoustic guitars, vibes, and cooing female backing vocals – was a lullaby-like hint of calm in the sea of drum machines and synthesizers that was pervading Hawaiian music in the 1980s. (Actually, this one cut is reminiscent of Iva’s debut LP.) Despite that it remains a staple of such local Hawai`i radio stations as Hawaiian 105 KINE and that those living within earshot of a radio in Hawai`i can’t go a day without hearing it, I thought it was worth hearing again here – especially in contrast to his more disco-oriented take on the Sol K. Bright standard “Oni Aka Moku,” the modern sound that characterizes most of the rest of this album.

Next time: Some of Iva’s friends – and songwriting partners – do well for themselves on record and in Waikiki showrooms too… Plus more of the history of the local entertainers who graced the nightclub and showrooms of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel… And was Hawaiian music completely moving away from its roots in the 1970s?…



Direct download: 02_Iva_Kinimaka_1.mp3
Category:70s and 80s -- posted at: 6:15pm EDT

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

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

Waikiki & Honolulu in the 70’s & 80’s

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 EDT