Thu, 30 October 2014
If Aunty Genoa entered the new decade with the delightful Hula – Volume One, surely fans must have posed the question… What happened to Hula – Volume Two? While there was never a follow-up album by precisely that title, I would argue that some of her fans think they own it regardless.
In 1992 Aunty Genoa went back into Commercial Recording in Kaka`ako for a series of shorter recordings – still then available only on cassette tape – with some (but not all) of the members of her regular working group of that era – including John Lino at the piano, Violet Pahu Liliko`i on bass, and Peter Ahia on guitar. The result was a dozen more classic tracks which were released as three cassette tapes of only four tracks each. But why? Because Side One of each cassette featured Aunty Genoa singing four of the songs, and side two of each cassette featured Aunty Genoa not singing the same four songs. Crazy, huh?
Crazy like a fox! These twelve songs across three cassettes represent Genoa Keawe’s ingenious entrée into the world of karaoke. All the rage at the time, karaoke, a neologism formed by combining the Japanese kara (meaning “empty”) and ōkesutora (meaning orchestra"), is a form of entertainment in which ordinary citizens (i.e. not professional singers) try their hand (or vocal cords) at singing popular favorites to recordings of those songs with the original vocal track removed. Later versions of the karaoke machine, invented in the 1970s but which only took off when restaurants and bars purchased these in droves to fulfill the 90s crazy, played the vocal-less audio track while simultaneously flashing the lyrics to the songs on a screen (a la the “bouncing ball” from conductor Mitch Miller’s Sing Along With Mitch television program of the early 1960s). But this would not be possible until karaoke machines transitioned from the cassette to the CD which could handle other kinds of data besides music.
But Aunty Genoa likely had a far more important mission in mind when she conceived of Sing Along With Auntie Genoa Keawe. With this series of cassette releases, she could teach a new generation of Hawaiians to sing Hawaiian songs and sing them correctly. All one needed to do was follow the lyrics inside the cassette’s “j-card” (the technical term for a cassette’s liner notes since removing them from the cassette box reveals that they are folded into the shape of a “J” to fit inside the bend-able case) and listen – carefully – to Aunty Genoa’s impeccable pronunciation. (This is a concept that dates back to the Music Minus One series of the 1950s on which legendary jazz musicians created recordings with and without the lead singer or instrumentalist in order for budding Frank Sinatras and Charlie Parkers to cut their teeth in the privacy of their own garages and basements.)
There were three cassettes in the series, but if we were to take just Side One of each of these and put them into a single release, for most Genoa Keawe fans this was Hula – Volume Two – the logical follow-up in style and substance to Hula – Volume One. But whether you think of them as one recording or three, they qualify for “OOPs” status (an “OOP” being a treasured “Out of Print” recording that we believe it is a mistake to keep out of circulation) for any number of reasons:
When speaking of “OOPs,” I often say that it is not a qualification of an “OOPs” that the recording be old. There are many fairly recent recordings that are for whatever reason no longer available. Aunty Genoa’s karaoke cassettes were only released in 1992 – barely 20 years ago – but are out of print nonetheless. Interestingly, these fairly recent recordings are so rare that the only references to them on the Internet point back to previous editions of Ho`olohe Hou.
While only a low-resolution MP3 copy of even lower-resolution cassette tapes, I hope you enjoy these rare recordings of Aunty Genoa and group performing “Ke Ala O Ka Rose,” “Wahiikaahuula,” and “Aloha Ka Manini.”
Next time: Aunty Genoa celebrates her Diamond Jubilee by entering the digital era with her first two CD releases – produced (most curiously) by a Japanese production company…
Tue, 28 October 2014
As you likely already know, at Ho`olohe Hou an “OOPs” is not a mistake. In fact, it is just the opposite (because we speak our own language here). An “OOPs” is a very important recording of high quality that may be culturally or historically important but which is inexplicably no longer commercially available. “OOPs” is our short-hand for “Out of Prints” – those recordings that cannot be obtained in any modern format. They are the musical equivalent of the tree in the old “tree falling in the woods” analogy: There are plenty of us in the great big forest of Hawaiian music forest waiting to hear, but there is no sound forthcoming.
Such is the case with the first (of what are regrettably many) Genoa Keawe “OOPs.” In 1974, Genoa Keawe went into the studio with her then current working group – Val Kepilino on bass, John Lino on piano, Herbert Hanawahine on steel guitar, and the voices and `ukulele of Pua Rogers and Peter Ahia – to produce a record some consider a classic. All Time Hula Favorites featured more of what Aunty Genoa specialized in – as the title implies (as did many of her titles previously), music for the hula. What is conspicuous about this LP, however, is that while Aunty Genoa had years earlier started her own record company, GK Records, she and her group recorded this album for rival Poki Records. Perhaps GK Records was dormant through this period. Or perhaps Aunty Genoa was so busy with performing and touring that she could not wear the many hats that GK Records required of her. But whatever the reason, All Time Hula Favorites appeared on Poki for a brief shining moment on vinyl LP and has not appeared since. (Forget about CDs and MP3s for the moment. I do not even recall this album ever being released on an 8-track or cassette tape!)
Whenever we discuss “OOPs” here, I carefully elucidate the criteria I have used when affixing the moniker. And there are four very good reasons (even though I only ever need one good reason) why All Time Hula Favorites qualifies:
The record is considered so essential by some collectors that as of this writing there is currently a copy on eBay listed for $95.
Ho`olohe Hou lovea a good mystery. So until we discover why Aunty Genoa temporarily abandoned her own label (she did not record for GK Records for another five years in 1979) for a competitor, enjoy two of my favorite selections from this forgotten out-of-print classic: “Panini Puakea” (composed by Genoa Keawe’s mentor of years earlier, Uncle Johnny Almeida) and “Paliakamoa” (from the pen of falsetto singer and hula master Bill Ali`iloa Lincoln).
Next time: Aunty Genoa – already more than 30 years into her music career – finally resolves to wax a live recording, but the occasion for which it was intended was a bittersweet one…
Fri, 12 September 2014
We recently discussed the monumentous 1984 sessions – led by singer/multi-instrumentalist/arranger Benny Kalama and produced by steel guitarist Jerry Byrd – which intentionally or unintentionally paid tribute to Benny’s former boss, Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs. The album, He Is Hawaiian Music, faithfully recreated the sound of the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders – a group which was conceived of by Isaacs and of which Kalama was a member. But this beautiful album was snubbed at the 1985 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards – signaling, perhaps, the end of an era for this style of Hawaiian music. It would be another decade before the next revival – and you could once again count Benny Kalama in for the event.
Alvin’s son, steel guitar great Barney Isaacs, was already in ill health when he and some old friends went into the studio to record E Mau in 1994. The cover – Diamond Head and palm trees at Waikiki in burnt orange silhouette – visually romanticized Hawai`i and Hawaiian music in a way that one would not have seen since LPs released in the 1950s. (Most LP covers from Hawai`i from 1970 forward typically featured a photo – or occasionally a drawing - of the artist in profile. Not since the era of the Hawaii Calls radio program and its accompanying LPs on Capitol Records did covers feature pictures of grass skirts, a lu`au, or lovers walking in the moonlight.) But the cover belied the purpose and mission of the music and musicians within. If one unfolded the eight-panel CD insert, they would discover that E Mau had a subtitle which did not appear on the front or back of the CD jewel box: E Mau – The Legacy of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs.
Surprisingly the project was not the brainchild of Alvin’s son, Barney. Rather, it was conceived by the solo euphonium chair for the Royal Hawaiian Band, Scott Furushima, who had fallen in love with what he calls the “Waikiki style” of Hawaiian music and who was taking steel guitar lessons from Barney in order to perpetuate this dying style and era in Hawai`i’s history. What an important mission to attempt to tackle, but with tremendous fervor Furushima assembled just the right musicians who embraced – and could play – the old style. Scott would handle the rhythm guitar chores himself, then current Royal Hawaiian Band bandmaster Aaron Mahi would play bass, Alvin’s son, Barney, would play the steel guitar, and none other than Benny Kalama would wield the `ukulele. And, not at all coincidentally, that quartet is the same instrumentation that Papa Alvin utilized in his Royal Hawaiian Serenaders – Kalama again assuming a role he held nearly 50 years previously, as did Barney who joined his father’s group briefly during the late 1940s, replacing Tommy Castro as the group’s steel guitarist. But unlike the Kalama album of a decade earlier, E Mau featured only compositions by Alvin Isaacs – seventeen of them, in fact, including four that had never appeared on record previously by any other artist. But who better than Scott, Aaron, Barney, and Benny – the group known collectively as the Kahala Surf Serenaders – to debut them?
I would love to spin the entire album for you, but I am going to withhold a little for future celebrations of Alvin Isaacs. But here are a few selections to give you a taste of the tremendous success this project was in recreating a bygone era.
This set opens with a medley of two Isaacs compositions – the first of which is one of those that had not been recorded previously. Scott takes the lead vocal on the peppy medley of “Ku`ualoha E Mali`u Mai” and “Kaleponi Hula.” Despite the passing of years and his failing health (Barney required an oxygen tank during the sessions), his steel guitar playing is still as crisp, clean, and inventive as ever. Scott takes the vocal lead on another Isaacs composition that makes its bow here, “Hanahou, My Boy, Hanahou!” (“Hana hou” means “encore” or “do it again,” and Isaacs’s song encourages us not to let a good thing end – especially in matters of love.) Barney takes a fabulous solo and reprises one of his signature endings that fans of Hawaii Calls will no doubt remember having heard time and again. Scott then leads the group through the first ever recording of “The Wahine In The Lauhala Hat.” And the set closes with a stroll through an Isaacs classic, “He Nani Helena,” which Alvin composed to honor the wife of his once musical partner, Harry Owens. The vocal here is by guest artist Doug Tolentino of the group Pa`ahana, and anyone familiar with the original version by the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders will find Doug’s version eerily reminiscent of falsetto legend George Kainapau’s take on this song.
As with Benny Kalama’s He Is Hawaiian Music ten years earlier, we could ask why this beautiful recording received absolutely no love at the 1995 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards (Hawai`i’s local music industry awards program). But in this case the answer is a little more readily apparent and boils down to bad timing: E Mau was released the same year as Keali`i Reichel’s debut Kawaipunahele, as well as what is arguably the best loved of all releases by the Makaha Sons, Ke Alaula. These two CDs absolutely swept the Hōkūs that year.
More importantly, I refer to E Mau as an “OOPs” – by which I do not mean a mistake by any means but, rather, my short-hand for “Out Of Print.” This recording is historically and culturally important for any number of reasons:
(And about this last point, I make the distinction “in the group setting” since Barney would make one last recording of slack key and steel guitar duets with George Kuo entitled Hawaiian Touch. But that was not a last recording of the style of steel guitar for which Barney was known but, rather, a first for him on an acoustic steel guitar.)
That E Mau has not been rereleased in MP3 format is even more distressing considering that the recording is so recent that the master tapes cannot be lost and should be in pristine condition considering that they were made well into the digital recording era. But even if at a loss for recovering the original master tapes, the record company could make a perfect copy of one of the many CDs in circulation and reissue that. But, alas, no. Which is why when I introduced the “OOPs” theme at Ho`olohe Hou, I was very clear to point out that not everything that is out of print is necessarily because the master tapes are too old to be located. Sometimes it is just a grievous error in judgment on the part of the producers, artists, and corporations involved in the recording.
But, worse still, the writer of the liner notes – under the heading “Coming Soon” – promises a follow-up to E Mau. Of course, it is entirely possible that the project was scrapped when Barney left this life – the others perhaps believing that an Isaacs should absolutely be involved in such a project or that Barney’s inimitable steel guitar style would be the cornerstone of it. (And, if this was their thinking, they would be largely correct about that, I agree.) But the liner notes are not at all clear whether or not the project was completed before Barney’s untimely passing on February 12, 1996, and Benny Kalama would be gone not too long after on September 21, 1999 – perhaps once and for all marking the end of an era.
We will hear more from E Mau in the future at Ho`olohe Hou as I personally feel it is one of the great out-of-print treasures that it is an absolute pity to have removed from circulation.
Next time: We wrap up our tribute to Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs with some performances of his classic compositions by today’s popular artists in Hawai`i…
Wed, 10 September 2014
I could have “tagged” this article under either of the recently introduced Ho`olohe Hou theme categories prompted by my on-going investigation of the life and music of Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs. I introduced a segment entitled “OOPs” – my shorthand for “out of print” treasures – to discuss Alvin’s collaboration with Sam Kahalewai on the album entitled A Lei Of Songs From Sam. And I introduced a segment entitled “`Ohana” – Hawaiian for “family” – to talk about Alvin’s musical sons. This article is where these two topics joyously intersect – an out-of-print LP featuring not one, not two, but all three of the musical Isaacs sons along with their father.
When I introduced the ridiculously titled “OOPs” segment at Ho`olohe Hou, I explained that not everything that is out of print is worthy of being heard again. The double-entendre in “OOPs” is my not-so-humble opinion that it is a huge mistake that the recording in question is no longer available because of its historical or cultural significance. So here are the criteria for which Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs & Sons earns its “OOPs” status:
And because it was recorded in the modern era, it is in a sense like listening to a modern-day recreation of the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders – the super-group Alvin led nearly thirty years earlier when technology could not adequately capture the magic that Alvin, George Kainapau, Benny Kalama, and Tommy Castro were making. Thus Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs & Sons is a throwback to a time when Hawaiian music was much different than it was becoming when this LP was made in 1978.
The album featured Alvin’s sons Barney on steel guitar, Atta on slack key guitar (and, occasionally, rhythm guitar), and Norman on bass as well as their voices combined in harmony. Here they perform a series of Isaacs originals – opening with “I Want To Be Hawaiian,” a song to which I can relate with every fiber of my being, with lead vocals by Papa Alvin. Norman takes the lead vocal – in his full tenor in one key and in his falsetto during the key changes on the repeat of each verse – on the first and still only recording of Alvin Isaacs’ “Kau`iokalani” (not to be confused with another more popular Isaacs composition by the similar title “Kau`ionalani” which has been covered by everybody from Kapena to the Lim Family to Amy Hanaiali`i Gilliom). And they close out the set with Papa taking the lead vocal on his composition “Ho`owali La” (a favorite of Na Hoa’s Halehaku Seabury-Akaka and one which he performs with aplomb).
Ho`olohe Hou will revisit this album time and again until faithful listeners have heard it in its entirety. Until then, I hope you have savored this brief taste of an out-of-print classic featuring the combined talents of the Isaacs `ohana – father and sons.
Next time: Alvin Isaacs’ longtime musical partner revisits his friend’s compositions and the classic sound of the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders (of which they were both members)…
Mon, 8 September 2014
In an attempt at understanding the mind of this blogger and his obsession with Hawaiian music... I began listening to Hawaiian music nearly 44 years ago while still in the womb, and I began performing Hawaiian music almost as soon as I exited it. I have heard of all of nearly 25,000 sides of Hawaiian music in my personal archives. I do not have databases. I have memory (and an advanced directive that instructs that the plug be pulled when I can no longer tell you who played steel guitar on any of these 25,000 recordings). At this point, I do not merely hear the music. When Hawaiian music is playing, my mind is associating millions of pieces of data like a huge connect-the-dots puzzle. No single of piece of Hawaiian music lives in isolation in my memory. Rather, Hawaiian music and musicians are strung together in an endless lei that encircles my heart and my soul.
When I began putting together a tribute to Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs – perhaps one of my top three or four favorite Hawaiian music artists of all time, one that has been the most influential on my own music, and, therefore, one I have listened to perhaps more than nearly any other – I began making some connections. These connections are the impetus for two new theme segments at Ho`olohe Hou. And here is the first which – after an exhaustive linguistic wrestling match with myself in which I both won and lost – I have simply entitled “OOPs.”
Some explanation for this bizarre title is in order… When Ho`olohe Hou was (first) a podcast and (then) a radio program, each week I did a segment entitled Why In The World Is This Out Of Print? I would feature recordings of historic or cultural significance which – while not necessarily old – were no longer commercially available. (For example, an album sweeps the coveted Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards as recently as the 1980s but remains out of print.) That segment is being revived under the more concise title “OOPs” – my short-hand for “the Out of Prints,” but also a not-so-veiled reference to my belief that it is a huge mistake that these recordings are no longer available because of their importance in perpetuating a song, a composer, an artist, or a style that might otherwise be lost if we don’t bring back such recordings here at Ho`olohe Hou.
I nearly retitled this segment “The 50 Most Important Hawaiian Records You’ve Never Heard” – a nod to the numerous Honolulu Magazine polls that have resulted in so many “50 Greatest” lists over the last few years. (I do not always agree with such polls.) I quickly realized that my new title had twice as many syllables as the old title (and I am paying for the bandwidth for this blog). But the title is equally valid. Listening to the music of Papa Isaacs brings to mind numerous recordings which should be preserved and propagated not merely for our entertainment, but for our continued education in Hawaiian music – which, after all, is the primary mission at Ho`olohe Hou.
Regardless of what I call this segment, over the coming weeks and months I am going to intermittently (when and as appropriate) feature such recordings and try to put them in their appropriate cultural and historic context. Starting with this one…
I recently spun an Alvin Isaacs composition entitled “Sing Your Cares Away” as performed by Sam Kahalewai. This is from a most unusual release – and one of the most coveted among collectors of Hawaiian music – entitled A Lei Of Songs From Sam. It is historically important for any number of reasons, but let me try to capture the most important of these:
It is probably this last point that makes A Lei Of Songs From Sam so highly coveted by the steel guitar-playing community. Fans of Hawaiian music immediately recognize Gabby’s name as the folk hero most frequently associated with slack key guitar. But steel guitar aficionados know Gabby first and foremost for his unmistakable touch and tone on the steel and his ever tasteful and jazzy playing – of which, regrettably, there are scarce few examples on record. It is for this reason that the Pahinui family – not the Kahalewai or Isaacs families – led by Gabby’s son, Martin, and grandson, John (affectionately referred to as “Gabby” for his grandfather) are in a heated pursuit of the master tapes to broker a rerelease.
But because of its unique origins, the chances of A Lei Of Songs From Sam ever seeing the light of day remastered in a digital format are slim. Clearly labeled “Recorded in Hawaii” on the LP’s cover, the record was pressed and distributed by Four Winds Recording of Hutchinson, Kansas! While Hawaiian music was once popular on the mainland – selling in droves and released in large quantities by such major labels as Decca, Columbia, and RCA Victor – this was no longer the case by the early 1960s when this LP was released. So it is difficult to conceive of the business model that would entice a small, independent, rural mainland U.S. label to go to the expense of recording, mastering, pressing, and distributing this record. And one must also wonder how many of the presumably few pressed copies actually made their way back to Hawai`i.
It’s all so curious.
But we cannot pay tribute to Alvin Isaacs without surveying a generous portion of this long-forgotten (by most) LP.
The set opens with Alvin himself singing his own composition “Poi Song,” a novelty number in the vein of “No Huhu” (but minus the dialect). The steel guitar sits out this tune, and the instrumental lead is taken by an anonymous vibraphonist. You can hear Sam and Gabby in the vocal trio on the refrains. This rare Isaacs composition has only been recorded once more in the 50 years since its first appearance on record here – by Tau Greig and Damien Farden, the group formerly known as `Elua Kane.
Alvin’s son, Norman, takes the vocal lead on his father’s composition “Ala Wai Hula” with his distinctive falsetto. The voices of Papa Alvin, Sam, and Gabby chime in on repeats of each verse and the out chorus, and careful listeners will appreciate Gabby’s tasteful two-bar “vamps” between each verse (the vamps often being the steel player’s only opportunity – however brief – to show off their technique and creativity when they are not afforded a solo chorus). This Isaacs composition had not been recorded before and has not been recorded by any other artost since. You will hear more of Norman Isaacs when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates his October birthday.
The set closes with the rollicking Alvin Isaacs composition “Ki`ipau Chant.” A largely vocal jaunt, the voices of Alvin, Sam, Norman, and Gabby combine from start to finish like a train coming into the station. While not a staple of the modern Hawaiian repertoire, some listeners will recognize this Isaacs composition as one covered fairly recently by Teresa Bright for her Painted Tradition CD.
What is also curious about this recording is how Sam Kahalewai received top billing on what is essentially an ensemble effort. Each of the performers trades lead vocals in almost equal proportion, and the song content is divided equally among Kahalewai compositions, Isaacs compositions, and covers of songs by other songwriters.
You will no doubt hear more from A Lei Of Songs From Sam when Ho`olohe Hou celebrates Sam Kahalewai (on the occasion of his December birthday) and again when we explore Gabby Pahinui’s role in the evolution of steel guitar.
Until then… This is Ho`olohe Hou. Keep listening…