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Aloha. And then some.

Category:general -- posted at: 12:39pm EDT

Joe Marshall

Rarely do you hear or read a tribute to a bass player in a Hawaiian band. In the jazz world, if a Ray Brown, Slam Stewart, or Percy Heath passes away, tributes abound for each of those gentleman is known – in his own way – as breaking new ground in the art of the jazz bass. But in Hawaiian music, not so much. 

But if jazz bassists are constantly trying to break new ground, in Hawaiian music the bass is the ground itself. Except at certain junctures in the story arc of Hawaiian music history, rarely is there a drummer in a traditional Hawaiian band. The core of the Hawaiian rhythm section is often a combination of guitar and bass, `ukulele and bass, or guitar-`ukulele-bass. Notice what all of these have in common? The bass.

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Except at a slack key guitar concert, there pretty much has to be a bassist in every Hawaiian music aggregation. And that bassist is fulfilling two roles: They provide the lowest root tone that propels the harmonic structure of a song (i.e., chord motion), and they also keep the tempo and meter (i.e., they are the de facto drummer when there is no drummer). In cases where Hawaiian music is intended to accompany the hula, then, arguably the bassist is the most important member of the band for he/she is the timekeeper that keeps a steady tempo for the hula dancer. Although rarely maligned like drummers (insert your own drummer joke here), there is rarely any praise for the Hawaiian bass player. And yet their role – while not playing one of the uniquely Hawaiian instruments like the `ukulele or steel guitar – is a critically important one. 

Which brings me to the unassuming Joe Marshall who spent most of his life and career as the bassist for the seminal Hawaiian folk music aggregation The Sons of Hawai`i. When we think of the Sons, certain icons of Hawaiian music come to mind. There is, of course, the Sons’ founder/leader Eddie Kamae who broke ground with a unique chord melody approach to the `ukulele that allowed him to cross the boundaries of the Hawaiian and jazz idioms (and who is often credited as the first to do this, paving the way for guys like Herb Ohta and – much later – Jake Shimabukuro). And everyone is also aware of Eddie’s meticulous attention to detail in such matters as the Hawaiian language which grounded the Sons and kept them uniquely Hawaiian even as they were blazing new trails in Hawaiian music by injecting the influences of rock, jazz, and even Baroque classical into their new sound. Then thoughts turn to Gabby Pahinui – perhaps for his slack key guitar prowess (the first to be captured on record playing slack key guitar with his seminal 1947 recording of “Hi`ilawe”), perhaps for his lifestyle (fulfilling the promise of one of his most requested tunes, “Livin’ On A Easy,” picking up his paycheck on Friday at 5pm, blowing it on booze before midnight, maybe never going home for the entire next week), or perhaps for his status as Hawaiian folk music icon (a Hawaiian musician who loved Hawai`i and Hawaiian people but who rarely sang a Hawaiian lyric the same way twice). And then you might think of David “Feets” Rogers who created his own singular steel guitar style – laying back in the tune for so long you forgot he was there before coming back in and punctuating the song with his clear-as-a-bell harmonics (sometimes known as “chimes,” which are very difficult to play because they require such a gentle touch). You will think of these three, and maybe you will forget that the Sons was not a trio, but a quartet. What do we talk about when we talk about Joe Marshall? We don’t. 

But Joe fulfilled all of the roles of the bass player described earlier and more. If other bass players were the ground – the foundation – of the Hawaiian music band, then Joe was the bass player breaking new ground. He had to. He had to evolutionize or revolutionize something about Hawaiian music since he could no doubt see what was going on around him – the tremendous impact Eddie, Gabby, and Feets were having on the Hawaiian music world. If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Joe was not going to be the weakest part. 

He began his silent revolution with a visual. If The Sons of Hawai`i’s music was to have a relaxed sound and feel, then they needed a look to match. So Joe began playing the massive upright bass sitting down with it across his lap. Now the group had a uniform look – everybody seated, everybody relaxed so that the audience could be relaxed too. 

Next came the sound… As recounted in Hawaiian Son, James Houston’s fascinating read on the life of Eddie Kamae, the group was in pursuit of a new sound. Eddie called it the “open sound,” and it hinged on two features of the music: rhythmic technique and innovative tuning. The rhythm – especially on the up-tempo tunes – was like a freight train coming straight at you in a tunnel you could not escape. It was heavy with syncopation. And it was clearly not for the hula. Joe’s bass was pivotal in making these rhythms work. But the innovative tunings were another matter. We are not merely talking about slack key here. The freight train needed to hum along, and the “hum” was literally and figuratively generated by open strings on the guitar and `ukulele. On a stringed instrument, when some of the strings are fretted with the fingers while others are left open or untouched, the open strings will naturally “ring” sympathetically when the fretted strings are played. You don’t even need to touch them: The vibrations of the soundboard (or the top of the instrument) will cause these strings to vibrate automatically. This is the drone that was critical to the Sons’ sound. Gabby’s guitar did this by the very nature of slack key guitar tunings in which strings are loosened - making them more prone to vibration. But Eddie followed suit by figuring out which fretboard positions allowed the most strings to vibrate sympathetically and then keeping a number of `ukulele on stage – each tuned differently – so that he could always play in these open positions by grabbing a different `ukulele to play songs in different keys. (Essentially, Eddie was always playing in the position of the key of C, but if the `ukulele was tuned differently, he could be fingering in the key of C but the `ukulele would sound as if he were playing in F, G, or some other key.) Joe understood that the whole thing would come together if he could capitalize on the sympathetic drone of open strings too. But this had never really been done on the bass. Joe experimented and ultimately achieved the sound the Sons needed by removing the lowest E string from his bass and replacing it with a lighter gauge string that he tuned up to high C. This high C would resonate when left open when Joe was playing in other keys. In other words, Joe arrived at a sort of bizarre slack key bass, and it was just what the Sons needed to complete their sound. 

But Joe’s innovations didn’t stop there. Because Eddie and Gabby were the names associated with the Sons, it is often assumed that they were the masterminds of the Sons’ forward-thinking arrangements that incorporated the jazz, rock, and classical influences mentioned earlier. This is not entirely true. The true jazzer at heart was Joe, and some of the most instantly recognizable elements of the Sons’ arrangements were conceived of by Joe. But this should come as no surprise to anyone who knew Joe or who knew that this unassuming Hawaiian boy was also classically trained in the French horn, trombone, clarinet, and saxophone during his days at the Kamehameha Schools. 

Finally, perhaps because he was Kamehameha Schools trained, Joe was also known as a stickler for accuracy in singing Hawaiian language songs. This means that naturally Joe was perpetually irritated with Gabby who was not a stickler in this way. Eddie Kamae recounted that Gabby had a made-up word – “skabadooz” – and when Gabby was going to forget the words to a song and call an audible, he would enthusiastically shout, “Skabadooz!” This irritated Joe, and so he began referring to Gabby as “Mr. Skabadooz” – perhaps a passive-aggressive attempt to get Gabby to try harder when it came to what he was singing. 

To honor Joe Marshall on his birthday, I wanted to offer a few seldom heard selections from The Sons of Hawai`i that you may have difficulty finding as not all of the Sons’ work has been remastered and rereleased in the digital era. 

“Komo Mai Ehea Ke Kanaka” was the opening number from the Sons’ first LP, Music Of Old Hawaii. But that is not the version of the song you hear here. This version was recorded nearly a decade later for the National Geographic-sponsored release The Music of Hawaii, which the magazine’s editors intended to be the quintessential representation of Hawaiian folk music. (This is the same LP from which we recently heard an oli by Ka`upena Wong.) The liner notes credit the song to Eddie Kamae – referring to it as a “new song in the old tradition.” This is not entirely accurate. The mele (or lyric) is actually an ancient chant which Eddie set to music. But Eddie is often credited with composing the song to this day. 

One of the most coveted LPs among collectors of Hawaiian music had until recently been Marcella Kalua’s The Girl From Papakolea on which she is accompanied by The Sons of Hawai`i. Despite that this was out of print for more than 40 years, it is available again courtesy of Lehua Records which reissued the album as MP3 downloads. (A word of caution: The sound quality of the MP3s may be questionable since Lehua Records re-released its entire catalog at the same time in 2012. Because the entire catalog – dozens of albums – mysteriously appeared at the same time, it is highly unlikely that any care was taken in the remastering of these albums. They are likely straight transfers from the master tapes or – worse – from an LP.) Sound quality aside, the album itself is a treasure which may be worth adding to your collection regardless of quality. Hearing it again does make one wonder why someone with such tremendous talent as Marcella Kalua stopped at only one LP. Here she sings “Hali`ilua” with the Sons. 

A long forgotten gem of Hawaiian music is Bill Kaiwa’s LP Sings At Maunalahilahi which he recorded with The Sons of Hawai`i. This 1960s Hula Records release is somewhat of a misnomer since it was not a live recording and was not recorded anywhere near Maunalahilahi. (The title is likely a reference to Bill Kaiwa’s dear friend, Jack Waterhouse, who made his home at Maunalahilahi when the “world’s smallest mountain” was privately owned by this Matson Lines magnate.) We hear Bill sing “Kuwiliwili Iho Au,” a graphic love song Hawaiian-style composed by the Royal Hawaiian Band’s first leader, Captain Henri Berger. This energetic love-making song would not have worked nearly as well without the Sons’ equally energetic arrangement. 

Finally, we hear Joe and the Sons from the third Sons of Hawai`i LP, This Is Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii, released in 1965. This was the first Sons LP without Gabby Pahinui. A powerhouse of a musician to attempt to replace, Eddie had to enlist two musicians to fulfill Gabby’s role: guitarist/singer Bobby Larrison (who later formed the Lopaka Trio with Hiram Olsen and forged a new sound of his own) and slack key guitar stalwart Atta Isaacs. This made The Sons of Hawai`i a quintet for the first time. This is arguably the Sons’ finest LP; the arrangements are killer and Eddie’s `ukulele work simply stellar. In 1971, Representative Spark Matsunaga named the album in the U.S. Congressional Record as “the best representative of traditional Hawaiian music. And yet it has not made an appearance on CD or MP3 (except in limited edition in Japan, the origins of which may also be dubious). So this recording has taken on mythic status among both those who have heard it and those who haven’t. You hear Eddie and the Sons perform “Na `Ai Ono,” a song extolling the virtues of the delicacies found on the pa`ina (or lu`au) table, composed by Clarence Kinney (who also composed the hula standard “Holoholo Ka`a”). 

Joe Marshall played with other groups before The Sons of Hawai`i, but it his role in the Sons that will always be remembered while still somehow being underestimated. I hope this tribute goes a little way toward furthering – and clarifying – Marshall’s legacy while helping us gain an understanding of the importance of the bass player in Hawaiian music. I also hope you enjoyed hearing some forgotten Sons of Hawai`i recordings once again.

Direct download: Joe_Marshall.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:19am EDT

Contest – Three of a Kind!

Win a new release Hawaiian music CD – on me! How hard could it be? You’ll find out…


It’s time to resurrect a tradition that dates back to when Ho`olohe Hou was a radio show. I used to love to give away Hawaiian music – an opportunity to introduce listeners to songs and artists they might never have been exposed to before. So I devised the (oft maligned and borderline insidious) “Three of a Kind” contest. Make no mistake: This contest is hard. While it does not require a Hawaiian music industry insider or a degree in ethnomusicology to get to the correct answer, it does require a knowledge of Hawaiian music that exceeds that of the casual listener. If you are new to Hawaiian music – and many readers of this blog are – you may already be out of luck. You simply don’t have a chance. But this is an opportunity for all who enjoy Hawaiian music to listen to it differently. If the answer to the contest is in the music, then we need to listen attentively. It brings Hawaiian music into the foreground rather than in the background at your lu`au or while you’re cooking dinner or cleaning the house. 

Here’s how it works: Click on the “PLAY” button to hear three songs by Hawaiian music artists. These songs or artists will have something in common. What is it? An example: If I were to play three songs – one each by Genoa Keawe, The Sons of Hawai`i, and Bill Kaiwa – you might recall that all three were Hula Records artists in the 1960s or that all three songs came from a Hula Records LP. But that would be way too easy. Typically what the three songs I will play will have in common would be far more obscure. Because this is the first time we’re trying this, however, I will go a little easier on you this time around. On a scale from 1 to 10, I rate the difficulty of this contest a solid 6. Let’s see how you do. If you think you know the answer, first “LIKE” the post on Facebook*, then write your answer in the comments field. The first to answer correctly wins! 

And for their efforts, the winner will receive a single CD (up to a $15 value plus shipping) from the inventory of Me Ke Aloha, my “go to” web retailer for all new Hawaiian music releases. You’ll simply go shopping, select any single CD, tell me what you choose, and I will order it for you and have it shipped directly to you. It’s that simple. You get to go shopping with me. Don’t know what to pick up? The first page of inventory at Me Ke Aloha is an embarrassment of riches. I highly recommend two new releases by my friends Keikilani Lindsey and Kapono Na`ili`ili (both of whom will be featured on Ho`olohe Hou soon, once I can catch them standing still long enough to chat with them about their music). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. You have to win first. And in order to win, you have to play. So start listening and see what you can come up with. If nothing else, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to interact across the Ho`olohe Hou community. And that – after all – is my great joy: Talking about Hawaiian music with all of you.  


Direct download: Three_of_a_Kind_-_August_2014.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:57pm EDT

Ka`upena Wong Chants

When writing about James Ka`upena Wong yesterday, I promised myself that – despite that Wong is among the great living practitioners of Hawaiian chant – I would not write about chant because I know too little about it to be informative to the reader. At the same time, since my last post I have been listening to the few extant recordings of Wong’s chants over and over again, and I realize that this art form – in the hands and mouth of a master – is so compelling that it transcends language. Which is no doubt why Wong has been chosen time and again to represent Hawai`i and this art form across the nation and around the world. So, contradicting myself (not the first time I have done so, and certainly it won’t be the last), I want to share with you here two short pieces of chant performed by Wong – especially for those unindoctrinated in the art form. The two pieces are somewhat different in form – providing a launching pad for an on-going discussion on Hawaiian chant. For this reason, I offer up these pieces in reverse chronological order of that in which they were performed and recorded. And I will rely upon some experts along the way to give these chants and differing chant styles the appropriate context. 

For more than 25 years, one of my most invaluable resources has been Nathaniel B. Emerson’s Unwritten Literature of Hawaii. (I first located this volume in 1989 at the Bucknell University library, already long out of print. Fortunately it is back in print and – because of its age and entry into the public domain – is also available electronically free of charge courtesy of Project Gutenberg.) Emerson describes oli as follows: 

In its most familiar form the Hawaiians--many of whom possessed the gift of improvisation in a remarkable degree--used the oli not only for the songful expression of joy and affection, but as the vehicle of humorous or sarcastic narrative in the entertainment of their comrades. The traveler, as he trudged along under his swaying burden, or as he rested by the wayside, would solace himself and his companions with a pensive improvisation in the form of an oli. Or, sitting about the camp-fire of an evening, without the consolation of the social pipe or bowl, the people of the olden time would keep warm the fire of good-fellowship and cheer by the sing-song chanting of the oli, in which the extemporaneous bard recounted the events of the day and won the laughter and applause of his audience by witty, oft times exaggerated, allusions to many a humorous incident that had marked the journey. If a traveler, not knowing the language of the country, noticed his Hawaiian guide and baggage-carriers indulging in mirth while listening to an oli by one of their number, he would probably be right in suspecting himself to be the innocent butt of their merriment. 

The lover poured into the ears of his mistress his gentle fancies: the mother stilled her child with some bizarre allegory as she rocked it in her arms; the bard favored by royalty--the poet laureate--amused the idle moments of his chief with some witty improvisation; the alii himself, gifted with the poetic fire, would air his humor or his didactic comments in rhythmic shape--all in the form of the oli. 

Simply put, before the introduction of a formal system of writing, the Hawaiians depended on the oli as the primary medium for preserving oral histories and traditions such as genealogy, special places, important events, and prayers. 

With regard to the oli style, Jonah La‘akapu Lenchanko writes at Kūlia I Ka Nu`u (the Kamehameha Schools webs resource for Hawaiian language and cultural competencies): 

The beauty of the world of oli is that it is a very individualized effort. Each chanter has his or her own different voice quality and technique. Even the way a chant is chanted can differ depending on each individual’s past training and genealogy in chanting. It is said that chanting is a very "lonely" art. It is usually done as a solo performance by a chanter without any kōkua (help) from others. As such, the performance of an oli may sometimes be done differently by the chanter at each occasion. 

In the section on “Chant” written for the original edition of Hawaiian Music and Musicians, ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tatar formally describes some of the essential elements of oli: 

- The oli is typically performed by a soloist without any instrumental or percussive accompaniment.

- The range of pitches is small (on average, a minor third, a major second, or a fourth).

- The number of different pitches that can be distinctly heard are few (perhaps two or three).

- Rhythmically the oli lacks a regular pulse and meter. 

There are other features of the oli, but it is this last that those new to the art form will immediately recognize distinguish the style. There is melody but not a defined meter, and so oli straddles a line between speech and song. You can hear this feature in this selection from the 1970s National Geographic compilation album The Music of Hawaii (no longer available). Rather than create a compilation LP of previously released material, National Geographic funded an entirely new recording by artists carefully selected to represent the finest in “Hawaiian folk music.” For the occasion, Ka`upena Wong was chosen to record an emotional oli entitled “Eia Hawai`i” which speaks of the arrival in Hawai`i of the Polynesian voyagers who had sailed for weeks across a previously uncharted Pacific Ocean from their home in Tahiti. The oli begins… 

Here is Hawai`i, an island, a man

Hawai`i is a man

A man is Hawai`i

A child of Tahiti 

Contrasting with the mele oli¸ the second selection is a mele hula. It differs from the oli in a number of ways that again will be immediately recognizable to the listener, but the most important features which contrast the mele hula from the oli are: 

- The mele hula is intended for the hula and, therefore, typically has (at least) rhythmic accompaniment such as the pahu (drum) or ipu heke (gourd).

- Because it is intended for the hula, the mele hula will typically have a regular pulse and meter. 

Just as there are many types of mele oli, there are indeed many types of mele hula. The one heard here is a mele ma`i, genital or procreative chants which – according to Kihei de Silva – “were traditionally composed at the birth of a child -- especially the first born -- in order to celebrate and encourage the perpetuation of that child’s family line.” Ka`upena Wong here performs “Talala A Hipa,” or “The Bleat of the Ram,” which describes the rambunctious behavior of a ram – a reference to the subject of the mele, Kamehameha V. This recording was made in performance at Punahou School in 1964 shortly before Wong left to perform at the Newport Folk Festival. Taken from a long out of print LP, the Hawaiian music world should be grateful for the efforts of ethnomusicologist and kumu hula Dr. Amy Ku`uleialoha Stillman who – with the assistance of Michael Cord and Hana Ola Records – compiled this and nearly two dozen other forgotten chant recordings into digital form for the 2010 release Ancient Hula Hawaiian Style – Volume I: Hula Kuahu. The selections are translated and annotated by Stillman with her usual meticulous attention to detail – making this an invaluable entry in any Hawaiian music collection and an excellent primer for those previously unindoctrinated in the art of chant until reading this blog.  

There is still one more entire volume of chant by Ka`upena Wong – the 1974 LP Mele Inoa – Authentic Hawaiian Chants, which has not yet been made available in digital form. This is a pity since – as you have now heard – Wong is the master of the art form of chant and – as Stillman so succinctly states – “undisputedly the most renowned chanter of his generation.”

Direct download: Kaupena_Wong_Chants.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:17am EDT

George Paoa

George Paoa was born on August 17, 1934 in Honolulu. He got his start on a radio station KGMB contest program, the Listerine Toothpaste Amateur Hour, on which surprisingly he only took second place. But from this humble beginning Paoa went on to great renown performing with Kui Lee and with Johnny Spencer and His Kona Coasters both in Hawai`i and on the mainland in Reno, Tahoe, and Las Vegas. When he returned from the mainland, he performed with Don Ho at the original Honey’s Tavern in Kane`ohe. By 1966 Paoa had moved to Maui where he eventually performed at the Ka`anapali Beach Hotel, the Maui Hilton, the Royal Lahaina, and the Maui Prince. Finally, in the late 1990s, he moved to Lana`i where he held court nightly at the Lodge at Koele until his passing in 2000.

Paoa was a percussionist and a pianist with a wonderful jazz sensibility in his playing. But, more than this, he was known for his beautiful and lush baritone voice. Although Paoa recorded at least a half dozen LPs throughout his lengthy career, as is often the case with Hawaiian music (and, in particular, the artists featured at Ho`olohe Hou) there remains only one George Paoa album in print in any medium in the digital era. On the occasion of George Paoa’s birthday, here are two cuts from two of Paoa’s finest albums that are no longer available.

“There Goes Kealoha” – a once popular ­hapa-haole number written by Liko Johnston and Howard Zeugner, now seldom heard except when revived by the Brothers Cazimero (purely for its comic value, especially when accompanied by the hula of Leina`ala Heine Kalama) – is performed here by Paoa from his first solo LP, the 1960 Sounds of Hawaii release To Make You Love Me, Ku`uipo.

“Hula Heaven” is from a 1970s live recording in which Hula Records captured George and his trio at the Maui Hilton. From this recording you can hear the influences of the jazz piano trio (such as those led by Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, or the one Tommy Flanagan led to back singer Ella Fitzgerald) on George’s style. The trio here is rounded out by two mainstays of the Hawaiian music scene, Lee Pacheco and Johnny Costello. Interestingly, however, we have no idea who is playing which instruments since everybody in the band could handle all of the instruments heard here. The high falsetto voice clearly belongs to Costello formerly of the vocal groups led by Richard Kauhi and Buddy Fo. And Lee Pacheco was also an accomplished songwriter who – under his pen name Leroy Melandre – wrote the still extremely popular “Malia, My Tita.”

George Paoa passed away on a vacation cruise on April 24, 2000. I encourage you to learn more about this amazing musician by viewing a wonderful 20-minute interview with Paoa which has been graciously archived by `Ulu`ulu, the official Hawai`i state archive for moving images.

Direct download: George_Paoa.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:13am EDT

Ihilani Miller – The Composer

Although she wrote very few songs, Ihilani Miller wrote intricate melodies with harmonic structures (i.e., the chords) that showed a sensibility for jazz and the American musical theater. This means that by their very nature, then, they were not easy songs to sing. They require (as they say in the singing business) “chops.” And perhaps this explains Auntie Ihilani’s advice to me: “Just sing the song.” For if the song is well written, then it should require no embellishment from the singer.

The best known of Auntie Ihilani’s compositions is, of course, “Kuhio Beach.” Because of the unusual huge intervallic leaps in melody, the song long ago became a favorite of falsetto singers – most notably Sam Bernard whose signature song this became. But more recently Hoku Zuttermeister recorded the song for his first solo CD, `Aina Kupuna, and while it is only one man’s humble opinion, I think this is now the quintessential version of the song (and everybody else should just stop singing it). It has become among Hoku’s most requested numbers, and he follows Auntie Ihilani’s first tenet of vocal performance: He just sings the song. But his voice combined with Auntie Ihilani’s ethereal melody become a vocal tour de force.

Auntie Ihilani recounted the story of composing “Kuhio Beach” time and again… She attended school with a young lady who would go on to become a Hawaiian music legend herself – her friend Linda Dela Cruz. On the bus on the way to school one day, Ihilani spied some beach boys and felt this song coming on. Linda said, “I guess we’re going to play hookey.” And although Ihilani shook her head “no,” when they got to their stop at McKinley High School, they stayed on the bus all the way to the end of the line. On the reverse trip, they passed the school yet again and got off at Ihilani’s house where she unabashedly explained to her mother that she couldn’t write music with school interfering. But there was too much noise at Ihilani’s house too. So they made for Linda’s house, and in the peace and quiet there, Ihilani banged out this classic in a half hour.

Like “Kuhio Beach” before it, “Pakalana” has become another favorite among falsetto singers. In recent years Auntie Ihilani’s composition has received beautiful treatments from two Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest winners – Kalei Bridges and Kalani Bernanua. But, as with Hoku Zuttermeister and “Kuhio Beach,” all others should stop singing “Pakalana” since none other than Raiatea Helm recorded it on her second solo CD, Sweet & Lovely. Raiatea sought out the assistance of Auntie Ihilani in order to ensure her performance was just right, and she enlisted an all-star supporting cast to assist in the recording: Bryan Tolentino on `ukulele, Casey Olsen on steel guitar, and (surprise!) Hoku Zuttermeister on bass.

If “Kuhio Beach” and “Pakalana” have become staples of the Hawaiian music repertoire which continue to increase in popularity among younger performers, then the sleeper among Auntie Ihilani’s compositions remains “Nohelani.” As recounted in a previous post, the song was composed to honor the birth of a daughter to one of Auntie Ihilani’s dear friends and musical partners, Lei Cypriano (of the Halekulani Girls). The daughter in question, Nohelani Cypriano, went on to become a superstar of Hawaiian entertainment in the 1970s and 80s. Few have performed “Nohelani” besides Auntie Ihilani, and nobody has recorded the song since Ihilani herself on her one and only LP, Ihilani, Voice of the South Seas in the 1950s. Because Auntie Ihilani was a dear friend to me and had just passed away a few weeks before I was to perform at The Willows as part of the Pakele Live concert series, I chose to honor her by reviving this forgotten song which – selfishly – I feel is the most beautiful thing she wrote. And because by no means do I belong in a class with Hoku Zuttermesiter and Raiatea Helm as an artist, it is with great humility that I give you here my own version of “Nohelani” recorded July 10, 2011 at The Willows and performed with my longtime musical partners – Halehaku Seabury-Akaka on guitar, Ocean Kaowili, and Jeff Au Hoy on steel guitar.

I hope you enjoy this tribute to one of my dearest friends and mentors. We miss you, Auntie Ihilani…

- Bill Wynne

Direct download: Ihilani_Miller_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:17am EDT

Ihilani Miller – The Performer

Singer, dancer, choreographer, and composer Ihilani Miller was born August 15, 1932. With looks not unlike the Pacific version of Imogene Coca, Miller’s resume reads as impressively as any superstar of the pop or jazz world on the mainland in the 1950s. Miller performed all over the mainland – Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia – and was featured on the numerous TV talk and variety programs of the day hosted by Arthur Godfrey, Steve Allen, Mike Douglas, Alvino Rey, Ed Sullivan (of course!), Donald O’Connor, and even the Colgate Comedy Hour. But after living the life of a superstar for a while, Ihilani eventually settled down to a quieter life in Hawai`i – remaining active in the entertainment field later in life by continuing to perform many Friday afternoons as featured vocalist with the Royal Hawaiian Band in their performances at the bandstand at `Iolani Palace.

While not a prolific composer, Auntie Ihilani wrote a few gems that have become oft performed classics. You no doubt know at least one. Who hasn’t heard “Kuhio Beach?”

Kuhio Beach

Where the moon shines on the sand

And the beach boys are surfing in with the tide

To the shore with girls side by side

Regretably, Ihilani Miller only cut one LP in her lifetime – Ihilani. Voice of the South Pacific in the 1950s. There are very few copies floating around – even among collectors. But as I forged a friendship with Auntie Ihilani in her later life, I feel very fortunate to have received my copy of this gem straight from her hands and her heart. In this segment we hear two selections from that LP – one so haunting I dare you not to cry when you hear it.

“Nohelani” is an original Miller composition written – in the Hawaiian tradition – to honor the birth of a child. Auntie Ihilani miller once performed in an “all girl” band led by singer/guitarist Lei Cypriano (later of the Halekulani Girls). “Nohelani” honors Lei’s daughter Nohelani Cypriano who went on to become a superstar of Hawaiian entertainment in the 1970s and 80s. If you are hearing Ihilani sing for the first time, you hear that her vocal style bridges a gap between opera, Broadway, and the pop stylings of, say, Eydie Gorme. She also has an incredible vocal range – allowing her to ring every last bit of emotion out of her composition. But it is the dynamics on the last note – the volume swell and subsequent decrescendo – that rip my heart out every time.

“The Breeze and I” has origins in both Cuba and Spain. Originally an instrumental entitled “Andalucia” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, a Spanish lyric was added later by Emilio de Torre, and finally later the English language lyric Auntie Ihilani sings here composed by Al Stillman. The orchestra of Jimmy Dorsey struck gold with the instrumental in the 1940s, and singer Caterina Valente took her vocal version all the way to #13 on the Billboard charts in 1955. This is approximately the same time period to which Auntie Ihilani’s LP dates, but as Ihilani, Voice of the South Seas was produced by a small local label – not one of the big corporate production houses that could have gained national distribution traction – despite that Ihilani’s version of the tune is far more compelling, it never had a chance.

Ihilani Miller passed away on May 17, 2011. I still haven’t come to terms with this because we continued to grow closer near the end of her life. We met on September 11, 2004 when I was a contestant in the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest and she was a judge. This was the beginning of a beautiful, but too brief friendship. She gave me the most valuable singing advice anyone had given me before or since: “Just sing the song. Tell the story. If the song is well written, then you don’t need all of the vocal gymnastics these young people attempt today.” Despite that Auntie Ihilani made her home in Ewa Beach later in life, she was born and raised in Kapahulu and kept close ties to that side of the island. When last we spoke, she was planning a vacation – to spend two weeks in Waimanalo at the home of Auntie Nickie Hines.

Direct download: Ihilani_Miller_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:57am EDT

Kui Lee - The Man

I have already described the relationship that Kui shared with Don Ho – best friends, a friendship rooted in mutual admiration and, perhaps, later a rivalry that propelled each of them to greater heights, achievements neither could have known without the other. A symbiotic relationship. But nowhere did this evidence itself more than in one of the rarest recordings from my collection.

Don graduated from Honey’s Kane`ohe to Honey’s Waikiki (at Lili’uokalani and Kalakaua Avenue) to – finally – what was then one of the biggest showrooms in all of Hawai`i – Duke Kahanamoku’s which, in the early 1960s, opened in the location that was Don The Beachcomber in the International Marketplace. At this same time Kui was down the street in Kapahulu with his wife, Nani, headlining the Surf Lanai at the Queen’s Surf. Don’s star was shining ever brighter by performing a repertoire comprised largely of Kui’s compositions, while Kui – performing the same songs – was at the smaller, far more intimate room well off the Waikiki strip. But Kui held no grudges as we hear in this rare clip. He continued to write, and he continued to give Don his best material – which Don did not squander in his ascent to the worldwide fame that Kui would never know.

Various sources credit Kui with writing his biggest hit – “I’ll Remember You” – in 1965, while others credit him with writing it in 1964. But in this clip, Kui himself states that he wrote the song “a year and five months ago.” And this recording dates to 1964 – early in Don’s tenure at Duke’s. We know this only because Kui – among his many comments – congratulates Don on having recently opened at Duke’s, which happened in 1964. So if “I’ll Remember You” was written “a year and five months” before Don opened at Duke’s, then the song dates back at least to 1963. We also have the even earlier recording of “I’ll Remember You” that Flip McDiarmid II captured at Honey’s Kane`ohe (later released as the LP titled “Waikiki Swings,” discussed here earlier). What does this mean? Not necessarily that the documentarians got it wrong, but that we should not confuse when a song gets published with when it was written. Many songs are written without ever being published.

So what makes this clip so rare? Its origins are unknown. Don made many live recordings – at least three at Duke’s. But this is not one of them. By its sound quality we might assume that it was a bootleg – that someone was brazen enough to walk into Duke’s one evening with a portable tape recorder which, in that era, were open reel tapes, meaning that the machine could not have been fewer than 18 inches by 10 inches by 10 inches, an 1800 cubic inch monster of a box, difficult (if not impossible) to conceal. So it is likely not a bootleg. Perhaps this was a local telecast (as opposed to the national Don Ho TV specials sponsored by Singer Sewing Machines, most released later as LP records). And perhaps somebody captured it with the monster open reel tape recorder sitting next to their television speaker. Regardless of the dubious origins, the “taper” could not have known that they would capture pure magic – a rare moment regardless of the artist. And that is the debut of a brand new composition, sung by its composer. It is also rare because it is one of the few recorded examples we have of Kui speaking and – in this case – speaking from the heart, about his life, about his craft, and about his friend. And, finally, it is rare because it is possibly the only tape of Don and Kui singing together.

In a somewhat roundabout poetic way, Kui talks about what it means to “remember” and the writing of “I’ll Remember You.” What he does not tell you is that he did not compose the song because he knew he was dying. (From the timeline above, you now know that the song was written long before Kui’s diagnosis.) Kui wrote “I’ll Remember You” for the first of many occasions when Auntie Frances – I’m sorry, I mean Nani – got disgusted with Kui and split – leaving Hawai`i and heading home to her sister, Libby, in New Jersey. Kui says “Why do I have to remember?” What he means is “Why did I give her so many reasons to go? I would not have to remember if she were still here.” And that is the genesis of the song that Kui and Don debut here – “She’s Gone Again,” written after Nani returned to Hawai`i, gave Kui another chance, and – ultimately – came back to New Jersey again. Nani was indeed gone – again. In writing “She’s Gone Again,” Kui used what is essentially the same harmonic structure (i.e., the chords) from “I’ll Remember You” but wrote a new melody to fit his new lyric. This means that the now classic interpolation (that is, the combining of two related songs) of “I’ll Remember You” and “She’s Gone Again” was indeed no accident. Kui wrote the two songs to be sung this way and debuted it this way, as you will hear. It has since become a classic duet – typically for a man and a woman – which Don reprised in his act over and over again, a staple of his repertoire. But what we didn’t know was that the first time the two songs were ever sung this way was by a two gentlemen – Don and Kui. And we know by Don’s patter here that they had just worked out the arrangement late the night before (possibly after the 3am set ended), early that morning (unlikely after being on stage until the wee small hours), or in the minutes right before the live show. There was not much to arrange except – as Don states here – the “turnaround,” and he apologizes in advance should The Aliis mess up that section. But they don’t, and what you have here is a magical moment when composer and singer debut a classic composition together. And I cannot recount any other song that has debuted so publicly by being sung jointly by the composer and the singer for which it was intended – not in Hawai`i, not in any other musical genre, not even Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick.

Finally, the real tone of the friendship between Don and Kui may be revealed in this all too short clip. Kui speaks genuinely about how proud he is of Don – referring to Duke’s as a “gigantic room” and Don’s contract as a “major breakthrough” in an era when Waikiki was not host to “too many brown people.” After the debut of the new composition, Kui walks away most humbly – huge fanfare, without encore. And Don shouts after him, “You’ll be here one day.”

He never was. Kui was gone only two years later.

Next time: A few more Kui Lee compositions that helped but Don Ho and The Aliis on the map…

~ Bill Wynne

Direct download: Kui_Lee_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:36am EDT

Kui Lee – The Entertainer

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

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

Despite Don joking to Nani that he would hire her for the band but “definitely not your husband,” both became regulars in the Honey’s Kane`ohe group – a group that was the launching pad for countless other future stars of Hawai`i entertainment including songbird Marlene Sai, slack key guitarist Sonny Chillingworth, `ukulele virtuoso Tony Bee, bassist and romantic baritone Gary Aiko, singer and entertainer Zulu (who went on to his own stage show in Waikiki as well as starring in several seasons of the original “Hawaii Five-0” TV series), and singer Alvin Okami (who put his singing aspirations aside for 40 years to build first a successful plastics firm and then – today – KoAloha `Ukulele). (And, yes, Don really played the Hammond chord organ. It was not merely a prop.) There is little tape remaining from that era. But there is a particularly controversial one that lingers in the vaults of ardent Hawaiian music collectors.

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

Regardless of McDiarmid’s motivations, nobody can deny that he captured an important moment in Hawaiian music history – a pre-fame Don Ho and possibly the only extant live recordings of Kui and Nani Lee. The selections offered here are those portions of the evening which featured Kui or Nani. (I could have posted the entire album since nearly every song sung that evening – including those performed by Don and Alvin – were Kui’s compositions.) But here I wanted you to have a taste of Kui and Nani the entertainers. Occasionally, Don would allow Kui to emcee the evenings at Honey’s, but he did so with great trepidation. Despite being first and foremost a musician, Kui was sharply funny – often turning his rapier wit on the audience, earning him the nickname “Hawai`i’s Lenny Bruce.” (In the Jerry Hopkins book on Ho’s life, comedian Eddie Sherman recounted that one evening at Honey’s in Kane`ohe, Kui spotted a haole couple at the front of the audience and quipped over the microphone that in Kane`ohe “the haoles sit at the back of the room.”) You will hear some of Kui’s political incorrectness on the first tune in this set – his own rewrite of the folk tune “Cotton Fields” which he recast for local audiences as “Taro Patch” – as well as near the end of the set, a duet with his wife, Nani, on Bina Mossman’s “He `Ono” during which Kui takes time out to provide some revisionist history of the "discovery" of Hawai`i and explain some of the ethnic make-up of Hawai`i (perhaps for the haoles at the back of the room). 

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

When it’s time to go

Will I be a bore

And react, my friend

Like a fool once more

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

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

I hope you enjoy these sounds of a forgotten era – a simpler time when fun was cleaner and the consequences less dire – as well as this rare glimpse of the equally magnetic personalities that were Mr. and Mrs. Kui Lee.

~ Bill Wynne

Direct download: Kui_Lee_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:27am EDT

Hawai'i Takes On The Beatles (Part 2)

Continuing the celebration of The Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. 50 years ago this month… Yesterday we listened to how musicians popular in Hawai’i in the 1960s and 70s treated the compositions of The Fab Four. But this was a trend that continued well into the new millennium. After all, a Beatles composition is timeless. 

The set opens – and closes – with the angelic voices of Na Leo. On their 2004 release “Find Harmony,” Angela, Nalani, and Lehua find some lovely harmonies on Lennon and McCartney’s classic “Blackbird.” The reharmonization of the original chord structure takes a jazz approach, which is the work of none other than Matt Catingub, the artistic director of the Hawai’i Pops aggregation and a fine saxophonist. 

The second selection is from a recording that had such a profound impact on the state and evolution of Hawaiian music that it cannot be overstated. The release of Keali’i Reichel’s “Kawaipunahele” revolutionized Hawaiian music in the 1990s much like Sunday Manoa’s “Guava Jam” did for the 1970s – creating a second Hawaiian music renaissance and a renewed interest in what is time and again deemed a dying art form. Reichel combined countless disparate stylistic influences into a cohesive whole. And there is no better example of this than his decision to combine an oli (a Hawaiian chant form) with the Lennon-McCartney chestnut “In My Life.” 

Shawn Ishimoto – recently transplanted from his Hawai’i home to the greater Los Angeles area to pursue life, love, and assorted new musical opportunities – was still billed as “B.B. Shawn” when he recorded Lennon and McCartney’s “I Will” for his 1998 release “No Boundaries.” Assisted only by the percussion stylings of Jon Porlas, Shawn is responsible for all of the other instruments and voices heard here. Sadly, this beautiful CD is no longer in print.

Teresa Bright is another trendsetter in Hawaiian music – having explored the various combinations of pop, jazz, R&B, Exotica, lounge, country, Latin, and even Okinawan music into the Hawaiian idiom. Here she tackles “And I Love Him” (as Melveen Leed did previously) with a dignified approach that very much approaches The Beatles’ original. With the help of Hawai’i’s Steve Jones on bass and Ben Vegas on guitar, this tune comes from what I consider to be Teresa’s most beautiful CD, 1998’s “Crossing The Blue” with selections ranging from Brian Wilson to Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and with the able assistance of Cyril Pahinui and Bobby Ingano. If you have never heard (or even heard of) this release, perhaps it’s because it was only released in Japan.

One could argue that ‘ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro might not have the illustrious career he currently enjoys if it weren’t for The Beatles… Those of you who have followed Jake’s career know that it began with a home video posted to YouTube (unbeknownst to Jake) in which he absolutely kills George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on a park bench in New York’s famed Central Park. (The video was one of the early YouTube sensations.) It is only fitting since George Harrison was a huge aficionado of the ‘ukulele – with a massive collection of the diminutive Hawaiian instruments of his own, many purchased at Staten Island, NY’s Mandolin Brothers. (This is my guitar repair shop, so I am always eager to visit and be regaled by the owner’s tales of George’s many visits and purchases.) Here is the original recording of "Weeps" from Jake’s 2004 release “Walking Down Rainhill.” In the liner notes, none other than Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, heaps praise on Jake – stating that she loves Jake’s versions of George’s songs and that “he will always have a fan in England.” 

Finally, completing the Na Leo sandwich, Angela, Nalani, and Lehua cover “With A Little Help From My Friends” – originally from the iconic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album which made the Beatles a household name for all generations shortly before their flame flickered out.

Are there more Beatles tunes covered by Hawai’i’s musicians? I’ll keep looking. These are all the ones I could think of off the top of my head without breaking a sweat and rifling through the stacks at Ho’olohe Hou. If you think of one I missed, drop me a line!


Direct download: Hoolohe_Hou_-_2-22-14_-_Beatles_Tribute_Part_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:46am EDT

Remembering Don Ho

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Don Ho. This is as difficult to explain as if I were obsessed with Barbie’s Dream House. But there you go. Those of you who know me – or those of you who merely follow this occasional blog – know that I have been obsessed with Hawaiian music all my life. But now we’re talking about Don Ho, and Don Ho is not Hawaiian music. That is neither a criticism of Ho nor a value judgment against Ho’s fans (among whom I count myself the leader of the club). It is simply a reflection of the reality I have encountered across the 48 contiguous states: That whenever I mention that I perform “Hawaiian music,” that is typically met with some mocking version of “Tiny Bubbles.” “Tiny Bubbles” likely should not be considered Hawaiian music. But those who are not Hawaiian by birth or who have never lived or spent any considerable time in Hawai’i should not be expected to understand this distinction – that Hawaiian music is a genre of music, not music from a specific place or made by a specific person of a certain ethnic descent. A quick analogy: Should one consider a Britney Spears album recorded live in Madrid a form of Spanish music? Should one consider Menudo’s songs Puerto Rican music? Should one consider a Chris Botti album recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra some kind of British music? No, no, and no. Menudo were young men of Puerto Rican descent, but they were clearly a modern pop “boy band.” Chris Botti will always be smooth jazz – no matter where he records or with whom he records. So we should not immediately jump to the conclusion that music made in Hawai’i or by a Hawaiian is necessarily Hawaiian music. It might be. And it might not.

So, if Don Ho was not Hawaiian music, what was he? Simply put, Ho was one of the finest entertainers of his generation – able to wrap audiences of women and men alike around his little finger like so much lo mein noodle – and a much underrated pop singer combining the swagger of Dean Martin with the vocal technique of Frank Sinatra who, no doubt viewing Ho as an apostle, eventually signed him to a recording contract with his own Reprise Records. Ho’s history is well documented elsewhere. That was not my aim by celebrating him today on the fifth anniversary of his passing. My purpose was to attempt to put Don Ho’s legacy in context – give it some perspective. For while he was known as a savvy businessman, the life of the party he conducted every night from the portable pipe organ that was as much a prop for his ever-present Chivas Regal and soda as the Rat Pack’s rolling bar, a raison d’etre for hundreds of thousands of co-eds who went to unknown expense to cross the great Pacific Ocean to flock to Honolulu at the infancy of jet air travel just for a chance to taste the sweat on his lips or rub up against his velour shirt, and a most dignified ambassador of the then new 50th state to the rest of the nation and the world, Ho is rarely spoken about for what he was: a damned fine singer of popular songs. Sinatra knew it. The critics got it. And even legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb knew it – well enough to pen the Vietnam protest song “Galveston” for Don Ho. (It’s true. Ho’s version was released first in 1968; Campbell’s not until 1969. And Webb was documented as preferring Ho’s version because Campbell’s too peppy performance belied the somber and serious tone the composer had intended.)

So despite that there may no connection between Ho and Hawaiian music except that both were born in Hawai’i, I have had a lifelong obsession with this man. I remember running home from kindergarten in 1976 to catch “The Don Ho Show” on ABC every day (and mourning its much too short run). I remember foraging through flea market bins to find the much elusive Ho albums released as promotions for the Singer Corporation. Then already long out of print, you had to have actually purchased a sewing machine to receive those LPs, and only true fans knew that the two Singer releases contained songs that were not available on any other Ho releases. I caught Ho on such talkfests as those hosted by Merv Grffin, Mike Douglas, and Dinah Shore and – as the adult collector I became – ultimately located the “holy grail” of Ho TV appearances on “The Joey Bishop Show.” I became a collector of Ho ephemera of all sizes and shapes – the concert tour magazines, the table tents from his Las Vegas casino/hotel appearances, newspaper clippings, reviews, “Billboard” magazine spreads… As the writer of the liner notes from his Instant Happy LP wrote, “You wonder what the hell Ho’s got?” I didn’t wonder what Ho’s got. I understood well what Ho had. What I wanted to understand was how he got it.

And to this day, every time I step foot on stage – whether I am performing Hawaiian music or jazz or anything else – I pray that a little of the Ho swagger and confidence shines through. Because after all the reading and studying and listening to the man for nearly 40 years, the only thing I have come to understand is that you have to be born with whatever it is that Ho had.

So when I finally had the opportunity to host a radio program, I was able to publicly celebrate my hero, my Don Ho – regrettably, not until his passing. But I felt the need to honor him in a way that none of the media outlets had. Because, predictably, every news outlet played a snipped of “Tiny Bubbles” – a song which Ho had confessed he had come to revile in much the way that Sinatra came to despise “Strangers In The Night.” And if there is anything that his fans understood, it was that there was nothing predictable about the man who Kimo Wilder McVay introduced every night at Duke Kahanamoku’s in Waikiki as “the wild, the unpredictable Don Ho.” So my radio segment focused on those recordings in which Don gave his most tender and poignant readings of some beautifully written songs. No “Tiny Bubbles,” no “Pearly Shells,” no co-ed audience sing-alongs. Just Don and the microphone.

Just the way it all began.

If you haven’t already been listening to the audio clip, I hope you enjoy this segment from the Ho’olohe Hou radio program. Grab your Chivas or whatever warms you up as the sun goes down, and toast each other with the toast that Ho himself coined.

Suck ‘em up!

Direct download: Don_Ho_-_4-15-13.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:07pm EDT

More Pua Almeida on Waikiki Records

While we cannot cover the entire recorded history of Pua Almeida on the Waikiki Records label in a blog - with or without the constraints of time and word count - I needed to hear more than I offered up in my last post. I hope you agree. So here is still more of Pua Almeida from his most fruitful recording period of the early 1960s on Waikiki Records.

As noted in the last post, during this period Pua did not always record with his regular working group. But the group heard on this first selection is not merely “all-star,” but also “multi-generational.” From the Waikiki LP “My Son Pua,“ Pua plays the steel while his hanai father Johnny Almeida tinkles the mandolin and Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln sings the Prince Leleiohoku composition “Moani Ke ‘Ala.” Uncle Johnny then joins the vocal chorus before Pua takes over singing “The Girl In The Yellow Holoku.”

Credited to Pua Almeida and His Sunset Trio, the John Keawehawai’i composition “My Yellow Ginger Lei” could be found both on a Waikiki 45 r.p.m. and on the compilation LP “Do The Hula.” You hear the steel guitar of Billy Hew Len and the alternating piano and glockenspiel of Benny Saks, but we are left to wonder who is playing the ‘ukulele counterpart to Pua’s vocal. As mentioned previously, the “trio” in the group’s name is somewhat of a misnomer as there are at least six musicians here - steel guitar, rhythm guitar, ‘ukulele, bass, drums, and glockenspiel. Trio, indeed!

From the Waikiki compilation LP “Ku’uipo My Sweetheart,“ Pua Almeida and the Moana Serenaders give us “Lihue” featuring Billy Hew Len on steel and Pua and Kalakaua Aylett trading vocals. And from another Waikiki compilation entitled “Quiet Lagoon,” Pua and the Sunset Serenaders give us another rendition of “Sweet Someone” (a different version than we heard in a post a few days ago by Pua with Chick Floyd from the “Little Grass Shack” LP). This simple version features Billy Hew Len on a pedal steel guitar this time around. Both “Lihue” and “Sweet Someone” were released as 45 r.p.m. singles as well.

From my favorite Pua LP, “Surfrider,” Pua Almeida and His Polynesians offer a rollicking Latin-themed version of “Nani Ko’olau.” The steel guitar sits this one out, and instead we have the piano take the lead as with the group led by Pua’s friend and contemporary, Jesse Kalima.

And then a true curiosity. Some will contend that Pua made four LPs for the Waikiki label. But there were, in fact, only three. One was released twice with two different titles and two different covers! The album originally released as “Poolside Music Hawaiiana” was later re-released as “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua.” More curious still is that one song from the original LP was swapped out for a different tune on the reissue. The bizarre little tune has been forgotten by many, but here again at long last I give you Pua’s version of “Some Hawaiian Is Lying.” The swingin’ number features a great steel guitar solo by Joe Custino. One can only wonder why Waikiki Records chose to replace this song  with another for the reissue. (Political correctness?)

And, finally, why not close the set with the song with which “Some Hawaiian Is Lying” had been replaced? From the Waikiki LP “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua” we hear the lovely medley of “Kai Hawanawana” and “Honolulu Tomboy” in fox trot tempo. In addition to Pua and the gang, we predominantly hear the fancy mandolin work once again of Pua’s hanai father, John Kameaaloha Almeida.

Next time: A tune by Pua that I would place a bet you have never heard before - only from the vaults of Ho’olohe Hou

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_8.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:34pm EDT

Pua Almeida on Waikiki Records

Engineer Young O. Kang had been cobbling together equipment to bring Hawaiian music recordings to the world since the early 1940s. But by 1958 Kang was finally in business for himself - with state of the art equipment - courtesy of local Hawai’i entrepreneur Tommy Kerns. Together Kerns and Kang founded Waikiki Records, and for an eight year period from 1958 to 1966, they produced some of the finest sounded recordings of Hawaiian music to date by some of the most popular artists of the era - including Pua Almeida who recorded three LPs for the label in addition to countless 45 r.p.m singles and songs that appeared on compilation albums. Piecing together a complete discography of Pua on Waikiki can be difficult since not all of the 45 r.p.m. singles (or their “B” sides) appeared on the LPs or compilation albums or vice-versa. So while I devote my life to finding all of it, let’s enjoy what we already have for a while…

Also notable during the Waikiki Records period is that Pua did not always record with the same musicians. This is why I previously wrote that the obscure LP “Pua Almeida Sings with Billy Hew Len and the Moana Surfriders” may be our last best chance at hearing Pua’s steady working group. Some of the Waikiki sides are cited as being by the Moana Serenaders, some by the Moana Hotel Orchestra, and others still by Pua Almeida and His Polynesians, Pua Almeida and the Sunset Serenaders, or even Pua Almeida and the Sunset Trio (even when there are conspicuously more than three musicians playing). This means that we get to hear Pua in combination with different musicians - most unidentified - while trying to maintain his unique “sound.” Some of the musicians are recognizable by their unmistakable styles, so I will try to cite a few along the way.

Don McDiarmid‘s hapa-haole “Do The Hula” is - according to different sources - either by Pua Almeida and His Sunset Serenaders (45) or Pua Almeida and His Sunset Trio (LP). So clearly these were groups assembled solely for the recording sessions but which had no name recognition as a live working ensemble. Otherwise somebody at the record company would have been more careful about the naming conventions. This is Pua on the steel guitar - what little we hear of him, anyway. Steel guitarists are quick to admit that the difficult instrument requires so much concentration - it is not an instrument that can be played by feel since it has no frets, so you must constantly watch where you’re putting your hands - that it is also difficult to play steel and sing at the same time. So you hear only the steel intro and a few accents here and there - one sure sign that this is Pua focusing on the singing and ignoring the steel. Another essential clue, however, is the intro which features large, growling chords as opposed to single string soloing - a signature of Pua’s steel playing. The 45 r.p.m. version is plagued by an annoying echo on the vocal - not a hallmark of Young O. Kang’s sound. A mastering error, perhaps? So the version you hear now comes from the Waikiki compilation album “Do The Hula.”

The vocals toward the end of “Pearly Shells” share this same “echo” affliction as the 45 r.p.m. version of “Do The Hula,” so this was clearly a deliberate engineering approach (which may or may not have been executed successfully). This song is credited to “Pua Almeida and His Sunset Serenaders” and features Billy Hew Len on steel guitar and the deep bass voice of Sonny Kamahele leading the call-and-response with Pua. So that is likely Sonny’s rhythm guitar you hear as well.

Danny Stewart’s lovely but seldom heard “Nohea” abandons the steel guitar altogether for something more like the Latin sounds Pua had been cultivating earlier and features - like recordings by his friend and contemporary Jesse Kalima - the piano. The lovely and sensitive jazzy guitar solo you hear is Pua! Aficianados of Pua’s music have long been aware of his sensibilities with an archtop guitar - playing his jazzy style on a Gibson L-5 with a DeArmond pick-up with which he is pictured on the cover of “Surfrider” from which this cut was taken. Pua was called upon frequently during this period for both his rhythm guitar playing and provided sultry improvised guitar intros and endings on recordings by the Hawaii Calls radio show orchestra, Mahi Beamer, Eddie Kekaula, the New Hawaiian Band, and even Tennessee Ernie Ford. In fact, the recordings on which Pua performs uncredited as a sideman might outnumber those on which he was cited as leader.

Available both as a 45 r.p.m. single and on the LPs  “Poolside Music Hawaiiana“ and “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua,” “Ahulili” is credited to Pua Almeida and His Polynesians and offers us two surprises - a lead vocal by Kalakaua Aylett and steel guitar by Joe Custino.

Next… Pua caresses a composition by his hanai father, Uncle Johnny Almeida, with both his voice and his steel guitar. The simply lovely “Lei Mokihana” is one of my favorite recordings by Pua. How do we know this is Pua on the steel guitar? Listen first to the intro in which Pua plays huge, beautiful chords with a shimmering vibrato. The vibrato is a signature part of Pua’s style. Another signature - listen at around 10:28 in the set - is Pua’s reverse strum (from the highest string to the lowest) very close to the bridge - providing an eerie, almost harp-like presence. That, too, is right from the Pua playbook, and he does it to end the vamp after nearly every verse. (Pua had developed that technique long before as you will hear it more than 20 years earlier on his recordings with Randy Oness and Alfred Apaka.) And again, note that the steel guitar playing ends when the singing begins - a sign that the steeler and the singer are one and the same.

The Latin rhythms return with “Papalina Lahilahi” taken from a Waikiki 45 r.p.m. and credited to Pua Almeida and the Moana Serenaders. This is probably closest to his working group at that time. Pua trades vocals with Kalakaua Aylett who is also likely the rhythm guitarist, and we hear the steel guitar of Billy Hew Len and the vibes of Benny Saks.

Closing the set we hear the Sam Koki composition “Hoe Hoe” (sometimes affectionately referred to as “Sam Koki’s Hukilau”). Also found on the Waikiki LPs “Poolside Music Hawaiiana“ and “Dancing Under The Stars With Pua,” this one is also credited to Pua Almeida and His Polynesians and again features vocals by Kalakaua Aylett and steel guitar by Joe Custino. While both Pua and Joe play a very jazzy chord melody style on the steel guitar, those familiar with the nuances of different steel players know that this is Joe’s tone (a little more harsh on the treble side than Pua’s tone), attack, and almost complete lack of vibrato - more like a string organ than a steel guitar. For comparison, listen to Joe’s earlier work with Honey Kalima or the Chick Floyd group which performed weekly for the Lucky Luck Show.

Next time: Can‘t get enough of Pua on Waikiki Records? Neither can I…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_7.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:20pm EDT

Exotic Meets Exotica

Despite being an island in the middle of the Pacific, Hawai’i has always been subject to the influences it has imported. From its food to its clothing styles, Hawai’i has long been a melting pot of cultures ranging from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to the other South Pacific peoples.

But nowhere is the melting pot theme more apparent than in Hawaiian music. Already on this blog we have discussed the influences of American big band jazz and small combo jazz and the incorporation of the rhythms of the Latin Americas. But what happens when you take everything you have ever heard and thought about music from around the world and throw it into a cosmic blender?

Between 1958 and 1960, two records of “Hawaiian music” were released on the popular Liberty Records label based in Hollywood. The covers bespoke something slightly less than traditional Hawaiian music but, rather, some cheesy mainland version of it. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The covers featured scantily clad women, and the titles could not have been more ill conceived - one completely unmemorable (“Little Grass Shack”) and the other an odd play on Parisian men ogling dames on the Champs Elysées (“Hu La La”). Now add to this a name not yet immediately associated with Hawaiian music - Chick Floyd - and all elements considered lovers of Hawaiian music would have immediately passed this record over as another affair from the Longines Symphonette. Who was going to shell out for a recording of Hawaiian music by “Chick Floyd and His Orchestra” when pressed to make the choice between available Hawaiian music recordings by a guy named Floyd and other guys named Aloma and Pineapple?

But this is one of those cases where the whole is clearly more than the sum of its parts. So let’s look at the parts.

In the 1930’s Chick Floyd was the arranger with Orville Knapp’s orchestra. This was not a jazz band per se but, rather, a band that played “sweet music” - something slightly less than jazz, but heavily arranged and intended for the dance halls as opposed to pure listening pleasure. The band featured a sweet music singer - Edith Caldwell - whom Chick wasted no time wooing and marrying. As arranger for the band, Floyd relied on exaggerated brass and unison saxes  - a sound later perfected by such arrangers as Billy May. But success was fleeting. Chick and Edith gave other bands a go, but their success - and the marriage - were ultimately doomed.  Eventually Chick moved to Hawai’i and started a new orchestra which was the featured band for the Lucky Luck Show. Chick also went on to arrange albums for such talented Honolulu-based singers as Lani Kai and Ed Kenney.

In January 1954, Don the Beachcomber brought pianist Martin Denny to Honolulu for what was to be only a two-week engagement. But like Chick, he fell in love with the islands and stayed. More than this, the inspiration of the melting pot that was and is Hawai’i helped Denny forge a new sound all his own. By 1955, Denny and his group were performing at the Shell Bar of the Hawaiian Village Hotel. It was in this exotic setting that Denny’s new sound was born. To try to outdo the sounds of the frogs croaking in the nearby pool, Denny and crew began a unique approach to vocalizing with a series of bird calls. To make matters more exotic still, Denny used the burgeoning jet plane to import instruments from all over the world. The Martin Denny Group was reinventing the standards written by the Gershwins and Cole Porter by arranging them for entrancing rhythms on percussion instruments from around the world while issuing bird noises from deep within their lungs. Denny and crew were soon signed to Liberty Records, and label head Si Waronker branded this new sound “exotica.“ Martin soon after became the label’s A&R man in Honolulu - seeking out the best and brightest in talent from the islands.

By 1959, the “Hawaii Calls” radio broadcasts heard around the world were nearing their 25th anniversary. So the luminaries of the show’s cast were already becoming household names beyond Hawai’i’s borders. But there was still more local talent that were not “Hawaii Calls” regulars but who were becoming wildly popular with the tourists. In a stroke of genius, Martin Denny decided to bring together members of the “Hawaii Calls” orchestra and chorus, members of his own band, and to stir this soup, arranger Chick Floyd. And to round out the cast, Floyd brought some talent of his own - members of the cast of the evening Polynesian show at Don the Beachcombers, a show for which Floyd was now the arranger. This amazing all-star cast led to the two presumably “cheesy” albums mentioned earlier - “Little Grass Shack” and “Hu La La.” The albums were not cheesy at all, as it turns out, but two of the finest examples of the blending of Hawaiian music and other cultures on record. Some - but not all - of this talent was credited on the album covers, so for many years those who have had the rare pleasure of hearing these recordings may have wondered just what and who they were hearing. Pua Almeida was a key vocalist on both albums. So in this segment, we feature songs from both albums which highlight Pua’s voice while identifying the contribution of the other players along the way.

The set opens with an obscurity only recorded once. From the “Hu La La“ LP, “There’s Still A Lot Of Steam In Kilauea” was written by Sam Kaapuni who became famous for his work with the California-based Hawaiian music group known as The Polynesians. On this tune, Pua Almeida trades lead vocal duties with Hawaii Calls’ cast member Sonny Nicholas. You also hear Martin Denny’s piano (despite that he goes uncredited), Julius Wechter (then of Denny’s group but later of the Baja Marimba Band) on vibraphone, and the bass clarinet of Denny group collaborator Willard Brady.

From the “Little Grass Shack” LP we hear Pua take the vocal lead on the lovely “Sweet Someone” - a song adopted by Hawaiian musicians but which was actually made popular by Nat King Cole’s brother, Eddie Cole, and his musical partner, wife Betty, during their long engagement in Honolulu. Again, the “sweet music” style arrangement centers on Denny’s piano and an unidentified woodwind section.

Also from the “Little Grass Shack” LP, we then hear “Hukilau” again featuring Pua and Sonny Nicholas on lead vocals - getting their Bobby Darin on - and the backing vocals of the “Hawaii Calls” vocal chorus comprised of singing sisters Nina Keali’iwahamana, Lani Custino, and Lahela Rodrigues. None of these artists are identified in the liner notes.

And the last song has been one of my favorites since childhood. Pua takes the vocal lead on a Chick Floyd original, “Late At Night” and turns in what may be his most haunting performance ever. We again hear Denny’s piano, the flute and oboe of Willard Brady, the steel guitar of Danny Stewart, and a vocal chorus consisting of Pua, Sonny Nicholas, Sonny Kamahele, and Sonny’s sister, Iwalani Kamahele whose high soprano in octave unison with Pua give this number an even more haunting quality.

And these are just the selections from these two LPs which feature Pua! There are 18 more selections across these two albums which feature other greats of Hawaiian music of this period exotically interwoven with the members of the Martin Denny and Chick Floyd aggregations. We will get to these other tunes eventually. But if you ever passed up one or both of these LPs on your crate-diving adventures, don’t think twice should you ever see them again.

Next time: Pua transitions gracefully from the jazzy 50s to the groovy 60s…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_5.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:43am EDT

A Pua Curiosity

These three songs are from a 1959 G.N.P. Crescendo compilation LP released on the mainland entitled “Hawaii - A Musical Memento of the Islands” - which is a curiosity on many levels.

G.N.P. stood for “Gene Norman Presents.” Norman was a jazz impresario whose Crescendo label released recordings by such legends as Lionel Hampton and Charlie Shavers. What would such a jazz promoter want with Pua Almeida, Haunani Kahalewai, Andy Cummings, Benny Kalama, or Ray Kinney? What commercial value would they have to him? Apparently, Norman knew better as he released three records of Hawaiian music between 1957 and 1961. The label still banks on these recordings, too. Although they have not been continuously available, they have been available in almost every format from the LP to the cassette tape to the CD and now MP3 which can be found on such reputable download services as iTunes and Rhapsody.

But what of the origins of these recordings? How much credit does the jazz impresario deserve for assembling this talent into an all-star cast for a stellar recording from end to end? Perhaps none at all! As mentioned on this blog previously, during this period it was becoming more and more common for the small labels in Hawai’i to license their masters to larger record companies around the world - not merely for the additional revenue, but for the greater purpose of spreading Hawaiian music as far and wide as possible. Hula Records licensed recordings of Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, and Genoa Keawe to London International Records, Bell Records licensed Alfred Apaka and George Kainapau masters to Urania Records, and on and on and on. So it may have been with these G.N.P. releases most of which have their provenance in 10” LPs from years earlier released by Terna Hawaii Recording Co.

This might require further exploration. When the long playing record was introduced in the late 1940s, it was the same 10” in diameter as the previous 78 r.p.m. format. Playing at the 33 1/3 r.p.m speed, it could hold multiple songs as compared to the 78’s single song format - hence the term “long playing.” The LP employed the 10” size of its predecessor because turntables were being built to accommodate both formats. Had the LP increased in size - as it later did after some experimentation at Columbia Records - manufacturers of record players would have needed to redesign their turntables for the larger size record (and, ultimately, throw away a lot of parts inventory).

So the 10” LP had a short period of popularity from about 1948 to 1955 when the 12” LP as we know it overtook it in popularity. This means that songs by Haunani Kahalewai, Andy Cummings, and Ray Kinney released on Terna 10” records predate 1955 and, therefore, long predate their appearance on the 1959 G.N.P. label to which they were licensed.

But this only accounts for a few of the artists. What about Pua Almeida? The songs by Pua which appear on the G.N.P. Crescendo album do not appear on a previous Terna release or - for that matter - any release from Hawai’i. Were these recorded for Terna and locked up in a vault somewhere? Were they released as obscure Terna 78 r.p.m. singles? (I have seen a few of these from Haunani Kahalewai.) Or were they recorded fresh by Gene Norman for his 1959 release? This is an issue of tremendous interest since it would help us not only date the recordings, but also help us elucidate whether they were recorded on the mainland where Pua spent much of the mid-1950s or in Hawai’i where he had already returned by 1959 and was the featured entertainer at the Moana Surfrider Hotel.

Either way, the one element that binds these disparate recordings by Haunani, Andy, Ray, and Pua into a cohesive whole is the hula. The Terna Records titles from which most (but, now we know, not all) of these recordings came were labeled “Hawaiian classics for the hula.” This means that much of the experimentation we heard previously in Pua’s music would not be possible in music for the hula which relies heavily on repetition of such elements as the vamp (or transitions from one verse to another). So perhaps because this is music intended for the hula, we hear a much more traditional Pua Almeida here. To assert his uniqueness, Pua must rely on certain other signatures to achieve his “sound” -  the tight vocal harmonies and rhythmic arrangements which this time around rely not on elements fromt the Latin Americas, but rather on traditional Hawaiian percussion found in the ipu (or gourd), pu’ili (split bamboo sticks), and 'ili 'ili (lava rock stones). We hear two of the three selections from the G.N.P. release here - Maddy Lam’s “Ku’uipo Onaona” and Lilian Awa’s “Mahina O Hoku.”

In these recordings we also can begin to understand the key to Pua’s success on the entertainment scene in Waikiki during this period: He could do it all, from traditional music for the hula done in his own unique style to music for couples dancing under the moonlight. Such was the magic that was Pua Almeida…

Next time: When the new sounds of exotica met the traditional sounds of Hawai’i and some Pua Almeida you’ve likely never heard before…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_4.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:07pm EDT

Pua Heads East

After successful engagements throughout the 1940s at such popular night spots as the Queen’s Surf, Trader Vic’s, Lau Yee Chai, Club Pago Pago, Waikiki Tavern, Don the Beachcomber, and Pearl City Tavern, in 1947 Pua left Honolulu for the mainland where so many of his contemporaries of the Hawaiian music world were finding great success. He brought three musicians and a single hula dancer for a six-month engagement at the Pago Pago Club in Colton, CA. By 1950 he was entertaining in Okinawa for five months before returning to Honolulu briefly to join Annie Hall’s quartet as steel guitarist and featured vocalist. The quartet did not strictly perform Hawaiian music - not entirely a new experience for Pua.

But he soon returned to Hawaiian music and the mainland - opening at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena with Eddie Bush, George Kainapau, and Alfred McIntyre. His next stop was the famed Seven Seas supper club at 6904 Hollywood Boulevard - directly across the street from the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Playing evenings here with a group led by none other than Sam Koki, Pua spent days doing television shows and recordings. In 1954, at the recording studios on the lot of M.G.M., Pua recorded the first ever long playing record of Hawaiian music. Entitled “South Sea Island Magic,” it was released both as a booklet set of 45 r.p.m. records as well as in the burgeoning 10” long playing format. The record featured Pua along with Sonny Kamahele (later of the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts and recordings), Sam Kaapuni (later of the mainland group The Polynesians), and Sam Koki. The much sought out recording - a seldom found and much too expensive eBay item - has never been released on CD or MP3. You hear two sides - literally and figuratively - of that group here. On the more traditional side, we hear Pua lead the group in Ray Kinney’s hapa-haole classic “Hawaiian Hospitality.” On the slightly jazzier side, we hear the still seldom heard Jack Pitman and Eaton Magoon novelty number “Fish and Poi” in a swinging arrangement which mirrors the west coast jazz sounds of such combos as led by Nat King Cole, George Shearing, or Joe Bushkin - the piano essentially taking the lead with the guitar occasionally doubling the piano an octave higher. And while Pua and Sam Koki were both steel guitarists, it is Pua Almeida you hear doing the steel chores here as characterized by his major seventh chords.

Next time: A return to tradition in another out-of-print classic from Pua Almeida in the 1950s…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:11am EDT

Pua Almeida in the 1940s

Charleston Puaonaona Almeida was born February 17, 1922 in Honolulu. The too few historic documents which speak about Pua at all refer to his “father,” the legendary composer and musician John Kameaaloha Almeida - affectionately known as “Uncle Johnny.” But in fact, Pua was not John’s son. He was his nephew. Uncle Johnny took Pua into his home in the Hawaiian tradition known as hanai in which a child is informally adopted and raised as one’s own. Not only were they - by blood or by fate - father and son, they also had an amazing musical relationship which might only have been possible because of these family ties. One can only wonder if Pua’s musical talents would have flourished had it not been for the tutelage of Uncle Johnny.

Pua first performed professional with Uncle Johnny at the Club Pago Pago in 1941. He later perfomed at the Ramona Café until the tragedy at Pearl Harbor, and during the ensuring war, performed in U.S.O. shows as well as with an orchestra led by Randy Oness.

We begin this look at Pua Almeida’s career with the earliest recordings we can locate. Many believe the earliest recorded work from Pua are the 78 r.p.m. sides he recorded for the Bell Records label in the late 1940s with the group led by Randy Oness. But there are some commercially unreleased recordings which date back just a little earlier than that. Some of you may be old enough to remember movie shorts - so named because they featured short performances of music and dance which could be shown between the movies at the Sunday matinees in the 1940s. Pua did a few such shorts which are the first recordings heard here. First we hear Pua in a short featuring a composition from Uncle Johnny, “Ho’oluana” in which Billy Hew Len plays the steel guitar and we hear for the first time Pua’s unique rhythm guitar playing. His rhythm guitar playing is reminiscent of jazz guitar legends such as Freddie Green and is punctuated by syncopated passing chords such as you hear around 0:58 into the set. You then hear the same group perform another Uncle Johnny Almeida composition, “Ku’u Ipo Pua Rose.” Loosely arranged, you will hear Pua say “lawa” to indicate to the band and hula dancer that the song will end with that verse - which they end on a seventh chord and a guitar roll, a nod to the vaudeville era still in their rearview mirror.

We then hear two of those Bell Records 78s. For the sake of comparison, we hear the same two songs on the commercially released Bell sides as we heard on the movie shorts a moment before.

Notice the different approach to “Ho’oluana” - clearly arranged for the dance hall in the big band style so popular on the mainland at the same moment in time, a style which was ushered in by the bands of Sonny Cunha, Johnny Noble, and Harry Owens in the preceeding decades. Pua assembled an orchestra comprised of four saxophones, two trumpets, a trombone, drums, piano, bass, rhyhtm guitar, and steel guitar. These are the sounds one might have heard at the Club Pago Pago in this period - the unique melding of the Hawaiian and jazz idioms well represented by the slurping saxophones and muted trumpets combined with a more Hawaiian style rhythm section featuring the steel guitar and a vocal group right out of the playbook of Tex Beneke and the Modernaires who sang with Glenn Miller’s group at about this same time. Pua leads the first vocal chorus punctuated by the trumpets and saxes and then juxtaposed against a chorus of steel guitar and clarinet duet - the steel guitar played by Pua and the clarinet by Randy Oness. At 4:50 we hear Uncle Johnny sing a chorus of his composition, and then Pua and the vocal group pick up the tune in the out chorus. You may need to rewind to discover that this version is at a tempo intended for dancing while the earlier version from the movie short is taken a much more peppy clip.

And, finally, a second version of “Ku’u Ipo Pua Rose” recorded for Bell Records by Randy Oness’ Select Hawaiian Serenaders. This should be considered an all-star group which later spawned legends in their own right including Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs (who went on to lead the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders), Buddy Peterson, Steppy de Rego, Pua Almeida, and a then still up-and-coming singer named Alfred Apaka. Pua plays steel and sings every other verse, while Alfred Apaka leads the group on the alternating verses.

Next time: Pua enters his most prolific period - the 1950s…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:36pm EDT

Pua Almeida

Six years ago to the week, when Ho’olohe Hou was in the third week of its first incarnation as a podcast, the show quickly gained acclaimed among musicians in Hawai’i for a two-part episode on the legendary Pua Almeida. You see… Hawaiian musicians owe a debt to Pua for revolutionizing Hawaiian music, and yet few who don’t own an old-fashioned record player have ever heard his music because while he was one of the most prolific recording artists ever, only about a half-dozen of the sides he cut have yet seen the light of day on a CD or MP3.

Flash forward six years… I spent much of this week perusing the reboot of the seminal book on Hawaiian music. Originally published in 1979, Dr. George Kanahele’s “Hawaiian Music and Musicians” has been the bible for fans and students of Hawaiian music for over 30 years. Oddly this veritable encyclopedia of the history of Hawaiian music did not contain an entry on Pua Almeida except as a footnote to the entry on his hanai father, legendary composer and entertainer John Kameaaloha Almeida. It is criminal, then, that the 2012 version of the book - updated by music reviewer and local Honolulu entertainment columnist John Berger - still does not contain an entry on Pua Almeida.

Just as the podcast aimed to do six years ago, this blog will strive - this week, on the occasion of his birthday, and hereafter whenever the opportunity permits - to preserve the memory and the unique sound of Pua Almeida and his many rare talents.

This means I have a lot of work ahead of me. Pua was not the first Hawaiian music I heard as a child. I did not discover him until my impressionable teen years. But what an impression he left on me. Pua’s approach to Hawaiian music was like no other - a combination of traditional Hawaiian, jazz, Latin, dance hall, country, and - frankly - whatever the hell else fancied him or the amazing musician friends with whom he surrounded himself who assisted in crafting his unique sound. So Pua and his group became the template for my own approach to Hawaiian music. From the first moment I heard him, I have spent my lifetime since amassing as much Pua Almeida material as I could lay my hands on - including ridiculous bids some years ago now on an eBay auction of items from Pua’s estate. In fact, I have made discoveries of unreleased Pua Almeida music as recently as two weeks ago in a private collection that has been shared with me.

So with this wealth of material to draw upon, where does one begin? Eventually, I will attempt to cover Pua’s many accomplishments chronologically - indicating where Pua and his fellas wove together past and present to create an unpredictable future and why these inventions were historically important. For example, if you are a fan of Roland Cazimero’s guitar stylings, thank Pua Almeida whom Roland counts among his chief influences on the guitar. Do you enjoy the steel guitar of Jeff Au Hoy? Jeff found his lifelong passion for Hawaiian music listening to Pua Almeida records which often featured the steel guitar of Pua’s sidekick of many years, Billy Hew Len.

So until I sort out all of this music and history to present in some coherent manner, a quick overview of Pua’s music for the still indoctrinated…

The first amazing thing to note about Pua is how prolific his recording career was for having been cut short by heart problems shortly before his 52nd birthday. He recorded hundreds of sides across more than a dozen labels - not only as the featured artist, but also as a much in demand sideman for both his amazing rhythm guitar work and his unique steel guitar stylings. You hear Pua’s steel guitar playing on this first mid-career cut heard here, “Waikiki Is Good Enough For Me.” You also hear for the first time Pua’s penchance for changing up tempos and rhythms - switching abruptly from the opening fox trot to a Latin swing anchored by the bongos during which Pua takes a steel solo that is more bebop than Hawaiian, filled with blue notes and often playing behind or ahead of the beat. Take note also that this was clearly not music intended for the hula. The hula vamp - a chord sequence of a set number of beats and measures which indicates to the hula dancer when the song has begun, when it is about to end, and when the verses will change - has been abandoned for the more inventive, intricately arranged intros, endings, and transitions associated with such mainland jazz aggregations as the George Shearing Quintet. This is not music for the hula. This is music for the dance hall.

On “Waikapu,” Pua hands the steel guitar bar over to his longtime collaborator, Billy Hew Len, discussed on this blog at length previously. Billy went back and forth between pedal and non-pedal steels throughout his career, but the pedal steel is clearly at work here - which was one of the signatures of Pua’s sound as he had been employing Billy since the 1940s, long before Billy had become the much in demand steel player he became by his most prolific period, the 1960s. You also hear the violin - or, more appropriately, the fiddle - the combination of pedal steel guitar and fiddle giving the tune an almost western swing air. The violin was an unusual sound to hear in Hawaiian music during this period or even still today, but it was by no means new to Hawaiian music as there were violins all about the court of King David Kalakaua. You also hear for the first time Pua’s incredible voice. If Pua had been a contestant on “American Idol,” Simon Cowell might have referred to his style as “affected” - meaning somewhat unnatural or forced. You will often hear Pua elongate and contort the Hawaiian vowels. Sometimes the Hawaiian words become almost unrecognizable. He also had a tendency toward excessive vibrato. Some might call Pua’s voice an acquired taste, but it was nonetheless always recognizable - even in the large chorus of the “Hawaii Calls” radio broadcasts of which he was a member for many years. But more about that later…

Finally, what seemed to be a natural transition to me - from a song about Waikapu on the island of Maui to a hapa-haole (or English language) song about the “Maui Girl.” Anchored once again by the Latin American sound of the bongos, Pua’s version of the song would be as at home on an Xavier Cugat album as on this Tradewinds Records release. And now you hear Billy Hew Len on a non-pedal steel guitar.

One of the most charismatic figures in the history of Hawaiian music, Pua Almeida is too good for a place in an encyclopedia. He deserves a place in the hearts of all Hawaiian music lovers the world over. And my goal this week is to ensure that happens - once and for all.

More about Pua Almeida soon… This is Ho’olohe Hou. Keep listening…

Direct download: Pua_Almeida_Week_-_Part_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:40am EDT

Haleloke Kahauolopua

There is woefully little information about a Hawaiian songstress once so popular on stage and TV across the country that like Madonna or Cher she was known by just her first name: Haleloke.

Perhaps you have already read that Haleloke Kahauolopua was born on February 2, 1923 in Hilo on the island of Hawai’i into a musical family. It was only natural that she would be discovered. And discovered she was – over and over again, first by the “Hawaii Calls” radio program which she joined in 1945 and soon after by Arthur Godfrey who whisked her away from the Big Island to the Big Apple to join his wildly popular radio TV programs in 1950. While Godfrey almost single-handedly repopularized the ‘ukulele on the mainland U.S., through her weekly appearances Haleloke became the symbol of Hawaiian song and hula for an entire nation. She eventually became so popular that a Haleloke doll was produced.

During this period of tremendous acclaim, Haleloke recorded some records with mainland musicians and produced by Godfrey who accompanied her on ‘ukulele and occasional vocals. I keep one of these sets close by as it is one of the most prized possessions in my vast collection. On this 1951 set of four 78 rpm discs entitled “Hawaiian Blossoms,” Haleloke delivers seven Hawaiian standards and one mainland take on hapa-haole song in her deep, husky alto. Her voice is most striking and unusual for that time since so many Hawaiian vocalists of that period – both the men and the ladies – were known primarily for how high they could sing (called “falsetto” or “ha’i”).

An issue we will revisit from time to time again is the question of what is Hawaiian music? “Hawaiian Blossoms” lacks certain essential Hawaiian qualities – possibly because the only Hawaiian involved in the recording was Haleloke herself. The musicians all hailed from the mainland as did Archie Bleyer who was the arranger for Arthur Godfrey’s TV show. Haleloke delivers each song in a distinctly Hawaiian way, but the musical settings may not seem as Hawaiian. This is not to say that those without Hawaiian lineage cannot deliver a song in the Hawaiian style. But we might argue that doing so requires a lifetime of study and practice – that “Hawaiian” cannot be summed up to notes on a page that just anybody musician should be expected to pick-up and be able to recreate Hawaiian feeling and emotion.

This should not imply that “Hawaiian Blossoms” is not worth a listen. To honor Haleloke on the anniversary of her birth, I have chosen two selections from this 78 rpm set which represent seldom heard compositions by any artist – “Ku’u Ipo” (often associated with George Kainapau and composed by steel guitarist Andy Iona and bandleader Johnny Noble) and “Lei Aloha” (an oft forgotten beachboy song written by an oft forgotten beachboy, Chick Daniels).

Perhaps because she did not enjoy the life of a superstar or the fast pace of New York city, by the mid-1950s Haleloke retired to Union City, IN.

Direct download: Haleloke_Kahauolopua_-_Hawaiian_Blossoms_Excerpts.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:06pm EDT

Mel Abe

Mel Abe is one of the most underrated of the steel guitarists from Hawai’i. Unless you are a steel guitarist, you’ve likely never heard of him. He appeared uncredited on a number of classic recordings. In fact, his name only appeared on one album cover ever. And yet he must have been some hell of a musician to assume the steel guitar chair vacated by the untimely passing of the legendary Jules Ah See.

Masao Mel Abe was born on February 1, in Waimea, Kaua’i. Like so many amazing musicians, he learned to play the steel guitar by watching and listening to the greats and emulating – counting Dick McIntire and Eddie Bush among his heroes, but first and foremost admiring Jules. (It is no small irony that because of their names, “Abe” and “Ah See” are always one right after the other in such tomes on the subject as “The Golden Years of Hawaiian Entertainment” and “The Hawaiian Steel Guitar and its Great Hawaiian Musicians.”) He joined the Hawaiian Village Serenaders – led by arranger Benny Kalama and so named because they held court in the Tapa Room of the Hawaiian Village Hotel – after the passing of Jules Ah See in 1960. The group had been supporting legendary artists from Alfred Apaka to Hilo Hattie. So the steel player had to be really good.

On record, at least, Mel Abe demonstrates the technical prowess of Ah See – the tone and the technique – if not, perhaps, Jules’ jazz sensibilities. But that assessment is not entirely fair since artists tend to be much more careful in situations where they know they are being recorded – such as live recordings where there is no opportunity for a second take. Much of what we know about Jules’ jazzy side is from any number of bootlegs that have emerged over the years during which he would have had no idea he was being surreptitiously recorded and could simply “let loose.” Mel does not really “let loose” on record but instead provides a fine example of Hawaiian style playing when the steel guitar is not the solo instrument but critical support for the singer.

And you hear his able support on the first medley. Hilo Hattie (née Clara Haili) recorded two live LPs in the early 1960s featuring the same incarnation of the Hawaiian Village Serenaders. On this 1965 RCA Victor release - “Hilo Hattie with the Hawaiian Village Serenaders Recorded Live At The Tapa Room” - Auntie Clara sits out while bassist Jimmy Kaopuiki sings “Dance The Hula In The Moonlight” and Benny Kalama sings “Dancing Under The Stars.”

Mel Abe and Benny Kalama’s Hawaiian Village Serenaders backed many a fine singer during this period - both in live performance and in the studio. Another of these recordings on which Abe is not credited is the 1963 Ed Kenney classic “Somewhere in Hawaii - Ed Kenney Sings.” On the uptempo numbers on this amazing LP - such as “Hula Belle” and “Ukulele Island” - you can hear Abe incorporate his influences - here, a little Jules Ah See and a little Barney Isaacs - into his own amalgam of a style. In fact, a listener could be fooled into thinking that this is Jules Ah See, but sadly Jules passed away in 1960, and “Ed Kenney Sings” wasn’t recorded until 1963.

Next we hear Mel with Hawai’i’s Ambassador of Aloha, Danny Kaleikini. Before his more than 25 year stint at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, Danny was emcee of the evening lu’au at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - hence the LP “Luau At The Hilton Hawaiian Village.” But contrary to the title, this was not recorded live at the luau. This was a studio effort - hence the pristine recording quality. The recording likely features the support of musicians who comprised the Hawaiian Village Serenaders, but besides Abe - who identified himself as the steel guitarist in his own biographical information - the other players are unknown. In the vocal chorus we can hear the voices of what may be Sonny Kamahele and Jimmy Kaopuiki. Here we get a glimpse of Abe’s tender side on the ballad “Sands of Waikiki,” and on “Kona Hema O Ka Lani” we hear more of Mel’s influences such as the single string work reminiscent of Dick McIntire. This beautiful recording has been remastered and re-released on both CD and MP3. 

The last selection is one of my favorites because I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know the featured artist, Sonny Kamahele, graduate of both the Hawaiian Village Serenaders and the Hawaii Calls LPs and radio broadcasts. Mel and Sonny had a long friendship and musical relationship dating back to the Hawaiian Village Serenaders days. In fact, after the demise of that group, Mel went on to perform with Sonny for many years in the Surf Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. In the early 1970s, Sonny and Mel did an LP together for a record label based in Toronto, Canada and masterminded by steel guitar aficionado Tom Shilstra. The album - “Beautiful Hawaiian Steel Guitar” - is strictly instrumental featuring the dual steel guitars of Mel and Sonny (who was also a fine steel guitarist, more of whose steel playing you will hear on Ho’olohe Hou soon). To help you distinguish between Mel’s and Sonny’s playing styles on “Sophisticated Hula,” Sonny played primarily in an unorthodox D9th tuning. So his style is based on large, full chord strums and deep, growling glissandos that signal the chord changes. For the most part, one might think of Mel as the featured soloist in a band such as Count Basie’s and Sonny as the Basie saxophone section. And the tune opens with unison playing by Mel and Sonny that is so tight that they sound like one huge steel guitar.

Because of his facility with the instrument, his tasteful approach to backing a vocalist, and the diminishing number of steel guitarists through the 1960s and 70s before the resurgence in the popularity of the instrument, Mel can also be heard on numerous recordings of this period with Marlene Sai, Mel Peterson, Eddie Kekaula, and others. This means that we will hear more from Mel Abe in the future on Ho’olohe Hou

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this blog post contained a selection which may not have featured Mel Abe after all. A version of “Puka Shell Lei” from Sonny Kamahele’s album “Mine ‘Til The End of Time” offers a fine steel guitar solo which - according to the liner notes - was most likely Bernie Ka’ai Lewis. With my thanks to a great friend, fellow collector, and Hawaiian music enthusiast Norman Markowitz for the possible errata notice. However, that is not the end of the story. The steel player on “Puka Shell Lei” may or may not have been Bernie Ka’ai Lewis. In the Hawaiian music industry, there is a long history of erroneous or incomplete liner notes that don’t tell the whole story. Bernie Ka’ai Lewis would have celebrated a birthday in September. When Ho’olohe Hou honors him, we will return to the issue of the “mystery steeler” and do some A/B comparisons of Abe’s and Lewis’s styles. In any case, because of this possible gaff on the part of your friendly blogger, I have reposted this Mel Abe tribute with four additional tracks on which I can confirm that the steel guitarist is - beyond a shadow of a doubt - Mel Abe based biographical and discographical information offered by Abe himself.

Direct download: Mel20Abe202.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:06am EDT

George Huddy

George Manoa Huddy III was born January 31, 1927 in Kapa’a, Kaua’i. Little is known - or, at least, little is documented - about Huddy’s life and work. All we have are his beautiful compositions, and there are even too few of those at that.

If you are a fan of Hawaiian music, you have no doubt heard one or more of George Huddy’s compositions and didn’t even know it. Of the handful of songs he composed, most were instant classics and are still performed today. It seemed only appropriate on his birthday to share some of these songs so that those who might hear this will forever after associate the songs with George Huddy’s legacy. And while I would often tell you a great deal about the songs and the artists, on this occasion I am going to let all of that remain a mystery that unfolds when you press the “PLAY” button. For the most part, the voices should be as familiar as the songs.

This may be an opportunity for our readers to share your remembrances of George Huddy with your blogger. If you knew George Huddy or his family, I would love to learn more about a man whose work I admire so much and ultimately share any discoveries about him here on the anniversary of Huddy’s birthday next year.

Direct download: George20Huddy.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:58pm EDT

Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha - Then and Again

There are some songs in the vast Hawaiian canon that are too rarely heard and even less often recorded. While there are Hawaiian standards that have been recored literally dozens of times, if we scour the song folios dating back 100 years, some of the most beautiful lyrics and melodies have been recorded a scant once or twice. Many have never been recorded at all. 

The contribution of Charles E. King - whose birthday would have been celebrated yesterday -  as composer, collector, and publisher of Hawaiian songs cannot be underestimated and cannot be covered in a blog post or even a week’s worth of blog posts. So we will return to his legacy when time and space permit. But for now, suffice it to say that King published at least two invaluable folios of Hawaiian songs. Both titled as “King’s Songs of Hawaii,” they are referred to affectionately by Hawaiians by the color of their covers - the “Blue Book” and the “Green Book.” “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” is one of these lovely oft forgotten King compositions.

Another out of print classic by Kihei Brown - whose birthday we also celebrate today - is the Hula Records release “Right On Keia” on which Kihei and his trio give us a stirring rendition of “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha.” As I listen, I am looking at the score of “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” in my 1950 edition of King’s “Green Book,” and the “stirring” is more the work of the composer than the trio who reproduce the composer’s intentions pretty faithfully. One might think that the dramatic changes in tempo are a feature of the arrangement. But the score indicates that the tempo changes are a feature of the composition - interpreted just as King notated them in the score. It is these tempo changes that create the “drama” in what is otherwise a vaudevillian chord sturcture.

Kihei Brown’s version of this song was the only one to be heard for more than 40 years. But then enter the young Hawaiian music group known as ‘Ale’a who recorded “Ka Hana Ia A Ke Aloha” for only the second time for their 2004 CD “Kaulupono.” Who is to say whether or not the gentlemen of ‘Ale’a ever saw the Charles E. King score of the song? So we are left to ponder whether their stirring rendition is the result of faithfully adhering to the score or following the recorded example set by Kihei Brown and his trio 40 years earlier. (Because Hawaiian music is part of a larger oral tradition, many Hawaiian songs are handed down simply by hearing and repeating rather than by the printed sheet music - which in many cases does not even exist.) In either case, the group recognizes the vaudevillian character of the chord changes and plays them up with the addition of the piano - ably handled by Aaron Sala in the unique tradition of Hawaiian-style piano discussed here previously.

What better way to connect past and present then hearing two versions of the same song by two different artists recorded nearly 40 years apart? And what better way to celebrate the birthdays of Kihei Brown and Charles E. King?

Direct download: Ka_Hana_Ia_A_Ke_Aloha_-_Two_Versions.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:02pm EDT

Hilo’s Kihei Brown

Thomas Kihei Desha Brown was born January 30, 1925 into the very musical Brown family of Hilo, Hawai’i. His musical career began by singing with the famed Haili Choir of Hilo which spawned two groups: the Hilo Kalimas and the Hilo Hawaiians. With both of those groups - both family affairs including cousins Bunny and Buddy Brown - Kihei became best known for his beautiful falsetto voice.

Like many other Hawai’i artists of the 1950s and 60s who were making a splash beyond its borders - Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai, Charles K.L. Davis, and George Kainapau come to mind - Kihei and the Hilo Hawaiians were signed to a mainland recording contract with Decca Records. The upshot of such an arrangement is that while the recordings these artists made with such a prominent label received worldwide exposure, ironically very few of the records were shipped to the islands. So while you will find Hilo Hawaiians LPs in flea markets and swap meets across the U.S., you would be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find one in Hawai’i…

…Except for one. Kihei and the Hilo Hawaiians made one album in 1960 for an organization - Hawaii Hosts - that promoted tourism in the wake of Hawai’i’s then recent statehood. Early pressings of “Honeymoon in Hawaii” were accompanied by tourist information and a 40-page booklet filled with pictures of “paradise.” The combination of music, images, and words were enough to send anybody to their nearest travel agent. The question is how was this recording distributed? Record stores? The tour company? It is a question worth pondering because there would seem to be more copies in circulation of this one recording from Hawai’i than any other. In any record store on the mainland U.S. - from Los Angeles to New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska - you will unearth not one, but several copies of this gem. Fortunately for all of us - through a labor of love - “Honeymoon in Hawai’i” is again available on a beautifully remastered CD. According to a Honolulu Magazine article, John Tsukano, Jr. personally financed the rerelease of this classic recording in honor of his father who had produced the original recording. After his father’s passing, John found the master tapes among his father’s things. And given that “Honeymoon in Hawaii” had recently been named one of the 50 all time greatest albums of Hawai’i by Honolulu Magazine, John knew that it was his obligation to the group and to his dad to bring the music back again for a new generation. The first song you hear - “Nani Waialeale” - is from one of many well worn and loved vinyl copies of the album I have amassed over the years. (I have so many copies that I could open my own record store and stock it with only this record.) The song features the steel guitar of Arthur Kaua.

“E Hilo Nani E” is from one of the Hilo Hawaiians’ two Decca Releases - “Memories of Hawaii” - and features Kihei Brown’s beautiful and lush falsetto. Both this and the other Decca LP - “The Splendor of the Islands” - remain out of print.

Like the two Decca Releases, the Hilo Kalima‘s “Your Musical Trip Around The Island of Hawaii“ (besides possibly winning the award for Hawai‘i LP With The Most Syllables In Its Title - I‘ll have to check on that!) also received distribution across the country and around the world. Hula Records - the oldest continuously operating record label in Hawai’i - frequently licensed its master tapes to other labels to further the distribution of Hawaiian music. Recordings by Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, Genoa Keawe, and the Hilo Kalmias - to name just a few - were licensed to London International Records. So you will find titles such as “Your Musical Trip“ with both a Hula and a London label. “Kona Hema” is taken from that LP and was so popular that it also appeared on the Hula Records compilation LP “Hawaiian Stars.” Notice the use of the ‘ukulele as the lead instrument here. This was a rather new concept in Hawaiian music which ushered in the 1960s - a trend led by such ‘ukulele wizards as Eddie Kamae and Jesse Kalima who felt that Hawaiian music did not necessarily require a steel guitar to be considered “Hawaiian.”

I can locate a half dozen Kihei Brown releases, but only one - “Honeymoon In Hawaii” - remains in print in any format. This is so very sad given Kihei’s talents and contribution to Hawai’i. But this also means you’ll be hearing more from Kihei Brown on Ho’olohe Hou, and soon…

Direct download: Kihei_Brown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:15pm EDT

Facebook Friends - Iolani Kamauu

Today Iolani Kamauu is known for his magic as an arranger working in tandem with his wife whose star rose so very quickly over the last decade, Natalie Ai Kamauu. The combination of Nat’s angelic voice and Iolani’s musical settings forged a new era in Hawaiian music - a sound uniquely their own. But Iolani was a fine musician long before his musical - and life - partnership with Nat.

Nearly 25 years ago Iolani joined forces with Trevor Maunakea, Kanamu Akana, and Alden Levi to form the group known as Kawaiola. Their one and only recording together - “Ho’oheno I Ka Pu’uwai” - is really quite lovely in the vein of the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau and later Ho’okena. It must have been difficult to be a musician in Hawai’i in the 1980s - to straddle the sensitive border of tradition and progress. But Iolani and Kawaiola did this with tremendous artistic - if, perhaps, not critical - success. Combining traditional instrumentation with their own unique twist on church choir-style harmony, listen to how they handle such Hawaiian chestnuts as “Kaulana O Waimanalo” and “Maika’i Ka Makani O Kohala.”

Hauoli la hanau e Iolani!

Direct download: Iolani_Kamauu_with_Kawaiola.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:12am EDT

Leinaala Haili and Maunalua

And I almost forgot… Leinaala Haili left one more important on-going legacy in Hawaiian music: the group now known as Maunalua.

It has been nearly 20 years since I was sitting with Bobby Moderow of Maunalua talking story at a ridiculous hour in the most bizarre of locales - a hotel lounge in Princeton, NJ. Princeton University has been called “home” and eventually “alma mater” by a number of students who come here from Hawai’i to study, and so the institution has had at various points throughout its history a very active Hawaiian student organization eager to share their culture with the local community. In 1994, Bobby made the journey - along with kumu hula John Lake - to take part in a weekend of Hawai’i Club of Princeton events. Bobby and I played music for long hours and talked even longer, and I recall the story of how his group - Maunalua - got its start. The group had no name and only two permanent members when Auntie Leinaala Haili started coming to see them every Friday without fail at Roy’s Hawai’i Kai. Sometimes she would sit in with the group, but mostly she would goad them into making a record. After many years of this goading Hawaiian style, the boys relented, and the debut album - simply entitled “Maunalua” - was a radio darling and a multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner. In the more than a decade since their recording debut, the group has gone on to become one of the most artistically fruitful and commercially successful Hawaiian groups of all time.

By the time of the recording of their second CD - “Kuleana” - Bobby and crew reciprocated the goading and dragged Auntie Leinaala to the recording studio for what would be her final recording ever - the tender and poignant “Pua Tuberose” heard here. This precious meeting of Leinaala Haili and the sweet male harmony voices was never to be repeated.  Note that Leinaala did not ever previously - despite five full-length releases - record with a chorus of male voices. So this was also a once-in-a-career event. More remarkably still is that the 80-year-old Leinaala in this recording sounds in no way, shape, or form different than the Leinaala of 30 years before - the tone, the phrasing, the breath control…everything still in perfect form, the consummate professional until the very end.

Dedicated to Bobby, Kahi, and Richard - great friends of mine who carry the torch of those who came before because they feel it is their kuleana.

Direct download: 10_-_Pua_Tuberose.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:07pm EDT

Leinaala Haili

Jessie Makanui Leinaala Amaral Haili was born January 29, 1923 in Lahaina, Maui. She rose to fame because of her very natural and unforced female ha`i  - or the equivalent of the male falsetto - that was simply beyond compare. Throughout her professional career she perfomed literally everywhere: the Sierra Café, the Niumalu Hotel (now the Hilton Hawaiian Village), the Moana Hotel, the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Queen’s Surf, the Kaimana Beach Hotel, the Kuhio Hotel, Don the Beachcomber's, Waikiki Lau Yee Chai, The Clouds, and Yoko's at Kapahulu. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s she recorded five LPs for the Makaha and Lehua record labels - each one more beautiful than the last. On all five of these albums she collaborated with an arranger we have speaking about at great length recently - Benny Saks - and so she is also at least partially responsible for ushering in a more modern era of Hawaiian music. And because Leinaala worked with Benny Saks, this means we have one more opportunity to hear from his frequent collaborator - steel guitarist Billy Hew Len.

Benny, Billy, and Leinaala kick things off with a rousing rendition of Uncle Johnny Almeida’s “Maile Swing.” Almeida’s uptempo compositions were always infused with the many jazz influences that inspired him. But “Maile Swing” may be his swingingest effort ever, and Benny’s arrangement only swings it harder. This is no typical Hawaiian song form. For example, listen to the chord structure of the bridge - switching from major to minor in the middle of the bridge. This is not traditional Hawaiian music as it was known up to that point when Almeida penned this ditty around 1946-7. Saks jazzes it up even more by changing the typical “V” chord to a “V9” chord - also right out of the jazz playbook. And then there is that unique instrument heard throughout the tune. Known as the melodica, it sounds like a harmonica, but it is, in fact, a handheld keyboard instrument that one blows into to produce tone. (You may recognize this instrument from the iconic introduction to the 1972 Chi-Lites hit “Oh, Girl.“) Hohner only invented the instrument in the 1950s, so again Saks shows us his cutting edge by introducing the melodica to Hawaiian music. (In fact, the melodica may not have been used in Hawaiian music before or since this effort.) The combination keyboard/woodwind design of the instrument is what allows Benny to bend the notes in his introduction and solo into the blue notes associated with jazz. And then another very jazz-oriented idea: the trading of choruses among the soloists. Benny takes the first half of the improvised instrumental chorus, while Billy takes the second half on the steel guitar.

On “Pa’ahana,” Benny Saks surprises and titillates by turning back the hands of time with an instrumentation comprised solely of steel guitar, slack key guitar, and bass - Hawaiian music at its simple best. The steel guitar is Billy Hew Len once again, and the slack key guitar is a guest turn from none other than Sonny Chillingworth. You may recall when discussing Billy Hew Len that he performed live regularly in the 1970s with Sonny Chillingworth and Myra English. This selection gives us a hint at that empathetic interplay of Billy’s steel and Sonny’s slack key one might have heard on those evenings at the Dolphin Room of the Outrigger Hotel. This is also a rare recording of Sonny playing a nylon string guitar as he was better known for playing steel string acoustic guitars or his now legendary orange Gretsch semi-hollow body.

On the classic “Na Pua Lei ‘Ilima,” Saks tastefully combines the traditional and the contemporary. He takes the tune at a slightly more sprightly clip than usual for the hula. Then he employs the hula rhythm typically associated with the ipu heke but instead on the tambourine - the ubiquitous sound of groovy hipster 60s music. Once again, the steel guitar is Billy Hew Len.

On “Ka’uiki,” the steel guitar sits out and the ‘ukulele takes the lead role. None of the supporting players are immediately identifiable here, but the male harmony voice you hear is likely Cyrus Green as he played a similar supporting role on other Lehua Records releases of this period, and Green‘s voice is largely unmistakeable.

Finally, as in other Benny Saks arrangements you may have heard here recently, this version of “Punahou” is focused on the interplay of Billy Hew Len’s steel guitar and Saks’ piano. The arrangement plays not only with melody but rhythm. Listen to the introduction where the piano relies on long rests between ideas while the steel guitar plays a seemingly neverending cascade of triplets. 

When one listens to Auntie Leinaala sing, one immediately recognizes not only a voice that rises above the rest, but also a personality that rises above the rest. Her voice is characterized by a certain simple elegance. You might picture her in a shiny holoku ready to perform for kings and queens. Yet those who knew her say that she was kolohe - or rascal - both on stage and off. Entertainment writer Wayne Harada captured her best in his Honolulu Advertiser obituary when he discussed Leinaala’s legacy with other Hawaiian music icons who knew and admired her.

While I must usually report that the selections heard on Ho’olohe Hou are out of print, happily that is not the case with Leinaala Haili’s catalog. In 2012, Lehua Records remastered and re-released all five of her albums direct to MP3 which can be downloaded from iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, and other reputable download sites. I can highly recommend four of them, but one - “Hiki No” - is not up to modern standards since Lehua returned to the monophonic master for its reissue (likely because the original stereo master was lost or damaged).

Leinaala Haili would have been 90 years old today. I hope you enjoy hearing this voice again - or, perhaps, for the first time…

Direct download: Leinaala_Haili.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:32pm EDT

Iwalani Kahalewai

Charlotte Iwalani Wilson Kahalewai was born January 25, 1934 in Waihe’e, Maui into a most musical family. She started singing at the age of 6 for U.S.O. shows and cut her entertaining teeth at Lani Wai and Wailuku Gardens before becoming a regular on the Hawaii Calls radio programs and studio recordings. Through the 1950’s Iwalani performed at the Top Of The Isle and the Waikiki Biltmore and in 1958 was hired as featured singer and dancer with Alfred Apaka and the Hawaiian Village Serenaders in the Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Room. 

After Apaka’s untimely death in 1960, Iwalani sang at Don The Beachcombers and recorded with sister-in-law Haunani Kahalewai on her Decca and Capitol Records releases heard around the world. Through the 1960’s and 70’s she performed with Alice Fredlund’s Halekulani Girls and the Charles Pokipala Trio at the Halekulani Hotel, the Danny Kaleikini Show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, the Moana Hotel and Queen’s Surf luaus, and with Tavana’s Polynesian Show at the Ala Moana Hotel, as well as continued frequent guest appearances on the Hawaii Calls radio show. 

Most recently, Auntie Iwa performed in the 1990’s Hawaii Calls revival radio program, The Sounds of Aloha, and she performed right up until her passing with the Royal Hawaiian Band as well as in numerous live Hawaii Calls tribute shows with show veterans Nina Keali’iwahamana, Boyce Rodrigues, and Gary Aiko. Her last recent recording was a duet with Jeff Teves on his recent release Lovely Sapphire Of The Tropics. 

Ironically, despite being featured as a soloist on numerous LP and CD releases by other artists, Iwalani only made one solo album: the 1960’s classic "An Hawaiian Happening," which brought Hawaiian music into a new era courtesy of the progressive sounds of arranger-conductor Benny Saks.  This beautiful LP has recently been digitally remastered and reissued and is essential listening for anyone interested in hearing Auntie Iwa’s unique way with a song and a snapshot of the blend of rock, jazz, Latin, and other influences that pervaded Hawaiian music in the 1960’s. 

To honor Auntie Iwa, I put together a set of some of Iwalani’s finest outings – most no longer commercially available.  The set opens with Iwalani’s first ever commercial recording – “Blue Mu’umu’u” – with the Hawaii Calls Orchestra and Chorus and continues with an excerpt of a very rare radio broadcast from the Tapa Room with the Hawaiian Village Serenaders – including a duet with Alfred Apaka.  There are two selections from Iwalani’s An Hawaiian Happening album.  (Listen for one of the hallmarks of Benny Saks’ 1960’s arrangements – a full drum kit!)  Then Iwalani leads the Halekulani Girls on the sad and poignant “Mi Nei” from their out-of-print 1977 LP "Dreams of Old Hawaii."  And the set closes with two out-of-print recordings Iwalani made with Hawaii Calls veterans Gary Aiko, Nina Keali’iwahamana, and Mahi Beamer in the 1990s. 

Hawai’i lost this most beloved and recognizable voice on August 4, 2009. I hope this musical tribute brings back fond memories for those of you who knew and loved Auntie Iwa.

Direct download: A_Tribute_to_Iwalani_Kahalewai.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:32pm EDT

Billy Hew Len in the 1980s

By the time the 80s rolled around, Billy Hew Len was the elder statesman of the local music scene – having known, played with, or recorded with every shining star in the small constellation of Hawaiian music luminaries. He continued to work the Waikiki hotel lounges as well as the evening lu’au which catered to tourists – making him one of the most heard steel guitarists ever and a sound instantly recognizable with Hawai’i.

The recordings slowed, but then so, too, did almost all recordings of traditional Hawaiian music by all artists of an era that seemed to be slipping away – the 80s leading way to reggae beats and synthesizers, all but abandoning the steel guitar. But Billy continued to do a few noteworthy recordings in these last years before his passing.

The set begins with a most rare selection. Violet Pahu Lilikoi is known primarily as longtime “sidekick” to Hawai’i’s First Lady of Song, Aunty Genoa Keawe. Violet worked in Genoa’s bands from the 1940s until her passing. But in one shining moment in the 80s, she broke out on her own on a self-produced LP entitled “The Lilikoi Family Sings Contemporary and Hawaiian.” This very limited private label pressing is found in few collections today – even in Hawai’i – and has never been released on CD or MP3. Billy performs the steel guitar chores on Auntie Violet’s version of “Polynesian Rhythm.”

Kealoha Kalama has generated far too little recorded output in her time – three long players, to be precise, or too few from someone of such unparalleled vocal talent and who knows so many songs that others have long since forgotten. My favorite dates to the 1980s – the beautiful “Lei Puakenikeni” on which Billy Hew Len again guests. In an earlier blog post I bemoaned the “Best Ofs” and “Greatest Hits” that somehow seem to leave the real hits on the cutting room floor. Selections from all three of Kealoha Kalama’s LPs have been remastered and rereleased on CD under the title “Encircling Love.” So you can hear some of Billy Hew Len’s work there (as well as the steel playing of a legend we have yet to explore: David Kelii). But the selection you hear here – “Hilo E” – has never been rereleased.

We recently heard from the Kekua Fernandez recording “Ka Momi O Ka Pakipika” elsewhere on Ho’olohe Hou (with his version of “Makapu’u Lighthouse”). We hear from that group and that recording again here as singer and hula master Leilani Sharpe Mendez leads the group and Billy in her rendition of “Ka Leo Manu O Hawai’i.”

Finally, from the same documentary film which opened our retrospective on Billy a week ago, we hear from the invaluable Robert Mugge film “Hawaiian Rainbow” which is still available on DVD for you to marvel at Billy’s playing. Although you hear footage not included in the original film, it was included on later DVD releases as a “bonus” selection. Among the many Hawaiian music legends with which his name is often asscociated, Genoa Keawe may by now be the most famous around the world. Billy and Genoa had a long musical friendship, and we should be grateful to Mugge for capturing a brief moment of their shared joy on film for posterity. He leaves us with that staple of all steel guitarists’ reportoires, “Hilo March.”

There is much more we could say about Billy Hew Len, but his heroism speaks through his musicianship which many more capable musicians have yet to match. You can still hear his style live on through such acolytes as Jeff Au Hoy and his own grandson, Casey Olsen who still drags out the same frying pan steel guitar you see in the Mugge film. And there are many, many more recordings available to us to evidence Hew Len’s greatness. But that is for another year – for my hero and inspiration, Billy Hew Len, has a birthday every year. And we are going to celebrate it together again…and again.

In Hawaiian, hana hou means “encore” or – literally – “do it again.” Hana hou, Billy. Hana hou…

Direct download: Billy_Hew_Len_-_1980s.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:15pm EDT

Django's Influence on Hawaiian Music

And speaking of birthdays, why would Ho’olohe Hou celebrate the birthday of a Gypsy jazz guitarist? Perhaps because of his undeniable influence on music all over the world – including Hawai’i…

As mentioned in our discussions of steel guitarist Billy Hew Len, Django Reinhardt was a jazz violinist whose career radically changed course after a caravan fire robbed him of the use of the pinky and ring fingers of his left – or fretting – hand. Django turned to the guitar and developed a fiery Gypsy style like no other guitarist before or since and which required only two fingers and a thumb. Many who followed tried to emulate Django’s style with all five fingers, but none has come close. And this is because – like so much Hawaiian music – Django’s style could not be boiled down to technique. It doesn’t come from the hands. It comes from the soul.

This blog is reserving a more in-depth discussion of Django’s influence on Hawaiian music until such time as we can begin to seriously explore the development and evolution of Hawaiian music in a more chronological fashion. But we also could not let Django’s birthday slip by unnoticed. So here is what we might say for now…

As early as 1926, Django began recording with an aggregation he formed which became known as le Quintette du Hot Club du France with his lifelong musical partner, Parisian violinist Stephane Grappelli.  The group – which consisted of violin, lead guitar, two rhythm guitars and upright bass – was a veritable freight train of rhythm. They could play at lightning fast speeds, but the rhythmic aspects of their playing even translated into their ballads. The popularity of the group around the world could be keenly felt – even among Hawaiian musicians, especially those rooted on the mainland U.S. where the sounds from Europe more quickly arrived than they did more than twice as far away in Honolulu.

Rather than show the influence of the Reinhardt/Grappelli relationship on a traditional Hawaiian song, how about turning that concept on its side and hearing an example of a Hawaiian group doing a jazz standard in the style of the Hot Club? Django and crew recorded “Limehouse Blues” no fewer than five times over their 25 year recording career. I have chosen a 1926 version since it most resembles – in tempo and arrangement – a version by Johnny Pineapple’s New York-based group dating to the early 1940s. Johnny’s group was then known as “Lukewela’s Royal Hawaiians” – “Lukewela” presumably being a Hawaiian equivalent of “Roosevelt,” in honor of New York’s famed Roosevelt Hotel which the group called home. With Johnny’s group, the role of Django’s lead guitar is played by the fiery steel guitar of Johnny de Toro and the violinist is the amazing Tony Atero.

There is more to Django’s influence on Hawaiian music than this one example. And I look forward to returning to the subject – but not before the time is right.

Direct download: Limehouse_Blues_-_Two_Versions_-_Djangos_Influence.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:52pm EDT

Hau’oli la hanau e Haunani Apoliona!

While Ho’olohe Hou has so far been concerned with the forgotten figures of Hawaiian music, scrolling around Facebook today inspired a new topic – “Facebook Friends,” dedicated to my friends (real and virtual) who continue to make beautiful music for Hawai’i and the world. And a birthday is the perfect excuse to celebrate!

For more than 30 years Haunani Apoliona has been a foremost ambassador of Hawaiian music around the world, a composer of beautiful Hawaiian-language compositions, and one of the rare female practitioners of the art of the slack key guitar. But only Hawaiians can say whether they cherish Haunani more for her contributions to their music or for her advocacy of native Hawaiian causes and issues in Washington, D.C. as a representative of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

My fondest memories of Haunani are spending evenings at the Rainbow Lounge of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel with her musical partner of the last three decades, Jerry Santos, and the seminal Hawaiian folk music group Olomana which keeps alive the sounds and songs of a bygone era of Hawai’i. In the last 20 years Olomana has only produced one CD - “E Mau Ana Ka Ha‘aheo“ (1991) - but there was also one solo CD from Jerry Santos – “Expecting Friends” (1989) - which featured Haunani and one solo LP from Haunani which featured Jerry - “Na Lei Hulu Makua, Na Wahine Hawai‘i“ (1986). The latter is of particular interest because it remains out of print – never seeing the light of day on CD or MP3. Haunani continues to wrestle with the numerous issues of rereleasing her own work.

To celebrate her birthday, I give you one of my favorite selections from that LP – a medley of songs by venerable composer of Hawaiian songs Helen Desha Beamer – with the hope that the entire beautiful album will be available for a new generation of Hawaiian music lovers to enjoy soon.

Hau’oli la hanau e Haunani Apoliona!

Direct download: 04_Na_Kuahiwi_Elima___Kimo_Hula.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:23pm EDT

I Had A Dream

My wife asked me why I suddenly became eager to blog about Hawaiian music and its heroes again. I said that it was for the same reason that she blogs about young adult literature. There are things about which we are passionate – things that became all-consuming in our lives – but we have not been able to overcome the obstacles to making the way to the inside of our passion. Like kids on a playground who don’t get picked for a kickball team, my wife and I must be content to watch the game when we would desperately like to be playing it.

So my wife writes about great young adult novels and their authors instead of writing the next great YA novel herself. And I am writing about Hawaiian music when all I long to do is make Hawaiian music.

For nearly 40 years I have studied - in depth, as you can no doubt tell from these blog posts - Hawaiian music and all of its figures - the heroes, the unsung heroes, and even those who worked behind the scenes. I used to joke that I collected Hawaiian records the way other kids in my New Jersey neighborhood collected baseball cards. I knew all the players and all their stats, but for some reason nobody ever wanted to trade with me. But at some point it was no longer enough to listen to Hawaiian music. I was eager to play.

I first learned to play ‘ukulele before I was five years old by listening to and emulating those whose styles most appealed to me - Eddie Kamae, Jesse Kalima, and Herb Ohta. Then around the age of 8, I bought Keola Beamer’s primer on slack key guitar and taught myself. At some point I added steel guitar to the growing list of instruments I was trying to learn - copying licks from such greats as Joe Custino, Lovey Lui Conn, Jules Ah See, Barney Isaacs and (of course) Billy Hew Len. As a teenager, I wanted to sing falsetto like Mahi Beamer, Dennis Pavao, or Robert and Roland Cazimero. And I did not find it one bit ironic that my singing hero was Aunty Genoa Keawe. I was a young man learning to sing like a woman. ‘Ukulele, slack key guitar, steel guitar, and falsetto singing were my passions, but they were also my deep, dark secret. There were enough reasons for the others at school to ridicule me - bad skin, bad hair, bad clothing choices, a life made in a trailer park, a mother who was a raging alcoholic, and what teachers convinced me was an off-the-charts IQ. Why give them one more reason? In those days, it felt like I had few friends, but I had lots of aunties and uncles far, far away in a place I had never even visited it.  My heart and my soul were in Hawai’i as were the aunties and uncles I had yet to meet. 

While other kids dreamed more practical dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, chefs, and teachers, I dreamed of playing Hawaiian music. If you’re a white kid in New Jersey, dreaming of becoming a musician in Hawai’i is just plain stupid. Who knew there was any sphere in which being a white male would be a disadvantage?

And yet, like a damned fool, I continued to practice as if that dream could become a reality. I played and sang at parties for the local Hawaiians who accepted me as one of their own. It never escaped me that their hearts soared to their home far away whenever I sang a forgotten song in the Hawaiian language in the falsetto style. At one of these gatherings, I was approached by a calabash auntie and uncle from Philadelphia, Frank and Winnie Jankowski. (And, make no mistake, despite marrying into that very Polish name, Auntie Winnie was Hawaiian born and raised who studied hula with none other than Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln.) Without conversation, Frank handed me a videocassette with a Post-It Note attached which read simply “You could do this.” It was a videocassette of the TV broadcast of that year’s Aloha Festivals Frank B. Shaner Falsetto Singing Contest. The winner that year was unknown to me. His name was Cody “Pueo” Pata.

Starting in 2003, I began making an annual journey to Hawai’i to compete in this contest.  That first year - in July 2003 - I dialed the radio in the rental car to station 105.1 - KINE - to hear the morning show then hosted by Brickwood Galuteria and Frank B. Shaner who - to my surprise - were joking about the contestant from New Jersey. Frank defended me - saying to Brickwood, “No, really, just wait ‘til you hear this guy.” I picked up the Honolulu Star-Bulletin where they interviewed Shaner about the contest named for him, and he talked about the contestants, to which I became yet another tagline: “There is even one from New Jersey!” And I knew that I was somewhere between a dark horse and a cruel joke. And - dare I say it? - I lost. And it wouldn’t be the last time.

The Aloha Festivals sponsored contests first on Hawai’i, then O’ahu, and later Maui, and eventually even Kaua’i. So the next year I hedged my bets and entered the contest on two different islands - taking third place on Hawai’i and second place on O’ahu. And I was quite content with that and vowed never to return - at least, not to compete, since I had been told by many Hawaiians that a “haole is never going to win that contest.”

The advent of the internet nearly ruined Hawaiian music for me. I was able to put myself out there for the first time and seek advice and assistance. But instead of advice and assistance, for the most part I received a warning. I learned – quickly – that there is a difference between music for the sake of music and music that perpetuates a culture. And because of Hawai’i’s sordid history with the white man – honored last week on the 120th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy – the Hawaiian people are understandably very protective of what remains of their culture. So I was given myriad reasons why I should not perform Hawaiian music which ranged from you’re not Hawaiian to you do not speak the Hawaiian language, so you should not sing it to you have never even been to Hawai’i to now that you've been here, you should move here. This would have hurt badly enough coming from the Hawaiian people, but many of these criticisms, in fact, came from the legends of Hawaiian music that I so admired and wished to befriend and learn from.

And so, I gave up Hawaiian music and falsetto singing and the contest.

In September 2005, I received a phone call from the O’ahu contest’s new host, radio personality Harry B. Soria. He said that the Aloha Festivals couldn’t find my audition tape or any entry forms for me. They assumed they must be lost in the mail in that great distance between Honolulu and Trenton. I explained that they were not lost - that I simply wasn’t entering. Harry said, “I really think you should. And there are only nine entries so far. And you keep taking second or third place. It’s as if that tenth spot were reserved for you.” So I entered the O’ahu contest, and because it was convenient, I entered on the Big Island as well. Between marriages and going more broke by the day, I shelled out for the plane ticket - all the money I had left in the world. I rented a car on a credit card I knew I likely wouldn’t pay when the bill arrived. And I planned to sleep in that rental car in various Zippy’s parking lots across O’ahu. I stopped into Harry’s Music in Kaimuki to see a friend I had made at the first contest - Alan Yoshioka. He asked me where I was staying, and I told him a in a car behind Zippy’s Vineyard. And he protested and said, “No, you stay with me.”

The night before the O’ahu contest, I went to hear my friend Halehaku Seabury-Akaka play at a great little night spot that has since become a favorite of mine: Chiko’s. And he was performing with one of my falsetto heroes - Keao Costa, then of the group Na Palapalai. I sang a few songs with the group, and then I bought Keao a beer. A beer turned into a six-pack and several shots of something that tasted like straight Hershey’s syrup. He asked what I was singing in the contest, and I told him Uncle Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln’s “Kawaihae Hula.” He said, “Sing it. Now.” So I started singing, and he stopped me after four bars. He asked why my vowel sounds all sounded the same - why I could not hear the difference between “ai” and “ae.” Good question, Keao. “You cannot get away with that when Tony is a judge” - referring, of course, to composer, kumu hula, and falsetto singer Tony Conjugacion. We then started repeating “Kawaihae” one after the other. Kawaihae. Take a shot. Kawaihae. Drink your beer. Kawaihae. Take another shot. And I was getting the lessons I desperately sought from one of my heroes in a bar at a ridiculous hour while doing beer and shots.

And it was then that I realized that Hawaiian music is not an academic thing at all. I had been doing it all wrong.

The next thing I remember is waking up in my car on Ala Wai Boulevard - close to (but not in) the parking garage of the apartment Alan Yoshioka loaned to me. It was perhaps the scariest moment of my life. And there was only one hour until sound check.

That evening, September 24, 2005, on the grand stage of the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where so much Hawaiian music history had been made, and after the big build-up of an introduction in which Harry joked with Karen Keawehawai’i about guessing the zip code of Ewing, NJ, I took the stage with my now great friends - the group known as “Na Hoa” - and sang “Kawaihae Hula.” And nobody - believe me, nobody - was more surprised than me to win not only the falsetto singing prize, but a second newly instituted prize for accuracy in the Hawaiian language. (Thank you, Keao!) Back home in New Jersey, the album covers from my favorite Hawaiian LPs – most on the venerable Hula Records label – graced my walls. And now through some miracle I had earned a recording contract with that same Hula Records. We recorded the album the following July, and you hear two of those songs here. You likely never heard these songs on the radio in Hawai’i. And – unlike the handful of falsetto contest winners CD releases previously – it did not earn the coveted Na Hoku Hanohano Award. And I did not relocate to Hawai’i because even I realized that winning that contest – one song, one night – did not, in fact, change my life. All of the obstacles still existed.

This may sound like nothing to you, but in my mind I overcame insurmountable odds and harsh criticism to fulfill a dream. I haven’t told this story often. It’s old news now. And you probably think I choose today to retell it because we are celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. But that is only half the reason. The other half is that in a few hours I head to the hospital for a surgery that is long overdue and which may change my voice forever. The hope is that it will be better. But it could go either way. The real hope is that this procedure improves my quality of life – whether or not I ever sing again. Surgery also invariably – no matter how minor – makes me come to grips with my own mortality. It’s a simple procedure, it’s not even a dangerous procedure, but one of my heroes of jazz – violinist Stephane Grappelli – died from a simple appendectomy because of an error in dosing the anesthesia.

Should I not sing the same way tomorrow as I did today, I will at least still have my hands to lay upon steel guitars and ‘ukuleles. I had a dream, and for one brief shining moment I lived it. Tomorrow may be the day for a new dream. And should there be no tomorrow, at least I left my voice on an aluminum disc and an MP3, and maybe someday someone will hear it and judge it without conditions and preconceived notions such as, “Oh, and he was from New Jersey.”

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my voice to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray Hawai’i my soul to take…

Ke Akua bless my wife, my beautiful family, my faithful dog and cat, and all of my Hawaiian friends who ultimately told me “can.”

~ Bill Wynne

By Request - A Song To Hawai’i
It has been some time since I sent a Facebook “friend” request to someone whom I noticed “liked” our mutual friends’ posts about vintage Hawaiian music. I wrote and told him that we should be fast friends because he has impeccable taste in Hawaiian music. Now, more than two years later, my friend and new Ho’olohe Houfan Kamarin Kaikea Lee writes to me to inquire about a song forgotten by all but the old timers…  

He was listening to a classic 1960s album by Pua Almeida called “My Son Pua” on which he sings a medley of two songs - one Hawaiians sing all the time to this day (Helen Lindsey Parker’s classic “Akaka Falls”) and a song you will rarely hear anymore. He asks about this song which begins with the magical words, “The winds from over the sea sing sweetly aloha to me…” And how can a song go from there to anywhere but heavenly?

The seldom heard but heavenly waltz-time tune is often simply called “The Winds From Over The Sea” for its first line, but its real title is “A Song To Hawai’i.” The rightful composer has been contested, but as noted by ethnomusicologist Dr. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman (in a scholarly article, "Aloha Aina": New Persecptives on "Kaulana Na Pua", The Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 33, 1999), at least two generally credible sources credits J.D. Redding with composing the song: Jack Ailau’s Buke Mele Hawaii and Charles E. King’s Book of Hawaiian Melodies (1923 edition). Interestingly, despite that the song dates back to at least 1923 - and possibly earlier - I cannot find in my archives or in any publicly available electronic materials (spelled Google) any versions recorded until the 1960s and none recorded since. This song seems to have had a very specific moment of popularity in time, and we can only speculate about the sudden fervor (statehood and the ensuing spike in tourism?) and its just as sudden demise (perhaps the somewhat archaic waltz time which renders the song impossible for the hula). It is all very odd because scores of other hapa-haole songs (songs which extol the beauty and virtues of Hawai’i but written in the English language) remain very popular despite their quaintness in these modern times.

I located a number of versions of the song - all dating to the early 1960s. A sole instrumental version is not included here, allowing us to focus on several vocal versions which are notable on any number of counts and which allow us to hear the beautiful lyric over and over again.

The first is a version that some in the know might think is still in print but which, in fact, is not. There is a practice among record labels that I personally find confusing - reissuing “Best Of”or “Greatest Hits” collections by an artist but recycling the cover art from an iconic recording by that same artist. One might look at the cover of the reissued collection and say - inaccurately, based on the picture - “I had this record when I was a kid. How I would love to hear it again.” I can cite numerous cases of this grievous error in the Hawaiian, jazz, and pop music worlds. And one of these is a collection entitled “The Best of Lucky Luck.” Lucky Lucky was the public handle of Hawai’i radio and TV host Bob Luck who could find his way through a song with his own unique panache - especially when accompanied by a stable of some of Hawai’i’s finest musicians.  “The Best of Lucky Luck” was issued using the same cover art as the original 1960s release “Have Fun With Lucky,” but while many of the songs on “Have Fun” were reissued for the “Best Of,” not all of the songs were - specifically, those that featured these illustrious sidemen but not Lucky Luck. (The rest of the “Best Of” is rounded out with selections released previously only as 45rpm singles.) So those who picked up “Best Of” may ultimately have found their favorite song missing. And one of the missing is “Winds From Over The Sea.” Under the leadership of arranger Chick Floyd, the amazing singer and songwriter Mel Peterson gives us a charming rendition while the familiar voice of Charles Kaipo Miller makes it a medley by singing “Aloha No Au I Ko Maka” in Hawaiian - all wrapped up in Joe Custino’s lush steel guitar. This version has likely seldom been heard since its release nearly 50 years ago and has yet to see the light of day on CD or MP3.

We then hear from Hawaiian baritone Bob Pauhale Davis who recorded all too rarely himself but who was called upon to participate in numerous sessions for Margaret Williams’ Tradewinds Records label in the 1960s. We hear him sing “A Song To Hawai’i” here with the assistance of a trio of ladies’ voices known as The Kamaha’os and slack key guitarist Leonard Kwan (who is not playing in the slack key style and likely not even in a slack key gutar tuning). This is from the Tradewinds album “Party Songs Hawaiian Style,” and in stark contrast to the Mel Peterson/Charles Kaipo Miller version which is exceedingly well produced in the recording studio, the Bob Davis version is the kind of simple folk music you would hear at backyard parties - then as even still today. And, frankly, most of the time, I prefer that style.

We then hear from one of my favorite albums of all time from one of my favorite performers - composer, hula master, and falsetto singer extraordinaire Bill Ali’iloa Lincoln from his eponymously titled LP also on Tradewinds Records. With the able assistance of Lei Cypriano, Annie Hu, and most underrated and seldom heard steel guitarist Eddie Pang, Bill launches into “A Song To Hawai’i” in his full baritone - which, despite the beauty and fullness of tone, may be a momentary disappointment for those expecting his soaring falsetto. But Uncle Bill ultimately does not disappoint. (He never could!) After a brief ritard after the first chorus, he launches into a chorus of falsetto yodeling typical of the singing style of the paniolo (cowboys) of his once home of Hawai‘i island (sometimes erroneously referred to as the Big Island). And then another ritard and Uncle Bill is off to the races with a near double-time waltz chorus of falsetto yodel. Curiously, he pronounces “winds” with a long “i” sound - a deliberate old-school mispronunciation intended to conjure up thoughts, perhaps, of old western films and Nelson Eddy.

Both the Bob Davis and Bill Lincoln recordings are available in MP3 format from iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, and other reputable download sites courtesy of Cord International/Hana Ola Records. But as cited in a previous Ho’olohe Hou post, these might not be considered remasters since they do not sound noticeably better in their digital reincarnation than the vinyl originals. The versions here are from my original vinyl copies.

But all of these versions left me hungering for… I don’t know. Something was amiss. Each of these versions was different, and yet somehow none managed to capture all of the beauty and magic of the lyric. I then listened to the version my friend Kamarin first mentioned to me which began this whole pursuit - the version by Pua Almeida. And I was immediately reminded of an earlier Ho’olohe Hou post about the Makaha Sons’ Moon Kauakahi and his aim to make the sensibility of the arrangement of a Hawaiian song reflect the story the lyric is typicallyleft to convey on its own.  And Pua Almeida’s version of “A Song To Hawai’i” does this. Performed as a medley with “Akaka Falls,“ the song opens with the ethereal harp of De Wayne Fulton - the cascading arpeggios of chord tones mimicking the falls and its splashes and ripples. When we get to “The Winds from Over The Sea,“ Will Brady’s flute obbligato floats mystically over Pua’s voice like a tone poem to those winds. The medley closes with a reprise of “Akaka Falls” in which the flute and harp dance together like the winds and waters they portray - a love song to Hawai’i in both words and music.

Dedicated with aloha to Kamarin Kaikea Lee for the joy in hearing these treasured recordings again.

Direct download: A_Song_To_Hawaii_-_Four_Versions.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:44am EDT

Bill & Billy

It’s been more than three years since my wife and I went to the movies to see Julie & Julia. In the movie Nora Ephron cleverly weaves together two stories: how now famous chef Julia Child struggled to find her place in the world of French cooking and how an aspiring writer struggled to find her place in the literary world. Despite that this might be characterized as a “chick flick,” I had no difficulty relating to either Julie’s or Julia’s story. In fact, they are in many ways the same story. And it is my story.

Julie trudged away at a job that was not her passion, and yet she injected into it all of the passion one could muster because the job – helping the injured and the relatives of those who perished in the World Trade Center wade through the bureaucracy surrounding insurance claims - required it. Her true passion is for writing, but she can’t get a manuscript read to save her soul. Julia had a successful husband but no passions of her own – until, that is, she and her husband settled in Paris, and she discovered French food! Julia, an American woman in a strange land, decides to attend the distinguished Cordon Bleu school of French cooking – a school not merely male-dominated but French-dominated. Julie and Julia’s lives converge when Julie tries to give her life meaning by blogging about cooking her way through Julia’s classic cookbook Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Julie was told she would never be a writer. And Julia was told she would never be a chef. And both wondered if their pursuits were truly their passion and their destiny or merely something to pass the time until they pass from this life.

I recently celebrated 24 years at my job. I really quite enjoy my work (and I think I am pretty good at it, if I do say so myself). But I have never called it my “passion.” My passion is the music, dance, and culture of Hawai’i. I have been immersed in Hawaiian music since I was born – despite that I am not of Hawaiian descent and I was born and raised on the East Coast. I will save the story of how one falls in love with Hawaiian music so far from Hawai’i for another time, but to make a long story short… By visiting flea markets, junk shops, swap meets, used record stores, and through the generosity of local Hawaiians who wanted me to hear good Hawaiian music, I amassed an outrageously large collection of classic Hawaiian music recordings. And not content to merely listen, I taught myself to play ‘ukulele, steel guitar, slack key guitar, and sing in the Hawaiian language. But who would I do any of that for in New Jersey?

In the beginning nobody in Hawai’i wanted to hear from a guy in New Jersey who says he plays Hawaiian music. That has changed considerably in recent years, and I am very fortunate to have been increasingly accepted into the sacred circle of Hawaiian musicians – some legends whose album covers have graced my walls since I was a child and others simply legends to me because I sit in awe of their talent and their gracious willingness to teach me Hawaiian things. If I were wise, I would move to Hawai’i where I could study – live, breathe, drink, eat – Hawaiian culture. But for all the right reasons, my life is here in New Jersey, and here I will remain – for the time being…

Meanwhile, I have wanted to contribute meaningfully to the Hawaiian music community, but I wasn’t sure how. You have read by now the story of how it all began with a Hawaiian music blog and podcast called Ho’olohe Hou (Hawaiian meaning “to listen again”) through which I intended to share rare music from my vast collection. The first podcast focused on the Hawaiian steel guitar virtuoso Billy Hew Len – whose style inspired me to take up the steel guitar myself in my early 20’s. Like Julie’s blog about cooking, my podcast about Billy Hew Len caught fire and was the talk – albeit briefly – of the user groups and online forums about steel guitar and Hawaiian music. While I could not get recognition as a musician, I was now recognized for writing and talking about Hawaiian music.

And so there we were. Bill & Billy.

It is neither irony nor coincidence that every time Bill resurrects this blog, it is around the time of Billy’s birthday which I celebrate like some fanatics celebrate Sinatra’s or Elvis’s birthday. January 18th is a celebration of not only music in my home, but a celebration of life. My father played the steel guitar, and it never inspired me to do the same. But when I heard Billy Hew Len, I thought that was one of the greatest sounds I had ever heard come out of a musical instrument, and I had to learn to play. But more than this, Billy overcame insurmountable odds to become one of the greatest steel guitarists of all time.  Despite the many who told him that he couldn’t, he did anyway. When many told me I couldn’t - or shouldn’t - perform Hawaiian music anymore, I did anyway. While many Hawaiians heed the call that Eddie would go, I instead ask myself… What would Billy do?

Seeing Julie & Julia made me wonder if Hawaiian music were really my passion or if it was merely something I do to pass the time until I pass from this life. I’ve thought about this off and on over the years. And by now you should know the answer I come up with over and over again. I enjoy so many things that could occupy my time - reading, writing, gardening, home remodeling, cooking, theater, and spending quiet time with my wife and my dog. But the truth is that I have forsaken many of my other passions for Hawaiian music. The music of Hawai’i got me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. So now I feel it is my duty and obligation to the Hawaiian people – and especially the musicians who have been so generous with their time, their mana’o, and their aloha – to do something, however insignificant, to help preserve the Hawaiian music of a bygone era. The Hawaiians would no doubt refer to this as kuleana.

And so exists this blog and my annual celebration of my hero - which now, courtesy of Facebook, I can easily share with other Hawaiian music lovers. For the next seven days I will share some highlights from Billy Hew Len’s illustrious career as well as some rarities and no doubt some obscurities that even his most ardent fans have never heard before. In case you like what you hear, the first three selections here are from currently available recordings. The first is from “Hawaiian Rainbow,” the Robert Mugge documentary on Hawaiian music that is still available on DVD and which I consider essential viewing. The next is from Lena Machado’s only full length recording from the LP era, “Hawaii’s Songbird,” which has been beautifully remastered and reissued on CD and MP3 courtesy of Cord International/Hana Ola Records. And finally you hear Billy with Elaine Ako Spencer in a song originally from her LP “Mele Hali’a Aloha” but which has been resissued on CD under the title “My Hawaiian Souvenirs.”

Because every Hawaiian music collection is incomplete without a little Billy Hew Len.

Hawaiian music is my raison d’etre. And Billy Hew Len is one of the primary reasons I will never let it go. This is Ho’olohe Hou. Keep listening…

Direct download: Billy_Hew_Len_-_Career_Overview.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:55pm EDT

By Request - Makapu’u Lighthouse

The post is inspired by my friends Claudia Goddard and Wanda Certo - each of whom have requested specific songs or albums since the launch of Ho’olohe Hou just a few days ago. Together they inspire a new theme/segment for Ho’olohe Hou which we will call “By Request“ (both because it as a common disk jockey turn of phrase and the title of a classic album by Hawaii’s “first lady of Hawaiian music,“ Genoa Keawe). I think of this as sort of a public service for those seeking more music by their favorite artists or hard-to-find songs. Mahalo for the inspiration, Claudia and Wanda!

Wanda Certo writes because Kihei and Mapuana de Silva will be exploring the song “Makapu’u Lighthouse” in an upcoming hula seminar, but few recordings of the song were ever made. I am aware of two.

A version by Genoa Keawe first appeared on the 49th State Records LP from the late 1950s, “Rhythm of the Islands” - a compilation album comprised of tracks by various different artists. This album - like most of the 49th State catalog - was out of print for many years. But “Rhythm of the Islands” - and numerous other 49th State label albums - have recently been reissued direct to MP3 by Cord International/Hana Ola Records courtesy of Michael Cord. You can find these recording on iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody, and other download services, or if you are “just browsing,” members of Spotify can listen to these for free as part of their monthly subscription fee. Sadly and with complete honesty and no malice aforethought, I cannot recommend these reissues because of their sound quality. Notice that I repeatedly refer to them as “reissues” and not “remasters.” This is because despite that Hana Ola Records was previously known for its diligence in bringing less than pristine masters up to more modern standards, in most ways the latest MP3 reissues sound no better than their vinyl originals - complete with clicks, cracks, pops, and scratches. The version I give you here comes from one of these reissued MP3s but not until I personally made an attempt at improving the quality.

The other version remains out of print - but shouldn’t be due to its historical importance. Kekua Fernandez’s version of “Makapu’u Lighthouse” dates to the early 1980s and was only ever available on cassette - which, for the most part, accounts for its poor sound quality (which I have also attempted to remedy). The album “Ka Momi O Ka Pakipika” is nonetheless a treasure. If we divide Hawaiian music into two camps - the music in the style aimed at tourists, and the kind one hears in backyards all over the islands - Kekua and his friends and family - great names of Hawaiian music such as Leilani Sharpe Mendez, Violet Pahu Lilikoi, Ainsley Halemanu, Noe Kimi Buchanan, John Lino, and steel guitar legend Billy Hew Len - play the backyard music that tourists will rarely hear as well as the songs that have long ago been forgotten such as “Makapu’u Lighthouse.” Of these Hawaiian music legends, only Noe and Ainsley remain and carry the torch of this pleasing old style. And “Ka Momi O Ka Pakipika” was one of only two full length albums released under Kekua Fernandez’s leadership. This is why it is all the more the pity that it has not been made available digitally for the next generation.

I needn’t tell you what “Makapu’u Lighthouse” is about since it is sung in English. But like many mele pana - or place songs - it extols the virtues of a locale that is very special to the Hawaiian people. I was excited to receive Wanda’s request because the lighthouse is a place very special to me and my family, too. The hike to the peak which is home to the lighthouse is breathtaking, and the observation deck of the lighthouse offers unparalleled views of Waikiki. It is a place we love so much that an entire wall in our home is dedicated to its splendor - including the photograph that accompanies this post. It is no doubt difficult to appreciate at its current resolution, but proudly I say that it was taken by my wife, Cherylann.

So, what, you ask, did Claudia request?  More next time…

Direct download: Makapuu_Lighthouse_-_Two_Versions.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:43pm EDT

Telephone Hula

Our tour of Hawaiian songs which reference the telephone ends with two versions of the sad song which by its very title implicates the device in a romance that ends badly.

In Hattie K. Hiram’s composition, “Telephone Hula,” an unanswered telephone signals a love that has gone astray. Like an episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” our spurned lover sets out on foot in a huff to find out just where their partner has gone and who they might be with - except that unlike our previous example (“Aia I Kohala” - see last Ho’olohe Hou post), in this case it is the woman who has been unfaithful. The song - and Kimo Alama Keaulana’s translation - read as follows:

Ai `auhea, ai iho `oe, ai a ka po nei

Ai a ka tele, ai a ka fona, ai e `uhene ana

Ai i laila, ai aku wau la, ai kou wahi

Ai a ka pa’a, ai a ka puka, ai a aka laka `ia

Where were you last night?

When the telephone was ringing

I was at your place

And found the door securely shut

And it only goes downhill from there. But this song merited its own post for a number of reasons beyond the lyric content.

For starters, this is not the first incarnation of the song. A little research reveals that there was an earlier incarnation of the song - by the same composer - entitled “Aia A Hone Ana.” Sonny Cunha is known by some as the composer of the Yale Fight Song (“Boola Boola”) and by others as one of the father’s of modern Hawaiian music because of his penchance for incorporating the complex rhythms and harmonic structures of the jazz idiom into his arrangements of traditional Hawaiian songs. But like his contemporary Charles E. King (also mentioned in the previous post), Cunha is also known for gathering and publishing Hawaiian songs into some of what are the earliest commercially available folios of Hawaiian music. Here is a link to the 1914 edition of Cunha’s folio “Famous Hawaiian Songs” - fortunately available to all of us free of charge courtesy of the Google Books project. This link is indexed directly to the page where “Aia A Hone Ana” appears from which you can see that the lyric shares much in common with the song it became, “Telephone Hula,” but with a considerably different melody.

The two versions presented here - recorded nearly 40 years apart - show the evolution of the presentation of a Hawaiian song - the relationship of traditional Hawaiian music with what is most often called “contemporary Hawaiian music.“ The first is a mostly traditional approach to “Telephone Hula” recorded for the 49th State Records label in the early 1950s by Genoa Keawe and her musical mentor, John Kameaaloha Almeida, both of whose voices you hear. Like much of the music on this label, this version of the song at first appears to be intended for the hula - the verses threaded together with the two measure instrumental interlude often called the “vamp” which signals the end of one verse and the beginning of the next. But then we are surprised by a full instrumental chorus - a slack key guitar solo (one of the earliest on record). With the appearance of the instrumental break, this can no longer be considered music for the hula since the movements of the hula dancer follow the story told by the lyrics.  In short, no words, no hula.  But in almost every other facet most would consider this traditional Hawaiian music.

Now listen to the version from the 1990s by the venerable Makaha Sons. On several occasions I have had the privilege of sitting and chatting with the Makaha Sons’ musical mastermind, Dr. Louis “Moon” Kauakahi - endless hours spent better understanding Hawaiian music and his approach to it. In light of the Makaha Sons becoming - over time - a name synonymous with Hawaiian music around the world through their exhaustive touring, Moon once explained to me his philosophy of arranging for the broader world audience. He felt that the presentation of the song - the arrangement - should mirror musically what the lyrics were trying to say - especially for audiences that do not speak the Hawaiian language.  Essentially, Moon was saying that if the lyric spoke of passion, the music itself should be passionate; if it speaks of humor, the music should be equally humorous; and if it speaks of mischief, the music should be mischievous, too. Moon said the same a few years later to author Jay Hartwell in his book, “Na Mamo.” “I try to let the audience understand the meaning of the Hawaiian words by the feeling of the music itself,” Moon said. “If the audience can feel what the song is, they have more or less translated the song - into much more than what it literally meant.“ There are few better examples of this than the Makaha Sons’ arrangement of “Telephone Hula” - which is clearly not intended for the hula. Instead of the vamp (typically, in the hula ku’i song form, a II7-V7-I chord progression, or A7-D7-G in the key of G), Moon opts for something starkly different. As an intro, ending, and even in place of the expected “vamp” between verses, Moon utilizes a steady bass line - in the key of D - with an alternating pattern of D-major and A-minor chords and a melody of his own creation focused on the 7th and 9th tones of the scale. What does all of this mean to the listener? Well, listen for yourself. The alternating D-major and A-minor chords establish the mystery. You might hear the same in the soundtrack of a BBC-produced episode of  Sherlock Holmes or even “Murder, She Wrote.” The 7th and 9th tones pose a question because they do not offer any musical resolution. “Resolution” is the musical concept that songs or sections of songs come to some point of completeness that the human mind understands - even if one does not consciously understand harmonic concepts. As music is comprised of cycles of tension and release, resolution, then, is the musical feeling of relief or release - that there is nothing more to follow. 7th and 9th tones typically indicate movement from one chord to another. 7th and 9th chords are typically not a beginning or an ending; they are a transitional tool, a means-to-an-end. With this repetitive chord progression alternating between major and minor and the question posed by 7th and 9th tones, like the great classical composers Moon has set up the listener for a mystery that may never be solved. And what of the pahu drum that punctuates the introduction and is heard throughout? Could it be the incessant pounding on a door that goes unanswered? Or frantic footsteps in the night in search of the missing? This is Moon Kauakahi’s genius.

And with this stroke of genius Ho’olohe Hou concludes its weekend-long examination of the telephone in Hawaiian music.

Direct download: Telephone_Hula_-_Two_Versions.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:41pm EDT

Whom Shall I Say Is Calling?

As Martin Short used to say in his recurring role as Ed Grimley on “Saturday Night Live” whenever the phone would ring, “The phone has such a sense of mystery to it, I must say.” He was so frightened of whoever might be on the other end of it and what they may have to say that often he ended up just letting it ring - never answering it at all.  As we’ve learned from “Downton Abbey,“ such is the angst that came with the installation of the first telephone: Who knows if it rings for good or bad? In this continuing series on the telephone in Hawaiian music, we find examples of both in songs that span more than a century of Hawaiian song.

The earliest reference to the telephone in Hawaiian song that I could locate dates back to the Hawaiian chant form. “Aia I Kohala Ka’u Aloha” may be found in Mary Kawena Puku’i’s book “Na Mele Welo.” A love chant set in the district of Kohala on the island of Hawai’i (often incorrectly referred to as “the Big Island”), it is also the first reference in Hawaiian song to the telephone as a harbinger of bad news. I use the term harbinger since - like Ed Grimley - we cannot be sure if the fear that the singer’s lover - and husband of her six children - has taken a new lover results from some gossip shared via the telephone or if it was because our singer was calling her lover incessantly and - like Ed Grimley - he never answers. The chant says…

Na ke kelepona au i ha`i mai

Ua noho hope `oe no ko lei

It was the telephone that told me

That you are again with your darling

…before - as the chant goes on to say - tears begin to fall. This is the beauty of Hawaiian song:  More often than not, it insinuates - not states - leaving any number of interpretations to the listener.  Because this mele ho’oipoipo -or love chant - may date back more than 100 years, one would be hard-pressed to find a recording of it. However, it was performed as recently as 2005 at the Merrie Monarch Festival by Maile Francisco of kumu hula Sonny Ching’s Halau Na Mamo O Pu’uanahulu - a performance so inspired that it garnered Maile the coveted titled of Miss Aloha Hula. I encourage you to check out the performance here.

Alice Rickard wrote “Kaimuki Hula” some time between 1928 and 1942. How do we know this? The song appears in one of many volumes and printings of  “King’s Songs of Hawaii” compiled by composer Charles E. King. Ethnomusicologist Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman explored these invaluable volumes with me - explaining that there were numerous editions of these over the years, not all of which contain the same songs. My copy of King’s “Green Book” dates to 1950. In it, the reader can clearly see when songs may have appeared in multiple volumes because they receive multiple copyright dates. Most songs in my edition have a 1942 copyright, but those that were published previously and which appear in an earlier volume also have a 1928 copyright date. So I am essentially triangulating the date of “Kaimuki Hula” based on its most recent copyright date and the copyright dates of other songs appearing in this volume.  The song speaks of an affair which was supposed to have been a secret but which likely wasn’t - as evidenced by the recurring refrain hu ana ka makani e, which means “the blowing of the wind” but which is no doubt a Hawaiian-style poetic reference to gossip. There is a mention of the telephone here too:

He aha nei hana a ke kelepono la

Ke kapalulu nei o ke aumoe la

Is that the sound of the telephone?

Ringing so early in the morning?

This is likely a reference to the lovers arranging a meeting at an hour when nobody is likely to hear the details of their impending rendezvous. There are too few versions of this song, but I chose to share one by Myrtle K. Hilo from her album “The Singing Cab Driver” which is still available for purchase or download.

My second favorite composer of Hawaiian songs (I dare not rank them, but I have a most favorite which I will talk about at length in due time) is the legendary Lena Machado. Dubbed “Hawai’is Songbird” because of her powerful voice, Auntie Lena is best remembered as a songwriter who composed both rollicking uptempo numbers filled with kolohe - playful or even naughty - wordplay and love ballads worthy of Cole Porter and Richard Rogers - occasionally in English, but more often in the Hawaiian language. Lena was also a foremost exponent of Hawaiian music - traveling around the world as an ambassador of Hawai’i and its unique culture. My favorite Lena Machado composition is entitled “Aloha No.” Now, let us not confuse the meaning of “no” in English and its sound-alikes in almost every other language which typically mean “no,” “not,” “negative” or “opposite.” In Hawaiian, “no” is a modifier, an intensifer - like an adverb - which means “really,” “truly,” or “a whole hell of a lot.” So “Aloha No” might be translated as “This is the real deal!” According to the the book “Songbird of Hawai’i” by Pi’olani Motta and Kihei de Dilva, “Aloha No” is one of many songs Auntie Lena wrote for her husband, Luciano. It dates to 1949 when one of her many tours took her to San Francisco and away from Uncle Lu - for while he had previously been one of the musicians in Lena’s traveling group, Lu was by this time staying behind at home to care for the children. (In this way her family life - like her music - was most progressive.) Auntie Lena simply couldn’t sleep without Uncle Lu beside her side, and the song speaks of their frequent telephone conversations in which she longs to know that he can’t sleep either.

Ho`ohihi ko`u mana`o ea

I ko leo ma ke kelepona

E haha`i ana i ko moe `ole i ka po

My thoughts are caught up

By your voice on the telephone

Telling me of your sleepless night

I love that this is the rare Hawaiian song which promotes the use of the telephone as an instrument of keeping love alive when two are apart. And yet it has been too rarely recorded. There are versions by Tony Lindsey in the 1960s, Robert Cazimero in the 1970s, and the most recent version by Ata Damasco in the 2000s. But I share with you a version by Kanilau from their out-of-print CD “Ka Lihi `O Ka`ena.” My mind shoots to this version because of my recent exchanges with one of Kanilau’s members, kumu hula Tiare Noelani Ka`aina, who inspires her friends and followers daily on Facebook.

And finally, the latest entry I could find in the catalog of Hawaiian songs referencing the telephone - this one with words from P.K. Kuhi and music by Ken Makuakane. “Aia I Waimanalo Ko Nu’a Hulu” appears to be at the same time a modern love song and one of the continuing cycle of chants for Queen Kapi’olani. (And I confess to having difficulty researching this, and so I have called on none other than Ken Makuakane for assistance. I will update this post with any new information.) It would at first blush appear to be another of the many Hawaiian songs of illicit affairs of the heart with its references to entrancing thoughts, the royal flag which flutters proudly, and traversing a forbidden sea (references to the sea and sea spray being among the most common references to love-making in Hawaiian poetry).

‘Iniki welawela a ka ‘ehu kai

Lamalama ‘ula i ka lani ali‘i

Li‘ili‘i na hana a ke kelepona

Ha‘iha‘i ‘olelo me ka huapala

You felt the sharp pinch of the sea spray

That are brightened by the beauty of royalty

It takes only a minute by telephone

To start a conversation with a sweetheart

Here again the reference to the telephone is likely as an agent in brokering the meeting that will end in delight for those on both ends of the line. This song can be found on Ken Makuakane’s beautiful 2010 CD release “Kawaipono” - available at the iTunes Store or wherever Hawaiian music CDs are sold.

Are there other references to the telephone in Hawaiian song?  Indeed, there is one more of which I am aware. A story for another time - very soon.

Direct download: Telephone_Songs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:27am EDT

Can You Hear Me Now?

The last Hawaiian royals were a most cosmopolitan bunch. Perhaps because of their close relationship with England’s Queen Victoria, King Kalakaua and his family were exceedingly educated, forward-thinking, and heavily influenced by all things British. If the British royals had it, so soon would ‘Iolani Palace. This was not selfish thinking by any means. The Hawaiian royals were all about their people, and bringing the most modern innovations to Hawai’i was well-intentioned and did ultimately benefit all Hawaiians.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. By 1881, the Central Telephone System was chartered in Hawai’i. And almost immediately Kalakaua requested telephones be installed in his business office in the palace (“The Library”) as well as in his boathouse at Honolulu Harbor. If you could not find the king in “The Library,“ it was likely because the king did most of his entertaining of dignitaries and other visitors at his boathouse where he could now be easily reached by telephone.

Palani Vaughan chronicled the arrival of the telephone - and how the king embraced it - in the 1975 song “Wili! Wili!” This was just one of dozens of songs Palani wrote and recorded during the 1970s for what ultimately became a four album song cycle dedicated to the Hawaiian royal family - a series entitled  “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La.” In this collection, Palani not only recorded songs by the four royals (King Kalakaua, Princess - and later Queen - Lili’uokalani, Princess Likelike, and Prince Leleiohoku - collectively known as na lani ‘eha or “the heavenly four”), but he also wrote original works praising the royals and their importance to Hawai’i’s history in moving their traditions forward lest they altogether die. Musically and historically, I personally feel that this is one of the most important works to ever come out of Hawai’i. But as well respected as Palani remains as a cultural expert and historian, much of those four albums remains out of print after nearly 40 years. Some - but not all - of the songs appeared on two “Best Of” collections in the early 1990s.  But this was just a handful of the songs, and many of my personal favorites - such as “Wili! Wili!” - were overlooked in that effort. Many of you may be hearing this song for the very first time.

Some important notes - as well as some trivia - on this song:

“Wili! Wili!” might be considered a Hawaiian onomatopoeia - a word that in itself sounds like the sound it is intended to describe (like “ding-dong” describes a bell in English). “Wili! Wili!” here does not refer to the phone ringing but, rather, to the sound of the turning of the crank on the earliest telephone.

Although Palani’s compositions were startlingly fresh at the time (few original songs were being written in the Hawaiian language at the time as this predates the renaissance of the language in Hawai’i schools), the compositions also deliberately mirrored the songwriting style established 100 years before by na lani ‘eha. Among the most refreshing elements of the new style, most notable is the use of several different languages - not just Hawaiian - within the same composition. “Kelepona” is a cognate, of course - a Hawaiian phonetic equivalent of the English “telephone” but using only the Hawaiian alphabet and phonemes.  But why “boathouse?”  There is surely a Hawaiian equivalent for the English “boathouse” or, at least, one that could be derived through combining forms (such as the Hawaiian for “garage” - “hale ka’a,” or “car house”). But Palani takes the road less traveled and uses the English - an element he repeats in his other compositions, likely because it is what na lani ‘eha would have done. But why did the royals do this? For starters, the royals did not do things the way others did them. They were trendsetters - not followers.  But more than this, the royals were exceedingly educated - most of them speaking Hawaiian and English and at least a third language and in some cases a fourth (typically French or Spanish or both).  (Prince Leleiohoku’s “Adios Ke Aloha” uses words from all four languages, but that is for another time.)  So one might say that they were “showing off” - which was, of course, their privilege as the royal family.

Finally, the song is anchored by a lead ‘ukulele style in which the ‘ukulele is strung with steel - not nylon - and the strings are plucked in rapid succession - not strummed.  This is a distinctive style which lovers of the Hawaiian music of today should instantly recognize.  This is a very young Bruce Spencer, son of Hawaiian music legend Elaine Ako Spencer and former member of one of today’s most popular groups in Hawai’i - multiple Na Hoku Hanohano-award winning group Maunalua with whom he is heard on their first three albums.

Editor’s Note:  This post should be rife with Hawaiian diacritical marks that are most important in elucidating the pronunciation and meaning of Hawaiian words. I continue to struggle with making these diacriticals appear properly in the blog. This post is dedicated to my many friends who are speakers of ka ‘olelo makuahine with my humblest apologies and my commitment to bettering the appearance of your beloved language on this blog.

Direct download: Palani_Vaughan_-_Wili_Wili.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:47am EDT

The Two Sides of The Surfers

I was somewhat remiss, I think, in discussing The Surfers in the context of their work with Elvis on the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack without first discussing them as the unique vocal and instrumental group they were on their own and the electrifying stage personalities they became.

There are few musical aggregations in the history of Hawai’i - or anywhere, for that matter - in which all the participants were as strong vocally as they were with their instruments.  But The Surfers were.  While the arrangements may seem dated so many years after, the musicianship is undeniably timeless.  And the vocal harmonies were as intricate as any offered by the finest jazz vocal groups before or since - reminiscent of the Four Freshmen or the Hi-Los in the 1950s or their contemporaries of the time, the Manhattan Transfer.  As rare as this combination is - in Hawai’i, only the Aliis or Society of Seven came close - now add Clay and Al Naluai’s rapport with an audience and fearlessness for doing anything to make an audience come alive in the tradition of the Smothers Brothers.

From time to time we offer a segment we call “Waikiki After Dark” in which we recreate a moment in the history of Hawai’i nightlife with a rare live recording.  I recalled seeing The Surfers only once.  The year was 1976, and I was waiting for the afternoon kindergarten session, plopped in front of the TV set in our New Jersey living room waiting dutifully for the short-lived “Don Ho Show” to air on ABC.  Don’s guests on this particular day were The Surfers and they performed a serious vocal number - the beauty of which was not lost on this six-year-old and which literally and figuratively knocked me off my chair - followed by a hilarious comedy bit which riffed on a popular song from a 60s Broadway musical.  As I taped the show every day, I still have that show, but it is of the poorest sound quality.  Little did I know until years later that the songs and the comedy routine The Surfers performed on Don’s show that day - which made me a lifelong fan - were also a regular part of their evening show at The Outrigger Hotel which was captured one fateful evening and issued on record as The Surfers - Live.  After an overture befitting a Las Vegas show group - which, essentially, they were - the lads launch into a medley of tunes about people (including the audacity to cover an iconic Streisand staple).  In the short a capella section, listen to the close harmonies - often just one full tone apart, known in harmony language as “seconds,” impossible but for only the finest singers with the best tuned ears.  Then the boys caress a Paul Williams classic, and then finally their comedic take on one of the numbers from “Hair” which they use to educate their most willing audience with a fictionalized account of Hawai’i history.

Despite the changing times and changing styles, the powerhouse performing style that was The Surfers remains a classic.

On one of my many visits to Hawai’I, in 2008, a friend and fellow musician called me to ask me where I was on the island.  I told him I was in Kaka’ako.  He told me to head toward Kapahulu and meet him at the Elks Club.  He didn’t tell me why.  Once we met up, he signed us in, ordered us some beers, and then called the evening’s entertainment over to our table - which, to my delight, was The Surfers’ own Pat Sylva.  We chatted, and soon after I was sitting in with Pat, singing “Waikiki” near Waikiki while looking out at the surf rolling in on Waikiki while Pat played the piano for me.  And for one brief moment even I was touched by the greatness that was The Surfers.  That was a dream come true.

Hawai’i misses you, Pat.  This is dedicated to you and to the great friend who made sure I didn’t miss out on the opportunity to know such an amazing musician and person - Ocean Kaowili.

Direct download: The_Surfers_-_Live_Excerpt.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:27pm EDT

From time to time we will look at two versions of a Hawaiian song from different periods to see how they compare and contrast. But what if the versions were recorded nearly 40 years apart and yet are practically identical?

Singer Leinaala Haili recorded Bina Mossman’s composition “Ku’u Home Aloha” for her No Ka Oi album on the Makaha Records label in the mid-1960s. We have been talking a lot about the changes in Hawaiian music during this period.  One of the leaders in this “new sound” in Hawaiian music was arranger Benny Saks.  When you listen to this version of the song, you will hear the indelible stamp that Saks left on his kind of Hawaiian music.  Besides the drum kit (which was a stranger to Hawaiian music until this period), you also hear a departure from the typical introductions and endings.  In the hula ku’i form, you would typically hear the three chord vamp (II7-V7-I or A7-D7-G in the key of G) that signals the transition from one verse to another. This three chord vamp had doubled as an introduction and ending to most Hawaiian songs until this period.  But the chords that Saks chooses for his introduction come more from the R&B and doo-wop idioms.  (Listen closely and you might be able to superimpose the melody of “Blue Moon” or “Silhouettes” over those chord changes.)  Then listen again and you will notice that Saks goes even further by doing the introduction and (what would ordinarily be) the vamps between verses in an asymmetrical time signature.  Try counting it out and you will find a pattern of beats something on the order of 3-3-2-4.  He is moving from waltz time to march time to the typical hula tempo.  But because of this pattern of beats typically foreign to the hula ku’i form, this can no longer be considered music intended for hula.  Finally, the series of chords used in the introduction comes not from the Hawaiian music tradition but, rather, from the type of small combo jazz being put forth by the George Shearing Quintet. Even the instrumentation mirrors that of Shearing’s classic combo - piano, vibes, bass, guitar, and drums.  Saks even mimics the Shearing arranging style by having piano, vibes, bass, and guitar play in unison.  Simply add Billy Hew Len’s steel guitar for a slightly more Hawaiian touch, but those steeply trenched in tradition may ask anyway… Given all of these variations from the norm, is this even Hawaiian music?

But that is a debate for another day.  The question really becomes… Is it really possible to top such beauty?  The answer appears to be “no” since the song has only been recorded once since Leinaala Haili did it.  And when Raiatea Helm and her producers took it on for her Sweet & Lovely album, they wisely decided on an arrangement that would ultimately be an homage - a beat-for-beat, note-for-note faithful recreation of the Leinaala Haili/Benny Saks original.

To this day, I have wondered how many of today’s generation recognized this homage since we so rarely hear Leinaala Haili or this version of the song anymore?  But what better occasion than Bina Mossman’s birthday to hear these two beautiful voices in agreeance on the beauty of the mele and how to present it?

This is Bina Mossman’s “Ku’u Home Aloha” - then…and again.

Direct download: Kuu_Home_Aloha_-_Then_and_Again.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:55pm EDT

Bina Mossman's "Kaleponi Hula"

When celebrating Bina Mossman’s birthday, I almost forgot her most famous composition of all.

It has been a few years now since the participants in the Hawaiian music forum known as were having fun reminiscing about Auntie Bina Mossman's ode to California, "Kaleponi Hula."  This short, yet most intriguing song speaks of a young man journeying from Hawai’i to California who asks his sweetheart what type of souvenir she might enjoy.  The young lady then begins a laundry list of the latest and greatest fashion accessories.  Those who understand Hawaiian poetry and its hidden layers of meaning - referred to as “kaona” - may or may not find some additional social commentary in this list of items.

Regrettably, there are few versions of the song still in print on CD or MP3 for us to enjoy.  But to aid the members of in their discussion, I threw together a short montage of excerpts from four very old out-of print versions of the song - by Uncle Johnny Almeida, Charles Kaipo Miller, Alice Fredlund with the Halekulani Girls, and Sonny Chillingworth.  The Puerto Rican-influenced katchi katchi rhythms of the Sonny Chillingworth version again speak of the changes in Hawaiian music occurring in the late 1950s and 1960s.  And aficionados of Hawaiian music will recognize that one of the voices harmonizing with Sonny is none other than Nina Keali`iwahamana.

The Hawaiian language lyric and English translation can be found in Na Mele o Hawai’i Nei - 101 Hawaiian Songs by Samuel H. Elbert and Noelani Mahoe.

Direct download: Kaleponi_Hula_-_Four_Versions.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:40pm EDT

Bina Mossman

Bina Mossman was born on this day - January 7, 1893.  She is remembered for a great many contributions to Hawai’i.

Bina was the founder and leader of her eponymously titled Bina Mossman’s Glee Club for 30 years from 1914 to 1944, and then later the leader of the Ka’ahumanu Choral Group which performed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Halekulani Hotel, the Hawaiian Village, the Queen’s Surf, the Moana Surfrider, and Princss Ka’iulani from 1952 to 1968.  The latter group also toured the mainland and performed at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

Auntie Bina was also extremely active in the community and in politics - first as member and, later, president of the Republican Women’s Club, then the Territorial Legislature between 1939 and 1945, and finally as the Republican National Committeewoman from 1940 through 1957.

But of utmost importance to the history of Hawaiian music are her compositions.  Auntie Bina wrote some of the most beautiful and memorable songs, and for this reason they have been recorded time and again by Hawaiian music artists from every generation.

Because Ho’olohe Hou prides itself on unearthing forgotten Hawaiian music and artists, I thought we might honor Auntie Bina by featuring her compositions performed by several different generations of Hawaiian music artists - and all from recordings long out of print.  Here are the songs and the artists:

Ka Pua U’I - John Pi’ilani Watkins

He Ono - Kui and Nani Lee

Kipikoa - Tony Lindsey and Friends

Ku’u Lei - Auntie Agnes Malabey Weisbarth and The Ho’oipo Trio

Niu Haohao - Sam Kapu

Ko Kapa Ana Mai - Na Keonimana

Laelae - The Sandwich Isle Band

For more information about these artists or the albums from which these cuts were drawn, drop me a line at

Direct download: Bina_Mossman_-_Seven_Songs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:28pm EDT

Themes (Or... What Are We Doing Here?)

Ho’olohe Hou is a blog dedicated to preserving Hawaiian music of a bygone era.  Much of the music discussed here will be forgotten by all but the families and friends of the artists and the very few (but ever growing number) of the more faithful practitioners of Hawaiian music.  But how do we do that constructively and promote conversation about the music?  One song and one artist at a time, of course! 

When this blog was previously accompanied by a podcast and - later - a radio program, I divided those programs into several thematic segments.  My goal with the new incarnation of Ho’olohe Hou is to revive those segments not as a lengthy and difficult-to-digest program, but with several short blog posts several times a week.  If you have three or four minutes to spare, you should be able to keep up with the happenings at Ho’olohe Hou

Here is a sneak peak at what we might discuss in the coming weeks, months, and - hopefully - years…  

Artists/Musicians - Discussion of a singer or musician and their importance to the history and evolution of Hawaiian music.  In time, we will have the opportunity to explore the girl singers, the boy singers, the falsetto singers, and even the vocal groups. We will also explore the men and women who mastered the steel guitar, slack key guitar, ‘ukulele, and the oft-overlooked bass.

Composers/Songs/Songwriting - Exploration of the unique art form that is the weaving of words into a lei that is a song for all of Hawai’i and Hawaiian music lovers everywhere to cherish.  

Waikiki After Dark - A once popular radio program broadcast across Hawai’i live from a Waikiki night spot, “Waikiki After Dark“ featured the best of the best of Hawai’i’s entertainers.  This blog will attempt to recreate magic moments from a forgotten era through live recordings of the legends of Hawai’i night life.  This means not only musicians who performed Hawaiian music, but also the sometimes under appreciated performers from Hawai’i who expressed themselves through other genres such as pop, rock, country, jazz, and even classical music.

OOPs - The double-entendre is that while we all know what an “oops” is, the gaff to be explored here is why a classic recording from Hawai’i has been allowed to go - as collectors say - “out of print” (OOP).  This segment will explore rare recordings from the vinyl (and even shellac) era which inexplicably have not been remastered for the CD or MP3 era.

Rarities - Recordings from my personal collection which are extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind.

Periods/Evolution/Influences - Maybe three different categories or perhaps just one all encompassing one, we will explore the various periods in the history of Hawaiian music over the last 100 years - from the earliest recording to the most recent - as well as the subtle or not so subtle transition from one period to the next and the various influences from within and outside of Hawaiian music that informed those changes.

Then and Again - To illustrate the evolution of Hawaiian music, it can be useful to listen to the same song fashioned in different ways by different artists over time.

Three Of A Kind - A whimsical contest in which we will hear three songs and you guess what those three songs have in common - for a prize!

Precious Meetings - The pairing of two outstanding Hawaiian music artists who came together for a brief, magical moment in the recording studio to create something that was truly more than the sum of its parts.

Hawaiian Music Around The World - A look at artists from outside of the islands who fell in love with the music of Hawai’i and who spent their lives sharing the joy of Hawaiian music in their homelands.

Birthdays/Passings - We will celebrate days throughout the year when legends of Hawaiian music first arrived as well as those saddest of days when they left us for the heavenly choir. 

These themes will become searchable categories and tags on the Ho’olohe Hou blog.  Note that a blog post may be associated with more than one tag. 

And these are just a few of the ideas for themes we can use as a launching pad for discussing the beauty and uniqueness of Hawaiian music and aritsts from Hawai’i.  If you think of others, drop me a line at 


Bill Wynne

Category:general -- posted at: 8:20am EDT