I’ve long had a soft spot in my head for Hawaiian music. For me, it all began with Martin Denny. Even in the ’90s when the lounge music craze came back with a gentle fury, the Martin Denny’s album covers still evoked a sense of the exotic other that always made me wonder just how much more exotic they must have seemed when they were first released in the late ’50s.
While I appreciated the charming, kitschy qualities of Denny’s music more than the awesome musicianship and tunesmithery, something kept bringing me back to his music. At the time, I had been seriously studying world music– particularly African music. It never occurred to me to think of Hawaiian music as “world” music because Hawaii was just another state in the U.S. of A. But Hawaii didn’t officially become a state until nearly 15 years after WWII. At the same time, I was listening to a lot of folk guitarists like Nick Drake and John Fahey (two opposite ends of the spectrum, but there you have it.) So it was only natural that I came to have an appreciation for Hawaiian slack key guitar music.
Here’s a tune by the great slack key master, Keola Beamer. It’s nearly impossible to listen to it and not immediately feel relaxed. Imagine hearing this on a white sand beach at sunset with a cold alcoholic beverage in your hand and it’s easy to see why this is the real deal perfect Hawaiian music.
Two masters in this clip– Ledward Kaapana on the slack key guitar and Bob Brozman on the dobro. Sublime.
The sound I came to associate most with Hawaiian music was the steel guitar. I’m a sucker for good slide guitar– old blues, country, rock or whatever. It doesn’t matter. But the tonal qualities are especially well suited to lazing about white sand beaches at sunset. In this clip, steel guitar virtuoso, Jerry Byrd, plays the “fry pan” steel guitar, the first lap steel guitar ever produced.
Since my trip, I’ve been investigating earlier, pre-WWII Hawaiian music I will share in an upcoming post. Mahalo nui loa and stay tuned.