by Ian Whitcomb
Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.
You can find Ian's main website at ianwhitcomb.com
On black dog days of stress and struggle who hasn’t dreamed of escape? Escape to, say, the paradise of a tropical island, a blissful Eden where there’s nothing to do but relax and be massaged by beautiful people and beautiful music? As a specific pleasure spot Hawaii, of course, immediately springs to mind. Ever since Captain Cook discovered it and then Mark Twain tempted with his line about "the loveliest fleet of islands anchored in any ocean", the world-weary have been drawn by the promise of sun-drenched golden beaches, palm-studded and fringed with cocoa trees, scented with the fragrance of exotic flowers, and decorated by the gentle swaying of grass-skirted hula maids as, behind them on the blue Pacific bronzed Mercurys crest in on pluming surf and all this under an intensely bright moon, a moon with a potency far stronger than any of the moons crooned about in a thousand songs from Tin Pan Alley.
For those whose schedules or budgets can’t stretch to a trip to the land of instant tranquillity, there’s always the phonograph fix of Hawaiian pop. By the early 1940s, the time when I first experienced its delicious honey-flow exuding from tin Tannoy bullhorns at a wet and windy English seaside resort, the call of the islands had been crystallized classically into the oceanic soaring and plunging of the amplified steel guitar carried bouncingly by a ukulele strumming simon-simple but satisfying chords, and tour-guided by a vocalist issuing soft, lofty, and seductive tones, telling a war-torn world that "Aloha" meant anything you liked, providing it was really nice. Hawaii told us, comfortingly, that its music was childlike and primal, deeply imbedded in nature, and longing to be released for the spreading of pure unalloyed pleasure if only we’d answer the siren call.
Such an efficiently functional music machine had been as long in the making as the tourist trade anchoring the islands’ economy. Hawaiian pop, a careful blending of European practice and theory with native charm and grace, started really moving in the early 20th century, a perfect accompaniment to the selling of the Hawaiian idyll.
Before had existed an indigenous Polynesian tradition of music without much melody and certainly no harmony; a percussive music made, in the name of the spiritual rather than the sensual, on sticks and stones, through nose flutes and conch shells. When Captain Cook landed in 1778 he was welcomed with a sacred but monotonous chant. Unfortunately he was murdered and dismembered by the islanders before he could enjoy a religious hula demonstration by bare-chested local girls. From 1820 fleets of Christian missionaries arrived to put a stop to any more barbarity and semi-nudity. The voluminous mu’umu’u or Mother Hubbard house dress, covering any temptation areas, was introduced.
Music, of the right sort, they sanctioned and so they soon had their congregations singing hymns. A peculiar sweetness was noted and encouraged, especially after the introduction of they Spanish guitar by South American cowboys in the 1830s. Hawaiian royalty especially enjoyed European music, even contributing their own songs such as Prince Leleiohoku’s "Kaua I ka Huahuai"("We Two In The Spray", a slightly lubricious love song which would reappear in the 1930s as "The Hawaiian War Chant", of all things!) The Royal Hawaiian Band was established in 1836, later to be led by Captain Henry Berger, a Prussian pedagogue sent over by the Kaiser himself. Like other haoles (white strangers) to follow, Berger soon fell in love with the Kanakan (Hawaiian) culture , finding in the music a pleasing combination of native rhythmic sense (and heavenly singing) and missionary hymns of the Moody & Sankey type. For every Germanic waltz or march added to the repertoire the Captain tried to balance with a native chant or hula. He also transformed and enhanced Kanakan composition, turning Queen Liliuokalani’s love song, "Aloha Oe" into a march, and writing a sped-up arrangement of Joe Aea’s song, "The Fragrance of the Tuberose" as "Hilo March".
In 1878, the year of "Aloha Oe", a shipload of Portuguese immigrants brought in a baby guitar, well-known in Madeira, which immediately fascinated court and country and was dubbed "ukulele", meaning "jumping flea" (for there were an awful lot of fleas and mosquitoes infesting the swamps around Waikiki). In the 1880s, possibly as a result of a demonstration of the zither (with its sinuous shimmerings) by a visiting Austrian, locals took to laying their guitars on their laps and sliding a steel bar across an open chord to produce a delightful, even intoxicating, glissando. Very wobbly, very human, very nice.. In 1893, however, a bunch of antsy Honolulu businessmen, anxious to kick-start the country into modern capitalism, overthrew the monarchy, just as the Queen was about to have a hit on her hands with "Aloha Oe", which she’d cleverly based on the old ballad, "The Rock By The Sea", but unwisely failed to copyright.
Meanwhile, over on the mainland potential hits were being manufactured hourly in Tin Pan Alley, New York City, then copyrighted and exported everywhere with an All-American vigor. Ragtime was the speedy music of the moment and , like all the other conveniences and pleasures of the day, it was soon borne to Hawaii by eager salesmen. One Albert R. "Sonny" Cunha, Honolulu-born but Yale-educated (He wrote their "Boola, Boola" anthem), realized there could be a market for island songs if written in the ragtime style—syncopated, sassy—and peppered with Hawaiian words—such phonetic fun—for seasoning up the Alley English. Hence his Honolulu Tomboys and Hula Maids, sporting in the back seats of autos, peopled his nice new realm of what was to be termed "Hapa Haole", songs that were literally "half white". Cunha’s tunes were very catchy and frequently used a "vamp" or "turnaround" musical phrase that came to be a trademark of Hawaiian song. You’ll hear many examples throughout these compact discs.
At the same time, Charles E. King, a graduate of the Kamehameha School and certainly not a ragtime enthusiast, was conscientiously preserving Hawaiian music whilst developing a languorous and romantic sort of outdoorsy parlor song which would culminate in such classics as "Song Of The Islands" and "Ke Kali Nei Au"(later to be Americanized as "The Hawaiian Wedding Song"). We might note that both Cunha and King had fractional Hawaiian blood in them. By the early 20th century full-blooded Hawaiians were but a minority in this U.S. Territory that was peopled by many races, including a considerable number of Orientals (although, strangely, the latter contributed nothing to the burgeoning music scene).
The songs of Cunha and King, created in the land they described in their separate ways so artfully, were not distributed widely at this point. Vacationers might carry a few sheet music memories home, a clutch of recordings of Hawaiian melodies —glee clubs, seminary girls’ chorus—appeared as curios.
It wasn’t until the 1910s, during the second coming of ragtime, trumpeted by Irving Berlin and his proselytizing Alexanders, that Hawaiian music joined the mainstream. The exotic appeal of a faraway place where clothing was optional and conduct could be unbecoming contrasted with the strictures of urban life: even though one was free to turkey trot and tango one was still fully-clothed, buttoned-up.
The south seas craze was caused initially by the 1912 Broadway production of "The Bird of Paradise", a lurid melodrama about two white men chasing Princess Luana on the island of Hawaii. But beyond the old story of forbidden fruit was the freshness of background atmosphere provided by ukulele and steel guitar, performed by native players. The show went on to tour America and then Europe for many years, introducing audiences to what The New York Times critic described as "the weirdly sensuous music of the island people".
1915 was another landmark year when, at the Hawaiian pavilion of San Francisco’s Pan- Pacific International Exposition, a daily stage show featuring ukuleles and steel guitar became a sensation. Hip-swiveling and come-hither hand movements from a line dusky young women certainly aided the sweet music. There emerged a hit called "On the Beach at Waikiki", an infectious snatch of melody and close harmony devised by Henry Kailimai and Dr. Stover,
arranged by Sonny Cunha and proudly published by Honolulu’s own Bergstrom Music Company. Tin Pan Alley watched in fascination. Like the raggy Cunha material this "golden hula" was aimed at the haoles and contained a degree of sauciness, summed up in the slogan, "Honi kaua wikiwiki", meaning "Kiss me quick!", soon to be the traditional demand emblazoning the sailor caps of working class girls on holiday at English seaside resorts.
Within a year "On the Beach at Waikiki" had become a national best-selling song sheet while Hawaiian ensembles were on the vaudeville circuit spreading their good word all over America. They were especially influential in southern states where country lads took the slide guitar into their hearts so deeply that the steel eventually became associated as much with Nashville as with Honolulu.
A beach-head had thus been established and Tin Pan Alley did not delay in retaliating in kind, creating in the process a new niche in the pop song industry, albeit as a spot for wacky novelty, even a travesty of true native life.
Tumbling from the song factory came a bevy of grass-skirted cuties uttering mellifluous glottal-stopped gobbledygook to entranced mainlanders: "Oh, How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo", and "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula" (which included both the Cunha turnaround trademark and "Aloha Oe" upside down) were among the heap that became hits (even in Hawaii) during 1916-1917, the high plateau of the first Hawaiian craze when more records of the music were sold than any other genre. Like all good things that you get too much of, a reaction set in and after America entered The Great War and jazz came onto the market one could buy such records as M.J.O’Connell’s "The More I See of Hawaii, The Better I Like New York".
However, after the war and with the onslaught of the Roaring Twenties and the emphasis on recreational high jinx, Hawaii came back into the picture—-but not one painted by the cartoonists of Tin Pan Alley. Now we were firmly on the islands, in particular in the fast-growing and up-to-date city of Honolulu, a metropolis of palm and coconut fame, true, but which could also offer every modern convenience for the sophisticated traveler.
With the growth of luxury liner travel to the city and its beautiful environs, music of a complementary kind came to be considered as essential to the tourist package as a gardenia lei, an exhibition of surfing, or a moonlight re-enactment of native canoe fishing. Since Victorian times steamships had been greeted and farewelled to "Aloha Oe", performed by the rigidly correct Royal Hawaiian Band, but in the Jazz Age this was clearly not enough for the new promoters.
Nor were the casual collections of beach boy serenaders and strolling string groups clustered down by the pier, nor the fine but loose band which Sonny Cunha had led since 1914 at "Heinie’s Tavern", a jumping joint up the alley where pineapple plantation workers, off their shift, liked to kick back a little too boisterously at times.
Cunha was eventually to settle into government work, but already his leadership had been taken over by just the right fellow, a young man who saw that the necessary centralization and order could be established by the organization of a foxtrot-based dance band every bit as peppy and nattily-dressed as the mainland variety, yet also flavored with the slide of steel and the bounce of uke: Johnny Noble, part-Hawaiian, a protégé of Cunha’s and a one-time trap drummer in the "Heinie’s Tavern" band, assembled a new house band for the old Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach. He was also an adept at writing material to serve as musical travel brochures and holiday mementos. His "Hula Blues" of 1920, co-written with Sonny Cunha, lists island attractions: "Hula girlies" (rather than the tough babes of the mainland’s dark world of jazz and blues), in a "warm and friendly" land of "flowers and golden showers" where "mellow steel guitars moan sweetly under tropic stars".
Noble’s new band, fit for both dancing and listening, was modeled on the twin saxophone blending heard in the recordings of San Francisco’s Art Hickman, the developer of the syncopated dance band. But Johnny Noble cut out the brass section, feeling it to be too blatant, an intrusion on the essential comforting wash of Hawaiian music. Sensitive, for the most part, to his duty as a guardian of the hallowed chants and hulas, he thus was able to preserve the islands’ heritage while commenting on its humorous aspects and also keeping up with the changing styles of pop.
Thus, on the one hand, he’d publish and promote a funny number like "Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop" as well as the "Little Grass Shack" novelties
and even a little lighthearted history in "King Kamehameha", together with jogalong ballads that never got sticky( "I’ve Been Dreaming Of A Little Girl Like You") and picture postcard romances ("Tropic Trade Winds"). On the other hand, he had the strength of mind to publish an "Aloha Souvenir Collection of Rare Old Hawaiian Songs", ancient fragments brimming with the mysticism of a country where one word could hold many meanings, where the rain "danced in glee", and where wetness meant both the act of love and the closeness of God.
Once, though, he overstepped his mark badly by jazzing-up the venerated royal song, "We Two In The Spray", into "The Hawaiian War Chant". Charles King was not amused, accusing Noble of "murdering" their music. The matter wasn’t helped by an extraordinary recording by Andy Iona and his Islanders in which the leader’s electric steel guitar spluttered and bomped through its amplifier like rock & roll way ahead of its time. But all this was in 1936 and now I’m also too far ahead of my story...........
By 1930 Johnny Noble, now known as "The Hawaiian Jazz King", benevolently ruled a little empire. He’d proved himself to be a canny businessman, agenting ship orchestras for the powerful Matson Navigation Company’s swelling fleet, arranging radio broadcasts from Honolulu and Hollywood, gathering together local talent for major label field recording, and as a publisher, lending his name to songs in need of a polish. His bandstand charm won fulsome praise from celebrity visitors like the Prince of Wales and his chum Lord Mountbatten. This was the start of a golden age but remember that Mr. and Mrs. Joe Average had to be content with enjoying Hawaiian paradise vicariously, via their phonograph and radio (exercising imagination to add to the romance). Those who set foot on the magic isles were the well-to-do, the smart set with time to kill and money to burn. Their palace of desires was the spanking new Royal Hawaiian Hotel, many steps up from the old Moana, a million miles from "Heinie’s", the last word in luxury. Honolulu’s first resort hotel offered an enclosed world where such familiar pastimes as badminton and croquet were offered, where the beach was roped off and the sand raked regularly. And in the evening these lucky ones could dance till dawn to Johnny Noble and his carefully assembled orchestra. Arrangements were kept in the head, for few of the locals could read music. Johnny was an exception. Feeling and attitude were more important.
Some of his best instrumentalists, like saxophonist and steel guitarist Andy Iona (real name: Andrew Long) had already left for more lucrative and varied work on the mainland, especially in Hollywood nighteries and movie studios. There they joined fellow musicians such as Sol Hoopi, ace of the steel and a great falsetto singer, and his rhythm guitarist Sol Kekipi Bright (who would later branch out with his own band, the Hollywaiians, in which he dressed as a cowboy or a Scotchman, yodeled, and plucked a steel that almost rivaled Hoopi’s brilliance). Also in Hollywood were Dick and Lani McIntire, the latter another steel virtuoso and currently recording with an ailing Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman and pioneer of country music(they’d just finished an early version of Lani’s haunting love song "The One Rose", a very commercial number — no references to Hawaii). Somewhere in America was the peripatetic Ray Kinney, spreading the word through his dulcet tenor and perfect enunciation from San Francisco to New York city, and burgs in between. Despite the Irish names all these boys were Hawaiian, in varying degrees, and would be in increasing demand during the 1930s, especially at the "Hawaiian Room" nightspots springing up in the big cities. The Depression would prove to be a boon to the entertainment industry and south sea island music, in particular, was a perfect tonic for the economic blues.
Back in Honolulu, business was brisk—to brisk for Johnny Noble who, by late 1933, was suffering from a severe work overload and the onset of deafness. Besides, changing tastes called for a swingier, slicker orchestra at the Royal Hawaiian and so Johnny stepped down, agreeing to stay around as the hotel’s entertainment director, keeping up his publishing and polishing, and never quitting his day job as an employee of the Mutual Telephone Company, a position he’d held since 1911. The song business was really going well: that summer a couple of newcomers (malihinis) had given him a foxtrot novelty called "My Little Grass Shack In Kealakekua", a real tongue- twister and a switch on all those Alley song yearns for some old hometown. To Noble’s amazement he’d sold thousands of sheet music copies to the tourists in a few weeks; then he sent a copy to bandleader Ted Fio Rito over at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and, after radio remote exposure, the song became a smash. Was anyone aware, did anyone care, that Kealakekua was the bay where Captain Cook was killed? These were fast-moving times.
The search for a new bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian ended at a trendy Hollywood hangout, the Cafe Lafayette, in November. Sitting among the movie crowd, the hotel’s manager witnessed the efficient Harry Owens band play "Aloha Oe" as a goodnight number and offered a deal. It was a good one. Owens, mild and mustached and bespectacled, was a Nebraskan who’d been in the dance band game since the early 1920s. For four years he’d held the trumpet chair at Hollywood’s Montmartre Cafe, and during that gig he’d co-written a big hit, "Linger Awhile" with his bandleader boss, Vincent Rose. But, as he confessed in his memoirs, when he arrived in Honolulu in early 1934 he knew next to nothing about Hawaiian music.
Almost immediately Harry Owens became infatuated with the lore of the islands. Musically, he went native. He vowed never to play any music but Hawaiian from now on. He never did. And although he reorganized the hotel orchestra to include brass and strings in order to play his brand of what he called "sweet corn", he so respected the traditional sounds that he divided the ensemble into kanakan and haoleian sections. For every Alley item like "Along The Way To Waikiki", by veterans Gus Kahn and Richard Whiting, he’d balance with a "Tomi Tomi" in full Hawaiian and no concessions. He did however risk the censure of Charles King by recording a swinging version of "Song Of The Islands".
He gave the steel guitar pride of place in the orchestra, allowing it to be heard above the brass and reeds thanks to the recent innovation of electric amplification. The Rickenbacker company of Los Angeles had produced their "Electro Frypan" model which enabled players to elongate their notes and employ thicker harmonies, a change for the fluid and lush compared to the jumpy jazz of the acoustic steel. For example, veteran Mike Hanapi’s "Hano Hano Hanalei", recorded in the late 1920s, is in the older melodic line style, similar to the jazzy soloists of the era (exemplified by Sol Hoopi), but the Waikiki Swingsters’ "Hawaiian Smiles" of the 1930s seems to be taking place underwater with its thrilling dives ,its gurgles, and its hair-raising bubbles bursting hard against the speaker cone as if a Les Paul has come time-traveling.
Owens’ most celebrated steel players were the Tavares brothers, Ernest and Freddie, who joined the orchestra in 1936 to provide the contained and tasteful gliding required by the hotel. Ernest went on to develop the modern pedal steel, and Freddie was to create the famous bullseye shoot up the steel that opens Looney Tunes cartoons.
Within months of his arrival Owens had written what was to become his best-known song, "Sweet Leilani": inspired by the birth of his daughter, the words and music "flowed like a rippling stream" (as he wrote in his memoirs) and the piece was completed within an hour. Next year he wrote a second standard, "To You Sweetheart, Aloha", a foxtrot that slotted neatly into the big band library, an effective sentiment to wind up an evening, without the solemnity of "Aloha Oe". Filled with potential hits and the constant need for fresh material, Owens kept the songs coming, particularly after the radio program, "Hawaii Calls" started regular broadcasts to the mainland from the courtyard of the Moana hotel, eventually making island music a favorite the world over.
Several of the Royal Hawaiians were newcomers, brought over from Los Angeles dance bands for their technical skills. Owens had quickly discovered that though the natives played with plenty of folksy feel there simply weren’t enough fast sight readers. Among the imported bandsmen were Don McDiarmid and Lee Wood, who one day presented to their boss a longwinded title, "It’s Just A Little Brown Gal In A Little Grass Skirt In A Little Grass Shack In Hawaii". At first Owens demurred, stating he’d had his fill of grass shacks and so had the public. But after Johnny Noble published it and Ray Kinney, over in Hollywood, made an excellent record to backing by Dick McIntire’s Harmony Hawaiians, he relented and put the song in the bandbook under its new title of "Little Brown Gal". The novelty became an evergreen and Lee Wood was still performing it on his clarinet at a Chinese restaurant near Universal City in the 1980s (I used to clap him from the piano bar).
Don McDiarmid, the co-writer, devised "Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop" all by himself and again Owens passed, saying it wasn’t for his classy clientele. Again Noble took on the publishing (and a writer credit, as he had on "Little Brown Gal"—he was the Duke Ellington of Hawaii!) and eventually he got rewarded when one night at the hotel a local teacher and glee club member called Clara Inter stole the show with her eccentric dance to "Hilo Hattie". She wore a Mother Hubbard and was shoeless so no doubt the sophisticates were tickled by the spectacle. Owens capitulated and Miss Inter was made, founding a career as "Hilo Hattie" and even taking on the name with the help of lawyers.
Some of this period’s best songs were written by a confessed non-professional called R. Alex Anderson. A Honolulu business executive with no musical training and no knowledge of Hawaiian, he nevertheless produced over one hundred island songs, some of which, like "Lovely Hula Hands" have become standards. "Hands" was prompted by a friend’s comment on the expressive hand movements of a hula dancer at a party. Although Anderson was a serious student of the music—he was to be an organizer of the Association for Hawaiian Music—he kept a sense of humor about the impact of tourism on the culture: "Malihini Mele" concerns a stranger describing his day with all the wrong Hawaiian words.
The singer and bandleader Ray Kinney was an adept at good-natured satire, too. In "Dusky Polynesian" he chastises a beachboy for being out ocean-fishing when he should be wiping the dishes of the tourists. And by the high-tide of the golden era (1938) Lani McIntire’s beautiful ballad, "The One Rose",
originally recorded by Jimmie Rodgers, had become a big hit, with versions by
big bands and crooners as well as by cowboy movie star Gene Autry and the king of the casual crooners, Bing Crosby. The definitive version, however—a real heart-tugger— was made by the composer himself.
Crosby, a steady sensation with some executive power, had visited the Royal Hawaiian a few years earlier where he’d been very much taken by "Sweet Leilani", telling Harry Owens he just had to record it sometime. One thing that may have struck Crosby’s commercial ear is the hook phrase between the lyrics that is very similar to a key repeated phrase in the crooner’s huge hit, "Just One More Chance". When Paramount decided to make "Waikiki Wedding" Crosby insisted on the inclusion of the Owens number and it broke out as a monster, together with "Blue Hawaii", a clever pastiche by studio staff writers Robin and Rainger, guys who could turn their hand to any style. However, both Sol Hoopi and Lani McIntire appeared in the movie which was released in 1937 and cleaned up everywhere, including Honolulu where Ray Kinney performed in the accompanying stage show.
And now the south seas craze really gathered speed, as war clouds gathered over Europe. Within the enchanted Hawaiian garland encompassing the USA was to be found a garden dotted with swell watering holes offering pineapple-based cocktails stuck with tiny parasols, live parrots squawking in the rafters, indoor palms that swayed to order, hygienic grass shacks, artificial tropical rainstorms on the half-hour, and a bandstand with two waterfalls. Don the Beachcomber vied for business with Trader Vic. And joining the Hawaiians onstage, to help widen the appeal of this soothing antidote to the athletic requirements of swing dancing, were outsiders like crooner Frances Langford with a Waikiki song written by big-city writers Arthur Schwarz and Johnny Mercer (complete with a topical reference to Walter Winchell) and hot jazz icon Louis Armstrong offering a surprisingly well-behaved and even melodic version of R. Alex Anderson’s "On A Coconut Island". Everyone seemed very satisfied with the way the craze was playing and paying— except for Charles King who, back home, huffed that a song such as "Coconut" diluted the native style. Why, there wasn’t a single reference to Hawaii!
In Tin Pan Alley all hands had a go at the topical tropical style and when, in 1938, Johnny Noble paid his first visit to the song factory he was flattered to have his hand shaken by Irving Berlin himself. At Miller Music (to which he was in the process of signing his song catalog) he ran into Walter Donaldson, another king hitmaker, and so the two of them, with some help from a Mr. Bluett who may have been passing by, knocked out a switch on Donaldson’s 1920s hit, "I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?". They soon had "I Wonder Where My Hula Girl Has Gone?" and it seemed perfect for that curious character Sol K. Bright. In Hollywood he made a chirpy recording featuring his raggy steel guitar. At night Bright could be found entertaining at the Seven Seas on Hollywood Boulevard, amusing the customers with his version of Sir Harry Lauder’s "A Wee Doch and Doris", in full Scottish costume, kilt and all. The Hawaiian relish could be poured over every song type, but it was most satisfying when it dealt in the nursery syllables of the humuhumu-nukunuku-apaua ( a small fish, delicious with poi) variety.
In the Fall of 1941, with Hawaiian music belonging to the world and another great war raging everywhere, it seemed, except the blessed USA and its possessions, "Tropic Trade Winds", a luscious song product of Honolulu appeared and was eagerly inhaled by all who were partial to the fix of ginger blossoms, cocoa palms and sweet alohas, set to juicy thick chords and those typical soaring melodic intervals. The epitome of all that was alluring in the islands’ arsenal, the song was a hit, to be carried across America by the legion of Hawaiian ensembles, exemplified by Harry Owens and his large troupe of entertainers. The year before he’d quit the Royal Hawaiian to spread his happiness afar, joining that band of Kanakan brothers whose Mecca was the Hawaiian Room of New York’s Hotel Lexington. Here the star attraction (after they’d got used to his Irish name) was Ray Kinney, master of 35,OOO genuine Hawaiian songs. Jazz and swing were to be avoided, by order of the management. Harry Owens might well have stopped there had he not decided to return to Honolulu, source of healing powers.
But that December day of infamy at Pearl Harbor changed everything. Harry Owens was never to play there again, even after the rowdy servicemen of boomtown Honolulu had long gone. By the 1950s the population of Hawaii had more than doubled, and daily the planes roared in carrying a new kind of visitor, one who found paradise affordable and who didn’t mind a plastic lei and steel guitars notes that stretched to include selections from "South Pacific". In 1965, as a British Invader with a top ten hit , I arrived in Honolulu, part of a cast for "Shindig", a popular teen music TV show. I yearned to float in the bay, and to be swept up in the wash of a never-ending steel guitar swoop. But the ocean was slick with suntan oil, highrises hovered over Waikiki Beach — obelisks housing vacuity on vacation- and there wasn’t a ukulele to be found. (I’d left mine back in L.A). The golden age was long gone.
But these compact discs, like a more easily digested Marcel Proust, give us time recaptured and all is OK again.
Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.
You can find Ian's main website at ianwhitcomb.com