Hawaiian bassists; male / female - a history and questionable future

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Bass V, May 29, 2018.

  1. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    one of the best things in discovering Hawaii is the music and the musicians. for those who might have missed it, here's a synopsis of how I've viewed it from an eternally grateful perspective since I had no idea how interesting the history and broad the differences a small isolated intermingled culture managed to absorb and export. I will always be thankful it all fell in my lap 40 some years ago to witness and enjoy.
    understandably most people have always had a slanted view (at best) of Hawaiian music, usually of it hokey and syrupy in an attractive setting, but behind the silliness was 50 solid years worth of some of the greatest kinds of music created by humans, mostly in the Honolulu / Waikiki areas once electricity hit society, yet only a relative few could attest to the facts of how incredible these too few decades truly were. those times included historic drama like the bombing of Pearl Harbor with the war's immense impact, jet flight, and Statehood, then came Don Ho! and trust me, just like most hidden aspects of Hawaiian music, Don Ho and the original Kaneohe '50s crew were awesome before stardom did it's thing and stole the show. it's virtually all gone now but in remembrance of special times, places, and people, this thread can compile the memories of what should never have been lost.
    the largely ignored history of 'Hawaiian' bass can focus it's beginnings with the post-WW2 era when things really hit high gear in Honolulu and various tastes and flavors mingled to produce some of the wildest most creatively exotic blends of music and fun ever to be had. the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Elvis had been coming to the Pacific islands and trading influences for many years, the locals picked up on it like nobody's business right from the start when Spanish cowboys came with their guitars and influenced the various natives into spawning entire new kinds of music for the next hundred years.
    as soon as the shops closed their doors at 4pm the nightclubs were the big thing in old Honolulu / Chinatown / Waikiki and everything imaginable could be heard being played by those on the streets, excellent talent dishing out hot Swing, 5 part harmony, and jazz piano could be heard as often as languid melodies, caressing vocals, and indigenous steel guitar coming thru doorways in those days. it was a small scene, didn't last too long, but it stretched out and made an impact in some circles around the world, right there with the best times in Hollywood, NYC, Vegas, or any forgotten town and place that had it's heyday.
    the Kalima family and surrounding cast of supreme musicians exemplified the broad talent, serious yet fun spirit, and vast musical spectrum to be found in Hawaii where they typically played all instruments, so pick any player and he or she likely killed it on the upright as well. they evolved into the electric bass naturally as Hawaii was never one to lag in the international musical influence dept., but the DB is still highly respected in Hawaiian music.
    while they are always overshadowed by the men, women have never the less gone toe to toe in numbers and quality, it's a family and community thing, everybody plays.
    the ground breaking Kalima style was shared by many groups who followed their lead.

    Hawaiian music royalty can be wrapped up in Alfred Apaka and his All-Star group including Jimmy Kaopuiki manning the doghouse but also included Mr. Hawaiian Music - Benny Kalama on ukulele / vocals but who held down the low end as much as anyone ever did having been there from the start and actually picked a young Alfred out and started his tragically short but illustrious career. Jimmy and Benny also served for decades in the top shelf Hawaii Calls orchestra as heard live from the beach at Waikiki over the airwaves in cities, homes, and farms every weekend across America, Benny as the Musical Director.


    Benny Kalama on bass
    Benny Kalama on uke
    Benny Kalama on his favorite ...Primo beer
    hwnmusiclives's Podcast : Hawaii Calls – Jimmy Kaopuiki

    GP; hwnmusiclives's Podcast

    Gary Aiko is now retired as the top reigning bassist and vocalist in the post-Apaka era having been born onto the throne as the #1 son of 'everybody's favorite Aunty' Genoa Keawe and making good on all promises in an exceptional career which started in the late '50s with an impressed Don Ho lending Gary his bass. I Dir./Prod. this video recently to document this vintage trio but specifically to capture Gary at his best in his last years as a preeminent performer and my favorite local bassist / Mr. Everything.

    Bobby Ingano Trio
    on the trio's fb page you can hear the transition from Gary in the bass chair to Adam Ah Sing who adds a big jump in the band's natural Swing feel thanx to his Dad's infectious rhythm guitar, he and Kaipo really push the pulse. Adam was learning the craft on the job, you'd never know it!

    in contemporary times we can cite Robert Cazimero for setting the modern bass template. unfortunately, much of today's music has lost the home spun aspects of team spirit and sensitive interplay of the 'good old days'. hopefully there will be a resurgence in the respect of time honored traditions and more high value will be seen.

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  2. consectaneus


    Sep 23, 2016
    I just wanted to say that this was a beautifully written appreciation. As a fan of Hawaiian music, I am familiar with all the artists you mentioned and own many of these albums. I must say it would not have occurred to me to spotlight the bassists here. There are many relatively unsung heroes in the music. Great musicians, great writers and arrangers. Benny Kalama is indeed a fine example. That late album he did "He Is Hawaiian Music" is amazing in that it makes it obvious his gifts had hardly diminished with time. Alfred Apaka is probably my favorite vocalist. Your estimation of Gary Aiko is spot on. I don't know about the long range future of traditional and traditional jazz inflected Hawaiian music, but it is in good hands with people like Ingano and Alan Akaka (who is spreading the gospel through his school).
  3. I don't have near the knowledge that you do, but the Disney movie "Lilo and Stich" help introduce Hawaiian music to a large number of kids with these two wonderful songs. Both written and sung by Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu (with back up by Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus)

    Winoman and Bass V like this.
  4. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    to further instigate celebration of the less-regarded Hawaiian bassists, you can't get more grassroots than Gabby Pahinui's thumper Manuel 'Joe Gang' Kupahu seen laying it down lap style in the Waimanalo backyard of the legendary Pahinui family. sad update, Cyril (center, white T-shirt) just passed away, leaving brother Bla as the sole survivor in this incredible photo. this was where everybody akamai (smart) wanted to be in the '70s.
    4 sons Bla, Pops on steel, (fellow slack key Master) Atta Isaacs, Philip, Cyril, and Martin, with Joe Gang.
    This one’s for Gabby
    saabfender, Winoman and jerry like this.
  5. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Here's some more fascinating info...without Hawaiian music, there would have not been blues slide guitar....
  6. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    there's a lot of truth in both your comment and the video but also serious debate on both counts which will likely never be resolved. Kekuku gets the accolades despite the steel bar's actual origin, and there are variations to JK's theme, but he certainly did his part after the fact to spread the steel gospel. of course there were only crude square railroad spikes at that time, or his comb fell and slid across the strings is another guess re the inception, plus a guy in Nordic countries may have came up with it before JK, but regardless, it became a major force once Hawaiians performed at the World's Fair in 1909 then again in 1918 and the rest is documented history. the electric guitar took everything into the stratosphere post 1932 when Rickenbacker was the first to market an electric and it was the A22 'frypan' steel guitar w/ amp.
    here's more info, google can be of infinite help on how it all got going
    Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (1909): Music at the Fair - HistoryLink.org
    Hawaiian Music and its Historic Seattle Connection - HistoryLink.org
    a part Hawaiian friend in New Jersey has his amazing collection of rare / unique recordings available to acclimate those interested. on the weekends he showcases specialties and lately it's been parts of a recently donated trove of reel to reel tapes containing the iconic Hawaii Calls radio programs which ran from the '30s for decades and helped put Hawaii on the map. you'll hear dramatic pristine examples of Hawaiian bass on everything played and all the musicians / singers were top shelf, even the few hokey songs are awesome when they do them. most today have 0 clue how good and diverse the best Hawaiian music is, and steel was King.
    Ho`olohe Hou Radio – …where Hawaiian music lives… - hit the listen button or select from the archives
    Harry Bee in the Territoree' has been at it almost as long as I've lived in Hawaii.
    Territorial Airwaves
    Winoman likes this.
  7. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    from The Moana Hotel on the beach at Waikiki it's Hawaii Calls broadcasting around the world - '50s
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  8. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    c1960 Waikiki, when great Hawaiian music flowed out from all the big rooms, clubs, and bars
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    from under the Banyon Tree in the '60s
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    Jimmy Kaopuiki on bass with Alfred Apaka in The Tapa Room
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    another Hawaiian super group with Gabby Pahinui on bass
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    outer island kanikapila (play music) '70s
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    my favorite Hawaiian bassist, Gary Aiko, with his legendary Mom, Auntie Genoa Keawe in the '70s
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    jerry likes this.
  9. Oddly


    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    I admit to almost zero knowledge of Hawaiian music (apart from memories of the Elvis movies-my mother being a huge fan), and this thread has opened my eyes and ears to some fun stuff to explore.
    Thank you.
    Bass V likes this.
  10. jerry

    jerry Too old for a hiptrip Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    Gary Aiko is one of my favorites, nobody looks cooler than him either.
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  11. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    you are more than welcome, thanx for the appreciation. I had 0 clue about Hawaiian music but it was one of the greatest discoveries of my life, in fact it's actually saved my life, and after 40+ years I don't expect it to stop being a Godsend that keeps on giving. the music is usually deceptively simple and similar yet extraordinary when in the right hands, like an onion with layer after layer, it gets deep. there was a 50yr span (1930-1980) where it was the biggest most beautiful secret on Earth, mostly on the back of the great steel guitarists, but so much more. I've seen one guy on a bus with an ukulele turn a 10min cruise down the road into the time of everybody's life, including the driver who was cheering too lol musicians and true music lovers instantly recognize talent and I think you're in for the ride of your life.

    View attachment 3224999
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    pre-war Hawaii Calls cast with the one and only Hilo Hattie
    View attachment 3225073
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  12. jerry

    jerry Too old for a hiptrip Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    Hawaiians have one of the most music-loving cultures I've ever witnessed!
    Bass V likes this.
  13. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    here's a fun one with Gary making a mystery mini micro electric sound and look cool a couple of years ago in Waikiki. this is an example of taking a goofy Hapa haole Hawaiian song from a century ago and whipping it into something pretty cool, the swinging polka rock bass lines help push it into a success
  14. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    this is a raw example of the increasingly sophisticated Hawaiian sound heard in post-war Waikiki during the roaring '50s when a very under aged Gary was starting out and he pretty much nails the upright sound and style here on his pocket rocket.
  15. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    Moana Chimes is an oooooooooold tune yet the bass makes it feel vibrant
  16. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    Hawaiian rock-a-billy? check! lol
  17. Bass V

    Bass V

    Dec 11, 2008
    Honolulu, Hawaii
    while ignoring that covid is still killing 1 a day in Hawaii after wiping out what little was left to enjoy live we find here remnants of a famed regional style from Kalapana on Hawaii doing it easy. every island has had it's notable unique singing / playing ways institutionalized over the last 100yrs, this being from the '50s with slow tempos and rich vocal harmonies, just one of many Polynesian country versions to be heard, it swept the islands and became a staple for decades when radio and records were popular. you didn't hear this in Waikiki, just like today you had to go find it, even Oahu's own Waimanalo / Pahinui style was kept out of venues mere miles away. it's a sad update to know the present is far bleaker for good local music, what the future holds is even less certain.
    jerry likes this.