Feels like I haven’t had the chance to sit down and blog about the label’s first release. After all, Aloha Got Soul originally started out as a blog and I intend to continue doing so as the label grows.
But for now, a brief overview of what’s been happening with this first release (a 7-inch by Mike Lundy, in case you missed it) and the new Soul Time sister party: Soul Time In Chicago.
Chicago’s DJ Solson hit me up a while back about bringing Soul Time to the Windy City. He and DJ Darryn are hosting the first of many Soul Time In Chicago parties this Saturday, which also doubles as the release party for AGS-7001. To celebrate, Solson put together the above one-hour all-vinyl mix of Hawaiian gems.
The Vinyl Factory featured an exclusive excerpt of my recent interview with Lundy plus previously unreleased photos. The interview is about 1/10th of our conversation, but reveals a coincidental detail about the original recording sessions and the AGS 7-inch.
(If you’re wondering: I plan to publish the rest of the interview in November as part of the liner notes to the full LP reissue of Mike Lundy’s The Rhythm Of Life. Yup, we’re reissuing the entire album this fall with updated packaging, tons of liner notes, and more.)
Test Pressing’s Dr. Rob wrote a nice piece on the release and the label’s launch. One of my favorite music writers and one of my favorite music websites, so a big thank you to Dr. Rob and TP and also Apiento.
Keith Foster of weekly vinyl-centric podcast The Vinyl Exam interviewed me a couple weeks ago, asking a ton of questions that revealed my MO in doing what I do: “Music is bigger than our individual selves. It’s meant to be shared, it’s meant to be enjoyed, and to inspire people.”The interview is below and also up on their website.
Remember that we’re hosting five parties this week in Honolulu, London, and Chicago:
All events are free and open to the public.
January 29 in Honolulu: Label Launch Party at Bevy.
January 29 in London: Label Launch Party at Rye Wax.
January 31 in Honolulu: Release Party at Hungry Ear.
January 31 in London: Release Party at Brilliant Corners.
January 31 in Chicago: Launch Party/Release Party at Punch House.
Just a quick post to announce a string of official label launch and release parties here in Honolulu and London. UPDATE: We’ve just added Chicago to the list. Thanks to DJ Solson for putting it together! All events are free and open to the public. Limited quantities of AGS-7001 available at all events. Mike Lundy will make a special appearance at both Honolulu events.
It’s nearly here, friends: the first release on the new Aloha Got Soul record label. I want to take some time to update you what’s been going on since making the official announcement last November.
Firstly, here’s what the inaugural release sounds like:
“The Rhythm Of Life” and “Tropic Lightning” were originally released in 1980 on Mike Lundy’s LP, The Rhythm Of Life, now known throughout the world’s record collecting community as a Hawaiian holy grail.
Mike Lundy exclusively licensed the tracks to Aloha Got Soul. We’re releasing a second 45 off TROL after this one, and we’ll be doing a full LP reissue by year’s end.
The official release date is Saturday, January 31, 2015. Available at Hawaii record stores and select UK record shops. Online at alohagotsoul.bigcartel.com.
Digital formats will be available later on. We’re holding off to give this vinyl the full spotlight treatment.
Pre-orders begin soon. Those on our mailing list will be the first to receive notification of the exact pre-order date.
(If you decide not to subscribe, you’ll have to keep checking Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out when pre-orders open.)
Release parties are being planned as I type this. Two parties in Honolulu and at least two more in London, thanks to my Soul Time counterpart Cedric Bardawil.
Here’s what we have so far. All events are free and open to the public:
Thursday, January 29 at Bevy Bar, 7pm – 12am Record Label Launch Party (Soul Time In Hawaii edition)
DJs Roger Bong and Oliver Seguin
Special appearance by Mike Lundy
Advance copies of the release will be available
Saturday, January 31 at Hungry Ear Records, 12pm – 2pm Official In-store Release Party
Meet-and-greet/signing with Mike Lundy
Tunes curated by Roger Bong and Oliver Seguin
LONDON Saturday, January 31 at Brilliant Corners, 7pm to 1:30am Official Label Launch & Release Party (Soul Time In London edition) DJs Cedric Bardawil and Laura Coxeter
Copies of the release will be available
In-store release party (parties?) …more details coming soon
Mike Lundy is stoked. On his behalf, I want to say “thank you for believing!” We are truly grateful for your support—it’s what got us this far and what will keep us going.
We can’t wait to release the rest of The Rhythm Of Life.
Aloha Got Soul is now a record label, focusing on quality reissues of rare and relatively unknown Hawaiian soul, funk, rare groove and beyond.
The first release will be a 7″ from Mike Lundy, due out soon. A full LP reissue is underway, and future projects with other local artists are in the works. Every release will be available on vinyl and digital formats.
Mike Lundy has been a blessing to work with for the label’s first release. He and I have a lot in common. From the very beginning we’ve connected on a deeper level, sharing the understanding that music is more than just one’s own creation or art, music is a universal vibration that inspires love in us all.
Mike has placed an enormous amount of trust in me with his music. Which continues to inspire me to do my very best in launching this record label.
When designing the logo, I sought the help of a friend, local graphic designer Kevin Goto. In our notebooks, we scrawled thoughts on the label’s mission and sketched numerous ideas of how to represent this music visually.
“Soul is about making connections.” “Deeper than the surface.” “Mysterious.” “Connecting people to the islands.” “Connecting previous generations to present generations.” “So many waves were made in Hawaii’s past, but so many went unnoticed.”
This process of refining the mission helped establish a concept for the logo: that the music of our islands is one, regardless of genre or generation.
It quickly became evident that the wave provides the perfect symbolism for this: for every wave in the ocean is connected.
And so, I present to you the logo for Aloha Got Soul, the record label:
I’ve been truly inspired by everyone involved in Aloha Got Soul, from fans and listeners to artists and mentors. I couldn’t have made it here without your support. As Aloha Got Soul continues to develop as a record label, I look forward to ushering forth another chapter in Hawaii’s music history.
While I’ve been busy *not* updating the blog here, (sorry, folks!) I’ve been juggling a handful of other projects.
Firstly, I’ve been prepping for the forthcoming Aloha Got Soul record label—which tentatively launches by year’s end with the label’s first release, a 7-inch single by Mike Lundy. The music’s been mastered and went to the vinyl manufacturer last week, logo design is done, but there are still a few things left to take care of. Packaging, distribution, and likely a redesign of this website to accompany the label launch.
Oh, and t-shirts. Gotta get some t-shirts printed up.
Secondly, Soul Time In Hawaii is still going strong. Last month I invited my fiancé (we got engaged in August) to be our guest DJ. It was her first time spinning outside of the KTUH studio, and she did a damn good job of it. Soul Time In Hawaii is October 30 at Bevy, happening as it does on the last Thursday of every month.
Except this time around, Soul Time’s UK counterpart, Cedric Bardawil, has secured the date of October 29 at Brilliant Corners. We’ll be cross-promoting Soul Time In London and Soul Time In Hawaii just as we did back in March. Any of you in the London area?
And there’s a new weekly newspaper in town, Metro, of which I am the regular music columnist.
My column is called Beyond The Groove, because each week I’ll be pushing myself to “dig deep into Hawaii’s musical present and past to feature stories that transcend music itself.”
Metro launched at the beginning of October 2014. We haven’t really had a print weekly since last year. Of course, there are online news hubs like Honolulu Pulse, Frolic Hawaii, or The Offsetter (probably my favorite of them all for its witty newsbits and wittier headlines), but perhaps the Metro offers something Oahu’s been in need of since the Honolulu Weekly ceased publication in June 2013.
In any case, I’m hoping Metro will be around for a good while (which it probably will, seeing that it was conceived by the team at Honolulu’s longstanding Midweek periodical).
So… this means my time will continue to be devoted to a variety of projects. I’ll still be blogging here, of course, and continuing to build Aloha Got Soul. But, I’m delighted to be contributing to Honolulu’s newest source of arts, culture and entertainment, which means I’ll likely be making new connections in Honolulu’s music scene, discovering stories I might normally not see (since I blog mostly about 1970s and 1980s Hawaiian funk), and learning a thing or two about myself along the way.
With the second Soul Time In Londonon the horizon—returning to Brilliant Corners on September 6th after a brief jaunt at The Queen’s Head back in April—I’m extremely excited to announce that DJ, broadcaster, producer, writer, musician (the list goes on, folks!) Patrick Forge will be gracing the turntables with his presence, which, of course, includes his ever-powerful, ever-thoughtful selection of seriously good and groovy tunes.
Soul Time In London takes place September 6, 2014, at Brilliant Corners with Patrick Forge, Laura Coxeter, and Cedric Bardawil. 6:00pm – 1:30am.
Expect vinyl-only sets all night, ranging from Jazz Fusion to Hawaiian Soul, with floor steppers mixed in to keep the night going.
Who is Patrick Forge? He’s, well, Patrick Forge, (as he’ll have you know in our interview further down).
…but equally important is his passion for spreading his love of music with the world.
Music for Patrick is life’s soundtrack. Nothing new for any music lover, really, but the honesty with which he shares his soundtrack reaches far beyond what others could ever hope to achieve. Need a few examples? Listen to his show, The Cosmic Jam, and read his accompanying descriptions with each:
“We live in a turbulent world, the horrors of which never fail to affect me, more or less to the extent of turning away and shutting out the news, which I know is a coward’s response. It’s been said that the only sane reaction to an insane world is insanity, as a corollary to that I might add sometimes the only sane reaction is to keep your head down, do what you can for the greater good, and keep the fear-mongering, warmongering ways of the industrial-military complex at arm’s length!
“So I retreat, and find my refuge, my sanctuary in the music. It’s where this coward hides, keeping faith in the soulful sounds, and praying for better days ahead. Sometimes it feels like I live my entire life through the music, it seems I’m powerless to express myself without recourse to song titles!! Music is my sanctuary, better days ahead… maybe it’s not so strange to find solace in the music of that era (often the seventies). The time when I was growing up, and when despite the bubble of sixties idealism having burst, there was still sufficient residual optimism. It’s difficult to find such sentiments expressed in today’s music, we’ve all become far too cynical, and despairing of the possibility of anything changing for the better. So no wonder that music made in a different climate still holds such an influence not only over my generation but also many who are far too young to have experienced the culture and music of those days first hand. Of course there are plenty of examples of those who choose to run against the grain, and though I might seem to paint a bleak picture I’m never despairing. There’s still so much to live for , to believe in, to hope for and whilst the culture of the mainstream leaves me speechless with wonder at its absurdity and fatuousness, (Paris Hilton earning millions as a DJ!!), the pockets of resistance and goodness are deep and rich!!
“So good music abides, a bit like the dude!! And when I say good music, I think you know what I mean by now, music with craft and care, skill and musicality. The rest leaves me cold, the latest forays into EDM are inevitably just ephemeral blips in history, whereas music made with genuine passion by those who’ve paid their dues and are ready to stand up and be counted at least stands a chance of surviving the vagaries of fashionable taste!! Oh no I’m ranting again! Less exclamation marks, more calm and collected deliberations methinks.”
I’m forever grateful that our lives have crossed paths. I’ve yet to meet Patrick in person, and we only first made each other’s acquaintance earlier this year. But, it seems, simply doing what you love and sharing what you do is the best way to make new friends and lasting connections. Thanks Patrick, for your time and enthusiasm in answering these questions. Can’t wait to meet you in person, I think we’ll find a lot in common.
Oh, and let’s do something in Hawaii when you’re here. Soul Time In Hawaii with Patrick Forge, perhaps?
Please briefly introduce yourself: name, background, anything you’d like readers to know about you.
Patrick Forge!? There is no separation between me and my DJ persona, no weird moniker to hide behind, I like to think that it’s my connection with and passion for music that dictates how I play and what I play. Music has always been my source of inspiration and my mainline of joy, from the earliest age using my parents “record player” and immersing myself in The Beatles, Debussy, and Danny Kaye. I never expected to have a career playing records, I wanted to be a musician , but when things didn’t work out in that respect , it all seemed to fall into place. I feel very blessed by the opportunities I’ve had.
You’ve had a highly successful career as a DJ, probably most notably with the Dingwalls “Talkin Loud And Saying Something” parties you and Gilles Peterson hosted in the late 80s, early 90s (and are bringing back in recent years). How has DJing and record culture changed since you first began, especially with the advent of technology and the Internet?
Wow…. well the Dingwalls sessions were something that grew out of the jazz-dance scene of the early eighties, and the “rare groove” phenomenon that became such an integral element of club culture around that time. We were a generation of diggers and explorers at a time when all knowledge of music was essentially hard won, you paid your dues and largely earned respect from the tunes you found and played, and of course it was all vinyl back in those days. The seismic change since those times is hard to quantify or describe!! All music and all knowledge is available to anyone who cares to rummage around on-line, and Paris Hilton can earn millions as a DJ using an mp3 controller!! I think that kind of sums it up! But seriously, it’s a very different world, even a serious vinyl collector can assemble an amazing collection these days without ever having to traipse around record shops in the hope of unearthing a previously unknown gem. I’m not nostalgic about those times though, I love Discogs!! However something has definitely been lost in the process!
How has DJing remained the same?
Music, people, dancing….selecting.
What makes for a successful DJ? Is it skill? Selection? Collaborations?
Well it depends how you quantify success!! For me it’s always all about selection, no matter what the context, on the radio, in a bar/restaurant, in a club, the music you choose to play creates an energy and determines the mood.
You attended the first Soul Time In Hawaii “London Edition” in March. And now you’re headlining Soul Time In London on September 6th. What do you enjoy about the inaugural Soul Time event with Cedric and Mark Taylor at Brilliant Corners?
Actually I wasn’t there all night, but having said that I’ve known Mark for many years and have huge respect for him as a connoisseur, collector and selector… in addition meeting Cedric and getting a feeling for what Soul Time was about, I just found the whole thing very appealing. A night that was soulful in a natural way, of course there’s been a recent trend amongst diggers for what is often called “Yacht Rock” , or the soulful side of AOR, however for me that’s always been a part of my taste, I’ve always enjoyed that confluence of folkiness, jazzy harmony, groove and soul. America’s “Tin Man” might sum it up nicely!!
Cedric and I decided to make the two parties more “regional” by showcasing tunes from our respective locales. What kind of British tracks can we look forward to hearing from your set?
Actually I just posted FBI’s “Talking About Love” on the event page for Saturday, they were an important band in the evolution of soulful music in London. Then there’s obscure independent jazz-dance gems like ICQ and Unlimited Source which I’ll no doubt be digging out.
Soul Time in Hawaii/London is still very young— launched March 2014. As a seasoned DJ, what contributes to the appeal or success of a regular gig like Soul Time?
I just think it’s important for a night to establish a character and flavour of it’s own, then it can become something to look forward to. I think people like to find something that’s a little unique, and that can be built up with the right imagery and music, it’s about making the right kind of umbrella!!
As a Londoner who (presumably) has few ties to Hawaii, can you describe to me why Hawaiian rare groove music appeals to you?
I think I just said it in my answer to a previous question, “soulful in a natural way” . I always get a sense of the power of Hawaii’s beauty, the strength of its nature from the music.
Babadu! I have the CD reissue which I bought in Japan. Yukari BB once brought a copy down to The Room in Tokyo when I was playing there, and asked if she could play a track during my set, she said it was her dad’s record and that she’d grown up loving it. I don’t normally let other DJs break my flow, but that time I let her play the tune and I wasn’t disappointed!
Ideal place to play?
The Room in Shibuya, Plastic People in London, the first because of the incredible people and atmosphere, the second because of the sound.
There are few local radio DJs who pull off a quality soul program like Jeff Long (aka Benjamin Stencil) does with his Sunday morning show, Love Is A Real Thing. Jeff arrives by bicycle at the University of Hawaii’s college radio station KTUH around 5:45am each Sunday with a backpack of vinyl and a few CDs to spin from 6am to 9am. (Check out his playlists on his blog.)
I first met Jeff earlier this year when my fiancé, aka DJ Leilow, became one of the newest members of the KTUH DJ lineup. All the new DJs start out with a super early morning timeslot: 3am to 6am. I tagged along to each of Lei’s shows, sleep-deprived but grateful to be on air. By the end of her three-hour show (which I’m still amazed we managed to pull through each one) we would be exhausted, yet excited.
Excited because Jeff Long took to the airwaves following us, with his ever-soulful playlists and insightful commentary on the music (Jeff’s taking a course on African American literature this semester, which he says will give him even more knowledge about the music he loves to spin).
Luckily, Leilow no longer has the 3-6am timeslot. She’s moved a few hours later: 9am-noon on Sundays. Which means we still get to see Jeff every week after his show. We’re just not so bleary-eyed and delirious now.
Here’s our interview with Jeff Long, as heard on KTUH, August 24, 2014.
— Leilow: We’re interviewing Jeff Long of Love Is A Real Thing.
Jeff Long: Hello!
LL: Is Love A Real Thing, Jeff?
JL: I believe so. It’s there, you just have to acknowledge it.
LL: That’s true, kind of like music, you just have to tune in to it.
Roger Bong: So tell us, Jeff, we met you a few months ago when Lei first started her show at 3 to 6am—what’s your background? What’s your connection to Hawaii, what got you into DJing…
JL: I’ve been with KTUH since ’98. I’ve been here for quite a long time.
LL: ’98? Wow.
JL: Yeah, I started when I was an undergraduate student. My first show was a blues show, it was 6 to 9 at night on Wednesdays. That’s how I got into soul, as an extension of the blues, because I was there for several years and felt like I had tread enough ground there. I wanted to branch out.
I’ve been off and on at the station for a while. Before I came to this particular slot I was doing a soul show from 6 to 9am and a blues show from 6 to 9pm. So I’ve been all over at KTUH.
I’m from Arkansas, actually. I have some family here. I moved to Hawaii in 1992, right before the hurricane [Iniki].
LL: When did you started collecting records, or consciously collecting music?
JL: In high school, my dad’s record collection—which he had stopped listening to—was my foundation. A lot of Bob Dylan, even a lot of country stuff that he had. I had a record player and started hitting all the stores and all the thrift shops.
Back in the 90s there were some records that we’re being released by new artists, but a lot of the old stuff could just be found in the thrift shops and the record stores. And eventually the record stores stopped selling vinyl altogether, they moved to CDs and tapes. Now the record stores are basically gone, there’s just a couple of them left. I’ve been trying to pull together some records, and there used to be a lot of great venues [for buying records] but now you gotta kinda search for them in interesting places.
You guys just came back from Maui, can you tell me about your records you found there?
RB: Uh oh, he’s interviewing us now! [laughs]
JL: They have some great stories about how they founds records out there.
RB: Well, the first day we got to Maui, which was last Sunday, we went to this guy’s house off craigslist on our way to Hana.
LL: Interestingly enough he was selling off a collection he had bought in Oahu, shipped to himself on Maui, and now is trying to get rid of because he was moving out of his place—
RB: —he didn’t have any space for them. The first thing he said to us when we got to his house was, “Welcome to the record store.” And he opened his front door and his records were lined up on a table, ready to pick through, everything was a buck.
LL: He was in Tibetan goods trading for 10 or 15 years, too, so he had a lot of tapestries he was trying to sell to us.
RB: Where else did we go? We went to Requests in Wailuku.
LL: Requests on Market Street. It’s a great place to go because they support local music. They have everything: CDs, records tapes, used CDs—
LL: Yeah, it’s a head shop mixed with a music store. And then thrift stores, we found a lot of stuff at Friends of the Library. W found some great things there. And then we went to that guy’s [from craigslist] storage unit on the second day.
RB: It was kind of a bust, though.
LL: He wasn’t ready to part with it.
RB: He wasn’t ready to show everything yet, yeah.
LL: That’s the beauty of collecting records is you end up going to these people’s houses and talking to them about music.
RB: He might be listening right now.
LL: He could be, we told him about [this show]. We found out that he was a manager at a record store [in the Midwest] and that’s where his collecting began.
JL: Wow. So, awesome record buying trip to Maui.
LL: Yes, it was great. We came back with some good finds.
RB: So, Jeff, you’re gonna be really busy this week with a couple of gigs?
JL: Yeah, and I was talking to Leimomi and Roger, you know, I’m not an excellent DJ, but I like playing out. I have a couple of shows this week.
There’s the Aloha Got Soul show at Bevy, which is a great, it’s great without me but I’m contributing whatever limited skills I have to that. But I want to thank Roger for the opportunity to play some records there.
And then we also have the Art+Flea event which is, is that like a kid & play thing? I think it’s got a house party vibe to it. But there’ll be some KTUH DJs there.
I’m happy to be out, just playing records for the listeners.
LL: Your mode of transportation is bicycle, so you’re lugging records around on bike?
JL: I have this green canvas army backpack that has straps that cut into your shoulders. But basically it’s this heavy thing I have to ride around with on my bike.
LL: But it might save your life one day. Maybe, I mean, let’s hope this doesn’t actually happen—
RB: —hypothetically speaking—
LL: —hypothetically speaking, if a car hits you and then *pow*.
JL: Yeah, I’ve got good back protection. It could also break my back though. [laughs] it’s good, I prefer riding rather than driving around the city.
LL: It’s so small, it’s nice. Kudos to you.
RB: So, what can we expect to hear from you at Soul Time In Hawaii on Thursday?
JL: Probably a lot of the older stuff. I like a lot of the older R&B groups, the more dance-oriented stuff like The Orlons who’s sang “Wah Watusi,” you might hear some Sly & The Family Stone “There’s A Riot Going On.” And then some more funk-oriented stuff like Curtis Mayfield, which I always play on my show as well. But I want to intersperse the older R&B dance and party music, you know. That’s what I gravitate towards when I do live gigs.
I’m looking forward to it. That’s this Thursday at Bevy.
RB: It starts at 8pm and Jeff hops on around 9ish.
JL: So, I have a question: How long have you been doing this event?
RB: He’s interviewing us again [laughs]
We started it in March, Soul Time In Hawaii. It started as a dual city party, we had one here in Honolulu at Bevy and we had one in London. They’re actually going to be starting up the London gig again on September 6th.
Basically, we want to just spin some really good music for people, keep it all vinyl, and make it free for people to come through and add something to the calendar for people to enjoy.
JL: And it’s a great venue as well. I’ve been to Soul Time before and what I heard was excellent, loved it. It was right up my alley.
LL: Lots of good music listening to be had this week, live as well.
RB: All vinyl, too. Motown On Monday you’re doing all vinyl?
JL: Yeah, I’m more comfortable on vinyl. I know a lot of people use laptops or CDs, but for me it’s easier to manipulate. Plus, it gives me something more tangible. I can’t just look at something on the screen and know when it’s going to play. I have to be able to see the grooves, to be able to queue it up where I want it to be. So. I’ve always been more comfortable playing vinyl out and about.
RB: Love it.
LL: Awesome. Well, thanks for hanging around.
JL: No, thank you for having me! I’ve got to run over to Kaneohe now but I’ll be listening to the program as I always am every week. It was great at the 3 to 6am [timeslot] because I was able to ride my bike into the station and caught most of the show early in the morning.
LL: And not have to worry about cars.
RB: Well, now you can ride your bike to Kaneohe, right?
JL: Oh, no! No, I’m catching a ride to Kaneohe. But I do remember this one time, I think you were playing Kitaro, there was this, maybe, three-quarters of a moon peaking out as I was riding up University [Avenue] and it was the perfect moment to be listening, to just be. Just to live.
It was a great morning.
Anyway, I hope you guys have a great show. Thank you for having me on, thank you for allowing me to participate.
Hear Jeff Long’s live DJ at Soul Time In Hawaii this Thursday at Bevy.
8pm – midnight // No cover // All vinyl
Bevy Bar // 661 Auahi St. Honolulu
July! Where have you gone?! Slow down already, it’s nearly August!
I can confidently speak for my friends Dennieand Ward at Hungry Ear when I say that this month has been crazy busy, a whirlwind of exciting news and opportunities and, of course, responsibilities to be tended to. Owning an independent record store—one that’s bringing in new releases regularly and buying other people’s collections daily—is one thing, but running said business andorganizing Hawaii’s annual record fair at the same time? (The only one of its kind in the state, I should mention).
But wait, there’s more: Hungry Ear is closing it’s doors in Kailua, where the institution has been located for 35 years, and moving to Honolulu.
Yup, their last day at the iconic Kailua storefront will be Friday, July 19th. They’re opening in Honolulu on August 1st at their new home: 2615 South King Street, Suite A-100. (Across the street from where Jelly’s—or Cheapo’s, rather—was once located in Puck’s Alley).
“We are heartsick to announce that we have to move what has always been our flagship store, but ever-rising rents, as well as the changing profile of Kailua, makes it impossible to stay in our current location and Kailua.
We invite all our friends from Kailua, Waimanalo and Kaneohe to come by so we have the chance to say goodbye and thank you for thirty-five great years.”
What does this mean for music lovers on Oahu?
Well, if you live in town then you’ll have easier access to not one but two record shops nearby: Jelly’s in Kaka’ako and now Hungry Ear in the McCully/Moiliili neighborhood. (Again, their new address is 2615 South King Street, Suite A-100.)
If you’re accustomed to having a vinyl retailer a short drive from your Windward side abode, then you’ll need to plan out a trip over the Pali to pay Dennie and Ward a visit. (I’m kinda joking, because the travel time from Kailua to Honolulu is fairly short, but us islanders like to make a fit about driving to the other side of the island.)
“Founded by three friends—Luke Yamashiro, Dennis Chun and Reynold Kong—in the summer of 1980, the store has persevered through good times and bad, through four store locations and six U.S. Presidents, from vinyl to cassette to compact disc and back to vinyl again.”
Before you plan your first trip to Hungry Ear’s new location…
…be sure to plan your trip to the third annual Hawaii Record Fair. Happening Sunday, July 27, 2014, this year promises another annual gathering of vinyl enthusiasts from across the island.
Collectors will come out from the woodwork to sell records to friends and strangers. Stores like Jelly’s, Secret Record Store and Audiolab will be selling vinyl and audio equipment. The local college radio station KTUH will offer up pieces from its archives as well.
And droves of diggers will be there early, so be sure to get there early too.
It’s been a doozy of a July, my head’s spinning with all these happenings. How about you?
I met with Norm Winter on an evening in February 2014 several months after I had recorded a previous conversation of ours. I should say that that conversation—which took place at the Aloha Lounge sometime in the Spring of 2013 during one of Jah Gumby’s Rub-A-Dub all-vinyl reggae sessions, and which gave us an overview of how Jelly’s came to be (and why other records stores in Hawaii failed to stay in business)—I recorded without his knowledge. I’ve since apologized to Norm about publishing our pseudo-interview without his prior permission, and he’s since forgiven me.
If you don’t know Norm, you might think he’s an irritable guy. But take a moment to get to know him and you’ll discover he’s extremely knowledgeable about music, is critical of the world around us (that’s a good thing), a no-bullshit no-filter kind of dude who’s passionate about what he’s doing and likes having a good time while cracking a few jokes.
In his defense, there’s a lot wrong with this world—the music industry, the radio industry—to gripe about. Funny thing is (and it’s probably because of that conversation I published last year) I think he likes to heckle me whenever he gets a chance. It’s hilarious.
We sat down at a late-night restaurant in Kaimuki for the following Norm-approved interview. Norm is something of a regular here, bringing his laptop along to work on his writing (he’s currently putting together a few books, both fiction and non-fiction). When I ordered a Sapporo, the waitress didn’t card me. I remarked: “I guess they didn’t need to card me”. Norm swiftly replied with a slight smirk: “Well, you look suspicious.”
It’s taken me months to finish transcribing this interview, and I’ve seen Norm many times since February. Each time he’s asked me, “How’s that thing going?” and I’ll tell him—somewhat reluctantly since it’s taken so long to complete—“It’s coming along, it’s almost there”. Norm usually says something snappy: “I guess I’ll know when it’s published cause it’ll hit me like the last one did.”
Well, here it is Norm.
Before we get into it, I want readers to know that Norm is the music buyer for Jelly’s. In other words, he is solely responsible for bringing in all those used and new vinyl records that fill the racks at both Jelly’s locations. Norm is also responsible for the affordable price tags and—better yet—the crates and crates of $1 records at Jelly’s monthly sidewalk sale.
Without Jelly’s—without Norm—Oahu wouldn’t have such easy access to an ever-changing selection of affordable vinyl that will surprise you almost every time you walk through the doors. Because of Norm, I’m able to dig up new gems to spin every month at Soul Time In Hawaii (which happens every last Thursday across the street at Bevy Bar). It’s Norm who keeps Honolulu’s digging habit satiated, keeps collectors on our toes, and keeps us wondering throughout the day (every day) what might possibly be passing through his hands at this moment.
Thank you Norm for helping make Jelly’s the institution that it is.
And, as you’ll find out, Norm is also responsible for another local albeit now-defunct institution.
Norm Winter once changed the way we listened to radio. It was called Radio Free Hawaii, and it revolutionized the airwaves by putting listeners in charge with a ballot-counting system that determined what DJs could play on the radio. Without Norm, scores of people in Hawaii wouldn’t had enjoyed the musically rich, community-centered, boundary-pushing station that was Radio Free Hawaii KDEO 102.7FM.
In our interview below, Norm looks back at Radio Free Hawaii and discusses his thoughts on the music industry leading up to today.
Give me your full name, what you go by, what your occupation is so we can get that all cleared up and out of the way.
My name is Norm Winter, I do the music department at Jelly’s. I manage it, so to speak, I do the buying. I don’t do much managing, actually. I just do it.
And I created the format of Radio Free Hawaii, from 1991 to 1997.
Some people call you Sheriff Norm.
That started at the radio station. The day before we started Radio [Free Hawaii] we did a skit with monkeys. In the skit, the monkeys don’t believe the bosses but they finally, after all this hullabaloo and fighting in the skit—which aired on the radio before we started the radio station—they decided they needed a sheriff to monitor the people. And so I got the job as sheriff.
Sheriff Norm, Chief Monitor Of The Airwaves, Here To Eradicate All Airhogs From Ever Scouring The Airwaves Ever Again.
And then I did the sledgehammering on Saturdays where I would crush the record that got voted as the least song that wanted to be heard on the radio.
So, wait, every Saturday you—
We had a Hawaiian Islands news report every Saturday which we—we had a voting system where you voted for the songs you wanted to hear and voted again for the ones you didn’t wanted to hear. A lot of the songs got more negative votes than positive.
The first week the most negative song was Vanilla Ice “Ice, Ice, Baby”. This was in ’91. I think it had over a thousand negative votes. [laughs] So I promptly sledgehammered it to death, physically.
Unfortunately when I sledgehammered it to death, I broke the floor. So the next week, the least-wanted-to-be-heard song was New Kids On The Block “Step By Step”. We would go out onto the steps, we had an old fashioned building with wooden steps outside, so the guy that owned the building decided we better do it outside. So I go outside, and I broke the steps. [laughs]
What happened the next week?
Oh, it went on and on and on. Every week we would sledgehammer another song [that listeners didn’t want to hear on the radio].
So people could positive or negative votes.
You get 10 positives and three negatives.
Any song they wanted?
Anything, I didn’t care what it was. First week, the fourth most-wanted-to-be-heard song in Hawaii was “Fuck The Police” by N.W.A.
In those days, we thought we had to edit it, so we lost a minute of the song with just the “fucks”. But we played it. We played it in high rotation that week.
Let’s go back, because you were in radio before Radio Free Hawaii, right?
I was mostly doing radio commercials for Jelly’s.
Ever since then you’ve been the face of Jelly’s.
Totally, my wife owned it in the beginning and I guess it turned out like that because I did the music department and she did the comics department.
How did you and a group of DJs get together to start Radio Free Hawaii? Was it the monkeys?
No, that was ’91. The format itself, I was out of work in 1977 so I started figuring out a way to, I was kind of obsessed with radio so I was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Boy did it suck. You think it sucks then, but of course today it’s beyond belief suck.
At that time, it was a great mystery to me. I did this questionnaires where I called people up on the phone. I was a mad man. I was out of work, I wasn’t doing anything, I would just call people up and talk to them about radio and if I had a list of questions I’d just—
—random phone numbers. I just rang the phone numbers. I didn’t even look at the phone number, I just dialed at random. I called a couple thousand people like that. I was trying to get a feel for how the mentality was about radio.
One of the questions was “What kind of music do you like?” and they fought the question. “Oh, I like all kinds of music.” Of course, a 14-year-old doesn’t like country music. The idea was that they wanted to feel like they liked all kinds of music. So they were basically fighting the way radio was at the time. Radio was doing Adult Contemporary, a Jazz station, Easy Listening, Top 40—people were fighting that. The impression in their head was that they liked all kinds of music. And that’s why I wrote up this format using the ballot system and everything like that.
In 1977 I went to Pat Roberts who at that time was at KHEJ. He like the idea so he invited me to go do it. So I went down there and met the program director and he booted me out in half an hour. That was the end of that.
They didn’t like it?
The program director, of course not. “You’re gonna have other people decide what you’re gonna play? Are you crazy?? God knows what would happen if that happened.”
Anyways, I got into the retail/wholesale industry in 1979. We were selling to all the independent record stores in the islands. There was like 20 or 30 of them, and we were selling them records. I worked out a deal with KIKI where we would do the Top 36, it was called the Hawaiian Island Music Report and all we would do is every Saturday we would play it, and they had no reason to play the music outside of that. We did it every Saturday and it became very popular, and in the seventh week they fired the program director, Austin Valley (?), because he didn’t like what I was doing but the general manager did.
So then we went on for another 13 weeks until the owner of the station decided that he should own the name. He wanted to take it around the country because the format went from zero to number one—they were a disco station by the way when I was on there, disco only. every solitary sound was disco. There were five months in radio: January to May of 1979 where all across the country there was a disco station.
It came and went?
It was brutal.
So you had one spot a week on air.
Saturdays I did the countdown, I did the voting system. I used to go down to Woolworth’s where they had the voting system [setup] at Ala Moana, there were lines of people lining up to fill a ballot. They were excited about it!
But in those days people voted for all the common pop stuff, not too much diversion. The DJ that I did it with, his name was Ron Woods, and one Saturday The Clash made it to the countdown. And of course in those days nobody played The Clash. This is 1979, the song is called “London’s Burning”. So it’s on [air] and the program director Austin Valley rushes in and takes it off the [air] as if the world is going to fall apart with another note of “London’s Burning” by The Clash. It was voted onto the report by the people! That’s when he got fired the next morning.
I was lucky to have a general manager, his name was Jeff Coelho, and he stood behind what we were doing, he thought it was a good idea.
Right after that, they started playing the [voted on] music during the week, and then boom! it became the number one station. That’s when the station just boomed, but it only lasted 20 weeks because the owner of the station wanted to corral it to himself and take it around the country. I wouldn’t give him the name [Hawaiian Island Music Report] because I didn’t trust that he would do it right. His name was Jim Gabbard. So, I told him ‘no’ and then he fired me and changed the name to The Official Hawaiian Music Report. They tried to maintain it but couldn’t because they cheated and it became like any other radio station. They didn’t really come up with the votes.
That was 1979.
I had this memory of how good it worked, and I’m at Jelly’s and we’re huge then—we’re doing like a million a month in sales, really popular—and all the music we were selling wasn’t on the radio. I said, “Well, shit, let’s do it.” Why, that’s the biggest fence: you had to convince a radio station to do it. Of course no one would do it, so I had to buy time on a radio station, on a country radio station.
I paid them, uh, $30,000 a month and I took over the station, that’s how we did it. I wouldn’t have done it but the guy [who owned the country radio station] was ready to go belly-up so he had to do it.
This was 1991. KDEO.
So you bought him out?
I didn’t buy him out, he still owned the station but I signed the lease to do the radio.
So he gave you full—
Basically I was running the station, he had a few things he’d say but nothing to do with the format. Things about the building, like busting the floor steps [laughs].
I moved to Hawaii in 1995 but I didn’t really start listening to music consciously until maybe 2000. So for me, I don’t know too much about Radio Free Hawaii.
It was so popular you have no idea. I’ll tell you how fast it was popular: the very first week—we were on the radio for two days, Saturday Sunday—on Monday morning the guy from Pink Garage comes down to the station and says I want to do a remote on Friday and Saturday nights from his nightclub. The very first week we had two thousand people there. That’s how fast that thing hit—the first week we’re on the air!
And of course we were playing things nobody else ever heard—that would ever play [on air], I should say.
Here? Or nationally?
Anywhere! On the first report we had a lot of Cure, we had the Smiths—never been played on the radio—we had Bob Marley, we had N.W.A. [laughs], we had a flock of music that had never been played on the radio.
The first week “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd got to number one, the next week it got so many negative votes it was off the chart.
We got 4,000 votes the first week because we went on TV and we said what we were doing and that there were ballot locations across the islands. Two hundred ballot locations. We had a computer system and eight or nine people who punched in the ballots every week. The first printouts were 4,000 different songs got votes.
Those songs lasted through the entire week?
We did it every week, we would vote every week.
And you guys only played what the listeners voted? That’s hard to fathom, but yet it makes so much sense. That’s incredible.
We played all the oddball stuff. Like, we’d pull a ballot at random and play a song we don’t normally play. I used the library from Jelly’s, so we could play pretty much everything. There were very things we couldn’t play.
And then we had a Song Discovery where you would vote for the positive and the negative, and then you could vote for a song you thought might be a hit if we played it. On Saturday, I would pull at random—literally at random, the only thing I did was have somebody check for language—and we’d play five songs [from the Song Discovery ballot section] and whichever got the most votes would be our high rotation song of the week.
Five random songs. But that was only on your show, on Saturdays?
Well, we’d play the Song Discovery Of The Week on high rotation. It was called Golden Ear Tin Ear. You know, do you have a golden ear or a tin ear? And the song that gets the most golden ears would be the Song Discover Of The Week.
So a listener could have fifteen minutes of fame.
For example, Rage Against The Machine didn’t even have a record out but somebody had brought a tape back from New York that they had recorded live. It sounded pretty funky, but we pulled it at random so we played it and it became the Song Discovery Of The Week. Of course, Rage Against The Machine became huge [soon after].
You had already done something like this in the 70s, so with Radio Free Hawaii you knew this was revolutionary. It was different.
Well, it was so different the second time around compared to the first. The first time around, not too many songs got voted and people just picked songs that were basically around [on the air] already with a few exceptions.
It wasn’t what happened in ’91. In ’91, it was like rage: “We don’t wanna hear anything that’s ever been on the radio, ever” [laughs].
Why was that?
I figured it out, it’s a long story, but I figured it out. But it was shocking at the time, I mean we didn’t expect 4,000 different songs being voted for in the first week.
What was the average? Did it grow from there?
No, because the first week was actually about a month and a half’s worth of votes. After the first week we had on average about 1,000 songs voted on. It got to maybe 2,00 or 3,000 every week, but then later people got lazy and stopped voting every week. But we had enough votes to maintain the chart.
Do you ever think about what Radio Free would be like today with the power of the Internet?
It would work wonderfully. I did a speech at UH and the kids who had never heard of Radio Free Hawaii were like, “Oh god… oh yeah!” [laughs] That was about two years ago, three years ago.
Sites like Pandora or Spotify are considered revolutionary in their own ways. But those services are centered around personal preferences rather than a community’s.
You have no idea what radio is: it is so powerful it is unbelievable. It makes you feel a part of the world.
You hear all this music you’ve never heard before. You hear Frank Sinatra followed by Metallica followed by—we had a classical piece that was a Song Discovery Of The Week, it stayed at number one for seven weeks after that. I just pulled it out of the hat, played it, and we sold 500 copies at Jelly’s, of this classical piece. Tower Records was trying to get more.
Seven weeks. We only had one song that beat that, it was a Sublime song.
Good example: all these bands that got popular in the nineties, we played them first. A year or two ahead. Rage Against The Machine. Sublime was in Maui on vacation, they didn’t know they were getting airtime on the radio. They heard the first few notes of “Waiting For My Ruca” and the first thing they thought was, “Who’s ripping off our song?!” And then they realized we were playing it. They DJ announced afterward that that was the Song Discovery Of The Week, “Waiting For My Ruca” by Sublime.
When we had our Big Mele’s, which we probably had about 15 to 20,000 people there at every concert.
An annual festival?
Yeah. Bands would come out and give away their CDs for free to anyone who walked through the door because they wanted votes to get on the radio. Reel Big Fish came out in 2000 and, it took six months but they finally got on the radio—because we used to accumulate votes. If you just got one vote, we wouldn’t lose it. But once you made it on the air you had to start from scratch. Eventually Reel Big Fish made it and got to number one with a song called “Beer”.
A lot of bands from the eighties who never got played [on air] in the eighties finally got played in ’91 because they got votes. Nine Inch Nails, al the reggae bands—there was no reggae on the radio [before then]. There was no Gregory Isaacs on the radio. Actually, I had pushed KCCN to play reggae so there was a little bit of reggae on the radio in ’90 because I was promoting concerts, like for Alpha Blondy.
Knowing what you know now, do you think something like Radio Free Hawaii could thrive today as much as it did in the nineties?
Yeah, but you can’t make money from it, that’s the problem. They block you from getting advertising dollars. They have this service called Arbitron. Great name for it. [According to Arbitron] we didn’t have any listeners.
We were black balled, we couldn’t even get a promo record because we were a renegade station.
I couldn’t pull the plug myself, I just had to wait until it happened. It was like a living thing, you just don’t pull the plug on a living thing. I went down with it, I lost every cent. Fortunately somebody stole my car and I got $5,000 which saved me for Christmas that year.
Then the business got taken over another company.
Wait, you still had Jelly’s to fall back on, right?
No, I just said. Jelly’s got taken over by another company. We got it back, I don’t know how we did it. We got it back by accident.
You lost both Radio Free and Jelly’s at the same time?
Let’s see, we lost Jelly’s in ’93 and the station in ’97. [How we got Jelly’s back] is another story. We won’t get into that. I just walked in it, I guess God wanted me to have it. My wife was very religious.
So what about now, do you want to get back on the air? Because you’ve had shows off and on, right?
Well, I do the Oldies show to help Jelly’s but I don’t like to be on the air. i really do not like it at all. It’s not my style. I feel very uncomfortable on the air and I’m a lousy DJ at the booth. But to promote the store I do it.
OK, so when is your show on air now?
I got kicked off the air like everything else in my life, you know. The lady was so rampaged she doesn’t want me to talk to the DJs, she doesn’t want me to talk to the new manager at the station. I’m destroying their things.
But really you’re trying to do the opposite, no?
When I go on the radio I play all kinds of stuff that’s never on the radio. It’s oldies, you know. Probably half of my listeners are over 60. I do have a lot of young listeners who listen because you know why? There’s nothing on the radio. When I was on the air at least you could hear something different! Stuff the older people haven’t heard in, 40, 50 or 60 years; the younger people, “Hey, I haven’t heard this.” [laughs]
Radio is so terrible that if you play anything different, people will listen. [laughs]
Do you listen to the radio still?
I have my—it’s still on there—I lost my show about a year ago. I had a website called the Long Lost Oldies Radio Show.
What really happened to radio was, when I did this format it was because when I was growing up radio was fantastic.
In what ways?
Number one, they didn’t have “sounds” or “formats”, they just had the music of the day and that was it. So you would hear Frank Sinatra followed by Chuck Berry followed by Little Richard followed by a surf song instrumental. They don’t play instrumentals anymore, you know why? You know what their rule is? We don’t play instrumentals, we don’t play foreign music, because the listeners don’t understand it. And we don’t play songs that don’t have meaning, like “Papa Oom Mow Mow”.
They block off everything.
You know, in 1958 “Nel blu dip into di blu” buy Dominco Modugno—all Italian, not a single word of English in it—was the biggest selling record of the fifties. In those days, radio didn’t care. If it was popular, they would play it. They played Dave Brubeck, they played jazz—
—they catered to the people—
—naturally. No one was too stupid to realized that “We have to make a sound, we have to have a sound.” So, that’s the radio I remember. And they used to do voting, too! That’s what gave me the idea. It wasn’t the way I did it but they did have a voting system. What was popular was on the radio.
It’s not just radio, is it also the music that’s changed?
No, radio changed. Not the popular music. They played all kinds of genres in Pop format. If it was popular, they played it. If it was jazz, they played it. If it was country western. No matter what it was, it was that simple. [laughs]
That’s what I remember. That’s why I brought back Radio Free because music had been so suppressed that by the time I brought it back the response was just crazy.
In the fifties all the music that was played on the air was by independent record companies.
In the late sixties, the major record companies said “We better get into this.” First they thought rock and roll was gonna die. They started buying out all these guys. They had a better distribution system, everything like that.
What happened was they wanted to control the market. For example, there was a Billboard magazine. Billboard would call a lot of the record stores and get theirs lists of the top songs of the week. And everybody was very dutiful, we counted out how much we sold of each song and tracked every week so we could give an accurate report of what sold. That was the chart, that was it. The chart was truth, a fundamental truth across the country.
Of course in those days, every market had their own songs they liked and didn’t like. So you wouldn’t see every market playing the same damn song like they do today. No. Down in New Orleans the songs were entirely different than Los Angeles.
In Hawaii, a third of the songs that were popular in Hawaii never ever made it to the charts on the mainland. Every area had its sound and the radio of that day reflected what was popular in that particular world.
Anything could happen on the radio in the sixties. Only when the major record companies tried to control the charts did things get ugly.
For example, MCA would call up and say, “Could you give me a number one for this song?” And the record stores would start to say “Oh, no, I already gave the number one to Columbia. I can give you a number six, can you give me some ad money and free goods”. That’s the way the charts started getting ugly.
And radio only played what was on the charts, and the charts were controlled by the major record companies. All the exciting music of the ay from the independent record companies was gradually being sifted away or not getting as high in the charts because of all this manipulation.
Are they still doing that?
There’s no more radio. I don’t know where you’ve been. [laughs] I’m talking about when there was radio!
So in the seventies it got worse and worse and worse. Then came the eighties and that was the end.
Without The Beatles, the world wouldn’t have changed. They really changed the mentality of the whole world with their music. And when you get to the eighties who are the super stars who are kind of like The Beatles? Bob Marley, to a lesser extent Cure and The Smiths. But they were never on the radio? Why? Because they were on independent record companies, and the Smiths were in Europe. They weren’t on the radio, period.
Bob Marley was so popular, I mean, kids would come to my store—I had a little store on the North Shore at the time in the late seventies through ’81, called Space and Lace—they would come to my store with a list of which Bob Marley records they didn’t have. They had to have them all—of course in those days it was cassettes, but nonetheless, because I was the only one to carry those people would come from all over the island to get this stuff. I was the only one who had it. But it wasn’t on the radio.
What happened in the eighties was radio was suppressed. And what happened to the kids in the eighties? They went off the rockers. They started writing necrophilia poetry, hanging out in dingy coffee shops and wore all black in hoods and just sit there and mope. [laughs]
I mean, all the boisterous and happy youth of the fifties was gone. They were just totally shut off from the market, musically. So when Radio Free Hawaii hit the air and that music came up, the excitement was phenomenal.
You guys were getting a lot of attention nationwide?
We were voted either number one, two, three or four in the Rolling Stone readership poll for best radio station in the country. By the readers, the readership poll. But guess what, we couldn’t get any money cause we “didn’t have any listeners”.
BBC came down, did all these specials on us. An Australian guy wanted to take the three big radio stations in Australia and do the same format. Of course, they abused it so I had to go down there and sue ‘em.
It was huge. And yet if I sent a word in to the trade magazines that we were playing Pearl Jam “Yell Better”, they would not mention it. And then three years later when “Yell Better” became number one in the nation, they would mention all these other stations were the first to discover it. They always black balled us from even existing. We did not even exist.
It was easy for them to ignore you because?
They have a rating service called Arbitron. The ad agencies basically use the rating service, if a retailer says they wanna go with Radio Free they couldn’t find it if they’re looking at the rating service.
You know how the sound thing came about? How radio stations started playing certain kinds of sounds? The record companies wanted to have a sound on the radio so that they could get the bands to produce that sound so they could get airplay. So stations would have a sound: R&B, Pop, Rock, Adult Contemporary, et cetera. They even had Jazz stations. The record companies encouraged this, they wanted to control the radio, not because people really wanted to hear just one sound. I didn’t find that out until ’91.
Back in ’79 people only voted for 50 or 60 songs [in my format]. In ’91, it was 4,000 songs. The rage was out there. Radio was so suppressed for so many years. And now the stations today are thinking they need to play stuff from the eighties for the “oldies” because people are getting older, so they’re playing stuff from the charts that nobody listened to.
I was in the retail business and I could tell you, they didn’t listen to that music, they didn’t buy that music.
Here’s what happened: First they manipulated the charts. They weren’t happy with that, so they wanted to just count radio play instead of counting sales, so Billboard agreed to count half sales and half radio play. Then in ’92, Metallica made a ridiculous poppy song called “One”. You know the Casey Kasem show? Every station in the country would play the Casey Kasem show on Sunday, and Casey played would always play the Top 40 on the Billboard. in 1992 on one bizarre morning, Casey Kasem played a Metallica song.
Even though the radio didn’t play it, “One” still got enough sales to make it on the Top 40 chart. He played the song. The programmers found out that they played a Metallica song—they didn’t even listen to it, that song is pus, it’s not even Metallica, it’s a pop hit!—but they heard the word Metallica was on the radio and they tried to cancel the show!
So Billboard made an agreement that said they’ll forget about sales and just count radio play. And then it was over.
You ever find significant pieces of information existing just below your nose for a long, long time without you ever realizing it? That happened a few days after I interviewed Ed Roy of the local rock group Roy & Roe.
Not only has Ed engineered a hundred-plus albums for Hawaiian musicians, he engineered my all-time favorite Hawaiian LP: Chucky Boy Chock & Oahu Brand.
I should’ve known. Ed’s engineering skills are top-notch, you can hear it in every recording he’s done—the guy who hired him at Audio Media heard it too, offering Ed a job the moment Ed got behind the studio’s mixing board.
Tell me about growing up in Hawaii, were you born and raised here?
No, I wasn’t. I came to Hawaii in about 1973 for a master’s program. I started on the East Coast and then transferred over to UH Manoa and finished my degree there in ’77. I was there until about 1980, [I moved to the mainland] and then I moved back to Hawaii halfway through ’81 and stayed there through ’86 or ’87.
As soon as I graduated college I got a job at a recording studio, Audio Media. So I ended up recording a lot of local bands, a lot of local Hawaiian groups. I worked with pretty much anybody who was anybody in Hawaii. I did some work with Sons of Ni’ihau, Society Of Seven, Don Hon, the live album for Kalapana. I probably engineered about a hundred albums.
All at Audio Media Studios?
Yes, I did a lot of stuff—people from Samoa, Japan, Saigon, pretty much everybody came through those doors. When I joined Audio Media, they were an 8-track studio, then they became a 15, then they went to 24-tracks. I was also recording a lot of local commercials and local jingles I wrote. And in the meantime, I was still playing music at night.
I had known Dave [Rorick] for a few years from the bands I played with every day when I first came over to Hawaii. We had a rock and roll thing called Sassafras. We were like a local institution because we opened up for a lot of bands at the main arena there. We opened up for Aerosmith, Alvin Bishop, Loggins & Messina. We played a lot of clubs in Waikiki. We used to play a place called Pears (?), and right next to it was a place where Seawind was playing.
We were mainly like an Aerosmith-type group. We played all over the place. But then Sassafras broke up—and I’ve played with a lot of local bands—and in the meantime I started putting together some stuff with Dave, he was playing with some of the local
I had access to the studio [Audio Media] so I said, “Let’s put together some music.” I already had my own band called Nutcracker, we did an album that was produced at another studio while I was going to college. I wrote all the songs on that. That was with… I forget the guy’s name.
Then me and Dave started something together because he was writing, I was writing. We started a band, too—that was it: the Roy & Roe band. We would play in clubs out in Pearl City, military bases. A lot of the guys who played on that album were in the group.
In our spare time we started laying tracks down for Roy & Roe. We used different guitar players that I had played with before, different keyboard players. Some songs I played piano, some songs we brought in a drummer, there’s stuff I played drums on. And then we brought a mutual friend of ours to arrange strings and horns on it [the Ron Chun Quartet].
It was kind of a labor of love that we recorded over 8, 9, 10 months…
So it was a passion project?
Well, we were hoping it would amount to a little bit more than that, you know? But at that time I don’t think Honolulu was ready for that kind of stuff.
What do you mean?
We were hoping that we would get some sort of break, because when I look back on it there are still a couple of strong songs on it that probably could be brought up to date.
Which ones stick out to you?
Probably the ones that me and Dave wrote together. A track called “When We Turn Out The Lights”, and then one that Dave wrote called “Sister Daisy”.
The instrumental I wrote had a lot of different movements. It wasn’t what you would call progressive rock, but it could probably be seen as that by somebody.
Were you guys trying to record an album for the local audience? What was your goal?
We weren’t really targeting any audience, we targeted music that we liked. We weren’t going, “This’ll work real good in Hawaii” or anything. We were just bringing our musical ideas together in a symbiotic type approach. I would write something and then Dave would put in his two cents, or I would put in my two cents [when he wrote a song], not knowing where we’d end up, you know, what the final product would sound like.
It materialized and we decided we needed to get guitar players on the songs, like that funky song called—I think it’s the first song on the second side—
—Let’s see, there’s “Downtown”, then “Just Don’t Come Back”—
—“Just Don’t Come Back”. That was kind of a funky Boz Scaggs-type groove. Take a look at the guitar player, John Rapoza, he could play in that style.
The instrumental, that’s a song I did with Billy Grannis and another guitar player, Chris Bovard. They were doing it together. Chris plays a Les Paul, Billy plays the Strat, those two guitars together would go good on this song. And then we’d add strings and horns later.
We were just trying to do something different than what we had at the time locally.
What was different about what you guys were doing?
It was more contemporary, it was much more mainland sound. Our influences were far reaching, we were doing Elvis Costello-type things, Joe Jackson, things that were happening at the time, happening nationally.
What was the response like when you finally released the album after 10 months?
By the time the album came out I don’t even think we were playing together anymore as a group. So we weren’t really able to support the album as far as live performances. I don’t know, everybody had their own thing or were off to something else [by that time]. It just took too long to come out, it just didn’t materialize fast enough.
And Dave was talking about moving off the island and going to Nashville.
Which he ended up doing.
Oh yeah, he’s been working with some big cats. I just continued working, but that was right before I went to New York. I left soon after to work at CBS, then I came back to Hawaii in 1981 and by that time Dave had already moved. I continued playing with some local groups, things like that. I got my old job back at the [Audio Media] studio.
In fact, the day I came back from New York I was going in on a session.
Do you remember which session that was?
Nope. I mean, I recorded a lot of people over there.
I think the last album I recorded at Audio Media, hold on a second… which I thought it was a really good Hawaiian album, you gotta get your hands on it. They [the group] were from another island, they were from Kauai.
You know, I think I might have that one. Is it Na Pali something? It’s got a green cover.
Taj Mahal plays on it. It’s called Na Pali Pacific Tunings.
Yep, that’s the one.
That was a great album. That was the last album I engineered over there.
I’ve recorded a lot of local stuff, I was doing maybe 10 local albums a year. They were doing a bunch of other things there too, commercials, I was doing a bunch of jingles for local companies.
I’m still gigging once in a while, two or three times a month, but as far as recording I don’t really produce groups anymore because—I have all my recording equipment still, it’s all up-to-date, but I mainly record and produce stuff now for video.
Let’s back track to the Roy & Roe band, the record sessions and how you guys were getting all these different musicians to come in and play on the album. What was it like during that time to have so many talented musicians available?
A lot of times we let the musicians, we played them the song and gave them time to work out a part, either by giving them a tape or having them do it right there on the spot. I was pretty much running the studio all night. I was playing in some bands in Waikiki at the time, so when I would be down with a gig, we’d start some [recording] sessions at 12 midnight until five in the morning.
That was just the way it was. It was a lot of fun. And if it didn’t happen then, we’d do it another night.
Do you think the same type of thing could happen nowadays?
I haven’t been back to Hawaii since 1998, I came back to visit for a week. I have no idea what the musical climate is like in Hawaii now.
The groups that were happening when I was there were The Krush, Manila Machine, Olomana, Society Of Seven, and you had a handful of different rock groups. But I don’t know who’s there, who isn’t there now.
Can you describe to me what it was like when you here? From the perspective of musician and an engineer?
I mean, I recorded a lot of different kinds of groups, different kinds of people. A lot of people come to Hawaii to live. From something as simple as straight ahead Hawaiian music, or some people trying to do a style of sound from the mainland, but they didn’t quite have the voice for it. The songwriting wasn’t always great. I mean, everyone had potential but I never really heard anything different other than a couple of times. The ones that did eventually just left [Hawaii].
There’s the vibe of the place, it’s probably like it is now: it’s relaxed. But you know, a lot of people had delusions. I recorded a lot of people—a lot of people who put out an album, had some sort of backing—like Denny Miyasato and stuff like that—artists who were strictly trying to do a mainland-type album.
I brought in a lot of the top players on my album. There were a lot of backup musicians back then. I would produce them, try to get them to hear themselves logically on tape, try to make suggestions as far as changing something, or if something sounded really rinky-dink, you know.
That last record I did, Pacific Tunings, they were so old-time Hawaiian that I didn’t even know what to suggest to them, I just wanted to get a good sounding recording. They were kind of like blues and Hawaiian, traditional old Hawaiian with their instruments they used, their melodies were really strong, and they brought in Taj Mahal. That album came out really nice, as far as Hawaiian albums go, that’s definitely one of the best. I’m surprised it didn’t go farther than it did, maybe they were too laid back? I don’t know, we lived on an island so we didn’t get much exposure.
We recorded a lot of different things because I had access to the studio. It wasn’t like every time we had an idea [and wanted to go into the studio] we had to pay for it. All we had to do was flip a switch on it.
So you’re saying that for the Roy & Roe album you didn’t have to pay for studio time since you already worked there?
Aside from hiring the musicians, your time, that sort of thing—
It was mostly just our own time, that sort of thing.
When the studio wasn’t in use for other recording artists.
Yeah, most of the time we were recording at night.
So how did you end up getting the job at Audio Media?
It’s kind of a funny story. I was playing in some band, it was a good band, too. It was with one of the guys who plays on the Roy & Roe album. We had keys, bass player, guitar player, and we would do stuff like Bryan Adams, stuff like that. There was a contest to write a jingle. I forget what the prize was, maybe a keyboard, or something. I said, “Let’s take the group and find a small studio and go record for the contest.”
I wrote the jingle, we went to Audio Media after going to a few different locations. When we recorded it, the engineer was mixing it and I didn’t like what he was doing. I said, “No, no, no. Do you mind if I do this?” I had recorded at mixing studios in New York before, so I sat down and started mixing it, and the owner walked in and he liked the sound that I was getting. He said, “Would you like a job?” …Well, ok [I said], ‘cause I was out of college and couldn’t find work.
That was right when that local competition started.
Yeah, Home Grown. That was the first year of Home Grown, and I said, “Sure, what the hell.” So he had me for, like, God, 150 hours per week, and he said, “You’re gonna start tomorrow.”
We ended up winning the [jingle] contest, and then he—I wish I still had that tape, too, that was a great song—oh no, no, that was the jingle. We also won a contest for the radio station. Anyway, I started engineering that next day. I came in in the morning with the guy that was there and started doing a fast tutorial of the equipment and EQs and audio flow and blah blah blah—and that first day i had to engineer three groups. Because everybody was recording for that [Home Grown] contest. And every day after that I was recording two or three bands.
To make a long story short, within four years I was the chief engineer of that studio. That other guy was gone. That’s how I got into recording.
That’s a great story.
Since I was an engineer, when I moved to New York in the mid-80s I went to CBS and they hired me to work as an audio engineer on a television show. But you see, I went to college for media production and my dream was to be a director. But no one’s gonna hire you unless you have experience, so I got my foot in the door by being an audio engineer.
Once I got my foot in the door, I started talking to the camera guys, then the editors, then I started doing camera work. My kid was still in Hawaii so I moved back to live there in the latter part of 1981, as soon as I got back I started engineering again. I was doing music again, but I wasn’t doing camera work. Eventually I wanted to move away again from Hawaii. I’ve been pretty much been working in television since.
Does Roy & Roe have any other recordings?
No, not from Roy & Roe. We just did that album, that was it.
How did Tom Moffat get involved?
Tom Moffat’s office was right above Audio Media, upstairs. He did all these commercials. Every concert he produced he would record his commercials at Audio Media. He was a neighbor.
He was producing Kalapana, C&K, he was involved with all the big cats. When I got the album with Roy & Roe, all he had to do was pay for the mastering in LA and then he put it on his label, Bluewater. I don’t know if he actually understood us to begin with but he distributed it, got it into the local stores.
I gotta say that this record is an artifact, it rarely pops up in the thrift stores and record shops here, but it’s a great story: recording the album at night when the studio’s not in use.
It took a lot to get it done. We did one song at a time. Sometimes Dave and I would just go there and hash out a song together.
When we started to lay down tracks, not everyone was in the studio. You know, drums mic’d up and the bass, and maybe one guitar player, something like that, and we just started laying tracks own. We would bring in people according to their schedules and overdub tracks. We would use different keyboard players. [We asked ourselves] are we going to put synthesized strings on this? Or are we going to have Kit Ebersbach do an arrangement? We actually, when we did all the strings we brought in a quartet of violin players into the studio and did all the songs they played on at the same time. They had charts written by Kit Ebersbach. Then we did the same with the horn section.
Things were done like how Crosby, Stills & Nash would’ve done, you know? Bring in one guy at a time according to who’s available. He’d be the only one in the studio doing the overdub, chorus, or guitar solo or whatever. They never actually had the whole band in there at the same time.
Fascinating. The album came together really well.
The only thing I can say as the closing comment is, I might re-record one or two of the songs. This Spanish guy I know wants to sing “When We Turn Out The Lights” but add different instrumentation to it, put drums on it, put a symphony on it. I would like to reproduce that song with him singing in Spanish, release it in Latin America and then see what happens. He lives here in Jacksonville, Florida. When we record it I’ll send it to you.
Absolutely, I would love that.
Be sure to read part one of my Roy & Roe interview.