Digital Fix: Billy Kaui

New year, huh? What’s on the resolution list? 1. Get back to the islands. 2. Eat more lau lau and poke. 3. Find more hard-to-find Hawaiian LPs. Accomplishing #1 means the other two will easily fall into place. But what if I’m not on the islands? Well, there’s a few Hawaiian food spots around town. And what about finding more Hawaiian music? The local record shops don’t offer much outside of touristy albums, eBay auctions usually end beyond the reach of my wallet, and Japanese web stores are even further beyond that.

Which is why I’m adding a new series to the blog: the Digital Fix. When the vinyl is too elusive, the CD never in stock, and download links nonexistent, I rely on places like iTunes and eMusic to satisfy my ears. Granted they don’t have everything, but if you dig around you’ll find some good tunes worth dropping ten bucks on. Here’s to a new year and a new endeavor for Aloha Got Soul.

Billy Kaui, Jimmy Freudenberg, Chuck Lee

Billy Kaui was the lead singer of Country Comfort, a Hawaiian folk band whose lazy, sometimes jazzy tunes are still popular throughout the islands. Local CC classics include “Sunlight, Moonlight”, “Hello Waimanalo”, “Pretty Girl” and “Rainy Day Song”. Similar to CSNY with their three- and four-part harmonies, but with plenty more slack-key. The band found trouble in excessive alcohol, marijuana, and hard drug consumption. In late 1977, a few years after CC had disbanded, Kaui recorded his only solo effort. A few months later, Kaui died of drug-related abuse. He was 28.

Japanese release on Mele/Philips

Kaui’s versatility proves itself throughout the entire album, from the Jamaican vibes of “Mr. Reggae”* to a prog rock tune called “Working on the Railroad”; “Empty” echoes Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”, and Kaui’s own “Words to a Song” is an understated, bassline-driven song compared to Babadu’s smile-heavy take. *(The song “Reggae Music”, heard at 38:37 on DJ Muro’s Hawaiian Breaks mix, nods respectfully to “Mr. Reggae”).

While the LP goes for $15-45 online, the digital version is only $5 (eMusic) or $10 (iTunes). In fact, you could grab a few Country Comfort releases plus Kaui’s album for under $20 total (eMusic). How’s that for a fix!

5 thoughts on “Digital Fix: Billy Kaui

  1. Kym says:

    Billy Kaui’s solo album was quite a departure from Country Comfort’s repertoire, but it’s filled with great songs (though a not-so-great recording). Notably, “Mr. Reggae” presaged the whole reggae craze in Hawaiian music years later.

    A while back I discovered the piano intro of “Asking For A Night” is identical to that of Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods’ 1974 semi-hit “Who Do You Think You Are”. Hmmm…

    And it’s nice to know my vinyl LP is worth that much! Sheesh.

  2. Michael Miner says:

    Out of all the artists that came out of the Hawaiian Renaissance era, Billy, IMO, is the one who somehow never gets enough credit for his talent, his poetic sensibility, and his songwriting ability. I came from the 70’s and I used to take his music for granted. But, the other day I listened closely to his lyrics and they touched me pretty hard. We used to sing along in those days without really allowing the meaning of the words sink in. Now, finally, I can appreciate Billy’s genius. He was a shining star that shot through life and burned out too quickly. It’s heart breaking. I wish someone would make a documentary on his life and his music. Kalapana, C&K, Olomana, Gabby, and others have been celebrated time and again. It’s time to celebrate Billy Kaui so that everyone, including the younger generation, can appreciate and realize what a special person he was.

  3. Lori Johnston (Abramson) says:

    Love & miss you & Annie so much. I know you’re looking down from Heaven to see your beautiful daughter, who we affectionately called, “sabey (sp) baby”. I just read an awesome story about her going to med school. I know she doesn’t know me anymore, but I am so proud of her. Thank you for being you – you are still terribly missed. Love & aloha, Lori

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