Social media is a marvelous thing. I’ve encountered enormous opportunities that simply would not be possible without today’s technologies.
Case in point: I tweeted about Hawaiian soul singer Babadu a few months ago and @itsscottyk retweeted it. I clicked to see who this person was, and it turned out it was drummer Scott Koher, who played on Babadu’s album (and a number of other recordings, like Music Magic’s “One Man Lady”). What a coincidence!
Scott lived in Hawaii for about 2 years, gigging with some of the state’s best musicians. Scott was generous to lend the time to talk about your experiences in the Hawaii jazz, funk and soul scene. Thank you, Scotty K!
Aloha Got Soul: Basic info: where were you born, when, and what first got you into playing drums?
Scott Kohler: I was born in Pasadena, California in 1956. My first desire to play drums was the opportunity to take music lessons at school. I was told I could not play drums until I had a year learning a “musical instrument”.
I was the worst violin player in the world for about half a year and quit.
As a result of my experience my advice to educators is to let kids play what they want. The drums were magic to me. I thought they were the coolest instrument. I spent hours a day practicing once I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I grew up in the San Francisco area in the 60s and 70s, and my local influences were Tower of Power, Santana, The Sons of Champlin and the Grateful Dead.
You came to Hawaii while with C&K, how did you meet C&K and how did you make it to Hawaii with them?
I studied for three years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I met Glen Goto and Dave Inamine, who are a couple of Hawaii’s best musicians to this day. Glen wanted to create a band and was using Seawind’s success as a possible model, so I flew out after my last semester at Berklee.
Dave and Gordon Uchima (sax for Kalapana and C&K) put me up for a few weeks until we could rent a house and start practicing. We recorded a little and for whatever reason we all decided to nix the band idea.
I moved back to LA and was auditioning with various bands when I got a call from C&K’s manager. They needed a drummer for their next tour and they had heard the tape we recorded, so I jumped at the opportunity. We played the west coast and ended up in Hawaii for a month or so before going to Japan.
The Japan tour didn’t happen, but I was meeting a lot of the local musicians and found Flip Nunez who offered me a gig at Keone’s with Sam Ahia. That was the start of my Hawaii residence for the next couple of years.
What was different about the music scene here compared to the mainland? What made it special?
Quite simply, “The Aloha Spirit”, embodied in the people of Hawaii, will always be the main distinction between the islands and the mainland. I loved living there, playing music there and going back whenever I can because of the people.
What was the energy like at the time?
The energy was great. There was a lot of talent, the clubs stayed open late, and most importantly, people went out to experience the music.
How long did u stay with C&K? Was it a natural transition when you left?
You can refer to my answer for the second question. I actually didn’t play that long with them, less than a year. I did the West Coast tour in 79? Or 80?, then came to Hawaii, played a stadium in Lahaina, then the concert at Aloha Stadium. The Japan tour was cancelled, but by then I was meeting other musicians and working with them.
You gigged with a ton of musicians in Hawaii, do you remember your favorite nightclub in Honolulu? Your favorite session? (live or in the studio)
I played gigs with most of the jazz folks in town. My favorite was Keone’s, by far, with Flip Nunez and Sam Ahia. We didn’t start until 11 pm and we played to 4 am. We got all kinds in there, quite a cast of characters would hang out there.
It was a perfect place to stretch tunes out. People loved Flip’s rendition of Les McCann’s “Compared to What”.
You were man behind the beat for many great tracks… Did anyone have a nickname for you?
Thanks for the compliment. I hardly think I did that much in a short period of time.
Maybe you can find out, I laid a track down on an album that Gabby Pahinui was to have recorded before his passing. That would have been a great honor, to be on one of his albums.
You played on Babadu’s album, do you remember what that session was like?
I don’t remember much about him, it was a project I was fortunate to play on. He had nice grooves,had a soulful voice and seemed to be a mellow, nice guy. I was thrilled to work with Kirk Thompson on Babadu’s album, one of the founders of Kalapana. That was the session where I met a lot of the really good musicians in Hawaii. I was thrilled to be a part of it.
What about Ira Nepus’ album?
Sorry, I forgot if I played on Ira Nepus’ album or not. It was an honor to work with him on Babadu’s album and a few gigs as he was a recognized talent nationally, and a very nice person as well.
Why do you think black music (jazz, funk, soul) was so popular in Hawaii during that time?
I’m not sure. I’ve always loved the music introduced by my African American brothers and sisters.
Did it feel like the perfect time to be playing music in Hawaii? Or was 2 years too short?
I feel fortunate to have been there at that time. There was a lot of live music, and it was supported by the locals, which were responsible for keeping it going, really. I think any of us playing during that time owe a lot of gratitude to those folks who would come out for an evening of music. Two years was what it worked out for me. I wanted to get back to the mainland and move on, but what a great experience while I was there.
Have you found many parallels in your financial career now and your musical career then?
I serve a number of artists in my practice because of my background. I studied composition at Berklee and have written a bit of music. Many times a composition is started with an emotional idea which starts as a phrase, and is developed by sometimes changing or adding things which you had no idea would be a part of the piece as you work through it. The end sometimes justifies the means.
Constructing portfolios for clients and managing through various market cycles and life events is much like a musical composition. I think that similarity has helped me in my business. We have to use all our experiences to arrive at who we are, don’t we?
Isn’t it amazing that this interview is happening because of Twitter?
I agree! Many thanks to you for reaching out to me. I think what you are doing is valuable and wish you the best going forward.