Interview: Checo Tohomaso Still Sounds Fresh

The conversations I’ve had with local musicians over the past few years have taught me that so many of Hawaii’s artists reach great heights in their careers, but their achievements don’t register on the consciousness of today’s generation.

Michael Paulo was one of Al Jarreau‘s closest collaborators, Gabe Baltazar heralded a golden era of jazz in Hawaii, Kalapana broke nationally and beat out big-name artists on trending charts, Checo Tohomaso joined Marvin Gaye‘s band in 1980 on a tour throughout Europe.

The man with the afro is Checo Tohomaso.

The man with the afro is Checo Tohomaso, with his band, Nova.

These musicians deserve our attention

Hawaii’s artists deserve more recognition for their contributions to modern day soul, funk, jazz, rock, pop, and all types of music. No matter how big (here’s lookin’ at you, Bruno) or small their contributions, we should be paying attention.

Checo Tohomaso’s enthusiasm alone deserves merit—did you see him jumping joyfully during Marvin’s Montreaux performance? His equally energetic music with Nova beckons to be heard by a wider audience today.

I gave a brief background on Checo in my previous post. We’ve had several conversatioins on the phone before I met him in person. He lives in Cananda and visited Honolu for a brief trip in July, 2012. We met over dinner (chicken katsu with brown rice and a big bowl of salad at Zippy’s) and talked about his experiences.

My Interview with Checo Tohomaso

Checo listening and singing to Nova on my iPhone.

Checo listening and singing to Nova on my iPhone.

Aloha Got Soul: I’ve heard a lot about the Point After, it was the top spot.

Checo: A lot of celebrities used to go there. The bands, and the—see, once we did the Blaisdell Center, we was one of the top bands of the island because you just don’t put anybody on the Blaisdell Center.

Especially with Donald Byrd, yeah?

Yup. [*Trumpeter Donald Byrd passed away on February 4, 2013. Rest In Peace.]

Nova performed with Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds (here, mispelled as "Nove").

Nova performed with Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds (here, mispelled as “Nove”).

Is this yours? (referring to the toasted bread slice on the table.)

No, it’s yours. I think it goes with the salad.

I don’t eat white bread.

Wheat?

Whole wheat.

I got brown rice.

That’s right! Hey brah, they say “if you eat brown you’ll stay around.”

No soda?

No. I like guava juice though, all natural.

So you’re in Canada now?

I’m in two places, Vancouver and Victoria. I go, in fact you’ve seen everything on the website [VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir]. We do jazz festivals now. I did one a couple weeks ago in Victoria.

So we still keeping soul alive, you know.

Checo Tohomaso directs the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir. Photo: Hilight Photography

Checo Tohomaso directs the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir. Photo: Hilight Photography

I wonder what ever happened to Lisa Long, did you ever find her? (Lisa was a singer in Checo’s band, Nova)

I haven’t, I tried to track her down.

I wonder what happened to her, she had a beautiful voice.

How’d you meet her?

We was doing a concert, and she came up to me and said that she could sing. I said, Really? Well, I have a band. She said I like you guys, if you ever need any singers, call me. So I called her, and she was a good fit with the band [Nova].

Back cover of the Nova LP. Lisa Long is the blonde woman, top middle.

Back cover of the Nova LP. Lisa Long is the blonde woman, top middle.

She was a songwriter too, right?

Her sister wrote us a song, “New Love Carry Me Away”. That was about, her sister was going through a divorce.

And [the song] “I Feel Like Gettin’ Down”, I got inspired by Marvin Gaye “Got To Give It Up”, cause we got a bunch of people in the studio saying “Braddah, I got to get down!”. And I made it high school friendly, it goes “Been in school from 8 to 3, working hard on my basic skills,” you know? It’s a Friday night, you know. It was about not doing anything you shouldn’t be doing. It’s a good party album, feel good all around.

Back then all those bands was positive: Kool & The Gang, Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire. It was all uplifting, it was all high energy. Still with EW&F, “Do You Remember”, everybody go crazy when that comes on.

It still sounds fresh.

Did you guys do a lot of covers at your shows?

Yeah, “Play That Funky Music White Boy”, “Do The Hustle”, “Strawberry Letter 23”. And in Hawaii, everyone likes the romantic songs: “The Closer I Get To You”, “Three Times A Lady”—which, people are still playing those songs! Romance will never die.

Nova, live at the Polynesian Room, Naniloa Surf.

Nova, live at the Polynesian Room, Naniloa Surf.

So what, do the young guys go out dancing in the clubs? Or is it not like that anymore?

There’s a lot of dance, hip-hop, rap, Jawaiian. I don’t really go out much honestly. I’ve been out to Jazz Minds, in fact Michael Paulo was playing there the other night. He had about 10-12 musicians in the crowd coming up to play. At one point he had two bass players on stage.

Oh really? That sounds crazy, eh?

I like the live music, the improv.

Well, check this out: In 1979—you would’ve loved this—George Benson and Marvin Gaye was in a small place in Maui for New Year’s Eve, just jamming. Can you imagine that?

And you were there with them?

Yeah.

Wow! How did you meet Marvin?

Through a promoter. I was with Nova, and Marvin was looking for some musicians on the island—

To do a show on the islands?

—yup, we did one show. it was at the [Waikiki] Shell. And then after that, he was gonna get on a plane to go back to LA, but he didn’t get on—he wanted to stay [in Hawaii].

How long did he stay?

Almost a year. He was here from October 1979, cause we had Thanksgiving in Hawaii Kai with Famous Amos the cookie guy, he live on the island. And there was another guy, what was his name…Arthur…I can’t remember now… But Marvin’s second wife was there.

We was there for Thanksgiving in November, 1979. And then Marvin’s wife left and Marvin stayed on the island, and then left in July [1980] to do this tour [in Europe].

And he invited you along?

Yes.

Itinerary from Marvin Gaye's 1980 Europe Tour. Checo keeps these memorabilia stored safely.

Itinerary from Marvin Gaye’s 1980 Europe Tour. Checo keeps these memorabilia stored safely. (Click image for full resolution)

Some of the guys in Paramour did the tour too, right?

Paramont, yes. Two of the singers and another guy, Frankie, from Paramont. [*Note: I checked, and it’s Paramour, the local soul-funk group that released an LP called “Highly Recommended”.]

Actually, that was the last Motown tour Marvin ever did. After that, he went with Columbia, that’s when he did “Sexual Healing”.

That must’ve been something else! Touring with Marvin.

Hey brah, just get the DVD! There’s a DVD out, and you can see me playing with him!

Oh, okay!

“Live from Montreaux, Switzerland” [*You can watch the entire concert on YouTube].

I saw that on your tour schedule.

Yeah. We did a television thing, and they made a DVD out of it. And a CD! And my credits are on there, Checo Tohomoso, percussions and vocals. “Live from Montreaux, Switzerland”.

Wow.

Actually, you can look online and see it of him doing “How Sweet It Is”, the intro of it there’s a pan of me singing—Marvin doing a vocal intro and me coin’ all this vocalism.

Hey I think I heard that one [on YouTube].

Man he hit those notes up there like that, y’know. Thank God I can still sing those high notes for my choir. That’s another reason why I eat healthy man, drink a lot of water, guava juice.

Yeah! I bike everyday to work.

Man, you in shape!

It’s 5 miles a day.

5 miles a day, really, eh? How long you been doing that?

Hmm, over a year now.

Really? No wonder you in shape, brother! You don’t have no fat, you should be going to the Olympics man!

Do you still keep in touch with the musicians from Nova?

Al, the guy that looks like Rod Stewart, he lives in Seattle. And one other guy live in California, he’s a comedian now. But I don’t know where any of the other guys are. I wish I could find Lisa Long.

I’ll try to find her.

She used to live in Pearl City, that’s where she used to live…

Nova, an obscure funk-disco outfit from Honolulu, 1980.

Nova, an obscure funk-disco outfit from Honolulu, 1980.

Checo back in the day with Nova.

Checo back in the day with Nova.

Mahalo to Checo for being a friend and sharing his love of music!

If you missed out on Checo’s story, check out this post and this one about Nova, his Honolulu band from circa 1976-1980.

6 thoughts on “Interview: Checo Tohomaso Still Sounds Fresh

  1. Dee Goard says:

    Lisa Long~Hess is a long time childhood friend and still lives in Pearl City and is as beautiful and talented as ever. I really enjoyed reading this article and hope for a reunion one day. AWESOME!!

  2. Belinda Long_Chang Lisa's sister says:

    I Remember the good old days and Chico! What a good fun time! When Chico got started the whole stage would shake…once he got started there would be no stopping. A true musician and song writer, full of life and soul…the music would just run right through him whenever he would sing, write or play. He would encourage me to sing high and when I did his butt would lift off the piano chair or his head would swing left to right. I wish I wasn’t so shy about my voice…I should have listened to Chico…he knew what he was talking about. It was a honor to create and play many of nights with Nova back in the Day. Mahalo Chico for Blessing us all with your talent and encouragement. I will never forget the times we played on my Moms piano and put together a bunch of good sounds…and you bringing life to feelings through your talent to share with the world. Best Days of my life! Mahalo Chico and Aloha to you always!!

    • Belinda Long_Chang Lisa's sister says:

      The previous comment was Lisa’s posted on fb that I cut and pasted for Checo to see…Lisa still lives in Pearl City

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