Over coffee on a Sunday morning last month I chatted with Robin Kimura, the bandleader of Greenwood, a brass-heavy funk band that played almost every club in Honolulu back in the 70s.
As the driving force behind the 70s Night Club Reunion, Robin recently found a spark of inspiration that renewed his passion for music. He’s led Greenwood in a string of celebrated reunion shows, 20 years after Greenwood disbanded in the 1980s. He also performs with his new group, RKSB, or Royal Kunia Street Band. (Not the Robin Kimura’s Street Band, but close!)
We talked for over an hour. Sharing memories of the golden era of Hawaiian funk music moved Robin emotionally. I could see the nostalgia building in his eyes, almost bringing him to tears… He was overjoyed that a 23-year-old fan wanted to hear his story, to learn about a time that Hawaii’s music scene will never see again.
We had a long conversation, so I’m going to break our interview into parts.
Today, you’ll learn the story behind Greenwood’s sought-after 45 single, featuring their English version of Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Sparkle”.
Scroll down to read the interview excerpt below.
Robin Kimura: “We recorded this thing in, I don’t know, ’84 [1982 to be exact], and it did absolutely nothing over here! But it was more for us, you know. We just wanted to, before we ended it all, at least get a recording … So we said, ‘OK, let’s do a 45, and then maybe we can do an album—ha! (laughs at the idea)'”
Aloha Got Soul: “That was after you broke up?”
Robin Kimura: “After we broke up. We were still kinda in touch with each other and we said, ‘We didn’t the performance thing, what’s missing?’ So that’s what we ended up doing.
“We picked these songs from Japan. A lot of us were listening to different stuff. Couple of us were listening to these bands from Japan and we thought, ‘Wow, these guys are really good. Maybe what we can do is translate it into English. A lot of people don’t know about it so it might be a neat angle.’
“So we did that. It wasn’t the greatest of mixdowns, and when it got translated into vinyl we lost—we lost a lot of frequencies. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted.
“But I think we made about 1000 copies. We went out to the records stores [to sell them] and it was, like, nothing, you know?So I ended up giving up a box to each of the guys and I kept a couple of boxes.
“I don’t know when it was, was it 2006? 2007?”
Aloha Got Soul: “I think your website says 2009.”
Robin Kimura: “Yeah, you’re right, 2009. I got this email outta the clear blue from this company in Japan—I guess vinyl was making a comeback, right, [I’m] oblivious, I didn’t know what the hell’s going on! It’s like,what!?
“But because they were familiar with it… I don’t know how he got his hands on it but he found it somehow, I don’t know if it was Jelly’s or what.
Aloha Got Soul: “People find this stuff.”
Robin Kimura: “I know! They do, right, they’re hunters!
“So they wanted to buy whatever I had and I only could find this one box.
“So we sent it to him and we kinda kept in touch, but then it died after that. But we were just happy—Wow! Someone wants a hundred copies.
“And then about a year afterwards, I guess some of the 45s were circulating around and another company contacted us. These guys were much bigger. That [other] guy had like a boutique store, these guys had like several internet sites under different names and several stores in different cities. So they said, ‘We want to buy whatever you guys have left.’
“I couldn’t find another box, so what we had to do was we had to repress it. But the challenge was—the mixdown tape that we were supposed to have been given by Sounds of Hawaii, which was a studio we were into…
“Well, we didn’t check it. So when we put it on the reel, it somebody else. It was another band! It’s like, ‘Who the hell is this!? They don’t even have brass! They’re playing rock. ‘
“So we were like dead. We didn’t have anything. So what they had to do was, they took our 45 and, you know, digitalized it. And they, they—it was going back and forth, I mean, it was taking forever—they finally got a decent copy. They took like 500 copies, cause we told we had to make 500 copies so they said, ‘We’ll take em’.
“We sent everything. And then around Christmas time we get this email telling us that—I guess they have a Top 40 within their system—right at the New Year’s, for two or three weeks [our 45 record] hit number one! We were like, What!?”
Aloha Got Soul: “It must’ve been because the songs were Japanese, right?”
Robin Kimura: “What is was was the side B, the Tatsuro Yamashita song “Sparkle”. What happened was DJ Muro put it on his Hawaiian CD mix, you know with Aura and everyone, and he started playing in the clubs. And it just caught on.
“Then, they [the Japanese company] ended up taking a couple hundred more after that.
“It was a neat situation for us because we had life after death…”
Stay tuned for more of my interview with Robin Kimura of Greenwood. Mahalo to Rob for the time and memories (and the coffee!).