Last update: 31 August 2011
I set myself up for a lot of work when I interviewed Robin Kimura of Greenwood. Robin had so many stories to tell, and I’ve been typing as fast as I can to get his words down.
So I gave Part 3 the chance to go uninterrupted for most of the excerpt. We talked about Hawaii’s high school dance circuits, intermediate school, Waikiki night clubs, the Spence Cliff restaurant chain,
Robin Kimura: I play for another cover band called RKSB with some of the Greenwood guys. It stands for Royal Kunia Street Band, but it’s so long and everyone screws it up so we just say ‘RKSB’. Well you know there’s RKSB, there’s Powerhouse, Funkshun. When Greenwood got back together, when I first approached the guys in 2005 to do the first reunion, I think everybody understood that we didn’t want to get into a routine—cause it’s real easy to get into a rut after nine years of playing.
So we said, let’s keep this a reunion band. What we’ve been able to do, probably cause we don’t see each other all the time, is—with this band that I have, I call it our Point After band, it was the last Greenwood band we had, and we’ve been together now for seven years! This band was together for like, maybe a year, year-and-a-half with these members So we were way, way longer [together] than we had been [before]. I think this was the closest band, we kinda became a family.
When we did this reunion thing, it was a good thing for a lot of us. A lot of us were going through different personal things in our life, and it was one of these blessings that gave us energy, rejuvenated us, you know. It helped us through some tough times. We’re at that age where we’re losing parents, family members. Some of ’em are going through rough family times, you know, situations and stuff. It’s just a good thing, you know.
So we said, why don’t we finish this recording thing that we didn’t finish? Let’s do a CD. Doesn’t matter if it sells or not. We have a concept for it, the angle we want to take is—we’re not into originals, we wrote a bunch of ’em but what we wanted to do was—you know, what the 70s Night Club Reunion showed us was that truly, that period of time with Hawaiian entertainment, contemporary entertainment [in Hawaii] was very special. It was at its height, you know?
Aloha Got Soul: Did you know it at the time?
Robin Kimura: No. I don’t think any of us knew. We were just riding the tide, right. It was the thing to do, right.
What do you do?—You start off playing high school circuits, right. ‘Oh! Let’s get a band together!’ You know, everybody was doing that!
Aloha Got Soul: What was that all about, the high school circuits?
Robin Kimura: Well, I wanted to—I got into…my first album, rock album, contemporary album, was Rolling Stones Greatest Hits, you know, “Satisfaction”. There was a garage band that used to practice in the garage [near my house] and they used to play “Good Lovin'” by the Rascals, “Gloria” by Van Morrison, and “Hang On, Sloopy” by the McCoys, and “Satisfaction“. I used to just wait for them to practice! Sit across the street on the stone wall and I just loved it, you know?
So in 6th grade, my classmates and us we formed this lip-syncing band. We were doing like “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” by Crazy Elephant and “Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock, you know, Paul Revere and the Raiders “Louie Louie”. My dad cut out this fake guitar for me! It was just lip-syncing, right, just playing around.
And then to intermediate school: shock, change of life. From a small private school, Buddhist private school to, like, public school! It was like, holy crap where did these assholes come from!?—oh, sorry—but I was probably the worst guy in my school, and these guys are like criminals! They’re 7th, 8th, 9th grade and they’re asking me for money!
So I survived that, but as I got to the 9th grade and—you know, it was a new school but [when] you’re in third year you know everybody, right? That music thing, I kept on buying records and stuff.
One day, our drummer—or he became our drummer. I remember we were talking, I said ‘You know what, we should form a band. I think I’ll play bass, cause it only has four strings, it’s easier. [laughs]
Little did I know that, you know, four strings but there’s a lot going on. And then I said, ‘You play anything?’ He said, ‘Oh I took drums in 7th grade’. I said, ‘OK, buy a drumset, you’re my drummer!’ I kinda forced him to buy a drumset.
So then I said, we gotta get guys, man! So we raided the band guys and said, ‘OK, I need to know who’s the first and second trumpets…No, the first, second and third in case on of those two guys don;t want to come. I want the same thing with the trombones and the same thing with the saxes.’
And that’s how we got our brass players: we went to them—they were pretty much concert guys [who didn’t play much contemporary music]:
‘You want to play in a band?’
‘We gonna play Chicago.’
And we found our keyboard player, found our—you know, just got started over there.
High school dances were a big thing during that whole time. Manoa Gym was a big one, we never got to play there cause they shut that thing down.
Aloha Got Soul: How often did these dance things go on?
Robin Kimura: Every week. Friday and Saturday. You wouldn’t believe it Roger, I mean, on a given night, maybe 5 or 6 of them going on at different high schools.Back then, it was different. The high schools, we played at so many high schools. I mean I can tell you, we played dance parties—Kaimuki High School gym was, after Manoa closed, that was the place. [If] you made it to Kaimuki, that was it! Wow, that’s big time!
St. Louis, we played there a lot. We played at Kalani, Roosevelt—in fact, our stuff got ripped off at Roosevelt in between bands! And they had to shut the thing d—I still remember White Light was playing, we had our stuff in the van. I think we played already and we were watching them, and our van, all our cars got hit. They shut down the dance.
I recovered my stuff the next day cause our booking agent called me and said, ‘I found some stuff in the bushes, try go back.’ They stole our monitors! Kinda heavy, yeah? So I went back the next morning—nobody wanted to come with me:
‘You wanna come wit me?’
‘Uhh I tired…’
‘Ah you dicks!’
I had to go by myself! I was like, oh shit I hope these guys don’t come back! So I’m looking behind the bushes, and there was like a hill. I thought, crap, I’ll walk up there and I saw something shiny. It was our speaker, they just dumped it cause it was too heavy to carry. I took one in each hand, running down the hill—you know how you get that superhuman strength, right—throw ’em in my car…
But sorry to digress. We played at Nanakuli, Kailua, you name it.
Aloha Got Soul: Who ran these shows?
Robin Kimura: A lot of these were fundraisers. A lot of them were organized by social clubs.
Aloha Got Soul: What are social clubs?
Robin Kimura: Social clubs—oh, that’s a great one, Roger! …OK, imagine this: You get a group of either girls or guys—it was either a girls or guys kinda club—so girls would get their friends, guys would get their friends. And then they would have an advisor, which is one older person. It could be, if you were a middle school club, an older advisor could be in high school.
And you make cards, right. The whole thing about that word ‘social’ was for these clubs to meet up, and they would have a social, a club social. And they would invite a club of the opposite sex over to meet, mingle, and you know some of them became girlfriend-boyfriend. But it would be lotta times at somebody’s house, it would be sponsored by one of the members. They would do games, interactive stuff, it was huge.
If you look at my annual, from my high school, there’s a section just for clubs.
Aloha Got Soul: And you would do everything from small get-togethers to gym dances?
Robin Kimura: What happened with those guys is, they would raise money so they could do things like neighbor island trips and everything. So they would organize a fundraiser.
One of my fondest memories were from a [social] club called Memories. They had the cutest of all the girls, right. I mean, literally, if you were a dog you weren’t gonna be in there! You had to be the best of the best. So they would put on a dance at Kaimuki gym and they would make the flyer and everything say ‘Sponsored by Memories’.
A typical dance would have three bands.And back then you would either independently book them which was very hard, or you would join a booking service. We were part of Hawaii Booking Services, with White Light, Natural High—a lot of us were a part of that.
And they owned the [band’s] name, so when you left you had to change your name. Like New Experience, they changed to The Krush afterwards. They were Exotic Five before that I think, I forget. Ashberry was Sage before. Natural High was Talisman. That was just part of it.
If you were an upcoming band and you needed exposure they would put you in the middle of three bands. So the first and last band would play one hour, the middle band would play hour-and-a-half.
Usually, the tail-end bands were the veteran bands. Let’s say you got a call and said, “You guys are gonna play Nuuanu High first from 7:30 to 8:30. Then you’ve gotta pack up and you’re gonna go to Kaimuki High School and you’re gonna finish up the night. You’re gonna play from 10:30 to 11:30.
That’s how it was. We had a lot of these nights where we had to move from one place to—one night we play at three places! We played at the State Fair, the Maryknoll High School gym, and then we had to go to the Magic Mushroom, which was a club on, um, Ala Moana Boulevard. It’s still there, it’s called the Gold Bond Building.
That [Magic Mushroom] was like a stepping stone into Waikiki because a lot of us—White Light, Natural High, Greenwood, New Experience—a lot of us played there first before we went to Waikiki. That’s where we got the first feel of ‘club’ from [being on] the high school circuit.
Aloha Got Soul: And how old were you guys? 10th grade?
Robin Kimura: We were probably by then seniors, 12th grade. We paid our dues by playing on the high school circuit.
Aloha Got Soul: Most bands did that, right?
Robin Kimura: Yeah, you went up the ranks.
It was $10 all-you-can-drink for guys. $5 all-you-can-drink for girls. But, you know, cheap liquor, everything was through guns. They would have these big bottles of vodka that went ‘pchou‘ when it came outta the gun [and was only a small amount]. The orange juice was made out of Start, which was like Tang. It was powdered drink.
So that’s how we got our start: Social clubs, putting on these dances, being a part of it; and the graduating into the nightclub circuit. Of course getting in to Waikiki was the ultimate goal.
Aloha Got Soul: Was it tough?
Robin Kimura: It was tough. First of all there were a lot of bands, not only local bands, but bands from the mainland. Mean really great bands. So after a while you kinda got a feel of the different houses and who would play different houses. There were a lot of clubs.
Spence Cliff was big. Spence Cliff Restaurants, they’re gone now, but they had a lotta lot of different restaurants around town, I mean, all over the place. They controlled several big clubs. Hawaiian Hut which is attached to the Ala Moana Hotel, if you go on Atkinson [Drive], it’s that bowl-looking thing at the end of the building. That’s actually going to be turned into a worship hall. Ala Moana Hotel was converted into like a condo, more like a time-share, and it’s owned by a Jewish church.
That’s where guys like Phase 7 played, and this unreal band called the Sound Barrier, from Seattle I think. They only had like five guys, no bass, keyboard bass, couple brass players. They were unreal.
Manila Machine from the Philippines. You know Eddie Ramirez who played with Phase 7? The trumpet player? He was with them, he was also with the Society of Seven. He was a very renowned trumpet player and orchestra leader from the Philippines when he came over here.
And so Spence Cliff had Hawaiian Hut. The Hula Hut, which was Natural High’s place, they were on Beachwalk [Blvd.], they’re gone now. It was called the New Tokyo Restaurant first, and Liz Damon got here start in there. I remember here opening up.
And the Tiki in International Market Place is kinda still there. Waikiki Beef ‘n’ Grog is now where the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is. The Cock’s Roost is also in the International Market Place, kinda at the top. they had the Point After, at the Hawaiian Regent, that was where we ended up at. That was where Aura and Power Point played. Toward the time we ended up there it was the club.
And then you had the Sting, which was in Prince Kaiulani Hotel, they had a different crowd. I wanna say the majority of people who came to our stuff were not the Sting crowd, they were more the Spence Cliff, C’est Si Bon-type crowd.
And then the Infinity, which was at the Sheraton Waikiki, it was downstairs. In fact, right when you walk up to the hotel you’d go down the stairs and it was a big room down there. There were a lot of mainland bands, like the Burgundy Express, they were frickin’ awesome, they were so good. And then the Louis and Clark Expedition, they had like, I swear, like 12 guys. But had two guys fronting the band, Louis and Clark, a white singer and a black singer, and a big band.
Those two bands were in there a lot, the Kasuals played there, Phase 7 went into there, but it was primarily mainland bands.
And on top of that, you had a lot of different, small clubs all over the place. So on any given night people can do the club hopping, you could do 2-3 clubs, it was crazy. I mean, week nights, now. You talking seven nights a week. It was feverish for a couple years, and then eventually went down. Everything is cyclical.
It was heightened by Saturday Night Fever, when that happened, at Point After they’d have a John Travolta dance contest on Monday nights when we played, and if you won you’d get to go to the Point After in Japan. The Point After was out of Dallas, I think, so there was one in Dallas and one in Japan, one in Honolulu, I think one in Seattle, one on the East Coast.
Eventually, you could start to tell that the support wasn’t there. I can’t remember if it was a recessional thing but the clubs would start cutting back, they would eliminate off-night bands.
Aloha Got Soul: Off-nights means?
Robin Kimura: That’s when the regular bands would take one night off. That’s what we [Greenwood] ended up doing, instead becoming a full-time band at one place, which we said weren’t gonna do. Of course, we did the exact opposite because we played full-time off-nights.
At one point we were playing Sunday nights at C’est Si Bon for the Kasuals, Monday night at the Hula Hut for Natural High, Tuesday at Tiki for White Light, and Wednesday for whoever was at the Beef ‘n’ Grog, at one time it was Golden Throat with Nohelani. Everybody else played there, Krush was in there when they were called New Experience. So we were moving every night.
We had Thursday off, and then we played Fridays and Saturdays at dances or weddings. Or we went to Kauai Resort, played there Friday Saturday, come back Sunday and play at C’est Si Bon.
[…parts of the interview were not transcribed…]