Mike Lundy’s The Rhythm Of Life is as serious of a ‘holy grail’ as they come. It’s funky as hell and just as rare—an original LP can go for hundreds of dollars. From the opening track “To Love Another” to the ender, “Coming Home (To You Hawaii)”, every song is flawlessly filled with soul, channeled from the furthest reaches possible within one man’s being.
Mike Lundy goes deep, is what I’m trying to say.
I probably say this too often, but with Aloha Got Soul and the people I’ve met through it, I feel like I’m at a point where this passion I’m pursuing has great potential to inspire everyone involved.
At the end of our hour-long conversation, Mike said to me, “This is just the beginning”.
Indeed, and I can’t wait to see what happens for the both of us from here. Thanks, Mike.
UPDATE: As of January 2015, Aloha Got Soul will begin reissuing music from The Rhythm Of Life. The first release will be a 7-inch vinyl single featuring “The Rhythm Of Life” and “Tropic Lightning”.
Let’s start with the basics, where you grew up, where you were born.
I was born and raised here.
Where on the island?
Nu‘uanu. I played for this band when I first started to learn how to play called The Deltones, We were popular for over 10 years, that band stayed together until we grew up and everybody got married or had to go find other jobs.
How old were you?
I started when I was 14, and because we were that young we couldn’t play in the outside clubs, so we went and played on the bases, like Schofield and Wheeler. Because we were in that circuit, we could go in at 14 or 15 because the liquor commission can’t touch that, once you go on base that’s it.
So we were doing that for a long time. What’s interesting is is that when big acts would come and do shows at the Neil Blaisdell Center, they would also tour the service areas. So we were able to be the first act for Fifth Dimensions, The Rascals, O.C. Smith. We actually got a chance to be with them backstage, it was a great experience.
Couple years after that we opened here for the Eagles in the Neil. That was a great experience, a real pro sound crew. They set up a separate PA system for us. You know how most bands use the opening act to test? The [sound] guy said, “No no no, we’re gonna have a separate mix for you so when you guys go on, we don’t have to dick with your sound.” I was like, these guys are super pros.
When was that?
Maybe late 80s.
Still with the Deltones, then?
No, the Deltones had split up. I was with a band called Power And Light, and we did all the—Tommy Arsisto, the jazz saxophone player was in the band, this great trumpet player who’s now doing work up in NYC, Mike Lewis—
All local boys?
Mike was from New York City, Tommy was from here. And then the rest of the guys, too. After that I went on the road for about a year, year-and-a-half, toured extensively all over the US.
Power And Light. But not the same guys, so of them didn’t want to go or couldn’t go. So we had to regroup.
What kind of sound was that?
R&B, funk stuff, dance stuff. Disco, not too much disco, we didn’t like that.
More Tower of Power stuff?
Yeah, and Coldblood. Average White Band. We did all that type of stuff, very influenced by Tower of Power. We got to know the guys in the band, so when they would come here he used to like to circle the island, so we us to take him out and circle the island. And I got some great shots of the drummer playing backstage. He was trying to warm up doing rolls, but he was doing it on a sawed off trumpet stand—so the dot where he was playing was the size of a quarter. It was phenomenol, man, these guys were outrageous!.
When I got the deal to do the LP [The Rhythm Of Life], I had a four or five song demo that I did at the old Sounds of Hawaii, the old recording studio off of Young Street. The guy who owned it was Herb Ono. Herb always liked me and I got a chance to do the demo at his studio for free.
When I was working on that, I wanted to get a good guy to produce. I went to the C&K albums, the Kalapana albums, and I looked at who produced that cause I liked the sound. And it was Barry Fasman. I called him, he lived in LA, and I sent him tapes. He said, OK, your stuff sounds good. So I told him, “I can’t pay you anything, but I’ll pay your room and board.” At that time I was still at my mom’s and grandmother’s house.
Up in Nu‘uanu?
Yeah. So I said I’ll give you cash for food and everything if you could help me. I flew him down and that’s how I got to do the four tunes. Then, when I got that done, I played it for Gary Shimabukuro and he liked it. That’s when I got signed to do this.
What was their reaction to it? Were they like “this is good” or like “Wow! This is—”
They were charged up. What he liked about it was it didn’t sound real local. Nowadays the whole thing is turned around, right? You gotta sound local. What he liked was it could go across the board.
At that time, Rick Smith was the engineer at Broad Recording. Rick had worked with Seawind, he was the assistant engineer back in those days for Frank Zappa. Before he came he, he worked at the Record Plant in LA, so his ears were great ears.
What blew me away was, when we down—the album never got a lot of airplay because…
Because it wasn’t local enough?
No, because Gary Shimabukuro had spent all the money on the album production and he didn’t have enough for promotion. And promotion is the whole deal. You can have something that sounds half good but if it’s good and you got the cash to promote it, you gotta get it out there. You could have the greatest thing but it’s ust gonna sit there if you don’t have any way to get it out.
We remixed the album like three times. That’s roundtrip three times: LA, come back. LA, come back.
It was mixed up in LA?
Yeah, we mixed up at… what was the name of that place? I gotta go back and scrape off the webs. I don’t remember, but it’s on the back cover. I still have one hanging on my wall, after this I can tell you where we had it mastered.
I got a scheduling sheet from the place where we mastered it at. It has in Studio A: Me, Mike Lundy. Studio B: Yes. Studio C: Barbara Streisand. I said, “I’m in good company!” [laughs]
So we mixed it there and of course the rest, well—it didn’t really get any [airplay]. I don’t know where, there’s a whole bunch of them, I don’t know where they are stored. And the sad part is, Broad Recording had a fire and all the masters were totally destroyed. So I don’t have any master tapes of the work, there’s now way to go back and remix.
Now, the only thing I can go on is the CD or my LP, which is the only one I have. Before, I had a box full and I gave them all away back when it first came out. I know that it didn’t sell very well cause it didn’t get airplay, so I knew there must be like 10 or 12 boxes fulls somewhere. There’s probably like a thousand that’s out there.
How many did you guys press?
I don’t remember. That was Gary’s side. The contract made him take care of all that, the pressing and the promotion. All the money stuff and all that.
That was a great experience. Then I came out with the second one on Cool Sound.
Yeah, I wasn’t happy with that one.
You weren’t happy with it?
Let me tell you the story behind that. I liked some of the tunes. A lot of the tunes I would have done over. When I got the call from Cool Sound, I had just remixed my first one. I added more keyboard stuff, some vocal enhancement.
Was that something they commissioned you to do?
No, I did that on my own. There was stuff I didn’t like, too much air in there. Air is good too, but I could stuff that I—when you get older and you move on and you play more, you start to hear more stuff that you can do.
I wasn’t even thinking of being signed, it was just something I was doing on my own in my own studio. I bounced the tracks down on the hard drive and worked with that. Anyway, I get this call and it’s Lance Jyo. He goes, “Mike, this company from Japan wants to re-release your first LP.” Great! I was stoked, of course. He said, “Do you still have it?” Well, I got an album and I just remixed the whole thing on hard drive, which I could dump onto a CD. He said, “OK, great. If you have another CD it would pay more.”
Well, I tell you what, the wheels started spinning in my head and I said, “I’m working on this new thing. I’m at the stages now where I’m almost done with what I would consider a demo, where I would just use that to send it other people, companies, to help my co-produce and go into a real studio and do the whole thing. Do the whole thing right.
But because I was thinking of the money, I said, “I got this second one, it’s out of my home studio and I’m doing everything, all the singing, the playing, I did all the drums myself. And it’s not the preset drums, I did every part. I hit the hi-hat going [thumps on table]. I didn’t use those kits, I did everything. I said, “It’s all me, but it’s okay, but yeah, I got a second CD.” I let him hear it and he said, yeah, okay, good.
But to this day this is my—
—that’s your baby?—
Oh, man. Because it involved so many creative things, the people and everything. That’s what I liked. I’m not a me type of guy. I like the input from other sources, and the mould it. Thats what [The Rhythm Of LIfe] was like, I got input from Gary [Shimabukuro], Rick [Smith] the engineer.
There’s a couple of stories about this black [album]. Rick had accidentally erased vocal tracks that were keepers on this one slow song. Rick calls me up and was like, “Mike! Mike! Let’s go into the studio, we gotta fix this! I screwed up!”
It was like 1 a.m. Between he and I we came up with a whole different section that was actually better than the one that Gary came up with. Gary comes in the next day and Rick goes, “Oh, Gary, I hope you don’t get mad at me but I accidentally wiped some of the tracks.” Gary was all like, “What!?” But Rick said, “Mike and I fixed it”—”When did you fix it”—”oh, last night around 1 a.m., we got done about 3:30.”
We played it back for him and he says, “I’m blown away…”
Was that “Sweet Lady”?
Yeah, it’s the one where I get kinda like the Michael MacDonald thing. Rick said “Let’s try to give it a little Michael MacDonald flair.” So I used that tone of voice and it came out nice, man.
Gary did that whole interlude section on “Coming Home (To You Hawaii)” where it goes with the strings. He said, “Mike, let me do this section. I really like the song and I wanna do something on it.” So he’s actually playing the piano on it.
The second one [Inner Flame] I like because it’s more up in your face stuff as far as frequency. For me, just playing the drums and everything I go, “I wish I had him playing drums and I wish I had him playing bass.”
So you would’ve gotten other musicians to come in?
I probably would have because I like the input. It always makes you grow when you have other things coming in. And sometimes you wouldn’t even think of it being that way, but somebody brings it up and you go, “Yeah! I could swing on that!”
Right now, I haven’t written anything for a long while. But I have a whole lotta stuff, so much stuff from all the years that I have been writing.
Well, I’m curious to see what you have. For me, I started out collecting records. We started sampling records and making hip hop beats, so I would just go out and buy anything. I would pick up a could local stuff, but I didn’t think much of it. Then I went to school in Oregon, when I graduated I lived there for another year. During that time, I had listened to a mix by a DJ in Japan, DJ Muro. He opens that mix with two of your tracks—
—really! Are you serious?—<
Yeah! And so I was listening to that and I was like, “Wait—this is from here?” There was one track by Mackey Feary in there that really clicked. I said, “I know this one. I have this somewhere in my collection.” At that point it clicked for me, there’s gotta be a lot more.
When I moved back—I started documenting when I was still in Oregon—I started meeting all these musicians and all these projects came about…
This is a great thing you’ve got here, Roger, I swear, because it’s not just the typical Jawaiian thing. Which I’m not gonna put down cause it works, and there are some tunes that are great tunes with the whole Jawaiian thing.
But this is so much more diverse, know what I mean? Really opens it up.
For me, there’s a really big culture behind record collecting. People around the world will pay big bucks for an original copy. But for me—
What really did it for me was when Lance went on eBay and found out that my LP, somebody bought it for two grand. I said, that’s great for them! [laughs]
For me, I’ve gone beyond that and I just appreciate the music more than the physical copy.
That’s great, Roger, we need a lot more of you guys.
Cause there’s stories behind everything, and that’s what I’m interested in.
That’s what makes it worthwhile for us, as writers and performers.
I got a real funny story.
When I was 18, 19, that was the peak of the Vietnam War. That’s when they started the draft call. They would usually pull numbers anywhere from 1 to 50, 60, something like that. So everyone who had a number from 1 to 60, you know you would get pulled in. Now, the guys in my band, they all had 200, 320. What did I have? 33. I went, “I’m gona have to go to war.”
So what happened was, because we started as kids with that band—my first band—the parents created a business. We had a business license, we had HMSA, we had the whole bit. And of course, we had to be the minor partner and they were the major partners. But because of that, because of all those years that we created this business, we bought our own van, we bought our own equipment—everything came out of our account. We could even buy our own truck with what we made.
When the draft came and my number was so low, I went to the draft board with the stats. Real pro-like. I was doing it like a business man. I told them, “OK, this is what we made this year, what we made the next year.” You could see the graph going up, and I said, “Right now, I’m in charge of that band. If I go in the draft, I’m gonna have to liquidate everything. Three other guys gonna be out of work, they aren’t gonna have a job anymore.”
I got exempt because I played music.
Isn’t that nuts? Isn’t that cool? Because we had a partnership, because we had the books, the business guys looked at it and they exempted me because of that.
I got out of the draft because I played music!
When you came today, I didn’t even know what you looked like—is he local? Is he part black? But you’re full white and you’ve got this black sound, how did that come about?
I just always have loved soul music. Growing up as kids, we loved that Sly & The Family Stone stuff. I guess it just comes from you gotta go deep. Even now, if you see me perform, I’ve got guys like Gary when they used to watch me played live, they’re like, “Mike, you gotta open your eyes!”
I go, “No! I wanna be in there!” If I open my eyes, it let’s all this other stuff in. A lot of times, when I sing I just close my eyes. But if it’s the local type stuff we do on the boat, I’m looking around cause you gotta smile at the tourists, play the game. But when it comes to it, I still close my eyes when we play “Mustang Sally”.
You’re channeling that—
Yeah, it’s the soul is what it is. And that’s what I told the president of Cool Sound, too [Toshi Nakada]. When he came here, he had an interview with me—the one online [in Japanese]—I said, “We all are the same. Deep inside we’re all the same.” Some people can touch it for other people, and other people appreciate hearing it. I think that’s where it comes from.
I can’t do it any other way.
“We all are the same. Deep inside we’re all the same.”
A lot of people through the years have asked me to teach them guitar, teach them singing. But I’m not a teacher. I have so much respect for ones that teach, that know how to take it from their concept and transfer it to make the other person grasp what’s going on. For me, I just do it. You ask me, “How you do it?” and I’ll say—the easiest thing I can say is that I go very much inside myself. It’s almost like praying. It’s almost like that.
It’s that deep, as far as when I really wanna do it—cause I can do, you know, “Pearly Shells” and the whole thing. When it comes to this kinda stuff [The Rhythm of Life], that’s all of me. That’s all me.
What was the music scene like back then? Everybody I talk to make it sound like it was brewing, there was so much energy going on.
Oh, yeah! There really was a lot of energy going on. It was kinda like the 60s for overall playing all over the world. You know how in the 60s, anything went as far as playing what you wanted to play or how you wanted to play it. Like the whole McCartney, Beatles—all these bands that kinda came out of nowhere. It was a very special time for me. I’m glad I grew up at that time because in Hawaii, it created this thing where every block you walk—in my area, anyway, in Nu‘uanu—you had bands playing. It’s not like that anymore. You don’t hear that anymore. Now there’s guys on skateboards or whatever.
Youth was so locked into playing. I remember the drummer in my first band, The Deltones, lived a couple blocks away from me. Because we were so young, we were 14, we couldn’t drive. He used to tie his drums on his bike and walk it two or three blocks up to my place. We used to come down and help him carry hardware and stuff.
As we walked, we could hear bands playing, like this one house had a band practicing in their house, and this other house had another band. Everybody was so like, “I not gonna let you see my chord, you gotta learn it on your own!” Real kid style, but they was so locked in to playing music.
It’s incredible to imagine so much—
Back then it was so… it kept us out of trouble. You spend your time practicing. You spend your time trying to learn songs. You spend your time rehearsing.
That’s what all these youth were doing. We had a lot of bands floating around.
And it fuels innovation: ‘these guys are doing that? I’m gonna do this then.’
Exactly. In those days we had The Mop Tops, The Val Richards Five, The Kalihi Phantoms, The Kailua Phantoms—there were so many bands. Mega bands.
We used to have Battle of the Bands where the storage place is now on Waialae. That was a big gym and every month they would have Battle of the Bands where 14 bands would show up and and challenge each other. They even got the high school kids involved, they would put out flyers in the high schools: Back up your band! So the place would be jammed, and people would be screaming for their band, holding up banners. It was a whole different social type thing going on—because of the bands, because of the music.
The 60s blew the lid off of everything. Here, it was phenomenal.