Eddie Suzuki's "City Of Refuge" is one of those songs that feels like eternity

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Here's a tune that's been on my radar since at least 2013, maybe even earlier, when I picked up an affordable copy of Eddie Suzuki's LP at the Hawaii Record Fair. I don't remember anything else I bought that day. Just $15 at the time, the album has always been known to me as "New Hawaii". Recently, in researching more about the album's original release in late 1973, I discover that the album is actually entitled "High Tide" and the artist is Eddie Suzuki New Hawaii (or, sometimes, Eddie Suzuki's New Hawaii).

I've been digging through my other notes that I've taken over the years about Eddie, and I came across one from 2014 — a year before launching the label — that had an idea for a 7-inch release with "City Of Refuge" on the A side. 

I don't think I've come across that note since 2014, but I'm not surprised in preparing AGS-036 that "City Of Refuge" was at the top of the list for an A side. After all, it's an immense tune, one that when it hits right will feel like forever.

"City Of Refuge" is an island psych rock rarity that burns blissfully like the Hawaiian sun.

Everyone who hears "City Of Refuge" is taken aback about its power and beauty, perhaps their life's path eternally affected. I know some people who feel just that way, friends I made during a conspicuous weekend of DJing at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. 

Los Angeles' Heat-Wave duo, Daniel T and Wyatt Potts, graciously welcomed us for a 3-day weekender in the middle of the desert, along with guest headliner Lloydski (Tiki Disco, The Lot Radio) and friends Russell Alexander (Babiloina) and Tyler Blake (Classixx), where we spent the days and evenings playing tunes we loved dearly.

One evening in the Amigo Room bar, with things winding down after an extended round of B2B DJing, Dan and friends encouraged me to play the last track of the night. Not entirely sure what to spin, I cued up Eddie Suzuki's "City Of Refuge"... and it blew everyone away! Maybe it was the unexpected mix of psych and sunshine that made the guys lose it. In any case, it sent the night off into at least another hour of tunes.

That moment bound our chance-encounter weekender crew into a cohort of Suzuki-lovin', insider-joke-making, desert-induced-hallucinatory enjoying crew. Lots of laughs to be had, and lots of music to share.

I later went to NY and, with chance having its way, filled in for Lloyd's show on The Lot; months later, I was hanging out with Tyler and his dad in Honolulu; and finally! I ran into Russell in the most serendipitous ways in Tokyo in 2019: twice, first at Ella Records in Yoyogi, then in the suburbs where we (by chance) were both on the same schedule to meet Tokyo's deep crate collector, Dubby.

But I digress. 

"City Of Refuge" is a helluva a tune, and one of many that Eddie Suzuki wrote that was inspired by his love of Hawaii. A 1973 review of the album, High Tide, in the Honolulu Advertiser put it so:

"Eddie Suzuki has been devoting a large part of his life to music. He operates a music shop. He occasionally entertains. Now comes “High Tide,” a Hawaiian album grooved in the contemporary spirit and reflecting the Islands of today.

No, it’s not a rock-out. Rather, it’s one man’s vision — and version — of the now Hawaii. ...the set showcases the lyrical and musical savvy of Suzuki and his “New Hawaii.” It serves a valid purpose of chronicling the sights and scenes of the Hawaii he knows, the Hawaii he loves.

Hence, his themes are geographical (“City of Refuge”) as well as personal."

— Wayne Harada, Honolulu Advertiser, 29 December 1979

Decades later, in 2015, Eddie still espoused this ethos of sharing his version and vision of the Islands. When asked during an interview with Think Tech Hawaii about any advice he'd like to give young artists today, Eddie said:

"I sure would like to see a lot more songwriters and do what they feel like. In other words, writing — to me — the people from Hawaii, born in Hawaii should be able to make the best type of modern Hawaiian music.
In other words, if we do any other type of music, we [are going] in the wrong direction. We're from Hawaii. We were born in Hawaii, we've got the feeling of Hawaii. The music should be Hawaii. Because if we — I feel that when I write music here, I'm top of the line. But if I were to write music about New York, then I'd be the last of the line. So why not do what's best?
And that's what I've been doing. So all of my music is based on my true life in Hawaii and my love for Hawaii. And I'm capable of making it happen. The words, the music, telling stories about my life."

 

His words ring true with me. One of my greatest intentions with Aloha Got Soul is to support artists in doing what they feel like. Creating music that's purely an expression of themselves and/or their experiences, unencumbered by any desire to compose something that might be commercially successful. It has to come from the soul.

Asked about what kind of legacy he'd like to leave behind, Eddie shared that he'd "like to leave my legacy of music behind me, for my family and everything like that. And it's happening”.

Unfortunately, I was too late in reaching Eddie Suzuki before he passed. It was just a week after his death when I called a number I'd found. "Eddie? You're kidding, he just passed away last week." That was tough, but I'm grateful to have had the blessing of his son, Ed Suzuki Jr., in helping keep music from Eddie Suzuki's 1973 album alive. 

Order a copy of "City Of Refuge" on vinyl here, and find it on digital platforms on October 6th, 2020.


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