"Tender Leaf has arrived" - an interview with Murray Compoc Spencer


(This post has been updated since its original version first appeared)

Today marks an important moment in Aloha Got Soul's existence, as well as the history of Hawaiian music (in my opinion, at least). I've been lucky enough to interview—let alone track down—Murray Compoc Spencer, the lead singer from Tender Leaf.

Tender Leaf was a band from the 1980s whose sound could be described as easy-going soul with essences of psychedelic music. Its two founding members, Murray Compoc and Darryl Valdez, first met while working as drivers of the city bus (aka The Bus).

They discussed music and jammed together, eventually forming a band. Both Compoc and Valdez wrote most of the material on the group's solitary album, Tender Leaf, recorded in 1982 at Seawest Studios (then located) in Hauula, Oahu.

Band members included:

Murray Compoc :: guitar, lead vocals
Darryl Valdez :: lead & rhythm guitar, backup vocals
John Franklin :: lead & rhythm guitar
Patrick Caraulia :: conga, backup vocals
Bob Hernandez :: bass V
ince Ostertag :: drums
Kit Ebersbach played keyboards and produced the album


Flash forward to the new millenium, and the album is one of the most desirable contemporary Hawaiian LPs out there. Cool Sound Japan (aka Cool Hawaii) reissued Tender Leaf in 2003 on CD (and vinyl, I think).

*UPDATE: In 2010, another CD reissue was made in Korea by BellaTerra, a label run by a former staffer of Riverman Music (which distributes BellaTerra releases locally). Big Pink Music (or maybe Riverman Music, hard to tell). Here's the summary that's been floating around:

Tender Leaf, released on Tender Leaf Records. Here it is, a ultra rare vinyl of one of the most sought after Hawaii Contemporary LPs. Here's some more on the group - Tender Leaf is not known generally because the group "Tender Leaf" was not a professional group and the album is released by themselves under their own label, Tender Leaf Records, only in Hawaii. You should admit this album is surely one of the most comfortable Hawaiian albums full of the free-soul feeling. Highly recommended for Hawaiian AOR fans.

Yet despite the numerous reissues and new fans (and money) being made, none of its band members knew this was happening. Compoc was surprised to learn people still listened to the album. To date, he hasn't heard from any of the labels who reissued the album. *UPDATE: Cool Sound licensed their CD reissue through Kit Ebersbach.

Let's give Murray the floor to tell his story.

You grew up in Hawaii Kai and raised a family there, right? Now you're in Tennessee, how'd you end up so far from the islands?

About 13 years ago I started singing country music. I took on the stage name of "Mack Spencer" and formed the band named "Mack Spencer and Renegade". Within a year we became the number 1 country band in Hawaii. It was then that I recorded a CD titled "American Dream" . We played in all the country clubs on Oahu along with various special venues like Hydrofest, Pearl Harbor 4th of July, Miss Universe Pageant 1998. and various benefits.

To make a long story short, I was made a bunch of promises to come to Nashville to persue a solo career. When I got to Nashville all the promises were broken and money taken. A typical story here in Nashville from what I've been told.

What connections have you kept since leaving Hawaii?

Mostly family and a few friends. I come back to visit every couple of years or so.

Going back, how did Tender Leaf form as a band? Have you kept in contact with the other band members?

Darryl Valdez and I drove the city bus. We became friends and would discuss music together. Before we knew it we were playing and singing at each others house. You know, just jamming together. I haven't kept in contact with anyone. The band members all went our separate ways with our lives.

What local artists/groups influenced you? (personally and as a band)

We all pretty much were influenced be the groups of the 70's in Hawaii. Guys like C&K, The Beamers, Kalapana, etc. A couple of the guys were actually rockers but decided to give local music a try.

From your perspective, how would you describe the music on the LP?

Laid back, easy listening. You know, stuff you would listen to at a gathering or just sitting around with some friends drinking beer.

Did Tender Leaf perform any gigs?

Not really. We didn't stay together long enough. We played the usual gigs like weddings and parties.

There are two major themes in the song lyrics, "the beautiful countryside," and "enjoying what we have now before it's gone." What part of your life experiences influenced these lyrics? Were you reaching out to anyone specific?

I really don't know about Darryl but for me, Beautiful Hawaii Kai was like remembering things in High School. But yeah, pretty much things that might have happened to me or around me. I think just expressing myself.

You and Darryl Valdez wrote the majority of the songs on the album. What was he like to work with?

It was funny. We just seem to click off of each other, you know feed on each other. On the songs we wrote together, one would do a line and the other would do the next line. He was a very good guitarist and showed me some chords I never saw before. Loved him man, he's a really good guy and regret not keeping in contact with him.

Who is M. Motas, composer of the song "Coast to Coast", and how did the song end up on the album?

I used to jam around with him. His name is Mike Motas. He also lived in the same apartment complex as me. He just came up to me and asked me to listen to this new song he made. I thought it was great and decided to record it when the time came. He was pretty stoked.

I had a dream last night that I found some 45s with non-album songs credited to Tender Leaf. Were there any songs that didn't make the album?

No, I'm not aware of any extra songs floating around. I believe everything we wrote was on the album.

The album was produced by the prolific Hawaiian musician/producer Kit Ebersbach, who has worked with everyone from Kirk Thompson to Jasmine Trias. How did he end up working with Tender Leaf?

He was referred to us by Pierre Grill I believe. At the time Kit was looking for a group to produce or help with an album.

How did you know Pierre Grill?

I believe it was through Ron Tish who helped with the pressing of the albums. Then again it might have been a mutual friend of Kit.

Did the album have a label/distribution deal? Or was it up to Tender Leaf to sell the LPs at local music stores, etc?

No label no deal, everything was left up to me. I didn't have any connections and not much experience so it was kinda hard. I did what I could with what spare time I had. Got it played on KCCN for a little while and distributed through a few record stores.

On recording the album, what details do you remember?

Seawest Studios was where we recorded at. It was located in Hauula. Very nice and relaxing. Great people to work with. We had to record at night from midnight until whenever, since we all worked during the day. If I remember right it took 4 or 5 days to record. We all just tried to enjoy ourselves, you know just have a good time make it a fun experience. We all had never recorded before so there was a lot to learn.

What's the story behind the cover illustration?
On the cover we just wanted something local. The illustration is in Waikiki. I wanted to be like a Peter Max type deal so the fans could color in the album if they wanted to. You know, Peter Max school folders were quite a big thing in the 70's. Then you have the people pointing at the leaf coming out of the sky to say, "Tender Leaf has arrived."
Have you kept any memorabilia of Tender Leaf? Photos, etc.
No not really. We didn't last very long. Between us not being patient enough and all of us having different things we had to attend to, you know, typical story.
Let's talk about the LP being reissued in Japan—and most recently in Korea. Apparently the label was unable to track any of you guys down. Do you know anything about these unauthorized reissues? As an artist, how does this make you feel?

Nope, wasn't aware of it being reissued. Didn't even realize we were still being listened to by anyone much less having the album still be bought. Nobody ever contacted me. Makes me very upset since it was my money that was used to make the album. I'd sure like to receive a cut of the pie. It would only be fair right?

Have you tried to contact the label(s) who have reissued the album?

I saw something on the internet and tried to contact them at one time and got absolutely nothing. It would not connect to the address given. I became quite frustrated and disappointed and just gave up.

The Japanese CD reissue states "Under License from Pacific Music Productions, Inc." Do you know of PMP?

No never heard of PMP!

*UPDATE: Pacific Music Productions, Inc. is a company of Kit Ebersbach.

Are you happy that people still like Tender Leaf?

I love that people are still listening to and enjoying the music. That's what you do for don't you? It always makes me happy that someone enjoys your music, it's the ultimate.

Are you still making music today?

You know I moved to Nashville 11 years ago and tried. But, unless you know someone in the industry or have tons of money, it's pretty hard over here. I was in a couple of bands but, they either wanted to stay garage type bands or wanted instant fame. Neither type worked for me.

So now I have a regular job and living a regular life. But you know what? I sure miss singing and performing. It's a hard thing to get out of your system.

Is there anything else you'd like to add or say?

Nope, but could sure use the royalties or something. It would be nice. Thanks for the interest and time. Aloha from Tennessee.

***Interviewed via email on September 24 and October 8, 2010***

Thank you readers for reading this far, and a huge mahalo to Murray for his time and memories.

A few notes before I go:

Mahalo to Drew Spencer for connecting me with Murray! And a big thanks to Mark Taylor of the Happy Jazz Show for hipping me to the album.

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