Friday Five: Hawaii Five-0

Juli Thanki | August 21st, 2009

50 years ago today, Hawaii became the 50th state of the union. Now, I’ve never actually been there, so my knowledge of the Aloha State comes from two great educators: television and music. But since nobody wants to read about the Saved By The Bell episode where the acid-wash aficionados get lei-d, we’ll be focusing on the latter. Here are a few performers who’ve taken a shine to Hawaiian music during their careers.


Stars and Stripes Forever” by Jake Shimabukuro
Shimabukuro is to ukulele what Chris Thile is to mandolin. His breakneck version of this Sousa march (on roots comp Song of America) really needs to be heard.

5. Hank Snow
After a childhood spent in Nova Scotia, it’s no surprise that the sandy beaches and blue waters of Hawaii appealed to Hank Snow, who released Snow in Hawaii in 1967. My favorite song of the bunch is “Tradewinds,” and “Hula Love” went to #21 on the country charts. But “Blue for Old Hawaii” and “Bluebird Island” (a duet with Anita Carter), are must-listens as well.

4. Elvis Presley
I have a strange fondness for Elvis: Truck Driving Elvis, Army Elvis, Comeback Elvis…it doesn’t matter. Perhaps my strangest fondness of them all is the one I have for 1961 guilty pleasure film Blue Hawaii and its soundtrack. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is the song that everybody knows, and as for the rest of the album? There’s some excellent country-tinged music (courtesy of the Jordanaires, Hank Garland, and Floyd Cramer) some good songs (“Ku-U-I-Po” being one of them), and a couple that give you good insight as to just why Elvis spent so much of his later career stoned out of his mind. Nevertheless, it’s worthy of a listen on a lazy summer afternoon.

In 1973, Elvis returned for his Aloha from Hawaii telecast. The television special aired in 40 countries, and the record went platinum five times over. The album as a whole is a treat for any Elvis fan, but be sure to listen to his covers of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

3. Jimmie Rodgers
In the 1920s, a Hawaiian music trend swept America, which scholars Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber trace back to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Held in San Francisco, it exposed countless Americans to the irresistible sounds of steel guitar and ukulele. Jimmie Rodgers wasn’t immune to the craze; he recorded “Everybody Does It In Hawaii” in 1929 with the help of native Hawaiian steel guitarist Joe Kaipo and American guitar and ukulele combo Billy and Weldon Burkes. The Burkes brothers would accompany Rodgers on several other recordings including one of his best: “Train Whistle Blues.”

Rodgers’ affinity for Hawaiian music influenced numerous performers including the excellent yodeling guitarist Cliff Carlisle, who’s also deserving of your attention.

2. Marty Robbins
Marty Robbins released a boatload of excellent Hawaiian-influenced music during his career, including Song of the Islands and Hawaii’s Calling Me. These records are highly recommended by yours truly; at the very least, give a listen to “Drowsy Waters” and Robbins’ gorgeous falsetto on “Aloha Oe” and “Ka Lu A (Love Song of Kalua).” It’s also suggested that you check out some videos on YouTube, if only to see a ukulele-strumming Robbins in the super sexy combo of long-sleeved Hawaiian shirt and electric blue pants.

1. Jerry Byrd
This Ohio-born steel guitar legend is one of the greatest underappreciated artists in country music history. You’ve almost certainly heard him, even if you don’t know it.

He picked up the steel guitar as a young teen during the Great Depression; in the late 1940s he briefly toured with Ernest Tubb & The Texas Troubadours and later joined up with Red Foley. Byrd was also in high demand as a session musician, recording with Tubb, Grandpa Jones, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Hank Williams (that’s him on “Lovesick Blues”) and Cowboy Copas, to just name a few. In the 1970s, Byrd tired of the Nashville Sound and the popularity of pedal steel; he relocated to Hawaii where he focused his attention on traditional Hawaiian music before passing away due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease in 2005. However, his amazing influence lives on, as several of his compositions—“Steelin’ the Blues” is just one—have become steel standards.

If the above doesn’t convince you of Jerry Byrd’s incredible influence on the world of country music, remember that he once signed a young Dolly Parton to a record deal. ‘Nuff said.

  1. Chris N.
    August 21, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    The sad part: For about six percent of the people reading this, the fact that Hawaii is a state will come as news.

  2. Rick
    August 21, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Even sadder is that for one fateful day back in 1961 Hawaii recognized a baby born in Kenya as being delivered in Hawaii just to make sure he’d qualify decades later as a “Natural Born Citizen”….(lol)

    I’d like to nominate “My Isle of Golden Dreams” by The Miller Sisters who recorded the song for Sam Phillips’ SUN label back in 1955. Marty Robbins also loved that song but I’ll take the Miller’s version any day of the week.

    Also I nominate The Wild Jimbo’s original version of “Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian” and the Japanese group Petty Booka’s wacky cover as well! To me this is the ultimate Hawaiian country song! (lol)

  3. Ron
    August 21, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Rick – Not sure what you mean by original but “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” was written and originally performed by John Prine. I listened to the Wild Jimbos and Prine’s version is better.

  4. Rick
    August 21, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Ooops! Guess I should have checked the songwriter credits. DOH! The Wild Jimbo’s version is the first I ever heard of the song.

  5. PaulaW
    August 21, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    re: Hawaii

    I had read earlier today that Hawaii was not celebrating, but planning a demonstration aimed at seceding from the US. Cant find the article now, but a friend of mine in Hawaii just sent this information to me.
    I’m staying inside today…

    A few hundred Native Hawaiians marched through the street of downtown Honolulu with an effigy of a 15-foot Uncle Sam holding machine guns and riding in a tank made of cardboard. They chanted in Hawaiian, blew on conch shells, waved ti leaves and yelled, “We are not Americans! We want our country back!”

    “Genocide” and “imperialist” were written across the cardboard machine guns.

    At the end of the march, protesters knocked off Uncle Sam’s hat, which contained a U.S. flag from which they cut out a star that represented Hawaii. They held up the burning star to a crowd yelling “freedom.”

    “We were never the 50th state,” said Kaleo Farias, one of protesters that cut the U.S. flag. “It was an illusion, fabrication, something that was told to us that never happened. … We’re not part of the United States.”

  6. Rick
    August 22, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Wow Paula, if that last statement were true, then Obama’s presidency would be toast as far as us “Birthers” are concerned! (lol)

    These Hawaiian nationalists sound just like Chicago style “community organizers” to me. I wonder if this means they will receive part of the 5 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) dollars earmarked for Obama’s old voter fraud specialist pals at ACORN in Obama’s “Porkulus Package”? I think the US should let a couple of the smaller islands revert back to these malcontents, (you know the former leper colonies) with stipulations no Chinese or Russian military bases will be allowed as these marxist radical idiots would likely prefer…

  7. Nicolas
    August 22, 2009 at 1:02 am

    “These Hawaiian nationalists sound just like Chicago style “community organizers” to me.”

    And you sound like a bitter Republican =)

  8. Vicki
    August 22, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Now back to the music: Wow Jake is fantastic! Thanks for bringing him here so others could see his brilliance.

  9. Juli
    August 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Glad you like him, Vicki! I only seriously started getting into JS about 6 months ago, but he just blows me away.

  10. Ben Milam
    August 22, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    isn’t the steel guitar originally a Hawaiian instrument?

  11. Juli
    August 22, 2009 at 3:35 pm


    In the 1920s, a Hawaiian music trend swept America, which scholars Kathleen Drowne and Patrick Huber trace back to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Held in San Francisco, it exposed countless Americans to the irresistible sounds of steel guitar and ukulele.

  12. Ben Milam
    August 22, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    thanks juli! i find it fascinating how many influences make up the jambalaya that is country music.

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