Friday Five: Hawaii Five-0
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.
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