Sunday, June 28, 2009

From Honolulu to Nashville : Hawaiian music and country

Hi, today we're going to the islands... And Btw, I'd love to read more comments from you guys. I mean you are 200 or more to come here everyday, and no one drops a line ? C'mon guys, don't be so shy, just tell me if you love the music here. Put gas in RI's engine !
I know it's not technically easy to leave comments, but maybe this will help.

Benny Nawahi - Maui No La Ka Hoi (buy) (1930)

Sol Hoopii - Hula Girl (buy) (1933)

The music played by Hawaiians in America had a tremendous influence on American popular music until World War II, and especially on country music, where steel guitars and yodels became a trademark.

Guitars were first introduced on the islands by Mexican vaqueros in the 19th century. In the years 1870-80, Hawaiian musicians invented a new way of playing guitar. By raising the nut they could play with the guitar lying flat on their lap, sliding a bottle or a piece of steel on the strings. The sounds produced matched their traditional way of singing. They played open chords and used countless different tunings.

The annexation of Hawaii in 1898 gave birth to a real passion in America. People were dreaming about these paradise islands, and the first tours by groups of musicians were hugely successful. The Bird of Paradise follies in 1904 in Broadway turned this fashion to a real craze.
Crowds were stunned by Hawaiian guitarists and singers, and their records sold by millions, making Hawaiian music a best-selling genre. Hawaiian musicians easily adapted their art to vaudeville, country, blues, and jazz.

It is mainly for them that American instrument makers from Central Europe (Dopeyra or Rickenbacher) created metallic guitars like the National or the Dobro.
The king of these guitar players was Sol Hoopii, a real genius and perhaps one of the best slide guitarists of the century. His only rival was King Benny Nawahi, who started to play on Trans-Pacific boats before settling in California.

Roy Smeck - Twelth Street Rag (buy) (1931)

Jimmie Rodgers - Everybody Does It In Hawaii (buy) (1929)

This revolutionary way of playing the guitar was soon imitated by many American musicians from the mainland, jazz men, bluesmen who sometimes, thanks to old African traditions like the diddley-bow, were already familiar with slide playing, and country guitarists.

The first blues record ever recorded by a man, "Guitar Rag", by Sylvester Weaver in 1923, was a Hawaiian-style instrumental. Leon McAuliffe, Bob Will's guitarist, did a great cover of it, "Slide guitar rag"; Cousin Jody with Roy Acuff, Jimmie Tarlton, Cliff Carlisle played or featured laptop steel guitars.

New York City multi-instrumentalist Roy Smeck (photo above) learnt steel guitar after seeing Sool Hoopii on stage, and became one of the most stunning virtuosos of the instrument, as you can hear on his version of "Twelth Steel Rag", a piece were jazz and swing meet country music.

Jimmie Rodgers, the "father" of country music, toured with a Hawaiian group of musicians in medicine shows before recording his first sides. His famous yodel is more Hawaiian than Swiss : the melodic line of his trademark yodel is the same as "Maui", (my first post). JImmie recorded two songs with Hawaiian guitarists Joe Kaipo and Charles Kama in 1929, including this "Everybody Does It In Hawaii".

Danny Stewart - Les Femmes d'Amérique (buy) (1937)

I have to thank, once again, Mr Gérard Herzhaft, French scholar and ethnomusicologist, who wrote a lot about the subject, and is the author of the great compilation Hawaiian Music : Honolulu - Hollywood - Nashville 1927-1944 (Frémeaux & Associés) featuring 4 of the 5 tracks I'm posting today.
He also wrote the liner notes (in French and English) that helped me a lot and and were my main source of information for this post. A shame that his encyclopedia of country and folk wasn't translated into English.

Last track I want to post is in French. Hawaiian music was big in my country too in the early 20th century, because of French Polynesia and the links we have with this part of the world. Les Femmes d'Amérique is a ballad originating in Tahiti (the main French Polynesian island) , here sung by Danny Stewart and played by Augie Goupil's band. Goupil was a Tahitian musician and bandleader working in Los Angeles. The chorus could be translated as :

American women are so pretty / But to have them, you've got to have dollars
While in Tahiti / You have them for nothing
Vive Tahiti / The land of love (le pays des amours)


blasters said...

nice post...

i don't get over to RI much, but i am
looking forward to the read and most definitely the listen. thanks for your great work...

DI from SF

Nicolas said...

thank you for the welcomed comment