Slack Key No. 1 is a classic showpiece of slack key master Sonny Chillingworth. I first heard it on the Dancing Cat release “Endlessly,” and it also appears on his 1964 solo release “Waimea Cowboy.” The Waimea Cowboy version sounds like it was recorded on an electric guitar, while the version on Endlessly was recorded on acoustic guitar. Both versions are very similar, though with some slight differences. I have incorporated elements from both versions in the arrangement I play. Hope you enjoy.
Wake Up Slack Key (also known as Ho’ala Ki Ho’alu) was one of the first slack key style songs I wrote. It stayed in my set for a number of years, though I haven’t played it much lately. This demo was an early version of the song recorded not long after I bought my first Taylor on eBay, a 310ce that became my main guitar for 9 years. This take among the others in my archive really captures the spirit of the tune. Hope you enjoy.
Recorded with a Taylor 310ce (Elixir Polyweb 80/20 Bronze) in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, 5/13/06.
Not long ago, I posted a nylon string version of the Ray Kane classic “Keiki Slack Key.” Here is a similar version recorded around the same time, but on steel string guitar. Keiki Slack Key (not to be confused with the Sonny Chillingworth song of the same name) is one of the first slack key songs I transcribed, and has stayed on my setlists ever since. To me, Ray Kane is probably the best example of an ‘old style’ slack key player, and his tracks are always nahenahe. I never got to take a lesson from Ray, though I did get to speak to him and his wife Elodia on the phone once, not long before he passed – a cherished memory. Hope you enjoy.
I named this seemingly easygoing yet still restive song after a charmingly beautiful and relatively isolated beach on the Kona Coast. Makalawena is part of that long stretch of white sandy beaches you see right before landing at Kona International Airport at nearby Keahole Point. The beach is generally accessible via a short hike from the neighboring Mahaiʻula Bay section of Kekaha Kai State Park. I remember camping out at Makalawena as a kid, exploring the rare anchialine ponds with their delicate red shrimp, and swimming in the waters of the bay. Today still, the neighboring marsh is a protected nesting ground, home to rare birds such as the Hawaiian coot. The song’s bridge seems to capture the strange sense of converging energies that I feel in special places such as these. Hope you enjoy.
Today’s song is a demo from years back called “Earlybird Sunrise.” Earlybird is a fingerstyle song with an expansive palette and ambitions of invoking a wide landscape. I also thought it would be fun to pull an old photo of myself – replete with long hair – from around the time I recorded this song. I have my old Taylor 310ce in the photo – a trusty guitar – but Earlybird was probably recorded with a budget model from another brand that was nonetheless fairly playable. It’s in an alternate tuning that I haven’t used since and I can’t recall how to play the song, but I still find it fun to listen to and hope you will enjoy as well.
Today’s song from the vaults is a cover of My Morning Jacket’s “At Dawn.” The song and its eponymous album came to me at a formative period, becoming both anthem and inspiration for pursing musical goals in life. Sometimes you wonder if music guides you in a certain direction, finds you at the right moment, or if you attract it when you need change and encouragement. There’s a Nick Drake style intro not on the original cut, but it seemed to work. Hope you enjoy.
Recorded in Honolulu, 9/20/14.
One day in the fall of 2012, I sat down to record a set of improvised songs with a Taylor dreadnought acoustic guitar. I improvised five original songs and two versions of Amazing Grace. With only one or two false starts, they were mostly first takes. The set was nothing really mind altering, but it had some cool songs with good vibes – so I considered it a success. It’s not the kind of thing I do often – in fact I haven’t done the exercise since, haven’t played any of the original songs again, and don’t consider it the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. Yet somehow it stands out in my mind as a creative milestone, a memorable event. Sometimes it’s important to break out of the mold with such experiments to reach a new frame of mind, a new level. This was the fifth song in the set, “Star Waltz.”
Recorded in Louisville, Kentucky, 9/29/12.
One day in the fall of 2012, I sat down to record a set of improvised songs with a Taylor dreadnought acoustic guitar. I improvised five original songs and two versions of Amazing Grace. With only one or two false starts, they were mostly first takes. The set was nothing really mind altering, but it had some cool songs with good vibes – so I considered it a success. It’s not the kind of thing I do often – in fact I haven’t done the exercise since, haven’t played any of the original songs again, and don’t consider it the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. Yet somehow it stands out in my mind as a creative milestone, a memorable event. Sometimes it’s important to break out of the mold with such experiments to reach a new frame of mind, a new level. This was the third song in the set, which I dubbed “Saturday Song.”
Recorded in Louisville, Kentucky, 9/29/12.
Here is a demo of a song I wrote a while back called Henry Street Slack Key – named for what was then the still developing Henry Street, which runs between Kuakini Highway and Palani Rd in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The street had a lot of places I went to at the time – a healthfood store, a Border’s Books (with a great music selection, in the days when CD’s ruled), Wal-Mart (a place to run into people in small town Kailua-Kona), Safeway, several coffee shops, and a Korean BBQ. This is also one of the few recordings I made with my Larrivee parlor guitar – a rosewood / sitka spruce P-09, which I have since sold. Hope you enjoy.
Recorded in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, 8/26/07.
Here is another Ray Kane cover – this time his classic song Punahele. According to the Dancing Cat liner notes, Punahele (“favorite” or “pet”) came to Ray “one night in 1938 at Zablan’s Beach in Nanakuli. ‘Back in those days there were no cars, it was pitch black. So I sit there in the dark in the nice cool breeze and I hear the waves bouncing on the sand and see the moonlight flicker on the water. It inspired me, something so nice. So mellow. That’s what gave me my inspiration.’”
Similar to other songs Ray composed on the beach (Keiki Slack Key for example), this mellow laid back songs exemplifies Ray’s nahenahe approach that to me represents the archetype of ‘old style’ slack key. Like Keiki Slack Key, Punahele is one of the first slack key songs I learned, and has stayed on my setlists ever since. I recently improvised a few new licks into the song, and recorded a half dozen takes – some 5-6 minutes long. I think this short three and a quarter minute version gets the point across though. Hope you enjoy.