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.”
Here is a slack key style tune I wrote a while back while hanging out around Magic Sands beach in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. I originally wrote it on an old nylon string guitar. While I have a recording of this song played on steel string already posted, I wanted to go back and do a recording with my nylon string Taylor as well. There aren’t many songs I like to play on both steel and nylon, but this is one of them for some reason. Hope you enjoy.
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.”
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.
Here is my arrangement of Si Bheag, Si Mhor (Little Fairy, Big Fairy), reportedly the first song composed by famous 17th century bard Turlough O’Carolan. This version of the song is played a little on the slower side of what you normally hear, but I may record a slightly more uptempo version later on. I think the song works well both ways to be honest, one of the many interesting things about it. Hope you enjoy.
Banyan (a/k/a “Banyans,” or “Banyan Tree Slack Key”) is a slack key style song I wrote about 10 or 12 years ago on nylon string guitar. I used to play my gut string ‘beach’ guitar around beaches and surf spots in Kona like Magic Sands, Banyans, and Old Airport. For one, the nylon strings aren’t as affected by the salt air, and for two, it was less expensive than my other guitar at the time, a Taylor 310ce that I didn’t want to take to the beach. So I guess this song is partially named after the surf spot, but also after some banyan trees near Magic Sands – some of which have since been cut down – or even those mystical banyan trees in general. Shortly after writing this song, I sold that nylon – an Ibanez, sort of crossover model – though I continued to rotate this and a few other related songs in and out of my set. Until recently though, it had really been a while since I played this song. Once more, owning a nylon string guitar again inspired me to go back and revisit some older material. Hope you enjoy.
Today’s song is a cover of the Ray Kane classic “Keiki Slack Key” (not to be confused with the Sonny Chillingworth song of the same name). 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. Keiki Slack Key is one of the first slack key songs I transcribed, and has stayed on my setlists ever since. This arrangement was inspired by my recent purchase of a nylon string guitar; I really think this song works well on nylon for a number of reasons. Hope you enjoy.
Appearing as an interlude on The Wall, here is the guitar part from the end of Is There Anybody Out There? Originally done on a nylon string guitar, I think this song works well (and like it a little better) on steel string. This is one of the first songs I learned on guitar from one of my first guitar teachers. Years later, I taught the arrangement to some of my students – both using a pick and fingerstyle. It’s a great moody instrumental, and an arguably underappreciated acoustic piece from the classic rock canon. Hope you enjoy.
Here is my take on a Study in Em by Francisco Tárrega. This is a song I have taught in the past to students interested in learning a little fingerstyle or classical. To make the arrangement a little more fun for some students, I took some liberties and added a few flourishes here and there. This version of the study has also found its way onto some of my setlists over the years. Hope you enjoy.
Appearing as a sort of interlude on the Pink Moon album, Horn is a fascinating little study of a song in its own right. I love the simple melody and the atmosphere created by the space between the notes. I also really like the way this song works on nylon string guitar. (Apologies for the intonation in places – still getting a feel for this guitar and nylon again.) Of course, Drake apparently used really old, beat up steel strings, so his guitar work translates well to nylon. I don’t know what it is about the deceptively simple genius of his guitar parts, but they get me every time. Hope you enjoy.