I used to take a guitar to sit and play some slack key at beaches around Kailua-Kona like Old Airport, Honl’s, Kahalu’u, Keauhou Bay, and La’aloa Beach Park… which is also known locally as White Sands, or Magic Sands. La’aloa Beach Park is just off Ali’i Drive a few miles South of Kailua-Kona. Often known as Magic Sands because the sand ‘disappears’ practically overnight from most of the shoreline during winter swells, only to fully ‘reappear’ in the Summer, the beach is a popular spot for residents of Kona. I often used to head over there with a cup of Kona coffee in the early morning before the crowds arrived, when it was still quiet, and sit on the picnic tables and play guitar. Here is a slack key style tune I wrote one day while hanging out with my guitar around Magic Sands. Hope you enjoy.
Here is an alternate take of Slack Key No. 1, the 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.
Like many, my first exposure to Cyril’s solo recordings came through his amazing albums recorded for the Dancing Cat label, including the “6 & 12 String Slack Key” album on which “Young Street Blues” is featured. This particular song was highlighted for me in Mark Hanson’s excellent book of slack key transcriptions, which featured this among other songs by Cyril and other slack key legends.
The liner notes to the album tell a story of Cyril writing the song at a recording studio on Young Street in 1991. I seem to recall another story, told by Cyril at a performance, about Cyril living in an apartment on Young Street and feeling kind of restless. Young Street, starts (or ends) in Honolulu’s Mo’ili’ili neighborhood, running between King Street and Beretania, through Makiki, to Thomas Square Park near the Honolulu Museum of Art. I recall Cyril talking along the lines of how Young Street was sandwiched between these prominent streets and landmarks in a kind of limbo, being neither here nor there. I think the song (and ‘that note’) speak to such a restless vibe… but also a sense of playfulness.
Unusually for his solo work, Cyril uses Taro Patch tuning – the most common slack key tuning, but not one featured as often as the C and D tunings Cyril favored. Cyril’s style is at once both muscular and nuanced, with deep tunings and sometimes the added jangle of a 12 string guitar – it’s a ‘large’ sound. I tried to capture that feel here by tuning down to a lower register. This song was fun to play and record. Hope you enjoy.
Here is another version of the Ray Kane classic “Keiki Slack Key” I recorded on my Taylor 414ce-NR nylon 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. Hope you enjoy.
From the vaults, here is an old recording of a slack key medley performed during an informal kanikapila at what was then the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort Hotel (it has since changed hands from Sheraton). The medley starts out with a rendition of Little Grass Shack, followed by the classic Pua Tuberose. Hope you enjoy.
Here is a version of the classic Johnny Noble song “Hula Blues” recorded on nylon string guitar. Hula Blues is a steel guitar and slack key staple – a quick check of my iTunes library shows over a dozen versions by everyone from Sol Ho’opi’i to Sonny Chillingworth, Led Ka’apana, Leonard Kwan, Bobby Ingano, as well as separate versions from Gabby Pahinui and his son Cyril. This song is fun to play and captures a certain energy that many find appealing. Hope you enjoy.
This video features a collection of Ki Ho’alu a/k/a Hawaiian Slack Key guitar instrumental covers I have performed, recorded, and assembled here for your listening pleasure. These are songs by various slack key legends such as Gabby Pahinui, Ray Kane, Leonard Kwan, Keola Beamer, Fred Punahoa, Sonny Chillingworth, Atta Isaacs, Dennis Kamakahi, and Ledward Ka’apana – all slack key guitar masters who have been influential to me as well as many others. This compilation includes both energetic and relaxed tunes, though I’d say the overall vibe is relaxing. I like to listen to some of those longer “relaxing music” videos while working on the computer and became inspired to produce some videos featuring my own performances. Hope you enjoy.
“Meadows” is a slack key song I wrote during a full moon in Kailua-Kona. I think the song was influenced by the night air and night sounds – the occasional chirp of geckos, the distant sounds of traffic on Mamalahoa Highway and the waves in the ocean. Hope you enjoy.
Here’s a recently found recording where I’m improvising some ideas around Leonard Kwan’s classic slack key song Opihi Moemoe. One of the most popular songs in the slack key repertoire, this song has been covered by everyone from Ledward Kaapana to Chet Atkins. Opihi MoeMoe is a fun piece that lends itself well to improvised variations, and everyone seems to bring something a little different to this deceptively simple song. Hope you enjoy.
Here’s an alternate take of Keola Beamer’s Mino’aka (Smile), from his awesome Soliloquy album. Soliloquy is one of my favorite Dancing Cat era albums from Keola and a highly recommended listen. Keola’s book is one of the first I picked up when I really delved into the slack key style years ago, and this was one of my favorite songs featured in the book. In fact, I also recommend Keola’s book for beginner to intermediate fingerstyle players who are looking to learn some slack key. Although the version I recorded here is at a slightly faster tempo, I hope it still captures the original’s relaxed feel. Hope you enjoy.