Steel Trappings

Jerry Byrd: Aloha From Hawaii

Jerry Byrd: Aloha From Hawaii

May 24, 2020 • Jerry ByrdNews

First I must apologise for "missing columns" in the last two or three issues of BMG. Various factors contributed to it but mostly I've simply been too busy recently, and from the look of things at this date, it will get even more so—however, I shall try!

I had really hoped to do a piece on David "Feet" Rogers—the great steel guitarist with the "Sons of Hawaii," but it is difficult to get these Hawaiians in a corner long enough to get the information. They simply do not like to talk about themselves. So, after two "missed" and "cancelled" appointments, I gave it up. But David is a shy person to begin with. Except when he's playing steel guitar! To those of you who do not know of him or his work, I want to introduce him to you and give you a light sketch of his background and his music. So — BMG readers—meet David Rogers!

He is tall and looks Hawaiian, even though the name Rogers belies the fact. He must be about 90% Hawaiian and 10% Rogers. He is a retired merchant seaman and he told me once in one of our "intermission" conversations that he had been around the world something like 8 or 9 times! Now — in Hawaii they say "he's from the Rogers clan—all steel guitar players." And it's true. Benny Rogers (now deceased) played terrific steel guitar and is heard on so many Hawaiian recordings, particularly those of Genoa Keawe, that lovely lady with an unmatchable falsetto voice. Then there's his father—or as he's know here—"Pop" Rogers, who, by the way, is still playing quite regularly. Steel guitar is a tradition in the Rogers family!

Dave—or "Feet", as his buddies call him—plays an old 6-string black bakelite Rickenbacker (same as the one I used to play) and uses an E major tuning with a G# on top: 1st: g#, 2nd: E, erd: B, 4th: G#. His specialty is his single-string harmonic work and I rate his the best in the world on harmonic technique. Every note just simply blooms; perfect in clarity; attack; and expression. Words cannot express his sound—it has to be heard. To do this I most heartily recommend to you any of the albums made by this greate group, the Sons of Hawaii. Others in the group are Eddie Kamae, leader and fantastic ukulele artist; Dennis Kamakahi, 6- and 12- string guitar; Moe Keale, M.C., vocal and ukulele, and Joe Marshall, bass, M.C.

Some of their early recordings include the legendary "Gabby" Pahinui, a many-talented guy. He was replaced by Dennis Kamakahi. But David's steel guitar is the identifying mark of their pure Hawaiian sound. Their albums can be ordered from the "House of Music," or Sears-Roebuck, both outlets in the Ala Moana Centre here in Honolulu.

Much has been happening here recently in Hawaiian music. The Association for Hawaiian Music sponsors an annual "Search for Songs" contest and the best of approximately 200 entries was condensed down to 14 finalists. Their songs are then recorded on a demo session using professional as well as amateur musicians and singers, and played daily on KCCN radio during the tenure of the contest. Winnders are judged in three ways: by public, or listener vote; by the DHs on KCCN (this station plays nothing but Hawaiian music) and by a panel of judges—all professional music people, who have no knowledge of the identity of the composers until after the awards are given. Three finalists are then selected and nice prizes awarded to them. I know, because I was one of the judges and found it very difficult to select only three out of 14 very good songs. Qualifications specify that the song must be of all-Hawaiian lyrics, part Hawaiian (or hapa-haole) or English lyric but about Hawaii. Next year's awards will be tripled, and they should be, because the purpose of the contest is to help and encourage new writers of Hawaiian music, a vital part of any music and its future.

Another equally vital activity is being sponsored by the Hawaiian Music Foundation, that of teaching Hawaiian music and culture to the youth of Hawaii. We have just concluded our third term of 8-week segments and the interest is high, with all ages eagerly participating. I started with a class of 8 boys. We now use two additional teachers and have 3 steel guitar classes with another one beginning with the next term. Besides steel guitar, they offer classes in "slack key" guitar, and ancient instruments. New classes will offer instruction in bass viol, and ukulele. Future plans call for expansion to other parts of this island, Oahu, and then to the other islands in the Hawaiian chain—an ambitious goal, but an exciting one!

Two of my own proteges are already playing professionally in Honolulu; Alan Akaka, 20 years old, and Hayden Aluli, also about the same age. Alan has been playing only about a total of 3 years and Hayden only 26 weeks! I am very proud of them, naturally, and expect great things from them. The HMF paid for their private lessons through their scholarship plan. If you would like to help with this, and future plans they have, you can do so by joining the HMF. For information you may write to Hawaiian Music Foundation, P.O. Box 10293, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816, and tell thim how you found out about it!

As for my own activities besides teaching, I am now playing these various shows in Honolulu:

Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel Luau every Tuesday evening, Royal Hawaiian Hotel Luau and Surf Room, each Sunday evening, Hale Koa Hotel's "An Evening of Hawaiian Enchantment," 6 nights, Monday to Saturday.

On top of all this, I am doing a TV pilot taping this week with DON HO—all this for a new syndicated variety show for ABC-TV, which will be a 30 minute, weekday programme. This will begin shortly after the first of the year. Then, finally, I have been doing quite a lot of recording work with some of the top island entertainers, as well as some background music in the soon-to-be-syndicated TV show "In Hawaii" to be shown this winter in the US and Canada.

This brings me full circle to my opening statements in this now lengthy article: now you can see why I don't have much time left for anything else! But steel guitar is being rejuvenated and all the kids in Hawaii are rediscovering their instrument. We all need your constant encouragement. Finally, I want to with each and every one of you a happy and a healthy 1976! As we always say: "until the next time . . "


Ed note: This article reprint is from B.M.G. Magazine, Vol. 73, No.849, January, 1976, and comes via Andy Volk from the John Field Memorial BMG Library hosted by Classic-Banjo Ning contributor, and fine banjoist, John Field died August 2018 and requested that his collection of digitized B.M.G. magazines should be shared for all. Additional information and magazines in downloadable and searchable PDF format are available from the Classic-Banjo Ning website.



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