Steel Trappings

On the Playlist

On the Playlist: Sam Ku West

November 1, 2022 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "ON THE PLAYLIST" features the musicians heard on the program's playlist. This month we feature steel guitarist Sam Ku West!

Among the early pioneering acoustic steel guitarist of the 1920s are the names Sol Ho‘opi‘i, Benny Nawahi, and Sam Ku West. They were each other's contemporary, playing the acoustic resonator Hawaiian guitar in an exciting "hot" style with jazz, blues and Hawaiian influence. Sadly, Sam Ku's musical journey was short lived and his career ended too early.

Sam Ku West

Samuel Kuanoni Jr. was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on July 22, 1907. At some point in time the family name was shortened from Kuanoni to Ku and he became known as Sam Ku.

Sam came from a musical family, and his brothers Dan and John were Hawaiian musicians as well. As a teenager, Sam was swept away with the popularity of kika kila, a new style of playing the slack key tuned guitar. He practiced with his steel bar and became proficient in his playing.

In 1926 Sam became a professional musician when he joined Amie Maynard and her Royal Hawaiians under the direction of music promoter Irene West. The group left Hawai‘i for a tour of the Far East, including Singapore, Malaysia, Penang, Java, India, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Sam was billed as the "Kriesler of the steel guitar," referring to the famous violinist of the time. This title was given to him by Prince George of England who saw him play kika kila in Singapore. Irene West would make much use of this name in her promotion of Sam's career.

During the tour, Sam's steel guitar playing was singled out by local newspapers. "He could at will bring out the sweet trill of a nightingale or the plaintive note that only a steel guitar in skilled hands can give." By August, 1926 the Far East tour was over and Irene West and Sam Ku sailed for San Francisco to record with Victor Records.

In California Irene West began planning the career of her young star, making arrangements to tour the East Coast. It was during this period that Sam's professional name was changed to "Sam Ku West."

In Early 1927 Sam began to study the harp with Kajetan Atti, solo harpist with the San Francisco Orchestra, and he was proving to be a fast learner. By June, 1927 Sam was proficient enough to start appearing on the Vaudeville Circuits on the East Coast, performing on the steel guitar and the harp. He played in cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago, and Reading, Pennsylvania. Later, the Tour also took him to perform in shows on the West Coast as well. During this busy schedule Sam completed several recording sessions in various studios around the country.

After two years away, Sam returned home to Hawai‘i in 1928. He was just 21 years old. He spent time with friends, family, and a growing fan base, and gave concerts in Honolulu, Hilo, Wailuku, Kahului, and Kaua‘i. Judging from the newspaper press coverage at the time, his performances were successful and well received!

From Honolulu, the Irene West Royal Hawaiians featuring Sam Ku West, went back on the road again to Asia for a Second Tour. They performed in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sumatra, and India. Again, the tour was a success and Sam's steel guitar playing was the highlight of each performance. The Tour lasted 10 months and concluded in August, 1929.

In September 1929, Irene West and Sam Ku arrived in France. A European tour was scheduled and Sam played in concert in Paris and Rome. Sadly, Sam's deteriorating health prevented him from further performing. On September 7, 1930 Sam Ku died in a hospital just outside of Paris, France. He died from an abscess of the liver and was just 23 years old.

All of Sam's studio recordings were made in a nine month period between June, 1927 and March, 1928. His recorded legacy was 27 sides — mainly steel guitar instrumental pieces. He recorded for the Banner, Vocalion and Victor labels. There were plans for him to record during the European Tour with the Odeon label in Germany, but illness prevented that. And although he to learned to play the concert harp and added solos on this instrument to his live act, he never recorded with the harp. Sam is most known for playing an early 1920s National tricone resonator Hawaiian steel guitar in the A tuning.

Today fans seek out the early recordings of Sam Ku West. He continues to inspire steel guitarist seeking to emulate his soulful jazzy Hawaiian style played on the acoustic National resonator steel guitar. His music is now available on CD and online to a new generation of fans who can appreciate this innovative and unique Hawaiian musician!

On the Playlist of Hawaiian Steel: Sam Ku West

Song CD Album
Palolo Hawaiian Hula Blues / Grass Skirt Records
Strange Isle Medley Hawaiian Hula Blues / Grass Skirt Records
Lepe Ula Ula Hawaiian Hula Blues / Grass Skirt Records
Honolulu Blues Hawaiian Hula Blues / Grass Skirt Records

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

Feature

Archives

November, 2022
October, 2022
September, 2022
August, 2022
July, 2022
June, 2022

Complete Issue Archive
Complete Series Archive


Categories

Education and Training
Entertainment
Equipment
Festivals and Conventions
Instruments and Luthiers
News
Steel Guitar History


Authors

Author Index

Events

2022 Festivals and Workshops

Hawai‘i Island Steel Guitar Experience at Mauna Lani
December 8-11, 2022 – Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection, Kamuela, Hawai‘i Island

2022 Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase Livestream Broadcasts

Facebook LiveYouTube
Livestream Steel Guitar Saturday

November 19, 2022 – 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM HST

Facebook LiveYouTube
Hawai‘i Island Steel Guitar Experience at Mauna Lani

December 10, 2022 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 5:30 PM - 9:30 PM HST

2023 Festivals and Workshops
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Ka Makana Ali‘i   
February 18, 2023 – Ka Makana Ali‘i Shopping Center, Kapolei

Kona Steel Guitar Festival   
March 24-25, 2023 – Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa, Keauhou, Hawai‘i

Kaua‘i Hawaiian Steel Guitar Symposium   
May 3-4, 2023 – Sheraton Coconut Beach Resort, Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i

Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival   
May 4-6, 2023 – Sheraton Coconut Beach Resort, Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i
May 7, 2023 – Kukui Grove Center, Lihue, Kaua‘i
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Windward Mall   
June 10, 2023 (tentative) – Windward Mall, Kāne‘ohe

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Week   
July 10-15, 2023 – Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Japan-Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival   
July 14, 2023 – Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī

Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival   
July 15, 2023 – Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival Keiki Kine at Kāhala Mall   
August 19, 2023 – Kāhala Mall, Honolulu

Maui Steel Guitar Festival
October 14, 2023 – The Shops at Wailea, Wailea, Maui
11:00 AM - 4:00 PM HST
October 15, 2023 – Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center, Kahului, Maui
11:00 AM - 4:00 PM HST

2023 Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase Livestream Broadcasts
Facebook LiveYouTube
Kona Steel Guitar Festival

March 25, 2023 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 12:00 Noon - 3 PM and 5 PM - 8 PM HST

Facebook LiveYouTube
Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Japan-Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival

July 14, 2023 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 4PM - 6:30PM HST


Facebook LiveYouTube
Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival

July 15, 2023 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 11AM - 2PM and 4:30PM - 6:30PM HST
Facebook LiveYouTube
Maui Steel Guitar Festival

October 14, 2023 – The Shops at Wailea, Wailea, Maui, Hawai‘i – 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM
October 15, 2023 – Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center, Kahului, Maui, Hawai‘i – 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM HST

Copyright ©2022 by Hawaii Institute for Music Enrichment and Learning Experiences, Inc., and Cyberventures Unlimited.Terms of Use

About HIMELE
HIMELE is a Hawai‘i non-profit corporation that supports music enrichment and education for people of all ages. Our purpose is to educate, promote, and perpetuate Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian musical instruments.