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Author Topic:  Has Hawaii dis-owned the Steel Guitar?
Dom Franco


From:
Beaverton, OR, 97007
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 4:23 pm     Reply with quote

This may stir up some controversy, but I am feeling a little saddened by the popularity of the Ukulele and Slack key guitar and the downplaying of the "Hawaiian Guitar" in recent years.

I play for many Hawaiian themed parties (most are wrongly called Luaus) and I play my Hawaiian Steel Guitar. Often the venue also hires a few Hula Dancers or a Polynesian dance troupe. They dance to canned music... heavy on the drums and slack key guitar but almost never a steel guitar in the mix.

I'm not one easily offended, and it doesn't even bother me at all when they call my music "Hapa Haole" because I'm the white guy playing all the Hawaiian top 40 hits of the last century. They explain to me that original Hawaiian music was "drum oriented" before the Europeans introduced string instruments to the islands.

However I notice that the audience really enjoys the tunes I play even though not authentic native "Hawaiian Music."
(Pearly Shells, Tiny Bubbles, Blue Hawaii, Little Grass Shack, Sweet Leilani etc.)

Last Week I was in Hawaii and I noticed a similar trend. All the shows, lounge acts, Luaus, polynesian dance demonstrations were lacking any Steel Guitar. (one exception was the Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center where Steve Cheney played steel)

Now I realize that the songs I play are of a bygone era, (1930s-1960s) but they still remain very well known as "Hawaiian Music." But perhaps only to us on the mainland,
It seems to me the Hawaiians have moved on to embrace the Ukulele as the true "sound" of the Islands, not the Steel Guitar!

Dom






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Nathan Laudenbach


From:
Arizona, USA
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 5:32 pm     Reply with quote

I agree and it pisses me off! Every single time someone asks me what kind of music I like and /or play, I say steel "Hawaiian steel guitar", and they always say "Oh you mean like slack key?!". Even people who are lucky enough to visit Hawaii come back to brag about nothing but slack key. I just don't get it...
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Ron Simpson


From:
Illinois, USA
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 5:40 pm     Reply with quote

I trust you finish with Aloha Oe. It was written by Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning Monark of the nation of Hawaii.

It doesn't get more traditional than that.

Ron
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 6:15 pm     Reply with quote

A few years ago there was some discussion here about Hawaiian lawmakers voting to make the ukulele the "official state instrument" of Hawaii. That bill passed. Funny thing is.... the ukulele originated in Portugal, not Hawaii. It was brought to Hawaii in the 1800s. The steel guitar IS an original Hawaiian instrument. Talk about disrespect! Surprised
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Dom Franco


From:
Beaverton, OR, 97007
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 7:22 pm     Reply with quote

I usually start and finish with Aloha Oe.
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Peter Garellick


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 9:25 pm     Reply with quote

Aloha everyone,

I think there are several reasons that the ukulele has experienced a major growth in popularity versus the steel guitar:

The ukulele is much easier to play (or at least get started on).

The ukulele is more portable.

A beginner's ukulele is much cheaper than any steel guitar.

Ukulele is a easier instrument to sing along with.

And finally, the popularity of Bruddah Iz and his version of Over The Rainbow.

In Hawai'i, the steel guitar is still beloved, but in regards to live performance, part of the issue is simple economics. If there's money to hire 1 musician, it will be a guitarist. If it's 2, it's guitar and bass. If it's 3, it's guitar, bass, and ukulele (or lead guitar). Steel guitar will generally be 4th or 5th, and many of the performances you see are duos or trios, again for economic reasons.

On a more hopeful note, there are many excellent steel players in Hawai'i, and most of them are pretty busy gigging. Alan Akaka is busy teaching students young and old in O'ahu.

Don't get me wrong, I love steel guitar, play a National Tricone for a hula halau and a Hawaii'an trio. I wish there was more steel playing in Hawai'i and everywhere...but I am not worried that the instrument will become extinct in Hawai'i. Who knows...maybe another song like "Sleepwalk" will come along and spark a new trend like "Over The Rainbow" did!

Mahalo, Peter
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George Piburn


From:
The Oklahoma Hills, USA
Post Posted 17 Aug 2017 11:57 pm     Hawaii State Instrument Law. Reply with quote

For Doug and others , when that law was being debated they invited the public for all US States to participate in a written form, many of us did and were able to contribute directly to the debate. Many Dedicated Steel Guitar folks like Ron Whitfield were present to further the debate at the legislative process. Also the HSGA was directly involved too.

At one point we got the legislative floor to halt the bill and reconsider Steel Guitar as the Official Instrument. At that point it was - how ever they do it - reevaluated to to include the input and desire of the Youth of Hawaii - I am not able to include the exact verbiage - long story short the future generations of the State of Hawaii were the ones who the deciding factor of which instrument was chosen.

Other percussive instruments were in the reevaluation process as well, in the end the Ukulele was chosen by the Public.

I reversed my position to reflect the desires of the people who's state instrument was debated and re-debated before being passed.

In my opinion no disrespect was levied - a fair legislative debate was conducted and Steel Guitar lost.

My Heart was Broken too, -- time moves on and things change, the Hey Day of the pre and post war popularity of Hawaiian Steel Guitar is now a fleeting blip in History. This is why I've dedicated my remaining life to the support of Education of Steel Guitar. I applaud your teaching, as well as Alan Akaka,s school and all other dedicated teachers, book writers, -- who are pecking away at teaching Steel Guitar. It is our obligation to keep it alive.
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David M Brown


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 2:43 am     Reply with quote

The almost loss of the Hawaiian steel guitar in the land of its origin, Hawaii, has recently been re-examined.

People are beginning to realize that the "Hawaiian Renaissance" and the new music developed since the 70's, lost something by not including the steel guitar. I wish I could recall some of the links to these articles, but it's late night!

Why was the steel left out?

lots of reasons.....the rise of the new style that Don Ho's band had, with no ukes nor steels...the aging of the last crop of pro steel players before the newer students of Jerry Byrd began playing out...the lack of steel in pop music...the association of steel guitar with Nashville and non-Hawaiian music...association of Hapa-Haole music with colonialism...and so on.

Still, most folks I run across call my instrument a "slide" guitar or something else, are more familiar with slack-key than Hawaiian guitar, and I'm amazed at the 3rd wave of popularity the 'ukulele is riding.
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David M Brown


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 2:45 am     Re: Hawaii State Instrument Law. Reply with quote

George Piburn wrote:

time moves on and things change, the Heyday of the pre and post war popularity of Hawaiian Steel Guitar is now a fleeting blip in History. This is why I've dedicated my remaining life to the support of Education of Steel Guitar. I applaud your teaching, as well as Alan Akaka,s school and all other dedicated teachers, book writers, -- who are pecking away at teaching Steel Guitar. It is our obligation to keep it alive.


That's all we can do, keep playing and teaching the steel guitar.

kika kila no ka oe
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 3:37 am     Reply with quote

Hawaiian music is so unique, in all its forms. Very special to me, yet I can only listen to it once in a while--but when I do, I binge! The sense of groove is so present, very deep rhythms.

The ukulele has simply gained a ton of status over the last few decades. Attractive, young people are playing it, like Jason Mraz and Gerald Ross Very Happy But I love Hawaiian music for the steel guitar and the voices.

Did you ask who was playing where before you left?
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Last edited by Mike Neer on 18 Aug 2017 4:31 am; edited 1 time in total
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 4:28 am     Reply with quote

Quote:
time moves on and things change, the Heyday of the pre and post war popularity of Hawaiian Steel Guitar is now a fleeting blip in History. This is why I've dedicated my remaining life to the support of Education of Steel Guitar. I applaud your teaching, as well as Alan Akaka,s school and all other dedicated teachers, book writers, -- who are pecking away at teaching Steel Guitar. It is our obligation to keep it alive.


Well said, George. We just keep on keeping' on. Regarding the ukulele, I can understand why it's so popular... all of the reasons stated above, it's easy to play, lightweight, portable, relatively cheap, and it's heard on pop recordings nowadays. 30 years ago I would never have believed that the uke would become so popular, and so cool, and played by people of all ages. I teach guitar and steel at a music store and we have a ukulele display in the front window... about 30 ukes. We sell 8 to 10 ukes a week and I currently have four ukulele students. It's all good.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 5:48 am     Reply with quote

Hawaii Disowned it long ago when it wasn't recognised as the main national treasure/instrument.

Sad but true.

Similar to how Country music dealt with Steel Guitar.

Sorry when was a Steel Guitarist honoured for their Steel work.

Shame really but it bewilders me how the most influential/integral instrument to the Country/Hawaiian Sound can be ignored.

Whoa!
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 6:23 am     Reply with quote

The steel guitar has always been a mystery to most people, starting with the name "steel guitar". When I was a kid I thought it meant a guitar made of solid steel! Cool And the pedal steel, fuggetaboutit... most people have no idea what it is or how it's played and they don't really care. The lap steel is more understandable to most people, but it's still a tiny part of a tiny segment of the music world.
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Jeff Au Hoy


From:
Honolulu, Hawai'i
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 6:34 am     Reply with quote

Just about every new Hawaiian album in recent memory features steel guitar. Casey Olsen, Bobby Ingano, and I are all working steadily playing the steel guitar. Alan Akaka's music school is thriving. Sorry we missed you. Aloha
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Dom Franco


From:
Beaverton, OR, 97007
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 7:37 am     Reply with quote

Jeff Au Hoy;
I am sorry I didn't get to hear you play live on this trip to your lovely Island. It was my wife's first time in Hawaii and of course we tried to see all the tourist attractions and relax on the beach. Long days of sight-seeing didn't leave much time to get out to live music venues at night.

thanks;
Dom
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Mike Neer


From:
NJ
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 7:51 am     Reply with quote

Dom Franco wrote:
Jeff Au Hoy;
I am sorry I didn't get to hear you play live on this trip to your lovely Island. It was my wife's first time in Hawaii and of course we tried to see all the tourist attractions and relax on the beach. Long days of sight-seeing didn't leave much time to get out to live music venues at night.

thanks;
Dom


I guess you kind of answered your own question.
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Andy Volk


From:
Boston, MA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 10:55 am     Reply with quote

In my view, instruments come of go, in terms of favor with the listening public and favor with musicians - and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If the uke speaks to young people, they should pick it up and play it - it's a fantastic instrument that's fun to play, yet can be mastered at the highest levels.

If they hear a steel guitar of any kind ands go nuts - terrific! Our job is to keep the instrument out there where people get to hear it. It's definitely not an easy instrument and we can all attest that the learning curve can be steep, yet it is uniquely engaging!! The future will tell if it thrives or continues to fly just under the radar and emerge from time to time with higher profile. Wishing it would be what it was in 1920 or 1930 or 1950 is a waste of time and energy, IMHO. It will be what it will be.

Look at the clarinet - still played in classical music all over the world. It was all over the music of the 1930s but today, you'd be hard pressed to find it in almost any genre. Poor Buddy DeFranco emerged as its greatest virtuoso just when it was going out of favor in the early 50s. We'll see what history decides. In the meantime, where did I put my tonebar?
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 12:01 pm     Reply with quote

I think I was born in the wrong decade. I long for the days of orchestras with 60 steel guitars!


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Andy Volk


From:
Boston, MA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 1:26 pm     Reply with quote

I dunno, Doug. Instead of Aloha Oe it could be Aloha Oy vey!
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David Matzenik


From:
Cairns, on the Coral Sea
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 1:36 pm     Reply with quote

I get the sense that Steel Guitar in Hawaii is as described by Jeff Au Hoy. Certainly it disappeared from popular music by the 1960s, but it seems to have some very strong interest among Hawaiians today as more of a specialty genre.
Steel guitar is not the only thing that disappeared in the 1960s. Dancing disappeared too, and today, all we see are people sort of jigging around without any understanding meter or step. "Hey! I'm doing my own thing man! Discipline is so like not creative."
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Jay Yuskaitis


From:
Massachusetts, USA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 1:39 pm     Reply with quote

Seems as the whole world has other than the loyal folks hereabouts. Jay
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Loren Tilley


From:
Kihei, Maui, Hawaii, USA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 2:29 pm     Reply with quote

I don't have the feeling steel has been forsaken here on Maui. The most popular radio station has songs featuring steel guitars in heavy rotation.

That said, there are some limits seeing it live often--it isn't really ideal for doing a solo gig, and most people who play it also know how to sing and play guitar/uke/bass, any of which are probably more versatile if you have limited band members and are doing a variety of music styles. When playing shows they tend to play the other instruments. That said, when I go to jams and a bunch of guitar players show up, there is often a steel around and the guitar players will often take a turn playing steel, myself included.

In fact, the latest project I've been involved with is a 3-piece with steel, guitar, and bass, and all the members take turns playing steel for different songs. That way you get to hear 3 steel players for the price of admission, and it lets all of us a good platform to play steel. So I think there is still a good amount of enthusiasm for steel here, although sometimes it is not reflected in what is played in commercial settings.
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Steve Atwood


From:
Massachusetts, USA
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 4:04 pm     Reply with quote

Peter Garellick wrote:

Who knows...maybe another song like "Sleepwalk" will come along and spark a new trend like "Over The Rainbow" did!


Steel players should try listening to more Slack Key music. Great new Aloha-filled songs are coming to Slack Key players, more than to steel players I think, who seem in large part to be content with playing the long-ago-popular material, because that's what the audiences expect. Give Keola Beamer a listen, Ozzie Kotani, Dennis Kamakahi, Daniel Ho, John Keawe... It's got the same Aloha spirit in it as Sol, Jules, Andy, and the rest, but it's stronger because it's new and happening now. You need at least a 10-string guitar, but much of it is playable, and sometimes sounds like it could have been written for steel guitar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-YPgi11qL4&list=PLWkUZaySK7EaJxwolNVKzz5gqwEjzxnbE&index=33
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Jim Mckay


From:
New Zealand
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 4:46 pm     Reply with quote

I remember reading at one time that Jerry Byrd commented how steel guitar was not about as he expected when he shifted to Hawaii early 70's. I guess we have pictures in our minds and dream of steel guitars and exotic scenery when we think of Hawaii because of our love for the sound of a steel guitar. I recommend if you can attend, is go to one of the festivals on at Maui, Kauai or Oahu. I have been to a couple and it is Hawaiian Steel Heaven, thanks to the credit of Addison Ching, Alan Akaka and many others that organise those events. You can play a slot yourself, and then get to hear a lot of top players also. Jeff Au Hoy, Alan Akaka, Greg Sardinha, Bobby Ingano, just to mention a few. A great experience and wonderful people. Then you will believe the dream does exist.
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George Rout


From:
St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 5:49 pm     Reply with quote

Re "what is that instrument called", I play every Thursday night with a band at an open mic. Three weeks ago and also coincidentally last night, two different ladies came and asked "what do you call that instrument.....". I always tell people, it's a "Hawaiian steel guitar". Being an older lady, she was amazed when I told her how long it's been around. She loved the sound. I was playing Hawaiian Sunset at the time.

In John Troutman's recent book, "How The Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed The Sound of Modern Music", he covers in some detail throughout the book how and when it became popular and then almost to extinction, and changes to Slack Key, and out of Country Music, authentic Hawaiian vs non authentic et al.
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