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Author Topic:  Two Recommendations: Book and Film
Mark Helm

Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 13 Jan 2018 1:56 pm    
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Friends: Recently finished a very interesting, mostly well-written book: 'Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar' by Alan di Perna and Brad Tolinski

The early chapters feature the groundbreaking work of George Beauchamp, Adolph Rickenbacker, John Dopyera, Paul A. Bigsby, Leo Fender, and, to a lesser extent, Paul Barth, Harry Watson, Doc Kaufman, and George Fullerton. Though there's one gaping flaw in the book: little mention is made of the first "real" guitar heroes who were wizards on the lap steel (and you know their names), it's a decent read with some real insight into the mind of Leo Fender especially.


AND, while I'm at it, I'd also like to highly recommend an absolutely brilliant documentary: 'Rumble (The Indians Who Rocked the World),' which was recently released on Netflix and rightly documents the influence of Native American musicians on "American" music like the Blues and Rock and Roll:

Blonde 1957 T8 Fender Stringmaster, Vox AC10
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Guy Cundell

More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 17 Jan 2018 5:40 pm    
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‘Play it Loud’ is an interesting enough but by no means as comprehensive as it is made out to be, as Mark suggests. The authors are forced to acknowledge the importance place of the steel guitar in the story by the facts but seem unenthusiastic about doing so. The summary of steel guitar origins is regulation and could have been pulled from Wikipedia. The lack of research is evident in the amusing equivalence that is drawn between Hawaiian steel guitar and slack key. (p5) Beauchamp’s story is told in detail with reference to his Hawaiian steel interest and experience. The Tricone gets a mention, as well as Sol’s part in its success. Alvino Rey gets a paragraph or two, as do the competitors of Rickenbacher in the mid thirties before the chapter fades to black to emerge in the next chapter with Charlie Christian.

Before the fade is a paragraph that deals with Alvino Rey’s steel guitar effects, mentioning the talk box and the rock stars that took it up in the seventies. But the paragraph ends with this.
The public’s perception of the electric guitar as a novelty instrument would persist well into the 1940s. Its novelty began to subside when jazz musicians adopted the new instrument, but would only be fully laid to rest with the advent of rock and roll.
The paragraph had started with discussion of a famous steel guitar practitioner but by the end, whole genres of steel guitar music had evaporated. On one hand, the authors acknowledge the significance of the steel guitar but a myopic perspective prevents them from presenting a full and rich picture to their readers. They give no credence to the artistry of the steel guitarists of the 1930s. Perhaps they (or their editor) judge that their audience would have no interest in western swing or Hawaiian music. Pity.

One and a half stars. (harsh perhaps, but I'm a bit miffed.) Smile

Last edited by Guy Cundell on 24 Jan 2018 5:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mark Helm

Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 17 Jan 2018 8:11 pm     Agreed (Sorta)
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I totally agree with Guy that this book gives criminal short shrift to the towering importance of lap steel guitar and its most dizzying practitioners.

The reason I recommend it has only a bit to do with its mention of the steel's history.

There's some pretty insightful stuff about Leo Fender and the genesis of that iconic company, and great chapters on the Telecaster, the Strat, and Rickenbacker solid and semi-hollow body electric guitars like the 360-12. Never mind the rather engaging chapter on Eddie Van Halen's FrankenStrat."

I do agree with Guy that, if you're looking at it purely from the perspective of a non-pedal steel player (which is reasonable since I posted about it on this forum), it's pretty weak tea.
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Anthony Lis

South Dakota, USA
Post  Posted 17 Jan 2018 9:36 pm    
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Thanks for your frank thoughts on the di Perna/Tolinski book.
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United Kingdom
Post  Posted 22 Jan 2018 8:45 pm    
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Mmmm, Hawaiian Guitar origins comes to mind, the myth about Joseph Kekuku and also the origins of slack key and the THREE vaqueros that were imported to sort out the wild cattle problem in the 1830's.
I think a lot of the real history has been manipulated for various reasons and tainted by bias.
Here is something to ponder upon,writen by a pretty good source.
Don’t read this if you wish to promote the urban myth that’s of the Hawaiian Guitar..

The Kekuku Mystery by Kealoha Life

With the arrival next year in Hawai‘i, of the Centenary of the ‘Invention‘ of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar, reputedly by Joseph Kekuku, I have (after a lifetime of research based at information from musicians who knew him. and who were related to him) printed evidence, conclusively proving that he could not have invented the instrument. from none other than Joseph's own words!

“My first doubts were sparked off by the remark by my lifelong dear friend and musical associate, steel guitarist Pulu Moe. like Joseph. living in La'ie, North O'ahu, and son-in-law of Kekuku, (by virtue of his marriage to Kekuku's daughter Lei Lalana Kekuku) to the effect that many Hawaiians
played steel guitar long before his father-in-law did. This is confirmed by authoress Amine von Tempsky, in her fine book about the Parker Ranch. 'Born in Paradise'. in the 19th century, saying that her father’s 'paniolo‘ ranch-hands, (Hawaiian cowboys) ‘used their jack-knives to play the guitar'.
Although Joseph Kekuku popularized the steel guitar at the us. mainland, and throughout Europe. (including England). he was apparently not the first, nor the only, player to appear in Europe since Jenny Wilson and Her Hawaiian Troupe appeared in 1894 (although we have no knowledge whether steel guitar was used). and July (“Tulai‘) Paka was playing steel with Toots Paka's Hawaiians in 1899.
We can note that Joseph Kekuku only left Hawai'i in 1904 for the us. Mainland and Europe.

“Fifty years ago, this extraordinary 'whodunit‘ intrigued me, and when i discovered the conflicting and original evidence that follows, I was determined to pursue the enquiry to the end, in completely unbiased fashion.

“When James Hoa reputedly invented the steel guitar in 1876, (witnessed by David M Kupihea), from possibly copying barber William Bradley. an early steel guitarist, Joseph Kekuku would have been two years old, and when Charles E. King described in a broadcast show how he heard Indian Gabriel Davion playing steel guitar at Waihee, Maui, in 1884, Kekuku only 'invented' the steel guitar the following year, at the age of eleven (!), which was confirmed by Joseph in a leaflet issued by him, while he was instructor at Reid’s School of Music in Chicago.

Charles E. King (with whom I corresponded once), world-famous composer, publisher, bandleader or records and radio, teacher, lecturer, a quarter Hawaiian by descent, was brought up amongst the Royal Family of Hawai'i (his godmother was Her Majesty Queen Emma, and his music teacher was the famous composer Queen Lili‘uokalani), and studied at Kamehameha School, when Joseph Kekuku was there. Therefore. his evidence is unimpeachable, when he stated that Joseph could not have practiced with a tumbler (glass) on his Spanish Guitar, after trying a pocket-knife on its strings, as no ukulele or guitar was allowed to be brought into the school. Nor, for this reason, could a metal comb have fallen out of his jacket top pocket onto the strings of his guitar. as some minors will have it, nor again, could the wrapped gift of a pocket-knife have fallen across guitar strings, as stated by his brother, Edwin Keltultu.

“I saw, and listened to, the ‘Bird of Paradise' Hawaiians (with Joseph Kekuku at steel guitar), at the Wembley Exhibition, England, in 1923, at the age of four years, and although I only remember them vaguely (one of Kekuku’s musicians remembered me as a little boy, when he worked for me many years later), I shall always be grateful to them for introducing to me, at such an early age, the beautiful singing of the Hawaiians, and the sound of steel guitar, ukulele, and guitar, which caused me to become a professional Hawaiian steel guitarist, solo standard guitarist, solo ukuleleist, and Hawaiian vocalist all my life. which was a spin-off” from my career as a government linguist, translator, and philologist “However, Kekuku issued so many conflicting dates of his 'invention‘, in articles and interviews, in addition to the many steel guitar tutors published and available in Europe from the 20's to the 40's. bearing his photo inside the cover, and describing his ‘invention' that it is difficult to imagine that he was uncertain of the date. He quoted 1880, 1885, 1889, and finally 1893, the last-named date appearing in the biography of Johnny Noble (“Hula Blues“). Differing descriptions appeared inside the covers of these tutors, such as: '...He heard, and saw, sailors“ (described variously as being Dutch, German, Scandinavian, or even Spanish!) playing their guitars with a jack knife. after which he practiced in secret...“ It may well be that the first inventor before Kekuku, either Dutch sailors imitating with their pen- knives, the Dutch ‘hommel‘ or German 'hummel‘, a dulcimer played on pinned legs to a table-top, or even more likely, Scandinavian sailors imitating their national instruments, the Swedish pear-shaped 'hulme' and the Norwegian 8-string 'langleik', which are dulcimers too, played both across the knees with a steel bar. Alternatively, it is just possible that the earliest inventors of the steel guitar could have seen and heard the Japanese 'Bugako Biwa', a lute played with a cherrywood or rosewood bar, and the Japanese ’koto‘, played with an ivory thumbpick and fingerpicks, imported perhaps by Japanese agricultural workers. As the Spanish gut-string guitar was introduced to Hawai'i from Spain and Mexico in 1830, and the steel-strung guitar imported from the Portuguese Azores Islands in 1865, the Hawaiians had ample time and opportunity to invent the steel guitar before Kekuku, even discounting the fact that Gabriel Davion came from lndia. and could have easily seen, heard, and played the Indian 'Swarabat Sitar“, (literally: 'plectrum guitar“ in Hindustani), which was played
with a quill (like the turkey-quill used in playing the Swedish 'hulme' dulcimer, and the American Appalachian dulcimer]; more important. the 'Swarabat Sitar“ was played with a cylindrical metal tube, it was alternatively played with a smooth, polished stone, and in both methods, used a crystal plectrum or pick. like the ”bin” and "bicitrabin' of India.

An enormous influence on the steel guitar‘s development was the demonstration of F. Menschen of a zither to King Kalakaua (after which several members of the royal Hawaiian Family became proficient on it; in addition, Her Majesty Queen Liliuokalani and Charles E King used the zither for composing their famous melodies), and from this zither, stemmed the innovations present in the acoustic Hawaiian steel guitar of the 1920s, namely the A major tuning (the earliest A major tuning being contemptuously dubbed “the ladies tuning”), being popular with the Hawaiian musicians, owing to its attack in their marches; fingerpicks, (metal rather than ivorite), thumbpick, (ivorite), and shallow body (to secure a sharp tone), while from the sailors‘ dulcimers, perhaps seen by Joseph Kekuku, sprang the hollow-box-neck and slightly pear-shaped shoulders of the Bergstrom Music Co., of Honolulu.

“I used to borrow the cook's zither, to practice, in the boarding-school in the tiny alpine village of Chateau D'Oex, Switzerland (home of film-actor David Niven, and the next village to Rossiniére, where Her Royal Highness Princess Diana was educated), where l was educated till the age of 16, and soon saw the similarity of the zither co the steel guitar, which I had been playing since the age of 14; many years later, it occurred to me that it was quite logical that the President and Founder of the Rickenbacker (originally “Rickenbacher’l Guitar Company was a Swiss!

My two guitarists in the ‘Royal Hawaiian lslanders‘, touring England during World War II, ‘Kimo Koa’ (Jim Collins) and ’John Kimoa‘ (John Hendricks), the former being leader of 'Kimo Koa and his Hawaiians' (11 records, both played with Joseph Kekuku in the 'Bird of Paradise' Hawaiians at Maxim's Chinese Restaurant and the old Cosmo Club, in London. and told me two varying stories by Kekuku, of his 'invention‘. as follows: l) Kekuku 'accidentally dropped his steel-string guitar across the rail of a little railroad back in Hawai'i, (perhaps a narrow-gauge sugar-cane or pineapple spur?)‘. which story was confirmed by its appearance in the introduction. word for word. in a tutor dedicated to Kekuku, and 2) the story published by me in the organ of the Hawaiian Music Foundation, 'Ha'ilono Mele', as heard from Kimo Koa, that Kekuku and his musicians were playing on an unspecified beach in Hawai‘i, where a private party of tourists sailed by in their yacht. were entranced by the steel guitar sound. and picked up Joseph's group, taking them to New York, where an agent booked them to travel the United States and Europe. The two most startling variations on Kekuku's own story of his invention (eight varying stories by him exist to date!). I discovered recently, and am now convinced that these show that Joseph did not invent the steel guitar. Here they are: “Alvin D. Keech. Hawaiian inventor of the 'Banjulele Banjo' wrote in an article called 'Say it with a Banjulele‘ (which l have). that Kekuku playing with him in the show. 'Leap Year“ at the London Palladium, was the inventor of the steel guitar, but contradictorily added: "The steel guitar was invented from the five string ‘Tarropatch Fiddle’ (not the eight-string taropatch, nor, the later four- string baritone ukulele, also sometimes called the ‘taropatch’), used by the plantation serenaders, and which played with a STEEL ‘KILA’ MANIP{ULATED WITH THE LEFT HAND ACCORDING TO LOCAL CUSTOM.”
”So, it would seem that for some years before Kekuku's invention, the taropatch serenaders had been playing the five-string taropatch ukulele with a bar, before the size of the instrument had been reduced; Keech's description of the size alteration of “Alvin D. Keech states in his article that he was present at H. M. King Kalakaua‘s feast (at which Gabriel Davion was alleged to have played the Hawaiian steel guitar), and Keech‘s article proves beyond any reasonable doubt, that others were playing long before Kekuku, as confirmed by his son-in- law Pulu Moe.

“The final chapter in this Agatha Christie style 'whodunit', is added by famous steel guitarist, composer, and publisher C. S. Delano, who, in his article of April 1932 issue of the English 'Banjo, Mandolin, and Guitar' Magazine, said that when he visited Joseph Kekuku in Paris, Joseph told him
that in 1880 (yet another, and differing date!), he was walking along a road in Honolulu, holding an old Spanish guitar, when he saw a rusty bolt on the the ground (other stories say he used an old railroad spike); he picked it up, when it ‘accidentally vibrated one string, and produced a new tone‘. Only then did he experiment with a highly-polished steel bar. Alvin D. Keech and C. S. DeLano both possessed impeccable reliability regarding their statements, and Kekuku, moreover, had worked for Keech, while C. S. DeLano had met him. The following final coincidences (or are they?) have a bearing on this strange and compelling enigma; William and John Kamoku and Sam Kawaihae, of the ‘Bird of Paradise Hawaiians' recorded extensively under their own names, such as ‘Winner' record label, and accompanied Hawaiian travel-talks and magic-lantern shows with their Hawaiian music, sponsored by lecturer Mrs. Steedman (with whom I corresponded), when all four lived in Wilmslow, Cheshire, England. William Kamoku broadcast at least once over nearby Manchester radio station. Pulu Moe visited William Kamoku (John Kamoku had by then returned to Hawai‘i), whom he knew well, in the mid-40‘s, when he and l were featured steel guitarists with the world-famous Felix Mendelssohn and His Hawaiian Serenaders, on films, TV, and radio, and world-wide distributed Columbia records, concert, and variety stage for ten years.

Pulu Moe's internationally known steel guitarist brother. (also from La'ie), Tau Moe, visited ‘Bird of Paradise’ steel guitarist Joseph Pune, at Honolulu's Lunalili Home. Another member of the group, Segis Luawana (also known for his steel guitar recordings under the name of 'Juan Akoni') taught the ukulele to the Duke of Windsor (then the Prince of Wales), and was accompanied on ‘Winner‘ records by Spanish guitarist Lady Chetwynd.

Apart from Gabriel Papaia (who played plectrum guitar), and July ('Tulai'] Paka (who played steel guitar and violin), the others, William Kamoku, Joseph Pune. and Segis Luawana. were all individual recording steel guitarists in their own right Unlike Kekuku, who used a steel bar, they all
used blunted sailors' IXL steel jack-knives (clasp-knives) according to my information from Kimo Koa, and ALL used PIANO WIRE for strings, these being solidcore, plain, unwrapped strings for securing more sustain with less surface-noise. The most significant fact is that William Kamoku was a paniolo‘! Strangely enough. the Mormon town of La'ie has the nearby Gunstod: Ranch today, and at least one of the Kekuku group was an Hawaiian cowboy!
“In those days, the Hawaiian steel guitar was variously called: 'kikala Hawai'i', 'kikala maoli', ‘kikala anuunuu‘, ‘wiola anu'unu'u', and occasionally kikala pahe'e‘.

I hope that this research on the true story of the invention of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar, by one who associated in good friendship. and playing music of the Old Hawai‘i, many years ago, with associates of Kekuku, will give as much pleasure and interest to steel guitar-is“ is and lovers of
Hawaiian music, as the pleasure of compiling it has given me.”

Editor’s note: The life story of Kealoha Life (as told by Kealoha) was printed in the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association's July 1989 and October 1989 issues. in that article he stated the following He was born Alfred Hollis Randell in London, England, in 1919, of Welsh, Australian, and French Huguenot descent. He was educated in Switzerland during which time he became an expert (self-taught) 'ukuleleist, steel guitarist, and fluent in 10 different languages. (His friend, John Marsden. stated that Life is also fluent in the Hawaiian language.) Aside from performing with his own big band, Life was the featured artist with the very famous Felix Mendelssohn‘s Hawaiian Serenaders as steel guitarist, Spanish guitarist, ’ukuleleist. Hawaiian vocalist. and Hawaiian dancer. He then spent 20 ears as a very popular and successful musician in South Africa, Nambia, and Moçambique. He identified ' one of the guitar players in ‘Kekuku group' as being’ a South African Griqua (Hottentot ) guitarist named Kimo Koa. Life stated that this report has been published in whole or in part at least 12 times in different magazines and perodicals since 1951.

D. George S. Knanhele
The following report is taken from ”Hawaiian Music and Musicians“,
published in 1979 by the University Press of Hawai'i.

“There are three conflicting claims attributing the invention of the steel guitar to three different persons: James Hoa, Gabriel Davion, and Joseph Kekuku. Of this trio. Kekuku has been the most commonly mentioned as inventor of the steel guitar - and the evidence is impressive - but it is nevertheless interesting to examine the claims for Hoa and Daviort in the case of Hoa, the Honolulu Advertiser reported at January 24, 1932, a statement by David M Kupihea that James Hoa invented the steel guitar in 1876. Kupihea stated: ‘ln those days we had only the Spanish style guitars, and they were scarce. So we used to make our own instruments. I was a musician even then though i was just a youngster. Hoa was the first bandmaster and served under Kamehameha V, Lunalilo, and Kalékaua.’

Kupihea went on to say that “the steel guitar first came into popular use as a sensational feature of Hawaiian music at King Kalékaua‘s Jubilee celebration. Sweet Emalie, the most famous of all Hawaiian dancers, was the first to appear in the hula while playing an 'ukulele and with the
accompaniment of the steel guitar and uke. I played the ‘ukulele at that occasion and Gabriel Davion, whose son is now a well known musician here, played the steel.‘ Kupihea‘s story is suspect for a nunber of reasons. First. nowhere else has Hoa's name beet mentioned as inventor of the steel guitar. Second, if he was referring to Hoa being the 'first bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band. it is not true Hoa was never, in fact. its bandmaster. Third, if Hoa had invented the steel in 1876, why has no one found any mention of it by King Kalékaua, Queen Lili‘uokalani, Captain Henry Berger, and others? Berger, who was a bear student of music and a meticulous diary keeper, did not refer to it once. Fourth. no account so far of Kalékaua‘s Jubilee, which took place in 1886, indicates that the steel guitar was played.

“The important point is that if Hoa indeed invented the steel guitar in 1876, why did no other Hawaiian musicians pick it up? It was not until the 1890's and thereafter that the steel guitar was popularized. This hiatus of 20 years is difficult to explain away - unless it is contended that Hoa
merely experimented with a new technique but failed to perfect it, as did Joseph Kekuku later.

The Davion claim is a little more intriguing The first and so far the only documented source of the story is a statement by the composer Charles E King who said during one of his radio station KGU broadcasts in the late 1930‘s: ‘In 1884 l was living at Waihe'e, Maui. and there appeared in the village a goup of musicians from Honolulu, one of whom was Gabriel Davion - a young man who was bornn in India, kidnapped by a sea-captain and finally brought to Honolulu...This Davion attracted a great deal of attention because he had a new way of playing the guitar...’

“Although King was already in his sixties when he recounted his boyhood experience (he was only 10 years old in 1884) with Davion, he was still alert and his memory good. Since we cannot fault him on any other ground, his claim must be taken seriously. The fact that Davion came from India is significant. for he might well have learned the sliding technique using a rod or hard substance from Indian players of the golmwdyam. It would have bear a relatively simple matter of using it with a guitar. It is also worth noting that Kupihea mentions Davion as having played the steel guitar with James Hoa at Kalékaua’s jubilee So Davion's talent was known to at least more than one person. if not many. Even if James Hoa did invent (or develop) the steel guitar as early as 1876. or Davion in 1884, still unexplained is the long gap between its first appearance and popularization by other Hawaiian guitarists - a period of 10 to 20 years.

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Guy Cundell

More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 25 Jan 2018 4:17 pm    
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The author, Alan, DiPerna reports that his editors were resistant to excessive steel guitar material and, in fact, were responsible for much of his material on the subject ‘hitting the cutting room floor’. In this circumstance, I believe that he should be applauded for what he did achieve. I agree with Mark that the material on Leo Fender, Paul Bigsby, Merle Travis and the Tele is fascinating.

Basil, the ‘railway spike fell on my guitar’ story always seemed to me to be part of the well-oiled shtick of a successful vaudevillian. Self-promotion is an important factor in success for a professional performer so I don’t blame him at all.

Whether any of the stories have merit is moot as the veils of time obscure the view. For myself, I prefer the idea of a communal solution rather than the elevation of one hero or another. The evidence is that steel strings were used on guitars in Hawaii before the appearance of guitars designed to cope with the extra stress that they impose on a neck. (Troutman, ‘Kika Kila” p11, 20, 26-7) With the wide spread use of open tunings at the time a possibility, it is not a long stretch to imagine guitars that deteriorated to a point that they could no longer be fretted by hand. The solution of using a known sliding technique may well have been a group innovation rather than that of an individual. That said, Kekuku’s efforts in refining and popularizing the style should be acknowledged.
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Joe Breeden

Virginia, USA
Post  Posted 25 Jan 2018 4:54 pm    
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I don't think I would buy or read a book in which the editor appears to have as much or more input than the (?) author.
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Guy Cundell

More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 25 Jan 2018 5:05 pm    
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You'd be surprised, Joe. They pay the bills.
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