The Sons of Hawaii

This page is dedicated to my favorite Hawaiian musical group, the legendary Sons of Hawaii. For over 30 years they played Hawaii's most beautiful music, true backyard country music. Nothing fancy or over produced, just great traditional Hawaiian music by Hawaii's greatest musicians.

The group was originally formed in 1960 under the leadership of 'ukulele virtuoso Eddie Kamae and consisted of Kamae, slack key great Gabby Pahinui, Joe Marshall on bass and David "Feet" Rogers on steel guitar. Each of these musicians came to the group with years of experience in not only Hawaiian music, but many other kinds, such as jazz and latin. Kamae had long been one of Hawaii's top 'ukulele players, Pahinui had been playing clubs in Hawaii for over 20 years and had a loyal following of devoted fans, Marshall had been playing music since high school, and Rogers, who was a merchant seaman by trade, had steel in his blood (his father was also a steel player).

According to Kamae they got together to create a new sound. He said in four months of playing, sleeping, thinking, talking, drinking and sharing one another's ideas, the sound was an extension of who they were. They had no preconceived ideas of the sound they were seeking, but the sound evolved as each member made suggestions. It was the steel guitar, Kamae said, that really made the Sons of Hawaii unique. In the early 60s, the steel was out of favor in Hawaiian music. "Hawaiian music without steel is not really Hawaiian music", Kamae has said.

In 1960 they opened at the Sandbox in Honolulu and were soon the highest paid Hawaiian group in the Islands. It was in their first year that they recorded their first album and it became an instant hit (Hula Records #503). But soon the group disbanded, as Feet Rogers was back on his ship as a merchant seaman. Soon, however, Rogers was back in town and they recorded a second album (Hula Records #506).

After the second album, Rogers was gone for 6 years. During this time, Pahinui and Marshall played with other groups. But Kamae was researching the old Hawaiian music, looking for old songs that were composed years before and known by few but the old folks in the Hawaiian backcountry. He went to the outlying districts, little villages and hamlets, to find the people who knew the old songs and learn from them how they should be sung. Usually, these people would not be willing to teach outsiders their family songs, but they came to trust Kamae and could see in him someone who wanted to learn the songs in the old way.

The Sons would regroup with different musicians. In the mid 60s, the second Sons of Hawaii consisted of Eddie, Joe and Feet along with Atta Isaacs, another legendary slack key artist; Bobby Larson, who had a beautiful tenor voice; and Norman Isaacs, Atta's brother, who filled in for Marshall on bass sometimes. In the late 60s, the third Sons of Hawaii consisted of Eddie, Joe, Feet, Sonny Chillingworth and Zulu, who acted on Hawaii 5-0.

In 1970, the group reassembled once more, this time to make another album. To the original four musicians was added a man from Ni'ihau, Moe Keale. Moe was a young solo performer when Kamae walked into his show one day. According to Moe, who idolized Kamae (both are 'ukulele virtuosos), he was so awed that Kamae was there that he immediatly took a break, hoping that if he was offstage long enough, Kamae would get bored and go home. But 90 minutes later, he was still there, so he went to a comfy, family song, "Kanaka Wai Wai", which Moe's "Tutu Man" had written. Kamae was so impressed with Moe's singing and playing that he eventually asked him to join the Sons of Hawaii.

Eddie Kamae, Gabby Pahinui, Joe Marshall, David "Feet" Rogers, and Moe Keale, 1970.

Recently, Moe Keale recalled his days with the Sons of Hawaii. The Sons were practicing for this third album, learning the old songs that Kamae had been researching. All but Feet Rogers, that is, as he was still on his ship but due in town the day they were to record. Finally the recording day came, but Feet still wasn't there. Someone assured them that he was due any minute, so they warmed up. Finally, in came Feet and they went through each of the songs once, so Feet could at least hear the song. After each song, Feet said, "Okay, I got it". "Sure", Moe was thinking, "what are you, NUTS?" But he kept his mouth shut. Moe, being the youngest, didn't know about Feet Rogers' legendary ability to learn a song after only one listen.

Well, Feet had every number nailed solid. Moe claims that Feet's solos on the this album, "Folk Music of Hawaii, Sons of Hawaii" (Panini Records #1001) were all recorded on the first take! This album was unusual in that it was issued with a book with lengthy biographies on each musician and another book on traditional Hawaiian music. It has recently been reissued on CD.

After the success of this album, the Sons again went on their separate ways. Gabby had decided to go off on his own to record, Feet was back on the high seas, Keale was doing a number of things, including being an actor in the TV series Hawaii 5-0, Marshall was playing with other groups, and Kamae was out researching the old songs again.

In 1973, Kamae brought the group back together, minus Gabby, and added a young Hawaiian singer-songwriter named Dennis Kamakahi. This was the fifth Sons of Hawaii incarnation. Kamakahi was only 21 years old, but had already made a big name for himself as a singer, composer and slack key guitar player. By 1977, Moe Keale had left the Sons and in 1982 guitar players George Kuo and Raymond Balles were added when Feet was ill with cancer.

The Sons of Hawaii, circa 1974. Left to right: Moe Keale, Joe Marshall, Eddie Kamae,
Feet Rogers and Dennis Kamakahi.

In 1989, the seventh and final incarnation of the Sons of Hawaii consisted Eddie, Joe, George Kuo, Braddah Smitty, Dennis Kamakahi and sometimes Gary Haleamau and steel player Paul Kim would join them. When Joe Marshall passed away, Ocean Kaowili became the bass player. This was the last Sons of Hawaii, as Eddie Kamae retired in 1992.

Today, the Sons of Hawaii are still active. They have the occasional gig in Hawaii and I recently saw Eddie here in California promoting one of his new films. Kamae is now a very successful film maker and has produced many movies about Hawaiian culture. Dennis Kamakahi is a successful musician and travels the world over, bringing slack key guitar to thousands of new fans every year. Moe Keale, Feet Rogers, Joe Marshall and Gabby Pahinui have all passed on. But the music will live on forever.

After the original three Sons of Hawaii albums, seven more were added in the years 1974 to 1980. It was on these albums that Dennis Kamakahi wrote many of the songs he is most famous for, such as Wahini 'Ilikea, E Hihiwai, Pua Hone, and Koke'e. All of these albums are still in print, some in CD format, some just in cassette.

Recently, Eddie Kamae released a film about the Sons of Hawaii. You can purchase it at Eddie Kamae's website. From Eddie's website..."This 80-minute feature length documentary, the seventh in the Kamaes’ award winning Hawaiian Legacy Series, tells the story of the charismatic band that helped launch the Hawaiian cultural renaissance. Spanning forty years of Hawai‘i’s rich musical tradition, the film offers an intimate look at a unique group of performers and composers: their songs, their humor, and their devotion to a sound that continues to convey something essential about the Hawaiian spirit."

The Sons of Hawaii, 1976. Left to right: Joe Marshall, Dennis Kamakahi,
Eddie Kamae, David "Feet" Rogers.

For a complete listing of Sons of Hawaii CDs and tapes, go to The Hawaiian Music Island.
More on Eddie Kamae can be found here.
Please check out Dennis Kamakahi's web site here.

A big mahalo to Dennis Kamakahi who helped me with this history of the Sons of Hawaii.

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