Thursday, June 14, 2007

Steel Guitars and Old Fashioneds

The sound of the Hawaiian guitar conjures up images of white sand beaches, palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze, and grass skirts swaying from the hips of graceful Hula dancers.

I have long enjoyed the sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar. My grandmother used to mix herself an Old Fashioned and dance to her old 78s of Hawaiian music on hot summer afternoons. My sister and I learned to love the sound of ukuleles and steel guitars. When she passed, I inherited my grandmother’s collection of 78 rpm records, including her treasured Hawaiian music. To this day, I love the sweet sound of Hawaiian music, I'm kinda fond of the Old Fashioned also.

That wonderful sound came to American shores around the turn of the 20th century and quickly became an exotic treat across the continent. Throughout the 1910s and ‘20s, many Hawaiian bands formed in such unlikely places as New York, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

The influence that the Hawaiian steel guitar craze had on American music is still being debated by ethnomusicologists and music historians. Some contend that the Hawaiian steel guitar was adapted by blues musicians; others argue that the styles developed concurrently and that neither played a large role in the development of the other.

Cliff Carlisle was a superb guitarist, singer, and songwriter from Taylorsville, Kentucky who was influenced by Hawaiian steel guitar, rural Black blues musicians, and the “Blue Yodel” style of Jimmie Rodgers. I’ve written about Cliff Carlisle before, but I failed to mention that he claimed that he was influenced as a child by the sounds of Hawaiian guitar on the radio. Carlisle was born in 1904, putting his early developmental years squarely at the peak of Hawaiian music popularity. During the 1930s he recorded several sides with the master of the Hawaiian Steel guitar, Sol Hoopii.

Dorsey and Howard Dixon were mill workers from South Carolina who turned to making a living at music late in life. The Dixon Brothers were influenced by their friend and fellow mill worker, Jimmy Tarleton. Tarleton had learned the Hawaiian style while he was in California. Find my previous post on Darby & Tarelton here.

Now, I am not qualified to enter into the academic debate about the influence of Hawaiian steel guitar and the blues, but my ears hear an unmistakable Hawaiian influence on these rural Southern artists of the 1920 and ‘30s. Give them a listen and make your own decision.

Sol Hoopii - Alekoki.mp3

Sol Hoopii – Sweet Lei Lehua.mp3

Cliff Carlisle – It Takes An Old Hen to Deliver The Goods.mp3

Cliff Carlisle – Sugar Cane Mama.mp3

The Dixon Brothers – Intoxicated Rat.mp3

The Dixon Brothers – My Girl In Sunny Tennessee.mp3

Sol Hoopii - My Hawaiian Queen.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend.


Blogger Gustavo said...

Great Post!!.


June 15, 2007 7:54 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

Great music! These songs just filled my head with images of old Hawaii. Loved them!

June 15, 2007 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Hi Ed! I played a National lap steel for many years. My music teacher passed away, and I kind of gave it up after that. This post has inspired me to work harder at perfecting my dobro playing AND pulling out the old National, getting it set up again, and giving it a try. I just hope the old tubes on my amp don't explode when I start it up.

June 15, 2007 6:29 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

You don't have a bluegrass or Hawaiian rendition of the theme from "Gilligan's Island" do you Ed?

June 15, 2007 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

Two of my dearest friends moved back to Hawaii in March and three more are leaving in August; this post is great, but makes me miss them even more.

Happy Pop's Day, Ed.

June 17, 2007 2:21 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Many thanks for the kind words, folks. I sure am glad y'all enjoy the Hawaiian stuff. It holds a special place in my collection.

June 17, 2007 9:02 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

"Gilligan's Island", eh, Beer? Funny you should ask, I'll have to remember where it is, but I do have a bluegrass song that includes a few bars of "A Three Hour Cruise." Let me see if I can dig it up for you.

June 17, 2007 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Rockin'n'rollin' said...

Great Post like always, Ed.

June 18, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks Rockin'n'rollin', I know you've got some Hawaiian music in your collection, too.

June 18, 2007 7:56 PM  

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