Ledward Kaapana, slack key master guitarist
and Milton Lau his manager.
Interview by Dmae Roberts in 2005
In Ledward’s home where he was interviewed while playing songs.
(Led Kaapana’s mastery of stringed instruments, particularly slack key guitar, and his extraordinary baritone and leo ki`eki`e (falsetto) voices, have made him a musical legend. He has been thrilling audiences for more than 40 years. With easy-going style and kolohe (rascal) charm, he has built a loyal corps of Led Heads from Brussels to his birthplace on the Big Island of Hawaii. Recognition by his peers earned Led 4 Grammy nominations in his own right and 2 wins on slack key compilations.)
[00:00:04] Ledward: In a country you know when I was growing up it was so quiet and I mean just so you could hear this music you know. My dad playing, my uncles grandpa you know grandma there was singing and playing Slackkey. And we as growing up we hear all these music and the chickens and the roosters crowing on the side and the dogs barking.
[00:00:30] Dmae: They didn’t start till you started playing.
[00:00:31] Ledward: (laughing/playing guitar) I do for you or something I just recorded.
[00:00:50] Dmae: Would you introduce yourself first?
[00:00:50] Ledward: Oh hello I’m Ledward Kaapaana certified Hawaiian guitar player slackkey from Hawaii. I’d like to do a song that is on this latest CD Kiho’alu called Slackkey lullaby.
[00:03:20] (plays song).
[00:03:20] Ledward: I use thumbpick and finger pick. Some guitar players used two finger picks and a thumb and some just play without picks.
[00:03:37] Dmae: Is there a specific style you’re playing of Slack Key?
[00:03:37] Ledward: Oh yeah. You know it’s like I’ve got my my own style clothes as I was growing up a lot of my stuff my dad, my uncles. Like ? or ?. Everybody else has their own style of playing. What it is for me, feeling what I’m feeling inside your it goes with the guitar and you know what I’m playing. There’s all this feeling come from. So what you’re hearing is all my feelings and you know when it comes to you like electricity going back and forth and making you feel good like you want them to feel like sleeping. That will wake you up. (laughing)
[00:04:22] Ledward: When cowboys came here to help the Hawaiians upgrade the cattle in the Big Island. You know after they finished roping the cows, they sit around the fire and they start playing slack key you know and then slack key lullaby. And then Led Kaapana comes in play ? slack key, we’d stampede. That’s a fast song. You wake up the cows.
[00:05:05] Ledward: This song is called Opihi Moe Moe, which means the sleeping shellfish.
[00:05:51] Ledward: It’s real Hawaiian slackkey now, flat key.
[00:06:02] Ledward:I guess what you mean is that the Hawaiian people were trying to learn how to play the guitar and what they did is slack the strings and the guitar or you know loosening the keys. I think that’s what they called it Slack Key or Ki Ho’alu in Hawaiian.
[00:06:18] Dmae: Why did they want to loosen strings?
[00:06:18] Ledward: To create– you have all these open strings. You can just strum. You don’t have to hold chord. You know have all these open strings and all you have to do is press bar and (plays) That’s C. And back to G (strums)
[00:07:11] Milton Lau: My name is Milton Lau and a part of the theory behind snacky is that when the Hawaiians were listening to these Spanish vaqueros that had come with their guitar. Why. The great thing about Hawaiians is that they had a very good ears. Unfortunately they didn’t have a Western style education on music theory or anything like that. So when Spanish vaqueros went back to Mexico and California, they left behind their guitars but no lessons. So the Hawaiians basically picked up the guitar and tuned it to what he thought sounded good you know and from their aural experience from listening to the Spanish vaqueros so ultimately ended up with a major chord.
[00:08:04] Milton: And so it became a thing where each individual guitar player or family perhaps would then find their own tuning would ultimately end up to be a major chord and kept it to themselves. So the difficult part about all of that is that then how do you decide where the chords are. Because it’s not tuned in standard tuning you know Western tuning so essentially that became you know a problem where I thought you know Hawaiians would then be very creative and start fingering the guitar so that they could find the chords and the stuff so it would be pleasant sounding. So essentially you know that carried on for generations and generations and generations and so the fingering and the appropriations for a Slack Key is relatively simple. But it’s it’s complicated when the individual like you know Ledward or anybody else begins to play it. Then they start using you know the whole keyboard on the fingerboard and you know stop playing all these different melodies but it’s evolved to a point where you know you can just about almost play any kind of music in slack key which is losing the strings. So yeah I thought wains showed a lot of adaptability and creativity and you know coming up with coming up with with you know all these special tunings. So yeah you know again it’s like there must be dozens and dozens of tuning. So.
[00:09:46] Dmae: What is that noise? Shutters…allright…
[00:09:46] Milton: You get a lot of sound effects and are you worried.
[00:09:56] Ledward: But what is easy. You know like the thumb plays the bass notes well the finger does all the melody lines so you’re the bass and they them the melody lines and it’s good to accompany yourself when you play solo. You have always full. You know what I mean if you feel full to make this slack key going.
[00:10:18] Dmae: When did you start?
[00:10:19] Ledward: Real young. I say about six years play ukelele, six years old I was playing. Because that’s all that’s all we had. You know we never had electricity on Kalapana. We learned how to live off the land and to go hunting or to go fishing. And you know how to wash our clothes and everything off the land we have to learn.
[00:10:42] Dmae: You grew up on the Big Island.
[00:10:44] Ledward: Yeah I grew up on the Big Island. I was born in a place called Pahala in the coal district and then moved to Kalapana which is about 60 miles away. And when I went to move to Kalapana. Then way for myself for myself this was when my music started because I guess we were isolated. And that’s all we had music.
[00:11:08] DmaeL Is that north?
[00:11:09] Ledward: South. .
[00:11:19] Dmae: So OK so you started when you wer six?
[00:11:24] Ledward: Started playing ukelele. Then I started playing guitar because of the because that’s all I heard them playing the slack key. And then put down the instrument with all the good news is that tap with their feet and their hands until they fell asleep or something. They were drinking plenty yeah? They were good practice before they opened their eyes. (laughs).
[00:11:49] Dmae: Seemed like it was the family tradition and it’s passed on that way. You were mentioning it’s more of an oral tradition’.
[00:11:59] Ledward: And I see all so many families. I mean the brothers and sisters and all my families I see all different style of playing. This autines have their own way of singing and playing the ukelele. So I’ve growing up with all these. Everything was natural.
[00:12:16] Dmae: How many different styles are there?.
[00:12:18] Ledward: I don’t know. I know there’s plenty. I don’t know how many.
[00:12:24] Milton: There’s a lot of different styles. You know if you look at a person like Gabby Pahinui, he infused a lot of jazz into his playing. So really it became almost like the early fusion music for Hawaiians. But today you know I think the old style like Aunti Alice and the Makilua you know she had this very simple style that she says this they played when she was a girl and it was like over a 100 years ago. But you know she she used to tell people that she’d had these figures that she would make and these three or four different figures and that’s what it’s like to her. So when Aunti Alice came to the first slack key guitar festival she said “What are those guys playing?” She didn’t recognize her style you know. All the way up to to today’s style of Kilagima? and Ledward and Cyrill? you know it’s like night and day. So and basically it’s still evolving it’s still evolving and to give you an example. You know there’s another artist that works with us. His name is Paul Togioka and he’s incorporating more contemporary pop into his slack key playing. So you know again it’s like you know the possibilities are there but you know when people start moving in that direction then music critics start beginning to label that as what these guys are like new age slack key. But it’s not really new age. It’s basically evolving you know.
[00:14:17] Milton: So but I think generally speaking people with you know overall want that style like Led is playing you know.
[00:14:27] Dmae: We saw someone on the morning show Makana?
[00:14:28] Milton: Yeah yeah he’s using he’s a new artist.
[00:14:30] Dmae: That’s sort of what you mean?
[00:14:31] Milton: Yes yeah he is kind of like a heavy influence with Celtic music. He loves Celtic music.
[00:14:39] Dmae: Because it didn’t sounds like slack key to me.
[00:14:42] Milton: He kind of like takes it out there you know. It’s almost like this artist call Jake Shimabukura on the ukulele you know I mean he’s trying to take the ukulele to another planet. So yeah you going to have those two you see Makana as a young boy. We’ve known him since he was nine years old. We kind of nurtured him all the way through. And now he’s 26 years old. But yeah what sets them apart is you know his style of playing is dramatically different from lead. So you know Ozzy (Kotani) all these guys very different and you know it appeals to a certain segment of the population particularly younger younger people you know. They like that style because it’s more in tune of you know their whole lives have confused you know.
[00:15:34] Ledward:That’s what it is. The next generation.
[00:15:38] Dmae: I think also I read that I mean it’s only been around 130 years. It’s one of the youngest forms of folk music.
[00:15:49] Milton: Well actually slack key is older than that. It actually had its early beginnings in about somewhere in about 1830 ,1832. That’s when the guitar came to Hawaii and so evolved so technically speaking you know it would be around 175 years old today. So it is quite old and you know people are realized that we actually had the guitar before you know Californiam Oregon and all these other places you know west of the Rocky Mountains. But pretty early so you know the guitar has a long history in Hawaii.
[00:16:26] Dmae: You’re Led’s producer?
[00:16:29] Milton: We produced the last CD with Led you know. It’s called Kiho alu Hawaiian slack key guitar. And before you go home really to give you one.
[00:16:40] Dmae: How did you two meet?
[00:16:40] Ledward: Well if I needed a job you know (laughs). It all started for the slack key.
[00:16:49] Milton: It really started with the Slack Key Guitar Festival and when we started it nearly 25 years ago. I mean even before that I knew where he was because you know he had this legendary reputation. He was in this group that like I was in awe and called Ohana and they were from the Big Island. It was three guys right. His twin brother you know and his cousin you know and basically he took Hawaii by storm literally you know it was back in those days basically you know they were like a headliner that it would be playing in major clubs in Waikiki and doing their music and yeah they had this awesome sound that nobody ever heard of before. So pretty original and pretty fantastic you know and everybody was asking who’s that guitar player. You know that was Led right. You know. So yeah I knew them way before you know this slack key guitar thing. And you know Gabby Pahuinui was kind of the Renaissance man. So with his style and you know his infectious way in his personality basically you know it all kind of you know I guess culminated with this whole movement you know of Hawaiian music and slack key and the steel guitar or whatever.
[00:18:07] Milton: And then you know you could single out all the guys that were responsible for you know actually get in out front and people. I guess you know people back in those days never thought that you know snacky or even the kind of music that Gabby used to play would actually be the kind of music that you could put in concert and people would come to see them you know play. But Gabby change all of that when he did his concerts at the Waikiki shell and he was sold out. You know I mean like 9000 people so some early 70s.
[00:18:44] Dmae: So for me all before where did people play?
[00:18:50] Ledward: I mean that nightclubs all over for entertainers. I mean this was my full time job playing music. It was these days yeah. You had red red clubs many clubs. You could go see all your friends you know the Auti and ?. You know so many people who play so many people were playing?. Everybody has playing.
[00:19:07] Dmae: So it was more of night club thing?
[00:19:10] Ledward: Night club. Everybody had a job you know.
[00:19:15] Milton: Imagine a Sixth Street in Austin. Live music was everywhere in NY particularly in Honolulu. I mean there were clubs everywhere you know and guys like Led would be performing wherever. So you know over time that changed. But basically you know we long for the old days.
[00:19:36] Dmae: It’s not like that anymore?
[00:19:36] Milton: No. What has happened is that it gradually evolved to where you know the prominence of slack key and the players themselves became more recognizable and people started to you know say hey you know maybe we can do a concert with these guys. And so that evolved to be like you know music where you can go to a concert and see these guys perform.
[00:20:01] Milton: So that kind of you know diminished the importance of clubs and you know raise the level of musicianship and the artists to perform in a you know in a concert situation. So and that was very positive you know because from that you know you could use that as a platform and and you know to springboard yourself to other things which is what has happened because George Winston ultimately found out of all of this he loved all that stuff. And then he kind of came to Hawaii, to the festivals and then decided that he wanted to record all the artists so which was a very positive thing. You know he helped to bring a lot of notoriety and awareness of the art from across America and elsewhere. So I think Hawaii musicians have, they owe a lot to to George Winston because he’s done a lot. And I don’t know if he’s made any money out for this. But yeah now slack key you know because of guys like Led that travels all over the place and just concerts across the continent, there’s a growing awareness of the art form not just in America but in Europe and in Asia you know. And we just kind of scratched the surface. You know we’re just going to scratch the surface so hopefully Led will be around for another 100 years.
[00:21:34] Dmae: Are you 100 years old? He says another 100 years. You have a twin brother who also plays?
[00:21:39] Leddward: Ledward and Nedwars. We’re five minutes apart. We’re fraternal.
[00:21:52] Dmae: I just curious about you learned but when did you satart performing professionally?
[00:21:56] Ledward: Nine years old. We played on the Lucky Luck show. When he came to the Big Island. Hukilaw. In ? He brough his show over there. We went on there to play two songs.
[00:22:20] Dmae: What’s his name?
[00:22:20] Led: Lucky Luck.
[00:22:21] Milton: He was a television personality. Way back in the 50s and 60s. And basically that’s how Genoa Keawe got her start on the Lucky Luck show. The Lucky Luck show is basically you know every Sunday on television and he would feature you know various artists. But the house band was you know Aunti Genoa Keawe and these are the people who love you all.
[00:22:45] Ledward: Lucky’s Luau.
[00:22:45] Milton: Yeah yeah. And he kind of like it was the guy that actually you know brought a lot of awareness to Hawaiian music and own musicians but really that’s where Genoa Keawe really got her start, Without Lucky Luck. you know but pretty famous guy you know. So yeah in Hilo.
[00:23:17] Dmae: Do you remember teh first song you played when you were nine years old?
[00:23:17] Ledward: Yeah. The Mauna Loa slack key. There’s a song that I leared from my uncle and he calls it the Moauna Loa slack key so I thought it was about the mountains. You know the Big Island we have Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Thought it was. He says I call it Mauan Loa slack key but it’s oh is this the way the Hawaiian mix poi and when he plays the guitar in start mixing poi on his guitar while playing the song.
[00:23:47] Dmae: He was mixing poi?
[00:23:47] Ledward: How to mix the poi.
[00:23:56] Dmae: I can’t picture it.
[00:23:58] Milton: Basically you get the taro, you mash it up and then you have to you know establish a certain consistency so you can eat the darn thing rather than just looking like a lot of paste you know. So you put water in it and you mix it and you know Hawaiians used to mix it with their hands you know. Put water in it mix it until it’s nice and smooth and satiny and then you can eat it you know. Strictly for Hawaiian you know. Till this day I think tourists and malahini(newcomer to Hawaii) still think it’s paste. So you got you got to grow up with the taste. But some people you know they can acquire the taste you know. But you know if you go to the luaus the temperatures the whole poi was about this small because think one tasted it. Oh what is that? It’s kind of funny. Yeah. The Mauna slack key.
[00:25:02] Ledward: (Plays the song). They’re mixing poi.
[00:26:02] Dmae: I can see it now. You’re Hawaiian. 100 %? Yeah that’s rare. Are you?
[00:26:09] Milton: Hawaiian. But not 100 percent.
[00:26:12] Dmae: Lau.
[00:26:13] Milton: Chinese.
[00:26:15] Dmae: So am I.
[00:26:15] Milton: Yeah and then my mother’s Hawaiian German but you know what I mean it’s like I think Hawaiians are a small you know segment of the you know the whole state. But we’re very proud of our heritage. You know and I think we’ve contributed for being such a small island in small numbers of people who have contributed so much in the way of music dance throughout the world everybody knows. You know I was recently in Europe and everybody understood Aloha you know didn’t matter where you’re from you know Italy and Turkey you know in France or in Barcelona we all understand Aloha. Oh how Aloha. Yeah so Hawaii has made quite an impression on the world. So the music is you know something they all love.
[00:27:15] Dmae: I think slack key has a lot to do with it.
[00:27:17] Milton:Oh yeah yeah. Well a lot of the things you know the guitar of course came from Spain. So basically you know I think there’s that connection with these people you know.
[00:27:29] Ledward: Guitar makes a lot of difference. Because when I go all you know all over and do music. And I meeet guitar players, heavy metal guitar but is that you know they ask me questions like what kind of music is that? It’s called calling slack key. Oh I never heard that before and you know they y want to change it and try to play this style. Yeah I enjoyed it.
[00:28:04] Dmae: (to photographer) You get some photos like the fingers. You want to do it now?
[00:28:12] Ledward: I’ve got to get retune the guitar again.
[00:28:21] Dmae: It goes out of tune everytime?
[00:28:21] Ledward: The Mauna Loa slack key. I did it in standard tuning. this is regular tuning. Aloha ia No O Maui? Aloha ia no o Maui. That means…it means everything. I love Maui.
[00:31:13] Dmae: How often do you play a day?
[00:31:13] Ledward: Not too often (laughs) busy working in the daytime and a lot of things. When I get a chance I just go on the guitar. You know I have to get on the guitar because I find so many things that you get so much fun you know like I’m just keep adding you keep on creating, creating. You find you find new things when you play with the guitar because if you don’t do it then you’re going to do the same thing every day. You like go go beyond. I keep finding all different things.
[00:31:45] Dmae: And that’s how you write music?
[00:31:45] Ledward: This goes… it’s all about feelins again you know. Listening to the rooster. (laughs) (plays song).
[00:32:00] Dmae: That was a little different, huh?
[00:32:00] Ledward: Different feelings again. You know, some songs slow, some medium some fast and some bouncy and that always always always balance in the good rhythm. .
[00:33:40] Dmae: Also hear about…you tour all over. You just got back from Europe and the response has been good. I wonder what–do you think that more people are getting to know slack key? What’s the futu like for it?’.
[00:34:00] Ledward: Oh I mean plenty of people did they know about slack key already, as far as I know. I mean all Canada all over. They all the love this music.
[00:34:20] Dmae: Wasn’t a slack key CD recently awarded a Grammy?
[00:34:20] Milton: Yes yes. Actually a good friend of ours. His name is Charles Brotman. He lives in a Big Island and he was working at the variety of artists that you know also worked with me and he did a compilation and the compilation was submitted submitted submitted. OK. Anyway so again Charles Brotman a friend of ours actually he lives on the Big Island and it’s working with various artists to do a compilation of slack key. So basically that’s you know he had no idea what was going to happen but he didn’t even submit the CD for consideration. The record distributor submitted the CD and because of a lack of entries and so he turned out that five nominees were actually in the first Hawaiian Grammy Award and everyone and I mean everyone in the industry thought that Kenny Rachelle? or the Brothers Kashimira? was going to win. But basically what happened was that you know two weeks before the Grammy Award we had a meeting at the Aubrey? hotel and I told everybody then that slack key was going to win and hands down like it was going to win. And they all thought I was crazy and they said No way. I mean you know Kenny Rachelle because Rachelle is a very popular figure here in a way you know along with the Brothers Kas been around for some time. But I tell them not just me like he’s going to win.
[00:36:02] Milton: Of course I talk to Charles before he went to L.A. and then when slack key won Charles called me from L.A. and tell me Milton we warn you right now that you know it is not rocket science. Basically slack key had been out there being promoted across the continent for some time. You know guys like Led going out there and doing concerts all over the place you know. Dancing Cat got involved and distributing all over you know. So there was a lot of awareness and notoriety for the artist and the music itself. Well the other nominees never did. It’s just boils down to marketing you know marketing marketing marketing marketing and none of the other guys did that. So people actually knew about slack key so when it came time to vote they’re going to vote what they’re familiar with and they were familiar with slack key of course here in Hawaii though there was a big flap. All of that how come slack key? Quite simple. So they talk to all the guys that didn’t know you know about this thing. It was in newspapers magazines radio talk shows television whatever. Everybody is asking why. But you didn’t ask us they didn’t as slack key guys. We kind of knew. You know so you know it ended up where we have a local no music award called No Hoku Hanohano. It’s every year. So the head guy for that is a gentleman by the name of Alan Yamamoto . And so because of all this flap about the you know slack key winning the Grammy he called the meeting with a Grammy Award, Grammy Award committee. And you know the members of the Academy are here. So we had a meeting at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
[00:38:01] Milton: And so in that meeting everyone is saying wow you know we maybe we need to change a category. You know maybe we need to do this and maybe we need to do that. And so the Grammy guy says we’re not changing anything. I mean why would we change that. We don’t do that for anybody else. You know I mean this is a category and it’s up to you guys to get yourself out there and promote yourself because we don’t do it for anybody else. So the Keniger remain the same. So what you need to do is get on the stick and market yourself and your music whatever do whatever it takes to get get out there and realize there is a controversy. I thought everybody at the concert everybody would be real joyous about it. We were joyous. I mean like you guys were joyous singing. Believe me you know rejoice and we would be happy for the other guys if they won. You know but for some reason because these other guys had so much stature in the news business here in the U.S. they felt let down. And so you know the comment among many of these guys well it was setting a bad precedent with how well they play traditional music. You know Hoyne music but they don’t play like you know. And so we thought to ourselves. What do you mean bad precedent. I mean this is a good precedent. You know I mean we represent Hawaii. This is the music. And then someone made a comment about all you know none of the guys won the local music awards. So what does this one national thing on national thing.
[00:39:31] Milton: So really it boils down to the fact that you know they realize that nobody knows them in the big picture. You know in the universe there are like 9000 Grammy members. You know you need to expose yourself to those guys. Fortunately for slack key you know George Winston had done a lot of work laid a lot of groundwork to get exposed and get his awareness over the years and none of the other artists had had the I guess the support I guess and the ability to do that. So it boiled down to you know hey OK what about next yeaar? And so everybody is thinking well maybe we should do a slack key album. Maybe we’ll have better chance or something you know and a comment among some guys I will call our next album you know ‘Paul can cool elevation slack key?’ you know like keeping the catchword. But what that has done that is that has actually encouraged the industry to get going do some you know do some music recorded get it out in the market. And so from last year to this year right this year they were like twenty six entries as opposed to. There was like about 7. And the other problem was that you know Hawaii you guys did not join the Grammy organization so they couldn’t even vote for themselves. It was like Oh so the Grammy I said you guys got like you know joining me what sense if you don’t you can’t vote for yourself. It doesn’t make any sense. But this kind of what’s happening now. So you know we feel good about you know Led and the other slack key guys you know.
[00:41:29] Milton: The controversy that surfaced was that well you know the first team didn’t win. And so what do you mean the first team didn’t win. Well you know the first team meaning like Led and Keola and you know Ozzie and Cyril?. Well the problem was that they didn’t have product to submit. So you know it wasn’t you know it wasn’t a bad fortune for you know for them it was good fortune for Charles Brotman that did the project and actually he actually did a favor to all of slack key for all of slack key. So it’s really is a really positive thing. Now again it’s like people get to the point where they do see the stuff they say silly stuff you know and people who are saying things to me like, oh it’s the only reason why that guy won was because you know your Jewish name. Can you believe that. I mean this this stupid. No the music belongs to everyone. You know it doesn’t matter where you’re from whatever. I mean you know if you playin’ it you play it good. That’s all that counts you know. So like Led had a workshop in August and half of the workshop that came from Japan. And they’re trying to learn slack key.
[00:42:46] Dmae: What was it like?
[00:42:46] Ledward: Oh it was great,.
[00:42:47] Dmae: Teaching are they all Japanese speakers too?
[00:42:51] Ledward: All mix mix.
[00:42:53] Dmae: And they’re all from Japan?
[00:42:54] Ledward: Japan.
[00:42:56] Dmae: What did you teach them?
[00:42:59] Dmae: ?. But they already have some knowledge of the it because they’ve seen and heard his music before. So they have trained you know. And that makes it easier.
[00:43:11] Dmae: It’s kind of cool though. You’re spreading the music.
[00:43:14] Ledward: Yeah yeah.
[00:43:16] Dmae: And did people in Europe want to learn how too?
[00:43:16] Ledward:Oh yeah well, every place I go, they are they all want it and you know they’re always they’re always asked if we’re going to have a workshop when I come the next time.
[00:43:27] Dmae: It has to be somebody who really knows how to play guitar. Becuase you’re the master. Master classes. Do you teach here too?
[00:43:39] Ledward: Only once a year. Workshop.
[00:43:44] Dmae: Don’t people learn from a friend a family somebody or a mentor. Yes. And isn’t that how it’s passed on?
[00:43:55] Ledward:Yeah yeah.
[00:43:56] Dmae: So who are you passing it on to?
[00:44:01] Ledward: Everybody everybody I mean. They all just playing my stuff. figured you know that if they’re going to create their own identity.
[00:44:16] Milton: There’s people that you know they’re like I guess fanatics over what Led does. And they’ve learnt by watching Led and buying all these records or CDs and listening to hours and hours and hours until they can get it themselves. So there’s a gentleman you know a young man that actually try to pattern himself after Lrf and you know when you listen to him so if the guy sounds like Led Kaapana. It’s the highest form of compliment. He’s trying to imitate Led you know. But…
[00:44:50] Dmae: They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
[00:44:55] Milton: Yeah sure sure sure.
[00:44:57] Dmae: But you don’t mind that.
[00:44:58] Ledward: Oh no.
[00:45:00] Dmae: Somebody copies your soundis?
[00:45:02] Ledward: Yeah it doesn’t bother me because every time I play the song is always playing somethin different in the song. Always keep on hearing differnt. You know different rhymes, different?. Everytime I play a song it’s always always got to be the feelings you know whatever I feel. And that’s the magic.
[00:45:21] Milton: The great part about Led is… the the part about Led is that he’s very free with his music but you know just recently and I mean recently I’m speaking about maybe two weeks or so. You know Led had– we had a meeting with the Taylor guitar people who flew in from from from San Diego and they have a program called Taylor clinician’s and the Taylor clinician’s. They represent different genre of guitar music you know there’s jazz pop or whatever you know and so there’s nine clinicians that Taylor has and they go out into the world and have clinics and teach people and so on and so on. So it is going to be the condition for Taylor guitars for slack key guitar which is a big big compliment because basically you’re a huge company. Taylor Guitars– they’re International and they have this program where they’ll send guys out like that all across the world. And that will help to spread the gospel of slack key and the music. So I suppose Led you know would probably like go retire from his day job within the next few years and just do that.
[00:46:45] Dmae: You have a day job?
[00:46:46] Ledward: Yeah.
[00:46:46] Dmae: What do you do.
[00:46:48] Ledward: I’m a maintenance man.
[00:46:55] Dmae: No. Seriously?
[00:46:55] Ledward: I go for the insurance.
[00:46:55] Dmae: How long have you been doing that?
[00:46:55] Leward: 15 years and then flying them to the mainland. So I got a good boss. I can stay as long.
[00:47:05] Dmae: They let you you take off whenever?
[00:47:07] Milton: You’re fortunate.
[00:47:08] Ledward: Yeah.
[00:47:10] Dmae: Hope you don’t do anything to you fingers.
[00:47:14] Ledward: I keep my daytime job because of the you know the medical. I mean he’s very important to me. Most entertainers don’t have medicals. I mean it’s been so expensive. But I keep this job.
[00:47:26] Dmae: Can I ask how old you are?
[00:47:26] Ledward: Um.
[00:47:26] Dmae: OK.
[00:47:33] Ledward: How old do you think I am?
[00:47:34] Dmae: Probably my age but I’m not going to tell you.
[00:47:37] Ledward: Oh no.
[00:47:41] Dmae: You’re not an old man. You’ve got many ears. How many years will be playing?
[00:47:46] Ledward: Oh as long as I can play, I’ll keep going and going. Like the Energizer.
[00:48:03] Dmae: Talk a little about the festival too.
[00:48:06] Milton; Well actually the festival started in 1982 as a tribute to Gabby Pahinui who had died in 1980 doing what he loved playing golf. You know at the Kahuku golf course. And you know I I admired the guy actually you know I really loved his music. And you know we go see him and even had the opportunity to sit in and jam a little bit with him and you know various places met. I just had so much respect for him for what he contributed to why you know in the form of music. So you know we got together with his family and decided that we would do this you know tribute. It was done in Waimanola which is where his hometown is from. And we had everybody that came out to play because everybody respected Gabby. And you know we had 5000 people on the beach was like everyone said “wow you know I mean at that time you know there’s a lot of good artists like Sonny Chillingworth and Otto Isaacs and Peter Moon band and a lot of them and they all came to play you know Melvin Lee etc. So at the end of the day when things were done and you know the way the concert was broadcast live also. So you know everybody told me this is too good of a thing just to just do it this one time you know. So what happened is that he decided that OK with the families blessing I would I would continue to do it.
[00:49:43] Milton: So I moved it from Waimanalo and brought it to Honolulu to be more convenient for people and so there was never any intention or even you know plan to you know to try to like you know do it on an annual basis. We just did it. OK. Next year we try to do it next year and we did it you know because these things are not easy to do and take so much took so much work to get it done. You know for like five years you know and then it was like eight years and then 10 years, 15 years, 20 years and we just got done with the 23rd year. So it’s been going on and on and then we after the 10th year in Honolulu we decided that “hey this is a good thing so let’s take it to the neighbor islands. So I took it in Maui and established and became very successful. Then we went to the Big Island and Kauai and Molokai and so it’s everywhere.
[00:50:47] Dmae: Everywhere now?
[00:50:47] Milton: Every island.
[00:50:48] Dmae: You said you were getting ready for another festival?
[00:50:51] Milton: Yes the last one of the year.
[00:50:55] Dmae: So it’s more than one a year?
[00:50:55] Milton: Yeah it’s five yeah. And then we so it’s a festival series now and then we end up on the island of Kuaui which is within the last three weeks. We’ll be on quite doing the last of the series of the slack key festival was there. And the great thing about it is that you know again we did it because of the music you know and perpetuate slack key guitar you know and you know try to get the artist out there. So we’ve always been kind of like you know a family and we don’t think about anybody else’s music you know whether it’s Brothers Kaz or Peter Moon or or you know ? or whatever we just do our own thing you know we don’t care about whatever, When people like it, they don’t like, it doesn’t matter to us. We keep on doing it. And so I think because of our commitment and passion for what we do people around the world started finding out about the festival was you know pretty soon what happened is that you know you know tourists started coming you know. So then last year in 2004 the state did a survey. They hired a research company to do a study and or survey on slack key guitar festivals wanted to know exactly what.
[00:52:16] Milton: So you know how they do this stuff I don’t know what they do but they had like eight or 10 guys that come to every festival and with their chalkboards and talked to people. And then as a result of that this past March they shared that information with me. Wow. Like we were surprised and he said why. Well the festival actually attracts a total of 3000 something tourists you know with all five which contributes to the economy of Hawaii in excess of 3 million dollars. They started rattling off all this kind of to stuff you know.
[00:52:55] Dmae: Charge more?
[00:52:55] Milton: We don’t charge.
[00:53:00] Dmae: It’s FREE? How do you do it?
[00:53:04] Milton: I try to go out and get sponsors to help me to do this stuff.You know I they have to have the vision like we do. Passion you know and so well that sometimes have had kind of like you know struggling but we’re OK. You know what for a long time for 18 years we had the bank got on board with us you know and because they believe in what we do it is just like perpetrating one culture until the bank you know made some bad investments themselves and they went belly up and then so from the year 2000 we’ve been on our own trying to make this stuff happen. So you know. Yeah. So you know we don’t think about what is going to happen we know what’s going to happen and it is OK you know like this somebody will help us have that committment passion and the belief and the support of people like Ledward and all the other musicians you know we move forward. You know.
[00:54:03] Dmae: I’m just wondering what makes slack key. I guess what is what is slack key’s place in Hawaiian culture and history. You know what. Why is it so. I guess what I’m trying to say is what makes it Hawaiian. Truly Hawaiian.
[00:54:25] Ledward: Because I guess it’s just being played with the soul. You know I mean it goes yeah it’s not written on any sheet. This is just the Hawaiian just played with the feelings. Everything was feelings. So that’s that’s why I see slack key’s one our own– the culture.
[00:54:47] Dmae: Seems represented too where itcame here the mixtures of people.
[00:54:51] Milton: Yeah, and really I think to add to that you know it’s really the the Hawaiian guy that’s playing it you know. All of the history from wayback is inside of him you know when he plays you know it’s coming out in that music you know. Whatever he experiences whether it’s pain, joy, suffering whatever and all that evolutionary history is within him. And so the player actually is makes it unique because there are other people that play open tuning you know, Give you a good example. We had Doyle Dykes. He’s a fantastic player. He’s from Nashville came and played and you know he played an open G tuning and so he can tell me Milton. You know what, I mean, I play an open G tuning but I don’t sound like you. I say yeah because you’re not Hawaian. So you know you come from Nashville and you know you have that history you know. And so that’s what’s coming out of your fingers.
[00:55:59] Ledward: I love I love country music because to me the country music and the Hawaiian music is close. I guess the steel guitar. But now I hear the guitar sound, acoustic guitar especially, when the country music in the Hawaiian music mixing with slack key.
[00:56:23] Dmae: What are you working on now. What are you writing a new song?
[00:56:27] Ledward: I think I do a falsetto. I’ll sing it now.
[00:56:32] Dmae: Do you sing?
[00:56:39] Ledward: (clears throat).
[00:56:39] Dmae: I just heard your instrumentals. I didn’t realize you sang. I’d love to hear.
[00:56:44] Leward: I don’t have a voice now. (laughter).
[00:56:48] Dmae: We’ll listen on the CD.
[00:56:50] Ledward: Yeah yeah yeah.
[00:56:52] Dmae: So you’re working on more singing songs then.
[00:56:54] Ledward: I never had a big falsetto vocal CD you know. Yeah.
[00:57:03] Dmae: What do you mean?
[00:57:05] Milton: Well actually see. See that’s why I got to know Led was through his group who Hui Ohana because falsetto singing was like there you know with that group you know because all of them could sing falsetto. It’s like wow but they were fantastic you know. And yeah. And so you know his guitar playing was amazing. You know the falsetto thing is like whoa. So all of those they made a mark about You know for the music that he did. So yeah he’s a great singer.
[00:57:41] Dmae: It’s hard to sing falsetto?
[00:57:41] Milton: It’s kind of like a half voice.
[00:57:43] Ledward: Yeah yeah. (laughs).
[00:57:55] Dmae: For a man. Women can do it. Are there any woman in slack key?
[00:57:55] Milton: You know I mean like we’ve been trying to encourage people and now I mean like through the years we’ve had several women that do this thing and like Kui pa Kumu Kaui? She’s one of them Salazar is another one. And then you know there’s been a couple others but now we have this young girl. Her name is Britni Paiva. She’s 16 years old from Hilo and she’s placed lucky and she won a music award this year at a local music award ceremony. Now on Onno 16 years old. He lives in Hilo. Yeah she plays psyche and you know clearly Yeah I mean she’s just all she wants to do performing she performs everywhere. Initially Britni Paiva you know she has a bright future. She’s she’s she’s home schooled and so she says you know spend about two hours in home school and six hours on the guitar. I think her original teacher was Keoke ? and but she also learned from what he called Ozzie Kotani.
[00:59:14] Dmae: I should ask Ozzie about that.
[00:59:14] Milton: Yeah yeah. Britni Paiva. She’s obsessed with doing this stuff. You know she says that’s what she wants for a life she wants to play guitar, be a musician and be on stage you know. I guess she got to be a ham no.
[00:59:38] Dmae: It’s about passing on traditions and making new traditions. That’s what Hawaii is about.
[00:59:39] Milton: What’s positive about her is that she wants. she she says that I want to be a role model for kids my age. I think because she is as she said some bright girl a very good person you know and I guess really discipline you know because you got to be this to do what what she does. So I and like her or her her idols like Led you know. When we were on Molokai doing the concert and Led was up there in jamming with some other musicians. And you know she was like… with their mouth open. Wow. How do we get to that stage. But she’s 16 you know she got a long way to go so.
[01:00:22] Dmae: How do you react people idolize you.
[01:00:25] Ledward: Normal. (laughs). No change, just the same. (laughs).
[01:00:39] Dmae: Is there anything you want to add or say?
[01:00:39] Ledwared: Well for those of those who love so lucky and want to play music you know because you love to play the music not that you have to but just play because you enjoy it. I enjoy you know. My boss I work when the he’s not feeling well sick. He say you got the guitar yeah and play slack key and he’s smiling. And I did a concert in the mainland. And this lady she was on the wheelchair and she said you know the Mr. Kaapana, I was supposed to go to dialysis tonight. I didn’t go because. I went to concert to get slack key. And when the concert it was done, I feel better than I feel brand new just from the music she says. I’m stronger. So this music really heal. It’s a healing music. It kind of grabs. If you believe the right way. It grabs the people you know you don’t have to be a fancy or fast or sometime the slowest song you can put tears in people’s eyes and you don’t get. I get that old ladies from up in the mainland and runs up to you know sell the CDs and they come up to tell me, Man. You know I sing I sing this song ? in this lay says. Oh and you made me cry. It took me back to my days when I was young and thinking that. I loved them because you know I know the music is working it touches somebody you know and that they responded so.
[01:02:13] Dmae: I’m wondering why it’s such happy music because the people suffered so why to lift the spirit?
[01:02:20] Milton: Generallty speaking. You know the disposition of Hawaiians is very very calm you know. My belief is that you know when the Hawaiians were here before Westerners came. They lived very idyllic life you know. They were hard workers. You know there was no such thing as being obesity or anything like that. They fished. They’d hunt you know et cetera. So they are hard workers. But the disposition was that they were very thankful for being here on this earth. You know here on this land and living the life that they do. So the music I think reflects you know music reflects their life you know their lifestyle you know. Yeah it really reflects their lifestyle and their outlook on life in general you know. So you know some people refer to the music as being therapeutic. You know it’s great for the mind. It’s great for the soul. You know people in saunas and massage parlors love to play this music while they’re working on their clients because it puts them totally at ease.
[01:03:46] Milton: So you know in that way you know it like like Led said it’s it’s a healing music you know. So you know if if if if they say you know music is an alternate form of medicine you know I believe that I think music can help you to heal and it can help you to heal and you know who knows. I mean young people used to say well you know you play Baroque music you know it’ll help you to learn better. Who knows? Right. So but that’s how it is I think you know. Hawaiians were given this gift to share with the world and that’s what they’re doing. Sharing it with the world.
[01:04:33] Dmae: Thank you. Last words?
[01:04:43] Ledward: Thank you for coming. Well one thing say is I thank Milton you know I’m I’m I’m I’m so happy we’re going to admit it. The day goes on. You know in a short time we’ve been together. I mean I mean you know he will be in a CD with me and he made a lot of things happen that didn’t happen before. You know I’ll be traveling. And I just want to make sure that I let him know that one. Thank you for everything. And he said he saw the same thing.
[01:05:21] Milton: Thanks Led. But you didn’t need to say that. It’s kind of a pleasure for all of us to work with let you know I’ve known him for a long time and decades actually you know going on three decades. But I mean he’s just a thrill for us to work with him because you know he represents everything that Hawaii is good about you know. And I just like to be part of that. And you know I hope that more people will get to know the music and perhaps one day come to the festivals and see Led perform live and if not in a way then perhaps sometimes when he’s in Oregon.
[01:05:56] Ledward: I mean 95 recorded and I’m so glad so glad I had a CD release party. After a long ? After 95?
[01:06:08] Milton: I found it difficult to believe but you know I would be so but you know we hope to have Ledward up there in Oregon and perhaps come and talk to you guys up in Oregon you know and be great.
[01:06:27] Dmae: That would be really great. Portland would love you. Do you want to do another one?
[01:06:28] Ledward: Okay sure.
[01:06:30] Dmae: Do you talk in concerts?
[01:06:30] MIlton: He Jokes.
[01:06:30] Dmae Tell me a joke?
[01:06:30] Ledward: (playing) This is what I close with. (plays song and sings)