Hay at work
Since fronting Men At Work, one of the world’s most popular bands in the 1980s, Colin Hay has enjoyed a solid solo career releasing 11 albums.
Heading to Hawaii after attending influential SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Hay will present a Solo Sessions show Saturday in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater.
Even though Men at Work’s ’80s hits earned Hay his following, his lesser-known solo work has allowed him to re-establish himself as a must-see touring artist. The former Australian resident, now based in California, recently completed a “Finding My Dance” tour, which took him across the Mainland and to the U.K. and Australia.
Hay reported on his website that the tour title was inspired by an aboriginal man who, “once came backstage after a show and said to me in a kindly voice, ‘Where’s your dance? I used to like your dance, you’ve lost your dance, mate; you’ve gotta find your dance.’ I realized that finding my dance is an inner search, and that whilst I may never truly find it, it matters not. What’s important is to keep searching, and in the process, refine and simplify the steps.”
Born in Scotland, Hay grew up absorbing the American soul and British pop played in his dad’s record store. “My brother introduced me to all kinds of artists like Booker T and the MGs, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding,” he told Folk Music. “I’d been listening to a lot of British bands like the Beatles, The Kinks, and Rolling Stones, and then Bob Dylan came out and then the Byrds. I remember walking down the street and hearing ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys, and that made me want to come to California. Of course, then we moved to Australia, which was pretty much how I imagined California would be.”
Moving to Australia at the age of 14, Hay formed Men at Work as an acoustic duo with a friend in Melbourne in 1979. Within a few months, the duo expanded to a full group.
With its Police-styled reggae- flavored rhythms and Hay’s distinctive vocals, catchy guitar hooks, wailing saxophones and cheeky humor, Men at Work’s debut album, “Business as Usual,” became a huge international hit. Selling 10 million copies, it broke the American record for the most weeks a debut spent at the top of the charts. The band’s irreverent videos became MTV favorites, helping rocket their singles, “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under,” to No. 1. Their phenomenal success led to a Best New Artist win at the 1982 Grammys.
Hay discussed the band’s fondness for reggae in a Riffraf interview. “In the ’70s, reggae music was very big in Australia,” he said. “We are a naturally fueled groove; it’s on the off beat, especially guitar-wise. The drums were pretty straight, but we did give off a reggae flavor.”
Chart success continued with their follow up, “Cargo,” which spawned hits “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake.” But after the release of their third album, “Two Hearts,” the band broke up.
“They were high times,” Hay recalled in a Sydney Morning Herald interview. “I felt like Superman. We won big time. It doesn’t really get any bigger than what happened to Men at Work in terms of success.”
As a solo artist, Hay has seen his songs included in indie movie “Garden State” and hit TV show “Scrubs.” And in 2003 and again in 2008, Hay was a member of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. “I was excited to be asked,” he reported in the Orange County Register. “There’s no downside to playing with Ringo. It’s a great way to spend a summer, playing with somebody who was in the Beatles.”
Hay’s most recent solo album, “Gathering Mercury,” released in 2013, was warmly received. “Hay is obviously influenced by the Beatles,” noted a No Depression review. “(The songs) ‘Family Man’ and ‘Gathering Mercury’ are comparable to the best songwriting of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, respectively, and Hay’s guitar skills on the latter are second to none. The man is simply an extremely talented and underrated songwriter/musician.”
“It’s my strongest record to date,” Hay told Scotland’s The Herald. “I felt like I made this album with my old man. He was a great singer and dancer, and had poetic flair. Even if I didn’t want to think about the fact that he was gone, he was present in his absence.”
Three decades after his time in the spotlight, Hay balances performing songs from his extensive solo repertoire with his Men at Work classics. “I love those songs,” he enthused in BMA magazine. “There was a time in the late ’80s when I didn’t want to play them because it was just too close to home – all a bit emotional. But you reclaim your past. That band and these songs are part of who I am. I’m lucky because the people who come to see me, whether I’m in Australia or in the U.S., or Glasgow or Boise, Idaho, they tend to follow me through the years so they always hit me up for new songs.”
Besides regaling audiences with his sterling musicianship, he cracks them up with jokes. In April, Hay will perform a comedy show, “Waiting For My Real Life,” at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
“Hay is funnier than most stand-up comedians,” praised The Houston Chronicle. “So he’ll split your sides and then drop a heartbreaking ditty on you.”
Inspired by a desire to preserve the wisdom of Hawaii’s musical masters for future generations, George Kahumoku Jr. is overseeing a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to produce a series of DVDs on some legendary artists.
“Dave Berry of Makai Studios and I are teaming up to film an original documentary series called, ‘The Masters of Hawaiian Music Film Series,’ ” George explains. “This new series will preserve the stories of Hawaii’s most influential musicians, and will be an invaluable record for generations to come. I will serve as host in each film, while each featured artist and their peers will tell their story. The first two films of this series will feature Richard Ho’opi’i, Hawaii’s treasured ukulele and falsetto master, and Dennis Kamakahi, composer, slack key guitar master and Hawaiian historian.”
The goal is to produce two films a year, targeting PBS, online distribution and traditional DVD releases. And they will be made available to Hawaii’s teaching institutions for educational purposes.
To make the first two docs, the producers want to raise $60,000. They previously raised funds through Kickstarter to create Kahumoku Jr.’s documentary, “Seeds Of Aloha.”
For a $50 donation participants will receive both DVDs, while those donating $100 receive the DVDs and a signed series poster. A $1,500 donation adds a signed ukulele and a producer’s credit at the end of the film. And a $5,000 donation adds a producer’s credit in the beginning of the film, a private home performance by Kahumoku Jr. on Maui or at a Maui venue, and/or a cameo in the film or credits. Search for George Kahumoku Jr. on www.kickstarter. com.
Husband and wife duo, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, will make its Maui debut Friday in the McCoy Studio Theater.
The granddaughter of America’s greatest folk icon, Woody Guthrie, and the daughter of Arlo Guthrie, Sarah Lee only began playing music after meeting her husband, who happens to be a nephew of legendary author John Steinbeck.
Their acclaimed, latest album, “Wassaic Way,” was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone. “Together Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion summon the spirit of L.A.-style ’70s country-rock, with sweet harmony singing that recalls the special alchemy of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris,” praised the Chicago Reader.
“This record is a departure from a folk duo,” Irion reported. “I think this is the best example we’ve been able to present that shows the many facets of what we can do. There’s loud guitars, there’s soundscapes, there’s a lushness to it, there’s a popness, an edge. But that can be difficult sometimes to bring it all together and present it.”
* Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion play at 7:30 p.m. Friday in McCoy Studio Theater. Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek will open. Tickets are $28 advance and $33 the day of the show (plus applicable fees). See www.mauiarts.org.