Looking back

Musicians who graced Maui stages over the years remembered for their passion and impact on the industry

Leon Russell

Leon Russell

With 2016 drawing to a close, it’s an appropriate time to memorialize some of the stellar musicians who left us this year and had, over the years, performed on Maui and shared their thoughts in Maui Beat interviews.

Prince’s death in April stunned us. An artistic genius, he emerged in the 1980s as one of the greatest talents in the history of popular music. Releasing a series of groundbreaking albums, Prince could be as soulful as James Brown, as funky as George Clinton, or rock as hard as Jimmy Page. And his electrifying live performances were a staple of his career. Prince’s Maui concert in 2003 was one of the most memorable events that the Maui Arts & Cultural Center has ever presented.

Interviewed before a Honolulu show, he acknowledged how some folks had a hard time keeping up with his creative changes.

“If they can’t follow, they weren’t meant to,” he said. “My real support comes from the daring cliff-divers in life.”

Prince’s last studio album was 2015’s “HITnRUN.”

Palani Vaughan

Palani Vaughan

We said goodbye in January to Eagles’ co-founder Glenn Frey. With Frey co-writing and singing lead on many Eagles’ songs, the popular band produced many memorable anthems from “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane,” to “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Desperado” and “The Long Run.”

Their “Hotel California” album, which sold more than 32 million copies, featured the epic final track, “The Last Resort,” which vividly evoked the colonialist destruction of native cultures, and referenced Lahaina’s “Jesus Coming Soon” sign.

“We had been to Maui a few years before we wrote the ‘Last Resort,'” Frey explained. “Don and I were on Maui, I think in 1974 or ’75, maybe the first time we went outside of Honolulu. You gather these experiences and sometimes they end up in songs. That song is a journey, it’s quite an opus.” Frey’s last solo album was “After Hours.”

A co-founder of the legendary San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane, Paul Kantner died in January at the age of 74. Performing on Maui with Jefferson Starship, this literate visionary was known for his science fiction-based imagery, penning songs like “Crown of Creation,” “Have You Seen the Saucers” and the “Blows Against the Empire” saga.

“I was in Catholic military boarding school and one day I found this whole raft of Catholic science fiction by C.S. Lewis,” Kantner explained. “I progressed through my teen years ravenously devouring the concept of imagination beyond the beyond and it found its way into my music. There’s not too many science fiction rock stars.”

Glenn Frey

Glenn Frey

Talking about carrying on the Airplane/Starship legacy, Kantner suggested: “I’m just another bozo on the bus trying to figure out what is going on. In all my years, I’ve found no answers. I’m just a musician hopefully being somewhat lyrical and elegiac and able to move people.” Kantner’s most recent album, “Venusian Love Songs,” was released in 2011.

Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died in February. In the early 1970s, White had a vision of creating a new, global sound with a mystical root that would inspire people.

Channeling funk grooves blazed by James Brown, the progressive vision of Sly Stone and the improvisatory spirit of jazz-fusion bands, EW&F changed the face of popular music. “We just mixed a little of this and that, appreciating all different forms of music,” Maurice’s brother Verdine White explained before a MACC show. “Our intention was just to make good music with good lyrics, and be the best we could be.” EW&F’s “Holiday” was released in 2014. It was the final album to feature Maurice White prior to his death.

Grammy-winning zydeco accordion great Stanley Dural Jr., better known as Buckwheat Zydeco, died in September. He last performed on Maui at a “Mardi Gras Hawaii” concert in 2014.

Hailed as a zydeco trailblazer, over the course of more than 35 years, he performed with a range of artists from Eric Clapton and U2 to the Boston Pops.

Prince

Prince

“With zydeco music, it has to be real,” said Buckwheat. “You can’t program it. When I play live, I never have a set list. With a set list, it’s almost like a robot. When I go onstage I let it rip.” He last released the children’s album “Bayou Boogie” in 2010.

The “master of space and time,” Leon Russell, died in his sleep in November. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, Russell rose to fame as the driving force on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. A charismatic piano player and singer, he commanded the stage imbuing his songs with passion and fervor, enthralling audiences with fiery gospel-tinged rock and roll.

“The first rock and roll shows I saw were reviews with big bands,” he recalled. “The Alan Freed show of stars had Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ruth Brown and Chuck Berry. To me, that was a rock and roll show.”

In 2009, Russell got a phone call from Sir Elton John, suggesting they collaborate on an album. “I was quite surprised to hear from Elton, as we hadn’t spoken in about 35 years,” Russell explained. “Working with Elton was exciting for me. I had no idea that I had made such an impression on him.”

The resulting album, “The Union,” was nominated for a Grammy Award. Russell’s most recent album, “Life Journey,” mixed R&B, blues, jazz and swing.

Buckwheat Zydeco

Buckwheat Zydeco

Though he wasn’t generally known in the mainstream, Mose Allison’s songs were covered by a range of artists from Van Morrison and The Who, to The Clash, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt. He died in November at the age of 89.

A unique pianist/vocalist known for his wry sense of humor heard in Grammy-winning songs like “Ever Since the World Ended,” the Mississippi-born musician explained: “There’s a tradition in the South of the wise fool. The foolish and the wise is the way I work.”

Allison’s innovative blending of blues and jazz caught the attention of British musicians in the ’60s who were eagerly soaking up rock’s American roots. John Mayall, The Who, and the Yardbirds recorded such Allison staples as “Parchman Farm” and “Young Man Blues.”

Asked about his contribution to music, he offered: “I made a living and I think I’ve gotten better. Music keeps me together more than anything else.” Allison’s last album, “American Legend: Live in California,” was released in 2015.

Acclaimed Hawaiian musicians who left us this year included brothers Ernie Cruz Jr. and Guy Cruz in September, and Palani Vaughan two weeks ago.

Paul Kantner

Paul Kantner

Since the release in 1973 of his first volume in the groundbreaking “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La” series, Vaughan became best known for albums honoring King David Kalakaua.

Inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 2008, Vaughan was inspired to become a musician by Waikiki legend Don Ho.

“When we were at UH, we became enamored with Don Ho, before he became a big name,” Vaughan recalled in a 2013 interview. “We would go to his showroom and he would call us up to sing. I credit Don Ho with the idea that I could record. One day he said, ‘I want you to form a group and you should be doing Hawaiian music and find Hawaiian songs.'”

Vaughan most recently sang this year in the Mana Maoli/Playing for Change’s amazing video of “Hawaii Aloha,” along with fellow musicians Cyril Pahinui, Ledward Kaapana and Paula Fuga.

Last week, Hawaii entertainment industry icon Tom Moffatt died at the age of 85. Affectionately known as Uncle Tom, he introduced some of the greatest acts in the world to Hawaii from Elvis Presley to Elton John, Frank Sinatra to the Rolling Stones, and Bob Marley to Jimi Hendrix.

Interviewed in 2005 for his book “The Showman of the Pacific,” Moffatt recalled the Stones’ first gig in the islands in 1966, when they were paid $15,000 and played for 27 minutes, saying, “The rider called for 50 cops (because riots would sometimes break out at their shows) and we’d never had that many. The kids here obey authority, so they just sat there and screamed, and the Stones didn’t know what to do. They opened with Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ and closed with ‘Satisfaction,’ eight songs. At the end, Jagger said, ‘This is our last concert ever.’ “

It was Moffatt who brought Marley to Maui for a historic concert at the Lahaina Civic Center in 1978. “People don’t believe that Marley played here, especially the young kids,” he said. “It was a good-sized crowd, but not sold out. It was an easy show, though one of their guys was tough. I found out later he was the one who stepped in front of the bullet when they shot Bob Marley and saved his life.”

Mose Allison
and Maurice White (far right) performed on Maui over the years.

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