Maui musicians busy as ever

Getting inspired and listening to classic and new musicians

Pat Simmons (left) and Willie K jam together earlier this year; Photo courtesy the artists

Here’s something a little different this week as we catch up with some of our musicians and hear about their latest endeavors and a few of the artists and albums that they have been enjoying lately.

In the midst of a summer-long co-headline tour with Chicago, Doobie Brother’s lead guitarist/vocalist Pat Simmons took a moment before a Tampa, Fla. concert to reflect on music he’s been appreciating. Besides Fleet Foxes, Amos Lee and Ray LaMontagne, he’s particularly impressed by the duo of Jesca Hoop and Sam Beam, who released the critically acclaimed album “Love Letter for Fire,” last year.

“It’s like sideways alternative folk, with really interesting, obtuse lyrics, odd instrumentation and a great harmonic sense,” says Simmons. “They’re like the Steely Dan of folk. I love her voice and together they have really cool harmonies. And I love anything Willie K has been doing lately, the blues and his Hawaiian stuff.”

Willie K has lately drawn inspiration from a blues musician who was recording in the late 1920s, and is featured in the fascinating PBS “American Epic” series that explores the roots of modern American music. Willie was intrigued by the second episode, which included Mississippi Delta blues pioneer Charley Patton. It immediately inspired him to compose more than an album’s worth of new songs, with recording tentatively planned in August.

“Blues guys like Charley Patton would take the train and stop off at every plantation and play for all the workers,” he explains. “It brought back memories of being a teenager in Lahaina, and how we used to do that for the plantation workers. I wrote six songs that night and six the next day. I wrote songs about working in the sugar cane and hard life in the plantation. I’m very excited. It’s probably one of my best works yet.”

James “Hutch” Hutchinson rejoins Bonnie Raitt’s “Dig in Deep” tour after a quick stop back home on Maui; Photo courtesy the artist

Willie will play at the Hawaii’s Voice show at Lahaina’s Maui Theatre on Saturday evening.

While heading to Kahului Airport to join Bonnie Raitt on the Mainland for a three-month tour, including some stadium shows with James Taylor, acclaimed bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson offered some music recommendations.

“It’s the longest I’ve been gone in 10 years,” he says, having just returned to Maui from a Canadian tour with Raitt. “We’re doing big stadiums. It will be fun.”

First up on Hutchinson’s fav list, is the terrific Bay Area funk/ bluesy/New Orleans-style band the California Honeydrops, who have been opening for Raitt, including at her “Dig in Deep” Maui Arts & Cultural Center show in March.

“Bonnie and (drummer) Ricky (Fataar) are so into them because they live in the Bay Area and saw them a number of times,” he says. “They are so talented and such a pleasure to be around.”

Marty Dread just returned to Maui after a stay in Jamaica; Richard Pechner photo

Also impressing him is singer/ songwriter Anders Osborne, who will close the final leg of Raitt’s tour.

“I’m a big fan of Anders,” he says. “He’s pretty awesome.”

Finally, he cites a musician he’s recently worked with, Paul Reddick.

“He’s amazing. He has a song ‘John Lennon in New Orleans.’ His songs are blues in an old-school Percy Mayfield-style. Our drummer Ricky said to me, ‘I’ve got to play you this song I heard on the radio.’ He thought it was Richard Manuel of The Band, but it was Paul Reddick’s song, and I was playing upright bass on it.”

Winner of both a Grammy and a Na Hoku Hanohano Award this year for his album “E Walea,” Kalani Pe’a is celebrating his achievement with a concert in the McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC in Kahului on Aug. 5. In between concert dates, he reports he’s been enjoying three powerhouse singers.

Rama Covarrubias of Maui’s Freeradicals Projekt; Sean M. Hower photo

“There are three artists I’ve really been listening to lately,” he says. “I’ve been into ‘Katchi Katchi Makawao,’ so I love Uncle Willie K, and I’ve been listening to Amy Hanaiali’i — her exquisite vibrato and crescendos. Right now I’ve been listening to Luther Vandross. Though he has passed, he has left a legacy — in Hawaiian we call it hooilina. I admire him as a vocalist and his intention to just sing naturally. Luther has been inspiring me. He has always been my idol. I’ve been inspired by these three artists lately because of their voices, their powerful voices. I love powerhouse voices.”

Barry Flanagan recently began performing a weekly engagement at Nalu’s South Shore Grill in Kihei on Saturday nights. He cites Ed Sheeran as a musician who has inspired him. The British singer/ songwriter is massively popular, selling millions of albums and recently headlining the Glastonbury Festival, where he performed solo with just a guitar and looping technology.

“I’ve just been engrossed in his writing,” says Flanagan. “I was in Ireland seven years ago and saw him open a show. He has a catalogue of 400 songs now. I’ve been really trying to learn his song ‘Photograph’ for six months. It’s an amazing composition with two bridges, which is really hard to write.”

Flanagan reports his latest iTunes purchases include the Gorillaz’ “Kids with Guns,” The Fray with “Give it Away,” “and an artist called Colton Dixon, who I am crazy about and his song ‘All That Matters.’ The song is featured on the American Idol stars’ latest album, ‘Identity.’ “

Playing weekly gigs at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and Fleetwood’s on Front St. in Lahaina, Eric Gilliom also praises Ed Sheeran.

“I don’t know many artists in this day and age who can sell out Wembley Stadium (in the UK) three nights in a row playing solo. I’m playing a bunch of Ed Sheeran songs now. He’s got the Midas touch. He’s a great songwriter.”

Gilliom is also impressed with the work of record producer, DJ, and record label executive, DJ Khaled, who just released the album “Grateful,” which includes the lead single “Shining,” featuring Beyonce and Jay Z.

“He’s doing these mashups of really big artists and his style of producing is extraordinary,” says Gilliom. “I love that R&B, soulful stuff.”

Marty Dread is super excited as he just returned to Maui from Jamaica where he recorded a bunch of songs with reggae stars, drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, who played with reggae icons including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and Black Uhuru.

“Some of my favorite songs to check out are LP’s ‘Lost on You’ (which happens to have 132 million YouTube views),” he says. “It’s the most interesting artist I’ve heard in a while. She blew me away.”

He also raves about Leon Bridges, “a modern soul artist reminiscent of Sam Cooke. His album ‘Coming Home’ is brilliant. It sounds like it was recorded in 1962.”

A Nigerian singer called Tekno and his song “Pan” (with 38 million YouTube views), has also impressed him.

“I like dancehall because the beats are trending. Everyone is on dancehall like Drake, Rihanna and even Justin Bieber. They all play dancehall now. Tekno’s song has been on repeat for a month, it’s so hypnotic.”

Finally, he singles out singer songwriter Jack Savoretti, an English musician of Italian descent, and his protest song “Written in Scars.”

“He sounds like Bruce Springsteen, but the song could have been written by Bob Dylan.”

Maui’s hip funksters the Freeradicals Projekt have just released their new album, “Sonic Particles for the Open Mind.” While they were recording they took inspiration from Hugh Masekela’s trippy Afrobeat album “Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz,” which was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, and featured the South African trumpeter with the Ghanian band Hedzoleh Soundz.

“It was on repeat when we recorded,” says Rama Covarrubias of the Freeradicals Projekt. “I found it a couple of months before and it just killed me. The feel on the album is mind-blowing. We were listening to it every night — this is the Holy Grail. I’ve turned on all my friends to that album.”

He’s lately also been grooving to the amazing Shaolin Afronauts, a contemporary Australian Afro-beat (18-piece) ensemble that is styled after Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band and Sun Ra.

“They’re insane, they’re great,” he says. “I sent them a message, you guys are killing it.”

But his big love continues to be the jazz legend John Coltrane.

“I’m excited about Coltrane,” he enthuses. “For the last two months his best of Coltrane album has been on repeat in my truck. I love it. Lately it’s been Coltrane and Hugh, and before that Fela.”

Finally, before heading out to play a music festival in China, classical guitarist Ben Verdery was just on Maui performing and teaching. He’s lately enthused (as I am, too) about Maggie Rogers, who was “discovered” by Pharrell Williams, and has an EP out, “Now That the Light is Fading.”

“I’m totally intrigued, it’s a whole package,” says Verdery. “She’s a really good songwriter and has these dance movements that are really quirky, but they flow. It’s very original, so hip.”