For his latest album project, multi-Hoku winning Hawaiian entertainer Danny Couch decided to pay tribute to the Waikiki showroom legend who had helped him in so many ways. The former lead singer with The Ali'is, the group that accompanied Don Ho for many years, features some of Ho's most loved repertoire on the CD "I'll Remember You."
In his inimitable style, Couch spotlights a number of Kui Lee songs associated with Ho including "Suck Em Up" and "Days of My Youth," includes Willie Nelson's classic "Night Life" and closes with Ho's "Lover's Prayer."
"I listened to this one album he recorded in 1965 and it had all these great songs like 'Ain't No Big Thing' and 'Everybody Suck Em Up,' " Couch explains. "A lot of content was from that era when it was OK to say everybody suck em up."
Steering close to the original arrangements of songs Ho popularized, Couch injects a contemporary Jawaiian twist on "E Lei Kaleilai."
"I love my ballads and songs that are powerful and meaningful, but I cross over if need be, so I made it Jawaiian without losing Don's flavor," he continues. "Don had a Hawaiian beat to it and I made it a little contemporary."
"He was a friend, mentor and at times a father to me," Couch writes in the liner notes of the CD.
"I wish everyone could have met him," he says. "He was probably the most unique human being I have ever met. He just shined and let you shine. He taught me so much, he taught me never to be envious of anybody. Don scolded me once. He wanted me to hear someone sing. I said, this guy's not that good. He said, 'Don't judge, just enjoy what he does.'
"Prior to his passing, he asked if I would take over while he was sick and front his show when he's gone. I said it would be really hard to host. I think I broke his heart, but we left on good terms."
Ho loved shining the spotlight on the talented musicians he introduced to audiences, and without his encouragement Couch may never have emerged as a leading entertainer.
"I was his drummer with The Ali'is and when he heard me sing for the first time, he turned around and said, 'Who is that? Get up from behind those drums, you're singing,' " Couch recalls. "I was afraid to sing in front of people, that's why I put the drums surrounding me. He forced me to get up there and if he hadn't, I would not have had the gift of entertaining. He didn't care how scared you were. At the Hilton Hawaiian Village he finally said, 'I don't want you playing drums any more. I want you up front singing'."
Raised on the leeward coast of Oahu, as a 12-year-old the young drummer formed a band with some cousins called the Rolling Coconuts. "It was one of the best bands I've ever worked with," he notes. "When I was 15, there was a song called 'Oh Akua' by John Kalani Lincoln and that won Brown Bags to Stardom (as a member of the Good Time Friends) and things took off, and then with The Allis we started winning Hokus."
Debuting with The Ali'is in 1979, Couch helped the legendary group reinvent itself as a major local pop act winning Hoku Awards in 1982 for Contemporary Album of the Year and Single of the Year.
Over the years he's worked with many leading entertainers and even starred on Dolly Parton's nationally aired "Dolly Show" in 1988, filmed on Oahu.
"When I worked at the Kahala Hilton, all these phenomenal entertainers would come in to eat," he reports. "Frank Sinatra came in for dinner and stood up and applauded me and said, 'Who's singing?' I was playing drums at the time. I opened for people like Paul Anka, Dionne Warwick and Sergio Mendes. I was very fortunate, what a life."
Of all the songs he's composed, the Hoku-winning "These Islands" remains his most popular. The theme song for the 1998 Miss Universe Pageant, it was utilized for six years by the Hawaii Visitors Bureau in a worldwide campaign promoting Hawaii. And in March this year, Couch was honored, invited to sing it at a special joint session of the House and Senate marking the 50th anniversary of statehood.
Though now associated with tourism, Couch's signature hit was actually composed for his ailing mother.
"I was going to visit my mom who was dying at the time and I was stuck on the freeway. I closed my eyes and said, God, do you mind if I speak to my Hawaiian spirits - my mother is pure Hawaiian - is there something I can leave for you? I've written many songs, but nothing flew through me faster with more clarity. It was like I was a vessel and these words came to me. When I got home, I spent 10 minutes writing the song, and the words flowed through me like water. Later that night we recorded it and we played it through one time, and that's the original voice you hear. It continues to sell every day."
* Danny Couch performs with his band at the Maui Beach Hotel on Friday. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., buffet dinner at 6 p.m. and show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets available at the Maui Beach Hotel are $40 for dinner and show in advance, and $50 at the door.
"Dhvani," a unique evening of classical Indian music and sacred dance will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Aloha Pavilion at the Napili Kai Resort. The show features a collaborative performance by tabla player Ty Burhoe, sarode player Steve Oda, Odissi dancer Sarala Dandekar and Japanese Yosakoi dancer Akari Ueoka.
"It's a really interesting fusion show," explains Ty Burhoe. "We start with a pure North Indian raga and we build to an ensemble piece with five dancers. In the second half we slide to Japan with a traditional piece and a shamisen player, and from there we go to a full fusion piece."
A student of Indian tabla master Ustad Zakir Hussain, Burhoe is recognized for creating unusual collaborations that have woven the tabla with jazz, flamenco, rock, bluegrass, Celtic, Chinese and African music. In recent years he's worked with a number of notable musicians across the spectrum including banjo virtuoso Bella Fleck, Steely Dan's Walter Becker, Def Leppard drummer Rick Alan and former Journey drummer Steve Smith. He has released a number of CDs and performed on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning documentary "Born into Brothels."
A leading exponent of the sarode, Oda spent many years as a jazz guitarist before encountering the music of Indian legend Ali Akbar Khan.
Born in Canada of Japanese heritage, Oda began his musical career studying Hawaiian steel guitar. "I was 6 years old and was taught by a Hawaiian man," he recalls. "It's hard to imagine being taught Hawaiian music in Toronto, Canada, but I loved the music."
Gravitating to jazz as he grew older, Oda eventually discovered the style of classical Indian music which would change his life.
"It was the early '60s, but it took several years of listening before I got the beauty and depth of the music," he explains. "I met Ravi Shankar at a concert and he helped me get my first lessons."
Playing this ancient Indian instrument for 37 years, Oda has lately been exploring integrating Japanese music into his repertoire. "I'm learning some traditional Japanese melodies so I can play more traditional Japanese music which is very similar to lots of Indian music terms of scale and form," he notes.
* Tickets for the MACC show are $18 and $28 plus applicable fees, and half-price for kids and students 18 and younger, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. Tickets for the show at the Napili Kai Beach Resort are $25 (half-price for those 18 and younger) at the door or online at www.talarecords.com.
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at email@example.com.