Cecilio Rodrigues and Henry Kapono had been toiling in obscurity performing at Waikiki's Rainbow Villa club until the night they were invited to open a concert for rock legend Frank Zappa.
"It was our big turning point," Kapono recalls. "After our 15 minutes the crowd was cheering, wanting hana hous, and Frank goes, 'They want you back, get up there.' " "So we went back up and did 'Suite Judy Blue Eyes' and that kicked the house down. We went back to the club and there was a line outside and it was packed. From then on, for eight straight months, six days a week there were lines outside. It was amazing."
Kapono will relive some of this history and his artistic evolution on Friday evening when he performs at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Solo Sessions series.
"I'm looking forward to it," he continues. "I'll be telling folks why I wrote some songs, going through my history from the beginning to now."
From humble beginnings C&K soon captivated the islands with their trademark sunny sound heard on favorites like "Friends," "Lifetime Party" "Sailin'," "Highway in the Sun" and "Night Music." Once signed to Columbia Records, their popularity soared, culminating in headlining shows at Aloha Stadium playing for 30,000.
"It all went by so fast," he says of C&K's glory days. "We rode it and enjoyed it and had fun. We were doing what we loved doing."
And then in 1981, Kapono decided to pursue a solo career.
"C&K was embedded in the hearts of so many people, separating like that broke everyone's hearts, but we had to start thinking about ourselves," he explains. "I was starting a family and the business side wasn't working out. We weren't making the kind of money we thought we should have been making. I had to make a change; we had to go our separate ways.
"So I spent two years learning the business, and tried to build my solo career. But C&K was a so strong in people's minds and hearts that they didn't want to hear my own stuff. I got to point where I had to find some kind of bridge and find a place for me. So I started building a new audience and not playing at places where a lot of people knew who C&K was. It was a whole learning process."
Distancing himself from his C&K roots, he released the acclaimed solo album "Stand in the Light," foreshadowing the influential Jawaiian movement, which still resonates with island audiences 30 years later. It was Kapono who created the term for the new fusion of Jamaican reggae and contemporary Hawaiian music.
"Back in the '70s I was turned on to the movie 'The Harder They Come' (starring Jimmy Cliff) and from that point on, I was hooked (on reggae)," he reports. "I knew it wasn't my sound, but I wanted to see if it was something I could make my own. It turned out to be a great song for me.
"I did a single with Brother Noland and Jerry Santos, the Everly Brother's 'Cathy's Clown.' I was talking with Noland about listening to reggae and trying to incorporate it into Hawaii, and I said I came up with a thing called Jawaiian. Ten years later there was all this Jawaiian music."
A few years later he expanded his creative reach with a more global perspective on the landmark recording "Same World." Surrounded by guest artists like vocalist Michael McDonald, reggae stars Third World and the Tower of Power horns, Kapono artfully blended rock, R&B, jazz and Caribbean influences.
"I thought it was a great album," he notes. "I was hanging out with Michael McDonald and I told him I was trying to do something with a world consciousness, and we started writing 'Same World.' From that point on, the album took on new life."
At the turn of the millennium he released a marvelous retrospective of some of his work, "Evolution of Poi," featuring fresh arrangements of some popular songs like "Gotta Get Away" and "Song for Someone," and a version of his composition "Home in the Islands," made famous by the Brothers Cazimero.
"I wrote it for the Island Band and then the Cazimeros picked it up," he explains. The Cazimeros did such a great job with it, they made it their song, and then finally I decided to do my own version."
Pursuing an innovative solo path, singing everything from Hawaiian classics to Led Zep's "Stairway to Heaven," Kapono has acted in films and TV, produced a documentary on the sovereignty movement, and even wrote a popular children's book, "A Beautiful Hawaiian Day," about aloha and taking care of the land.
At the age of 57, he surprised us all with Hoku award-winning "The Wild Hawaiian," his first album sung entirely in Hawaiian.
Bearing little resemblance to anything he or any other artist had recorded before, Kapono crafted a landmark rock recording, the most bold, radical and innovative album of his entire career.
"People had been asking me, how come I didn't do Hawaiian music," he says. "I grew up listening to it, my parents knew it, it was always around me, but I loved rock 'n' roll. There were so many guys I knew who did it well and knew the language. I felt if I was going to do a Hawaiian album it would be different.
"I wanted to take it beyond what everybody knows, take it to a younger audience, a broader audience, capturing them with music, because I always love the music first and then listen to the lyrics. I wanted to move the culture forward, move it in a new place for the next generation, and help them realize we can love our culture and music."
A sequel to "The Wild Hawaiian" is planned, with a handful of songs germinating at the moment, but now he's immersed in promoting his superb new album, "HENRY," a testament to his creative powers that after an extraordinary 40-year-career, he can still craft memorable songs with immediate appeal.
"I always challenge myself to be better," he concludes. "These new songs just came to me and they felt good. I wanted them to be anthems of love and life."
* Henry Kapono will launch the MACC's second year of intimate Solo Sessions concerts in the McCoy Studio Theater on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the MACC Box Office for $25, and $45 for VIP seating with a post-show meet-and-greet. (Applicable fees are added to ticket prices.) Call 242-7469 or visit MauiArts.org for tickets and more information.
The Maui-based island reggae band Manali'i recently released its debut album, "First Time." The band's primary composer, Kalehua Kahele, also handles the lead vocals. The rest of the band includes drummer Christian Fa'uhiva, keyboardist Thomas Calep, guitarist Michael Ganancial, bassist Joshua Silva and backing vocalists Kaimana Agor and Manali'i Sequeira.
* Manali'i will perform at a CD release party at 9 p.m. Friday at LuLu's in Lahaina. Admission is $15 before 10 p.m., and $20 after. Also on the bill, Righteous Youth and Homestead.