Release of shelved project brings recognition to Maui artist
Pamela Polland’s 1970s 2-disc project part of top 20 list
Near the close of 2019, the online cultural magazine PopMatters posted a Top 20 review of the best album reissues of the year. Along with the Beatles’ classic “Abbey Road,” Prince’s “Originals,” and Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue,” the list included a double set by Maui musician Pamela Polland.
“It was mind-blowing, I’m so honored,” says Polland. “The Beatles, Prince, and Bob Dylan are three of my main music idols.”
Reviewing the two disc collection, “Pamela Polland” and “Have You Heard The One About The Gas Station Attendant?,” PopMatters concluded: “Polland should have been on equal footing with peers like Carole King, Laura Nyro, and Carly Simon. A grave injustice has, at last, been partially righted.”
These days folks on Maui know Polland as a popular vocal and ukulele coach and a musician with Kumu Hula Gordean Bailey’s Halau Wehiwehi O Leilehua. Back in the 1970s, she was a rising star.
Remarkably, Polland’s “Gas Station Attendant,” which was recorded in 1973, had never been released until 2019, even though it was filled with memorable gems performed by a stellar backing group including half of Elton John’s band, Taj Mahal, Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, Joan Armatrading, and longtime James Taylor band musicians bassist Leland Skar and drummer Russ Kunkel.
Having previously seen her songs recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the Byrds (on their “Easy Rider” album), Polland released her self-titled debut album on Columbia Records in 1972. Musicians backing her on the album included Taj Mahal and Rolling Stones’ pianist Nicky Hopkins. The label head, Clive Davis, then arranged for her to fly to London to record a follow-up with Elton John’s producer and David Bowie’s engineer.
“Have You Heard The One About The Gas Station Attendant?” resulted and Polland was excited to begin promoting her ambitious work when Davis was fired from the record label and the album was shelved. She was crushed.
“It was devastating,” she reveals. “After I was dumped by Columbia, my manager and I figured we’ve got this great album with great musicians, there should be no problem shopping it to another label.”
But with no luck finding any receptive record labels, “that’s when my career hit the bottom of the barrel,” she continues.
Now, hopefully with the new release, she will get the wider recognition she deserves. The reviews have been glowing.
All About Jazz noted: “The singer-songwriter movement of the seventies paved the way for several new voices in popular music, but not everyone got the success of Carole King, whose album ‘Tapestry’ marked a peak in the movement, commercially and artistically. Pamela Polland was one of the artists whom fame eluded. Her music is fundamentally bright, and a long way from tortured confessions. Instead, there is a basic joy in playing music, as she builds her songs from elements of pop, blues, jazz and soul into a coherent and distinctive expression.”
Originally part of the 1960s folk duo called the Gentle Soul — their self-titled album included stellar guests like guitarist Ry Cooder and flutist Paul Horn — Polland was invited to perform as a backup singer with Joe Cocker in 1970 on a historic tour dubbed Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
With a cast of 11 musicians (including Leon Russell) and 10 backing singers, Cocker’s Mad Dogs performed classics like “The Letter,” “Feelin’ Alright,” “Delta Lady” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” The resulting “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” album was Cocker’s highest-charting recording, and “The Letter” and “Cry Me a River” were Top 20 hits.
Polland arrived on Maui in the 1976, invited by pianist David Paquette to sing at Lahaina’s Pioneer Inn. “I went back to my roots singing blues and jazz and that’s how I got to Maui,” she explains. “I was singing with a jazz band in the Bay Area and David Paquette heard about me and said, ‘do you want sing for New Year’s Eve at the Pioneer Inn?’ and I wound up living there and singing six nights a week for three months.”
She then gravitated to Longhi’s, performing the elegant jazz of Gershwin, Ellington, and Cole Porter. “Longhi used to come down and hear me sing and one day he said, ‘I’ve been thinking about having live music.’ I was the first live music at Longhi’s for a year and a half.”
Over the years, Polland has performed and recorded with such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison and John Denver.
Her solo works includes “Heart of the World,” an album of inspirational music which included guests like Raitt, Loggins, and Chris Hillman of The Byrds.
In 2010, her charming album “Hawaiianized” featured pop staples like Cristopher Cross’ “Sailing,” George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” (with Hawaiian chant), and Sandy Denny’s moving “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” all interpreted Hawaiian- style with new vocal arrangements and ukulele accompaniment. Backing vocals on the collection were sung by Sharon Celani, famous for her work with Stevie Nicks, and John McFee of the Doobie Brothers played electric steel and slack key guitar.
Polland also had two original Hawaiian songs featured on the “Wahine” compilation CD that included Emma Veary and Lei’ohu Ryder.
Currently performing with Gordean Bailey’s hula halau, she has been collaborating with vocalist Jennifer Newell. “Jennifer sang background vocals for Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and George Benson,” says Polland. “She’s a fantastic vocalist and really enamored with Hawaiian music. We’ve been singing together under the name 2 Tutu.”
* The 2 Tutu duo will perform with Kumu Hula Gordean Bailey and Halau Wehiwehi O Leilehua at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center on Friday at 5 p.m. and at the Viewpoints Gallery in Makawao on Jan. 25 at 5 p.m.
The Camerata RCO ensemble, comprised of members of Amsterdam’s renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, will make their Maui debut tonight at 7:30 in MACC’s Castle Theater.
Praised by The New York Times for their “warm, glowing performance,” the ensemble comprises: Marc Daniel van Biemen, violin; Santa Vizine, viola; Louis Rodde, cello; Hein Wiedijk, clarinet; Katy Woolley, horn; and Thomas Beijer, piano.
The musicians all perform regularly with the Royal Concertgebouw symphony orchestra, widely considered one of the world’s leading orchestras. Several years ago, the musicians decided to form a small ensemble with a special focus on classical and romantic repertoire for winds and strings. Their discography includes recordings of works by Corelli, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Ravel.
Their Maui program will include Mozart’s “Trio for clarinet (or violin), viola & piano in E flat major K. 498;” Brahms’ “Horn Trio, Opus 40; and Ernst von Dohnanyi’s “Sextet for piano, violin, viola, cello, clarinet & horn in C major, Op. 37.”
* Camerata RCO performs tonight at 7:30 in MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $45 and $65 (plus applicable fees), and half price for children 3-12 years. There is a10 percent discount for MACC Members. For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-6469, or go online to www.mauiarts.org.
What could a musical fusion of the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan sound like? Well that’s what Steely Dead will present when they play Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon on Saturday at 9 p.m.
Their musical hybrid fuses the structure, arrangement and precision of Steely Dan’s studio recordings with the Grateful Dead’s free-flowing, melodic improvisation. Mashups include “Reelin’ in the Years” with “Deal,” “Shakedown Street” with “Kid Charlemange,” and “Bodhisattva” with “Dark Star.” Their repertoire also includes “Slipknot,” “Pretzel Logic,” “West L.A. Fadeaway,” “Franklin’s Tower,” and “Josie.”
Featuring Dave A’Bear of the Melvin Seals and JGB group on lead guitar and vocals, Steely Dead includes Troll Garcia, keyboardist Bill McKay of Leftover Salmon and the Derek Trucks Band, Dylan Teifer, drummer Chris Sheldon of the Deadphish Orchestra, and Matt Abear of the Dave A’Bear Band.
Tickets are $25.