Imagine the year is 1946 and you live in Europe. You’re a steel guitarist and, naturally, you’re really interested in Hawaiian music. You don’t want to play this music all by yourself, so you find three other guys who are interested ,and voila! You’re a band!
That’s simplifying things, but in essence that’s the story of steel guitarist Walter Roost and The Hula Hawaiians, a terrific group of musicians whose repertoire included everything from Hawaiian standards to swing/pop/jazz-flavored material to downright rockin’/rhythm and bluesy numbers. Hilo March (Bear Family Records CD BCD 16169 AH) contains 32 songs recorded by the band from 1955 through ’68. And from the first time I played this CD, I was hooked!
Whether you call it European/Hawaiian, pop/rock Hawaiian, or something else, it really doesn’t matter; The Hula Hawaiians’ music is a ton of fun, with plenty of fine playing. The core group from the ’50s included Roost (steel guitar), Werner Kunz (guitar), Max Zimmerli (ukulele) and Robert Felix (upright bass). For you fans of Hawaiian music there are classics like “On The Beach At Waikiki,” the “Kohala March,” the “Hilo March,” “Aloha Oe,” and “Lovely Hula Hands.” For fans of pop and rock and roll there are great cuts like “The World Is Waiting For The Sunshine,” the “Chimpanzee Rock” and “Hula’s Boogie.”
Favorite cuts include “Hula’s Boogie” (snappy, with drums and twin steel/guitar sound; Fran Beecher-meets-George Barnes, with a bit of Les Paul), “On The Beach At Waikiki” (Walter’s tone is mighty fine), “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” (Hawaiian version of the infectious pop number with melodic Les Paul-flavor, energy, and drive from the ukulele and bass), “Chimpanzee Rock” (definite Bill Haley-goes-Hawaiian vibe, Werner’s guitar work is catchy and cool), “Ich Hab Dich Solieb” (a bluesy/rhythm and blues vibe with close-harmony steel and guitar work – this one has an Ivory Joe Hunter/”Since I Left You Baby” sound), “Minoi Minoi” (fun vocals with energy and drive propelled by strong rhythms), “Na Moku Eh” (catchy rockabilly guitar intro before things break into a classic Hawaiian sound; guitar and steel “tradin’ fours”), “Hula Moon” (boogie-flavored Hawaiian number with bass breaks), “Hula Hula” (surf sounds) and “Ay Ay Ay” (sounds like the Baja Marimba Band sitting in; pretty melody/chord progression). The Hula Hawaiians definitely deserve wider recognition, and thanks to the efforts of producer Peter Stahli and Bear Family president Richard Weize, the music/talents of Walter Roost, Werner Kunz, Max Zimmerli, and Robert Felix will be more widely available.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Apr. ’01 issue.