Slidin' on the Frets - The Hawaiian Steel Guitar Phenomenon
King Benny Nawahi
In the early 20th Century, Hawaiian music was the reggae music of its day, exotic, but not too threatening. Its influence was felt in all the recorded styles of the time, including pop, blues, country, and jazz. Presently Hawaiian (also called lap or steel) guitar is enjoying a new popularity. Yazoo has issued two retrospective albums, demonstrating that the new generation has much to learn from its predecessors.
Slidin' on the Frets presents some of the best of pre-WWII lap guitarists in a myriad of styles. There is a rare and beautiful cut by Tau Moe (recorded while his band was in Singapore) and efforts by near-forgotten greats like Eddie Bush and Jimmie Yates. In the blues vein, discover the original "Steel Guitar Rag" by Sylvester Weaver and hokum cuts by Casey Bill Weldon and Oscar Woods. You may be tickled by some curious byways of the genre, including a Hawaiian style tune sung in Greek, replete with Swiss yodels. Jimmie Tarlton's country blues version of "My Blue Heaven" and Roy Smeck sliding along with the King Oliver Orchestra.
Benny Nawahi was a virtuoso; fearless and peerless on steel guitar and ukulele. Hawaiian String Virtuoso features his showcase slide numbers like "Tickling the Strings," "Hawaiian Capers," and "Honolulu Bound" that are unsurpassed for sheer picking frenzy. They are typical of the way Hawaiian musicians tried to take advantage of the mainland's fad with Island music by mixing their music with swing ideas.
He is also heard as accompanist in country settings and the goofy "novelty jazz" style that existed in the late 1920's. A couple of pieces feature his frenetic ukulele on wildly swinging numbers.
Robert Armstrong, maven of acoustic steel, is to be congratulated on producing these two fine CD's. - Stacy Phillips
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