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Elvis Australia : Official Elvis Presley Fan Club

Beyond The Reef : The Elvis : Hawaii Connection

By Jakob Skjernaa Hansen
Source: Elvis Australia
April 20, 2002 - 11:10:00 AM

Much has been written about the various musical styles that influenced Elvis: Country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, pop and rhythm & blues. However, one very distinct style has always been omitted from this list: Hawaiian music. From the early 20th century Hawaiian music or Hawaiian-inspired music was present in the U.S. both as an influence on various forms of popular music as well an artistic and commercial force of it's own.

There can be little doubt that Elvis loved Hawaiian music. From 'Harbor Lights' in 1954 to 'Hawaiian Wedding Song' in 1977 the influence of Hawaiian music is found in his music both recorded and performed live, although admittedly not as permanently as e.g. country or gospel. However, the presence of Hawaiian songs in his home-recordings shows us that Elvis actually liked this kind of music very much. Hawaii was also in other aspects important to Elvis career, as it set the scene for the three of his movies, including perhaps the most popular of all, 'Blue Hawaii', and for his most famous concert of all, the 'Aloha From Hawaii' concert inn January, 1973.

I have found only one other piece dealing specifically with the subject of Elvis and Hawaii. In 'In Search Of Elvis: Music, Race, Art, Religion' edited by Vernon Chadwick there is a comparative analysis of Elvis' three Hawaiian films and Herman Melville's 'Moby Dick'. It deals, however, only with the films themselves and not with music. It is therefore quite relevant to try to look at an otherwise overlooked aspect of Elvis' career: The Elvis-Hawaii connection

There are three aims to this article: The first one is to give a short history of the origins and development of Hawaiian music and it's influence on American popular music. The second is to discuss the influence of Hawaiian music on Elvis' music through his recordings of Hawaiian songs. The third is to discuss the other connections between Elvis and Hawaii.

In a very narrow definition on Hawaiian music, most of the songs that are instantly recognized throughout the world as Hawaiian would not count as Hawaiian at all. This definition would describe as Hawaiian music only the musical forms that were being sung and played in Hawaii prior to the first western visitors. This music, probably mainly a percussion based, polyrhythmic form for tribal and religious purposes, has got little in common with what we today call Hawaiian music. I therefore use a broader definition in which the term Hawaiian music is used to describe a quite wide spectrum of music which has as common ground a use of songs, melodies or instruments linked to Hawaii. An important sub-genre of Hawaiian music for this article is known as hapa-haole, or 'half-white'. These are songs written in or translated to English with a specific commercial purpose. Almost all the Hawaiian songs that Elvis recorded fall into this category.

The development of Hawaiian music

It is impossible to understand the development of Hawaiian music in the last 200 years outside of a framework provided by the interaction between western society and Hawaiian society. Hawaiian music is the product of the meeting between the western world and the Hawaiian world, and without western colonisation of Hawaii it would not have emerged. Thus, the changing face of western popular music, itself a product of a changing society, have been the primary dynamo for the developments and changes in Hawaiian music.

To give a very short overview, the development of Hawaiian music can be divided into seven separate periods: I. 1820-1872 marks the span between the arrival of the first missionaries and the first professional Hawaiian band. The missionaries brought along hymn harmony singing and guitars (as well as other instruments), and the merchant ships brought along secular music from Mexico, Italy, Germany etc. Hawaiian music is truly world music in that terms most absolute sense, but very little evidence is known from this period. II. 1872-app. 1900. In 1872 Henry Berger formed the first professional orchestra - also being one of the most famous Hawaiians groups of all time, The Royal Hawaiian Band that played a generic form of Hawaiian music that was distinct from other western musical forms. It is from this time that the earliest known Hawaiian popular songs stem, among them 'Aloha 'Oe' written and published in 187x by Queen Liliuokalani. III. App. 1895-app. 1915. The beginning of the influence of American urban music on Hawaiian music via ragtime. Also the beginning of the reverse process of Hawaiian music influencing American popular music. During this period the first Hawaiian musicians performed and recorded in USA. IV. App. 1915-1930. The first wave of the extremely high popularity of Hawaiian music began during World War I and continued during the depression in the 20's and 30's. The popularity of Hawaiian music began to spread to other parts of the world, in particular Great Britain and Scandinavia. Musically this period was characterized by "jazzed up" Tin Pan Alley versions of hapa haole songs as well as original Hawaiian songs e.g. 'On The Beach at Waikiki'. This is also the period in which Hawaiian instruments - most significantly the steel guitar - begin to make their way into other forms of American music, an issue I shall briefly touch upon later.

V. App. 1930 to 1960. This is the golden age of Hawaiian and Hawaiian-inspired popular music, and the period which both shaped and contained Elvis' Hawaiian recordings. Even though Elvis made his Hawaiian recordings - bar one - after this period, it must be considered an extension of it rather than a new period. Hapa haole has become big business due to the extremely high popularity of Hawaiian music, instruments - and images. The Hawaiian image - whether real, imagined or commercially constructed - is very important here, as Hollywood began producing movies taking place in Hawaii. The spreading of radio (and later television) and record players is of course significant. It is during this period that many of the greatest Hawaiian songs are written and Hawaiian musicians enjoy great popularity both as recording and performing artists. Most importantly, many Hawaiian songs are being recorded by American artists like Bing Crosby. VI. App. 1960 to 1970. This period was marked by a decline of interest in Hawaiian music both in Hawaii and in the USA, as the charts and the radio became dominated by rock and roll. The remaining Hawaiian music drifted with increasing speed toward MOR-pop. VII. 1970 to the present. As many other forms of 'ethnic' music, Hawaiian music has experienced an increase in interest in the last thirty years. However, this has been in the form of a reaction against the hapa haole and the whole tendency of 'Americanisation' of Hawaiian music in the 20th century. Thus, in the 1970's lyrics began again to be written in Hawaiian and the music was played more like a hundred years before. Today, Hawaiian music is an integrated part of the 'world music' phenomenon, and has very little direct importance to American or European popular music, commercially or creatively.

Hawaiian music in American popular music

As mentioned above the period 1930-1960 was the golden age of Hawaiian music. In an America marked by the depression there was apparently a very large market for the fluid tones and exotic images of Hawaiian music, which provided a welcome opportunity to escape from real life problems for a few minutes. There are three important parts to the story: Hawaiian songs and musicians, American singers and record companies and - perhaps most important - Hollywood. It was during this period that many of the greatest and most well known Hawaiian songs were written by songwriters like Harry Owens and Johnny Noble. Among the most famous songs from this period are: 'Blue Hawaii', 'Hawaiian Cowboy' and 'Sweet Leilani'. It was also during this period that some of the greatest Hawaiian musicians like guitarists Sol Hoopii and Lani McIntyre and the singer Alfred Apaka enjoyed great popularity on the US mainland both as recording and performing artists. From the last part of the period, the great song writing and performing team of Kuiokalani Lee and Don Ho also has to be mentioned.

However, the person who took most Hawaiian songs to the charts was Bing Crosby, who in the 1930's, 40's and 50's recorded a very large number of songs including the original version of 'Blue Hawaii'. The musical backing was supplied by various Hawaiian bands including both Hoopii and McIntyre. Among the other popular singers who recorded many Hawaiian songs were Billy Eckstine, who 'Harbor Lights' in the early 50's.

Perhaps the media most crucial to the widespread popularity of Hawaiian music was the movie, as a very large number of the popular Hawaiian songs originated from movies. Over the years more than 90 films have been made in Hawaii, primarily by American filmmakers and almost everyone featuring heavily the music of Hawaii - or, rather, the music of Hawaii processed through the Hollywood machine. The Hawaiian movies were pioneered by RKO-Radio's Bird of Paradise in 1932 starring Bing Crosby, thus helping greatly to create and sustain the 'exotic' and romantic already brought forth by the lyrics to the hapa haole songs. Just listen to the lyrics to 'Blue Hawaii' and you'll get the point. Other popular Hawaiian-themed films are: 'Waikiki Wedding (1937), 'Hawaiian Nights' (1939) and 'Lure of The Islands' (1942). Among the most successful movie companies to produce Hawaiian movies were Paramount, who would later produce all three of Elvis' Hawaii-films.

The influence of Hawaiian instruments

Perhaps the most distinct feature of Hawaiian music, apart from the lyrics and the melodic structure, is the instrumentation and especially the steel guitar and the ukulele. When the sound of these two instruments is heard, you always know where you're headed. But one of these instruments, the steel guitar, is also the media, through which Hawaiian music has made it's most consistent, lasting and indirect contributions to American popular music in general.

The steel guitar was invented in Hawaii in 1885 by Joseph Kekuku, who developed the playing method of sliding a steel bar against the strings above the frets, thus producing the long glissando that is the characteristic feature of all later forms of steel guitar, pedal steel, slide guitar and bottleneck slide. Though technical adjustments and improvements were made along the way, the basics of the steel guitar are still the same today as 100 years today. As mentioned several times, in the first decades of the 20th century Hawaiian music became increasingly popular on the U.S. mainland. This popularity was to a large degree owed to the melancholic sound of the steel guitar, which apparently touched a certain tone in a lot of people and became almost instantly extremely popular.

In the first decades the steel guitar was seen mostly as a novelty instruments and was played only by Hawaiians or in groups playing Hawaiian music, but a least around 1920 the instruments was firmly established as an instrument in it's own right. At this time country music pioneers such as Jimmie Rodgers, whom Elvis greatly admired, began accompanying themselves on steel guitar, but also even earlier string bands began using the instrument. It was through country music that one of the most radical transformations of the instruments took place as it was electrified. When larger groups including several fiddles and reeds became popular in the 30's as western swing swept the country, the guitar - both the regular one and the steel guitar - had increasingly difficulty getting heard, and the solution was to support them with an electric pickup. The man generally credited as the inventor of the electric steel guitar is Bob Dunn, who played with Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies. From there it was only a short step to putting pedals on the instrument, and this turning it into the pedal steel guitar, pioneered by Leon McAuliffe and later most admirably practioned by Jerry Byrd, one of the foremost Nashville session men of the 50's and 60's who also played on many of Elvis' Hawaiian recordings.

The black musicians also took the instrument with the new seductive sound to their hearts. In the 20's it became very common as a blues instrument, often played with the broken neck of a glass bottle instead of a steel bar, thus acquiring the label 'bottleneck' guitar. Playing often in noisy juke joints, the blues musicians too experienced the problem of getting through. The first solution was not to electrify, but to play a guitar with a plate of medal instead of a hole, which resonated the tones to greater effect. The full metal body guitar, the most famous of which is the National steel guitar, followed this. Among the pioneering blues guitarists to use the steel guitar were Son House and Robert Johnson. After WWII the acoustic guitar was substituted by electric guitars but still being played Hawaiian style with a bottleneck or a glass cylinder, as pioneered by Elmore James.

Hawaiian music in American popular music

As mentioned above the period 1930-1960 was the golden age of Hawaiian music. In an America marked by the depression there was apparently a very large market for the fluid tones and exotic images of Hawaiian music, which provided a welcome opportunity to escape from real life problems for a few minutes. There are three important parts to the story: Hawaiian songs and musicians, American singers and record companies and - perhaps most important - Hollywood. It was during this period that many of the greatest and most well known Hawaiian songs were written by songwriters like Harry Owens and Johnny Noble. Among the most famous songs from this period are: 'Blue Hawaii', 'Hawaiian Cowboy' and 'Sweet Leilani'. It was also during this period that some of the greatest Hawaiian musicians like guitarists Sol Hoopii and Lani McIntyre and the singer Alfred Apaka enjoyed great popularity on the US mainland both as recording and performing artists. From the last part of the period, the great song writing and performing team of Kuiokalani Lee and Don Ho also has to be mentioned.

However, the person who took most Hawaiian songs to the charts was Bing Crosby, who in the 1930's, 40's and 50's recorded a very large number of songs including the original version of 'Blue Hawaii'. The musical backing was supplied by various Hawaiian bands including both Hoopii and McIntyre. Among the other popular singers who recorded and had hits with Hawaiian songs were The Mills Brothers, Sinatra and Billy Eckstine. Also, a number of country stars such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Marty Robbins had big hits with songs such as 'Hawaiian Cowboy'.

Perhaps the media most crucial to the widespread popularity of Hawaiian music was the movie, as a very large number of the popular Hawaiian songs originated from movies. Over the years more than 90 films have been made in Hawaii, primarily by American filmmakers and almost everyone featuring heavily the music of Hawaii - or, rather, the music of Hawaii processed through the Hollywood machine. The Hawaiian movies were pioneered by RKO-Radio's Bird of Paradise in 1932 starring Bing Crosby, thus helping greatly to create and sustain the 'exotic' and romantic already brought forth by the lyrics to the hapa haole songs. Just listen to the lyrics to 'Blue Hawaii' and you'll get the point. Other popular Hawaiian-themed films are: 'Waikiki Wedding (1937), 'Hawaiian Nights' (1939) and 'Lure of The Islands' (1942). Among the most successful movie companies to produce Hawaiian movies were Paramount, who would later produce all three of Elvis' Hawaii-films.

The influence of Hawaiian instruments

Perhaps the most distinct feature of Hawaiian music, apart from the lyrics and the melodic structure, is the instrumentation and especially the steel guitar and the ukulele. When the sound of these two instruments is heard, you always know where you're headed. But one of these instruments, the steel guitar, is also the media, through which Hawaiian music has made it's most consistent, lasting and indirect contributions to American popular music in general.

The steel guitar was invented in Hawaii in 1885 by Joseph Kekuku, who developed the playing method of sliding a steel bar against the strings above the frets, thus producing the long glissando that is the characteristic feature of all later forms of steel guitar, pedal steel, slide guitar and bottleneck slide. Though technical adjustments and improvements were made along the way, the basics of the steel guitar are still the same today as 100 years today. As mentioned several times, in the first decades of the 20th century Hawaiian music became increasingly popular on the U.S. mainland. This popularity was to a large degree owed to the melancholic sound of the steel guitar, which apparently touched a certain tone in a lot of people and became almost instantly extremely popular.

In the first decades the steel guitar was seen mostly as a novelty instruments and was played only by Hawaiians or in groups playing Hawaiian music, but a least around 1920 the instrument was firmly established as an instrument in it's own right. At this time country music pioneers such as Jimmie Rodgers, whom Elvis greatly admired, and Cliff Carlisle began accompanying themselves on steel guitar, but also even earlier string bands began using the instrument. It was through the integration in country music that one of the most radical transformations of the instruments took place as it was electrified. When larger groups including several fiddles and reeds became popular in the 30's as western swing swept the country, the guitar - both the regular one and the steel guitar - had increasingly difficulty getting heard, and the solution was to support them with an electric pickup. The man generally credited as the inventor of the electric steel guitar is Bob Dunn, who played with Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies. From there it was only a short step to putting pedals on the instrument, and this turning it into the pedal steel guitar, pioneered by Leon McAuliffe and later most admirably practioned by Jerry Byrd, one of the foremost Nashville session men of the 50's and 60's who also played on many of Elvis' Hawaiian recordings.

The black musicians also took the instrument with the new seductive sound to their hearts. In the 20's it became very common as a blues instrument, often played with the broken neck of a glass bottle instead of a steel bar, thus acquiring the label 'bottleneck' guitar. Playing often in noisy juke joints, the blues musicians too experienced the problem of getting through. The first solution was not to electrify, but to play a guitar with a plate of medal instead of a hole, which resonated the tones to greater effect. This was followed by the full metal body guitar, the most famous of which is the National steel guitar. Among the pioneering blues guitarists to use the steel guitar were Son House and Robert Johnson. After World War II the acoustic guitar was substituted by electric guitars but still being played Hawaiian style with a bottleneck or a glass cylinder, as pioneered by Elmore James.

The Hawaiian music of Elvis Presley

Throughout his entire career Elvis performed - whether at home, in the recording studio or on a concert stage - Hawaiian or Hawaiian-influenced songs. Below they're dealt with chronologically from 1954 through to 1977.

The earliest Hawaiian recordings

The first recording by Elvis to showcase his love for Hawaiian-influenced music, was actually also the very first attempt at recording commercially, that he ever did, as 'Harbor Lights' was recorded before 'That's All Right' on July 5th, 1954. The song was written in 1937 in the middle of the second great wave of Hawaiian-influenced pop-music in the form of the hapa-haole songs by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams. It was recorded first the same year it was written by among others the great balladeer Rudy Vallee, and it was revived in 1950 when Hawaii-pop was again sweeping the country by Sammy Kaye, who recorded many Hawaiian songs and placed them on the charts. Other popular versions were made in the early fifties by Guy Lombardo and Bing Crosby, and it could have been any of these recordings that Elvis had in mind when he tried out the song. It was as far removed from the sound, that Sam Phillips had in mind as it could've been, but that doesn't discredit it from being a very credible take on the song. The recording remained unreleased until 1976, when RCA finally released it on Elvis - A Legendary Performer Vol. 2. The guitar playing of Scotty Moore contributes greatly to the Hawaiian feel of the performance and it's impossible to imagine that he didn't consciously try to imitate the sound of a Hawaiian guitar.

This was also the case with the sessions' other 'lost' performance with a Hawaiian-influenced sound. The song was 'I Love You Because', which was written by perhaps the greatest of all steel guitarists, Leon Payne of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, in 1949. The Hawaiian connection might seem limited and is not as obvious as with 'Harbor Lights', but when Scotty Moore emulated Payne's steel guitar on his own regular electric guitar, the circle is almost closed as his guitar sounds very close to sound of a regular Hawaiian guitar. This recording was not deemed worthy for release by Sam Phillips, but was released by RCA on Elvis' first LP, Elvis Presley in a spliced version. A complete take wasn't released until 1974 on Elvis - A Legendary Performer Vol. 1.

In between his professional attempts at recording Hawaiian music, Elvis also made some other recordings which are perhaps the most important evidence we have as proof that Hawaiian music, as much as being something Elvis recorded because Colonel Parker or somebody else thought it was in commercial terms a good idea, was also a musical form very dear to him in his civilian life. On several occasions a tape recorder was deliberately left running and caught Elvis singing his favourite songs with his friends, accompanying himself on guitar and piano. The Elvis that shows his face on these often very rough and noisy recordings is often a very different Elvis than the one who recorded professionally for RCA. On several occasions did these informal jam sessions feature Hawaiian songs?

In 1960, the tape recorder caught Elvis and his friend, wardrobegirl Nancy Sharpe in Elvis' house on Monoval Drive in Hollywood, performing a number of songs including two different versions of 'Sweet Leilani', one of the most popular hapa haole songs ever written. It was composed by the great Hawaiian bandleader Harry Owens commemorating the birth of his daughter, and was first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1935 with such tremendous success (two million copies sold in two weeks) that it was credited with reviving the entire recording industry from the depression. Being a big fan of Bing Crosby, there is little doubt that Elvis was very early on acquainted with this song from the radio. The recordings of 'Sweet Leilani' with Elvis and Nancy Sharpe are not much in musical terms as Nancy clearly remembers the lyrics better than Elvis and unfortunately can't sing in key. Elvis, though, does his best and accompanies on piano and shows that he was familiar with the basic chords of Hawaiian melodies. Elvis and Nancy also sang 'Beyond The Reef', but I will deal with that song later on in it's proper context. These recordings were finally released in 1999 on the Follow That Dream-release In A Private Moment.

The BLUE HAWAII soundtrack

In 1961 Elvis recorded the greatest and most extensive collection of Hawaiian music of his entire career, which is of course the soundtrack for his incredibly popular movie Blue Hawaii. The soundtrack was recorded over just three days from March 21st-23rd, 1961 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. Featuring Elvis' usual 60's soundtrack musicians, it should be noted in this particular context that the steel guitar was played by Alvino Rey and the ukulele was played by Fred Tavares and Bernie Lewis. Besides Hawaiian songs, the soundtrack also featured a number of songs derived from other styles such as Latin, Caribbean and pop, which I shall not deal with here. More interesting, the soundtracks features a number of older Hawaiian songs and a small handful of songs written specifically for this soundtrack but as Hawaiian as any other hapa haole song from earlier decades.

Elvis' recording of 'Aloha Oe' ('Farewell' in Hawaiian) marks one of the few times that Elvis recorded a genuine Hawaiian song in the sense that 'Aloha Oe' was actually written in Hawaii and in the Hawaiian language. The song, one of the most famous and popular Hawaiian songs of all time, was written in 1878 by Queen Lili'uokalani, the last reigning queen of Hawaii, who was one of the most prolific Hawaiian songwriters ever. It was soon adapted as the trademark song of The Royal Hawaiian Band and was played every time a great steamship left the harbor. In the 1920's it was translated to English and was a major hit in 1936 for Bing Crosby, who sang it in the very popular movie 'Hawaii Calls', and again in 1938 for Harry Owens. In Elvis' version, the song is introduced with a Hawaiian chant, an 'oli', not otherwise connected to 'Aloha Oe'. The chant and the verse of the song are sung by vocal group The Serfers while Elvis sings only the chorus, getting the Hawaiian pronunciation almost right.

One of the most popular songs from the soundtrack, and one of Elvis' most popular songs overall, was 'Blue Hawaii'. Written in 1937 by the Paramount Pictures song writing team of composer Leo Robin and lyricist Ralph Rainger, this song, too, was a hit for Bing Crosby as it was used in another of his Hawaiian-set movies, 'Waikiki Wedding, with backing by Lani McIntire and His Hawaiian, themselves an extreme popular Hawaiian act of the 1930's and 40's. Also in the 30's legendary movie cowboy hero Gene Autry had a country hit with the song, and in the 50's it was recorded by both Frank Sinatra and Billy Vaughn.

The last of the soundtracks older, Hawaiian songs was 'Hawaiian Wedding Song', which was written in 1926 by Charles E. King under the Hawaiian title 'Ke Kali Nei Au', while the English lyrics were written in 1958 by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. In this version the song was a million-seller in 1959 for Andy Williams, but the melody with other lyrics had already been a hit as 'Here Ends The Rainbow' in 1951 for Bing Crosby (yes, him again!). Elvis' recording of 'Hawaiian Wedding Song' mixes the Hawaiian and English lyrics as both The Serfers, who provided the backing vocals, and Elvis himself sings a few lines taken from the original Hawaiian version of the song.

Moreover, the soundtracks included three newly written songs with a distinct Hawaiian feel: 'Ku-U-I-Po' (meaning 'Hawaiian sweetheart') was composed by the team of Peretti, Creatore and Weiss, who were also responsible for the million selling single from the soundtrack, 'Can't Help Falling In Love With You'. Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett wrote both of the two last songs, 'Hawaiian Sunset' and 'Island Of Love'. Considering these songs it is evident that they fulfil every criteria for hapa haole songs: Hawaiian melodic structure, Hawaiian instrumentation (steel guitar and ukulele) and lyrics dealing with the exotica and beauty of Hawaii. They can therefore be considered some of the very last examples of this great genre, as the 60's marked the last chapter of any commercially important influence of Hawaiian music on American popular music.

The soundtrack to Blue Hawaii was released in October of 1961 and has gone on to become the best selling of all Elvis Presley albums. As of 1998 it had gone double platinum in the U.S., meaning that it had sold in excess of 2 million copies. In 1997, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Elvis' passing it was re-released with several bonus cuts including a very strong alternate take of 'Blue Hawaii' without overdubs, which makes the Hawaiian feel even more evident. Also, a large number of outtakes have been made available on import albums, both LP and CD. Especially recommended is

The PARADISE, HAWAIIAN STYLE soundtrack

In between 'Blue Hawaii' and Paradise Hawaiian Style lies the soundtrack to Elvis' third Hawaiian located movie, Girls! Girls! Girls!, from 1962. It features, however, not one single song with even a very distant Hawaiian connection, and it is therefore not dealt with here.

It is amazing to consider the difference between the soundtracks for 'Blue Hawaii' and 'Paradise Hawaiian Style'. Where the first featured inspired singing by Elvis, and a very strong selection of song, the second is decidedly one of the weakest of all of Elvis' soundtracks. The song selection is very unfortunate; it has got very little to do with Hawaiian music (not even the title track!) and includes several of the worst songs Elvis ever recorded like 'Queenie Wahine's Papaya'. The soundtrack was recorded in two sessions on July 26th and 27th, 1965, when the instrumental tracks were recorded and August 2nd to 4th, when the vocals were recorded, and features on steel guitar Bernal Lewis while no ukulele player is listed. Probably, one of the five (!) guitar players featured on the sessions emulated the sound of an ukulele on a regular acoustic guitar.

The soundtrack features just two songs of any interest for this article. Again, Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett were responsible for a credible pastiche on the many 1930's Hawaiian songs with 'Drums Of The Island', the melody of which was based on an old Tongan chant 'Bula Lai', so that the rhythm pattern for this song actually is of pre-colonization, pacific origin. The melody is copyrighted by The Polynesian Cultural Center, who are therefore credited for the song together with Tepper and Bennett. The two versions of the tune heard in the actual movie are different and slightly longer than the studio version; they have not been released. The songwriting team of Giant, Baum & Kaye wrote many of the bad songs for the soundtracks but also managed to come up with one small pearl in 'This Is My Heaven' which isn't too bad in spite of never reaching the level of any of the 'Blue Hawaii' songs. A few of the other songs of the soundtrack features steel guitar but attached e.g. to a rhumba beat, which goes to show that steel guitar alone does not make a song Hawaiian. It's got to have that special Hawaiian feel, too.

The album was released in June of 1966 and actually made it to number 15 on the charts, which is far more than it deserved. In 1999, a nice outtake of 'This Is My Heaven' appeared on the Follow That Dream release Out In Hollywood. Also in this case, a large number of outtakes have been released on import records such as The Complete Paradide, Hawaiian Style Sessions. They are, however, not of much interest.

1966 Recordings

My previous assumption that the various home recordings of the mid-60's can be seen as a correctivum to the official, studio recordings of the same period (put forth in a review of the 1999 release 'The Home Recordings') can be illustrated by comparing the soundtrack to 'Paradise Hawaiian Style' to the official as well as unofficial recordings of Hawaiian songs made within less than a year of each other.

In February, 1966, another session of Elvis singing with his friends, this time Red West and Charlie Hodge, was captured on cassette, and once again it features several Hawaiian songs. First up is another try on 'Beyond The Reef', which was also included in the informal sessions in 1960, and, very interesting, 'Blue Hawaii', showing that even five years after recording the song professionally Elvis still liked it enough to play it for nothing but his own pleasure. 'Beyond The Reef' was written in 1948 by Jack Pittman and recorded in 1950 by both Bing Crosby and Jimmy Wakely, whom Elvis also covered in his 1954 recording of 'It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You'. In the 50's the song became the theme song of Alfred Apaka, that periods' most popular singer of Hawaiian songs.

On May 26th, 1966, Elvis, Red and Charlie again tackled 'Beyond The Reef' but this time in more professional surroundings as the song was recorded during a break in the middle of the fabulous sessions for How Great Thou Art, with steel guitarist Pete Drake assuring the needed Hawaiian atmosphere. The song was probably not recorded with the intention of commercial release, and remained unreleased. In 1968, however, Felton Jarvis overdubbed the track to see if he could make it suitable for release. Among the musicians used in this overdub session was the great Jerry Byrd, the most famous Hawaiian steel guitar player in Nashville. Still, the song wasn't released this time around and only became available on the 1980 box set Elvis Aron Presley. The undubbed master was eventually released in 1993 on From Nashville To Memphis, and proved to be a delight.

Barely a month later, on June 10th-12th, 1966, Elvis recorded the last studio Hawaiian recording of his career. With Pete Drake again playing his trademark steel, Elvis recorded one of the finest Hawaiian performances he ever did in 'I'll Remember You'. The song has become a modern Hawaiian classic, and Elvis' performance is perhaps the ultimate performance of the it. 'I'll Remember You' was composed by the famous Hawaiian songwriter Kuiokalani ('Kui') Lee probably in the late 1950's. The song was first sung by Hawaiian entertainment legend Don Ho, with whom Lee struck up a song writing and performing partnership in the early 60's. Lee died at age thirty-four in late 1966 from cancer, and it was to benefit the cancer research foundation set up in his name, that Elvis performed the Aloha From Hawaii TV-special in 1973.

Live in the 70's

Though Elvis ceased to record Hawaiian material in the studio, by no means did the Hawaiian songs disappear from his world. Throughout the 70's the Hawaiian songs would continue at one time or another to be present in his live performances as from summer, 1971 onwards Elvis included in many of his concerts one or two, and on occasion referred to 'Hawaiian Wedding Song' as his most requested song. This, once again, goes to show both that Elvis still had an affinity for these songs, and that his audience did, too.

'Hawaii Wedding Song' was a regular in Elvis' live performance as early as the first Lake Tahoe season in July/August of 1971, and remained there for the Las Vegas season in August/September, the fall tour in November and the next Las Vegas season in January/February, 1973. In the next couple of years it was performed at single occasions, but it made it's comeback as a staple of the live repertoire in the September/October, 1974 tour and stayed there almost without exception right until the last tour of June, 1977. It was recorded live in the spring of 1977 and issued on the final live document of Elvis' slide into the darkness, In Concert. This is unfortunately the only officially released live version of the song, not counting the Aloha From Hawaii version mentioned below.

'I'll Remember You' made it's entry as a concert song in the Las Vegas season of January/February, 1972 and stayed in the show permanently until the tour of June/July, 1973. It made a comeback in the Las Vegas season of March/April, 1975 and stayed for the best part of the year after which it disappeared again. It can be heard both on An Afternoon In The Garden and Aloha From Hawaii, as well as several other albums and numerous bootlegs. In addition to these songs being regularly performed, both 'Blue Hawaii' and 'Ku-U-I-Po' were performed on one or two occasions as one-liners, dying in infantry because members of the band were not familiar with them.

Elvis' single biggest live performance of his Hawaiian material came naturally enough in connection with the recording of the 'Aloha From Hawaii' TV-special in January 1973. The show itself featured 'I'll Remember You', and in a special taping after the actual show had ended, Elvis and the band performed 'Blue Hawaii', 'Ku-U-I-Po' and 'Hawaiian Wedding Song', as well as 'No More' and 'Early Morning Rain'. Even though these songs are recorded with the regular instrumentation of the band, they still maintain a distinct Hawaiian quality, due mainly to James Burton magnificent guitar playing (that man can make an electric guitar sound like anything!) and the great melodic flair of Glenn D. Hardin. After years of being spread on several obscure releases, these fine performances were finally put back in their correct context, when they were released on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Aloha From Hawaii.

Performing Hawaiian songs in the 70's

Though Elvis ceased to record Hawaiian material in the studio, by no means did the Hawaiian songs disappear from his world. Throughout the 70's the Hawaiian songs would continue at one time or another to be present in his live performances, as from the summer of 1971 onwards Elvis regularly included one or two Hawaiian songs in his set-lists, and on several occasions referred to 'Hawaiian Wedding Song' as his most requested song. This, once again, goes to show both that Elvis still had an affinity for these songs, and that his audience did, too.

'Hawaiian Wedding Song' was a regular in Elvis' live performance as early as the first Lake Tahoe season in July/August of 1971, and remained there for the Las Vegas season in August/September, the fall tour in November and the next Las Vegas season in January/February, 1972. In the next couple of years it was performed every once in a while, but it made its comeback as a staple of the live repertoire in the September/October, 1974 tour and stayed there almost without exception right until the last tour of June, 1977. It was recorded live in Rapid City on June 21st , 1977 and was issued on the final live document of Elvis' slide into the darkness, Elvis In Concert. This is unfortunately the only officially released live version of the song, not counting the Aloha From Hawaii version mentioned below.

'I'll Remember You' made its entry as a concert song in the Las Vegas season of January/February, 1972 and stayed in the show permanently until the tour of June/July, 1973. It made a comeback in the Las Vegas season of March/April, 1975 and stayed for the best part of the year after which it disappeared again. It can be heard both on An Afternoon In The Garden and Aloha From Hawaii, as well as several other albums and numerous bootlegs. In addition to these songs being regularly performed, both 'Blue Hawaii' and 'Ku-U-I-Po' were performed on one or two occasions - as 'one-liners' only, unfortunately.

Elvis' single biggest live performance of his Hawaiian material came naturally enough in connection with the recording of the 'Aloha From Hawaii' TV-special in January 1973. The show itself featured 'I'll Remember You', and in a special taping after the actual show had ended, Elvis and the band performed 'Blue Hawaii', 'Ku-U-I-Po' and 'Hawaiian Wedding Song', as well as 'No More' and 'Early Morning Rain'. Even though these songs are recorded with the regular instrumentation of the band, they still maintain a distinct Hawaiian quality, due mainly to James Burton magnificent guitar playing (that man can make an electric guitar sound like anything!) and the great melodic flair of Glen D. Hardin. After years of being spread on several obscure releases, these fine performances were finally put back in their correct context, when they were released on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Aloha From Hawaii.

Concerts In Hawaii

During his career as a performing artist Elvis performed in Hawaii just four times between 1957 and 1973, giving a total of nine concerts there. However, almost every one of them was in one aspect or the other significant or even crucial to his career.

On November 10th, 1957, Elvis performed two concerts at the Honolulu Stadium in Honolulu. The history behind these shows go a long way in showing in a nutshell the personality of Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker. During a press conference held aboard the ship, on which Elvis arrived in Hawaii on the 8th, he talked about these concerts, and discussed the postponement of the filming of King Creole. Thanks to Al Dvorin, it later became known that Colonel Parker actually 'lost' these concerts to promoter Lee Gordon, who wanted to book Elvis to tour Australia, in a roll of dices. So the Colonel said "go" and Elvis went - he left on November 5th on the USS Matsonia and aboard telegrammed the Honolulu Star: "Aloha, very enjoyable trip. Sunbathing, swimming, tennis, reading."

Elvis was greeted on his arrival by approx. 4.000 fans, and after the press conference checked into the Hawaiian Village Hotel, while the band arrived later in the day by plane. The two Honolulu concerts were seen by an estimated 15.000 fans, who had the opportunity to see Elvis, sporting his gold lam� jacket, black shirt and black trousers, performing a very strong set including favourites such as 'Don't Be Cruel', 'That's When Your Heartaches Begin' and as the closing number 'Hound Dog', which had Elvis jumping on the lawn in front of the stage to kiss a girl and put on a coconut-hat!

On the next day, November 11th, Elvis performed a third concert, this time in Schofield Barracks Military Reservation, which was part of the residential area of the US Naval's Hawaii base. Here Elvis performed for no less than 10.000 fans made up mostly of U.S. servicemen and their families. Afterwards he held another press conference at the hotel's Carrousel Room, and the day after that Elvis left Hawaii, departing for Los Angeles at 4 p.m. on the U.S.S. Lurline. On all concerts Elvis was backed by Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass, D.J. Fontana on drums and vocal group The Jordanaires, as he had been for most of his early performances. What no one knew, probably least of all Elvis, was that these would be the final performances of this band, who made so many essential rock 'n' roll recordings together. Also, it would be the last live performances of the 50's, as Elvis would of course be joining the army in early 1958.

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Benefit 1961

When Elvis left the army in 1960, there were great expectations from the fans, that he would start touring again, possibly even in Europe, Britain and Australia. Alas, it was not to be. Apart from his studio recordings, Elvis devoted his whole career to the movies, and performed just three concerts (plus one TV-show) from 1960 to the 1968 NBC-TV special. Two concerts in Memphis on February 25th, 1961, and one in Hawaii on March 25th the same year.

This concert was organized because funds were needed for a memorial for the crew of the U.S.S. Arizona, which was shipwrecked in Pearl Harbour during the Japanese attack on the USA in 1941, and the concert was announced by The Colonel on January 11th at a press-conference in the Hawaiian Village Hotel. This time Elvis flew to Honolulu, on the same day as the concert, together with Grand Old Opry comedienne Minnie Pearl, who appeared on the same bill. At 8.30 p.m. Rear Admiral Robert Campbell introduced Elvis at the Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbour, and he appeared dressed once again in the famous gold lam� jacket with blue trousers, white shirt and blue tie. The crowd of 5.000 adoring fans went mad, and stayed this way during the whole concert, something that scared Minnie Pearl so much that she warned Elvis afterwards that he might get hurt. Elvis, however, assured her that none of his fans would ever harm him. Also appearing were several local acts as well as solo performances from members of Elvis' band.

Scotty, D.J. and The Jordanaires had rejoined the troupe from the 50's, but Bill Black was now on his - very successful - own. Instead, the band was augmented by some of the stellar Nashville studio musicians, who played on Elvis' Nashville studio-recordings at the time: Hank Garland on guitar, Bob Moore on bass, Floyd Cramer on piano and Boots Randolph on saxophone. This unique band only ever performed at the Memphis concerts and at this one together. From the surviving amateur recording of the concert it seems fair to label this line-up as 'the great lost Elvis Presley live-band'. This was the band that could have changed the destiny of Elvis in the 60's, had they been allowed to. The rather crude, but never-the-less extremely enjoyable recording - on Elvis Aron Presley - shows a high spirited Elvis performing a cross selection of his songs from 'That's All Right' to 'Swing Down Sweet Chariot', with highlights being 'A Fool Such As I', 'Such A Night' and 'Reconsider Baby'.

The show had tickets at 3, 3.50, 5 and 10 dollars a piece and a special section of 300 tickets at 100 dollars, and even Elvis and The Colonel had to pay to get in. The show raised no less than approx. 60.000 dollars for the memorial, which any visitor to the memorial today can still see. After the show, Elvis had a few days off before starting shooting Blue Hawaii a couple of days later.

Honolulu 1972

It would be more than eleven years before Elvis returned to perform on the Islands. In November 1972, when Elvis was well into the touring schedule that took up a lot of his final decade, Elvis performed three concerts in Honolulu at the Honolulu International Center, one show on November 14th and two shows on November 15th. These shows were performed as part of an eight-day concert tour, Elvis' third in 1972, which started out in Lubbock, TX, on November 8th and concluded with the Hawaiian concerts.

It is an often overlooked fact that one of these shows was originally intended to have been the Aloha From Hawaii broadcast. On July 8th, 1972, The Colonel announced that there was going to be a worldwide satellite broadcast of a concert in Hawaii in October or November. He added that this was the best way to please all of Elvis' fans all over the world, as going to play for all of them would be impossible. Probably due to technical problems, the plans were delayed and on September 4th, 1972, Elvis and The Colonel announced in a press conference held during Elvis' autumn season in Las Vegas, that Elvis was going to perform a show in Hawaii to be broadcast worldwide via satellite on January 14.

Another very little known fact about these shows is that Japanese television actually filmed at least part of them. Parts of that footage was used in trailers for the Aloha From Hawaii broadcast, but the remaining parts have yet to be seen and it is uncertain whether they still exist. For jumpsuit buffs, it should be mentioned that Elvis wore three different suits for these concerts; respectively the Phoenix Suit, the Black Way Down suit and the Tiffany Suit.

Aloha From Hawaii

Without a doubt the single best-known Elvis - Hawaii connection is the Aloha From Hawaii TV Special on January 14th, 1973. On November 20th, 1972, after the conclusion of the concerts in Honolulu, Elvis announced - for the third time - the worldwide broadcast of the concert. However, this was probably the first time that it was announced that the concert would be performed as benefit for the Kuiokalaani Lee Cancer Foundation. Kui Lee, who died from cancer in 1966, was the writer of 'I'll Remember You', that Elvis had recorded in 1966 and had, as mentioned previously, featured in his show for most of 1972. This decision was apparently made because The Colonel received a letter with a proposal for a benefit concert from a Hawaiian newspaper. But, as Elvis made a private trip to Hawaii in May, 1972, from the 7th to the 12th, it seems very possible that the idea was actually 'born' on that occasion, but that Elvis knew the decision had to go through The Colonel.

Elvis always seemed to be able to rise to the challenge when an occasion such as this one demanded it, and thus in a very short time between November and January, he managed to pull himself into very good shape. Apparently, the producer and director of the TV-special, Marty Pasetta, had told Elvis in November that he ought to lose weight before the broadcast. Elvis arrived in Honolulu on January 9th, where the concert would take place at the International Convention Arena Center. He stayed once again at the Hawaiian Village Hotel and started rehearsing there with the band and backup singers, who had already arrived. This line-up is the 'classic' line-up of Elvis' 70's road band, with James Burton, guitar, Jerry Scheff, bass, John Wilkinson, rhythm, Glenn D. Hardin, piano and Ronnie Tutt, drums, with The Sweet Inspirations, J.D. Sumner & The Stamps and Kathy Westmoreland singing the backup. It is probably not least due to the ALOHA FROM HAWAII TV-special that this line-up is now known as the ultimate 70's band of Elvis'.

The rehearsals continued, from the 10th with the full orchestra, until the 12th. On January 12th, the so-called dress rehearsal, later released as the Alternate Aloha, was held before a live audience. It was taped in order to have a backup in case anything went wrong with the transmission of the actual concert. But fortunately nothing went wrong, and right after midnight between the 13th and 14th, Elvis stepped on stage dressed in his American Eagle jumpsuit and cape and gave one of the best concerts of his entire career. I'm listening to it as I write these lines, and after more than a quarter of a century it is still a magnificent performance, with highlights being, besides the various Hawaiian songs, 'See See Rider' (best version ever), 'Burning Love', 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' and 'An American Trilogy'.

The show was broadcast directly to the Far East and with some hours delay to Europe the next day. Only North America ironically had to wait several months to see the show, as The Colonel didn't want to interfere with the release of the On Tour movie. The show was rush-released on a double LP in pre-printed sleeves, and it went straight to the number one spot in most hit lists, and has since proved to be one of the most steady selling albums of Elvis' catalogue. It would, however, also be the last number one album in Elvis' lifetime and the TV-special itself would be Elvis' last major artistic triumph.

Finally, it should be mentioned that there is an alternate version of the TV-special as broadcast on Japanese television, which has much more footage of Elvis' arrival (with 'Proud Mary' in the background), as well as more footage from the International Convention Arena Center: you can see the sound adjustments by the engineers, the musicians arriving (with some very nice clips of James Burton), and Elvis' dressing room and the backstage area.

On A Final Note

There can be no doubt that both Hawaiian music and the islands of Hawaii themselves played an important and mostly overlooked part of Elvis' career. Finally, it should also be noted that Hawaii, together with Las Vegas, was Elvis' favourite place for private holidays. The times he went there to relax are too numerous to mention, but it is interesting to note that he did on several occasions go there right before major artistic events in his life: right before '68 Comeback Special, from May 18th to June 2nd, 1968, and as mentioned in June 1972 before the Madison Square Garden concerts. From a vacation with friends in 1969, from October 5th to 12th, there are several home movies made by Joe Esposito in existence and available on video. On that video there's also a nice clip of Elvis sitting on the beach in Hawaii together with Tom Jones!

Elvis made his last visit to Hawaii in 1977, from March 5th to 12th , with his girlfriend Ginger Alden, whom he wanted to see the islands. A visit to the U.S.S. Arizona, that Elvis helped erect in 1961, was cancelled because of illness, and the party returns home before Elvis leaves on another tour. At this point there was no return for Elvis, and all that's left to say is: 'Aloha' - 'Go with peace'.

Copyright Jakob Skjernaa Hansen 2001 / Elvis Australia 2002.

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