Unearthing Secrets of the Ranch

purdy, low, kaaua

Always more to learn, always more to discover. Knowledge is like a bottomless well that you can always draw more water from. Today was a day in which I was able expand even further my understanding of the paniolo and their history in Waimea. The day started out normal enough, as I covered the basics of paniolo history and listened to some of the well known songs about paniolo life, Kila Kila Na RoughriderWaiomina, Kaula `Ili, etc… It was when we met with Dr. Billy Bergin that things got really interesting.

If you don’t know Dr. Bergin, he possesses an amazing wealth of knowledge of all things paniolo and information about the ranching industry in Hawai`i. Please, if you are interested in Hawaiian history, ranching, cowboys, the paniolo or Waimea you must check out his books, Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 750-1950Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 1950-1970: Volume 2, The Senior Stewards and Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch, 1970-1992: Volume 3, Agents of Change. They are truly fascinating and thorough histories of all things paniolo.

But there were two things that really stood out to me during our conversations and his presentation to the students. The first and probably most fascinating this is that much of the photographs and documents that are part of the Paniolo Preservation Society’s displays and part of their archives were almost thrown away. About fifteen years ago, seeing no use for these items and lacking space to store them, Parker Ranch had the archives brought to the dump where they were to be disposed of. Fortunately HPA English teacher Gordon Bryson was there at the dump at the same time dropping off his garbage when he saw the Parker Ranch trucks there with the large containers to be disposed of when he asked what was inside them. Upon learning that it was the vast collection of photographs, documents, letters and other archives from Parker Ranch he asked if they not be dumped and if he could have them.

Parker Ranch obliged and for ten years they were stored at HPA where he led students through the details of proper archiving and preservation of these documents. If not for that fateful day when Gordon Bryson needed to dump his garbage, all of that history and documentation would have been just thrown away and lost for ever, amazing thought.

The second thing that struck me as fascinating concerned the trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming by the three cowboys immortalized in song for the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition. Well it turns out there wasn’t just Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`aua and Eben Low who competed at that championship from the Big Island, but three more cowboys as well. One was Eben Low’s brother who competed in a two day roping competition only to suffer a major asthmatic attack. He was replaced by William Spencer (related to John Spencer composer of Waika) who finished the second day for Eben Low’s brother and placed respectably. The third paniolo’s name escaped Dr. Bergin, but he did say he was a Hawaiian man from Waipi`o valley who was well known as a top level roper. So while many of the songs form the time only mention three paniolo’s Purdy, Low and Ka`aua, there were actually three more as well, Low’s brother, William Spencer and the nameless cowboy from Waipi`o.

So it turned out to be a fascinating and informative day for all involved. It was a reminder that while we often get excited when he dig away the surface to revel the jewels on the top layer of soil, it is when we dig deeper that the true precious gems reveal themselves, and more information is unearthed.

The Story Behind “Paniolo Music”

Paniolo Music Cover Digital Album2

Putting together an album of music is hard work. From the writing of the songs, to getting them recorded, to mixing and mastering the music, taking the photography, designing the artwork, writing liner notes; all this takes persistence, dedication and patience. But above all, what it requires is support and help from friends and family who believe in your music and what you are trying to create.

I recently completed and released my first full length solo album of original music titled “Paniolo Music”. You can find it on www.paniolomusic.com, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and CD Baby. While I could say that this project started a little over six months ago back in June when the first notes were recorded, I could really say that this project has been a long journey over the past 10 years when the first song “Cascade Love” came into my head. Over time the stories found on this album came to be through a series of songs that came to me as my own personal sound and vision unfolded. As I grew musically and my influences expanded, a certain feel started to reveal itself. It was a mix of traditional country and folk in terms of the song structure and lyrics, with a little feel of Hawaiian with the instrumentation and rhythm. It became what I call “Paniolo Music.”

And I use this term as a way of expressing this musical sound that comes out of me. I felt using the term “country” didn’t work because it is too loose and at this point in the world of music, too misconstrued. I didn’t feel what I was playing was “Hawaiian” because the songs weren’t composed in the Hawaiian language nor did it adhere to the established rhythms and melodies of traditional Hawaiian music. But like I said, I couldn’t deny that I had been influenced by both country and Hawaiian and that was reflected in my music. So what is a mix of a little country and little Hawaiian? Well in my mind it is the Hawaiian cowboy, the Paniolo.

But I also want to clarify that what I play are not “paniolo songs” per se. While in my live performances I do play many “paniolo songs” such as “Kila Kila Na Roughrider” and “Waimea Cowboy”, the songs I have written and recorded do not tell the story of the paniolo. To me there is a clear and important difference. “Paniolo songs” are about the specific experience of the paniolo, “paniolo music” is the music that comes out of the area in which the paniolo have these experiences. I just wanted to make that clear so you know where I am coming from when I call my music “Paniolo Music.”

The songs on this album express some deep and personal experiences that I have had over a period of about 15 years, starting with the first conceptions of “Cascade Love”. This song speaks directly about my return home to Hawaii on the heals of a separation from someone with whom I shared what I would call my first experiences with true love.

The remaining ten songs revealed themselves to me as I experienced various fallings in and out of love. “It Ain’t Too Hard (To Love To Love You)” relates to meeting someone and falling in love instantly, the experience of that love manifesting itself in an easy and simple way. “As the Moon Rises Over the Sea” speaks about the beautiful moment when you tell someone you love them for the first time and how that moment can sometimes happen at the perfect time, such as when you are by the water and a beautiful full moon is rising over the ocean at Laupahoehoe.

Others speak of heartbreak. “Leavin Tomorrow in the Morn” relates having to leave someone you love because they don’t want to settle down. “All I Have to Do (Is What I Have to Do)” tells of what to do once love falls apart, and that is just what you have to do. Pick it up, move on, do what is best for yourself. “I Remembered Your Eyes (When You Left Me)” digs a little deeper into the emotions involved when love comes to an end and something new comes along. It can be tricky on your emotions when you’re recovering from heartbreak. We are often afraid of “falling” back into love. But it is important to not live in fear, but rather to see what happens, experience all that life has to offer and you never know what will develop.

All of these experiences of falling and rising in and out of love are all summed up in “Only Heartache”. It can seem like all these experiences are just an endless loop of heartache and pain, but they are all collective experiences that shape you into the person that you are today. These experiences are expressed in song for me and they all have their place in this grand mosaic that we call life. We should not regret the past nor shut the door on it, simply live each day humbly and grateful for what we have.

Other songs touch on topics outside of just love and heartbreak. “I Couldn’t Turn Him Away” tells the story of getting in trouble with the law and receiving the grace of God through those trials and tribulations. It isn’t the judgement of man that determines your fate, but judgement in the eyes of God as you understand God, and when He offers his hand of salvation to you, it is best you receive this grace. And again, this God I speak of has no name and no face, it is the God that you choose to follow and that you chose to believe in. Again, man is not here to judge, but to love.

“He Can’t Suffer Fools” touches on a little of the same topic. This song speaks of the man who plays God. It is about the man who doesn’t live humbly and is stuck on his high horse, disconnected from those around him. It is only through looking into his own faults that he is able to tear down the old self and rebuild himself anew. It’s just too cold of a world to have to carry such a heavy heart. One must first trust God then clean house, and finally repeat.

One song sits a little in the middle of these two themes of love and God. “I Can Sit Still For Awhile” says to find love you must trust God. Our natural reaction when we are denied love is to sulk and want to run away. But often the case is that love just wasn’t ready for those two people. It can be better to wait patiently for true love to unfold, so you can roll together with someone into the sunlight of the spirit. Trusting in God is crucial and often the missing ingredient to true humility when our ego is involved.

And finally we have “Let the Music Play” which is my tribute to the late great Johnny Cash. Without question Johnny Cash is my truest and biggest inspiration musically and personally. His steadfast faith in God and unyielding thirst for the truth resonates strongly with me. In his final years and since his death his popularity has increased tremendously, but as an artist I realized that no one had penned a true tribute to this amazing and accomplished individual. This was a revelation for me personally and I took it as a missive to pen a tribute to Cash. “Let the Music” play is what resulted. I chose to make it the final track on the album as a form of closure to the influence he has had on me personally and musically in the creation of this album. I hope that I did him justice.

It is my intention that this blog post can give some insights into the inspiration and the creative experiences behind the songs on the album. For those that have already picked up a copy and are reading this, mahalo from the bottom of my heart. It gives me so much joy to be able to share a part of me through my music to you. For those that have yet to grab a copy, thanks for reading and hopefully this post inspires you to take a look into what my music is all about. Again use the links at the top of this post.

So mahalo to everyone who has been a part of making this album come to be. You are truly too many to mention. But it involves the many, many musicians with whom I have played music with or jammed with who helped push me or show me new ways of expressing myself musically. It is musicians whom I have never met whose music has opened up my ears to new sounds and colors. It is friends and loved ones whom have supported and encouraged me to follow my dreams and to strive towards continually making music and putting it out into the world. It is all those wonderful ones I have fallen in and out of love with who have given me experiences to help shape me into who I am today. And I gotta mention a special thanks to braddah Chris who helped record and mix the music found on the album along with his bass and vocal work.

But above all I have to thank my family who have shown unwavering and continued support in my pursuit of being not only being a musician, but being an upright individual as well. They have all shown me what true love is. I look forward to many, many more songs and albums, and God willing, more musical expressions as I journey forward in life, as I continue to ho`analu….to go beyond the known boundaries. Keep in touch and feel free to join the journey…a hui hou!!!

Who Are the Paniolo?

Paniolo Statue

Paniolo are the cowboys of Hawaii. Obviously there wouldn’t be cowboys without cattle, so it is important to start with the introduction of the first cattle in Hawaii when discussing the history of the paniolo. For a much more detailed and descriptive history of cattle in Hawaii it is mandatory that I mention the comprehensive history of the paniolo and Parker Ranch by Dr. Billy Bergin and his series of books “Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch” which I owe an immense of amount of debt to as a source for much of the following information.

Sea captain George Vancouver was the first person to bring cattle to Hawaii with a gift of California longhorns to Kamehameha I in 1793 (Loyal to the Land: The Legendary Parker Ranch 750-1950 pg. 21). Due to the afflictions of long sea travel and an inhabitable tropical environment, the first cattle (now called pipi, a Hawaiianization of beef) did not fare well in Hawaii (pg. 3, all references are to the above noted book so only page numbers follow in the parenthesis). None the less, due to a strict kapu placed on the killing of them by Kamehameha I and the availability of an abundance of farmed vegetables, they were able to survive and soon thrive (pg. 22). During the next twenty years they caused immeasurable damage to the native food supply through their trampling of gardens, family farms and native forests. Realizing the perilous infliction the cattle were having on valuable food crops Kamehameha I lifted the kapu and declared it permissible to shoot and kill cattle (pg. 4).

Even with the lifting of the kapu, cattle continued to grow to large numbers and Kamehameha I realized more intensive efforts were needed to control these large beasts. In 1815 ex-sailor and employee of Kamehameha I John Palmer Parker was hired to develop a plan to control the wild cattle. Parker was young, able bodied and more importantly owned a gun and was knowledgeable about its usage (pg. 28). This proved to be an overwhelming task as, according to Dr. Bergin, by 1850 there were over 8,000 domestic cattle and 12,000 wild cattle on the Big Island (pg. 4). Parker tried the best he could and created a homestead in North Kohala and used acreage around Waimea, given to him by Kamehameha after his marriage to Kamehameha’s great-grand daughter, as his working cattle ranch (pg. 4).

In the midst of this immense growth of the cattle population, an additional attempt was made to implement a plan to controlling their numbers. In 1832 Kamehameha III invited vaqueros from Mexico to come to Hawaii to train the native Hawaiians in the skills needed to be a successful cowboy (pg. 28). Their influence was enormous, as not only did they pass on their skills with the horse and lasso, but they brought the guitar and their music as well (for more information see my blog entry about the vaqueros and music). For further reading about the role of the Mexican cowboy you can consult Kyle Shinseki’s masters thesis “El Pueblo Mexicano de Hawaii.” Soon much of the Kohala area was centered around the cattle trade as most of the cattle preferred these higher elevation areas (pgs. 29-30).

The early cattle business centered mostly around butchering the cattle for meat that was cured with salt and sold to whalers and the Hawaiian navy for sea voyaging (pgs. 31-32). In this sense Waimea and the Kohala region began to establish itself as an area with a distinct cowboy culture as its society was centered around the ranch. I’d suggest if you are interested in cowboy culture and how it is developed you read Cowboys in America by R.W. Slatta. In 1847 Parker formally created the Parker Ranch with its crew of “animal caregivers, the fence men, drovers, herdsmen, milkers and grooms.” (pg. 4)

Praise and pride for the paniolo reached its apex in 1908 with the successful journey of three paniolo to Cheyenne Wyoming. With the encouragement of his father, Eben Low, along with Ikua Purdy and Archie Kaaua, took the long ferry and train ride to compete in the Frontier Days World Championship roping competition. It is here that the skills of the Hawaiian paniolo were firmly established with the outside world as Ikua Purdy won first place in steer roping with a new world record of 56 seconds. In addition Kaaua placed 3rd and Low 6th. Upon returning to Hawaii they were greeted as heroes and the legend of the “Hawaiian Roughrider” was born with songs of praise composed to commemorate this important event (see “Kila Kila Na Roughrider” and “Waiomina“.

During the 200 year history of cattle in Hawaii, ranching in Hawaii has extended to all the islands and has become an integral part of the communities in which they exist. These communities can be found in a variety of areas, from the mountainous regions the cattle frequent to the shores where the ports are located for their shipping. Fitting within the Hawaiian land concept of the ahupua`a, many of these communities exist within the same region of land extending from mountain to sea.

Regardless of their location these paniolo communities share a common bond and common traits. The ranch and the paniolo way of life has a way of extending beyond those who primarily work on the ranches to those that serve these communities. Everyone, from doctors, teachers, clerks, bankers, politicians and policemen are all paniolo by extension as their lives are so strongly influenced by the distinctive way of life of the paniolo. This is seen in the shared values of being hard working, living close to the land, having a respect for the family, and the deep love of slack key music and the folk songs from the days of before that survives.

It is in this environment in which I was raised, from the smaller family ranches of Honaunau in South Kona to the expansive Parker Ranch of Waimea in Kohala, and where I developed my love for the paniolo and the paniolo way of life. It was inevitable that this would find its way into my music and how I express myself musically. Blending the sounds of country with the musicality and feel of Hawaiian music I play what I call “Paniolo Music.”

Slack Key Tunings…Why???

I was doing some reading about open tunings and I started to realize that I’ve often felt the commonly held descriptions of the development of slack key guitar in Hawaii are lacking. The common story goes that the Mexican cowboys who came here to teach the Hawaiians how to rope cattle came with their guitars and upon returning to Mexico left them behind. Without any knowledge of European style “standard” tunings Hawaiians retuned the guitar to an open tuning that later became the basis for modern slack key. The element that is often ignored or unaddressed is why? Why would Hawaiians choose to tune their guitars to an open tuning instead of learning to play the guitars how the Mexicans had left them?

This is a question that the late ethnomusicologist Bob Brozman spent a lifetime trying to answer. Although he went about this is an often ego driven and at times elitist way, it is a very important question to ask. He had a very clear opinion on this and it is expressed in the following quote he made during his correspondence with the author of the book The Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, “The guitar accompanied colonists around the world, and the colonized people often retuned to open tunings, because the European standard tuning lacks obvious logical visual and audio cues. Open tunings provide a much clearer picture of the fingerboard, enabling self-teaching. Furthermore, the diatonic European system of music is, in fact, the odd man out in the world of musical cultures, the rest of the world preferring the more mathematically simple and therefore natural-sounding modal approach.”

While this appears to be logical and hold true to an extent there are a couple major problems with this statement as it pertains to the Hawaiian. The first thing I have a problem with is the term “mathematically simple.” This is inline with many of Bob’s sentiments that are often (much to his desired self-convincing of the opposite) derogatory of native cultures. I do not think the Hawaiian, or any colonized culture for that matter, prefers something “more mathematically” simple. I am more than convinced that the Polynesian voyaging culture that formed the basis of the Hawaiian intellect is far from mathematically simple. In addition there is no evidence or support that an open tuning presents something that is more mathematically simple. The assumption that the European “standard” tuning of the guitar is more complex is in direct conflict with his statement that it is illogical. I see someone fighting their own internal battle of complexity versus logic and whether or not they are interrelated.

And secondly, there is scant evidence at the moment that would point to the guitar as arriving here as the result of colonialism. If we consider the British, French and Russian explorers that first came to Hawaii between the 1770s and the 1810s, none of them travelled with guitars. In addition the first missionaries who arrived from the eastern United States shortly thereafter didn’t bring guitars with them either. So outside of the Mexican cowboys, did any other outside (or colonizing) culture bring the guitar to Hawaii?

This brings up a larger question, who were the colonizers of Hawaii? Upon a closer examination of the history of Hawaii one could argue that colonization didn’t happen until the illegal overthrow and dismantling of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the American government and their fellow sugar industry tycoons. This didn’t occur until the 1890s and there is extensive evidence that a strong guitar culture already existed in Hawaii by then.

But I don’t want to get to caught up in semantics. I do want to focus on the larger ethnomusicological question of where did the slack key tuning come from. While Bob Brozman may not have been the only voice in the question of the origin of open tunings in colonized cultures he certainly was the loudest. And his viewpoint centered around the idea of the “simpleton native” detuning the complex standard tuning of the European to form their open tuning styles. The irony here is that he considered himself a cultured man who believed he lived on par with the native peoples he exploited for his own musical prestige. Harsh words for sure, but not untrue if you dissect his actions. And, one listen to him singing Hawaiian music is proof enough he wasn’t the purveyor of native musics that he thought he was.

So really this isn’t just a question of whether colonization created an opportunity for the development of open tunings in Hawaii, it is a question of the need. By the 1840s when the Mexican cowboys were brought here and eventually departed, the guitars they left behind were unplayable to the Hawaiian. Anyone who picks up a standard tuned guitar and strums it will tell you that. This is where the illogicalness of the “standard tuning” comes to life. The practical and efficient Hawaiian would be the one who would decide to retune the strings to find something that sounded pleasant. Not the oppressed colonized Hawaiian of simple mathematical conceptions.

And that is all I really wanted to address in this blog post. The commonly held narrative of the development of slack key in Hawaii ignores the analysis of the how colonized peoples created open tunings. And the only accepted opinion of how these tunings were created comes from an ego driven, conflicted, contrarian ethnomusicologist who is no longer around. Where is he? What happened to “the voice” of the native music cultures? It is not my job to air others dirty laundry. Google Bob Brozman suicide and find out for yourself. Let me tell you now the truth is possibly stranger and more disturbing than you are prepared to see.

The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 3: Los Vaqueros



Shortly after the establishment of the Christian religion in Hawai`i the next major influence on Hawaiian music came in the 1840s in the form of Mexican vaqueros who came here to teach the Hawaiian people the basics of how to care for and manage the cattle that had grown to large numbers since their introduction in the 1780s. These cowboys not only brought their musical culture in the form of song structure, melody and lyrical themes, but in their instruments as well.

A popular form of music in Mexico during the early 19th century was Ranchero music. Having recently experienced a political revolution and upheaval, the people of Mexico were enjoying the first fruits of its independence. The people of Mexico developed and grasped onto Ranchera music as a way of expressing a national pride and identity. This was especially true in the rural areas of the country where there was a strong backlash against the aristocracies that had previously ruled.

It is pretty evident to hear the influence of the Ranchera music sung and played by the Mexican cowboys on early Hawaiian music. Ranchera music is identifiable by its use of a 3/4 waltz time, but the 2/4 and 4/4 time signatures are also used. The songs are most commonly in a major key with a short instrumental introduction to start off the song. Verses are sung and instrumental sections are inserted between verses. The song topics are usually centered around love and nature. They are most commonly sung accompanied with just the guitar. Sounds like I am describing Hawaiian music!

It is undeniable that there was a huge influence on Hawaiian music from the Mexican cowboys and their Ranchera music. While the missionaries had introduced the concepts of melody, harmony and general song structure, it was really in the rural hills of Kohala and throughout the Big Island that Hawaiian music as we know it began to take shape. A specific structure was now in place, musical introduction, verse, musical interlude, tag. The tempos were now accessible, the 3/4 and 4/4 signatures and the feel of the slow romantic love song became the norm. Take a listen to a short sample from the Smithsonian Institute Folklore website of the song “Los Carinosa (Be Kind To Me)” to hear the similarities.

Obviously I would not be telling the story if I failed to mention the most significant contributions from the Mexican cowboys: the guitar. The guitar was the most important part of ranchero music. It set the rhythm and played the melody line, often simultaneously, two distinctive features of what has come to be known as slack key guitar. It is well documented that the first Mexican cowboys to come here brought their guitars with them and showed the Hawaiians how to play. Using the style familiar to the Mexican cowboys as inspiration, the Hawaiians mimicked and added to their own flavor to their guitar playing. What is not totally clear is how the tunings were adapted and or changed. We do know that traditionally there are a number of tunings that were used in Mexican ranchera music. Most were based on the standard Spanish tuning brought to Mexico by the first Spanish to come to the new world. Over time these were changed slightly, but were still very close to the standard tuning. I do believe there was a tuning structure that was common to the Mexican cowboys that was slightly altered by the Hawaiian once they had guitars in their hands. But because documentation doesn’t exist for this, it is purely speculation has to how or why the tuning was changed.

What is most important here is that it was the Vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys that brought guitars here, introduced a specific structure and style of singing and playing that had a big effect on how Hawaiians began playing and composing music. Most specifically in the realm of the rhythms, structure and melodies. One composition that clearly shows this is “Adios Ke Aloha” Here its very title hints at the influence from Mexico. The song is a song of love lost set to a 3/4 time with a melody that is very clearly Mexican in origin. Another tune that shows this influence is “Waialae” 

While the Ranchera music had the most influence on how the Hawaiian people began to play music, we must also look back to the Jalisco Son has having an important role as well. Son music is unique from Ranchera music in that it is played in ensembles and utilizes dance to accompany the singing. As music in Hawaii moved from a solo performance on the guitar to ensemble playing accompanied by a dance with multiple guitars and other stringed instruments such as the violin and ukulele, it is important that we look at the possibility that son music had an influence on this presentation of music in Hawaii.

One final thing to note is the how these developments in Hawaiian music occurred in the rural areas where cattle ranching was common. My last post discussed the role of the church and New England missionaries on Hawaiian music. While these influences did reach some rural areas, it was mostly centered in Honolulu and the urban centers. The more rural parts of Hawaii were till open to outside influences and they mostly came from the vaqueros from Mexico.  This can be seen in the thematics of the songs that were centered around stories of love and love lost rather than themes centered around church faith and Biblical teachings.

At this point the fundamental structure and style of music in Hawaii has been established. By the 1860s a distinct identity of Hawaiian music has been created. Borrowing elements from New England church singing including melody and harmony and incorporating the Spanish guitar from Ranchera music as the rhythmic template with additional melodic flourishes from the guitar with lyrics about love and romance, modern Hawaiian music was born. Much of this happened right in the Kohala district on the Big Island as it had the unique combination of a strong church influence and the Mexican cowboys. From here it spread to the outside areas where it was modified and adapted by the Hawaiian people throughout the islands. In turn the music became to HO`ANALU….go beyond known boundaries. It is during these exciting times that the music morphs and changes with each new influence from the outside. The Hawaiian people were amazingly open and free with how they would take music from the outside and make it their own.

Next we will look at Portuguese Folk Music from the Madeira Islands and then down the road discuss the influences of European Royal Music, American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music as I explore the theme of the influence of world music on modern Hawaiian music during our World Cup season.