Bob Brozman in Hawaii: Island music, Hawaiian music, Hawaiian steel guitar, slack key guitar
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Bob Brozman in Hawaii

Bob Brozman's interest in Hawaiian music started way back in 1974, when he started finding 1920s Hawaiian 78rpm recordings and realizing that this music carries the same emotional depth and range and old blues music. Though a guitarist since 1960, Bob took up lap-style steel playing in 1974, immersing himself in the vintage sounds of artists like Sol Hoopii, Benny Nawahi, etc. At that time, the acoustic steel guitar was extinct, with nobody left playing it, since the electric steel replaced it in the late 1930s. Bob determined to create a revival of this instrument, is now considered internationally to be the best living acoustic steel player, and has been gratified to see that numerous musicians have since started playing steel.

In 1976, Bob stumbled upon the only known 78rpm records from 1929 of Tau Moe, a musician who left Hawaii on tour in 1928 and who, with his family, continued to tour continuously worldwide for the next 57 years! The original records were credited to the manager "Mme. Riviere," so the musicians names on these records was unknown - until one day in 1986, when Bob received a letter from Tau Moe, looking for some of Bob's music. An ensuing conversation revealed, amazingly, that Tau was the steel player on those records, and his wife Rose was the singer. Her voice over the phone had not changed at all! In fact, Tau's musical memory was totally intact at age 80, and Bob was thus inspired to recreate the original 1929 recording sessions to preserve this pure ethnic music. So it was agreed that Bob and Tau's family should record HO'OMANA'O I NA MELE O KA WA U'I (REMEMBERING THE SONGS OF OUR YOUTH), in a small wooden house in Hawaii in 1988. The record was released to great acclaim as a classic. This was Bob's first collaborative project, leading to the type of projects he is involved with since.

On that visit to Hawaii, Bob had a chance to jam with Ledward Kaapana, perhaps the greatest living slack-key guitarist in the world. This took place in a little "Hawaiians only" nightclub. Led was surprised to see a mainlander playing in such an old authentic style, and the jam went for an hour, with the two musicians egging each other on to greater heights. Years later, in 1996, Bob joined Led in the studio, for one of the first ever slack key/steel guitar duets. Slack key and steel guitar, as musical traditions in Hawaii, shared the same repertoire from 1880 to 1960, yet stayed separate because steel guitar became a worldwide performance phenomenon during that period, while slack key "stayed home on the farm." As local Hawaiians in the 1970s became disenchanted with steel when it became too commercial, they developed an interest in reviving slack key as a legitimate world guitar music. The first duet recordings with Bob and Led, done without any rehearsal - just mutual respect and attention - were released in 1996. Bob and Led have toured together extensively since then.

In between those projects, Bob had the opportunity to meet and jam with Cyril Pahinui who with Led, represents the two leading families of slack key style. Cyril's unique Latin-influenced rhythmic style brought out new sounds and rhythms in Bob's steel work, and their duet project was released in 1999.