Sun, 6 January 2013
For many Hawai’i locals, Al Lopaka’s name will conjure up great memories of good times spent on the town at restaurants and clubs no longer there - laughing and listening to music. Singer and comedian Lopaka held court at a number of night spots including Kalia Gardens, Lopaka’s Lanai, Cock’s Roost, Honey’s, Kilani Tavern, the Queen’s Surf, Polynesian Pavillion, Duke Kahanamoku’s, and Latitude 20.
If Wainani Kanealii’s recording epitomized the sound of Hawai’i in the 1960s, then Al Lopaka and his band can be considered the instantly recognizable sound of Hawai’i in the 1970s. This is not the music of the steel guitar, the ‘ukulele, and the upright bass. This is the music of the electric bass, the electric piano, and the jangly Fender Jaguar. In short, the music - like the performer himself - is electric. It is Hawai’i-meets-the Wrecking Crew. The music jumps and rocks. There are few Hawaiian language lyrics. It is music intended to appeal to both the local co-eds and the tourist trade. This is perhaps why his album covers branded him as “the Sound of Young Hawaii.”
In addition to his musical endeavors, Al was an avid polo player - playing frequently with fellow Hawai’i music legend Gary Aiko. Sadly, Al’s life was cut short by a fatal polo accident in 1985 at the age of only 42. Who knows how large Lopaka’s star might have shined in Hawai’i or around the world?
In his too short lifetime, Lopaka only released three albums, and only one of these remains in print. This is an excerpt of a long out-of-print live recording entitled Al Lopaka Live! At The Hale Ho - an album funded by Don Ho, released on Ho’s label, and produced by Ho’s producer H.B. Barnum. Don no doubt took an interest in Al because of the striking similarity in both their singing style and rapport with the audience. At times, if you close your eyes and you hadn’t been told who this performer was, you might think this was Honey’s-era Don Ho. Even Al’s band - in its instrumentation, energy, and use of the intricate backing vocals - is reminiscent of Ho’s own cohort of so many years, The Aliis. This recording serves as an excellent time capsule of Hawai’i nightlife in the 1970s.
Today would have marked Lopaka’s 70th birthday.
This post is dedicated to Al‘s great friend Gary Aiko.