Gabby Pahinui : Slack Key Master ©2005JCMarion


The man who would be known forever to Hawaiian music fans as "Pops" was born in April of 1921. Because he was part of a struggling family, young Charles was hanaied (a Hawaiian adoption process) to the Pahinui family of the downtown Kaka'ako district. Young Charles helped out the family financially whenever he could doing odd jobs, selling papers, and being a shoeshine boy. Because of this challenging upbringing he never went beyond the grade school level at Pokukaina School.

Music was to be the salvation of the young Pahinui boy. Now known as "Gabby" he got his first recognition with a local band headed by Tiny Brown. He mastered the steel guitar and soon became proficient in the method of style called Slack Key. By the early forties, Pahinui was becoming well known as a trusted musician that would add to the sound and style of any musical group despite the fact that he could not read music. He did it all by ear. By playing with such respected Hawaiian musicians as Andy Cummings, Alvin and Barney Isaacs, the "songbird" Lena Machado, and others, Gabby became a traveling ambassador of Hawaiian music. He was part of the cast of Hawaii Calls on the radio worldwide, and by the late sixties became part of Eddie Kamae and the Sons Of Hawaii.


Gabby Pahinui became the most important and influential practitioner of the slack-key style of guitar playing. From his initial 1947 recording of the Hawaiian classic song "Hi'ilawe", he has been the fountainhead for so many who wished to learn from the master. In late 1959 Gabby was joined by Andy Cummings for a session in the recording studio that resulted in the LP "Best Of Hawaiian Slack Key" for Waikiki. The sequel to that album took thirty five years to produce, and Barney Isaacs joined Gabby in "Volume 2" for Waikiki in 1995. In 1961, Hawaiian born musician Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio (and later the Whiskey Hill Singers), arranged for a recording session by Gabby. It took another seventeen years for the recording to be released - as "Pure Gabby" on Hula Records. Another early sixties for Hula was the album "Music Of Old Hawaii". To provide a greater financial net for his family (he went on to have thirteen children) Gabby also worked for many years on the county road repair crew. An unfortunate work related accident was to end his second "career". Gabby started to receive acclaim beyond the island's musical community with his recording with the Sons of Hawaii on Hula Records.


As the decade of the nineteen seventies got under way, Gabby Pahinui was at the forefront of the development of the modern slack-key stylists, and his playing defined the modern era of this most unique styles. One of his champions was Ry Cooder, a noted gutarist, composer, and record producer. Based out of his family home in Waimanalo Gabby became a musical institution and a father figure for aspiring talent in music. He now headed the so-called "Gabby Band" which at various times included his sons Cyril, Bla, Martin, and Phillip, which made some incredible music in the nineteen seventies. The LP's "Gabby" (known as the "Brown Album"), Gabby Band vols. 1 and 2, and especially the "Rabbit Island Music Festival" became part of the rebirth of Hawaiian culture and music during that decade. He often appeared with Atta Isaacs, Sonny Chillingworth, and bassist Joe Gang for a marvelous summit meeting of sorts for the presentation of the music. For an instant understanding of his importance to Hawaiian music, just listen to "Haleiwa Hula" from the Rabbit Island album. The falsetto vocalizing and guitar playing will take your breath away.


By the end of the decade it was apparent that the consequences of a not always easy life supporting his large family was exacting its price on Gabby. In October of 1980 Gabby Pahinui passed away just shy of his sixtieth birthday. However with someone of his stature, his legacy continues through his music and the memories of the thousands that were priveleged to experience the magic of his musical presence.

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