The influence of the Hawaiian steel guitar sound on American popular music cannot be overstated. In the hands of skilled players, with its distinct ability to mimic all of the emotive qualities of the human voice, the steel guitar arrested the attention of the American public in the 1920's. More than just a passing fancy, this Hawaiian music craze would last for decades and its ripples are still felt around the world today. American old-time, bluegrass, blues, rock, country, and Western styles all owe heavy dues to the Hawaiian isles and its legendary guitar stylings.
Not held like a traditional guitar, what sets a Hawaiian steel apart is that it is played on the lap with a slide bar instead of using one's fingers to fret the notes. This allows a player to play microtonally between the notes, creating vibrato, wild glissandos, and other extremely expressive techniques not easily achievable on a normal guitar. The back of the guitar neck is often square to accommodate lap playing, with the string height set very high to avoid any unwanted neck or fret noise. On Weissenborn-style guitars, the body and neck of the instrument are also constructed as one continuous hollow resonating chamber. Resophonic guitars, invented by John Dopyera in the late 1920's, gave players unmatched volume along with the distinct tonality of their metal bodies.
The first three Hawaiian groups to record on the mainland and have widespread commercial success were the Hawaiian Quintette of the Bird of Paradise Company (April 1913), Toots Paka Hawaiian Troupe (April 1914), and Irene West Royal Hawaiians (December 1914). Pale K. Lua was steel guitarist of the latter and would soon outshine his compatriots, recording four times as many sides as Irene West and company. Most of these sides are guitar duets with bandmate David K. Kaili, who plays rhythm accompaniment on a standard guitar. Lua did, however, record several sides alone. His repertoire ranges from emotional guitar laments ("The Rosary"), to beautifully orchestrated waltzes ("Kilima Waltz", "Kawaihau Waltz"), to sizzling uptempo numbers with blistering guitar acrobatics ("Kohala March", "My Hula Love"). Lua's tone is unwavering and precise, like a resounding bell, setting the bar high for generations of steel guitarists to come. Punctuating the guitar instrumentals are the stirring vocal performances of the Irene West Royal Hawaiians band ("Ainahau", "Meleana").
Unlike his music, not many details of Lua's life are recorded. Pale Kealakuhilima Lua was born in La'ie on the island of O'ahu on February 6, 1895. In addition to playing guitar and steel guitar, he was also an accomplished violinist, playing with the Royal Hawaiian Band Glee Club. He made his journey to the mainland U.S. in 1910, never again returning to his native Hawaii. He would eventually join and tour with Irene West Royal Hawaiians in 1913, performing in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Indonesia. Recording sessions for Victor and Columbia came in 1914-1915. Later, he would travel to Brazil where he made a living teaching music. From there, he would settle in New York City where he passed away as early as 1917 or, according to one source, sometime in the early 1920's.
Pale K. Lua's legacy lives on in the generations of musicians he influenced and taught, and in the recordings he made. All those recordings are preserved here in one compilation for the first time. Included are all releases from Irene West Royal Hawaiians, the Lua & Kaili duets, the solo sides, and one side billed as "David K. Kaili and Chorus" which Lua most certainly plays on. For this compilation, I set out to find the best possible copies obtainable of these recordings. That being said, these shellac 78rpm records are well over 100 years old, and shellac formulas of the day differed. Some formulas have stood the test of time better than others, which is witnessed in the Victor recordings sounding clearer and less noisy than the Columbia recordings. Additionally, Victor's recording process was superior to Columbia's at the time. Great care has been taken to reduce noise without compromising audio quality, but background noise in many cases is unavoidable.
Below are the recording session notes from the Victor and Columbia sessions, including details of unreleased sides and trial recordings. The track listing of this compilation is presented in chronological order by matrix number rather than by artist or catalog number. When the same piece of music was recorded for both Victor and Columbia, label and matrix appear afterward in parentheses. Also of note, "My Hula Love" (Victor B-15539) and "Hawaiian Hotel" (Columbia 45915) are the same piece of music recorded under two different titles. Spelling errors on record labels or in session notes remain unaltered.
I hope you enjoy the recordings of this musical master as much as I have over the years. Let the ghosts caught in the grooves haunt your imagination and inspire you to new things.
Victor Sessions (Camden, NJ)
December 9, 1914
*[Trial 1914-12-09-01] - "One, Two, Three, Four" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
December 12, 1914
*B-15492 - "Hawaiian Rag March" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15493 - "Kohala March" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15494 - "The Rosary" - Pale K. Lua
B-15495 - "Ua Like No A Like" - Pale K. Lua
B-15496 - "Hawaiian Waltz Medley - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
December 16, 1914
*B-15510 - "King Chanticleer Rag" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15511 - "Ainahau" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
*B-15512 - "Every Evening I Meet Her" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
December 17, 1914
*B-15521 - "Hula Medley" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
B-15522 - "Papio Huli Medley" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
B-15523 - "Hilo" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
December 18, 1914
B-15527 - "Honolulu March" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15528 - "Kawaihau Waltz" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15529 - "Kilima Waltz" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
December 19, 1914
B-15530 - "Meleana E" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
B-15531 - "Happy Heinie March" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
December 22, 1914
B-15538 - "Indiana March" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15539 - "My Hula Love" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15540 - "Aloha Oe!" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
January 6, 1915
B-15565 - "Minnehaha Medley Waltz" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15566 - "Maid of Honolulu" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
January 7, 1915
*B-15574 - "Old Black Joe" - Pale K. Lua
B-15575 - "Old Plantation" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15576 - "Hula Medley" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
January 12, 1915
*B-15581 - "Kuu Ipo" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15582 - "Cunha Medley" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
B-15583 - "Wailana Waltz" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
Columbia Sessions (New York, NY)
July 16, 1915
45858 - "Meleana" - David K. Kaili
45859 - "Hilo" - Irene West Royal Hawaiians
45860 - "Kilima" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
45861 - "Kohala March" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
45862 - "Ua Like No A Like" - Pale K. Lua
August 4, 1915
45913 - "Honolulu Rag" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
45914 - "Kaiwi Waltz" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
45915 - "Hawaiian Hotel" - David K. Kaili ; Pale K. Lua
* denotes an unreleased take