These days, when almost everyone has a smartphone or some other device that can be used to record musical performances and post them online, live recordings of almost everything are commonplace.
Jump back to the 1960s and it was a different story. Record labels then rarely went to the trouble of hauling gear and technicians out to nightclubs or concert venues; producer Sonny Burke’s trek to Duke Kahanamoku’s to record Don Ho & The Aliis being a noteworthy exception.
When fans or musicians made recordings on their own, there was no place to post them. As decades pass, those privately made recordings can deteriorate and eventually become unplayable. This gem is one of those rarities that survived.
Recorded on July 23, 1966, a Saturday night in Waikiki, it is a charming audio snapshot of vanished era in island music.
Pua Almeida was the hanai son of John Kameaaloha Almeida and his foremost protégé at a young age. He had a strong tenor voice and was a talented guitarist, steel guitarist and bassist. He’s heard here leading the Sunset Serenaders — Billy Hew Len (steel guitar/vocals), Tony Kwan (bass/vocals), Ronnie Souza (drums) and Lucky Viloria (piano/vibraphone) — through a cosmopolitan set that includes beautiful renditions of Hawaiian and hapa-haole standards, jazz, bossa nova, and one song each in Tagalog and Japanese.
The inherent historical interest in hearing this otherwise forgotten Saturday night in Waikiki is enhanced by the unintended ambiance. The musicians’ banter can be heard on some songs. Audience noise is heard on others — a woman calling “Pua, Pua, Pua” for no apparent reason in the middle of “Maui Girl,” for example. The crowd chatter makes the listening experience more real.
Co-producers Michael Cord and Harry B. Soria Jr. put these recordings in context with detailed information on the songs, the group, and the Moana Hotel. They also give credit due to the late Tony Kwan, who made the recording in 1966, and to Carol Atkinson, “Ronnie Souza’s partner in life,” for making the tape available for restoration and commercial release.
Hopefully this project will inspire others who have privately made recordings of other Hawaiian entertainers to do the same.