by Mike Scott. Mike was born in England in 1926. After World War II, in 1949 he formed his first group "The Islanders". After moving to Canada in 1954, he formed the Hawaiianaires, which has become the top Hawaiian band in the Toronto area. Mike was a guest of Sam Makia at the Hawaiian Room in N.Y.C. , and of Hal Aloma at Luau 400, N.Y.C. in the 1950's. He was featured on cross-Canada network TV shows in the late 50's. He played steel for Pua Almeidas group during their 6-month stay in Toronto, also for Ben Hokea as guest artist. Mike's recordings are on the Maple Records label and on several private labels. For assistance in putting together the following facts, Mike wishes to thank Kealoha Life, Marty Wentzel, and Eric Madis.  

Hawaiian music means different things to different people. To the Hawaiians it is a number of fairly diverse types of music, both vocal and instrumental involving the use of a wide range of musical instruments. Outside of the islands, however, Hawaiian music has always been identified by one sound; that of the Hawaiian steel guitar. The prime reason is the long term result of the manner of which the early contingents of Hawaiian musicians represented their music to the outside world. Upon leaving the islands, they usually formed into groups of two. These duets consisted of a steel guitar as the lead instrument and a Spanish guitar playing rhythm. This simple format was used from around 1900 to the late 1920’s when a third instrument was added, usually a ukulele. The ukulele enhanced the sound but did not change the character of what had become accepted as Hawaiian music
The second reason is the very distinct and unique sound of the steel guitar itself, the ‘once heard never forgotten’ aspect of it . Although the generally accepted basic pattern of Hawaiian music was established close to a century ago, it has not changed much in its identity except in Hawaii itself. The steel guitar, however, has undergone considerable change over the same period, the greatest being its electrification in the early 1930’s. For the first time it could be heard above the crescendos of the big orchestra. As a result of this innovation, the steel guitar attracted the attention of exponents of other types of music, the most notable being country and western. It found fertile ground also in western swing, big band, and jazz. Two derivatives of the steel guitar have been taken in: first, by the blues music circles, in the case of the ‘bottleneck’ or ‘slide’ guitar and, second, blue grass musicians who use the Dobro, a modification of the acoustic steel guitar. As the electric steel guitar was used for various types of music other than Hawaiian, demands were made for changes in its basic 6-string design. More strings were added up to 14 on a single neck. Multi-necks (two, three, and even four banks of strings), foot pedal and knee lever tuning and chord changers, solenoids, foot operated volume controls, tone enhancers, and the list goes on and on. Although these modifications were influenced by non-Hawaiian music, some of them ‘flowed back’ to be embraced by Hawaiian music. The steel guitars presence, in all its modifications, in so many kinds of music has had a definite and permanent influence on the musical culture of North America and elsewhere in the world. Its greatest impact was on the popularization of Hawaiian music in the first half of this century, and in country music in the second half.
Rickenbacher Electro
frypan early 1930's

Tom Gray photo
Let us focus on the Hawaiian aspect of the steel guitar, for after all it was in Hawaii, and through the genius of a Hawaiian that the instrument came about. How did the cultures of other lands influence it, and how did it make cultural changes in return? In Hawaii, there’s an expression that is used when the conversation gets around to a steel player that left the islands to play and reside in California. They are sometimes called ‘west coast style players’. What is the difference? In Hawaii, the musical message was imparted by the vocalist and the traditional role of the ‘steel’ was as a back-up. On the mainland, artists like Sol Ho’opi’i, Dick McIntire, and Andy Iona played a lot more lead steel guitar in their performances than did their counterparts back home. Hence, the term ‘west coast style’. The true follower of Hawaiian music immediately recognizes the very distinct style of the Dutch-Indonesian steel players, which is understandably quite different from those in Hawaii or California. They are of a different culture, speak a different language. They did not enjoy close contact with Hawaiian musicians, but learned from recordings or short wave radio. Differences in playing styles between German, French, and English players are more subtle than in the case of the Dutch-Indonesians, yet each is distinctly different from each other. German audiences expect the steel guitar,
even in Hawaiian music to sound crisp and zither-like and some feel that the group must include drums and accordion. In Sweden, Yngve Stoor always had an accordion in his orchestra when it served a s a dance band, but the steel guitar was absolutely essential. In the late 1920’s recordings of acoustic Hawaiian steel guitars played by Gino Bordin ( a Frenchman) and Len Fillis ( of South Africa) there is a noticeable cultural difference. Gino Bordin’s music has an exuberant Latin flair while the music of Len Fillis is far more plodding and stolid. Cultural differences influenced their playing styles. Again how could we fail to quickly identify the Japanese steel player with his very distinct and unique style. Some have used a tuning that resembles a diatonic scale and the steel guitar is made to sound like their koto, playing Japanese traditional songs such as ‘Sakura”.One only has to listen for a few moments to the playing of Sunil Ganguly from India to realize how far the steel guitar has strayed from its roots. Yet again there is the very careful and structured playing of Yngve Stoor from Sweden. Ironically, two of Stoor’s songs have been translated into Hawaiian and Fijian after he visited the Pacific islands eighteen times and appeared on television and radio all over the pacific. As reported by Swedish steel guitarist Thomas Malm, the Hawaiian steel guitar was so popular, one radio producer stated that there was more Hawaiian than traditional Swedish music being broadcast in Sweden in the 1970’s. As in North America in the case of country music, the steel guitar has become part of the folk music of other lands. In Indonesia the steel was until recently an intregal part of Krontgong music, in South Africa it is heard in Boeremusik, and in other parts of that vast continent the pedal steel has been introduced into juju music, as fans of King Sonny Ade will tell you. In recent times, the steel guitars have become very popular in the movie industry of India, often dominating the score in a films background music. The music played on the steel is not Hawaiian, it’s Indian. But then there’s Garney Nyss and his Aloha Boys who do play Hawaiian style, and there’s Brij Bushan Kabra who plays classical Indian music on the acoustic steel guitar. Quite a culture shock, musically speaking. Ed Mayer of Honolulu, who grew up in Indonesia, has this to add:’The Indo steel guitarists developed their own style which was mainly influenced by the late greats, Sol Ho’opi’I and Andy Iona – then further developed by George DeFretes of Jakarta and then later again copied by Rudi Wairata. The greater percentage of the worlds steel guitarists are not Hawaiian, which means they are influenced both by their own culture and by that of Hawaii. Most imaginative players will take on the style of a third culture as well, often from the U.S., European and Latin American music scenes. To name a few, Len Fillis, Kealoha Life, Roland Peachy, Yngve Stoor, Gino Bordin, George DeFretes, Rudi Wairata, Harry Brooker, Sammy Mitchell, Jerry Byrd, Marcel Bianchi, and Wout Steenhuis. Also lets not forget musicians like Sol Ho’opi’I, Elsie Jaggers, and Bud Tutmarc who have departed into the realm of religious music.

Harlin Bros. Hawaiian Orchestra
Indianapolis Indiana, mid 1930's
John Quarterman photo

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