I was born in 1976, a few years after Dennis helped launch the second chapter in the Sons of Hawaii story. In many ways my generation came up in the shadow of the Hawaiian Renaissance, taking its bold advances for granted. Eddie and Gabby were in the air throughout my childhood, like the scent of plumeria in my backyard. It took years—and, in my case, thousands of miles—before I understood the depth of what I’d been hearing. And I’m hardly unique; the group receives a hero’s welcome any time it travels to Japan or plays for Mainland expats like me.
“The people away from home appreciate the music more,” Dennis says, “because they don’t hear it as much. … When you’re far away and don’t get the chance to come home much, it becomes a treasure.”
Eddie laughs. “Sometimes they won’t let me off the stage.”
But it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Eddie is a prophet unappreciated in his own land. He’s received myriad honors, many of them coming after the Sons officially disbanded in the early 1990s. After the Sons, Eddie turned to documentary filmmaking with his wife, Myrna. Among their highly personal films are Li‘a: The Legacy of a Hawaiian Man and Keepers of the Flame: The Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women (one of them Mary Kawena). In 2000 they released Sons of Hawaii: A Sound, a Band, a Legend, which documents the band’s history.
That history began yet another chapter when Eddie re-formed the Sons with new musicians and new energy. Now with Mike on guitar, there’s a more assertive rhythm. And Paul seems to have some secret pathway to the Feet Rogers sound, along with his own style. “I enjoy working with these boys,” Eddie says, smiling. “And you get very creative working with them.”
The two new albums offer a contrast between old and new, with some tracks dating back to the ’70s and others recorded recently. Among the highlights is a new version of “E Ku‘u Morning Dew,” a bona fide classic that Eddie wrote with Larry Kimura and recorded with the Sons in 1975. Back then Moe Keale sang lead; here Eddie takes it, his voice poignantly softened by age.
Even with the new material, the Sons stay true to their roots. “It’s really not outside of the box,” Mike says. “We have a lot of new stuff in it, but it’s still Hawaiian. … It’s pretty tricky and trippy,” he laughs, “but it works out. That’s the beauty of it.”
Paul chimes in: “It sounds new, but we’re keeping songs that are decades old alive.”