Ernest patented some of his numerous inventions: loudspeaker enclosures, improvements to radio instruments. Radio, in fact, remained a lifelong passion. For years he worked as an engineer at KFI, a California AM radio station. At home Lydia must have thrown up her arms in despair when he tore up the yard to build a fifty-foot-tall ham radio tower. He wired the house with speakers, inside and out, to accommodate Sunday afternoon parties.
He was a born entertainer and tireless. In 1965, while Freddie was at Fender, Ernest launched a twelve-piece stage show, Hawaiian Hullabaloo. It toured the West Coast for eight years, with long-term engagements at top casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. Equally impressive were the show’s dancers: Ernest hired six-foot-tall women who towered over audiences because he felt their Amazon-like stature gave the show an even greater element of the spectacular.
The Tavares brothers definitely did not lack for personality. “The two of them were kind of zany characters,” recalls Ernest’s son, Jan Tavares. “They were a lot of fun to be around, especially when together.” The brothers liked to challenge one another to word games, priding themselves on their exhaustive vocabularies. Once while on tour, they were so intent on their competition that after a brief pit stop at a café, they drove off, leaving Freddie’s wife, Tamar, behind. Used to the brothers’ ways, she ordered a coffee, settled into a book and waited for them to come back for her —which in due time they sheepishly did.
Ernest and Freddie continued to entertain around California well past their retirement. Holiday parties at their homes were huge affairs, attended by extended family and the occasional movie star, such as Johnny Weissmuller—better known as Tarzan. Martin Denny, Jerry Byrd and other musical celebrities attended Freddie and Tamar’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and regaled the couple with celebratory serenades. But Freddie’s connection to high society didn’t prevent him from packing up a small amplifier, pedal steel guitar and ‘ukulele to perform for delighted nursing home residents.
Ernest passed away in 1986, followed four years later by Freddie. In 1994, on the Stratocaster’s fortieth anniversary, Fender honored Freddie by releasing 150 limited-edition guitars, the “Freddie Tavares Aloha Stratocaster.” The guitar is shiny silver, with etchings of Freddie playing guitar and Tamar dancing hula. Over the years, these prized guitars have fetched as much as $15,000.
In 2011, at the prestigious Na Hoku awards ceremony, Ernest and Freddie received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In the last year, members of Congress, Hawai‘i’s governor, Maui’s mayor and its county council have each issued resolutions praising the profound talents of these sons of Ku‘au. Even posthumously the brothers are still contributing to the silver screen. The recent film The Descendants closes with the brothers’ rendition of “Hi‘ilawe.” True Renaissance men, Ernest and Freddie Tavares left a lasting and lovely mark on music.