JIM KIMO WEST
Jim “Kimo” West released Guitar Stories in 2016 and, following his 2018 CD Moku Maluhia (Peaceful Island) album, Kimo is back in 2020 with a follow-up to his 2016 solo set called More Guitar Stories. In contrast with his work on the recent 2020 release of Aloha: Radio Hawaii, More Guitar Stories is just that, an album of instrumental guitar magic orchestrated with a sound chemistry that merges New Age Americana with an exotic Eastern / Asian melodic approach. 2016’s Guitar Stories melded Hawaiian, West African, Middle Eastern and Americana vibes and More Guitar Stories pics up on that diversity with an album that is equally enchanting and entertaining. Bringing in elements of Indian Classical music and Celtic to the diversity of ‘Acousticana’ meets Hawaiian music, More Guitar Stories is the perfect showcase for Kimo’s imagination and his renowned guitar prowess. Speaking about the eclectic nature of this album, Kimo tells mwe3.com, "Guitar Stories was my first release that wasn’t a ‘slack key’ record. I’ve worked a lot as a composer for TV and film and I wanted to explore some of the other styles of music that I love and am capable of doing, the connection being the slack key tunings that I use on all the songs. This new record is more or less a continuation of that idea..." A hallmark of Kimo’s music is his natural-sounding acoustic guitar sound which is wholly explored with a range of open guitar tunings and enhanced percussion. A welcome world where instrumental Hawaiian-tinged New Age music meets Global music is where you’ll find Jim Kimo West and his 2020 CD More Guitar Stories. www.JimKimoWest.com
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: How has the pandemic of 2020 affected life and music for you? It seems like the business of music has been down at least 50 percent in my opinion. Having no live performances coupled with the plague seems like taking knock-out drops.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, it’s been very strange to have zero shows on my schedule, but the upside is that I‘ve had so much more time to write and record here at my studio. I have another CD done and will start working on the graphics and packaging soon. It’s a follow-up to my Grammy-nominated CD, Moku Maluhia-Peaceful Island.
mwe3: More Guitar Stories is one of the most diverse and musically eclectic albums you’ve done. You’ve done a number of brilliant albums in these recent years, from Guitar Stories and Slackers In Paradise with Ken Emerson, the Peaceful Island and now in 2020 More Guitar Stories. How do you feel More Guitar Stories fits into your musical evolution? What kind of musical statement did you want to make with More Guitar Stories?
Jim Kimo West: Guitar Stories was my first release that wasn’t a ‘slack key’ record. I’ve worked a lot as a composer for TV and film and I wanted to explore some of the other styles of music that I love and am capable of doing, the connection being the slack key tunings that I use on all the songs. This new record is more or less a continuation of that idea. When you have an interesting guitar tuning and a great instrument, the stories just seems to flow from the guitar!
mwe3: When was the music for More Guitar Stories written and recorded? You mentioned you were going to follow up Guitar Stories at some point. Have you done a CD and Lp for this new one?
Jim Kimo West: Many of the tunes were recorded last year and a few this year but some of the song ideas actually go back many years. I always have a small digital recorder handy when I’m improvising and when I get a great idea, I immediately record it. I have hundreds of little snippets of ideas cataloged and I’ll often go through them when I‘m recording a new record to see if there‘s anything that might fit. This new record is just available on CD and digitally. I love vinyl but it’s hard for me to make my money back! We did a vinyl release for Slackers In Paradise which is really cool and sounds terrific. Maybe one day I‘ll break even!
mwe3: And who else plays with you on the More Guitar Stories album and how did you assemble the other musicians for the new album? Have you played with the other musicians on More Guitar Stories before?
Jim Kimo West: I hired a number of musicians to help me out on this record. Some of them were folks I had hired before - Simone Vitucci on cello, Ben Powell on violin and Dan Lutz on upright bass. Jimmy Johnson came on board to play fretless bass and MB Gordy added some fantastic percussion tracks. I also had Charlie Bisharat play violin, TJ Troy played tablas and my recent tour-mate Cenk Erdogan played fretless guitar.
mwe3: What guitars are you playing on More Guitar Stories and what is new in the guitar world for you in 2020? On the new album, did you play any electric guitar too or mainly the acoustic guitars?
Jim Kimo West: I’m playing mostly acoustic guitars on these records. I lean heavily on my Taylor 514 CE as well as a Tacoma baritone acoustic. I used a Danelectro baritone electric on “Paniolo Starlight” and a 1960‘s Teisco electric on “Mele Ahiahi”. My Moog guitar gets used quite a bit for pad sounds. It’s a cool electromagnetic guitar, not a synth at all but more like a polyphonic eBow. On “Birimintingo” I use my Taylor capo-ed to the 7th fret for the simulated kora stuff. On “Tin Roof Shing-A-Ling” I also used a prepared acoustic for a percussion effect. It was a thin strip of plastic from a credit card threaded through the strings!
mwe3: Tell us about the addition of the other influences in the sound featured on More Guitar Stories, including Indian classical, Celtic and African. Do you consider Hawaiian music to be a form of Americana? There’s so many guitar genres in American music history but on More Guitar Stories you seem to bridge them all very well!
Jim Kimo West: I love folk music of all nationalities so I guess this record reflects that. Hawaiian music is really a type of Americana. Guitars were first brought to Hawaii in the 1830’s by Spanish vaqueros who had been hired by Kamehameha III to teach his people cattle management. When their contract was up, they left some guitars for the Hawaiians who were not impressed with the standard tuning, opting to “slack” some strings to form chords. There are hundreds of tunings, many associated with certain families. You could only learn slack key from a family member so the tunings and styles are well- preserved. Slack key is actually older than the blues!
mwe3: Are all the tracks on More Guitar Stories in different guitar tunings? For instance, on track 8, “The Lydian Sea” has some brilliant chord changes. Who plays with you on that track?
Jim Kimo West: I think I use eight different tunings on this record. On “The Lydian Sea” I‘m playing my baritone acoustic tuned to what would be a regular open G tuning on a standard guitar but on the baritone it’s in the key of D. On that track I have Ben Powell playing violin, Cenk Erdogan playing fretless guitar and TJ Troy playing tablas.
mwe3: How would you describe track 5 “Tin Roof Shing-A-Ling”? Kimo, that is very different but equally effective. Sounds like New Orleans blues!
Jim Kimo West: I guess I‘d call it “fingerstyle funk”! Again, Ben Powell plays the violin solos. He’s a great Gypsy Jazz player and can improvise over anything! Dan Lutz plays upright on that as well.
mwe3: The More Guitar Stories track “Moonbow” is very unique sounding. It’s a true amalgamation of many different styles. I could see it blowing away New Age music fans. Is there a story behind the title?
Jim Kimo West: Moonbows are very rare phenomenon and I’ve only ever seen one! This song is actually an older composition that I re-recorded, adding some orchestration. The melody sounds like a synth but it’s actually a dobro played with a slide and an eBow.
mwe3: I called Ken Emerson a month or so ago and asked him what was going on and he told me about Aloha Radio Hawaii. It’s such a pleasant surprise! How does Aloha Radio Hawaii compare musically with More Guitar Stories? Is there a way to help get a Grammy for More Guitar Stories and Aloha Radio Hawaii too?
Jim Kimo West: It‘s really cool to be in the Grammy running with both records! They are very different in just about every way. Aloha Radio Hawaii is a tribute to the Golden Age of Hawaiian music of the 1920‘s, 30’s, 40’s, before slack key was ever recorded. It was recorded live at A&M / Henson studios in Hollywood using vintage instruments and mics, no headphones - the old way! Ken Emerson is the master of early Hawaiian lap steel and we also had studio legend, Dean Parks with us, along with bassist David Jackson, Nick Mancini on vibes and Tavita Te’o on vocals.
mwe3: Who were some of your early Hawaiian guitar heroes and tell us about Hapa Hao’le music? How would explain that term to a novice and how has it impacted your music over the years? Would you say your music is a mixture of Hawaiian, Asian and many other genres?
Jim Kimo West: When I first went to Hawaii in 1985, it was directly to a little town called Hana. The first slack key records I heard were ones by Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, Ray Kane and others, along with a mix of Hawaiian and Polynesian music, some of it Hapa Haole. ‘Hapa Haole’ literally means ‘half Caucasion’. It was music created mostly for the tourist industry and was always sung in English language. Many people only know this kind of Hawaiian music which is kind of sad! It was a huge fad on the mainland in the 1920’s and again in the late 40’s, so much that mainland music publishers in New York and Chicago had many of their writers pumping out “Hawaiian” songs with wacky titles like “Princess Pupule Has Plenty Papayas” etc., and most of them had never been to Hawaii.
mwe3: How about forecasting ahead musically for 2021? Maybe a video retrospective or a Jim Kimo West retrospective would be great…
Jim Kimo West: Well, it’s hard to say what 2021 will bring. It’s possible that I may be able to play some shows as we get close to the fall but we will see. In any case, I'll be working on more music here at Studio Kimo! I haven‘t thought about a retrospective but I do have a lot of CD’s and a lot of years of experience playing slack key guitar… that might be a good idea!
Jim Kimo West - 61st Grammy Awards Nominee