Charles P. “Pops” (“Gabby”) Pahinui

The Three Giants of Ki ho ‘alu (Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar.

Charles P. “Pops” (“Gabby”) Pahinui (1921-1980) was the patriacrch of a very talented musical family and is considered to be one of the three all-time giants of Hawaiian slack key guitar (known more properly as ki ho ‘alu.) Gabby was born in the Kaka’ako area of Honolulu, into a poor family. Much of his young life was spent doing odd jobs such as shining shoes and selling newspapers to help support his family. Gabby left formal schooling after the 5th grade.

As a youngster, he quickly mastered the steel guitar, never having learned how to read music. As was the case with so many musicians at the time, Gabby played frequently in bars, it is here that some say Gabby developed his drinking habits that were to dog him for the rest of his life.

Though an absolute master of the steel guitar, Gabby is best remembered for his singing and his playing ki ho ‘alu, or Hawaiian slack key guitar. He learned from the best at the time, Herman Keawe, who Gabby once described as being the best slack key player of all time.

In 1938 Gabby married his sweetheart Emily and started a family that would grown to four daughters and six sons.

Gabby cut his first record, “Hi’ ‘ilawe” n 1947, for Bell Records. Some say this is the first recording ever made of Hawaiian slack key guitar. The following year came “Hula Medley,” the first record of a slack-key guitar instrumental. During this period he made two other influential sides for Bell, the vocal “Wai O Ke Aniani” and the instrumental “Key Koalu” (a misspelling of “Kī Hō`alu,” the Hawaiian term for “slack key”), plus another version of “Hi`ilawe” for Aloha Records.

Gabby played with many of the great bands and musicians of his time. He also appeared on “Hawai’i Calls,” a popular international radio show that began in the 1930s. Eventually, Gabby moved Emily and the children to Waimanalo, which had become a popular second home location for many musicians. The all-weekend jam sessions at the Pahinui home were legendary.

In 1972 Gabby made four albums with what later came to be called the “Gabby Band,” The first album featured him backed by no less than four of his sons. Gabby was a major force in what would be come to be known as the “Hawaiian Renaissance,” a renewal of interest in all things Hawaiian that began in the 1970s (and continues to this day.)

Sadly, as Gabby began to enjoy greater success in the 1970s, an accident at work and his lifelong drinking left him in ever-poorer health. He left his road crew job and took a job teaching in the city and county cultural programs. He died in 1980, at age 59.

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