for his impeccable musicianship on the 8 string Steel-O-Caster
guitar, Kay Das keeps the spirit of great guitar music strong
on his 21 track 2015 CD Sweet Sound Of Beautiful.
Kay has always been a huge fan of the Abbey Road guitar
sound and by that I mean, Kays endless fascination with the
guitar sounds and songs of The Shadows and The Beatles - the two best
bands to record at the fabled London recording studios. True to form,
Kay starts Sweet Sound Of Beautiful off the 21
track CD with a trio of Beatles covers. From there, he puts his instrumental
guitar stamp on a range of choice quality tracks from the realm of
country & western and Hawaiian music favorites before closing
the CD with five tracks associated with the sounds of Hank Marvin
& The Shadows, with some dating back to the early 1960s and early
1980s too. A number of tracks here features Kays steel
guitar with backing from a range percussionists and accompanists,
including Kays son David
Das, who also handles the album mastering. Guitar fans who
enjoy George Harrisons tasty slide work and Hank Marvins
endless fascination with studio echo will find much to like here.
Its fascinating to hear how Kay ties up all the loose ends of
guitar lore. Some rock fans might have started with Hank but from
there, the guitar-centric among us naturally morphed into Beatles
style song writing as well as rock n roll, country &
western and the more pure sonic tones of Hawaiian steel guitar. Everything
cool and sonically savory about steel guitar pop instrumentals can
be found, heard and appreciated on Sweet Sound Of Beautiful by
guitar master Kay Das.
mwe3.com presents a 2015 interview with
What was your approach to choosing the music and recording Sweet
Sound Of Beautiful this time? Seems like youve hit a cool
groove between blending The Beatles, The Shadows, C&W music and
of course Hawaiian music. Is that the trademark Kay Das guitar sound?
Also what guitars are you playing on the new album?
Kay Das: Robert, thanks again for getting in touch. During
the previous interview for my last album, Hawaiian Shadows,
you kept badgering me with many soul-searching questions that I found
a joy to answer. Thank you for the questions again. They deepened
my sensitivities for the music I had been recording. As I would have
mentioned before, I am trying to get the steel guitar back onto a
world platform by, tastefully creating instrumentals from a variety
of genres. My inspiration comes from a variety of sources, a recent
one being a recording by an early Hawaiian steel guitar master Sol
Ho'opi'i - who
played Gershwin, including Fascinating Rhythm on a steel
guitar. Absolute magic! Proved that the steel guitar could sound good
on non-Hawaiian genres.
The main guitar I play on this album, a Steelocaster, is custom
made by Bob Littleton of West Coast Steel in Washington state. I also
play some of his standard Hawaiian designs and also a converted Charvel
Jackson electro-acoustic. Due to my childhood influences from The
Shadows, I had always wondered what a Stratocaster-like steel guitar
would sound like. Bob built one to my specification, did a wonderful
mwe3: You begin Sweet Sound Of Beautiful with the three
Beatles covers. Something, one of the greatest Beatles
songs of course is just made for guitar. How did you approach the
song to make it different from other versions, say including Hank
Marvins 1970 version with The Shadows?
Beatles tunes on a steel guitar might seem counterintuitive and I
am not sure I can put a finger on it, but it may be that the chordal
richness of the Beatles compositions together with the very clear
melodic lines favor steel guitar renditions played on an A6th or C6th
tuning such as those I use. In addition to Here, There and Everywhere
and Yesterday other Beatles tunes have been included on
some of my previous CDs and I have particularly enjoyed playing them.
One inspiration that I can recall was a steel guitar LP that was released
in the early 70s that I once possessed. It did not have the name of
the artist, alls I can remember was that it had a yellow cover
with red flowers. Although I perform many of The Beatles tunes
live quite regularly, I would like to record more of them. I have
been playing Something on steel guitar for some years
now, and my playing has continually evolved since then. One very recent
evolution, that does not feature on Sweet Sound
is a flip in the outro chord sequence from F Eb G
A/ F Eb G C to F Eb G C/
F Eb G A, more tantalizing as an ending, I think.
mwe3: Sweet Sound Of Beautiful goes from the Beatles
music into country & western music. Being a steel guitarist you
must also be a big C&W music fan too. Do you use any different
guitar techniques from moving away from the Abbey Road Sound
to the country & western sound and how about some inside stories
on how you decided on covering these four country music favorites?
You can hear a kind of Shadows edge on When You Say Nothing
Das: I love the older style of country music, and particularly
the crossover genres first introduced in productions by Chet Atkins
for singers like Jim Reeves and the late Jim Ed Brown, followed up
a few years later by Kris Kristofersson, Sammi Smith, Tammy Wynette
and others. Ray Charles was a particular favorite. I think crossover
genres in particular have a fascination for me. My favorite male singer
was Jim Reeves, in my opinion never equaled even now some forty years
after his premature demise. Blue Side of Lonesome and
I Know One are favorites from my early years in India.
They followed on the heels of his biggest hit, Hell Have
To Go. There were many others. Yes, I deliberately moved away
from the lap steel I used for the Abbey Road hits and
used a pedal steel guitar for the most part. On the country tracks
I chose to begin on lap steel with Ronan Keatings hit with which
Hank Marvin made an marvelous instrumental cover of in his album Marvin
At The Movies. That would be the edge you may be referring to!
mwe3: Is the steel sound the thing that appeals most to you
about country music and what are some of your favorite steel flavored
C&W guitarists and C & W albums of all time?
Kay Das: Yes, I have a weakness for steel sounds in a country
music album and I confess that before I buy one, I first scan any
available literature to find out if there is a steel involved. My
favorite C&W guitarist list would, of course, have to start with
Chet Atkins. Track 13 later in this album, Tahitian Skies
is from Chets album with Mark Knopfler, Neck and Neck,
one of my best loved albums of all time. My other pedal steel guitar
heroes are Buddy Emmons, the late greats Jeff Newman, Hal Rugg, Weldon
Myrick, and Winnie Winston... I was a student of Winnie, and a host
of others. Paul Franklin and Greg Leisz, who lives and records close
by here, are other contemporaries.
mwe3: One of your trademark guitar styles of course is Hawaiian
music. Have you been to Hawaii recently? You play six Hawaiian style
tracks on Sweet Sound but most impressive is your own composition
Waikiki Moon (Mahina Waikiki). With all the covers on
your albums, do you feel kind of overlooked as a composer in your
own right? How many instrumentals have you written?
Das: I am amazed by the number of tunes that originate from the
small surface area of the Hawaiian islands, and its not only
steel guitar music. Yes, I visit Hawaii as often as I can, perhaps
once or twice a year and I am known to the steel guitar community
in the islands. I enjoy making covers and occasionally wish to add
to the music of the world with my own contributions. No, I do not
feel overlooked at all. I have written a few originals over the years...
Jacaranda, Sunset Over the Kushiara,
Pua Melia, Adriana, Flower of My Heart
to name some that can be found on iTunes and other sites. But, the
majority of my recordings have been covers.
mwe3: Among the other Hawaiian music composers covered on the
new CD, the one known in more recent times is Peter Moon. Tell us
about the other Hawaiian music composers on Sweet Sound and
how you decided on these songs to cover? Any other guitar news from
Hawaii these days? Is the steel guitar still hugely popular in Hawaii
as it was in the 1960s? Interesting that both Chet Atkins and Les
Paul were big Hawaiian music enthusiasts.
Kay Das: Peter Moon is a great musician with many hits to his
name, struck by an illness but now recovering, and long may he live.
His son carries on in the rich tradition of his father. I should like
to pay particular tribute to Alan Akaka who got me interested in lap
steel guitar again. I had started learning steel guitar from my mother
who then gave it up and passed it down to me at ten years old. During
my teenage years, the 1960s, I started to learn the regular guitar,
which was more hip, particularly the era of The Shadows
and The Beatles. Although I never forgot the lap steel, it remained
a background interest until I grew curious of the pedal steel and
took up learning it with Winnie Winston in the 1980s. On a visit to
Hawaii in the early 90s I met Alan who, hearing my story, urged me
to take it up again as he said there were not many Hawaiians that
could play it in the land of its birth. Alan is doing yeoman service
to the future of the lap steel guitar, teaching it to his young students
the other forefront performers in Hawaii today in addition to Alan
Akaka are: Jeff Au Hoy, Ken Emerson (now mainland-based), Bobby Ingano,
Casey Olsen, Greg Sardinha, Wayne Shishido, Paul Kim, Eddie Palama
to name a few others. They have their distinctive styles but also
carry on the legacies of past masters like Sol Ho'opi'i, Jules Ah
See, David Kelii, Gabby Pahinui, Feet Rogers, Barney
Isaacs, Jerry Byrd, to name just a few, whose names are revered and
styles emulated. One instantiation is Ronald Kanahele who sadly passed
away a few years ago but I was fortunate to have met him and observed
him play, learnt a trick or two. He came from the Feet
Rogers family and I, as a winner of a Hawaii Music Awards special
prize a few years ago, had the privilege to nominate him for a posthumous
mwe3: Also how did you find the song E hoi i Kapili?
It sounds like the most Hawaiian sounding song Ive ever heard!
Kay Das: E hoi i Kapili, a Hawaiian love
song, was written by Keali'i Reichel from the island of Maui. I loved
it the first time I heard it, a recording by Nina Kealiwahamana with
Jerry Byrd on steel. This recording drew inspiration from that version.
I had occasion to accompany a noted Hawaiian singer, Ed Punua no mean
steel guitarist himself, last year on stage.
Track 14 is the title track to Sweet Sound Of Beautiful and
its another Kay Das original. Any inside stories on that track?
Can you tell us about the instrumentation of that track and how many
guitars are you playing and overdubbing?
Kay Das: The inside story to this composition was inspiration
from the guitar stylings of Eric Johnson. I figured that a steel guitar
should sound good with a warm fuzz sound. It all started with that
thought. I had some fun with a Johnson J-station and added some sampled
layers from a Roland E-09.
mwe3: Track 15 is a great Kay Das cover of the jazz standard
Green Dolphin Street. How long have you been playing that
track? It is one of the great jazz standards of all time. Does this
mean you might get more into playing steel arrangements of jazz classics
and/or other movies themes? Also tell us about the movie Green
Dolphin Street as its just amazing what you find out when
you read the liner notes to a Kay Das CD! I had no idea there was
a movie by that name with that song!
Kay Das: The musical chord structure of Green Dolphin
Street caught my ear and I had not been playing it for very
long. I would love to do more jazz classics. This tune is melodically
slow moving with many sustained notes with harmonies that rarely change
more frequently than once per measure and this affords the instrumentalist
good opportunity to improvise. The musical structure is fairly typical
of compositions during and just after WW II and I think a good fit
for steel guitar. Lana Turner turned heads in the movie!
Another track here, Love Letters In The Sand is another
overlooked standard. How did you arrange the strings sounds to match
the guitars? Is that where your harmony training comes into play?
Whos playing the harmonica? Amazing how much is going on with
that track! Fred Coots wrote that? Where did you find that song?
Kay Das: I remember Love Letters being popularized
by Pat Boone, the years might have been around 1957, just when Elvis
Presley was hitting the charts, and listening to it on short wave
radio from (then) Radio Ceylon and from Radio Australia. I was amused
by Pat Boones whistling interlude. I did the whistling part
playing a Hofner Toots Thielman chromatic harmonica. The backing
was by Dutch Shadows guitarist Pete Korving.
mwe3: Track 17 features your cover of Stingray,
the Shadows classic from 1962. I had completely forgotten Claus Ogerman
wrote that song! Its just amazing. Whats great is that
you always list the composers of the songs your cover on your albums.
Ogerman was mainly a jazz arranger right? He must have had the Shadows
Kay Das: Claus Ogerman had an amazing range of compositions,
classical, jazz, bossa nova
I particularly loved his concert
with Diana Krall, some wonderful instrumental breaks. It is the kind
of jazz that appeals to me most. I have no knowledge of how Hank Marvin
chose to play Stingray. I guess there must have been an
Same goes for Blue Star, which was a track on the very
first Shadows studio album from 1961. Tell us something else about
Victor Young? How did the Shadows find these amazing songs to cover
and it makes sense for you to cover that song as the lead lines are
so long and winding. From the TV show The Medic? Wow, was that
a US or UK show?
Kay Das: "Blue Star" became popular in many parts
of the world from Indonesia to Brazil. An orchestrally rich version
typical of the stylings of its time with piano and voices was featured
in the theme music of the television series The Medic, an American
production. In Indonesia this song was reproduced in the krontjong
style and recorded by Rudi Wairata on steel guitar with his Amboina
Serenaders. An instrumental version was recorded by The Shadows in
1961, but somehow never made it to the top rankings, and The Ventures
too did one. I do not know much about composer Victor Young except
that he hailed from Chicago and that he has composed a number of hits
for Bing Crosby.
mwe3: Plus, who knew Leiber & Stoller wrote Lucky
Lips? Another track that became so huge thanks to the unique
chemistry of Cliff and The Shadows. But I dont remember where
the track came from or who did it first? Its amazing to think
about the songs that came out of the Brill Building! Now theres
a concept for a future Kay Das compilation!
Das: Leiber and Stoller's initial successes were as the writers
of such crossover hits as "Hound Dog" and "Kansas City,
in all over 70 chartbusters. They wrote hits for Elvis Presley including
"Love Me" and "Loving You" which I have recorded
on a previous CD, The Plumeria Journey and a host of others
like "Don't", and "Jailhouse Rock. The Brill Building
became a center of activity for the popular music industry during
World War II, and many music publishers and songwriters had offices
there. Once songs had been published, the publishers sent song
pluggers from there to the popular white bands and radio stations.
I particularly love the music of those times... yes maybe a future
labor of love.
mwe3: No Kay Das album would be complete without at least one
Kay Das cover of a Shadows original. Summer Love 59
was one of the great originals on the 1981 Shadows album Hits Up
Your Street. Its incredible how that album came out just
a few months after John Lennons murder and it also featured
the first cover from Double Fantasy. I also associate that
Shads album with sort of the passing of the torch, from the
Shadows to The Beatles and then back to The Shadows again. What goes
Kay Das: I decided to record this Shadows original instrumental
with the end of summer in sight last year here in Los Angeles. It
evokes memories of my teenage puppy love years. The chord composition
is the I - vi - IV - iv - V so typical of the "sixties",
with a few added diminished chords. Yes, John Lennons passing
in December 80 was a sad time and turned the music industry
into an introspective mood. Hits Up Your Street from The Shadows
featured a medley of Imagine and Woman and
I remember listening to it for the first time on a plane that was
taking me away from the UK to a new life in America. I have recorded
Imagine with Derek Kerner of the UK doing a Hank style
duet with me on a previous album. Yes, as you say, circles
Closing the CD, Travellin Light is yet another instrumental
cover of Cliff and The Shadows that works so well as a steel flavored
guitar instrumental. Now you have to tell us who Sid Tepper and Roy
Bennett were. Its just amazing how, thanks to you crediting
these historic songwriters your albums are like musical encyclopedias!
Kay Das: I think it was Travellin Light that
got me hooked forever to the sound of the Shadows, just loved those
Hank Marvin guitar fills. He must have been just in his late teens
then. Sid Tepper and his musical collaborator Roy Bennett (no relation
to Brian Bennett of The Shads) made their first hit in 1948, "Red
Roses For A Blue Lady". They are credited with over 300 songs
for Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Sarah
Vaughan, Dean Martin, and many more, including over forty songs for
Elvis Presley in addition to those written for him by Jerry Leiber
and Mike Stoller we referred to a little while ago. Tepper and Bennett
also wrote Cliff Richards major hit "The Young Ones".
Sid Tepper died in April last year, aged 96.
mwe3: What are your plans for the rest of 2015 into 2016?
Kay Das: I was in Rome recently, dining near the Spanish Steps
and heard some familiar steel guitar tones from the restaurant sound
system. It was the Santo and Johnny LP Anema e Core. Santo
and Johnny Farina were brothers of Italian descent born in Brooklyn
New York. Their father was in the Army stationed overseas. After hearing
a steel guitar on radio, he wrote to his wife saying "I'd like
the boys to learn
to play this instrument". That was the origin of Sleep
Walk, the most often requested steel guitar solo I am asked
to play in my travels. As you may know, I have strong Italian connections
as my wife, Adriana, is native Italian and I often hook up with some
of the Italian Shadows groups when I go there. I have some ideas running
in my head on the production of an album featuring Italian pop music
some of which, I find to my surprise, sits well on a steel guitar.
Just a thought at this juncture