JIM KIMO WEST
Following the release of his 2021 Grammy-winning More Guitar Stories, an album which was actually released in early 2020, Hawaii's Slack Key guitar great Jim "Kimo" West picks up from where he left off with the mid-2021 album release of Ka Honua Maluhia. That Hawaiian language expression translates to Peaceful World in English and as such, the 12-track album comes across as intended - a blissed out, supremely relaxing venture into state-of-the-art acoustic instrumental Slack Key guitar magic. Although it sees release following the Grammy-winning More Guitar Stories, 2021’s Peaceful World is actually intended as a worthy follow-up to Kimo’s 2018 album Moku Maluhia, which translates to Peaceful Island. As far as peace and harmony goes in the music world, both Peaceful Island and now Peaceful World are about as tranquil and meditative sounding as it gets for guitar fans. A logical extension following his ten prior solo albums, the 2021 Ka Honua Maluhia - Peaceful World album is yet another stellar showcase for Kimo’s guitar instrumentals, this time delivered in a range of new Slack Key guitar tunings, providing a colorful contrast between tracks that is accomplished by way of Kimo multi-tracking his slack-key, acoustic baritone and soprano guitars, as well as his nylon-string guitar. There are way too many highlights to pick and choose, so suffice to say that Peaceful World just keeps gaining new strengths as it moves from track-to-track while the always telling replay factor never wears out its welcome. A good example of the album’s overall sound can be heard on track 2, “Kipahulu Bound”. Inspired by village of Hana, specifically Hana’s magical area of “Kipahulu” on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the track features a fretboard match-up all played by Kimo on his acoustic baritone and slack key guitars, in two different tunings. Although overdubbed on guitars by Kimo himself, the tracks on Ka Honua Maluhia spotlights several guest artists, including George Abe (flutes, bells) and Jimmy Johnson (fretless bass). The album cover painting by veteran Hawaiian artist Harry Wishard perfectly conveys the magic in this music, while Kimo’s track-by-track liner notes, including a detailed description of the various guitar tunings implemented, provides further insights into the album. With its wealth of guitar mysticism, Ka Honua Maluhia - Peaceful World serves the listener well as a most welcome continuation of Kimo’s already impressive discography.
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: Tell us about winning the New Age music Grammy for More Guitar Stories back in February of this year. It seems like a blur this past year since the pandemic really kicked in sometime around March 2020. Tell us where you went to get it and any memories of the Grammy and the folks you met. Did you play for the show? That black suit you had on with the CBS logos in the background is killer. Who else was up for the award this year and did you know them? It is a coveted award to be sure.
Jim Kimo West: It was such a thrill to be nominated so winning was over the top for sure! Normally there are great parties before and after the awards so it was a shame to not have any of those this year due to Covid. I was just at home in front of my laptop when I got the news instead of at the ceremony in person. The award is actually delivered about six weeks later-they just use generic ones at the show.
There were some other awesome nominees including Laurie Anderson, Jon Baptiste and Cory Wong, none of whom I’ve ever met. All the nominees were hooked up on line with the producers via a Zoom-like app. We were constantly in touch with them as our awards were coming up but when it was time to give my acceptance speech, they had me muted so they went to the next award lol. Later that evening I recorded it and put it up on YouTube.
mwe3: You excel at the job of making an album, then sometimes recording a sequel to the album one album apart. Is that a purposeful approach to recording or just coincidental? 2021’s Ka Honua Maluhia / Peaceful World and 2018’s Moku Maluhia / Peaceful Island are both excellent album tributes to the natural beauty of Hawaii.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, sometimes when I create an album I have more similar material so I put out a sequel so to speak. I try to use the same artists or photographers for the album art to give it continuity. Right now I have two holiday CD’s, two Guitar Stories albums and the CD pair, Moku Maluhia and Ka Honua Maluhia. Both of those records feature all-original modern slack key-based compositions but I’d say my new one, Ka Honua Maluhia is a bit more mystical.
mwe3: Do you feature new guitar tunings on Peaceful World and what are you still discovering about using different Slack Key guitar tunings? I heard there are hundreds of different Slack Key tunings. The tuning for example on the Peaceful World track “The Sleeping Waterfalls” says it’s in D Anuenue. How do you pronounce that? That track sees you performing the most amount of instruments on any track here. I think you play five different guitars including steel and electric guitar on that track. I saw a recent picture of you with a red Strat but you don’t usually record with electric guitars on your solo albums right? How did you combine all those instruments on that track and in what order did the different guitar tracks come together on that track? Did Jimmy Johnson and George Abe record remotely?
Jim Kimo West: Yes I always seem to have new tunings on every CD. I know I made use of one I call ‘G Wahine Drop C’ on the opening track, “Frangipani”. Often the discovery of a new tuning leads to the inspiration for new songs and many of my CD’s begin that way. D Anuenue is a tuning I came up with on my first CD, Coconut Hat . Anuenue means rainbow in the Hawaiian language and the tonality is quite colorful. It’s sort of Major 6 + 9 tuning with close intervals and is pronounced ‘Ah New Ay New Ay’.
I did use a number of guitars on that track as well as on “Cloud Forest”. I believe it was acoustic slack key, electric baritone and electric guitar. Jimmy Johnson did his bass part remotely as usual and he always nails it! The flute and percussion parts from George Abe were actually solo recordings that were done many years ago and I was able to creatively insert them into the track!
mwe3: Another favorite track on Peaceful World is “Limahuli Moonlight”. That location is on Kaua’i. How did you find it? Tell us about the “biodiversity” and the “archeological sites” on Limahuli? To me the track is proof that even in a solo setting with one guitar only, your talent just comes shining through. It sounds neoclassical. Is there such a thing as Hawaiian Classical music? Is that your Taylor guitar?
Jim Kimo West: Limahuli is an area on the North Shore near the end of the road where the Na Pali Coast starts. The National Tropical Botanical Garden has a presence there and they have done wonderful things to protect Hawaii’s endemic plant species. The mountains are like green spires with silvery strands of waterfalls everywhere, almost like Tahiti and there is very special place nearby that is believed to be the birthplace of hula-traditional hula, not the tourist kind.
Yes that is my trusty Taylor 514CE-I actually have three of them. The chord changes are a bit unusual so I guess that gives it a bit of a neoclassical vibe. I don’t think there is yet a Hawaiian Classical style but classical music was a favorite of many of Hawaii’s royalty so it certainly has been part of the musical landscape.
mwe3: Peaceful World closes with a beautiful track called “The Queen’s Lullaby” which is simple but stunning. It’s a tribute to Queen Lili’uokalani. Tell us about the Queen and the track you wrote in honor of her. I thought the melody harked back to old England! Tell us something about her contributions to Hawaiian music.
Jim Kimo West: Lili’uokalani was Hawaii’s last monarch and was imprisoned in her own palace by a group of white businessmen who took over, with the help of the US government. She was loved by the Hawaiian people and I know she suffered much during her internment. The Hawaiian monarchy was most closely aligned with England and several made the long journey to meet with the English royalty. They were enamored of their traditions and music so I thought this piece might have been a small comfort to her.
mwe3: Tell us something about your Taylor and Veillette guitars and the strings you play on the guitars. How long have you been playing those guitars and do you have any endorsements with guitar companies? Did you use your Martin guitars on the Peaceful World album?
Jim Kimo West: I mostly use my Taylor 514’s but when I want something brighter I use my Brazilian rosewood and spruce 814. I generally use Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 HD Lights. The Veillette is a soprano guitar tuned almost an octave above normal so the gauges are quite light, probably a .008 or .009 on top. I have artist arrangements with both companies and they have been so supportive! The Veillette is a recent acquisition but I’ve been playing the Taylor’s since 2001 or 2002.
I do own some nice Martins but haven’t used them on these CDs. I do have an Americana style record in the works where they will probably make appearances. I have both 1946 and 1970 D-18’s, a D41 and an OM28. I also have a 1950’s Martin tenor guitar and a few of their ukes.
mwe3: Many people that know you as a Slack Key master might not know about all the electric guitars you have including the Danelectro baritone, your Teisco electric and your Moog guitar. You played those on More Guitar Stories as you say it wasn’t a pure Slack Key album. What other electric guitars do you have and are you planning to use any of them on upcoming albums and future albums you may be called on to record as a member of Weird Al’s band?
Jim Kimo West: For the Weird Al tours I lean on my Tom Anderson’s. I have two Strat style ones and a Tele. I have a new Fender baritone Tele that sounds great and a Thinline with P90’s. I’m pretty much using clean sounds on my records so my rock guitars probably won’t be used. I also have a wonderful vintage Supro and a Silvertone that have unique sounds as well as a bunch of vintage lap steels and ukuleles.
mwe3: What is new with Weird Al Yankovic these days? I imagine it was a real drag not being about to tour with Al this past year. How has Al been doing during the pandemic?
Jim Kimo West: I believe we will be touring in 2022 as long as we don’t have a major Covid breakdown. Not sure what all he’s been doing songwriting-wise but he has been doing a lot of guest appearances here and there!
mwe3: How did you meet Weird Al and how many albums have you played on as a member of Weird Al’s band and do you have a favorite Weird Al album? How has Al’s music changed and evolved over the years and what does Weird Al think about the albums you record as Jim “Kimo” West?
Jim Kimo West: I met Al in the early 1980’s. Al’s bassist, Steve Jay and I had been friends for a while and were both in LA. Steve got the gig to play on Al’s first album and soon afterwards he needed a guitar player for some gigs. I auditioned and I guess the rest is history as they say! There are fourteen studio albums and I played on all of them except the first one. Rick Derringer played on that one and produced the first few Al records, adding guitar parts on a couple of the next ones.
mwe3: Tell us about Harry Wishard’s cover painting for Peaceful World. Does Harry sill live in Hawaii? The coolest thing is that his paintings look just like photographs. The attention to detail in his work is fascinating. What about other favorite paintings by Harry and/or other Hawaiian artists. Favorite Hawaiian photographer? Also what about current favorite Hawaiian recording musicians? Is Kapono Beamer still making albums? Kapono was the first recording artist from Hawaii that had a big impact on me.
Jim Kimo West: Yes Harry lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his gallery is there. He’s got a huge body of work and I love it all! As far as photographers, I have to shout out to Clark Little whose unique “inside the wave” photos are just spectacular. He must get pretty banged up in the shore-break taking those!
I’m friends with most of the current slack key players in Hawaii and people like George Kuo, Jeff Peterson and Keola Beamer come to mind. I’m also a fan of Herb Ohta Jr’s ukulele playing. There are a lot of amazing players in the islands. I know Kapono Beamer and his brother, Keola who has made a number of lovely slack key records over the years.
mwe3: When were you in Hawaii last time? Are Maui and Kaua’i still your favorite islands of Hawaii? Although you did say Molokai is the most relaxed, is it still? How is the current phase of the pandemic being handled in Hawaii and did the pandemic have an impact on tourism in Hawaii?
Jim Kimo West: I was on O’ahu in January for the virtual broadcast of the Southern California Slack Key Festival. I’m headed back to Maui in October for shows including “The Slack Key Show-Masters Of Hawaiian Music” series at Napili Kai on October 6. I’m also going to Kaua’i in November just to chill. I always end up playing music there but I don’t plan anything in advance!
Hawaii has been very careful with screening tourists. You still must provide negative test results before entering. But as things ease up, there has been an immense wave of tourism, almost more than the state can handle. I haven’t been back to Molokai in a long time but I need to get back soon. It’s definitely a quiet island.
mwe3: Also I know you just released a Best Of Jim “Kimo” West album only, so far, as a digital download, although you mentioned you might release it on CD around Christmas 2021. That would be great. How did that come together and who picked the tracks and the sequence? Does it cover all your albums or are any left out of the compilation? How about a DVD of the album paired with the CD version for Christmas? Man that would be special.
Jim Kimo West: Yes, that was designed to be a sampler and contains tracks from most of my CD’s but not the holiday ones. The idea was from my webmaster/marketing person but I picked the tracks. I may release it on CD but still haven’t decided yet.
mwe3: Any fresh reflections on recordings Aloha Radio Hawaii with Ken Emerson, Dean Parks and the entire crew of great artists that play on that album? Both that album and More Guitar Stories were in the running for the 2021 Grammy, so I’m glad one of them won! Do you think there will be a follow up to the Aloha Radio Hawaii album at some point? Also are you planning any other recordings with Ken Emerson to follow up the Slackers album you made with him a few years back? Did you speak with Ken or Dean Parks during the pandemic?
Jim Kimo West: Yes that was a fun record to make… recorded live in a legendary studio with an awesome engineer and in Dolby Atmos surround as well. I haven’t heard of any plans for a follow up but I’d love to do that again. I did play one small show with Ken Emerson recently. It was fun and most of the guitar parts came back to me after such a long absence. I have some great live recordings from a few years ago and am considering releasing those, especially if we can line up another tour.