Charles Philip "Gabby Pops" Pahinui
The man who would go on to be known as one of the greatest Hawaiian musicians of all time came from humble beginnings. Born into a struggling family, his father hanaied Gabby, his brother and one of his sisters to Philip and Emily Pahinui of Kaka'ako. It was in this impoverished Downtown district of the 20's ("all tins roofs and kinda falling apart") that Gabby was raised in.
His young days were spent helping to support the family, shining shoes and selling newspapers. As a result Gabby only received a 5th grade education at Pokukaina School.
Gabby got his first start in music during the 30's as a back-up guitarist for a musician named Charley "Tiny" Brown. Playing back-up for Tiny and many other noted musicians of the day, he quickly built a reputation as a sound musician. It was through these experiences that he mastered the steel guitar. It was also through this time that he developed his vaunted drinking habits which plagued him for the rest of his entire life. Most musicians he played back up for in those days gigged only at the various bars throughout town.
Though a master of the steel guitar, Gabby is most known for his mastery of the slack-key guitar. Gabby learned slack-key from a person he only knows as "Herman," whom Gabby acknowledges as being "the greatest slack-key player of all time." It is unclear as to who Herman was, but Herman, like Gabby, lived in the Kaka'ako area. It is thought by many that "Herman" may have been Herman Kane, father of slack-key master Ray Kane.
Ironically, though he was --and still is-- a recognized master musician, Gabby does not read a single note of music. Gabby played all by ear.
In 1938, at age 17 Gabby met, fell in love with and married his wife Emily. The couple met while playing volleyball. Together they had 13 children.
As he matured, Gabby played professionally with various bands and all of the great musicians of the time including such legends as Andy Cummings, Lena Machado, Alvin Isaacs, Barney Isaacs, Ray Kinney and George Kainapau among others. His music career reads typical of many great Hawaiian musicians. It took him throughout the islands and the U.S. mainland as well as many bars, lounges, lu'au's and other concert venues..
Throughout the 50's and 60's two notable career highlights included playing on the popular International radio show Hawai'i Calls. Gabby was also an original member of Eddie Kamae's Sons of Hawai'i which helped to jumpstart the Hawaiian Renaissance.
Despite success in music, the Pahinui's life was one of struggle. Rent was hard to pay, and with 13 mouths to feed food was something not easily put on the table. During the 50's Gabby, Emily and the children moved to famous Pahinui home in Waimanalo.
The Waimanalo home become a popular 2nd home to many noted musicians. Weekend's at the Pahinui home were a continuous jam session as the Pahinui's hosted dozens of musicians who would come buy to jam with "the Master." It is said that a pot of beef stew would always be on the stove in case if guests came buy to play music.
Gabby worked as part of the City and County road crew doing pick and shovel work. He worked for the road crew for 14 years till a work accident ended his career..
The 1970's saw the Hawaiian Renaissance, the cultural reawakening of the Hawaiian people which sparked renewed interest in all things Hawaiian. Gabby was right at the forefront of the movement. During the 70's Gabby recorded 4 albums on the Panini Records label:
By the 1970's Gabby's health was failing. A life long drinking habit, mixed with his work accident had left his body wasted and in pain. Charles Philip "Gabby Pops" Pahinui, a Hawaiian Legend, passed away on October 13, 1980 and the age of 59.
Burlingame, Burl. Da Kine Sound. Kailua, Hi: Press Pacifica, 1978
Lindquist, Carl. "Masters of Hawaiian Music/Gabby Pahinui," 1972.
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