A. Panda’s Exotica Lounge

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So, here we go again, back to A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge for another music mix. This time I’m shooting for a compilation of Exotica and Lounge tunes, many of which I’ve only recently discovered. A lot of these songs are from the heyday of this style of music, the 1950s and 1960s. Many more are by modern-day artists who either revisited old chestnuts or created something new. All of them should fill you with a sense of escape, which is what we’re all about here in the Tiki Lounge.

Now, I’m not an artist or musician, though I really appreciate both. Where I flex my creative muscles is in writing and compiling. That’s why I enjoy this blog, and that’s why I also enjoy making music mixes. It really is an art form, mixing up other peoples’ work into something completely new.

For this particular musical collection, I have Dawn Frasier to thank for the inspiration. Dawn is an amazingly talented artist in Seattle who created the painting that is the cover of this mix. The original artwork is now hanging behind the bar in the Tiki Lounge. I also want to acknowledge some wonderful musicians who are Tiki friends of mine and landed in this mix: Jay Brooks of Clouseaux, Tony Marsico of The Martini Kings, Michael Bridoux of The Left Arm of Buddha, John Bartley of Five-Eaux, Mark Fontana of The Blue Hawaiians, Jim Bacchi of The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison, Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge, and all of the other musicians who made Exotica and Lounge music the treasure that we enjoy today. I hope you enjoy listening to this mix as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. Aloha!

Here’s the playlist in case you want to see what’s in this mix:

A Panda's Exotica Lounge Playlist

And here’s the link to listen to this playlist on 8tracks:

The Wide, Wild World of Tiki.

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Tiki does not exist in a vacuum. It was born out of the need for escape, and it both feeds and is fed by that need.

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I can trace the roots of Tiki culture back at least to the 1890s, when Paul Gaugin left France for Polynesia, looking to escape the constraints of Impressionist painting in search of a more primitive lifestyle to feed his art. The Hawai’ian music craze of the 1920s in America further fueled our desire for a world of faraway ocean breezes and swaying palm trees. The 1930s saw the invention of the Tiki drink and the nautical flotsam and jetsam-themed bars of Don The Beachcomber. In the 1940s Trader Vic’s upped the ante with full-blown Polynesian restaurants and the creation of the greatest Tiki drink of all: the Mai-Tai. The 1950s brought the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of WWII and the rise of backyard luaus and basement Tiki bars. Tiki culture peaked with the admission of Hawai’i as the 50th state in 1959.

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In the Mid-1960s, it all started falling apart. The Summer of Love ushered in the drug and hippie culture. America had a new means of escape, as the children of the Tiki culture banished their parents’ artificial paradise in favor of a more natural (albeit drug-fueled) release. This back-to-nature movement continued through the 1970s.

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Another culture sprung up in the late 1970s to add insult to Tiki’s injury. Jimmy Buffet introduced Margaritaville, moving the tropical escape to the Caribbean and creating a more-accessible and dumbed-down version of Tiki to the world. Well-crafted cocktails were replaced with alcoholic slushies. Hawai’ian and Exotica music faded to catchy tunes about boat drinks and cheeseburgers in paradise. Carved Tikis and authentic nautical decor gave way to parrots and brightly-colored party decorations. It was enough to make Donn Beach roll over in his grave!

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The 1990s saw the beginning of the resurgence of Tiki culture. Like-minded enthusiasts, brought together by the rise of the Internet, resurrected the lost civilization from Mid-Century America in all of its artificial glory. Today, Tiki bars are opening with well-crafted cocktails made from rescued recipes. Basements are once again adorned with authentic nautical decor, lowbrow artwork, and real Tikis painstakingly carved by modern-day savages. New Exotica bands have brought back the music that was the soundtrack to the original Tiki craze.

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It is here that I should introduce the concept of the Tiki purist. Many of the folks who helped bring Tiki back are very protective of their work, and with good reason. We don’t want to see this wonderful escape relegated to the ash heap of history again. As Tiki gains in popularity, it runs the risk of jumping the shark and being watered down, like Margaritaville. This is why the tight-knit Tiki ohana tends to be wary of newcomers to the scene, until they can be vetted for their “Tiki cred.”


I am not a Tiki purist. Although I’ve been descending slowly down this rabbit hole for over 10 years now, I still value the eclectic nature of my journey. A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge has many of the purist Tiki elements I value most, like carved Tikis, bac-bac matting, bamboo, and cool artwork. I also mix up some pretty authentic Tiki drinks using many different rums and fresh ingredients. However, I’m not above mixing in atypical items to my Tiki space, like pink flamingos, a few tacky decorations, and of course the ubiquitous pandas! If my mother-in-law cross-stitches a sign for me that says “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere”on it, then I display it proudly at the bar.


I belong to several Facebook groups devoted to Tiki ephemera like SHAG’s art, cocktails, exotica music, and home Tiki bar builds. Some of these groups are led by pretty hardcore purists, and that’s okay. I still enjoy being a part of these groups, but I’ve learned through a few intense but civil interactions that folks take their Tiki pretty seriously. It’s all good, as I can appreciate wanting to preserve the traditional elements that made Tiki great the first time around. I just hope that the newfound popularity of Tiki doesn’t lead to its second downfall. That would be ironic, don’tcha think?

Tiki has always been, and continues to be, an escape. It’s not the only game in town. But to Tiki enthusiasts, both purists and serious newcomers, I believe it’s the best. For an artificial creation to become such an all-encompassing passion, through music, art, drink, and decor, it could only happen in America. Happy Independence Day, mahalo and okole maluna!

Mid-Century Modern

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If you’re into Tiki like me, you hear a lot about the Mid-Century Modern era in America. But what exactly does that mean? And what does it have to do with Tiki?

According to Wikipedia, Mid-Century Modern is a term that “generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965.” So, our first clue of the connection is the timeline. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened his first Don the Beachcomber’s bar in Hollywood in 1933, and the first great wave of Tiki lasted until about 1967, when the Summer of Love aesthetic supplanted Tiki as the primary means of escapism in America.

So, was Tiki a part of Mid-Century Modern design? Not really. Tiki art and architecture were more primitive and natural than MCM, which was more clean, crisp and futuristic. However, they occupied the same space in America’s history, and co-existed quite nicely. Think The Jetsons meet The Flintstones!

But why should I care about Mid-Century Modern? Because it was the backdrop against which Tiki occurred, and there were many connections between the two besides timing. I like to think of SHAG’s art when I envision this era in American history. SHAG incorporates a lot of the MCM design aesthetic in his artwork, much of which recalls the 1950s-60s of Palm Springs: architecture, artwork, cocktail culture. And SHAG paints a lot of Tikis as well. These are the things he knows.

In the next few blog posts, I’ll explore the different elements of the Mid-Century Modern era. I’ll be learning along with you as we go in more depth into this important topic. Aloha.

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Panda’s Aloha Surf

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So here we are, 12 years into my Tiki journey, which started with the making of my first music compilation CD, Panda’s Swinging Cocktail Hour. Fast forward to today and my 31st music disc, Panda’s Aloha Surf. This is my 5th Surf CD but first in 3 years.

I’ve had a lot of Tiki travels in the past 3 years. Anaheim CA for the 50th anniversary of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. Fort Lauderdale FL for the Hukilau in 2014. Wildwood NJ for That Wildwood Tiki Weekend last June.

I’ve met a lot of new friends during that time, including some talented musicians. Nick Pokrivchak of Great White Caps. John Bartley of Five-Eaux. Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge. Gary Evans and Brian Crum of The Intoxicators!. Jimmy Stingray and Barry Apfel of Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays.

To these wonderful players and the other great Surf music bands: this compilation is dedicated to you. It was made by you. Mahalo!

Panda's Aloha Surf CD

Listen to the playlist here:

A. Panda’s Space-Age Bachelor Pad

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As I sit here on a lazy Sunday morning, jamming to this playlist yet again, I realize I’ve been listening to it quite a bit since I created it a couple of months ago. That’s because it’s good. Really good. I believe it’s one of the best compilations I’ve put together over the 10+ years I’ve been making them.

A. Panda’s Space-Age Bachelor Pad is a tribute to the style of music made popular in the 1950s-60s by Juan Garcia Esquivel, the king of the genre. but this is a living tribute: I’ve thrown together an eclectic mix of artists and songs from the 21st Century as well as the Mid-Century period. With some folks in between. While some of these selections may not fit in on the surface, in my mind they all occupy this space because they embody the moods of adventure, mystery, and romance. Just close your eyes and picture yourself there. Aloha!

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Listen to this playlist here:

Wildwood Weekend

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The Mid-Atlantic Tiki ohana is alive and well and was spotted in Wildwood NJ over the weekend of May 15-17, 2015. Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap, with a little help from The Thrifty Discount DJs and yours truly from A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, held the first annual Wildwood Vintage Tiki Weekend at the Caribbean Motel. We had a great time here at the Doo-Wop capital of the world!

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So what is Doo-Wop? I myself didn’t know, until Beth Lennon a/k/a Mod Betty approached me with her idea for this weekend, after we both attended The Hukilau in June of 2014. Doo-Wop describes a lifestyle from the 1950s and early 1960s in the USA, centered around architecture, music, and entertainment. Other parts of the world refer to this style as Googie, another word I had to go look up in Wikipedia. Whatever you call it, The Wildwoods in NJ have it in spades, and are working hard to preserve it. And Mod Betty seized the opportunity to combine two of her passions, retro and Tiki, into one event. Brilliant!

imageimage Friday night began with a cocktail reception and music provided by A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, featuring my own Mai-Tai recipe. It seemed to be well-received. After nightfall, we all boarded buses for a guided tour of North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest, hosted by the Doo-Wop Preservation League. We saw many amazing motels, restaurants, and bars, culminating in a stop at the Cool Scoops Ice Cream Parlor, a 1950s memorabilia lover’s dream!

imageSaturday day morning and early afternoon allowed me some free time with the family. We spent it on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, browsing through gift shops, playing games in a vintage arcade, and scarfing down some Mack’s Pizza. I grew up eating this pizza as a young kid, and now my son Ryan is addicted to it as well!  

Once 3pm rolled around, it was time for the main events of the weekend to begin. These included a room crawl/swap meet, limbo contest, fashion show, and wonderful dinner of pig roast, barbecue chicken, and all of the trimmings. And there was more rum. Lots of rum! Thanks to Mod Betty, Cliff Hillis, and the many guests who served drinks in their rooms during the crawl, we didn’t run out of rum until well into the night!

The Thrifty Discount DJs spun cool lounge and exotica tunes all afternoon and evening, and as the sun went down, the vintage Tiki revelers kept up the merriment with dancing, drinking, and socializing. At one point I asked the DJ if he had the theme from Hawaii Five-0, which of course he managed to dig up and play right away. I grabbed the nearest, able-bodied men I could find and we proceeded to get on the floor and paddle the outrigger from the show’s closing credits. We were cheered on by the beautiful dancing ladies in their retro dresses. Good times!

  

As Sunday morning dawned, some of us took off early to head home or grab some breakfast, while others stuck around to take some last pictures and say their goodbyes…for now. Everybody had a great time at this first Vintage Tiki weekend, and we look forward to doing it again next year. A big mahalo goes out to Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap for organizing this wonderful event! To all of the Tiki ohana who made it this year, and to those of you who couldn’t make it but will be here next year, I say the same thing: Aloha.

     

Tiki Ohana – Musicians

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The Tiki lifestyle has a soundtrack, which is evocative of both the time and place of its birth. Tiki music, to me, is a blend of equal parts Exotica, Lounge, Surf, Hawaiian/Polynesian, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. I wrote about this at length in my blog post, Galaxy of Sound, which prompted an entire series covering each of these genres. These current musicians embody the Tiki sound, as it was yesterday and continues today.

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Brian Mr. Ho O’Neill. Brian O’Neill of Boston MA single-handedly resuscitated the Space-Age Bachelor Pad music of Juan Garcia Esquivel. Well, actually, he did it with a 23-piece band, but Brian was the driving force behind Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica. I was fortunate enough to convince the folks at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem PA to bring Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica here for a concert a few years ago, as part of the Luau at The Levitt event. What a great show! Mr. Ho has now also released a few albums by his Exotica quartet, which you can check out here: Orchestrotica.com. Aloha, Brian!

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Jay Brooks. Clouseaux is the creation of Jay Brooks in Houston TX. This band plays a diverse mix of Exotica/Lounge/Spy music that’s evocative of Henry Mancini’s great soundtracks from the 1950s/60s/70s. Check out their music here: Clouseaux.com. In his spare time, Jay also carves Tikis and is El Presidente at Aloha Texas Tiki Co., supplier of home decor for the Tiki enthusiast. Gracias, Jay!

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Tony Marsico. The Martini Kings are the #1 live event band in Los Angeles. They’ve played shows for A-list celebrities in major venues, art gallery openings, Tiki events, and backyard cocktail parties. Tony Marsico and his brother Frank have been playing cool lounge music for years, often with guest singers like Kate Campbell and King Paris. Grab yourself a Martini Kings album and start the party here: MartiniKings.com. Sophisticated swing, Tony!
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Randy WongThe Waitiki 7 is an Exotica combo from Hawaii led by the rhythm section of basis Randy Wong, percussionist Lopaka Colon, and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. Firmly rooted in Hawaii, Randy and the group evoke the Exotica masters of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Colon’s father, Augie, was the percussionist for Martin Denny and originated many of the bird and animal calls made famous in Denny’s Exotica music; Lopaka carries on that tradition in Waitiki 7. Check it out for yourself: New Sounds of Exotica. Mahalo, Randy!

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Stephen Greaves. First The SG Sound, then Jet Set Unlimited. Stephen Greaves of Los Angeles CA makes a lot of sound for one person, and that sound captures the 1960s perfectly. A little Surf, a little Exotica, and a whole lot of Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Think Mad Men and you’ll get the idea. Take a listen: Jet Set Unlimited. Groovy, Stephen!

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Gary Evans. One of the best Surf bands I’ve heard in a long time is The Intoxicators!, led by Gary Evans from Tallahassee FL. I saw them play live last year at The Hukilau, along with another cool Surf band, The Disasternauts, which were mostly the same guys dressed as apes in orange NASA jumpsuits. The common denominator was Gary’s guitar playing, which was, fast, tight, and loud! I hope to see them play again someday, but in the mean time, we can check them out here: Intoxicators. Cowabunga, Gary!

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Russell Mofsky. Another band I saw live at The Hukilau was Gold Dust Lounge, led by Russell Mofsky from Miami FL. I thought they were another Surf band when they first started playing, but I was wrong. The best way to describe Gold Dust Lounge is Exotica/World, with elements of Surf, Spy and Soundtrack music mixed in. Russell’s guitar playing is hypnotic, as evidenced in the song Ensenada, which blows me away every time I hear it. Well done, Russell.

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John Tiki Bartley. Five-Eaux is the cleverly-named creation of Jon Tiki, a/k/a John Bartley of St. Louis MO. Surf music is alive and well in the Heartland, and Jon Tiki’s music goes beyond pure Surf, delving into Lounge, Spy, and Soundtracks as well. Here’s a recent song he recreated: Pintor. He was also kind enough to write the theme music for my Podcast, A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge; it sounds like The Pink Panther meets Dick Dale, and it’s wonderful! Thank you, Jon Tiki.