Tiki Ohana – Builders

Standard

The Tiki craze was created by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, exploded with the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of World War II in the 1940s, swept the nation in the 1950s and early 1960s, and vanished almost completely by the 1970s. Fortunately, Tiki was resurrected in the 1990s and is regaining its popularity today. Here are the current keepers of the Tiki torch who helped build and rebuild this wonderful lifestyle.

image

LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. 1956 was an important year for Tiki. This was the year The Mai-Kai opened its doors in Fort Lauderdale FL, and the same year that 2 guys in Southern California opened Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about LeRoy and Bob’s story (Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, Nov 2013). It’s not an exaggeration to say that Oceanic Arts was the most important contributor to the Tiki lifestyle, both yesterday and today. They weathered the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and are still going strong. Mahalo LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. Please check out their website: www.oceanicarts.net.

image

Sven Kirsten. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Sven Kirsten is a self-proclaimed urban archeologist, a foreigner to our shores, who took it upon himself to research, document, and chronicle the Tiki culture of Mid-Century Modern America in his comprehensive tome, The Book of Tiki (2000). By doing so, Sven Kirsten inspired an entire generation of Tiki-philes to come up above ground, publicize their findings, and connect with each other. Sven Kirsten’s popularity is at an all-time high, as evidenced by last year’s successful exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. Please check out the companion book here: www.taschen.com.

image

Otto Von Stroheim. The Tiki craze was born on the West Coast, and the revival started there as well. From his home base in Los Angeles, Otto Von Stroheim was an early pioneer bringing Tiki back. He began publishing his Tiki News magazine in 1995 and continues to publish it as an e-newsletter today. Otto and his wife Baby Doe also created Tiki Oasis, the original Tiki weekender event held every August in Southern California, typically in Palm Springs or San Diego. He is one of the experts on all things Tiki, from cocktails and mugs to entertainment. Okole maluna, Otto Von Stroheim. Please check out this wonderful interview at The Atomic Grog: www.slammie.com/atomicgrog.

image Christie Tiki Kiliki White. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a young lady in Atlanta GA was dreaming of putting on a Tiki Weekender event of her own for the folks who couldn’t make it to California. Along with her friend Swanky, Christie Tiki Kiliki White created The Hukilau in 2002, hosted by Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. That first 3-day Tiki weekend was a resounding success, and The Hukilau was moved to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale the following year, where it’s been held ever since. I attended last year’s event and blogged live all 4 days I was there (Aloha from The Hukilau, Jun 2014). Now considered the world’s most authentic Tiki event, The Hukilau celebrates it’s 14th anniversary in 2015, thanks to the tireless efforts of cofounder and organizer Christie White. Mahalo, Tiki Kiliki! Please check out The Hukilau’s website for information on this year’s event: www.thehukilau.com.

image Tim Swanky Glazner. As a cofounder of The Hukilau, Tim Swanky Glazner is the East Coast’s answer to Otto Von Stroheim. An expert on all things Tiki, Swanky has many interests including wood carving, Tiki mugs, and mixology. He is the head bartender at Hapa Haole Hideaway in Knoxville TN, and created The Swank Pad website years ago to keep track of his diverse collections. Swanky is currently researching a book on the history of The Mai-Kai, which given his expertise and collection of memorabilia, should be an amazing read. Please check out Swanky’s Facebook page devoted to his forthcoming book here: Mai-Kai: Mystery, History and Adventure.

Tiki Ohana – Artists

Standard

Tiki artists. Their art is considered lowbrow by some, but for us in the Tiki ohana, their work is priceless. And accessible. In fact, it was through art that I was introduced to Tiki culture in the first place (Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, Nov 2013). It all started for me with a single piece of art by SHAG.

 

discerngst

Josh Agle a/k/a SHAG. Southern California’s SHAG is my favorite artist. I’ve already written at-length about my infatuation with him (Stalking SHAG, Jan 2014), so I will just add how much I enjoy the sharp lines and crisp colors of his work. SHAG’s art is derived from his background as a commercial illustrator, and infused with stories that spring from the Mid-Century Modern world: cool men and women, drinking and smoking, and Tikis. Lots of Tikis. Please check out more of SHAG’s work at his website: www.shag.com.

 

image

Derek Yaniger. The art of Atlanta’s Derek Yaniger is ubiquitous in the Tiki ohana. His simple, fun style is right at home in the themes of beatniks, spies, and Tikis. Yaniger is in great demand with musicians and organizers of Tiki events such as Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau. I started realizing how popular his work was when I ordered the latest Snappy 45 set from the Exotica band Clouseaux and admired Yaniger’s cover artwork. It reminds me of the late 60s/early 70s animation of The Pink Panther cartoons. Please check out more of Derek Yaniger’s art at his website: www.derekart.com.

 

image

Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker. Perhaps nobody’s Tiki art is as colorful and dense as the work of Hawaii’s Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker. Tiki Shark has also been the most aggressive marketer and promoter of all of the Tiki artists I’ve seen. His images appear on everything! Calendars, beach towels, flip-flops, skateboards, you name it. I actually first came across his work when I bought a cool lamp made from an old Tiki Shark Tiki mug. It has a place of honor in the Tiki Lounge! Please check out more of Brad Parker’s work at his website: www.tikishark.com.

 

image

Sandra Fremgen. The brightest up-and-coming artist in the Tiki ohana is Southern California’s Sandra Fremgen. I may be a little biased. I got to know Sandra via Facebook through a chance encounter, based on our mutual love of pandas. She found and liked my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page, and I in-turn “discovered” her amazing art series Panda and Me. We’ve developed a great relationship in a short time, based on our mutual respect for each other’s work. I’m proud to have featured her artwork in a previous post (Artwork in the Tiki Lounge, Feb 2014). Please check out more of Sandra Fremgen’s work at her website: www.pandaandme.com.

Tiki Music: Lounge

Standard

Lounge music. The term evokes a range of images, from a cheesy singer playing piano in a hotel bar, to a glitzy big band vocalist belting out standards in Vegas. In any case, the singer is the star of the show, be it a lowly lounge lizard, a sultry siren, or one of the Rat Pack crooners fronting a big band.

The lounge music I’ve enjoyed over the years parallels the rise, fall, and rebirth of Tiki. Lounge really hit its stride in the Mid-Century era of the 1950s-60s, and enjoyed a revival in the 1990s, just like Tiki. This versatile musical genre is still going strong today, though it is evocative of a time long gone.

Here, then, are the lounge albums I’ve listened to since the 1980s. My enjoyment of most of this music predates my love of Tiki, so perhaps it was a precursor for me. Or, yet again, worlds colliding.

Sinatra

Frank Sinatra: Capital Collectors Series (1989). The Voice. Arguably the greatest vocalist ever, Frank Sinatra began his singing career in the 1930s with big bands during the Swing era. I believe he peaked during his Capitol Records years, 1953-60, which coincided with his rise as a movie actor. Sinatra set the table for all Lounge singers who followed him.

connickHarry Connick, Jr.: We Are In Love (1990). One of the young bucks who followed in Sinatra’s footsteps, Harry Connick, Jr. was a child prodigy from New Orleans who began performing at the age of 5. Like Sinatra, he parlayed his early success as a Lounge/Big Band vocalist in the 1990s into an acting career, both in movies and television.

louis-primaLouis Prima: Capital Collectors Series (1991). Louis Prima was a versatile musician of great longevity. He began his career with a New Orleans Jazz band in the 1920s, led a Swing combo in the 1930s, a Big Band in the 1940s, and a Vegas Lounge act in the 1950s. Prima perfected the Jump Blues Lounge style during his Capitol Records years, 1956-62. Anybody whose original music sounds just as good as future covers by Brian Setzer and David Lee Roth was ahead of his time. Louis Prima brought high energy to Lounge!

DeanMartin

Dean Martin: Seasons Greetings (1992). Who doesn’t love Christmas music? Lounge artists have made their fair share of holiday albums, and then some. Of all of the Rat Pack’s efforts, Dean Martin’s are my favorite. His smooth, comfortable voice was the perfect vehicle for conveying the warmth of Christmas music. Dino’s version of Baby It’s Cold Outside is one of my favorite holiday tunes ever.

FBennettLadiesTony Bennett: Here’s to the Ladies (1995). Speaking of smooth, here’s another cat that’s been singing forever. Tony Bennett started singing jazz songs in the 1950s, peaked in the 1960s, faded in the 1970s and 1980s, came back strong in the 1990s and is as popular as ever today (Is this pattern getting old yet?). Although he doesn’t have the greatest voice, Bennett’s style is so natural that it seems he was born to sing Lounge music.

zootsCherry Poppin’ Daddies: Zoot Suit Riot (1997). The Swing music revival of the late 1990s didn’t last very long, but its impact on Lounge music is undeniable. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies introduced a new generation of music lovers (like me) to the Jump Blues style made famous by Louis Prima 40 years earlier. Their music was full of energy and had a sense of humor more biting than Prima’s, which seems corny by comparison.

bigbadBig Bad Voodoo Daddy: Americana Deluxe (1998). This band did Cherry Poppin’ Daddies one better with their unforgettable soundtrack to the movie Swingers. Who hasn’t danced to their hit song Go Daddy-O? I know I start dancing whenever I hear it! Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has managed to maintain their popularity while the rest of the Swing revival hasn’t, as they continue to tour to this day.

ElvisCostelloBurtBacharachElvis Costello and Burt Bacharach: Painted from Memory (1998). This was a most unlikely collaboration. Burt Bacharach was the composer of many Easy Listening hits in the 1960s. Elvis Costello led the New Wave of Rock&Roll music in the early 1980s. Together, they created a collection of heartfelt, spellbinding music, the likes of which hadn’t been heard in years. A perfect Lounge album.

the-look-of-love-52afa6f68c454Diana Krall: The Look of Love (2001). Not to be outdone by her husband Elvis Costello, Diana Krall has made a name for herself as a Lounge singer. Her sexy voice (think Kathleen Turner), stunning good looks, and piano-playing ability add up to the total Lounge package – une chanteuse par excellence. I could listen to Diana Krall, or better yet watch her perform, all day long. 😉

Lost in Paradise
Martini Kings: Lost in Paradise (2010). Like Elvis Costello, Tony Marsico cut his chops in Rock&Roll bands, playing bass with many big stars (Bob Dylan, Roger Daltrey) and as the regular bass player for Matthew Sweet for 10 years. With his current band, Martini Kings, Marsico has carved out a cool niche playing upright bass in a classic Lounge combo. They are in great demand in the Modern Jazz circles of Southern California and beyond. My favorite Martini Kings tunes include female vocalist Kate Campbell, who gives the band a smooth, sexy sound with a retro feel. I hope to see them perform in-person some day.

The music in these albums could be the soundtrack to many a painting by SHAG. It’s no wonder I fell in love with his artwork, and apropos that I stumbled upon it while searching for cover art for my first mix CD, Panda’s Swinging Cocktail Hour, which included a heavy dose of this music. I guess it really is a case of worlds colliding for me that Lounge and Tiki are so intimately connected.

Tiki Music: Surf

Standard

Surf music, like jazz, is an eminently American creation. I believe it’s an essential part of Tiki culture, starting in Mid-Century Modern America and flourishing worldwide today. Like Tiki, surf music took a break in popularity starting in the late 1960s, but was revived in the mid 1990s.

Let’s start with the classics. The Beach Boys. Dick Dale and The Del-Tones. The Ventures. Jan & Dean. The Surfaris. The list goes on, but this is pretty representative of the Surf music legends who stormed the beaches of Southern California in the early 1960s. My favorite Surf songs are still Hawaii Five-O and Wipe Out, going back to my preteen days. I’ve always favored the instrumental music of The Ventures to the vocal surf tunes of The Beach Boys, and the instrumental style has better withstood the test of time. Dick Dale has a foot in both camps and is still going strong, but he can do whatever he wants, because, after all, he IS the King of the Surf Guitar!

So, here’s a list of the Surf music artists I’ve been listening to for the past 30 years, with a brief description of their style and where I first heard them.

The+Best+of+the+Ventures+cover

The Ventures: The Best of The Ventures (1987). These guys started it all for me in junior high. They actually covered a lot of songs, but they made Hawaii Five-O their own. I just saw The Ventures play last year in Bethlehem PA and they sounded great!

 

936full-dick-dale-&-his-deltones----greatest-hits-1961--1976-cover

Dick Dale and The Del-Tones: Greatest Hits 1961-76 (1992). The King of the Surf Guitar, and arguably the greatest guitar player on Earth. Dick Dale’s been playing non-stop since 1961, and his popularity was rejuvenated when his classic version of Misirlou was used as the theme song for Pulp Fiction in 1994.

 

410YFV6SH4L

The Ultras: Surf Pop Sludge (1993). I first heard these guys on college radio in Lancaster PA. They were a nice blend of tribute and tongue-in-cheek, doing both vocal and instrumental Surf originals. The Ultras had the King of the Sludge Guitar!

 

51BTR2QnMhL._SY300_

The Halibuts: Life on the Bottom (1996). I found this gem in a small music store in Chicago (my first listening post experience) and haven’t stopped listening to it for almost 20 years. The Halibuts played some of the most melodic instrumental Surf music you’ll ever hear.

 

41P1FM12WEL

Red Elvises: Surfing in Siberia (1997). 4 cats from Russia move to LA and start playing Surf music. You can’t make this shit up! I first saw these guys play at Musikfest in Bethlehem in 1999, where they became a staple for years. Sadly, Red Elvises lost their mojo when their lead guitarist Zhenya left the band only a few years later.

 

61XsJrgHCXL

Los Straitjackets: ¡Damas y Caballeros! Los Straitjackets (2001). Another discovery at Musikfest, only these guys’ shtick is that they wear Luche Libre wrestling masks everywhere they go. Hailing from Nashville TN, Los Straitjackets are my favorite Surf band of all time. Classic, straight-ahead instrumental Surf originals with Spanish dialogue between songs. Olé!

 

51XZDx2pk8L._SL500_AA280_

Coffin Daggers: Coffin Daggers (2002). Musikfest strikes again, this time with a band from NYC best described as Goth Surf. Coffin Daggers infuse Surf music with a heavy dose of fuzzy keyboards and theremin, creating a spooky, sci-fi sound very different from most other bands. Think Addams Family goes to the beach!

 

the-intoxicators-jttcote-e1348883889846

The Intoxicators: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2006). I just saw this band for the first time at The Hukilau 2014 in Fort Lauderdale. The Intoxicators are a high-energy, instrumental Surf band from Tallahassee FL playing clever, original music. Twin guitars, thumping bass and a Shriner fez-wearing drummer make them the perfect Surf band for the Tiki Lounge.

 

sting-of-death--625a0d5a1871761d

Great White Caps: Sting of Death (2009). Surf music from Bethlehem PA, of all places, and another Musikfest staple. We’re 90 miles from the ocean here, but Great White Caps crafted a unique Surf sound with their blend of original instrumental and vocal tunes. Sadly, these guys just disbanded earlier this year. Aloha GWC.

 

10456259_881387781875017_3418554248664609279_n

Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays (2009). Another band I just discovered at The Hukilau, these guys hail from Deerfield Beach FL, just north of Fort Lauderdale. Skinny Jimmy was the most nondescript, pleasant fellow when I talked to him during the event, but with a guitar in-hand onstage at The Mai-Kai, he was an animal! I may have to move to Florida to catch Surf bands like this on a regular basis.

 

1393598494_logoLR

Five Eaux (2014). The newest band I’ve stumbled across hails from St. Louis MO. John Bartley, the creator of Five Eaux, reached out to the Tiki Lounge via Facebook, and we’ve been fast friends ever since. I can’t really classify them as simply Surf, as John also does James Bond themes, Spaghetti Western tunes, and much more. In his own words, Five Eaux is bringing Tiki back, with class. Aloha, Jon Tiki!

I’ve been creating Surf compilations for 10 years, and I’ve done more Surf mixes than any other genre of music. Over the years these mix discs have evolved as I’ve discovered more great Surf bands. I’ve also started incorporating other Tiki music styles into the mix, as I better learn the link between Surf and Tiki. They are inseparable! My friend Jeff Chouinard, a Tiki carver, says it best: Surf Soul Tiki. Mahalo!

slide_PST1-900x350

The Road to Mai-Tai

Standard

I am not a mixologist. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good drink and have partaken of a few in my 48+ years on this Earth. I’ve always enjoyed a good beer, especially since the craft brewery explosion that began in the mid-80s and introduced us to tasty beers like Sam Adams’ Boston Lager and Dock Street’s Amber Ale (my personal favorite). I’ve also done some home brewing in my days, but I was never really very good at it.

20140215-134742.jpg

I also do like wines and champagnes, although I’m far from a connoisseur of the fermented grape. I usually prefer these with a meal or dessert. I guess my stomach fares better with wine when it’s not empty. I’ve developed a taste for a nice Shiraz, but my favorite is probably a Pinot Noir. I think this happened after I saw the movie Sideways!

20140215-140042.jpg

As for mixed drinks, there are so many to choose from, where do we start? For me, my earliest recollections of underage drinking involved Rum & Cokes, Seven & 7s and Sloe Gin Fizzes (which look really gross when they come back up!). These were simple drinks, and my tastes didn’t get more complicated as I grew older, only more refined. I developed a taste for Gin in my 30s: Tanqueray & Tonic for a refreshing summer drink, and for a more serious cocktail, the Bombay Sapphire Martini. Shaken, not stirred. Straight up. Neat. With olives.

20140215-141831.jpg

If there’s one thing the martini taught me (besides the joke about martinis being like women’s breasts: 1 isn’t enough and 3 is 1 too many!), it’s an appreciation for the ritual of making a good cocktail. I guess drinking has gotten more complicated for me after all! I love to get out the blender to mix up a nice Piña Colada or Margarita, and I really enjoy watching a good bartender whip up a vintage drink with more than 2 ingredients and some cool garnish. Again, I would have fit right in during 1965, the year of my birth.

20140218-203951.jpg

I guess this is why I’ve also come to appreciate Tiki drinks. Talk about craftsmanship! Starting in the Caribbean at the end of the 19th Century, Rum-based drinks have really grown in popularity as they’ve evolved from the original holy trinity of rum, lime juice and sugar. Shanghai’d to Southern California by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, the rum drink came into its own in Mid-Century America as Asian bartenders competed to make the fanciest, tastiest, potent concoctions we know as Tiki drinks today.

20140218-205624.jpg

Donn Beach created such famous drinks as the Zombie and Missionary’s Downfall in Los Angeles, but it was “Trader Vic” Bergeron in Oakland who created the ubiquitous Mai-Tai, the most famous of all Tiki drinks and my personal favorite libation (as of this writing). According to Trader Vic’s story, he was messing around with a new drink idea and served it to two friends visiting from Tahiti. After trying it, one of them exclaimed “Mai Tai – Roa Ae,” which in Tahitian means “Out of this world – the best.” I would agree.

20140218-230318.jpg

The problem with Mai-Tais is the same problem with many things: there are really good ones, and there are really bad ones. Some of the worst Mai-Tais I’ve ever had were in hotel bars and in cheap restaurants not known for their drinks. These were no more than rum mixed with Kool-Aid – I should have known better than to even order them! The best Mai-Tai I’ve had (so far) was at the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, followed closely by the offering at Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago.

20140218-232127.jpg

So I’ve come up with my own Mai-Tai recipe, and after much trial and error, I think I’ve now got a pretty good cocktail. It’s a little more involved than Trader Vic’s original recipe, as I tried to replicate the Mai-Kai’s version and don’t skimp on the fruit juices. I did follow Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s advice, though, and made sure the Rum remains the star of my Mai-Tai, as it should be. So if you’re ever in the Bethlehem area, please stop by the Tiki Lounge so I can mix us up A. Panda’s Mai-Tai. Mahalo!