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:

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.

Galaxy of Sound

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Nothing defines A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge quite like music. Specifically, the music that became popular during the Mid-Century Modern era in America, which roughly correlates to the Baby Boomer period of 1946-64. However, the correlation begins and ends there! The wonderful music that Baby Boomers neglected, this Gen-Xer celebrates, along with the rest of my Tiki ohana. This is the soundtrack to our lifestyle.

A picture’s worth 1,000 words, so you can see for yourself the 5 musical genres that comprise my Galaxy of Sound. I plan to go into depth for each one in future posts, so for now, let’s just play a little word association, shall we? I will list each style followed by the name of the artist who created/defined that style, followed by a modern artist who revived/thrives in it. Let’s start with the center of my galaxy.

Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Esquivel. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica.

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Exotica. Martin Denny. The Left Arm of Buddha.

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Lounge. The Rat Pack. Martini Kings.

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Surf. Dick Dale. Los Straitjackets.

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Hawaiian. Don Ho. King Kukulele

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These are just my opinions of the pioneers and standard bearers for each of these 5 musical styles. You may have a different opinion on the king of the surf guitar, and I’d love to hear it! The wonderful thing about Tiki music is its diversity, and even more amazing is how many artists are performing it all across the country and around the world. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more musicians over the years, some as recently as two weeks ago at The Hukilau. I look forward to introducing you to many of these performers in my coming posts. First up will be surf music. Cowabunga!

Aloha Spirit Ramblings

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What is Aloha Spirit? What is it about Tiki that has captured my attention for the past 10 years? Have my travels during this time frame, to places like New Orleans, Jamaica, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles, all been cosmically connected somehow? What does the word Mahalo really mean?

Okay, let’s start with an easy one. Mahalo is a Hawai’ian word that has come to mean, simply, “thank you.” I saw evidence of this going back to the original Hawaii Five-0 television series, which I’ve been watching the first season of lately on DVD, where Chin Ho and Kono would toss out mahalo like candy, I guess to make them seem more authentically Hawai’ian. I don’t think they really needed to do that, but I guess the screenwriters weren’t convinced we’d believe it unless they talked the talk. As if “Zulu as Kono” in the opening credits wasn’t convincing enough!

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I’ve looked into the etymology of the word mahalo and found a much more meaningful definition. Mahalo literally means “may you be in divine wind,” which to me is the same as saying “may the Holy Spirit be with you.” Hawai’ians say mahalo as a blessing or a one-word prayer, which I think is really powerful. You must be careful not to cheapen the word by using it without truly meaning it as a blessing. Mahalo must be experienced more so than spoken. Easy, right?

So, back to this aloha spirit stuff. What does it mean? To me, it seems simple: aloha spirit is the feeling inside you that is constantly grateful for everything, that keeps you happy when things aren’t so great, that gives you grace during times of stress, that puts a song in your heart and the spring in your step. Hawai’ians have it. Tom Brady has it. I have it, most of the time. Jesus really had it and tried to teach it to all of us: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). That’s what aloha spirit is all about, Charlie Brown.

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So, since we’ve given props to Jesus, let’s give Buddha his due and talk about karma. This one’s a little tougher to explain, since I’m not a Buddhist, nor do I play one on TV, nor have I read or learned much about Buddhism in my few years on Earth. What is karma? I know some people say it’s a cause-and-effect thing, you know, you get what you deserve, he had it coming, blah blah blah. I think it’s more complicated than that.

To me, karma is more a sense than action. It’s a feeling you get that you’ve been someplace before, it’s worlds colliding in some strange mashup of life’s pursuits, it’s coincidences that just seem too good to be true. I don’t believe in fate. I do believe in tempting fate. What I mean by that is we make our own fate. People say they’d rather be lucky than good, but I say be good enough to make your own luck. Karma is an attitude.

I was born in 1965. This was an interesting time in America: Tiki culture was nearing the end of its first good run; space-age bachelor pad music had peaked as well, swept away by the British Invasion and soon enough, the Woodstock era; the Mad Men sensibility of conspicuous consumption would be pushed aside in favor of the minimalist ethos of the Hippie and drug culture. The Baby Boomers of my parents’ generation changed the world, and not for the better, in my opinion. It was my fate to grow up in a world where the Hippies were running the show. It was my karma to revert to the culture from the year of my birth, albeit some 40 years later.

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So I believe karma introduced me to Tiki. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. I’ll share some examples in my next few posts. Mahalo!