Panda’s Christmas Island

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Christmas Island. It is a magical place, where palm trees sway, Tiki drinks flow freely, and the music is very festive. In my version of Christmas Island, the soundtrack is made of all of the stars in Panda’s Galaxy of Sound: Surf, Hawai’ian, Exotica, Lounge, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. It’s not exactly your parents’ Christmas music, but never fear: it will put you in the mood for Christmas. Tiki style.

This is my fifth Christmas compilation and first in 6 years. There’s a nice mix of old crooners, surf stalwarts, new Hawai’ian music, and some exotica that will leave you wondering how anybody could reimagine Christmas this way. I hope you enjoy it.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Christmas Island CD Playlist

And here’s a link to my 8tracks radio page where you can listen to this mix:

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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:

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.

Tiki Temples

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These are the houses that Tiki built. Part restaurant, part bar, part nightclub; all aloha spirit. This partial list of Tiki temples represents the Meccas for Tiki geeks, like me, to visit as often as possible. If possible. Some of these places are gone now, torn down or closed up in the name of … progress?

A proper Tiki temple is a place you can go (or could have gone) to escape the real world for a little while. Enjoy a strong, rum-based drink with many layers of flavor. Chow on some Pu-Pu, typically Asian fare with some Polynesian flair. Listen to some cool music, like Exotica, Lounge, Hawaiian, or Surf, preferably performed live. If you’re lucky, catch a performance by a Polynesian dance troupe, including the amazing Samoan Fire Knife dance.

Here are some of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to see for myself, either in-person or through some second-hand tales that inspired me.

 

imageThe Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale FL (1956-present). This is the granddaddy of them all, 58 years old and still going strong. The Mai-Kai is the perfect Tiki temple: great drinks, fine food, wonderful atmosphere, and the most authentic Polynesian entertainment outside of the South Pacific. I’ve been there a handful of times now and can’t wait to go back. You don’t have real Tiki cred until you’ve stamped your passport at The Mai-Kai.

 

imageThe Kahiki, Columbus OH (1961-2000). Full disclosure: I’ve never been to The Kahiki. A few years before I started my Tiki journey, this temple was torn down to make way for a Walgreens store. A fucking Walgreens! However, I do feel a connection to this historic place, as I described in one of the many “worlds colliding” segments of my Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge blog post last year (24Nov2013). Jeff Chenault just published a new book, Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, which chronicles the history of how a cold Midwestern town came to host one of the most elaborate Tiki temples ever built. I look forward to checking it out.

 

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, Orlando FL (1971-present). This is my happy place. My family has vacationed at WDW four times, and we always stay at The Poly. We’re going back for our fifth trip next month! The Polynesian Village Resort takes the Tiki temple to another level: an escape for an extended stay. All of the elements are here, with the addition of authentic Polynesian architecture and amenities. This is a South Pacific paradise conveniently located in Central Florida.

 

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Painkiller, New York NY (2010-13). At the other end of the spectrum, we have this wonderful Tiki bar nestled into an unlikely neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sadly, PKNY closed their doors when they lost their lease last year, but not before I had the chance to visit. I joined my friends Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase of Primitiva in Hi-Fi for a night of merriment with fantastic Tiki drinks, great music, and surprisingly authentic Polynesian decor. Mahalo, Jack and Gina!

 

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Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Anaheim CA (2011-present). Disney strikes again, this time in Disneyland with the opening of their own Tiki bar with a Jungle Cruise twist. I wrote all about my visit to Trader Sam’s last year in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles (02Jan14). This place has become so popular that Disney plans to open another version of it at…wait for it…The Polynesian Village Resort at WDW. Oh, happy day in my happy place! If only it was open in time for my trip next month. Oh, well.

 

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Three Dots and A Dash, Chicago IL (2013-present). Another great new Tiki temple in an urban setting, this gem opened just over a year ago. Owner Paul McGee has already won awards for his upscale Tiki bar Three Dots and A Dash in downtown Chicago, which looks like a speakeasy from the outside. Inside, down a flight of stairs, you’ll find a sprawling restaurant and bar with meticulously crafted Tiki drinks, great food, and lush Polynesian decor. And the waitresses are pretty cute 😉

 

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The Yachtsman, Philadelphia PA (2014-present). Somewhere between PKNY and Three Dots and A Dash lies the latest urban Tiki bar I’ve visited. The Yachtsman just opened last month in the Fishtown section of Philly, and it has the feel of a cool neighborhood bar. Don’t let that description fool you, though; this place is steeped in Tiki culture. The owners are veterans of the Philly restaurant scene, but they take their Tiki drinks very seriously, with fresh, homemade ingredients and expert craftsmanship. The decor is spot-on Tiki, and they plan to start serving food soon. The Yachtsman has all the makings of a proper Tiki temple, and should become a great one in time. I look forward to my next visit!

So these are the Tiki temples I know or have some experience with. There are many other great places I haven’t been to that are just as wonderful: Don The Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, The Tiki Ti. I need another trip to California! There are also some brand new places I need to check out, like Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans and Suzanne Long’s Longitude in Oakland. I hope to do that soon, in my continuing Tiki journey. I hope you’ll join me there for a Mai-Tai, some Pu-Pu and a great escape. Mahalo!

Tiki Music: Exotica

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Exotica. The term is often misunderstood and confused with erotica, which is a completely different animal. Although it’s sometimes accompanied by scantily-clad dancers, Exotica is really about music. Tiki music.

Like Tiki, Exotica is about escape. It’s a form of music that takes its listeners to a faraway place and time. One could argue that the earliest Exotica music was created by Romantic-era composers, e.g. Ravel’s Bolero and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. There is some merit to this idea, but the term “Exotica” was coined in the mid-20th Century to describe the music of Martin Denny. It’s a style of music heavy on percussion, including many types of drums, keyboards, and vibes. It also can include exotic animal noises, like bird calls and monkey screams, usually created with a human voice. One variant of Exotica, known as Hollywood, added lush arrangements of strings and horns to make the escape even more dramatic.

So, here are the Exotica albums I’ve come to enjoy over the years, covering a broad spectrum of the genre.

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Raymond Scott Quintette: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights (1992). Recorded between 1937-39, the Raymond Scott Quintette’s music sounds as vibrant today as it did 75 years ago. This was the precursor to Exotica: music evocative of a distant and exotic place. Anybody who grew up watching Loony Tunes or Ren & Stimpy would instantly recognize Raymond Scott’s amazing music.

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Les Baxter: Ritual of the Savage (1951). This has been called the most important album of the entire genre. It sounds like a Hollywood movie soundtrack to me. Les Baxter was a pioneer in mixing lush, orchestral music with primitive instruments and vocals, but I prefer the more stripped-down version of Exotica that was soon to follow.

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Martin Denny: Exotica (1957). For my money, this is the greatest Exotica album of all time. Hell, it gave the genre its name! Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village set the standard for everything that followed: a simple arrangement of percussion and animal calls that still manages to transport you to another world.

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Arthur Lyman: The Legend of Pele (1959). Taking Exotica a step further, Arthur Lyman used his Hawai’ian heritage to focus his musical getaway. On this album named for the goddess of fire and volcanos, he even does a cool version of Scheherazade. If you know of the story of Pele, this is a very appropriate anthem for her.

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Tikiyaki Orchestra: Aloha, Baby! (2011). These guys from California ushered in an Exotica revival. Their Polynesian theme and Hawaii Five-O references breathed new life into this mature musical style. How many bands do you know with their own airline, resort, and shuttle bus complete with a Mai-Tai bar? Aloha, Baby, indeed!

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Ìxtahuele: Pagan Rites (2013). Exotica from overseas should not be surprising, and Ìxtahuele from Sweden does not disappoint. Their percussion-heavy sound is directly descended from Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, but their rhythms and melodies are uniquely beautiful. If Thor Heyerdahl and his team of Norwegians could chase Tiki, why not 5 guys from Gothenberg?

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Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods: Easton Island (2013). Yup, that Elliot Easton, lead guitarist for the ubiquitous rock band, The Cars. Easton Island is his side project making Tiki music, but driven by guitar. This is an unusual move that really works, thank’s to Easton’s clever melodies and homage to a broad range of music, from Surf to Spaghetti Westerns. Let the good times roll!

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The Left Arm of Buddha: Exotica Music and Other Savage Stuff! (2013). Another import from across the pond, this time from Belgium. I just saw this group perform at The Hukilau, where they made their American debut. What a show! 8 musicians, 3 dancing girls, 1 wacky fez-wearing emcee with broken English, a video screen playing campy old movie clips, all added up to great Tiki theatre. Shades of Les Baxter and Hollywood, Belgian style!

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Gold Dust Lounge: Lost Sunset (2014). It’s hard to categorize this band I also just saw for the first time at The Hukilau. Leader Russell Mofsky claims many diverse influences, including Ravel’s Bolero for the title track, Lost Sunset. I hear Arthur Lyman when I play that song. Gold Dust Lounge spans many of the Tiki music genres (and beyond!), but for the purposes of this post, I will declare Exotica.

What amazes me the most about these artists is that they all created original compositions. There are very few covers in Exotica (with Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village one notable exception). With new performers from around the globe playing this diverse style of music, Exotica is in good hands. It is the brightest star in the Tiki galaxy of sound.

Tiki Music: Surf

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

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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!