© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Henry Kapono made it big during the Hawaiian Renaissance. He's been pumping ever since

Henry Kapono at Hilton Hawaiian Village
Dana Edmunds
Courtesy Henry Kapono
Henry Kapono at Hilton Hawaiian Village

Recently we've been taking a look back at the 1970s in Hawaiʻi, the beginning of the Hawaiian Renaissance — 1978 is remembered as the year of a pivotal State Constitutional Convention. It was also the year Rap Reiplinger released his comedy album classic "Poi Dog." At the same time, the musical duo C and K opened doors for a new generation of musicians.

Henry Kapono speaking to HPR's Noe Tanigawa
Hawaiʻi Public Radio

"I grew up in Kapahulu. I'm full-blooded Hawaiian."

Henry Kapono Kaʻaihue started out more interested in sports. He attended Punahou on a baseball scholarship, then gravitated toward football. After high school, he found himself playing music around town, when an opportunity arose.

"Yeah, six weeks, we'll be in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, yeah let's do it. So two years later I got home and I was a musician," he told HPR.

Henry Kapono Kaʻaihue outside Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
Noe Tanigawa
Henry Kapono Kaʻaihue outside Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Meeting Cecilio Rodriguez was no accident. One evening in 1973, friends set up a dinner at a house on the North Shore.

"We ate and then we picked up our guitars and said, 'Well, let's start playing something.' So we played. First song we played was 'Four and Twenty.' We played that and we looked at each other, was like we practiced, you know. Like we rehearsed it."

"Everybody at the dinner looked at us and went, 'Whoa! That was amazing!' So we played about three songs and were blown away. And we said, 'Well, when are we going to get together?'"

Cecilio and Kapono, C and K, found themselves at the Rainbow Villa, next door to the popular Wave nightclub on Kalakaua.

"So we were playing there and nobody was there. For three months nobody knew who we were so it was a good chance to rehearse. And drink tequila. We were writing as well."

C and K then got their big break opening for Frank Zappa at the Civic Auditorium.

"We started playing a lot of cover tunes in the beginning, and towards the end, we were playing a lot of our own songs. People were really enjoying our songs because a lot of our songs were about us. Our lifestyle then. Not just what we were doing, but what we were surrounded by. Everybody was doing it, you know? So I think everybody related to our songs."

C and K was the first contemporary local group to go national, signing with Columbia Records in 1974. They released nine collections over two decades as a duo. Let's close with Highway in the Sun.

Henry Kapono at Duke's in Waikīkī
Courtesy Outrigger Resorts
Henry Kapono at Duke's in Waikīkī

"Highway in the Sun? We were on a tour and you know Highway 101, between Ventura and Santa Barbara there's the Pacific Ocean on one side and the California hills. It was springtime, the California hills were beautiful. I said to my manager, 'Wow, you guys have beautiful flowers here.' We were all kinda stoned too. He said, 'Man, those are weeds.' I go, 'Man, you got some beautiful weeds here,'" Kapono said. "I said, 'I'm going to write a song.' By the time we got to Santa Barbara, the song was written already."

Henry Kapono Kaʻaihue performs every Sunday at Duke's in Waikiki and he's got a great Youtube channel.

This interview originally aired on The Aloha Friday Conversation on Feb. 11, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
Related Stories