As my adventures on the island of Kauai unfolded, I had the pleasure of having a couple of friends visit from the mainland. Terry Kingen has been a great friend of mine since elementary school. Terry is one of the premier guitar players in the Seattle area, and has been teaching me blues guitar for the last couple of years. Anytime Terry and I get together, music is involved!
One evening, Terry and I decided to have a party. And whenever we have a party, drumming and guitar playing is always the primary theme! Several friends came over to join us that evening for a wonderful dinner. When we were all completely stuffed, we gave ourselves a short recovery time and then broke out the guitars.
Francesco Garripoli started singing some of his new songs, and Terry couldn’t resist laying down the lead. He started off playing my Epiphone Casino. Although I love guitars, I’m not a very good player. This particular guitar was a favorite of the late John Lennon. If you ever see a video of The Beatles’ last performance on the rooftop of Apple studio, you will see him playing a guitar just like this one. It is said that he liked it because it was lightweight and the hollow body allows it to be played as an acoustic guitar. Not to mention the P90 pickups make it sing beautifully when played through an amplifier.
With Francesco laying down the rhythm guitar and Terry playing lead, there was only one thing missing: the drum. So I pulled out my djembe and started playing. Song after song, Francesco sang the beautiful melodies that he’s been inspired with for the last year, Terry added the beautiful lead licks to spice up the songs, and I laid down the djembe. The energy continued to build from there.
We must have played for at least two hours! Francesco came up with amazing new material. In fact, the songs we played that night were later performed by our band, the Kauai Vibe Tribe, a few weeks later at The Trees Lounge in Kapaa.
When we eventually ran out of Francesco’s songs, we took a little break to replenish our energy with some coffee and ice cream! When you’re a hard-working musician, it’s important to eat right. Sugar and caffeine are two very important foods for good musicians. So, after consuming copious amounts of the local ice cream and a few cups of coffee, we were ready to start again!
The Djembe Drum
It’s amazing how good the ancient tribal African instrument, the djembe, can sound so good with modern guitars.
With that evening’s jam-session, it was almost as though the ancient and the modern had united. Whether we were playing folk songs written by Francesco, or tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—or in some cases, very unusual renditions of a Frank Zappa song—the djembe served well as the rhythm keeper.
I hate to say it, but the djembe even sounded good with some of the rockabilly and country songs that Terry sang. I must admit, it was challenging to play country music on the djembe—for me it’s hard to play country music, period. But Terry put his own spin on the music and made it sound just fine!
Toby Plays Guitar
For our second set, I was somehow convinced to play guitar. Actually, it didn’t take too much convincing: I love to play. And to take over the djembe and keep rhythm for us, we were joined by our friend Naoka.
This time the tone changed a bit. Being that my guitar skills are somewhat limited, Terry started a nice blues progression in the key of A, and encouraged me to lay down some of the lead patterns that he’s been teaching me.
I must admit that this was a little bit intimidating. Both Terry and Francesco are far more superior on the guitar than I am. But I had just the right amount of ice cream and just the right amount of coffee to be loose and ready to lay it down. And I had so much fun!
We played on and on. Sometimes, I would play rhythm and trade licks with Terry, and othertimes we would all play rhythm and add made-up, funny lyrics to the blues patterns. What a joy!
What’s Music Without Dancing?
As we jammed along on the blues, some of our other guests, my friends Robert Weir and Sherie Hayes, started dancing. This wasn’t just any kind of dancing. This was real dancing. Step-by-step, each one knew what the other was doing. Robert would spin Sherie under his arm and she would duck and emerge safely on the other side of him. We moved the chairs around to give them more room, as it was a delight to watch the masterful movements of these very skilled dancers.
I’m not sure for how long the dancing went on. Everyone ended up lost in the beauty of the energy that was being expressed that evening. But I’ll tell you this: it was one of the most amazing times that I’ve had on the island!
I’m incredibly fortunate to have Francesco, Naoka, Sherie, Robert, and Terry in my life. We played that night as late as we thought advisable as not to disturb the neighbors, and it was just perfect. My fingertips were very sore, since I don’t usually play the guitar for long periods of time, and it was time to experience the silence of the island under a beautiful starry sky.