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The Nature Boy and The Island-aire: Digging Exotica's Wild Roving Mystics

Posted by Kells, October 10, 2012 03:32pm | Post a Comment

If there's one thing an appreciation of music micro-genres has taught me it's this: work in a record store long enough and you'll eventually get into everything. Being predisposed to an appreciation of all things nautical by nature and developing a fondness for "theme" restaurants during my formative years it was only a matter of time before I would incur an full-on addiction to Exotica. At first I admit I mostly overlooked the jazz elements inherent to the genre, however pleasantly tropical, but obsession has a funny way of broadening ones taste for the far flung and curiously obscure. While I cannot trace my collection back to one single acquisition I can proclaim without a doubt that this squaw has stalked the warpath for Exotica, in all it's varied and as-yet-unconfirmed aspects, for quite some time. I'm so hot for it I'm on fire and, with that admonition out of the way, I'm pleased to report that a vinyl reissue of Eden Ahbez's seminal contribution to the genre, Eden's Island: The Music of an Enchanted Isle (out on Moi J'Connais/Black Sweat via Mississippi Records), is once again gracing the selections in Amoeba Music's Lounge section at long last!


A beach-bummin' beatnik guru by nature, Eden Ahbez was famous for three things: penning the pop/jazz standard "Nature Boy" (made famous by one Nat King Cole), looking a lot like Jesus (both on the original Eden's Island cover art, circa 1960 above on the left, as well as the updated screen-printed jacket housing the current reissue pictured above right), and thriving on a diet consisting of  raw fruit and vegetables, living outdoors with his family beneath the first L of the Hollywood sign in the grassy Los Angeles wilderness. His music is a strange arrangement of piano, flute, and exotic percussion instruments fused with nature sounds (rolling surf, the creak of a wood-masted sailboat, squawking birds, breezy gusts of wind), and features a mixed chorus or Ahbez's own cheesy vocal musings, waxing poetic about a snake-chasing mongoose, living in an old shack by the sea, fires on the beach, and knowing "the thrill of loneliness" -- charming, to the last.

Eden Ahbez - "Full Moon"


It's difficult to think of any other artist alive that qualifies as sounding similar to Eden Ahbez (vibe-wise, free-spiritied surfer/singer/songwriter Little Wings might be his closest contemporary), but there is another wayfaring purveyor of Exotica's far-out Polynesian pop-tones who also made his way in L.A. and whose vinyl legacy that is even harder to hunt down than that of a Hollywood hill-dwelling proto-hippie. I speaking of course (of course?) of Mr. Paul Page.


The Hapa-Haole strains of Paul Page and his Island-aires earned the inclusion of two tracks on urban archeologist and Tiki godfather Sven A. Kirsten's momentous, seventeen-song Sound of Tiki compilation (Bear Family Records) -- an action that not only speaks of the high regard Exotica enthusiasts, Lounge lizards, and Tiki-philes alike ought to impart to Page and co. but also presents evidence to the relative shortness of their songs which are really more like little odes to a succession of fantasized South Seas daydreams. Kirsten himself lauds Page's unsung hero status as an early proponent of the castaway aesthetic, bolstering America's mid-century fascination with the Pacific Islands and inspiring aspiring restauranteurs to bring a driftwood and fishnet flotilla festooned paradise to the mainland.

Paul Page, like Eden Ahbez, narrates more than he sings, rhapsodizing simple island pleasures with a deep, lazy resonance that sounds like Johnny Cash doing his best William Shatner impression after downing a couple of Mai Tais. Simple percussion and lilting pedal steel cut with the sounds of, yes, rolling surf and seagulls, Page lays down some of the most naïve "aloha" lyrics ever uttered, some of them don't even make a lick of sense (i.e. "when Sam goes back to Samoa/ he'll have to change all his wicky-wacky-woo/ for to swing and sway the island way/means rock-a-hula, baby I love you"). What's more, the record was released under four differing titles meant to promote the four individual Polynesian restaurants that proffered his tunes once upon a time. You'd think that four issues of the same record, differing titles or no, would mean it'd be four times as easy to locate the damn thing, right? Riiight?

Wrong! Castaway, Ports O' Call, Pieces of Eight, Reef is Calling -- I've searched for them all for so long it seems as though the quest itself attained a sort of Holy Grail level of devotion. As luck would have it, my years-long quest ended quite recently while on vacation in Hawaii. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Sven A. Kirsten and other informants (such as this site) I was fully aware of Page's split career living as a model and entertainer in both L.A. and Honolulu (and his owning up to bedding "over 400 women"), but having never visited the Hawaiian islands before, and therefore being fully blinded by her charms and distracted by my own search for all things Tiki, I never imagined I'd find a lonely copy of Ports O' Call lurking behind a rack of musty muumuus in the depths of a darkened Kapahulu vintage boutique. Total score! The only thing that could've one upped this fateful exhumation (despite the holiday in Oahu, mind you) would have to be finding this record at Amoeba Music where, without a doubt, it would be concealed within the confines of the clearance vinyl hoard yet glowing knowingly like the treasure of Tutenkhamun's tomb, to be had for the princely sum of one dollar.

Paul Page - "Castaway"

Vinyl dreams can and do come true, people -- here's my Ports O' Call victory shot to prove it; keep digging, diggers!

And if you ever find yourself daunted by the quest to procure that which you most desire please keep in mind that record collecting is, at the very least, a waltz with fate what occasionally trips and falls on dumb luck. It's an unpredictable, exciting pursuit whether you fancy yourself a serious record, poker-faced record collector or, as Paul Page puts it, "just a derelict on the foam" -- I like to think of myself as a hybrid of the two. 

Below are a few images I captured during my recent adventures in Hawaii. Needless to say, I can't wait to go back -- it really is an Exotica addicts' fix. Aloha!




Bob Keane R.I.P. (1922-2009)

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, December 1, 2009 10:11am | Post a Comment

Los Angeles
lost one of its great independent operators a couple of days ago. Bob Keane died of renal failure at the age of 87. Previously he had conquered lymphoma (at age 80) and survived decades of ups and downs, including battles with drugs, alcohol, the record industry & himself. 

His early years were spent as a successful clarinetist and big band leader, at one point taking over Artie Shaw's band -- he even took a crack at acting. In the early 50's, after a stint in WWII, he hosted a local variety show on channel 2, but looming in the near future was his true calling.

Keene Records was started by Keane and John Siamas & their first hit was a doozy. "You Send Me" by Sam Cooke made over a million dollars and made an international star out of Cooke. Unfortunately, Keane hadn't any contracts with Siamas and soon Siamas gave him the business and Bob was left to his own devices. Never one to remain passive, Keane turned around and formed Del-Fi Records, releasing records from Frank Zappa, Little Caesar and the Romans, The Lively Ones, Surfaris, Johnny Crawford (of Rifleman fame), and Brenda Holloway, as well as an endless list of one off singles. Of course, the biggest Del-Fi sensation was Ritchie Vallens, but my favorite is the Eden Ahbez LP. Keane went on to more success and troubles with Bobby Fuller and eventually helped to kick start Barry White's career on the Mustang label. According to Keane, a bullwhip was Mr. White's weapon of choice back in his 50's street gang days.

Anyhow, for the straight dope check out Bob's autobiography The Oracle of Del-Fi. I wouldn't say that he pulls NO punches, but he sure paints an amazing picture of Hollywood in the 50's & 60's: walking unknown singles into KRLA and having them turn into major hits, street freaks walking into Hollywood studios & gaining record contracts, pills, booze, murder, etc. 


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