With a broad repertoire of original material ranging from to sweet bluegrass to Allman Brothers-style rocking jams, the Haiku Hillbillys stand out as a unique presenceon Maui’s music scene.
Led by Randall Rospond, the Hillbillys are about to release their debut CD, which they will promote with a party at Charley’s on Oct. 10. This versatile work showcases the talented group in a live and studio setting, with six tracks recorded at Charley’s, two on Mana‘o Radio and four in the studio.
Besides Rospond, who composes most of the group’s songs, the band comprises Rand Coon on guitar, banjo and vocals; John Pollock on violin, mandolin and vocals; Tom Conway (of Gypsy Pacific) on lead guitar; Geoff Coolidge on bass, Jimmy C on drums and vocals, and Klaus Simmer on keyboards.
Depending on the venue, the musicians perform in a variety of combinations from a duo through the full seven-piece band.
“Tommy and I do a duo, and the violin player and I do a duo,” Randall explains. “The trio features John on violin and Rand on banjo, and we do that on Thursdays at the Hana Hou Cafe. If you go to the Stopwatch you see five of us, and at Charleys there’s seven, and each setup is different.” Recorded at Charleys, the 10-minute track “Seek and Find” eloquently captures the breadth and dynamics of the band. Opening in toe tapping, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band-style country/bluegrass territory with prominent banjo and fiddle, it segues into an Allman Brothers-flavored jam propelled by Tom Conway’s wailing guitar, and rewinds back and forth.
“So many people know us live and we’re so different than seeing the trio play which is like a quieter front porch thing,” Randall continues. “Then they see a big show with the seven-piece band and it goes way outside. I wanted to spotlight Charley’s because people have been very receptive when we play there. It’s a big room and people are allowed to dance. Because of the liquor (commission) thing there are so many places where you can’t dance legally on Maui and that astounds me. At certain gigs I have to tell people, sorry you can’t dance.”
Randall has described his band’s music as funky, groovin’ poetic folk. “I came up with it one day,” he says. “It could describe the band and the music. I approach music from a poet’s angle. I started out mesmerized by the Beat guys, then I got into the lyrical rock writers from Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison to Lou Reed and Patti Smith. On the Mainland some people catch on to the poetic meaning of Haiku.” With influences that run from country and bluegrass into rock, the new CD features studio songs by Rospond such as “So Long Mr. Chaos,” “Workingman’s Blues,” “Trail of Tears Saloon,” and “Turn it Around,” which encourages personal transformation. “I was performing at a music club in my hometown (Toronto, Canada) on a brief family visit, and I wrote this song to reach out to a lot of the younger folks who were coming to the club,” he explains. “The club was in a rough part of downtown with lots of bad vibes and bad drugs. I thought the chorus, ‘turn it around’ might help some of the listeners connect with the positive, the light within their own eyes.”
Aside from Rospond’s songs, the album features two colorful instrumentals by banjo player Rand Coon, “Kahakuloa Sunrise,” and “West Kuiaha,” which resembles the playful, folky side of Pat Simmons’ contribution to the Doobies.
“Rand adds another aspect,” says Randall. “He’s into that old school bluegrass style.” It was Coon who sparked the formation of the acoustic side of the Hillbillys on Maui. “About six years ago Rand had an ad wanting to play bluegrass with people,” he recalls. “I phoned him and said I love bluegrass, but as a songwriter I don’t play in any particular style. We got together and found common ground. Now we’re just starting to touch on some original reggae and rock songs. I’ve got about three or four hours of original music that we haven’t
touched on yet.”
■ The Haiku Hillbillys present a CD release party at Charley’s on Oct. 10. The Haiku Hillbilly Trio comprising John Pollock, Rand Coon and Randall Rospond play from 6 to 9 p.m.Thursdays at the Hana Hou Café. Tom Conway and Rospond will play Cafe Marc Aurel from 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday as part of Wailuku’s First Fridays promotion. And Rospond will perform and sign CD’s from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Be Happy Books and Music in Paia.