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Gabby Pahinui

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Gabby Pahinui


He had just a fifth-grade education, but Charles Philip Pahinui (better known as "Gabby") ended his life a teacher. Born in the shantytowns of Honolulu in 1921, Pahinui spent his youth shining shoes, selling papers and teaching himself to play bass, steel guitar and slack-key guitar in his spare time, though he didn't read a note of music. He began gigging in Hawaii in the '30s, backing up Charles "Tiny" Brown and going on to play with giants such as Tommy Castro, George Kainapau and Alvin Isaacs. In 1960 Pahinui joined ukulele master Eddie Kamae's influential Sons of Hawaii; 12 years later, Pahinui released the first of four albums recorded with the vaunted Gabby Band, which included four of his sons and rotating members such as Sonny Chillingworth and Ry Cooder. The releases, a captivating mix of tradition and innovation, catapulted Pahinui's transcendent guitar-playing and gruff falsetto to mythic status in Hawaii. Unfortunately Pahinui's personal life took a toll: an accident on his roadwork job (which he took to support his wife and 13 children), coupled with his lifelong drinking problem, left Pahinui physically weak. He died October 13, 1980, at age 59.
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