He was one of the first to promote slack-key guitar instruction
RAYMOND KANE / 1925-2008
Young fisherman became ambassador of slack key
The guitarist's sweet sound and lively spirit endeared him to fans
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It wasn't many years ago that slack key tunings and playing techniques were zealously guarded secrets that musicians shared only with trusted members of their families. So when young Raymond Kane heard a neighbor playing slack key and asked for lessons, the man's answer was quick and unmistakable: "You're not my family!"
Fortunately for slack key fans, the 9-year-old was a persuasive negotiator and also a skilled fisherman. Kane offered to catch the man's favorite fish in exchange for lessons, proved that he could deliver the fish, and the rest is Hawaiian music history.
Kane would become one of the greatest slack key players of the 20th century. He was also one of the first to decide to share his knowledge rather than hoard it. His well-known tune "Punahele," which features quick ornamentation that represents the skittering of sand crabs across the beach, became one of his favorite teaching tools.
"That was his life's dream, to perpetuate that music until the day he died, and he sure did," Elodia Kane said yesterday, remembering her husband of 41 years. "Up until last year he was still teaching, and even after he stopped teaching, students and people would come from all over the world to our home and he would play."
Kane died early Wednesday morning. He was 82.
Eddie Kamae, a famed musician and filmmaker who shared a place in Waikiki with Kane in the early 1960s, recalled him as a man who had "a sparkle in his eyes, very kolohe (mischievous), and a great sense of humor."
Myrna Kamae met her future husband at a party where the two were playing.
"Can you imagine hearing authentic Hawaiian music for the first time with Eddie Kamae on ukulele and Raymond Kane on guitar? Both of them were playing really nahenahe (sweet, melodious) music. That music has been with me from that day until today."
Puakea Nogelmeier described Kane as "a role model and a mentor to generations."
Kapono Beamer found him inspirational.
"He was charismatic, he was powerful, he was soulful, yet he had a sweetness that personified the Hawaiian voice of mellifluousness. ... It struck me that I needed to perform with such passion."
Amy Stillman, ethnomusicologist and professor of American culture at the University of Michigan, took a broader view.
"We are fortunate that he lived in a time when he could share so much of his music and his life with us, and privileged to have acknowledged his presence while he was alive."
Born on Kauai and raised first in Kakaako and then in Nanakuli, Kane grew up with music. His father, Herman "Manu" Kane, played ukulele and slack key guitar; on his mother's side, his relatives included Andy Cummings and Genoa Keawe-Aiko. He got his first ukulele lessons from his father, but his parents were divorced by the time his hands were large enough to play guitar.
Kane's father died a few years after the divorce, leaving his son to follow in the footsteps of another teacher.
"Ray celebrated the musical heritage of the Waianae Coast," said UH-Manoa ethnomusicologist Ric Trimillos, who sees him as a "bridge musician" between two generations of Hawaiian musicians. "I honor him as a kupuna ki ho'alu (source of slack key) and celebrate his friendship in all its expansiveness -- generous, kolohe, spontaneous and unconditional."
Kane spent several years in the military and worked later as a boilermaker and welder on isolated military outposts, but music remained an important part of his life. In 1966 he met his wife through an "only in the movies" scenario.
She was at a piano bar with an ex-boyfriend who was trying to win her back. A tourist couple asked for "Ke Kali Nei Au," and Elodia's ex volunteered her to sing the female part. Kane stopped by on his way home from playing in Waikiki and was called up to be her partner.
The impromptu duet was a hit, and although Elodia's ex told Kane they were married, and her brothers "lost" the messages he left for her, they eventually went out. Two weeks later they were married.
In 1973 the Hawaiian Music Foundation featured him in a precedent-setting all-slack key concert at Orvis Auditorium. From that point on, as long as his health permitted, Kane worked tirelessly as a teacher, performer and recording artist to promote slack key.
Keith Haugen, one of the producers of the show, says Kane's playing was "the purest, most Hawaiian of all the slack-key guitarists today. His was THE nahenahe style, with a delicate touch that resonated on every song he recorded."
Grammy Award-winning record producer Daniel Ho hailed him as "one of the original ambassadors that brought slack key to the rest of the world."
In addition to his wife, Kane is survived by sons Dennis and Michael; daughters Joann Kailiwai, Raynette Moana Arakaki and Faith Kane; "about 28 grandchildren," his wife said; and several great-grandchildren.