40 & fab


POSTED: Monday, May 04, 2009

TONY Ruivivar and Bert Sagum are coming home this week with four of the five other members of the Society of Seven for an anniversary that few acts ever reach: On Wednesday they'll be on stage at the Outrigger Main Showroom to celebrate the group's 40th anniversary as Waikiki headliners at the Outrigger Waikiki.

Even allowing for the fact that the room's current occupants, the SOS-LV, represent the second generation of SOS groups directed and produced by Ruivivar, it is a remarkable achievement.

The original SOS group would still be playing the Outrigger if Ruivivar hadn't decided to move them to Vegas more than 30 years after they opened what was originally a “;four-week”; engagement in 1969.

“;Tommy Sands was performing, and they asked us to take his place for four weeks,”; Ruivivar said last week. “;We had been at the Hong Kong Junk, which was at the old Ilikai (hotel), and then we performed at Duke Kahanamoku's; we took Don Ho's place. We would travel and then come back to Duke's. After that the Outrigger asked us to perform in the Main Showroom. After one month they wanted us there more often. I think after about a year, it was just us.”;

For more than a decade, in the '70s and early '80s, the SOS spent part of the year on tour. They alternated with the Aliis and, later, the Fabulous Krush. Mainland recording acts also played the room in their absence—Sonny Charles & the Checkmates of “;Black Pearl”; fame played a memorable engagement in the early '70s—but “;eventually it ended up just us.”;

“;Not too many people can celebrate their 40th anniversary in one room performing. It's great. We're thrilled,”; Ruivivar said. “;It's going to be quite a show (this week).”;

Six of the seven members of the “;original”; SOS will be performing with Ruivivar's proteges, the SOS-Las Vegas (or “;Latest Version”;) during the three-night “;anniversary”; celebration.

Waikiki, and Hawaii, was a very different place in the '60s through '80s. The SOS performed two shows most nights and a special “;no cover”; late show at 1 a.m. on weekends.

“;I don't know how we did it, but the third show would run over two hours, and we had lines going way past the escalator. The line would snake around (the lobby) twice. ... Drinks were $5 in a big “;suck 'em up”; glass, and everybody would just come in and buy drinks and we would have a lot of fun. The two-hour late show was where we would try new material, and also on the late show we had guests coming in just to get up on stage. It was fun.”;

THERE HAVE BEEN tears over the year as well. Tony's brother, Danny, the group's drummer, died suddenly in 1971 at the age of 24; Bob Wilson, later to gain fame as the leader of Seawind, filled the spot until the group picked up “;Little Albert”; Maligmat. Terry Lucido, another original member, forced to the sidelines by heart problems, decided to return anyway; the SOS performed as an octet until his death. Death touched the group again in 2006 when Gary Bautista, a veteran of 23 years with the group, died during a show in California.

Many other musicians have come and gone. Some, perhaps, were not the right fit for long-term membership. Others left in search of new opportunities. Maligmat, a member in the '70s, returned briefly in the '80s, and rejoined the group a third time after Bautista's death.

Several ex-members were “;impossible”; to follow—Maligmat, Bautista, Roberto Nievera, Jun Polistico and Eddie Ramirez, to name five—but through all the changes, Ruivivar always succeeded in finding multitalented entertainers who brought individual star-power to the show.

The current SOS roster is Ruivivar, Sagum, Hoku Low (now in his 31st year with the group), Wayne Wakai (a member since 1989), Vincent Mendoza, Michael Layco and Roy Venturina.

Layco, who fills the spot formerly held by Bautista, will be making his Hawaii debut as an SOS member. Venturina, the newest SOS member, has a scheduling conflict and won't be making the trip.

Ruivivar describes Layco as “;really terrific.”;

“;After Gary (died),”; he said, “;we had a couple of people sub for Gary, and then we found Michael. Of course, we still miss Gary, but this guy is pretty good. He is even better than (the sub he replaced).”;

One highlight of the SOS' 40 years, Ruivivar said, was receiving the “;Walk of Fame”; star in front of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

Another is the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed on the group in 2007 for its recording achievements. Ironically, during the group's heyday as local hit makers in the '70s and early '80s, HARA did not consider their recordings to be local productions.

The group had recorded several albums for Warner Bros. before forming its own record label in the mid-'70s. The band subsequently made several recordings for Network, another national label. Looking back over 40 years of recordings, Ruivivar mentions several favorites.

“;'99.8' and 'Walk Away' and 'Special Angel' and 'Summer Symphony.' We did so many. ... Some of them you can't get today. There were so many (record) labels, but someday we'll get them together.”;