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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Friday, March 31, 2000

You can still
hear this steel
guitar master

Question: I'm trying to find some information for my father, who is a tremendous fan of Hawaiian steel guitar player Jerry Byrd. He has all his albums and CDs and would like to know if he is still living. If so, does he still perform?

Answer: Byrd turned 80 on March 9 and, although he no longer performs regularly, still teaches and plays at selected events.

In fact, he's lined up for the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association's 9th Annual Hoolaulea at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30, at the Ala Wai Golf Course Clubhouse (free and open to the public). He also plans to play at the Halekulani Hotel's Fifth Annual Steel Guitar Festival, to be held in September as part of the Aloha Festivals.

"I'm not playing anywhere regularly," Byrd said in a telephone interview. He substitutes for his students now and then, and does a few record sessions. But "I had enough playing week after week after week."

Right now, Byrd is concentrating on writing his autobiography. "People have been after me for years to do that, since I've been through the golden years of country music and Hawaiian music," he said.

He spent 26 years in Nashville before coming to Hawaii in 1972.

"He's still very much an influence on people, not only in Hawaii but around the world, who play steel guitar and who love Hawaiian music," said Alan Akaka, president of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association and a former Byrd student.

Akaka called Byrd the "creme de la creme" of steel guitarists. "He's known as the 'Master of Touch and Tone.' There's no one else that I know of who can play as smooth and musically as he can. The one thing I learned from him, if anything, is (that) it's not the notes that you play, it's what you play between the notes. So I use that in my teaching, too."

Byrd was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Mo., in 1978. When asked why he moved to Hawaii, he laughed and said, "Oh that's a long story. You'd have to get the book and read it."

Correction on vision requirement

Senior U.S. District Judge Samuel King said he was "shocked" when he read Tuesday's Kokua Line about the vision requirement for a driver's license.

"I've been driving for nearly 70 years and I've never had a problem getting a license," said King, who lost one eye at the age of 6. He turns 84 on April 13. King said his license has never had to be reviewed by a Medical Advisory Board.

He's right, acknowledged David Mau, the city's assistant motor vehicle and licensing administrator. Mau said he was referring to vision restrictions involved in commercial driver licenses when he was quoted in Tuesday's column.

However, "regular" drivers like King, with vision only in one eye, are required to have an outside vehicle mirror.


To seven angels who helped push our float when it got stuck midway through the Honolulu Festival parade on March 12. It was the float for the yabusami, which is the archery on horseback. They came out of the audience and pushed the float all the way back to Kapiolani Park for us. -- Diane

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