Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, May 4, 2001

The new Society of Seven-- Las Vegas. Clockwise
from bottom center, Johnny Fernandez, John Salvatera,
Jan Luna, Glenn Miyashiro, Freddy VonParaz, Jonathan
Kaina and Richard Natto.

Hi SOSiety

Society of Seven now
adds up to 14, sort of

By John Berger

Freddy Von Paraz believed his show band days were behind him when he resigned from the Krush in 1985.

The Krush had opened at the Outrigger Main Showroom in 1981 and headlined the room when the Society of Seven was on tour. By 1985, Von Paraz decided he'd rather play original rock and left to form the band Triad. He became a founding member of the Bad Boys Club (a.k.a. BBC), which later became The New Generation (TNG) and went from there to become one of the very few local pop groups to be signed and recorded by a national record label. He also enjoyed success as a pop song writer, studio musician and record producer.

He never looked back to his show band roots, until now.

SOS -- Las Vegas

Showtime: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 8. Additional performances at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 Tuesdays through Saturdays through May 26
Place: Outrigger Main Showroom, Outrigger Waikiki Hotel, 2335 Kalakaua.
Cost: $22.50
Call: 923-SHOW (7469)

Von Paraz returns to the Outrigger Main Showroom on Tuesday, this time as a member of the Society of Seven's new clone -- the Society of Seven-Las Vegas.

The SOS-LV will play a three-week debut engagement for hometown fans before heading to Vegas for an open-ended stay. The original or "classic" SOS returns to the Outrigger on May 29.

"Sometimes I go into some major deja vu," Von Paraz said during a recent rehearsal at the Outrigger. "It's the same place but a different organization. I wouldn't say it's my last hurrah but it's another episode in my musical career, and this one is pretty much at the top of the ladder. It's so different musicalwise as what I've been doing (since leaving the Krush) that I have to get into that mode again."

Von Paraz, who plays drums and percussion and also sings, is one of several multi-talented performers selected by SOS leader Tony Ruivivar to represent the next generation. The others are Johnny Fernandez, Jonathan Kaina, Jan Luna, Glenn Miyashiro, Richard Natto and John Salvatera. The SOS-LV will return to Waikiki as needed to sub for the SOS. They'll be doing essentially the same show as the original SOS, now marking its 32nd year at the Outrigger.

Bert Sagum, the other original member of SOS, has been working closely with the new musicians.

"These guys are going to be dynamite," Sagum said with the broad smile of a proud parent. Once the SOS-LV is in place, SOS will be free to spend part of the year touring the mainland and playing to audiences in Australia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

"Everything is going to be just like us -- the swing medley, some of the jokes, but they're going to do their own impressions -- and as the originators, we are just so thrilled at their accomplishment," Sagum said. "It's a great feeling for us to see our numbers and material (from the audience) -- different people doing it exactly like we do it. It is really amazing."

Ruivivar's recruitment of Natto from Krush, and Honolulu Band founders Kaina and Miyashiro, has left those groups scrambling to find replacements. All three say that the opportunity was too promising to turn down. Miyashiro and Kaina have been working since high school to build a band into a showroom attraction.

"I've been in music for 13 or 14 years, and this is what we've worked for all these years in Honolulu (the band) and Nightlife," says Kaina.

"Relocating to Las Vegas is definitely a very hard decision for a family," said Miyashiro. "It's a hardship on everybody, but we've been working for this forever and this opportunity only comes once in a lifetime. We've done lounges in Vegas and Reno (with Honolulu) but this is an opportunity to open in our showroom in Vegas, so we're transplanting everybody."

Natto also sees the move as an opportunity to grow as a performer. He already had an impressive resume for his work with Dave Toma in Toma/Natto, and as a solo recording artist, before he joined the Krush. SOS-LV is a logical step up.

"This is the best gig in town and a real challenge because it's different from anything I ever did ... but I'm learning a lot of new material with no expense spared. The mentoring system that the classic SOS guys have with us is just amazing 'cause they shadow us the whole way and make sure we're doing everything correctly, and it's a proven formula. They've got it down and I'm having fun."

SOS-LV member John Salvatera returned to Hawaii in January after spending 19 years on the mainland. Sagum suggested he audition. Salvatera is first and foremost a guitarist, but the SOS-LV need a bass player and he got the job. Like the others, he says that the opportunity to have Ruivivar and Sagum as mentors outweighs the hassle of another move.

"It was kinda hard after I just moved back here, but it's been a dream to play with the Society of Seven. It's an entirely new thing for me because I've done recordings and played with Top 40 bands, but this involves choreography and costumes, which I haven't done for a while. Johnny (Fernandez) and I are probably the only ones who haven't been working here, but we knew each other from before and it's great to work with him again."

The formation of SOS-LV has impacted the local music scene on other fronts. Luna has been a key player in many recording projects, has recorded and performed as a member of Side Salad, and has performed as a sideman in club gigs with some of the acts he's recorded. He says he'll be taking his computers and recording software with him and expects that he and Von Paraz will soon be busy working on an SOS-LV album.

"It's a big jump (musically) because I've been doing a lot of studio work and playing local reggae music, but I feel it helps my music and my writing capability. And I enjoy performing and this lets me bring out my personality. People are going to say, 'That's the real Jan we know.'"

The potential of the SOS-LV concept, and Ruivivar's reputation as a promoter and producer, is seen in the presence of Fernandez, the Broadway-caliber singer/ actor, who chose the SOS-LV over an offer from Disney that would have put him in line for a lead role as Simba in the stage production of "The Lion King."

"I was in the position of every artist's dream because I had been offered the 'The Lion King' ... but it's always been a dream of mine to follow in the footsteps of our idols and mentors, the Society of Seven; so after harsh deliberation with my family, my agents, and my friends, we decided that this would be the best path to take for now," he said.

And so the seven members of the SOS-LV are counting the days and hours until their debut.

"We know a lot of people are watching to see if we'll be successful or not," Miyashiro said. "We don't want to let anyone down, so we're going to give it our best and go for it 110 percent."

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