When the Honolulu Pulse said “Willie K can play or sing almost anything an American audience might ask for,” that wasn’t hype, it was the literal truth. The Hawaiian phenomenon Willie K is undoubtedly the only artist in the world who can go into an Irish pub in the middle of Maui and play anything from indigenous acoustic Hawaiian music to jazz, reggae, rock, country and even opera—and not only get away with it but leave everyone within earshot slack-jawed in astonishment. No less than Prince was a huge fan, calling Willie K a “funky mother#%@&er,” while another avowed fan is a fellow Hawaiian who goes by the name Barack Obama.
“When you come to the Willie K experience you leave knowing who Willie K really is,” says Willie K himself, and now, with Warehouse Blues—the long-awaited album that returns the Grammy nominee and winner of multiple prestigious Na Hoku Hanohano awards to his roots—those fortunate enough to bask in the glow of that experience will discover another side of this multi-talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and all-around riveting entertainer. “Playing the blues makes me happy,” says Willie K, “and everybody loves it when I do.”
For Willie K—born William Kahaialii and known affectionately as Uncle Willie in the islands—playing the blues marks the completion of a full circle. Although he has built a reputation as one of the foremost practitioners of native Hawaiian music over the years, it was the blues that Willie first learned from his dad, himself a highly respected musician. “My father was a great influence,” says Willie K. “He groomed me to be where I am today. He was just as diverse as I am—the guy knew how to play everything: jazz, blues and Hawaiian.”
As part of a family band—he was the second of nine boys and four girls—Willie learned how to play every instrument that might be needed in the show, from guitar and bass to the ukulele, quickly becoming a virtuoso on each. And he learned how to make music in virtually any genre that might please an audience. That eclecticism is evident on the amazing DVD release, Willie K Live at Mulligan’s On the
Blue, and the stunningly diverse CD Live at Hapa’s. His other albums released over the past two decades are devoted to everything from pure traditional Hawaiian music to Christmas tunes.
But although he’s always been close to the genre, Warehouse Blues takes Willie K’s artistry to another level altogether. His gruff, impassioned vocals, blistering guitar licks and frank songwriting are something his work until now has only hinted at. Consisting of 17 Willie K originals, recorded in Maui with Willie K on guitar and vocals, Jerry Byers on bass and Kris Thomas playing drums, Warehouse Blues
marks the first time that Willie K has devoted an entire album to the genre that was his first love. The songs, he says, all come from his personal life experiences—“they’re about ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, lost love, heartache, watching TV shows, life.”
Of course traditional, indigenous Hawaiian music has always been at the core of the Willie K experience too, and it’s important to him to dispel misguided notions about what exactly Hawaiian music is. When Willie K plays Hawaiian, the beauty that emerges from his instrument and his mouth is as far from the stereotypes as Maui is from the North Pole.
Willie’s newest venture is promoting festivals. His annual Uncle Willie K’s BBQ Blues Fest just completed its 4 th year. Elvin Bishop, Angela Strehli, Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, and Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers have graced his stage in the past years. This year Taj Mahal and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith returned for an encore performance along with Alice Cooper, Michael McDonald, Samantha Fish and New Jersey’s Billy Walton Band shared the stage with Willie and his Warehouse Blues band. It just keeps getting bigger and better.
Whatever he tackles, one thing is for sure: it will be distinctive. “I am unlike any other Hawaiian that’s ever been seen or heard before,” says Willie K, and truer words have never been spoken.
Catch this incredible talent live! For his events calendar, visit www.williek.com.