The greater 78rpm record collecting world is sparsely populated with its largest worldwide Facebook collectors group just recently surpassing the 4000 mark. Those of us passionate weirdos who devote huge chunks of our money and collection space specifically to Hawaiian steel guitar are a thin sliver of that elite group. But this is what initially brought Jim and I together. When I first met “Angry Jim” (virtually via Facebook Messenger) this is what he wrote. “Hi Christo! I have a feeling you may be my eBay nemesis!! I see on Instagram you have been collecting Sol Hoopii.” He had seen a post of mine about finding the records we share with you below.
Sol Hoopii is the undisputed “King of Hawaiian Steel Guitar”. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with the instrument and style undoubtedly brings his name up first. It’s with good reason! His hot jazz steel playing has cross genre appeal. He was both an amazing technical player and a passionate emotional improviser. Sol was one of the first to really blend Jazz improvisation with traditional Hawaiian repertoire. After traveling from Honolulu as a cruise ship stowaway he arrived in San Francisco and then moved to Los Angeles by 1924. This happened during the “Hawaiian Craze”, a time period when there were more Hawaiian records sold than any other style of music across America. Sol quickly got swept up in record deals and cameos in movies. He became a star and a hero for the native Hawaiian people!
Over the course of his spectacular career, life in the fast lane began to wear on Sol. He went through a personal and religious transformation and eventually converted to Christianity. By 1938 he had totally abandoned his secular career to join Foursquare Church founder, Aimee Semple McPherson as a part of her evangelical tours. After this conversion Sol signed contracts to record with various Christian record labels including Eldee, Sacred Records, and Campus Christians. It was during this time that Sol met and began regularly collaborating with organist and vibraphone player, Loren Whitney. Many of these sacred recordings still featured amazing traditional Hawaiian song interpretations on the B sides of the 78 releases. But the days of fiery jazz and pop recordings were gone.
According to a contact I made who was a church member, these extremely rare circa 1941, Haven Of Rest 78s were not sold in stores. They were distributed for “Singspiration” nights in the Foursquare Church. The main Foursquare church was in LA, but at its peak it was one of the largest church denominations with congregations scattered all over the US. Many of them were too poor to afford a professional musician to lead music. At ”Singspiration” events church members would get up to sing “specials”, a song they had chosen to sing solo for the congregation. Sometimes members would provide their own instrumentation, but often these church issued Haven Of Rest 78s were played as their accompaniment. It is obvious when listening to the recordings that there is ample space for singing over the music. Please enjoy these extremely rare Sol Hoopii recordings. And if the spirit moves you…sing along!
**Special thanks goes out to Jim for giving me my copy of HR530, helping me with research for this post, and being more of a collaborator than a nemesis! Thanks also to Keith Cordell for giving me insight into how these rare recordings were used at Foursquare from an insiders perspective.**
1941 Haven Of Rest Records, Loren Whitney – Organ and Vibraharp. Sol Hoopii – Steel Guitar