Tuesday, 14 March 2017

DICK JENSEN "GIANT OF HAWAII" (1976)

It was twenty years ago down in Tupelo, I was raised on chopping wood
Mama died, left the family five, papa did the best he could
he'd take then his old guitar, and we'd all gather round
he'd start a song and we would sing along to that good time Country sound

'Cause papa was a music man, papa was a music man
He picked the big guitar, he played the Country bars
He was an homegrown one-man band
Papa was a music man, papa was a music man
A touch of Rock'n'Roll, a little Country Soul, papa was a music man

He'd send me to the kitchen for the frying pan, the washboard and the spoons
I'd start a rhythm on a old tin can, then papa would begin his tune
Everyone would harmonize as he sang such happy songs
and he keeped the beat with his hard tapping feet while we all sang along

'Cause papa was a music man, papa was a music man
He picked the big guitar, he played the Country bars
He was an homegrown one-man band
Papa was a music man, papa was a music man
A touch of Rock'n'Roll, a little Country Soul, papa was a music man

Hear that old tin can kicking out a crazy beat

In that basement room, clap your hands and tap your feet

I remember the year papa passed away, he took me by the hand
He said - Son of mine, don't you think it's time that you lead the family band?
He taught me how to play guitar, I practiced every day
And when he died, you know we sang all night, papa would have liked it that way

'Cause papa was a music man, papa was a music man
He picked the big guitar, he played the Country bars
He was an homegrown one-man band
Papa was a music man, papa was a music man
A touch of Rock'n'Roll, a little Country Soul, papa was a music man


[from the lyrics of "Papa Was a Music Man"]



If you already visited this blog in the past few years, I'm sure that you noticed the huge amount of material I posted about Dick Jensen. With the current post my work is almost finished... Well, I still need to take care about "The Writer" album and the "Honolulu Girls / On the Beach" single: hopefully I'll be able to feature them here soon.

Jensen was a live musical performer of the Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and Gospel genres. A native Hawaiian athletic song stylist and a prime mover of nightclub shows inspired by Little Richard, whose "white hot soul" electrified audiences with his belting voice and imposing physical performances.

Jensen earned the sobriquet "The Giant" because of his tall stature, but he had a talent to match that nickname. His signature on-stage style incorporated strenuous dance moves similar to those of Jackie Wilson; he was noted for his glide - a proto-Moonwalk - well before Michael Jackson made it fashionable.

For a detailed biography of Dick Jensen covering his career up till the early '70s please have a look at this other post of mine: "Dick Jensen - An Entertainer Without a Hit Record (Part 1, 1942-1972)".



As I was trying to document the end of Jensen's tenure with legendary Philadelphia International Records, after the release of his self-titled LP in 1973, I had to confront myself with my most bitter enemy: lack of information.

When exactly - and why - the label dropped him? I understand that the "Dick Jensen" album probably wasn't very successful, and maybe the problem laid within the fact that Jensen wasn't the usual Soul singer; he ranged from Pop and Easy Listening right through to Jazz and Gospel...

But this should be considered positive, at least in my opinion: I can only dream about what he could have done when Disco broke through a couple of years later, if only the label had kept on supporting him... Althought Jensen's voice was not deep and smooth as Lou Rawls', his late '70s releases come to mind.

At last, the liner notes written by Stephen SPAZ Schnee for the 2013 "Dick Jensen" CD re-release on Big Break Records came through for me, confirming that "Upon release, critics and Soul fans didn't know what to make of the album. Jensen's talent was undeniable, but the album was not what they expected from the house that Gamble & Huff had built and the project itself got lost in the confusion." Well, damn critics and Soul fans, that is still a great album forty years after his publication, how didn't you know what to make of it in 1973?!?


Dick Jensen performing at The Oceania Empire Room, December 1975 (from my collection)

Jensen returned to Honolulu around 1974 or 1975 and quickly re-estabilished himself as a local showroom star with engagements at the Hula Hut and at the Empire Room on the Oceania Floating Restaurant; the latter was jammed night after night for eight years.

Jensen's signature number, a fanciful comic story about the Lone Ranger and Tonto in which he single-handedly created all the voices and sound effects, was always a highlight, and every bit as impressive as his singing, dancing and overall showmanship... You can catch a glimpse of this performance - and much more - in the tribute video available on YouTube.

So, what can you do if you're a first class performer, you've written new songs but you find yourself without a recording contract? For some reason Jensen thought the best option was to self-release his own fresh material on a private label created on purpose, the evocative Record Club of Honolulu...


"Giant of Hawaii" contains the following tracks:

01. Papa Was a Music Man (2:57)
02. Paniola Country (3:19)
03. Love Shack (3:01)
04. Only Dreams (3:13)
05. Personality (4:22)
06. Cloudy Morning (3:50)
07. Hands (3:00)
08. One More Drink (3:01)
09. Girl With My Child (2:55)
10. I Have You (2:59)
11. Fragile (2:14)

All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in February 2017 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.

Please have a look at the comments for the download link.



Bearing catalogue number RCH-1001, "Giant of Hawaii" was released sometimes in the mid '70s. I don't know the exact releases date, but a few clues make me think that it was pressed in mid/late 1976. The record comes in a colourful sleeve where Jensen is dressed in a jumpsuit and has long curly hair, probably the result of a perm since he usually has almost straight or wavy hair in most of his photos.

On the front cover, he is surrounded by three beautiful Hawaiian girls: as you can easily notice confronting the other two photos included in this post, these girls are the dancers who were part of his live show, and they also appear in this other photo which was taken years earlier. It is also worth noting that, in the photos included in this post, Jensen's hair looks exactly the same as on the album cover; such photos were taken in December 1975.

Most of the copies of "Giant of Hawaii" available today on the second-hand market are usually signed with a blue marker on the front or back cover by Jensen himself; often they come with an inscription too. This undoubtedly means that most - if not all - copies of the album were sold directly to people at his live shows as a souvenir of the performance: Jensen probably took the time to have a word with the audience and sign his records after the show.

Around the same time when "Giant of Hawaii" was released, a single containing two cuts from the album, namely a mono version of "Cloudy Mornin'" on Side A and a stereo version of "Love Shack" on the flipside, also appeared. The single was probably aimed at radio promotion and rarely shows up for sale nowadays.

Produced and arranged by Don Costa for his Don Costa Productions Inc., this album is the very first Dick Jensen release I purchased, and I instantly became a fan of him on first listening. The original copy in my possession was shabby and so I purchased a better copy shortly after, but it literally took me years to find an unautographed copy whose cosmetic and aural conditions were decent enough to be scanned/digitized and used for this post.


Dick Jensen performing at The Oceania Empire Room, December 1975 ( from my collection)

Side 1 starts with "Papa Was a Music Man", and I can't imagine a stronger opener for this album. Unfortunately the artwork doesn't include any credits for the musicians and I wonder if they were the usual band with whom Jensen used to perform live or studio musicians coming from the Don Costa entourage. Anyway, I believe that the second option is more plausible... Originally entitled "Poppa Was a Music Man" and recorded by The Trend in 1973 for Capitol Records, the song was written by one Aloysius Bloomfield Clyde - an alias for Wayne Hagstrom - and David Louis Fisher (...of The Highwaymen fame); both of them are usually associated with Don Costa Productions Inc.

Misspelled as "Paniola Country" both on the cover and the center label, comes Jensen's version of a piece entiled "Paniolo Country". Paniolo is the Hawaiian word for Cowboy, and it looks like Hawaii Island has an unexpected heritage, a rich 'cowboy culture' which is better described here. This song was written by Marcus Kamehameha Schutte, Jr., an Hawaiian songwriter, and as far as I know was first recorded by Melveen Leed for her album "Melveen Leed's Hawaiian Country" in 1975 and has become her signature song since then. During the years the song has been covered by other Hawaiian artists, and in 1993 it was also included on an album by Randy Travis.

"Love Shack" has nothing to do with the B-52's song of the same name... This piece was penned by Jensen himself and it seems to arouse derision among other reviewers. I understand that the main reason for this is the jumpsuit that Jensen is wearing on the cover of the album, but let's give credit where credit is due: wouldn't the world be a worse place without little songs like this? Along with "Papa Was a Music Man", this is one of my favourite cuts on the album: it's just adorable in my opinion!

The beautifully arranged "Only Dreams" was written by Bartolome 'Bart' Bascone, a veteran Island musician, conductor, composer and arranger best known for his novelty song "Who Is the Lolo (Who Stole My Pakalolo)", which Don Ho recorded and made a radio hit in 1977. In his earlier days during the '70s Bascone was enlisted as musical conductor for Jensen's live performances and he also co-produced his last and most sought-after album, "The Writer". Bascone also released two albums of his own compositions which are quite worth investigating.

First side ends with "Personality", which is probably my least favourite track on the album. It's not that I don't like the song itself, but it sounds dated compared to the rest of the LP and looks a little bit out of place... Anyway, this number was written by Harold Logan and Lloyd Price, and in 1959 it was released as a single by Price himself, quickly becoming his most popular crossover hit. The single sold millions of copies and Price earned the nickname 'Mr. Personality'.



Side 2 opens with "Cloudy Morning", whose arrangement features strings, horns and chorus, and also include a touch of vibraphone and percussions. A mellow soloing guitar is nicely placed behind Jensen voice during the three verses, and all the crescendos are just in the right place. This is a classy track that deserved a place in the charts rather than just a place in my heart, what do you think? The song was written in 1971 by one Jack Slaughter (words) and Gaetano 'Guy' Costa (music). Strangely enough, the mono version of this song featured on the "Cloudy Mornin' / Love Shack" single also credits one T. Wybaczynsky as an author, but the album credits omit him...

Following the previous slower track comes "Hands", a lively song written by Jensen himself. I would be quite curious to know whether the pieces on "Giant of Hawaii" were also usually performed live or if they were relegated on the album in favour of other more well-known numbers like famous covers and current trendy hits. Anyway, I like to imagine Jensen performing his seemingly effortless glides while his backing band lingers in an extended version of this song...

"One More Drink" was written by Frankie Avalon and pianist Victor Glazer. This number was originally included on Avalon's comeback album "Venus", which included a Disco remake of his 1959 signature song. Since that album was released no earlier that 1976, I strongly doubt that "Giant of Hawaii" came into existence in 1975 as some sources state... By the way, Jensen befriended Avalon during their tenure in Las Vegas during the late '60s, and during the '70s Avalon often filled-in for Jensen on the Oceania Floating Restaurant - please have a look here for more details about the world's most fantastic floating restaurant. The quiet beginning of this song suffer from the mediocre pressing quality of the original vinyl and there was not much I could do to fix it.

The LP proceeds with three more songs, all penned by Jensen. "Girl With My Child" is the only track on the album that doesn't feature drums and/or percussion, and its simple quiet nature is achieved with an arrangement that offers acoustic guitar as the main instrument, sustained by a discreet bass line and orchestral backing. Unfortunately, just like for the previous track, the most silent passages in this song suffer from bad vinyl quality.

With "I Have You" the album returns to more sparkling Soul territories as Jensen makes a list of misfortunes that can easily be moved to the background with the help of the warmth and support of his beloved woman. This is one of the finest moments on the album and it wouldn't have been out of place if included on the LP that Jensen released on Philadelphia International a few years earlier. Great!

"Giant of Hawaii" ends with "Fragile", another uptempo number reinforced with percussions and a brilliant horns arrangement. This is another song which would enrapture Jensen's fans when performed live, or at least that's the effect I'm sure it would have on me.


The following clips offer an abundant preview of the remastered album, enjoy "Papa Was a Music Man", "Panila Country", "Love Shack", "Only Dreams", "Cloudy Morning", "Hands", "I Have You" and "Fragile"!


















As a bonus, here's the lyrics of "Paniolo Country" and an ad for a 1976 residency of Jensen at the Sahara in Las Vegas.

Paniolo country, stars at night, no city lights
Paniolo country, my home on the range

Places I have been, cities I have seen
With concrete canyons rising from the ground
Miles and miles of asphalt trail stretch across the land
Stampeding metal ponies leaving smoke along the way

I'm going back to Paniolo Country
Stars at night, no city lights
Paniolo country, my home on the range
Paniolo country, rain drops fall, the grass grows tall
Paniolo country, my home on the range

I made up my mind, won't waste any time
I'm going back to where the clouds ride high
Take my word, it's pretty, not like the great big city
The winds still bring cool clear mountian air

I'm going back to Paniolo Country
Stars at night, no city lights
Paniolo country, my home on the range
Paniolo country, rain drops fall, the grass grows tall
Paniolo country, my home on the range

Places I have been, cities I have seen
With concrete canyons rising from the ground
Miles and miles of asphalt trail stretch across the land
Stampeding metal ponies leaving smoke along the way

I'm going back to Paniolo Country
Stars at night, no city lights
Paniolo country, my home on the range
Paniolo country, rain drops fall, the grass grows tall
Paniolo country, my home on the range



Ad for Dick Jensen and the Smothers Brothers appearing at the Sahara Congo Showroom, Las Vegas, April 22 - May 5, 1976


More information about Dick Jensen is available here:

http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/06/22/news/story02.html

http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Jun/22/il/FP606220304.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20150905205717/http://www.oahuislandnews.com/May05/Home.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Jensen

I'm currently compiling a Dick Jensen biography, the first part of this work-in-progress covers the period 1942-1972 and is available here.

I'm also trying to compile a Dick Jensen exhaustive discography, my work-in-progress is available here.

Last but not least, I'm also trying to build a collection of Dick Jensen pictures and memorabilia, my work-in-progress is available here.

All my posts dedicated to Dick Jensen on this blog are available here.


If you have any other useful information about this post, or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

6 comments:

  1. DOWNLOAD LINK

    https://mega.nz/#!BYN...

    If you download this file please consider leaving a comment, your feedback is important!

    Please let me know if the link is broken and I'll do my best to quickly fix it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very impressive blog you've got going here!

    Thank you for this gem of an album. Much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  3. thanx for this eclectic blog

    ReplyDelete
  4. Happy to see the Dick Jensen discography journey continuing! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, "The Writer" will be featured on the blog soon!

      Delete
  5. Thank you! I'm looking forward to hearing this. Your notes were wonderful.

    ReplyDelete

Be nice, keep it clean, stay on topic, no spam, thank you!!!

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