In December, The Waitiki 7 came out to southern California for a three-day Waitiki Fest at Don the Beachcomber. Via phone, Randy Wong (bass) discussed the Waitiki Fest, and the new album Waitiki in Hi-Fi, a tribute to Martin Denny on 180-gram vinyl.
Last time we spoke, you were getting ready for Waitiki Fest. How did that go?
It went really well. It was three nights. A lot of people flew out from all over the country. It got some great press thanks to you and others. It got a great response. We kind of reprised the event in Boston on Sunday. Kind of brought the Waitiki Fest to Boston. There were a lot of people that couldn’t make it out to Huntington Beach. That went really well too.
Can we expect another Waitiki Fest out here?
I think so, probably around the same time this year.
You got the chance to play with Robert Drasnin. What did that mean to you and the other members of the band?
Mr. Drasnin is tour de force and has been for 50 years or more. To have him come in and not just perform with the group, but also write arrangements off of his Voodoo! album specifically for The Waitiki 7, it was a great honor. We all learned a lot from his orchestration and composition. It was a unique opportunity and a great moment. The advantage of live musicians, particularly in this genre. A lot of modern exotica uses loops and programming. Mr. Drasnin’s career is based on using live musicians.
It must have been something, especially since you probably grew up listening to him.
Yeah, it was cool. We’ve worked with him several times before, so it was good to get back in touch. Previously, he only had four of us and subcontracted the other musicians. This was the first time 100 percent of the group was Waitiki. The chemistry was a lot better. Everybody in Waitiki really knows exotica. When he had contracted musicians before, they had probably never heard of exotica before. Our 100 percent exotica group really made the magic happen.
Part of the Waitiki Fest was a cocktail contest. Tell me about the winning cocktail.
We had two winning cocktails out of six dozen entries from cocktail aficionados across the country. Two won. One was called Stormy Edison. It is a twist on the Combustible Edison, which is a combination of Campari, cognac and lemon juice. He kicked it up a notch for the contest. The other one was the Waitiki Edison created by the bar manager at Spindrift, a cocktail using guava puree, champagne, lime juice, and simple syrup.
Talk about Martin Denny and why your most recent album is an homage to him.
Martin Denny is the father of exotica music. He worked as a staff arranger for Les Baxter, who did a lot of symphonic orchestrations of exotica. Martin Denny was based in Honolulu. He moved to Hawai’i at the request of Donn Beach, the famous resterauteur of the Don the Beachcomber chain. Mr. Denny brought true Hawaiian musicians and music into the genre. Martin Denny’s big hit album put this music on the map for mainland audiences. We thought it was fitting to create this high-fidelity album on super audiophile-quality vinyl in honor of Martin Denny’s centennial. As you’ll probably recall, two of our members recorded with Mr. Denny. Lopaka’s (percussion) father was the original percussionist for Martin Denny. Lopaka growing up often played with his dad and Martin. Abe (drums, vibraphones) also played with Mr. Denny. Martin Denny was one of Abe’s first gigs when he was 14 or 15. Mr. Denny’s influence has stayed with them. The vinyl is produced for hi-fi systems. It was pressed on 180-gram vinyl, which is much higher weight for a record. Standard records are on 140-gram vinyl. The extra thickness gives it a much richer, fuller dynamic. A lot of collectors are pretty excited about it.