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Gabby Pahinui

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Biography

Charles Philip “Gabby” or “Pops” Pahinui (April 22, 1921 - October 13, 1980) was a slack-key guitarist.

Gabby was raised in the Kaka’ako area of Honolulu in the 1920s. It was impoverished at the time, very much resembling a shanty-town with small cluttered buildings and tin roofs falling apart. He spent his childhood supporting his family by selling newspapers and shining shoes. He dropped out of school after 5th grade at Pokukaina School.

Gabby landed a gig as a back-up guitarist for Charley ‘Tiny’ Brown. He quickly mastered the steel guitar without ever learning to read music. Because most musicians of the time only played in bars, Gabby also formed a drinking habit that stuck with him throughout his life.

Gabby later became known for his mastery of the slack-key guitar. He claims to have learned it from a mystery man named “Herman.” It is not known who Herman was, but Gabby claimed that he was also from the Kaka’ako area and was the greatest slack-key player of all time. After the success of slack-key guitarist Ray Kane, some believed that his father, Herman Kāne, was the Herman to whom Gabby was referring.

Gabby married Emily at age 17 in 1938. They had ten children, four daughters and six sons.

In 1946, Gabby made his first recording, “Hi`ilawe,” for the Bell Records label. This may be the first record of a Hawaiian song with slack-key guitar.

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