With nine tracks either completed or in production, I was nearing completion of Hybrid. I began to look more closely at the collection of tracks as a whole. Throughout the process of making the album, out of gratitude to all of the people who've been kind enough to either purchase or otherwise show appreciation for Slider- Ambient Excursions for Pedal Steel Guitar, I wanted to make sure that Hybrid reflected some continuity of the feeling of Slider. In other words, I didn't want to let anyone down if I could help it. Of course, I also wanted to feel free to make an album that was a reflection of the contemporary state of my art... I know I achieved that latter goal; I just hope in the process I wont have left too many Slider fans feeling jilted.
Big Island sunbeams - the original Pohaka La inspiration.
At nine tracks completed, I realized there were no tracks that had the kind of open, expansive feeling of the Slider track Clouds. Clouds was inspired by a cloudscape I saw on a morning walk while working on Slider. I searched my memory for similarly inspiring sights I had seen recently and thought about time I had spent on a family vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, in July of 2008. We were staying on a hill not far from the beach near Kahalu'u. The sunsets were amazing. While we were there, there were a number of cloudy days. On some of those cloudy days the sunbeams peaking through the clouds were utterly spectacular. As I began to develop the musical ideas that would turn into Pohaka La, I began wondering what I should call it. I thought to myself that calling it Sunbeams just wasn't evocative enough. I went online and researched the scientific name for sunbeams: Crepuscular Rays was an even worse potential title. Eventually, I thought of looking up the Hawaiian for crepuscular rays. I hope I was correct in interpreting Pōhaka Lā.
In production, musically, the pedal steel parts came to me very quickly. As is always the case when I'm building a track from pedal steel parts outward, after figuring out the chordal structure, I notated it, then played the part using a keyboard pad sound, so that Id have a pitch reference when playing the steel parts. The keyboard parts evolved past the steel part and ended up making a nice counterpoint to the steel. All of this happened pretty quickly.
Just as I had asked my friend Jeffrey Wash to play fretless bass on Clouds, it was quickly clear that his beautiful playing would be a lovely addition to what I had begun. As soon as I was done with the steel parts, I uploaded the session for him. In short order, he returned the stunning track that made it to the final with no revision requests from me!
However, even before Jeffrey had received the track, and having a pretty good sense of what he'd bring to it, I felt the track was missing something. I couldn't put my finger on it. As I worked on it, listening to it over and over, eventually I started to get an inkling of an idea. There needed to be some sort of nylon string voice. My first thought was, hmmm, do I have a sample or synth voice that would work? I immediately shot that idea down, thinking there'd be no way that I could ever craft a keyboard part that would come close to the organic feel of the steel and fretless bass parts. Then I began thinking, hmmm, maybe a classical guitar. Nope, too big of a sonic footprint. I wanted something more exotic and delicate. Suddenly I remembered watching the youtube video of Jake Shimabukuro playing ukulele on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, in Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York. Even though I know local uke players, I just knew in my bones that Jake was the right player for the track. Problem was, I didn't know him. Would it be possible to get him to play on the track?
Thus began a lengthy conversation with Jake's management, Toastman, Inc. Jake is one of the busiest musicians I know of right now. During the time I was trying to arrange having him play on this track, he was touring Japan, going back home to Hawaii, touring Europe, then going back to Japan to launch a new line of Takamine ukuleles. A few days after our eventual session, Jake was off again, this time to London, to play for the Queen of England! Ultimately though, Jake found time to play on Pohaka La. Working with him was a lovely experience. Ive never met a more charming, gracious, hard-working musician than him. Whenever I'd tell him that he'd interpreted a section to my satisfaction, he'd almost always want to do just one more take, to see if he could get it even better. Also, it bears mentioning that the engineer who has been working with Jake for the last few years, Milan Bertosa, was as charming and as much a pleasure to work with as Jake was. Milan was gracious enough to help arrange the technical aspects of the session in the days leading up to it, so that I could very comfortably relinquish the engineering to him and concentrate on working with Jake on the music. The sound Milan gets speaks for itself. These two people together make an amazing team. I'll never forget my afternoon with them.
For me, this track is a bit magical. Jeffrey's and Jake's playing really captured the spirit I felt when I came up with the concept and pedal steel parts. By the time Jake was available to record his part, there was only one overdub left to go on the whole album, the string quartet for Okanagan Jubilee. At this time, I was already thinking about album art concepts. One of the ideas I had was that I'd like to have artistic photos accompanying track notes for any song that lent itself to such treatment. I scoured the internet for pictures of sunbeams and came up with the one that's in the album artwork and at the top of this page. Randy's Shine was photographed by Norman Kraatz. In Norman's words: "This is the sunset I saw on the day that a family friend was being buried. I could not attend the funeral and really felt Randy's presence at that moment. I was on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico up on the heliport when the clouds formed out of nowhere to create this most beautiful setting sun. I felt like Randy was telling me all is good where he was at." This photo is available at: www.cheryl-hardy.fineartamerica.com/featured/randys-shine-norman-kraatz.html.