Monday, May 5, 2014

Tiki Talk Tomorrow!

It's strange to post about myself in the third person, but here's the blurb that's being used...

Chris Jepsen will speak about the history of the "Polynesian Pop" phenomenon of the 1950s and '60s as it applied to Orange County, California at the Garden Grove Historical Society, 12174 Euclid Ave., Garden Grove, (tomorrow!) Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 7:00 p.m . Island attire is encouraged but not mandatory. The event is open to everyone -- not just Society members.

From architecture, décor and music, to literature, theme parks and backyard luaus, the South Seas was a wildly popular theme throughout Mid-Century America. This was especially true in sunny Orange County, where primitive carved figures, grass huts, 'Aloha shirts,' and lush jungle landscaping seemed right at home.

Chris Jepsen is a local historian, Assistant Archivist at the Orange County Archives, and president of the Orange County Historical Society. He also writes the "Ask the O.C. Answer Man" column for Orange Coast Magazine and operates two blogs: The O.C. History Roundup and Tiki Lagoon.

(Note: The photo above was shot in Dana Point, overlooking San Juan Capistrano and Old SaddlebackThe tiki is bit of original 1960s backyard décor that has been in the same family for many decades now.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013


I stumbled across Ixtahuele's EP, ""The Exotic Sounds Of Ìxtahuele" in 2012, and was pleasantly shocked to discover a modern group that truly captured the classic sound of exotica.

Many other modern takes on musical exotica diverge from the sound (if not he spirit) of their inspiration. Often the instrumentation is off (e.g. synthesizers), the songs are indistinguishable from one another (i.e. the "New Age" effect), or it's merged with some other form of music like surf rock. Some of this updated exotica is excellent in its own right, but it often does not transport you to the heyday of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman.
Ìxtahuele, however, is exactly on target. They write their own material and perform it, expertly, on good old fashioned musical instruments. The group includes vibraphonists/percussionists Wictor Lind and Mattias Uneback, percussionist Johan Hjalmarsson, pianist Carl Turesson Bernehed, and bassist Henrik Nilsson.

The group hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, which is not the locale that comes to mind while listening to their music. But what better enviornment to dream up tropical landscapes than in a place that commonly drops to 23 degrees in the winter? Escapism has long been a key factor in Polynesian Pop. Anyway, if Thor Heyerdahl, Sven Kirsten and Christopher Lars Jepsen are any indicator -- Northern European types have a natural affinity for all that relates to tiki.
In May 2013, Ìxtahuele released their first full album, "Pagan Rites." If anything, it's even better than their EP. It's been in "heavy rotation" on my MP3 player for several months now. Like the best of Martin Denny's work, it doesn't grow stale with repeated listening. If you didn't know better, you'd swear "Pagan Rites" was a lost, Mid-Century classic of the genre.

Tracks include Black Sand, Rarohengan Dance, Brugmansia, Stone Gods of Bimini, Orust Luau, Lotus Eaters, Searching For Souq, Huahine, Dengue Fever, and Gardens of Mu. A few of these also appeared on the EP, but get somewhat different arrangements for the album.

A quick search of the Interwebs will turn up several ways to purchase the album. I bought the actual CD, and I'm glad I did. The recording quality is good, and I can only assume that it would loose something in MP3 format.

Ìxtahuele's appearance at this year's Hukilau in Florida was well received. If there's any justice in the world, these gifted fellows should soon be wildly popular in the tiki/exotica revival scene.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don the Beachcomber Goes to War

I discovered an interesting new bit of Don the Beachcomber lore, and wasn't sure where to share it. It could have ended up on either this blog or my Orange County History Roundup blog. The other blog won out this time, but tiki fans will want to read the story too. Here's a link: "Keeping Costa Mesa Safe For Democracy, One Mai Tai at a Time."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Trans-Pacific Musical Mish-MASH

Hawaiian shirts in Uijeongbu, Korea, as seen in the first episode of M*A*S*H.
I just started reading Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music, edited by Philip Hayward, and while the writing style is often as dry as packing peanuts, it includes a lot of excellent food for thought regarding all the kinds of music we associate with tiki: Exotica, hapa haole, faux-Asian, etc. All of these styles of music blend familiar sounds with sounds of far-off lands. Martin Denny's music, for instance, mixes popular music styles of the 1950s with bird calls, Asian instrumentation, and percussion that hinted at mysterious jungles.

About the same time I started the book, I happened to catch a M*A*S*H marathon (both the movie and the TV show), it dawned on me that the music played over the 4077th's P.A. system would fit perfectly into the "tiki mix." Most of these songs were sung in Japanese (i.e. the "exotic" element), but many were popular songs from the U.S. A few were recent hits of the early 1950s, like "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo." But most were well-worn tunes by the start of the Korean War: "My Blue Heaven," "Happy Days Are Here Again," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo,"  "The Darktown Strutters' Ball," etc. The camp's familiar pole-mounted speaker also played "G.I. Songs" from occupied Japan, like "Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy," by Teruko Akatsuki.
"Attention all personnel. Due to circumstances beyond our control, lunch will be served today."
The idea in M*A*S*H seemed to be either that 1) G.I.s were bringing these records back to camp after being on leave in Tokyo, or 2) Radios in Korea could pick up stations from Japan.

Sadly, I can't seem to find these recordings anywhere. I suspect they may exist only in the Fox Studios, or perhaps in thift shop LP bins somewhere in Japan. The closest I've come across is Tokie Tamaki’s version of "Sayonara (Japanese Farewell Song)" on Amazon. (As I continued reading Widening The Horizon, I found that contributor Shuhei Hosokawa even mentions this song's appearance in the series, albeit peformed by another artist.)

If anyone knows where I can get copies of these background tracks, I'd certainly appreciate it. It may be unorthodox, but a few of these songs sprinkled into a mix of more traditional choices could really liven up the luau. In the cultural hodgepodge of Polynesian Pop, what blends in better than American songs, sung in Japanese, from a TV show set in Korea, which was really an extended metaphor for Vietnam?
Hawkeye, wearing a lei, auctions off a trip to Tokyo with Lt. Dish.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Kahiki Remembered

Columbus Ohio's late, lamented Kahiki Supper Club is the subject of the latest entry on Jan Whitaker's brilliant blog, Restaurant-ing Through History. Click on over and check it out!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Other Trader Sam

Postcard image of Trader Sam's Seafood in Garden Grove, circa 1966.
You’ve heard of Trader Sam’s, the snazzy modern tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel. And you’ve probably heard of Sam’s Seafood, the landmark tiki palace in Sunset Beach, which recently became Don the Beachcomber's. But what’s "Trader Sam’s Seafood?" Could it be a mash-up of the two locations?

Actually, Trader Sam’s Seafood was a third and separate establishment located at 8641 Garden Grove Boulevard (now a vacant lot), in Garden Grove, California.

Sam E. Frudakis was born in 1918, in Bennywood, West Virginia, and served in the Army during WWII, in the 148 Field Artillery, Division 41. In 1953, he moved to Long Beach, California, where he ran the Checkerboard Cafe on the Pike and the Olympia Cafe on Ocean/Long Beach Boulevard.

Around 1960, Sam had a stroke of great luck that would change his life forever. Sam bought a more-than-100-year-old piggy bank at a Long Beach second-hand store for $6.12. Inside, he found a handful of Hawaiian coins which proved to be rather valuable. The haul included railroad and plantation tokens, commemorative coins, and an 1856 penny which he sold for $1,200. He later discovered the penny was worth $2,100, but his piggy bank find still brought him a roughly $4,000 in total profit -- Enough to launch a successful career as a coin and stamp dealer.
This token, struck for the Haiku Plantation in Hawaii, represented about one day's wages for a plantation worker.

Sam opened a coin shop at 30 Long Beach Blvd., in Long Beach. Caught up in the Polynesian-Pop craze of the era – and perhaps inspired by those special Hawaiian coins – he called his store “Trader Sam’s Coin Shop.”

In 1961, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sam had chased an armed man, who had robbed a neighboring store, over three blocks before catching him and turning him over to the police. He wasn’t just a success, he was a hero!

Trader Sam’s Coin Shop eventually moved onto Ocean Boulevard, around the corner from the Olympia Cafe.

Soon, Trader Sam and fellow numismatist Ray Lundgren launched the annual Long Beach Stamp & Coin Exposition, which was the largest event of its kind in the world. It was first held at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in 1964, and is still held today at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Flush with success, Sam opened a restaurant in Garden Grove called “Trader Sam’s Seafood.” He remodeled the place in 1966, adding exotic-styled décor and even a waterfall. But it doesn’t seem that the place survived very long.

In 1975, Sam was convicted of transporting stolen stamps across state lines. He was part of a group indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy charges relating to $1.2 million worth of stamps stolen from another dealer in 1971. He was fined $10,000, put in jail for 10 days, given 800 hours of community service, and placed on four years probation.
You can't order a rum-based drink at this Trader Sam's.

When his four years were up, Sam moved to San Francisco, where he opened another Trader Sam's Coin Shop at 498 Valencia St., in the heart of the Mission District. There he rebuilt a solid reputation as a coin dealer and spent the rest of his working life. He died in San Francisco on the last day of 2009. The obituary gave Sam E. Frudakis's full name, but said he was "better known as Trader Sam."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Two articles worth reading

Tiki Tabu Apartments, 3505 Artesia Blvd., Torrance, 1965.
Go read architect/author/histiran/architectural-guru Alan Hess' fine article, "Long Live Tiki, the Whimsical Soul of Midcentury Modern," on the Getty Museum's Iris online magazine. (Click here for link.) Alan writes, "...Tiki had something in common with Southern California Modernist luminaries: where Ray and Charles Eames showed us whimsy, color, and history, Tiki also showed us whimsy, color and history." He concludes, "Tiki satisfies a need that German architecture pioneer Walter Gropius could not have imagined." If those two lines don't get you to read the rest of the article, then you're on the wrong blog.

Speaking of good articles, also check out Jonpaul Balak's article about essential Exotica LP's in the new Spring 2013 issue of Tiki Magazine. I wish I'd had that article when I started collecting! (And no, Jonpaul's article is not online -- You'll have to actually buy a copy on dead tree. Remember paper?)