Island Cowboys meet Don Ho

In the spring of ’94, I went to Oahu with a country rock band called The Island Cowboys. Two six foot five Samoan brothers, Pele and Maluhki, were the front-men and the focal point. It was a pretty big deal with quite an entourage. We brought our own dance troupe, light and sound engineers, techs and roadies. We were there for a week and played at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the big stage for two nights. We also went to Waikiki and Honolulu to do some shopping mall appearances to promote our CD and we did a locally popular morning breakfast club radio program. We’d tour the island during the day and go clubbing at night, trying our best to be the quintessential Malihini to the delight of the Kamaaina. All in all, a fine time… until…

One night we were invited to the Don Ho show in downtown Honolulu. Our manager, Kanani, (who was also married to brother Pele) toured with Don Ho as a dancer so she had some serious connections and got us into the (sold out) show. We had pictures taken with the Don-man and he made sure we had a very good table at the back of the room that was on a slight riser so we were elevated above the heads of the crowd and could see and hear everything very well. The food was excellent and the rum drinks flowed copiously. The band was getting a serious buzz on.

(Here would be a good place to warn anybody going to Hawaii, be very careful of the colorful rum-laden drinks they serve there. Tasty as all get out. Insidiously potent. I have pictures of myself in a grass skirt and a coconut bra at a night club we apparently ended up in after the following fiasco.)

So, Kanani tells us that Don has agreed to let us perform on his stage some time during the show so we can’t leave our table. We wait and eat and drink and wait and eat, drink and wait some more. Our drummer, understandably worn out from the tour, gets fed up and splits.

Smart man.

We’re down one member.

The Don Ho show is… well, not my cup of rum, so to speak. Songs I was never fond of to begin with being done by the Perry Como/Wayne Newton of Honolulu. It would have been a real snooze-fest if we weren’t sipping on those flavorful island beverages. Don likes to have guests from the audience join him onstage, people with birthdays, anniversaries, guest musicians from around the world. I apparently was the only one in the room to notice that there was only one aisle open to the stage. People would invariably go to stage left which was a cul-de-sac. Groups of people would get caught in the dead end aisle, laugh nervously and turn around and head the other way, which I was enjoying immensely while sliding into the “uncontrollable laughing” stage of a serious drinking binge.

Don brought our manager to the attention of the audience with an invitation to come up and dance for old times. She waves him off but was further persuaded by a round of applause from the crowd, not to mention the “well on the way to being totally toasted” band members, boisterously encouraging her to take the stage. Then, completely unexpectedly, she get up from the table and bolts from the room. Her husband, Pele, sits and steams for a second, then races out after her. They head out of the club in a screaming argument. Don makes apologies to the audience for Kanani’s sudden apparent case of stage fright and goes back to his show.

We’re down two…

So now, at The Island Cowboy table, it’s the keyboardist, Tom, the bass player, Maluhki (the other Samoan brother) and myself. As best as we are able, we discuss what the heck we’re going to do if Don gives us the call before Pele returns. Pele wrote and sang 90% of the material on the CD and we had already decided which of his songs we were going to perform.  Maluhki had written two songs, so we refresh ourselves on the arrangements of both of them, but before we ca get a workable vocal arrangement agreed upon, Don Ho says,

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, all the way from Seattle, Washington, The Island Cowboys!” Maluhki says, “I’ll go look for Pele!” and shoots out the door.

It’s just the two of us now … so much drunkness.

Rum, in certain dosages, can be a hallucinogenic. I stood up and the room was a combination of a ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. I remembered our table was on a little rise and gingerly stepped down. Tom was not that functional. He steps off and falls right into a jack stand full of used dishes knocking them over in a clatter. I also had the presence of mind to stumble toward the aisle stage right, carefully righting myself at each table and chair-back that I could get my hands on. I make to the stage first, slur, “Hello Mr Ho” which made me laugh again while glancing out into the crowd to see Tom stuck at the DEAD END AISLE! He’s so drunk, he can not figure out how to get to the stage. He sheepishly turns around and lurches toward the  back of the room. I’m trying my best to converse with Don while keeping one eye on the entrance to the club room, hoping to see the brothers walk in, and the other eye on Tom’s progress. When I see him go through the  double doors to the kitchen and hear him yell, “Somebody tell me how to get to the fucking stage!” I loose it completely. All I can do is bray with laughter and nearly double over, pointing weakly toward the back of the room.

I give Don Ho credit. He never batted an eye and was able to keep the crowd engaged while these antics unfolded. He’s obviously seen a lot of Mai-Tai handicapped Haoles (sp?) try to function in public. Two waiters bring the keyboardist out of the kitchen and escort him to the stage. I was so useless with laughter, I could barely breath.

Maluhki miraculously shows up to the stage at about the same time Tom and his escorts do. Tom is laughing and thanking his kitchen entourage for their help. Maluhki whispers to Tom and I that he couldn’t find Pele and Kanani. Tom and I find this news unbearably humorous and fall into each others arms in near hysterics. Maluhki explains to Mr. Ho that his brother will be back soon and if we could wait until he returns… I’m sure Mr. Ho is thinking, “Not in this life”… but he graciously lets us off the hook and back to our table. I remember on the walk back to our table people were cheering and whistling and clapping us on the back. I sincerely don’t know why. Maybe they thought we were an act. The Drunken White Guys.

We get back to our table to find fresh food and drink waiting. Pele and Kanani return and ask “Did Don call us up yet?” Tom, Maluhki and I look at each other and just go off. Maluhki is able to sketch out the tale but for Tom and I, it was another side-splitting, stomach muscle cramping bought of levity.

I would like to tell you all that we came to our senses and stopped imbibing at that point, but it would be a lie. As I said earlier in the story, sometime later that same evening, I ended up on stage in a hula outfit with a Mai-Tai in my hand…but that’s another story.

2 thoughts on “Island Cowboys meet Don Ho

  1. This is hilarious. Also, I hope there are pictures of you in the hula skirt. TELL ME THERE ARE PICTURES.

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