Eric Lee
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Kamehameha Schools and UH Manoa graduate Eric Lee has come a long way since winning the Ka Himeni Ana competition in 1993. Shortly after his win he recorded his first published Hawaiian composition Na Nalu Ha’i O Ma’ili on the album The Kanile’a Collection. In 1998, Lee and Brian Mersberg formed Na Kama, and over the next 10 years released four albums: Ke Ala Hou, Come and See ... Hawai’i and Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning albums Kamakolu and E Ola Ke Ali’i: The Na Kama Christmas Collection - Volume 1.

Lee was also a member of The Ka’ala Boys, releasing three studio CDs, a Christmas single and a greatest hits album.

In 2007, Lee released his first solo single, Camp Le’ahi, a song he composed for the summer program he worked at as music teacher. And in 2009, he celebrated the release of his debut full-length solo album Crossroads.

Just last month, Lee released another solo single Hallelujah/Thunder Road - Hallelujah in response to requests from fans who heard him perform the song in his shows. The classic song, composed by Leonard Cohen, features Lee on lead vocals and acoustic guitar and Peter Milo on background vocals. Thunder Road, which was composed by Lee, is an up-tempo rock instrumental with a country feel.

“I dedicate this album to the fans,” says Lee, “as a thank you for coming to my performances and supporting me.”

In response to the tsunami crisis in Japan, Lee will donate funds from his Hallelujah/Thunder Road CD sales to the Japan disaster relief efforts.

“I wanted to take this CD a step further and use it as a way to give back to Japan because I have built a great relationship with them for many years, since 1994,” he adds.

“The people in Japan have always been so nice to me, and I’ve had wonderful experiences there. I want to show my aloha back to them.” - Midweek Magazine


The tremendous changes in marketing and distribution of recorded music are seen in the release of Lee's solo album. The founding member of Na Kama could have released it as a conventional "hard copy" album on the Hoku Award-winning trio's in-house record label. Instead, he's going online only - May 1 is the date it goes on sale on iTunes and Amazon.com.

Lee explains in press materials that he wanted to represent his career experiences playing "a little of this, a little of that" and include some of his original compositions as well. He opens with "Ku'i Ka Lono," a song commemorating King Kalakaua's 50th-birthday jubilee in 1886, and continues with an assortment of Hawaiian, hapa-haole and pop tunes presented in clean contemporary Hawaiian arrangements.

Lee uses studio technology to present several songs as they would be done by a group - he plays several instruments, and harmonizes with himself on multiple vocal tracks. Fans of Na Kama can count on liking Lee as a solo artist.

"E Ho 'Ho'olalelale" is a beautiful example of his feel for traditional Hawaiian music. "I'll Never Find Another You," originally a hit for the Seekers in 1965, is a wistful yet romantic sample of his talent as a pop artist.

"Sunrise," a meticulously crafted guitar instrumental, spotlights yet another portion of his repertoire.

www.ericleehawaii.com - Honolulu Star Bulletin


Eric Lee has had a productive career as a member of Na Kama with Brian Mersbergh and Danny Naipo, and also as a solo artist. His work with Na Kama includes two Hoku Award-winning albums — “Kamakolu” won in the adjudicated Best Hawaiian Performance category in 2007, and “E Ola Ke Ali’i:The Na Kama Christmas Collection, Volume 1? won Best Christmas Album in 2009.

He’s gone solo in recent years primarily to record and release work that doesn’t fit the trio’s traditionalist Hawaiian repertoire. Some of his solo recordings have been available primarily as downloads, but his latest project is also available in this professionally packaged hard-copy two-song CD.

“Hallelujah” is Lee’s remake of Leonard Cohen’s enigmatic 1984 classic. The song has been remade countless times since then — versions by John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Allison Crowe and k.d. lang being among the best known. Connoisseurs will note that Lee includes the oblique biblical references to David and Bathsheba and Samson and Delilah that are sometimes ommitted. Lee’s decision to include them gives his version a solid Judeo-Christian basis.

Lee writes in his liner notes that the CD is “dedicated to the fans and friends” who have supported his music over the years, so presumably this is a song that his supporters enjoy hearing him do. Lee presents it as a piece for voice and acoustic guitar with a second artist, Peter Milo, harmonizing. Lee doesn’t attempt Cohen’s world-weary delivery, but succeeds in creating a sense of fatalism leavened with hope.

“Thunder Road” is an original instrumental with no similarities to Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same name or Robert Mitchum’s 1958 Hot 100 hit, “The Ballad of Thunder Road,” from the iconic film. With Dean Taba slamming on bass, Noel Okimoto on drums and Lee doubling on guitars and keyboards, there’s nary a trace of country in the song, but it shows that hard rock is also part of Lee’s overall repertoire.

www.ericleehawaii.com - Honolulu Star Advertiser


Hoku Award-winner Eric Lee continues his current odyssey as a solo artist with “Kawehilani,” his second full-length album. Lee’s most recent prior project, a CD-single recording of the Leonard Cohen anthem, “Hallelujah,” presented him as a mainstream pop artist. “Kawehilani” brings him back to his Hawaiian roots; most of the songs are Hawaiian standards, and most of the others are played in the traditional nahenahe (sweet, melodious) style.

Although the most of the songs sound like the work of a trio, modern studio technology allows Lee to multi-track his voice and accompany himself on both 6- and 12-string guitar; Rodney Bejer, a friend from their days as members of the Ka‘ala Boys, completes the studio “trio” playing bass and providing some additional backing vocals. Lee and Bejer kick things off with a zesty uptempo arrangement of “Ka Lama ‘Ae One” and continue with crisp renditions of “Ho‘oheno Keia No Beauty” and “Wahine U‘i.”

Lee and Bejer slow the pace elsewhere. The slower tempo of “No Na Mamo,” written by Carlos Andrade to commemorate the 1992 voyage of the Hokule‘a, gives Lee a welcome opportunity to show that he can do much more than strum chords.

Louis “Moon” Kauakahi adds another voice to “Po Hemolele,” a romantic original Lee wrote for his wife. Casey Olsen gives the romantic sound of steel guitarist to Lee’s remake of Loyal Garner’s ever-popular “Ha‘a Hula.”

The popularity of Hawaiian music in Japan is seen in Lee’s liner notes booklets. One contains the Hawaiian lyrics, English translations and cultural information in English — including the significance of the album’s title. The other provides much of that same information in Japanese. - Honolulu Star Advertiser


Led by his daughter’s memory, Eric Lee found direction in the skies to produce his newest CD

In writing about life’s most difficult challenges, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Hawaiian musician Eric Lee would agree with the great American philosopher and essayist. After watching helplessly last fall as his 2-month-old infant daughter – born with brain disorders epilepsy and encephalopathy – struggled to survive on a breathing machine, Lee could bear the sight no longer.

So he did what most parents dread doing – say a final goodbye to their offspring – and allowed the energy from his tiny hoku to slip away and find station, and solace, in the celestial canopy above.

“The doctors weren’t giving my daughter a long life expectancy prognosis, and it took my wife and I awhile to come to terms with the situation,” Lee recalls. “In the end, we decided it best to let her go in peace.”

He continues: “When she passed, my wife and I would always go out to the beach, watch the sunset and look for the first star of the evening. We would imagine that it was her looking down on us, a time when she could see us and we could see her before the rest of the stars started showing up and it got real dark.

“It was the one moment when we could all be reconnected and together again.”

In looking skyward, Lee serendipitously found the inspiration needed for his next solo CD project: a return-to-roots album born out of initial despair but suddenly filled with heaven-sent goodness of seven traditional mele and four originals, including the CD’s heartwarming and therapeutic final track, Little Star.

“It was as if I was being led by a guided hand,” he says of the force that pushed him to layer his newest album with Hawaiian music rather than other genres he’s adept at, including blues and rock.

The result is Kawehilani, named after his daughter and released just weeks ago.

“The album is a celebration of my music in tribute to my daughter’s life,” says Lee, a former member of local groups The Kanilea Connection, The Kaala Boys and Na Kama, winning two Na Hoku Hanohano awards with the latter. “I knew that if she were still alive, she would one day ask me, ‘Dad, what is it that you’ve done with your music?’ And I probably would have ended up playing her something in Hawaiian.

“So that was kind of the clear road for me and what I needed to do for this project.”

Musical Notes tracked Lee down before he boarded a flight to Fukuoka, Japan, and got the veteran musician to discuss his solo career, which, much like a star, is on the rise these days.

MN: You’re taking a somewhat unusual approach to your CD release party for Kawehilani by moving the event back to November. Why the long delay?

EL: Because I’m doing a lot of traveling between now and then. I’ve got several tours planned to Japan, one to Sacramento for a hula competition, and maybe even a trip to Las Vegas. So once the traveling is out of my system, I’ll settle down and do the CD release party. But also, I’ve got a tour event planned for later this year and it just made sense to hold it at the same time. The Kanikapila Tour is something I hope becomes an annual event and involves an ukulele teacher and his students from Fukuoka, and several hula students as well. I plan on bringing them over and giving them an opportunity to play on stage with me. It gives them some exposure and they can craft their performing skills and just have fun – kanikapila style.

MN: What led you to cover traditional Hawaiian classics such as Ka Lama Ae One, Green Rose Hula and Hooheno Keia No Beauty (Beauty Hula) on this album?

EL: I’ve been doing classic Hawaiian songs throughout my career, and I’ve always wanted to record those songs. Kawehilani became the perfect opportunity to present these songs in a recording and pay tribute to great composers and the hula market. Ka Lama Ae One, for example, is a longtime favorite of mine that I’ve tried to record before, but I could never quite find the right arrangement. Part of the reason is that I didn’t want my version to sound like the Makaha Sons’ or Sunday Manoa’s recordings. But in the end, I got a real country-style version out of the song and really liked it. It was tricky to record, but a lot of fun!

MN: Speaking of fun, are you enjoying life as a solo artist?

EL: Oh, yeah! For one thing, I’m traveling more, and that’s something I really enjoy. But also, I’m able to express all sides of my music as a solo artist, something I wasn’t able to do a lot of when I was in a band. Playing live, I can go from Hawaiian music one moment, to entertaining audiences with Van Morrison and Bon Jovi the next. That keeps everything fresh for me, and that opens the market up to me for more gigs.

MN: You were 9 when you picked up your first instrument, a $15 ukulele purchased from Woolworth’s in Waianae. Was that when you first knew you wanted to be a professional musician – a star, if you will?

EL: Actually, I was a little younger when I first realized I wanted to play music. I remember being at a party in Waianae when I was maybe 6 or 7 and there was a family band playing He Aloha Mele while a family friend danced the hula. I looked around and observed the audience and everyone was really into what was going on, and in my mind everything just clicked. There was some kind of connection going on between the music, the hula and the people, and I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a part of that magic. - Midweek Magazine


Discography

Eric Lee
2012 – Kawehilani
2011 – Hallelujah/Thunder Road
2009 – Crossroads
2008 – Camp Le‘ahi

Na Kama
2008 – E Ola Ke Ali‘i: The Na Kama Christmas Collection - Volume I
2006 – Kamakolu
2004 – Our ‘Ohana’s 2nd Christmas (Compilation Album) - “Mary’s Little Boy Child”
2003 – Come and See...Hawai‘i
2003 – Our ‘Ohana’s 1st Christmas (Compilation Album) - “Christmas in the Islands”
1998 – Ke Ala Hou

Ka‘ala Boys
2006 – The Best of Ka‘ala Boys
2004 – Surf Edition for Japan
2002 – No Doubt About It
2000 – Irie Island Christmas (Compilation Album) - “Reggae Christmas”
2000 – Now
1999 – Solid

The Kanile‘a Collection
1994 – Nahenahe

Guest Appearances
2010 – An ‘Ukulele Christmas (Compilation Album) - “Mele Kalikimaka/Jingle Bells” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus/Jingle Bell Rock”
2010 – Troy Fernandez - Hawaiian Style ‘Ukulele 2 - “Love and Honesty/In this Life”
2010 – Hailama Farden –Hawaiian Cowboy - Hailama Farden's Tribute to Uncle Sol K. Bright
2006 – Kawika Regidor – Growing Up
2006 – Bruce Shimabukuro – Incognito - “Walk Me To The Stars”
2004 – Malia Ka‘ai – Leo Nahenahe - “Puamana” and “‘Ohu ‘Ohu Kahakuloa”
2004 – Sheraton Resort of Hawai‘i (Compilation Album) - “Sailing” and “Pretty Girl”
2004 – Duets - Island Style (Compilation Album) - “Your Precious Love”, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”
2003 – Kawika Regidor - Paradise - “For Your Love”, “My Only Lover,” and “Aloha No Kawika”
2002 – Hawaiian Style 2 – Compilation Album - “Perfect Day” and “I’m a Woman”
2002 – Kawika Regidor – The First Time - “The First Time”
2002 – Norm – I Belong 2 U - “Groove Wit’cha”
1999 – Kanilau – Ke Ao Wena - “Beautiful Kahana”

Photos

Bio

Celebrating his twentieth year as a performer, Eric Lee is a two-time Na Hoku Hanohano award-winner widely known throughout the Hawaiian music industry for his intricate guitar playing, soulful vocals, and creative arrangements. Over the years, he has released seventeen albums, appeared on more than thirty recordings, and has shared the stage with some great names in Hawaiian music, including Hapa, Ho'okena, and the Makaha Sons. His music embraces the diverse influences rock, country, pop, jazz, and blues music have had on him over the years, while at the same time remaining true to his Traditional Hawaiian roots. Eric tours regularly in Hawai'i, Japan, and the Mainland United States.

After winning the 1993 Ka Himeni ‘Ana competition, Eric recorded his first album Nahenahe with The Kanile‘a Collection, and went on to form the group Na Kama with bandmate Brian Mersberg. Together, Na Kama released four albums including the Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning albums Kamakolu (2007), and E Ola Ke Ali‘i: The Na Kama Christmas Collection – Volume 1 (2008). As a member of the popular island music group, The Ka‘ala Boys, Eric released three studio albums, a Christmas single, and a greatest hits collection.

Eric’s 2009 release Crossroads marked his debut as a solo artist. With its blend of traditional Hawaiian and contemporary music, Crossroads provided Eric with the opportunity to showcase his musical versatility and the influence rock, country, blues, folk and jazz music have had on him over the years. Crossroads received the 2010 Hawai‘i Music Award for Contemporary Hawaiian CD and Eric toured extensively, playing concerts and festivals in California, Nevada, Hawai‘i, and Japan.

In 2011, Eric released Hallelujah/Thunder Road as a thank you to the fans and radio stations supporting his career. “Hallelujah”, the classic song written and composed by Leonard Cohen, and Eric’s own edgy rock instrumental “Thunder Road” became instant favorites at Eric’s live shows.

Eric’s latest studio release Kawehilani is a venture into the classic Hawaiian mele he is known for. Featuring seven arrangements of classic Hawaiian songs, as well as four original compositions, Kawehilani embraces an intimate and very traditional approach, featuring Hawaiian percussion (ipu and pahu drums) and steel guitar in addition to Eric’s intricate guitar work and soulful vocals. “Kawehilani is a personal choice to return to my Hawaiian roots because it bookmarks a very important part of my life - the life of my daughter, whom this album is named after and dedicated to. When I thought about how I would celebrate her life with this album, I chose to do it this way: if she were physically here and asked me what it is that I do, I would’ve played and sang for her a Hawaiian tune.”

As a full-time artist, Eric performs and tours frequently, sharing the stage with many artists and traveling throughout Hawai‘i, the Mainland U.S., the Pacific Islands and Asia, especially Japan. He composes and produces music for his own recordings as well as those of others, enjoying the opportunity to support them as well as working on projects for commercial vendors.

More information on Eric Lee, including his complete discography, calendar of upcoming performances, and song samples can be found on his website, www.ericleehawaii.com, the Eric Lee Music page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/ericleehawaiimusic, and his Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Lee_(musician).