The lineup for the 16th annual Southern California Slack Key Festival, which celebrates Hawaiian culture through the musical tradition known as ki ho’alu (or Slack Key), is stacked with some of the island’s finest players.
One of the most accomplished artists on the bill, however, isn’t Hawaiian, but a current Van Nuys resident whose talent has earned him a Grammy Award and led to his being recognized as one of the top names in the genre.
And Jim “Kimo” West didn’t even start with this traditional style of music.
He was in a few rock bands early on before landing a gig playing guitar, banjo, mandolin and keyboards with singer-songwriter, accordionist and parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic.
“With ‘Weird Al’ I play to thousands of people every night and it’s a lighter key, we play festivals but it’s very different and I love both. It’s just so much fun for me,” said West, who will join dozens of other artists at the annual Slack Key Festival, which returns Jan. 15 at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.
The day-long event includes hula dancers, a Hawaiian marketplace, and performances by the likes of George Kuo, Makaha Sons, Sonny Lim, and more.
“The set is always amazing. It’s just beautiful music, a beautiful stage. I think it’s the best Hawaiian show on the mainland,” said West, who has performed at the festival nearly every year since its inception in 2008.
West, who was born in Toronto, Canada and also lived in the South Bay before recently relocating to the San Fernando Valley, is a self-taught guitarist who first met Yankovic when the Southern California native became a music video and radio sensation in the US was the early 80s.
“Al was putting a band together and needed a guitarist,” West recalled. “I didn’t really know much about who he was. It was just a guy with an accordion and I auditioned and got the gig and the rest is history. I’ve been playing with him ever since.”
West joined Yankovic’s band in 1983, just prior to releasing the album “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D, which included the smash hit “Eat It,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
“That’s when things really exploded with music videos and of course we got a lot of airplay on MTV,” he said. “It was a real honor to play with him.”
During a break from a summer tour with Yankovic in 1985, West made his first trip to Maui and discovered slack-key music.
“We went to a little town on Maui called Hana and there were a lot of Hawaiian music records by these famous slack key artists and when I heard the music I just fell in love with it. To me, the music sounded very similar to what the place looked like,” he said.
Since that trip, West began playing ki-ho-alu music between breaks from his full-time performances. He released his first album, Coconut Hat, in 1999 and has since recorded more than a dozen albums, performing at Hawaiian festivals and winning a number of awards.
He received one of his biggest awards in 2021 when he won the Grammy for Best New Age Album for “More Guitar Stories”. His album “Moku Maluhia – Peaceful Island” was also nominated for a Grammy in 2019.
West said he still enjoys being able to do double duty and keep up with Yankovic’s touring schedule while also being able to create his own music, which he’s passionate about.
“Obviously I didn’t sell as many records as ‘Weird Al’, but both careers have been very fulfilling,” he said.
Slack Key Festival in Southern California
When: 11am-5pm January 15 (music starts at 2pm)
Where from: The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach
Tickets: $20-$65 at slackkeyfest.com.
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/01/10/how-weird-al-yankovic-guitarist-jim-west-fell-in-love-with-hawaiian-music/ How ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Guitarist Jim West Fell in Love with Hawaiian Music – Orange County Register