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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom: Grief, reconciliation bring joyous music

Who is your favorite for Hawaiian Grammy?
The first Grammy for Hawaiian music will be given out on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles. Take our online poll and vote for your favorite to win.

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

"Amy & Willie Live" documents a buoyant time in Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom's and Willie K's long musical relationship. But the Grammy-nominated record was born of a more emotional one.

A collection of recordings by Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom has been nominated for the first Best Hawaiian music album.

Andrew Meader • Tim Bostock Productions photo

By late 2002 three years had passed since Gilliom and Willie ended their musical and personal partnership.

And Gilliom's grandmother and musical mentor, Jennie Napua Hanaiali'i Woodd, was gravely ill.

"It was a very hard time in my life because it was my grandmother and we were very close," said Gilliom. "She had Alzheimer's (disease) and would regress back to childhood.

"All she would do is speak fluent Hawaiian. And all she wanted was to hear my Hawaiian music."

Though in great pain in her final days, Woodd found peace in her granddaughter's music.

When Woodd passed away in January 2003, Gilliom reflected on that peace and memories of an old friend.

"It brought up all of these old feelings, even though Willie and I had both gone off on our own and were working on different projects," said Gilliom.

  • 7 p.m.-10:30 p.m. (tape delayed)
  • Sunday
  • KGMB


"Some Call It Aloha...Don't Tell"
The Brothers Cazimero


"Amy & Willie Live"
Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom & Willie K.


"Cool Elevation"


Keali'i Reichel


"Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2"
Charles Michael Brotman, producer

"I called him and said that I would be very honored if he would tour with me on behalf of my grandmother."

Willie said yes.

The duo embarked on a two-week West Coast tour, drawing more than 45,000 fans. And a collection of live recordings from that tour is one of five CDs nominated for the first Best Hawaiian music album Grammy.

"Amy & Willie Live" is filled with the kind of goose bump moments that made the duo's musical pairing one for the ages.

Gilliom shows off her stunning vocal range on a robust "Hale'iwa Hula" and bluesy "Autumn Leaves."

Willie charms the very vocal masses with "Katchi Katchi Music Makawao," "You Ku'uipo" and devastating guitar-and-vocal work on "Waterfall."

Some of "the kolohe stuff" — Gilliom's tongue-in-cheek description of the duo's teasing, crowd-pleasing on-stage repartee — is also included.

Gilliom recalled the tour as "a blast."

"We traveled on this huge rock star/country-western tour bus. It was like a five-star hotel on wheels ... showers, a Jacuzzi, beds ... rice cooker, skillets, the whole nine yards," said Gilliom.

"We had a private driver who had rock star stories for days ... wild stories," said Gilliom. "What you hear on the CD is really the fun that we were having on tour.

"We toured so hard. And we were playing markets that had never heard Hawaiian music."

Every show on the tour was sound- and video-recorded. Post-tour, Gilliom and Willie got together and selected the best moments for the CD.

Gilliom was on Moloka'i when the Grammy nominations were announced in December.

"I was hiking and writing music, and my cell phone didn't catch where I was," remembered Gilliom, laughing. "So I didn't really find out until later that evening."

Among her voice messages was one from Willie "saying that he was very proud." (Willie was traveling in Israel and could not be reached for this story.)

"We're very honored to be nominated," said Gilliom.

"We play very traditional roots Hawaiian music. So what I feel (most) honored about with the Grammys is that I'm coming from my own culture. It's not like I'm in a pop or heavy metal category.

"The Grammy nominations are a voice for our Hawaiian people and especially Hawaiian music. I just hope that I can live up to the greats of Hawaiian music that paved the way for us like Aunty Genoa (Keawe) and Uncle Gabby (Pahinui)."

Gilliom and Willie will both attend the Grammys.

They'll be sitting together, too.

"Everything's good," said Gilliom, of their ongoing friendship.

"He and I are our own individual artists. We do things together, and then it's, like, 'OK, gotta go do my thing for a little while' and then we come back together.

"But as far as the commitment and what we've gotta do, we know exactly where that is."

Reach Derek Paiva at 525-8005 or dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

"Amy & Willie Live"
by Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K
(Blind Man Sound Records)

Ages: Gilliom, 36; Willie, 44

Career Na Hoku Hanohano Award wins: Gilliom, 8; Willie, 8

Attending Grammys? Yes, both.

Wearing: (Gilliom) "I'll probably go pick something up at Roberto Cavalli in L.A."

Lei: (Gilliom) "I don't have to sing so it'll probably be something fragrant, which I don't really wear when I'm singing."

Display if won: (Gilliom) "I have my Hoku lined up, so probably behind my Hoku. The Grammy is just as important as the Hoku (but) my obligation, first and foremost, is Hawaiian music."

Next up: (Gilliom) An all-Hawaiian language CD in May. A crossover album of original work — reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones, with blues and bluegrass — out this summer.