Steel Trappings

On the Playlist

On the Playlist: Barney Isaacs

May 1, 2023 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "ON THE PLAYLIST" features the musicians heard on the program's playlist. This month we feature steel guitarist Barney Isaacs!

Alvin Kalanikau "Barney" Isaacs Jr, was one of Hawai‘i's premier steel guitarists. Barney grew up in a remarkable musical family that included his famous father, composer and band leader Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, Sr., and two brothers, slack key master Leland "Atta" Isaacs and multi-instrumentalist Norman Isaacs.

Barney Isaacs was born on July 18, 1924. He grew up in Honolulu, in a house full of music where the children were encouraged to play. When they got older Barney, Atta and Norman formed a Hawaiian trio. Barney played the steel guitar, Atta played rhythm, and Norman played the bass. Barney learned the steel guitar from his father and he was influenced most by steel guitarists Jules Ah See.

Barney Isaacs

At age 24 Barney joined his father's band "The Royal Hawaiian Serenaders," playing at the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. He played with his father Kaleolani Isaacs, George Kainapau, and Benny Kalama. From the late 1940s Barney was one of Hawai‘i's most multifaceted and active performers, and a traveling ambassador of the steel guitar.

He was a regular steel guitarist for the Hawaii Calls radio show for over 20 years, and enjoyed long collaborations with Alfred Apaka and Danny Kaleikini. He and his own group played at various nightspots throughout Waikīkī and Honolulu including the Royal Hawaiian Hotel; the Florentine Gardens; Lau Yee Chai; the Niumalu Hotel; Don the Beachcomber's; the Moana Hotel; the Tiare Room, the Barefoot Bar; the Kahala Hilton Hotel, and numerous tours to the Mainland and Canada.

Barney served as the music director for Waikiki Records in the 1950s, and even operated his own club, the Palm Tree Inn, turning it into a local musician's hangout.

Barney Isaacs

Barney's recording credits number in the hundreds, including groundbreaking electric steel and slack key duets in the 1950s with Gabby Pahinui and Atta Isaacs. He also recorded the steel guitar duet albums "Steel Guitar Magic" with Billy Hew Len, and "Evening in the Islands" with Eddie Pang. Barney appeared on recordings with his family on "Alvin Kaleolani Issacs and Sons," with Sterling Mossman and the Barefoot Gang, and with the Kahala Surfriders on "E Mau." Barney also is heard on many of the "Hawaii Calls" recordings as well.

In 1995 Barney recorded an album with slack key guitarist George Kuo entitled "Hawaiian Touch." It won a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Best Instrumental Album.

Barney played in various steel guitar tunings including E13, C13 and B11. He is most known for playing multi necked 8-string steel guitars made by Magnatone, Fender, and Canopus.

Barney Isaacs died on February 12, 1996 at age 71. He was one of Hawai‘i's finest steel guitarist. He was amiable and fun loving, and admired and respected by musicians and fans around the world.

Barney was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1999. His student steel guitarist Ed Punua of Kaua‘i carries on his musical legacy of Kika Kila!

Today fans seek out the recordings of Barney Isaacs. He continues to inspire steel guitarist seeking to emulate his soulful Hawaiian style. His music is now available on CD and online to a new generation of fans who can appreciate this innovative and unique Hawaiian musician!

On the Playlist of Hawaiian Steel: Barney Isaacs

Song CD Album / Artist Publisher
Analani E Legends of the Steel Guitar: Past, Present & Future / Various Artists Cord International-Hana Ola Records
E Mau E Mau Take One / Barney Isaacs with the Kahala Surf Serenaders Aloha Records
Moana Chimes Hawaiian Touch / Barney Isaacs and George Kuo Dancing Cat Records
Hawaiian Paradise Steel Guitar Magic: Hawaiian Style / Billy Hew Len and Barney Isaacs, Jr. Mountain Apple
Aloha Nui Ku‘uipo E Mau Take One / Barney Isaacs with the Kahala Surf Serenaders Aloha Records
Pua Lilia Hawaiian Touch / Barney Isaacs and George Kuo Dancing Cat Records

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

Feature

Ed. Note: This is the final installment of "On the Playlist" series. A new series called "Steel Guitar Chronicles" will debut next month and include content that accompanies another one of Geri's radio show features.

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Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Japan-Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival
July 12, 2024 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 2:00 PM - 6:00 PM HST


Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival
July 13, 2024 Ho‘olaule‘a concert – 11:00 AM - 2:30 PM and 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM HST
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