PBS Hawai‘i

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Benny Rietveld

 

Benny Rietveld’s first experience playing music was at the age of six, in the piano department at Gem’s in Kapalama. “I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this…cool sound,” Rietveld remembers. He was mentored by band director Henry Miyamura at McKinley High School, and played in local jazz and rock bands before moving to San Francisco and touring with Sheila E. and Miles Davis. Today, Benny Rietveld plays bass for Carlos Santana, and still sits in with the Hawai‘i musicians he grew up with.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Benny Rietveld Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Do you think music is more than just fun?

 

Totally; yeah. Music is powerful, music is magic. It allows us to do so many things invisibly. You can put it in the background, you can have it in the foreground, you can stop, start. You know, it’s always there, and it helps you celebrate things, it helps you mourn. It drives people to battle, you get married and you can create babies with it. It transports you, it reminds you of things in your life, just hearing something. Like, oh, my god, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

It’s an incredibly powerful force, and it can actually change people’s lives, you know. And that’s why I think musicians have a really big responsibility to just keep on point, keep being mindful, keep getting better, showing up. Because it’s a really powerful thing.

 

Benny Rietveld, who still calls Hawai‘i home, is the bassist and music director for Santana, a band he first heard when he was a young boy growing up in Honolulu. He’s been recording and touring with Santana since the 1990s, and he’s also known locally as a member of Topaz, a jazz fusion band that he and his high school friends had in the 1970s. Benny Rietveld, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Benny Rietveld has recorded three albums with the iconic Latin rock band Santana, including Supernatural which became a worldwide sensation when it was released in 1999. Rietveld was born in Holland to parents of Dutch, French, and Indonesian ancestry. They moved their family to Hawai‘i when Benny was three. He grew up in Honolulu, where he started showing musical talent at a young age.

 

I took piano lessons when I was six.

 

Why did you take piano when you were six? Now, that’s early. How did that happen?

 

Remember Gem Store on—well, I don’t know …

 

Kapalama?

 

Yeah; in Kapalama. Yeah. Well, we used to live in Kalihi, and so we’d go through there, and it was always the piano section, and I was always plinking on the piano, you know. And my mom thought, Oh, he’s musical. You know how kids, you know, they hit a hammer, and it’s like, Oh, he’s gonna be a carpenter when he grows up.

 

But were you plunking better than most kids, do you think?

 

I don’t think so. I just liked it. I liked the idea that you could press something, and it creates this cool sound. I think. That’s how I remember it. And then, so we got like a little piano, upright piano, and she gave me lessons at Palama Settlement. And I think the first teacher was named Mrs. Leong. I think. But I didn’t really like ‘em. And I was like, Oh, really? You know, really like boring music, and River keep on rolling. You know. I just didn’t get it. And then, when was ten, we still had the piano in the, you know, attracting dust. And then, the song Hey Jude came out from the Beatles, and it had that cool piano intro. I was like, wow, that’s cool. I was like, wow. And then, oh, it’s sort of like that instrument that’s in our living room. So, I was like, huh. And it was really easy for me, and it was really fun. So, I thought, well, this is great, I’m gonna keep doing this. You know.

 

Then you learned other songs.

 

And then, I learned the entire Beatles catalog, practically.

 

By yourself, or with a teacher?

 

No, no; by myself. Yeah. You know, then I was hooked. And it was like, this is fun, I don’t want to do anything else. And I was just on my way. And then, I met my cousin, the guitar player in Topaz, or calabash cousin, actually, Fred Schreuders. And he was slightly older than me, but he was already playing music. He was, you know, playing guitar, and his dad also played music. So, I was like, wow, cool. And we met, and we jammed, you know, tried to play songs together.

 

You were on the piano?

 

Yeah; and then, I branched out to drums, and then a little bit of bass. And then we started, you know, playing. Hey, let’s do a band, you know. And so, yeah, we put together a band. So, when I was about twelve, I was playing in these dances at, you know, Star of the Sea.

 

And that was kind of the beginning of that. So, you know, I met the guitar player for Topaz way back then.

 

You were just picking it up as you went.

 

Yeah; yeah. ‘Cause it was easy.

 

And you were playing for high school dances at age twelve, or middle school dances?

 

Yes; yeah. My parents were really worried. ‘Cause there were some situations where sometimes we’d play a party, and and more like a high school kids’ party. And so, there may have been some illicit drugs.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

And it was nighttime.

 

Driving.

 

Yeah. So, my parents, you know, lost a lot of hair.

 

And you gave them reason to.

 

A little bit. But, you know, I wasn’t that wild.

 

And where were you on instruments? ‘Cause right now, you’re a confirmed bassist.

 

Yeah.

 

How did you pick the bass, or did the bass pick you?

 

Well, yeah. This is the joke. Usually, the bass picks you. It’s usually because you don’t know anyone else who plays the bass. So, you’re like, oh, you play the bass. So, what happened to me was, I was playing drums in this little dance band, and our bass player left. So, we didn’t know any other musicians, but we knew one drummer. So, it was like, well, what do we do? You know, so we’ll just get him, and you play bass. So, that’s how it happened. But I kept playing guitar with Joe the Fiddler, because, you know, it worked better for chords and stuff, and I kept up on piano playing. You know, I just like always was interested in all of that stuff. But you know, I started getting kinda good on the bass, which is easy to do.  Yeah; so that was that. It just happens like that, you know.

 

What schools did you go to?

 

I lived in town mostly, and I went to McKinley High School.

 

You had a band director who is legendary.

 

Yes, legendary; Henry Miyamura. He’s like one of the big musical mentors of my life, and of Noel’s life, and of Allen Won’s life, too, the other guys from Topaz. He was … amazing. He was like that Mr. Holland guy. I mean, just deeply, deeply committed to the real essence of music performance, which goes beyond, you know, the notes and stuff, but the actual conveyance of the emotion or of the story, or of the tragedy or comedy, or whatever. And to get a bunch of high school kids, half of them who weren’t really gonna go into music anyway, or most of them, and get them to sound as good as he got those bands to sound was really a remarkable feat.

 

How do you think he did it?

 

I think he really loved music, and he loved people. He knew how important it was, you know, even if we didn’t. You know, we were kids then. He knew.

 

While Benny Rietveld was busy playing music through high school, his parents were thinking about his future. They didn’t consider music to be a suitable career path. But Benny was already doing what he loved, and it wasn’t long before his talents took him from the local venues in Hawai‘i to a larger stage.

 

Did you decide consciously, I’m going to be a musician as a livelihood?

 

I don’t think so. The only time it was a conscious thought was like as, you know, graduation from high school was imminent. Then my parents were like, So, you know, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna go to trade school? You should go to trade school, because you know, you learn a trade and make a lot of money. I guess they didn’t see me as the scholarly type, which I wasn’t.  And I said, Oh, I’m just gonna play music. I just assumed I was.

 

Were you already getting paid to play?

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Just like, well, I don’t know. You know, I just thought I was gonna be a musician. And they went, What? No, you can’t. And they were very upset for a little while, only because, you know, they just saw their child being an intravenous drug user and being in the gutter, and you know, whatever. So yeah, I totally get why they freaked out. But then after a while, they thought, Well, he seems to be doing okay, and he’s playing, you know.

 

And you went to college right after that, here.

 

Not right after, but yeah, I did.

 

Oh; so you graduated from high school.

 

Graduated from high school. I was living on my own. I think for about a year, I was living on my own, then I got a scholarship for UH, through Mr. Miyamoto, who suggested I do that. So, he championed me as far as getting a scholarship.

 

And didn’t graduate.

 

No.

 

Because?

 

‘Cause I was also playing music, and then I got a road touring gig with The Crusaders. It was very short. But with all my other gigs in Hawai‘i, and then going off to the mainland for a little bit, just like I lost the whole momentum.

 

How did you make the transition from having lived almost all of your life in Hawai‘i, to the mainland, to the continent?

 

With scarves and heavy sweaters. Basically, that’s how I made the transition. I went to San Francisco first.

 

And that was, I’m going to go try my luck in the San Francisco Bay Area?

 

Well, because I had a friend there already. And he said, You gotta come here, there’s a lot of good music there. And there was, at the time. Lots of great musicians there.

 

You played with some biggies, fairly early on.

 

No. I mean, I don’t know. Pete Escovedo, you know, I learned a lot from him. Ray Obiedo, you know, he used to play with Herbie Hancock and really good songwriter. And a lot of really great local San Francisco Bay Area musicians.

 

When was the first time you played with someone that you went, Whoa, I’m with so-and-so, I’m intimidated?

 

Well, sort of like Sheila E, because her producer was Prince. So, he’d be around, and I’m like, Whoa, you know, ooh. You know. That was my sort of introduction to the high end pop world.

 

And you went on tour with Sheila E, didn’t you?

 

Yes, yes; for about two years.

 

How did you get along with Prince?

 

He was like kind of a mysterious background guy. So, he didn’t talk much to us, but he seemed okay, you know. But he kinda kept more to Sheila and, you know, just sort of like that.

 

Now, did that tour lead to anything?

 

Then I was playing around the Bay Area for a while, and then, I guess Miles Davis was looking for a bass player, and he kinda wanted that sort of Prince-influenced sound. Then we rehearsed, and I met Miles, and it was crazy. And I think I was too much in shock to be actually intimidated, tell you the truth. It was only until I think a year later, I was on the stage, and I was like, Holy crap, that’s Miles Davis. You know, and then I had that moment. But I think, you know, your body blesses you with the gift of shock, so you’re just, you know, immune.

 

And how was it? You know, you have to feel each other in music, you have to work together. How did that go?

 

It went fabulously. You know, he would, you know, give direction while we’re playing, and sometimes before the shows we’d talk about let’s do this part a little faster, or let’s do this kinda rhythm and, you know. And we would keep trying, and so really, back then it was like a laboratory, you know. Because we would do the same song, and it would just evolve. It was like a petri dish. I mean, the songs would evolve so that if you hear the same song two years apart, they’re almost radically different. You know, the tempo is like way slower or faster, and this part is really loud, you know. It was really, really interesting, and it just demanded that you focus a hundred percent on him and the music all the time. You know. That was the big deal.

 

You had to be really mindful.

 

Yeah; like mindful to an incredible degree, because if you weren’t, then then he’d know, you know, and then those eyes would, you know, turn. You know, zzzz, laser, laser. So yeah, you really had to have presence of mind.

 

So, you had a real sense of what he wanted, who he wanted—

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

–how he wanted.

 

Yeah, yeah. And yet, there was that … still, the challenge was to inject yourself in that, within that framework, you know.

 

And he expected you to.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, that was really intimidating, ‘cause I felt like I wasn’t really mature enough as a musician to inject a lot of myself. I don’t know, maybe I did. I don’t know.  That was another coming of age thing, because I had to, I think, almost completely relearn music. You know, really music and bass playing, and the ethos of what it means to be a bass player and what it means to be a musician.

 

Why?

 

Well, because I hadn’t learned all these really basic fundamental things well enough, you know.

 

So, you were good enough to get in the band.

 

Yeah.

 

And once you were there, you had to up your game.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah. It was like raw talent is one thing, but to really like hone it is another thing.

 

After two and a half years playing with Miles Davis, Benny Rietveld moved on. Two months later, he met Carlos Santana.

 

Coincidentally, I did a recording session with Carlos Santana.

 

You sound so casual when you say that.

 

Well, no. I mean, because it just happened, you know. It was somebody else’s session, and we met. And that was another intimidating moment, ‘cause it was Carlos Santana, and I grew up looking at that album cover, you know, and all that stuff, listening to all those albums over and over again. And he said, Yeah, you know, I might need another bass player, and you know. Luckily, we lived both in the Bay Area, so I called him and I said, Yeah, I would love to play. Are you kidding? You know. So that’s how that happened.

 

Aren’t you the musical director as well now?

 

Yes. I don’t know, I’m not really the musical director so much as like traffic cop. You know, ‘cause I consider Carlos actually is the musical director, ‘cause he’s very hands-on and he has an uncanny ability to know what he wants. It’s more about during the show itself, when he calls an audible, which he does every time, then I just help direct traffic. Okay, we’re going here now, instead of, you know, how we rehearsed it.

 

How much of the year do you go on tours?

 

With Santana, it’s roughly four to five months out of the year. But it’s broken up. You do get burnt out, you know, no matter what you do. And it’s always gotta be really, really high level, energy, fun. And the minute it’s a little bit below that, then we’re not doing it.

 

Do you ever get sick of being asked to play a song you love, but you’ve heard it and you’ve sung it … Black Magic Woman, so many times before?

 

No; love it. It’s great. I don’t care about all the other times I’ve played it. It’s like, oh, wow, this is the first time I’m playing it. You know. That’s special, and we have to convey that to people every time. That’s the hard part. That’s the higher level stuff. Not playing the music; the notes are like whatever, you know. That’s like hammering a nail; okay? But it’s how to get into that thing, and it sounds so, fluffy and goofy, you know. But that is, to me, the higher level of music.

 

Did working with Santana when you started require a different sensibility than working with Miles Davis? Did you have to shift in any way?

 

Only superficially, actually, with the style of music, the genre, you know. Because it’s more rock-oriented, Latin, which we hardly ever did in Miles’ thing. But in essence, it was actually very similar, because they both demanded passion and fire, and presence of mind, like all the time. And not being afraid, you know. I think that’s another thing. You cannot have any fear.

 

Is there a way to describe how they work musically, and how you work with them musically?

 

With both of those guys, it was about trying to … articulate the in-articulable.  That’s the weird part about music, is that like underneath the hood, underneath all the technique and theory, and all the numbers, which are all useful, underneath it all, I like to say the last thing that music is about is music. You know.  It’s really about feeling and life. And it sounds so, you know … fluffy. You know, like, Oh, it’s feelings. You know. But all the major guys hardly ever talk about nuts and bolts of music, you know. The jazz guys, a little bit more, because it’s more their realm, you know. But all those guys share the predilection for using aphorisms to describe music. It should sound like, you know, red wine streaming through. You know, something like that. And sometimes, it just sounds so bonkers, you know, to the uninitiated. But then, you realize it’s just a personal lexicon and a cosmology. And actually, now that I’ve known Carlos for a while, it makes complete sense, you know. Now when he says something, you know, like really poetic, I’m actually kinda knowing what it means in dry, boring music terms. Sometimes Miles would say—an actual musical thing would be like, Give that part a little lift. Instead of, you know, doong, doong, doong, doong; maybe like doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, ka-doong, doong, ka-doong. You know, all these little things between. I think everyone knows that deep down inside, it’s really silly to talk about music, because it’s the most abstract of all art forms, you know. But we try, anyway. We have to, sometimes. You know, we’re trying to convey what we want, you know.

 

Although Benny Rietveld lives in L.A. when he isn’t touring with Santana, he likes to come to the place he calls home: Hawai‘i. In 2014, he and some of his former bandmates from Topaz reunited for a show.

 

What brings you back to perform with your old high school buddies?

 

Love of music, and love of them. You know. We’ve kept in contact all this time.

 

And tell me what the names are. Who’s your gang?

 

The gang is Noel Okimoto on drums, Allen Won on the saxophones, Fred Schreuders on guitar, and Carl Wakeland on keyboards.

 

That’s a pretty amazing group from McKinley High School, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. Well, me and Allen, and Noel are from McKinley. Carl is from Mililani. Fred ended up graduating from Kaiser High School. We got kind of popular because we were this bunch of high school kids that could play this kind of difficult and technical music known at the time as fusion. And we loved jazz and all that. So, there weren’t many eighteen-year-olds playing that at the time in Hawai‘i. So you know, we got a kind of rep, and we were the little darlings there for a while, and we even played at La Mancha for two weeks. We disbanded ‘cause we all had stuff, and we were doing our lives. And Noel stayed here, so he’d play. And his late dad, unfortunately, George Okimoto, would go to his gigs all the time. And George actually managed us back then, because he was the manager of Easy Music Center, you know, by McCully. And so he was like, You know, you kids really got something. And he got us equipment to use, you know, cool new gear. So he was like our manager, and really championed us. Cut to couple of years ago. We’re at Gordon Biersch, I’m visiting, and I see Noel, and like you know, listening to him, Byron Yasui and all these great local guys. And there was Noel’s dad, George Okimoto, and he goes, Eh, hurry up, you know, get a reunion. And it was like, actually very bittersweet because he actually made a joke. He was like, Eh, hurry up, before I die.  And what I got from that was like, he wasn’t really joking around. He was like, you know, everyone is about to move on here, and you guys should do something, ‘cause it was really special. So, we did a show last year. It was really, really fun. So, this year again, earlier in the year, we recorded a CD. But you know, we all have these other crazy lives, and we’re not gonna like, Yeah, let’s have a band and tour together. That’s not gonna happen.

 

Did you ever conceive, did you ever think in your young life, that you would be in your fifties, and it’s a tour, it’s concerts and crowds, and music, and vans?

 

I had no idea. Who really knows what their thing is, you know.

 

And how long do you see that going on?

 

Playing music, being involved in music for me will go on until either I die, or I find suddenly that I don’t like it. You know. I don’t really see the latter happening.

 

Benny Rietveld has not stopped having fun playing music since figuring out how to play Hey Jude on the piano at age ten. Along with his raw talent, his dedication to his craft, his ability to work with people, his fearlessness and his determination took him to a world stage. Mahalo to Benny Rietveld, a proud graduate of McKinley High School in Honolulu, and longtime bassist for Santana. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawai‘i.org.

 

[END]

 

THE 2017 HIKI NŌ Awards
Part One

HIKI NŌ Awards Nominees and Winners March 23, 2017

 

This special edition of HIKI NŌ features highlights from the 2017 HIKI NŌ Awards live-streamed announcements of the winners.

 

On Saturday, March 11th, the results of the 2017 HIKI NŌ Awards were announced by PBS Hawai‘i President and CEO Leslie Wilcox and PBS Hawai‘i Board Member Aaron Salā in a four-island, closed-circuit, live-stream awards show originating from the PBS Hawai‘i studio on O‘ahu. HIKI NŌ teachers and students from the nominated schools gathered at their respective locations to watch the announcements: Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College on O‘ahu; McCoy Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Maui; the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort on Kaua‘i; Honua Studios in Kona; and the Waiakea High School library in Hilo. Each time an award was announced, the teacher and students from the winning school came onstage to accept their award from a PBS Hawai‘i Board member: a bronze medal for third place, silver for second place and gold for first. Gold medalists also won a $1,000 gift card to purchase equipment for their school’s media program.

 

This episode features the medal-winning schools (and their stories) for Best Personal Profile Middle School Division, Best Personal Profile High School Division, Best Writing Middle School Division and Best Writing High School Division.

 

The remainder of the awards will be covered in next week’s show: The 2017 HIKI NŌ AWARDS, Part 2.

 

This program encores Saturday, March 11 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, March 12 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
What Happens to Hawai‘i Elders Who Don’t Have a Personal Safety Net?

 

Whether it’s job loss, illness, divorce or other life circumstances, some islanders find themselves at wit’s end, running out of money in retirement. What options do they have? And how are Hawai‘i taxpayers affected? What happens to Hawai‘i elders who don’t have a personal safety net?

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

NA MELE
Raiatea Helm

NA MELE Raitea Helm

 

Singer Raiatea Helm is joined by dad Zachary Helm, Jack Ofoia, Casey Olsen, Aaron Salā and dancer Nani Dudoit for a vintage performance from the PBS Hawaii studio in Manoa. In between songs Raiatea talks about her influences, recordings and responsibilities as a Hawaiian artist.

 

NA MELE
Jerry Santos

Na Mele: Jerry Santos

 

When we hear his distinctive voice, there is no mistaking the music of Jerry Santos. And when we listen to his lyrics, there is no mistaking his connection with the memories and emotions of our own lives. In this NA MELE, Jerry has woven together a story of home. “The idea of home was the driving force for the content. Most of the songs speak to the idea of ku‘u home, a personal, endearing way to refer to our place in the world. It becomes ku‘u because we attach to it our familiarity, what the wind and the rain are like, how the mountains smell, what is in the river, who our people are, our attachment to them and the things we have learned by being of a place,” Jerry says.

 

Jerry mixes “All of That Love from Here” with his signature song, “Ku‘u Home ‘O Kahalu‘u,” as well as “Tewe Tewe,” a playful song that pays tribute to the slippery o‘opu. He also performs “Seabird” and “Ku‘u Makamaka,” among other songs. Joining Jerry are musicians Kamuela Kimokeo and Hoku Zuttermeister.

 



PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
ʻike – Knowledge is Everywhere

 

In his documentary, ‘ike: Knowledge is Everywhere, filmmaker Matthew Nagato could have pointed out everything that’s wrong with public education in Hawai‘i. Instead, Nagato set out to accent the positive, by sharing stories of trailblazers in Hawai‘i who are creating and implementing innovative programs to improve public education. “We want people to strive, to get to places, to do things, and not just sit around and accept the status quo, simply because it’s difficult. I choose the route that gives people the hope, the opportunity and the belief,” Nagato stated in an interview.

 

Immediately following the film, Insights on PBS Hawai‘i will sit down with filmmaker Nagato; Candy Suiso, who created Searider Productions at Wai‘anae High School; Zachery Grace from Matt Levi’s Lawakua Kajukenbo martial arts club; and Waipahu High School Principal Keith Hayashi, one of the innovators featured in the film.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mick Kalber

 

Mick Kalber moved to Hawai‘i Island on a whim after a successful but draining career in television. There, he would confront the most creative and destructive of muses: the Kilauea volcano. A self-described “volcanographer,” Kalber has spent the past 30 years capturing one of the longest volcanic eruptions in recent history through the lens of a video camera, while hovering in a helicopter above the 2,000˚F lava flows.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4:00 pm.

 

Mick Kalber Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember flying in Denver, before I ever shot volcanoes, flying over the City of Denver and looking out, and being very scared, for some reason. But I’ve never been afraid around a volcano. It’s like … looking into the Gates of Hell. You know, there’s just something about that, that’s intriguing and mysterious.

 

Hovering in a helicopter above two thousand-degree molten rock is all in a day’s work for Mick Kalber, as he films the epic spectacle of Hawai‘i Island’s Kilauea Volcano. Volcanographer Mick Kalber, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. For over thirty years, Mick Kalber has been documenting the stunning, destructive, and creative forces of Kilauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island through the lens of a video camera. With his VolcanoScapes documentary series, and his Kilauea overflight videos on news and social media, Kalber continues to share one of the longest volcanic eruptions in recent history with people around the world. Mick was born far from the fiery lava fields of Puna; he grew up in the Midwestern United States.

 

I was born in Peoria, Illinois. My dad was a sportscaster, and actually called the NIT Tournament in New York, and Harry Caray subbed for him when my dad lost his voice. And anyway, I was born there, but only lived there for six months. Never been back there, don’t know anything about Peoria. We moved back to Omaha, and I was raised in Omaha ‘til I was twelve, and then went to Chicago.

 

Why did you go to Chicago?

 

Dad got the job at NBC in Chicago. And so, he went to Chicago and the news was doing poorly. And a man named Alex Dreier was doing the news then, and my father replaced him. And they struggled a little bit the first year, and then they got it together. He was number one, basically, for fifteen years.

 

And what was his appeal as an anchor, do you think, to viewers?

 

Oh, he was good-looking, he was no-nonsense, he was believable. And he also at the end of his newscast—and this is his claim to fame, as it were. He did a final funny. So, at the end, it was, And finally … and then, he’d do the little filler-in. And that was kind of a chance for him to let down his hair and, you know, show a different side of him.

 

How many kids were there in the family?

 

My sister and me. My sister’s three years younger than I am.

 

And what was family life like? What wisdom did you learn from your father, your mother, your sister?

 

My father, I think, taught me honesty. He taught me to work hard. My mom was my saving grace. I mean, I loved my dad; okay? But it was a different kind of relationship. My mother and I were really close, we were really tight. She was funny. You know, she was a kick. One of the things that she did was, The Joke of the Day. And my father at some point said, Enough of Joke of the Day. You know.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, he did a finally every day.

 

Yeah, you’re right; you’re right. He picked it up in his own way. But my mom was great, and we had a lot of fun. But my dad wasn’t around a lot of the time, because he did news. You know, doing news. You know, he would do the five o’clock news and the ten o’clock news, six days a week. You know, so as he said in a speech he gave, that my mother raised us. And she did. And she was wonderful. She was a great mom. You know, a real … she was a cheerleader. Not literally, but I mean, in our lives, you know, she kept encouraging us and telling us, you know, we can do what. And uh, she’s still that way. [CHUCKLE]

 

Although future volcano videographer Mick Kalber would visit his father’s television stations, he says he had no interest at all in following his father’s footsteps, or going into the television business.

 

I wanted to be a doctor when I went to college. That was not gonna happen; I was a horrible student. And I fell into a TV production course, which cross-listed as a speech course and journalism course. And I loved it. You know, they let us direct, and run camera, and produce stories, and shoot. And I thought it was a kick. You know. But I never really got that before then, for some reason. That summer, there was an internship opening in Omaha. I was in Lincoln. A guy named Mark Catiro [PHONETIC], who my father had hired years before, was now the news director at the same station, KMTV. And so, he was interviewing students for an internship in the summer, and he sees me, and so it was a natural somewhat nepotistic event that he hired me. But when I went to do that job, I did well at it. They hired me part-time, and then eventually, they hired me fulltime. And I switched over, ended up finishing my college career there. And I was already working in the business, and so, I already knew what I wanted to do, ‘cause I was doing it. You know. And it was fun; I really enjoyed it. You know, we were chasing sirens and doing all the things that news guys do, and you know, I was, what, twenty-two or something like that. I was having a ball, you know. And so, I just stuck around doing that for several years.

 

Did you see it as a career?

 

No, not really. I mean, yeah, I did, but what happened was, they put me on the noon news. And like I told you, I wasn’t very good on the noon news. But I went on vacation after being on the noon news for three or four months, and they took me off the air while I was on vacation.

 

That’s a handy little trick that I notice happens in commercial television.

 

That was pretty brutal, and it made me angry. But when I came back, I found out the reason they took me—this is 1972, 73, something like that. And I found out the reason they took me off the air was because my hair was too long. Now, they didn’t ask me to cut my hair; they just took me off the air. So, maybe there was more to it than that.

 

While you were gone. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah; while I was gone. But I basically just said, you know, forget this. And I left the news, and I went and did a little professional dinner theater. I did a little acting. And I worked as a night manager at a Jewish delicatessen, and I kinda fooled around. You know, ran off to Colorado, and I worked on cutting down some trees on a ski run, building a ski run. I worked in a lumberyard and pulled lumber on the green chain. And I was twenty-five, and I was, you know, just kind of exploring. And eventually, I got a ski pass, actually, for the year. I’m gonna be a ski bum, and I lasted about a month. And I couldn’t find a job, even a janitor job, and just said [RASPBERRY]. You know. So, I went back to Omaha, and I kept going back to Omaha. I don’t know what that was all about. You know, probably six times, I went back to Omaha. But actually, there’s a soft place in my heart for Omaha, you know. The people are really nice, it’s an easy place to live. The weather is brutal. Absolutely brutal; summer, winter, nothing in between a lot of times. But I went back, and did a little construction with a friend of mine, and I met my first wife. And it was like, ’73, hippie time, we saw what was happening San Francisco, and we wanted to go to San Francisco. So, she was just getting divorced. She moved to Kansas City, I followed her. We had jobs, we saved what we thought was enough money to go to San Francisco. I think we had seven hundred dollars. [CHUCKLE] And a Camaro and a U-Haul trailer. So, we drove to San Francisco, tied the U-Haul trailer to a telephone pole, and looked for an apartment. And we found a flat in the Mission for two hundred and fifty dollars a month.

 

Oh, those times have changed.

 

Yes; within a few years, it was two to three thousand dollars a month. God knows what it is now. But lived there for about a year, had a lot of fun. Sold art on the street. Not drugs; art on the street. [CHUCKLE] And then, settled down in Sacramento and decided to get married. My wife came up pregnant, and so I just thought, What can I do? TV. It’s the only thing I know how to do. So, I ended up back in Omaha, oddly, at the same station I’d left before. And it was completely different, of course. And I worked there for a couple of years.

 

After returning to work in television as a news photographer, Mick Kalber later followed his news director from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado. It was there that Mick found his stride in the television business.

 

Denver was good and bad. It taught me a lot in the business. I went out on a story one time. I was shooting news, and they sent me on a really brutal murder. And I didn’t want to be there. And I went … you know. I called them up; I said, I can’t do this, you gotta send somebody else out. And so, they did, and I became a feature photographer. And they had a guy named Ed O’Malley who was doing features, and he was not without talent, but he was difficult to work with because he didn’t really have all the chops of the business. But what I got out of it was, he’d let me help him, and I co-produced with him. And I shot, and I edited, and I co-produced, and he would write. But we just did features, and I ended up winning a news photographer of the year award by doing features. Which was hard, ‘cause I’m up against the hard news guys.

 

Right.

 

And so, we killed it. And I ended up on a show called PM Magazine in Denver, which was Evening Magazine in some markets. It was like the Hawaiian Moving Company; very much like the Hawaiian Moving Company. And it was very successful. We were the number one show on that station. And I had a lot of fun, but I got really burned out on it, ‘cause we worked sixty to eighty hours a week. And after three years, I was toast. And I visited a friend down on the Big Island, and I said, Hm, I’m gonna run away. [CHUCKLE] So, my wife and I were separated at the time, and I just basically sold everything I had and packed up a VW bus, and moved to the Big Island. What happened in pretty short order was, I got there in March of ’84, and Mauna Loa was erupting. And at some point, Kilauea erupted. It was doing high fountaining eruptions back then, and Kilauea erupted at the same time. And I went, Oh, man, I’ve gotta get some equipment. And so, I did. I got a camera, and I got a recorder. And back then, it was all separate system, you know. And called up Kent Baker.

 

At Channel 2.

 

At Channel 2 and said, I’m here on the Big Island, I’m for real, and I can shoot for you. And lo and behold, one day he called me up and he said, Go get in a helicopter and go shoot the volcano. And I did, and I was totally blown away. Never seen anything like that in my life, coming from Omaha and Denver, and like … oh, you know, 1,000-foot fountain, 1,200-foot fountain. And it was amazing; absolutely amazing. And I thought to myself at that time; I thought, you know, I’m gonna do something with this at some point, but I couldn’t quite nail it down, because it was right when VHS was starting. And there were people at that time that had other videos out that had high fountaining eruptions in them. And I thought, you know, what can I do different from that? But eventually, it created a fissure eruption and made a lava lake down the hill, took a couple houses, and went in the ocean. I said, Now I got a story. You know. So, I knew how to view that, because I’d done PM Magazine. So, I put together a show. That show was my first VolcanoScapes show, Pele’s March to the Pacific. It was about a forty-minute show, and took me a while, but it was very well received, and people were snapping ‘em up like crazy. You know, initially, we just sold those like crazy, like hotcakes, as they say. You know.

 

Mick Kalber made it his life’s work to film Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island. He founded Tropical Visions Video, and released an eight-part VolcanoScapes documentary series. Kalber could often be found hanging off the side of a helicopter to film the 2,000-degree lava flows. But as it turns out, his newfound career was not the greatest threat to his life.

 

Twenty-two years ago, I came up with throat cancer, squamous cell carcinoma at the base of my tongue. And I was forty-five, and it was, what, 1993. And I went to Chicago, went to University Hospital, Rush Presbyterian, and they treated me, and it was brutal. But they saved my life with chemo and radiation. I lost fifty-five pounds. I thought I was gonna die, not from the cancer, but from the treatment. But I survived. And it took me about eight years to come back as far as I was gonna get back from that. And I was in pretty good shape. I lost all my saliva glands, so that’s why I’m drinking water all the time. And my taste buds were altered a little bit. I don’t taste sugar, don’t taste sweet anymore, ‘cause they burned the outside of my tongue with the radiation. And it’s a little more difficult to swallow. But other than that, it didn’t really affect me so much. But then, last Christmas, I was diagnosed with the same thing. Not a recurrence, but what they think was caused by the radiation I had the first time.

 

Caused by the radiation?

 

Yes.

 

Okay.

 

And that’s unfortunate, but it saved my life the first time, so how can I complain? But this time, they took it out surgically, and it was very quick. I won’t say it was very easy, but it was a lot easier than the first time.

 

Was it at the back of your throat?

 

Back of my throat, behind the soft palate. And they cut out about a half-dollar size of the back of my palate. But they didn’t have to cut all the way through, so they didn’t have to reconstruct my throat. But they think they got it.

 

Having had these threats to your life in terms of coming from inside you, cancer, does it change the way you look at life? Has it changed the way you live?

 

The first time, it definitely did. The first time, I got a sense of my own mortality. I decided that we’re not gonna be here all that long, so if there’s something we want to do, we better get it on. You know.

 

Battling throat cancer is not the only life-threatening challenge that volcano videographer Mick Kalber has overcome. During the 1980s, Kalber struggled with substance addiction.

 

Yeah; I’m in my thirtieth year of sobriety now. I moved here thirty-two years ago, so I lived here for only about two years before I got into AA. I was lucky, because I found it, and I never went back out. I hit the ground running, and it saved my life. Yeah. Everything was going south. That was part of the reason I moved here, was, I was in Denver, I was drinking, I was using mostly marijuana, got into a little bit of cocaine, which kind of was what brought me to my knees. I probably would still be kind of a high level drunk if it hadn’t been for that. But that sped the whole process up, and I found myself in trouble, and I actually went and investigated the program with a friend of mine. A friend of mine’s dad was in the program, and I went and talked to him about it. And I said, you know, Am I an alcoholic? And he said, I don’t know. And he threw a big book at me, and he said, Read that and find out. And that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to say, Yeah, you are or no, you’re not, here’s what you do, don’t worry about it. You know. So, I read the book. And I knew I was an alcoholic. But I wasn’t quite ready to stop. But what I did do at that time was, I just pulled a geographic. I visited a friend of mine on the Big Island. I loved the Big Island. And I said, I’m gonna leave here, and you know, get out of Dodge, and go out and have a great life in Hawaii and live on the beach and get healthy, and you know, da-da-da. But my disease came right along with me, before you knew it, I was doing the same old things again. My ex, we were separated at the time. She actually moved out, and we put the kids in school. My kids were in Waldorf at Malamalama School in Paradise Park. And if it hadn’t been for that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay there, because I was tight with my kids. And just having them during the summer, I don’t know if I could have done that. But she moved out here, and the kids went to school there, and we got back together for a little while. It was a disaster. But I did get sober during that time, and I haven’t had a drink or a drug other than the medicines prescribed for me for my throat and stuff since then.

 

It did not save your marriage, though.

 

No. In fact, after I got sober, my ex was very unhappy.

 

This is after you divorced, or while you were—

 

No; while we were still together. You know, I got sober and a couple months after I was sober, she was not happy. And that’s not unusual in couples, where one gets into recovery and the other one doesn’t. Because addiction and alcoholism is a family disease. It’s like a mobile. So, if one person is addicted, then everybody’s affected. If they get clean, then everybody’s affected. But everybody still has what they had when that person was addicted.

 

Mick Kalber would remarry in 2001. His second wife, Ann Kalber, is now a producer and collaborator in his company and in his most recent film, VolcanoScapes: Dancing With the Goddess.

 

You don’t advertise yourself as a videographer; you are a …

 

Volcanographer. I made that up. You know, that’s my own creation, because I think it more aptly describes what I do. You know, I’m not a volcanologist; don’t get me wrong. You know. I don’t claim to be Jim Kauahikaua or, you know, in that department. But I’ve been around it long enough, and seen a lot of stuff that I kind of have an insight to it. And, you know, I’ve made my living basically for the past thirty years, over thirty years, shooting Kilauea Volcano. It’s what I do. And so, yeah, I’m a volcanographer. We fly basically wherever we want to, because we’re on a media flight, it’s a charter flight, and so we can fly at any altitude. And we do; we go down as close as we can to shoot what we shoot.

 

Have you ever been in danger? Have you really felt danger? ‘Cause where you fall is gonna be into fire.

 

Exactly; and it’s two thousand degrees hot liquid rock with—

 

And auto rotation won’t help you.

 

With jet fuel. You know.

 

Yeah; that’s true.

 

Jet fuel and hot …

 

Yup.

 

Not a good combo.

 

You’d go fast.

 

There was one time when my pilot, John Greenway with Hilo Bay Air, was flying me over Kupaianaha, which was a lava lake in the shape of key. They call it the key vent as well. And we were flying over the neck of the key, which is probably … eighty or a hundred feet across or something. And he got halfway across it and he stopped; he hovered, because another helicopter was coming in front of him. And it was early on, this was the first three or four years that I’d been flying, and I didn’t know anything about air speed at the time. And so, when he hovered, I looked down below me and I went … Oh, man. You know. If the engine quits, we’re toast, you know.

 

Right.

 

We’re done. And yeah, it scared me. Nothing happened, obviously. When we got across that, I said something to him about that, and he said, Oh, we had thirty knots of air speed, and should anything have happened, I could have auto-rotated down to one side or the other. So, it really wasn’t a problem. But I didn’t know that. And so, psychologically, you know. And it’s unnerving. People who go with us, we fly with the doors off.

 

M-hm.

 

‘Cause you can’t shoot through the window, you know. So, we fly doors off, and go close to it, and there’s people who can’t do that; they can’t fly with us. We also stand. I don’t stand on the struts, ‘cause then the helicopter would be flying too far down. But when I flew in a Jet Ranger, we would stand on the struts. And so, you’re basically standing outside of the helicopter.

 

And you’re tied up; right?

 

Well, I have a seatbelt on. I don’t have a harness on; I don’t wear a harness. Seatbelt with a piece of tape around it so it doesn’t accidentally come off. You know.

 

You mean, duct tape?

 

Well, yeah, if we’re taped, yeah, duct tape.

 

Whoa. [CHUCKLE]

 

Well, it’s not going anywhere. You know. Long as you keep the buckle closed, you know.

 

Does your wife have any thoughts about this guy who goes up in a chopper all the time next to hot lava?

 

My first wife, or my second wife?

 

Second.

 

[CHUCKLE] I think Annie has acquiesced. You know, she knows that’s my life, that’s what I do. Does she worry about it? I don’t know. You’d have to ask her; she doesn’t express that to me. You know, she doesn’t say, Yeah, I’m worried about your flying, or you know, yadda-ya. But I think she’s confident in what we do, confident in the pilot, confident in me.

 

And so, all of this time, these thirty years, any time Kilauea could have stopped erupting. I mean, the fact that it’s been going on this long is just amazing.

 

Oh, yeah. It’s the longest documented eruption in modern history, or in recorded history.

 

And you’d be out of a job.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yeah.

 

A self-made job.

 

In a way. I mean, you know, there’s two ways of looking at it. You can look at it that as long as it continues to erupt, it continues to be topical, it continues to be on people’s minds, and you know, you continue to have interest in it. But as soon as it stops, then nobody can get it anymore.

 

So, it’s a prized commodity.

 

So, what you have is more valuable, theoretically. But then it can be forgotten, too. So, it’s a double-edged sword.

 

Are you gonna go up as long as you can, as long as the volcano is willing?

 

Yeah, I guess. I mean, you know, I’m getting to the age where it’s not so easy to hike out like I used to. You know, I used to hike out by myself, four or five miles, you know. And if it comes down right now, it’s probably gonna be about a five-mile hike to go see it.

 

And what about hanging out of the helicopter?

 

Well, that’s easy.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

No, it is. I mean, uh, flying in a helicopter, we fly for an hour. You know, I can go fly for an hour holding a camera. I love that; that’s fun.

 

At the time of this conversation during the summer of 2016, a new lava flow from Kilauea made its way to the ocean. And Mick Kalber, now cancer-free, set out to document the latest chapter of the 33-year-old eruption. Mick and his wife Ann also were about to move from North Hilo to Leilani Estates that’s a subdivision in the Puna District that’s directly in the shadow of the active volcano. Mick says he’s still humbled and awed by the spirit and energy of the eruption, and remains just as fascinated as he was when he first started filming in 1984. Mahalo to Mick Kalber of Hilo for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You know, I tell people all the time that if you move to the Big Island, you know, you’re dealing with the fire energy, and I don’t mean to be esoteric about the whole thing, but there’s something about it that, in my opinion, makes things happen. It kinda forces your hand. You know, whatever is going on in your life is gonna come to a head because of the energy that’s on that island. And some people can handle it, some people can’t.

 

[END]

 


NA MELE
Melveen Leed

NA MELE Melveen Leed

 

Singer Melveen Leed is joined by her hula dancer daughter Kaaikaula Naluai at the PBS Hawai‘i studios. Best known for contemporary Hawaiian, jazz and country, Moloka‘i girl Melveen also has deep roots in traditional Hawaiian song.

 

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