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The second oldest son of influential slack key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, James 'Bla' Pahinui has followed in his father's footsteps. An innovative slack key guitarist, in his own right, Pahinui is known for his distinctive phrasing. As he explained in a mid-'90s interview, "I like to stretch notes and take the melodies into new directions." Born in Honolulu and raised in Waimanolo, O'ahu, Pahinui was exposed to music from his earliest memory. As a youngster, he often attended the nightly jam sessions that his father hosted in the family home. Building his first instrument at the age of ten, he received a more professional Martin tenor ukulele the following year. Switching to guitar in his early teens, the left-handed Pahinui turned his instrument upside down and backwards in order to play. As he continued to evolve on the guitar, he developed his own style by picking the bass strings with his index finger while playing the other strings with his thumb. Meeting Latin and R&B musicians in the late '50s, Pahinui formed a multi-cultural electric band, the Playboys.
The group remained together until the early '60s when Pahinui returned to his acoustic, Hawaiian roots. Together with Peter Moon, a ukulele virtuoso that he met in 1962, Pahinui continued to explore the music of his Hawaiian heritage. In 1966, the two musicians joined with vocalist Palani Vaughn, bass player Albert Kalima, Jr., and guitarist Cyril Pahinui to record an album, Meet Palani Vaughn & the Sunday Manoa. Although Vaughn and Cyril Pahinui enlisted in the United States Army, following the album's release, the band recorded a second album, Hawaiian Time. In the early '70s, Pahinui and his brothers joined their father to tour and record an album, Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band, Vol. 1 in 1975. During the 1990s, Pahinui recorded two solo albums: Windward Heart: Live Solo and Mana for George Winston's label Dancing Cat.
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