James Bla Pahinui is the second oldest son of the legendary Hawaiian slack-key guitar player Philip “Pops” “Gabby” Pahinui. He started playing music at the age of ten when his Dad bought him a Martin ukulele and learned how to play the instrument from watching his Dad. As he grew older he joined in the backyard jams at their Waimanalo home and eventually joined his Dad on stage during the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s.
The early Doo-Wop bands of the 50s are his primary influence (besides his Dad of course): Shep and the Limelights, Bobby Day and the Hollywood Flames, The Penguins, The Cellos, The Heartbeats, The Skyliners, and early Elvis. Also local groups: The Mop Tops, and the Kasuals. These groups instilled in him a strong love of harmonies and simple melodic lines.
From his Dad, Bla learned about Hawaiian music, the importance of strong rhythms and an appreciation for Latin music.
Bla’s style ranges from rhythm and blues, good-time rock and roll to soulful renditions of traditional Hawaiian favorites. Many remember Bla playing at the Sand Castle or Betty Reilly’s and bringing down the house with his versions of classic rock and roll tunes. Even today, when jamming, the songs will eventually turn to the old classics.
His two best-known songs are Moonlight Lady written by Carlos Andrade and recorded with his Dad and Waimanalo Blues written by Liko Martin and performed with Cyril and Martin Pahinui, Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner and David Lindley.
Over the years, he has had several bands (Jimmy and the Playboys in the early 60s) and played with many of Hawaii’s best musicians: Peter Moon, Palani Vaughn and the Brothers Cazimero in Sunday Manoa, with his brothers Cyril and Martin in the early 90s, Ledward Kaapana, Bernard Kalua, Dennis Kamakahi, and Mike Kaawa.
Bla brings passion to any song with his singing and playing. He is the first to admit he is not the best guitar player or singer but he has left crowds crying at the end of a quiet Hawaiian ballad. He brings a twist to any song he plays – whether its slowing the tempo, unusual instrumentation or arrangement – he makes the song his own. Part of his unique style is the fact he plays upside down and backwards (being left-handed) and this has allowed him to try things differently. In addition, he is entirely self-taught and does not read music. Because he does not know the rules – he breaks them often and freely. Everything he does, he hears in his mind and then commits to his guitar. This has allowed him to develop a style that is completely his own. His tradition is the tradition of the old blues players like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters and Hawaiians like his father.
Bla has recorded albums with George Winston on the Dancing Cat label and The Mount Apple Company.
Now Bla enjoys recording on the computer and just doing his thing.
With this web site Bla would like to share his musical ideas with his fans and raise some money for the prevention of child abuse in Hawaii.