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Entertainment // Musical Notes
Bill Mossman

Troy is RISING

If you were around for the early to mid-’90s, you’d likely remember that period for pop culture events such as 2 Live Crew’s explicit album As Nasty As They Wanna Be, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and HIV, the Seinfeld phenomenon, and OJ Simpson and his greatest off-the-field move: avoiding a double-murder conviction. And if you were into the local music scene, you’d recall the highly influential duo Ka’au Crater Boys and, in particular, the virtuosic abilities of uke king Troy Fernandez.

Fernandez was the brawny guy from Palolo Housing, a former high school football player turned surfer who, before Jake Shimabukuro emerged on the four-string landscape, would inspire a generation of young musicians to treat the ukulele like a lead guitarist would. Heck, Fernandez even made it epic for everybody to go surf Kaiser Bowl, Bomburas and Velzeyland with a board in one hand and an uke in the other!

Now, more than two decades later, Fernandez may be a soloist, but he’s still doing what he does best – allowing his nimble fingers to flow effortlessly over the fretboards of his trusty Sunny D and Kanilea ukes while still inspiring thousands with his unique interpretations and stylings. In truth, he’s doing his work more from the shadows these days (until recently, he was a streetside performer along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki). But with his just-released album, Strumming My Ukulele, Fernandez proves he can still bring a lot of fun to the feel-good contemporary island music table – both as a singer and instrumentalist.

The 14-track album includes local favorites Koke’e and Pua Hone, originals Local Girl of Mine and It’s For Our Children, as well as the Jim Stafford classic Spiders and Snakes, which has a familiar Ka’au Crater Boys-flavor to it. Assisting Fernandez with his latest CD are veteran musicians Jeff Rasmussen and Robi Kahakalau, and his equally talented teenage daughters, Tory and Tia. The result is more than 45 minutes of pure listening pleasure.

“As far back as when I was playing with Ka’au, people would tell me, ‘You should do your own album!’” Fernandez tells me. “Well, I’ve done two solo instrumental albums and another four with vocals on them since then.”

He pauses briefly, reflecting on his days performing with vocalist/guitarist Ernie Cruz Jr. “With Ka’au, everyone saw Ernie as the more dominant singer.

But as a soloist, I realized I had to step up my game. I’d like to think I’ve done that with my albums, especially the latest one.”

Here’s what else the talented musician told Musical Notes about his former life as one-half of the Ka’au Crater Boys:

MN: Your style of playing – of keeping the music upbeat and fun – has been inspiration to thousands of musicians. Growing up, who inspired you?

TF: I’ve always tried to keep my style of playing simple. I used to listen to tapes of Eddie Kamae, Uncle Moe Keale and Peter Moon when he was with Sunday Manoa, and try to play along with them. By the time I was in high school, I noticed I had gotten better, so I just kept playing.

MN: Who came up with the name Ka’au Crater Boys? TF: Ernie did. Before then, we were known as ET, just like the movie. But when it came time to record, Ernie suggested we change our name to Ka’au Crater Boys. You know, what’s funny is that I didn’t even know what Ka’au Crater was back then. Then again, I’m pretty sure that if you asked most of the people living in Palolo at the time, they wouldn’t have known what Ka’au Crater was either! So I guess you could say we put Ka’au Crater on the map.

MN: Can you see a Ka’au reunion at some point down the road?

TF: Oh yeah. My days with Ka’au was the most fun time of my life as a musician. So it’s really up to Ernie, because my door is always open. If he wants to play, I’m ready to go.

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