March 14, 2013


The era of the 'mix tape' may have evolved into that of the 'playlist', but people have been sharing their cultural tastes for generations, passing along small glimpses into their personality and times. Similarly, the top-ten lists come flooding in every new year, as do those desert island picks. This week on Spy Vibe, we look at the musical world of Ian Fleming. Series links: Noel Coward,Whispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr.

Spy Vibers probably have a clear image of Ian Fleming in their minds. The creator of James Bond was photographed often in a dapper pose and holding his constant companion, a cigarette holder. Other famous photos show him holding a pistol to evoke that 007 atmosphere. But did you ever imagine Ian Fleming tapping his foot and bouncing a Hawaiian slide guitar flat on his lap? If you read Andrew Lycett's excellent biography, it's possible that you missed this brief mention about his life as a lad of sixteen. Ian shot his first stag at sixteen in 1924, but as Lycett notes, his heart wasn't really in these hunting trips, which became more frequent. "...his idea of artistic endeavor was playing the Hawaiian guitar (he took lessons from an Italian woman). He liked to put his feet up to a record of the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders when, as he put it 'I should have been outdoors killing something'....his favorite song--indicative of his leisure pursuits, perhaps--was the popular 'Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Cecilia" by the baritone Whispering Jack Smith." [see our last post re: Whispering Jack Smith]. -Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Andrew Lycett (1995, p. 24). So, the author of Goldfinger played Hawaiian Guitar? I wonder if he had any talent for it? Below is a Hawaiian Guitar method book from 1924.

It's not difficult to imagine the young Ian, with his taste for leisure and travel, becoming entranced by Hawaiian music. Any collector of vintage sheet music or 78 recordings can tell you that the sounds of the islands, soft ukuleles and slack key guitars, became a world phenomenon in the early 20th Century. Performers like Sol Ho'opi'i were celebrated recording artists. Here on the mainland, prodigy Roy Smeck (the Wizard of the Strings) spread his renditions of Hawaiian melodies and hot jazz tunes in some of the earliest sound films. But Ian made a point to mention that he loved the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders in 1924 and here our mystery begins. 

There were in fact many groups that used that name. How many were actually associated with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel? Known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, the famous hotel didn't open its doors until 1927. Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs played there with his band and gained great fame in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a huge star, but his recordings would have been made when Ian Fleming was older. Falsetto singer George Kainapau started recording with Sol Ho'opi'i in the late 1920s and later played with the "Royal Hawaiin Serenaders". Willard "Honey" Kalima (born 1924) and his "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders" played at the famed hotel and recorded for Decca and for Waikiki Records. I found an interesting photo of Richard Gustav Holldorf (born 1877), supposedly a German showman from Kansas City, with the "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders". What about Ian Fleming's records of 1924?  Doralinda, a Hula star of the Montmartre super club in the late teens and 1920s, was sometimes accompanied by Clark's "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders". I found a cool announcement for this outfit in some 1916 editions of the New York Evening Telegram (sample below). Could they have been Fleming's favorite band? 

Is it possible that he loved the style of music at sixteen, but mentioned the name of a band he enjoyed later in life when he was quotedUnless Ian Fleming's original records are archived somewhere and can be studied, it will be impossible to tell which group fired his imagination or what their recordings sounded like. But maybe if we broaden our view to hot Hawaiian guitar in the 1920s, we can imagine a sixteen-year-old Ian hiding away in a room with his record player. Picture this with me: He has closed himself off, away from the hunting parties. He wound up the player and placed the heavy sound arm on to his favorite 78. Maybe he had his guitar resting in his lap, and he listened carefully as his fingers tried to keep up with musicians coming through the wooden speaker. Did it feel like romance and adventure? Did he dream of moving far away to a tropical paradise? Maybe Hawaii, or perhaps... Jamaica. Here is Sol Ho'opi'i playing Hula Blues. A brief illustrated history of the guitar in Hawaii here.

have a spy novella coming out soon! Stay tuned for more info. Did you know that Spy Vibe has a Pinterest page? You can see collections of images of Ian Fleming's life, dynamic vintage action, cliffhanger serials, Japanese designs from the 20s, vintage mystery novels, and more! Ian Fleming board here.

Check Spy Vibe for recent posts about 1960s espionage writers, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, my review of SKYFALL, 007 at the Intnl Spy Museum, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, new Beatles bio from Mark Lewisohn, tributes to Donald Richie and Tony Sheridan, the Les Vampires serial on Blu-ray, Lucy Fleming, The Beatles first record session, Ian Fleming's desert island interview, new Ian Fleming book designs, FantomasSpy SmasherBarbarella tv show, British spy comics, Piper Gates retro designs, Cinema Retro, and more. 

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