Out-Of-Print LP Sees New Life

BEYOND-THE-GROOVEIn my 26 years (27 on Nov. 28!), I’ve learned this: Life is about making friends, creating and enjoying your surroundings. I was reminded of this last week when I met a musician named Rob Mehl in person for the first time.

We exchanged emails back in 2011 when I first learned of his out-of-print LP, Taste And See. I blogged about it, one of Rob’s friends found my post, then two months later, a message from Rob himself landed in my inbox. He thanked me, and we agreed to meet the next time he was in Hawaii.

Rob spent about half of his youth growing up in Waikiki, and the other half in Southern California. When he first moved to Hawaii as a kid, he saw groups of people gathering beneath banyan trees along the beach.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” he recalls, “but I just walked up and sat down.”

He and I had finally arranged a meeting during his recent visit to Oahu. We met at San Souci Beach in the late afternoon, grabbing a seat at a picnic table — not far from the banyan trees of his youth.

At these gatherings, circa 1958, people were “playing slack key and ukulele and telling stories. There was Primo beer. For a little kid, it was Disneyland. Hearing those guys talk story, man, I was just in awe.”

His passion for storytelling grew when his new neighbors started giving him books to read. “Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London,” he says. “They got me reading.”

Soon, Rob started writing poems. He also found inspiration in the Hawaiian music he heard at those sessions.

Rob Mehl back in Waikiki earlier this month ROGER BONG PHOTO

Rob Mehl back in Waikiki earlier this month ROGER BONG PHOTO

There was jazz, too: Rob’s father was a radio DJ, playing artists like Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Walter Wanderley and Martin Denny over Honolulu’s airwaves.

It wasn’t until about 1969 that Rob started writing music. He was in the Navy and had been sent to Vietnam.

“I didn’t play guitar, (but) I would sing these poems (I wrote) to some of the guys who were musicians, and they’d go, ‘That’s like a real song.'”

During a detour in Japan, he bought a guitar and chord book and taught himself how to play.

Upon his return to the U.S., people took notice of Rob’s songwriting talent. In Hawaii, top entertainers Carole Kai, Dick Jensen and Jay Larrin encouraged him to gig regularly. In California, where he lived part of the year, 1960s folk rock artist Barry McGuire recorded some of Rob’s songs and got him signed as a writer to the Sparrow record label.

Finally, persuaded by friends, Rob recorded an album. In 1980, he released Taste And See, comprised of jazz funk tinged with California cool. The promotional photos were taken at one of those banyan trees.

As the sun neared the horizon, I asked Rob if I could reissue some of his songs from Taste And See on my record label. He said yes. We shook hands. Our long overdue friendship was now a partnership, and I’m excited to see where it takes us.

For more from Roger, check out his blog at alohagotsoul.com.