The Blue Max

Maui, HI

Jim Bruno:

We had some really amazing performances in Hawaii. One of those performances in Hawaii ended up getting us some connections back in the San Francisco Bay area that we would’ve never expected.

I’ll be explaining that soon, but first I think it’s pretty interesting to talk about how we got the opportunity to play in Hawaii in the first place.

I had a guitar student who studied with me for quite a while. He moved to Hawaii, and after he left, I had no reason to believe I would ever talk to him again. I was wrong. His name was Bob Bangerter, and he ended up living in a remote area near a sugarcane field somewhere on the island of Maui.

One day, out of nowhere, someone knocked on his door, which was odd because, as I mentioned, it was kind of in the middle of nowhere. He opened the door to a man who looked pretty familiar to him. At first, the man wanted to talk to him about being a Jehovah’s Witness and started asking him the kind of questions that you would expect to hear from someone knocking on the door asking you about being a Jehovah’s Witness, but Bob, being a musician and a guitar player, realized that the man standing in front of him has none other than George Benson. I’m not making this up – George Benson was standing on his front porch in the middle of nowhere on the island of Maui asking him questions about the Jehovah’s Witness faith.

So Bob said to George ‘Hey Man, I know who you are’ and invited him in. Bob has always kiddingly told me it was the first Jehovah’s Witness that he ever invited into his house. Bob didn’t know it at the time, but George lived out there as well, and was kind a hoping that no one would recognize him when he went out to preach the Faith.

Bob and George started talking and Bob told George that he was a guitar player; before you know it, they became great friends and Bob started taking lessons from George Benson. George even got him some pretty high profile gigs before it was all over.

Later, after George returned from a tour, over cocktails, he was talking to Bob and another one of their friends who happened to be the manager of the club called the BlueMAX club. George told Bob ‘Man I saw this incredible instrument when I was on tour – it’s called the Stick’. So Bob says ‘Hey I know all about that instrument – in fact, my guitar teacher back on the mainland has a group called the Stickband and they are really good’.

Honestly, I don’t know if it was just the beautiful island weather or the cocktails that they were all drinking that night, but on a whim George Benson asked Barry, the manager of the Blue Max, to give Stickband a gig in Hawaii. George told Bob to tell us that there was one stipulation – we had to learn ‘Cherokee’ because George wanted to play it onstage with us.

After not hearing from Bob Bangager for maybe two or three years, out of the blue I got a phone call from him asking me if I would like to play in Hawaii and that I got the gig via George Benson, sight unseen, no audition, nothing.

That’s how it all started. We never did meet or play with George because when we were there George was always on tour, but we did know ‘Cherokee’ and we were ready to play it.

We played twice in Hawaii – the first was with Don on drums, the second with Michale and Mike. On our second trip a very incredible opportunity arose.

Every night that we played there, people who would come up and complement us and talk to us and ask us questions about the instruments. Sometimes, somebody would give us a card or ask for a card from us and tell us they were going to do a bunch of really cool things for us. If you’ve ever been in bands, you know that stuff happens all the time and most of the time nothing ever comes of it, so I didn’t think much when this video company came in and the owner came up to me asking me questions about the band and the instruments and told me he was there shooting a television commercial for someone.

He asked me where we were from – I told him that we were from San Jose in the Bay Area and he said so was his company. He asked me for a card and said they would get in touch with us after we were back in the Mainland. I gave them my card and thought it was just another night’s talk. Lo and behold we actually did get a phone call when we got back and the next thing I knew the company was sending somebody down to check us out. His name was Mark Springer; Mark listened to us and said ‘We have to get you guys in the studio and start recording’.

I told him that I had my own recording studio in my music school, but he politely smiled at me and said ‘No, we will be recording at the Record Plant in South Sausalito’.

I’m not sure if all of you who are reading this are going to know what that place is all about, but that’s where Journey recorded all of their songs and where Huey Lewis and many other famous Northern California rock groups like Jefferson Starship and the Doobie Brothers recorded there as well.

It was like a dream. I couldn’t even believe it. The next thing I knew we were at the Record Plant working on the songs that Mark had listened to and picked as the tunes that we would be recording first.

And all of this happened with nothing more than a handshake and some conversation. There we were recording in a studio where the bill rate was $250 an hour. Amazing.

One last point I’d like to make about Bob Bangager. We have remained friends and almost every year around Thanksgiving or Christmas Bob comes to the Mainland and he always drops by to visit me. I believe Bob’s parents have now passed away, but to this day whenever Bob is in the Mainland now to visit his daughter he always drops by.

He never calls me, or prepares me for his arrival – he just shows up standing at my door at my studio in my music school. I’m always extremely happy to see him and have always been grateful for the friendship and all the incredible energy that my knowing him has brought my life.

Keep singing!