Music In My Soul
It’s not every day that a world-famous rock star volunteers to sing on your album. But that’s exactly what happened for Kauai musician Tommy Tokioka about 16 years ago. Steve Perry, former frontman for the rock group Journey, sang two original melodies on Tokioka’s premiere solo album, Tommy: Happy to be Living.
“He was always one of my idols, and I’m not alone in this,” says Tokioka regarding Perry.
The story goes that, one day, while Tokioka was recoding the album, he was struggling to hit the high notes. “I’d been in the studio for a while and my voice was kind of raspy that day,” he recalls.
Tokioka made an offhanded comment to engineer and producer David Tickle that he wished Perry could help him out with background vocals. “He’s my all-time rock ‘n’ roll voice, and he can hit those notes lying down on the couch,” says Tokioka.
Four days later, Tickle called Tokioka. “David asked me if I believed in angels and I said, ‘yes!’ And he says, ‘Good, because Steve Perry is on the island,'” recalls Tokioka.
The rest is music history. Perry is featured in two songs — I Wish You Were Mine and An Angel Above Me— on Tokioka’s album, which was released in 2000 and features Hawaiian and reggae genres.
The Kapaa High School grad hasn’t dropped a solo album since, though he’s currently working on something he prefers to keep under wraps for now. Still, he’s managed to continue enchanting people with his melodies by collaborating with artists around the island. He has regular gigs at spots such as Duke’s at Kalapaki, and he frequently entertains guests at special events, including weddings.
But first and foremost, he really loves just hanging out and “jamming on the beach.”
“Music is in my soul,” he says. “Even if I wanted to get out of it, I don’t think I would. I just love it too much; it’s part of my culture.”
Like many children who grow up in Hawaii, the first instrument Tokioka picked up was an ukulele. He quickly discovered he had a natural talent for playing and singing, thanks to his mother, Grace, a Hawaiian singer and dancer, who he claims gave him the musical genes. “I had an early start, thanks to her,” he says. “She got my wheels turning.”
Tokioka was only 15 when he started singing, as well as playing the guitar and bass guitar, professionally at various hula shows and restaurants. After high school, he already was traveling the world, sharing the music of the Islands in many countries, including Japan, China, Tahiti and Australia.
One of the most important keystones of his career, however, was becoming one of the original members of “Kauai Boys” with Titus Kinimaka and Keone Mahuka. The trio had grown up surfing together, so it was a natural fit for them to become band-mates. Tokioka launched his solo career after Kauai Boys, and that’s when he wrote his first song, Sweet Island Flower, for a CD compilation of different artists around the state titled Home Grown ’97.
These days, when he isn’t surfing, diving, hunting or fishing, he’s still writing and performing his music.
“I love it when people appreciate the music and get into it,” he says. “Even if there’s nobody around and I’m playing by myself, it’s something that has been so self-satisfying for me throughout the years.”
He’s also currently working with fellow musician Michael Ruff, with whom he plays every Monday evening from 4 to 6 p.m. at Duke’s — everything from traditional Hawaiian music to island reggae and original songs. Tokioka, who has a daughter, Karly, also continues to travel on occasion to the West Coast to perform, as well as Oahu. “I get a rush off of learning a new song and playing it for the first time in front of people,” he says. “Playing music is so natural. It’s second nature for me; maybe even first nature.”