One Guitar, Two Different Styles
Darby Slick, who penned one of Jefferson Airplane’s biggest hits, calls Kaua’i home and shares his music that blends East and West influences
Guitar master Darby “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love” Slick will be showing off his musical chops this weekend at Trees Lounge with his band, The Endless Summer of Love.
The author of the aforementioned Jefferson Airplane song, not to mention brother-in-law of legendary singer Grace Slick, will take the stage with his double-neck guitar – one neck consisting of a regular guitar, the other fretless – beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s very expressive to me,” he says of the unique instrument he plays. “It’s like the way a violin or a voice can pick exactly where the notes are and glide between them. This instrument offers me the chance to do that.”
Fretless guitars are not common in Western society. They are played by pushing strings onto a steel finger-board with the fingernails. Slick learned the style of guitar playing by studying Indian music for more than a decade.
In fact, Slick lived in India for a period of time and studied music with Ali Akbar Khan, who taught the famed Ravi Shankar how to play when they were children.
“He is my guru,” says Slick of Khan, who was considered one of the foremost musicians in India. “My teacher really was like a living Beethoven.”
What also sets Eastern music apart from Western is the lack of chord changes.“This is more tribal – ancient, in that kind of way,” explains Slick.
Because there are no chord changes, the melody and rhythm are the only factors that remain and offer a more focused and “sophisticated” approach to music. Without the “distraction” of changing chords, more complicated and involved material is created.
“That’s how life is. It’s not in little squares or boxes like Western music,” he says.
Slick began playing the guitar professionally at the age of 15 with a jazz band in Switzerland, where he attended high school.
After moving to California, he formed a band with his brother Jerry and his sister-in-law Grace, called The Great Society. The name of the band was a play on words, based on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “great society” plan.
Slick still plays that same style of music, which incorporates elements of jazz, Indian, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll.
“But the elements are more informed now,” he says, noting that he has had more years of studying under his belt.
Slick moved to Honolulu to live part time approximately 20 years ago, and moved permanently to Kaua’i five years ago. What originally drew him to Hawai’i was a 1954 trip to Honolulu as a young visitor from California. He recalls traveling in a Pan Am Clipper and the flight taking 12 hours.
“It was so beautiful,” he says of Oahu, which only had some five hotels in Waikiki at the time. “The second the doors opened at the airport, the 10-year-old me said, ‘I am home. This is where I want to be.'”
Recording an album with musician Millicent Cummings was what ultimately drew Slick to the Garden Isle.
“I tried to go back and live in Honolulu again after that,” says Slick, who is engaged to Ginger Carlson. “Let’s just say I couldn’t enjoy it anymore.”
Now, Slick plays regular gigs around the island and continues to reach people through his music, which he also deems as healing, stemming from a branch of yoga called Nada.
“The more I learn, the more I touch levels of truth, relationships that are true, balances that feel important to me,” says Slick, who has recently been spending many days in Russell Faraldi’s recording studio working on a new album. “There is so much beauty to bring, and I wish to do that.”