Featuring a handful of shows at Kihei’s ProArts Playhouse this month, Hawaiian legend John Cruz is excited about a new song he’ll be releasing soon, “It’s time to build a bridge”, which addresses our polarized and divisive time.
Cruz’s first new recording in many years, the song “Basically talks about building a bridge to each other”, he explained. “Politics seems to be a big deal these days, and people are very attached to their ideas. Can we just get people out of that mentality a bit? The song has a line, “here we are all different types of people, we are here to build a bridge, we people.” Can we take a step back and realize that we are all entitled to and express our views and opinions. Let’s not start killing each other over this.
Co-composed with songwriter partner Mark Herschler, this powerful message song sounds like a cross between what Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan might sing. “There’s a groove that’s kind of R&B and soulful, and the lyrics are a bit dylanque. “ he noted. “I asked my neighbors to sing choirs. Sistah Robi Kahakalau’s niece lives next door with her husband and they are both singers. Hope people get the spirit of the song and can groove with it. This is my first officially released material in years. It will be out in a month and it will start to open the floodgates. I have a backlog of songs that I’m waiting to release.
Cruz will be giving six shows at the redeveloped ProArts Playhouse on South Kihei Road on Tuesdays August 10-24, solo at 5:00 p.m. and with a band at 7:30 p.m. Each concert is limited to 50 participants and all seats are socially distanced.
Living in Maui for almost four years, Cruz said he was happy to have found a place that meets many of his ideal requirements, “That the sound is awesome, it sounds awesome, no alcohol, kids can come, and no TV screens.” It only took three or four years, but I found the place. It’s new for them to make live music. I’ve done shows in clubs and bars, and dinner shows in restaurants, and I love that at ProArts people come to listen to the music. Even at the Blue Note a few weeks ago, some people were talking about all of this. “
Musicians from Maui supporting him at the 7:30 p.m. shows will likely include keyboardist Sal Godinez, multi-instrumentalist Steve Sargenti, drummer Kris Thomas and John Cua on bass. “I’ve been soloing for so many years and since the pandemic I’ve been able to get together with a handful of musicians and get more complete arrangements on the songs.” he said. “I’m going to mix it up every week and have different guests. Ideally, people will see the show and come back.
One of Hawaii’s most gifted singer-songwriters, Cruz has released just two albums since his remarkable debut in 1996. Recipient of multiple Na Hoku Award, his acclaimed album “Acoustic soul” sold over 150,000 copies in Hawaii alone and included the local anthem “Island style.” Its follow-up, “One of these days,” was named by Honolulu Magazine as one of the Top 25 Hawaiian Albums of the New Century.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Acoustic soul” Cruz plans to release an updated version with some bonus songs including “It’s time to build a bridge”. “There are two other songs that I recorded during the ‘Acoustic Soul’ sessions that weren’t recorded on the disc”, he said. “I’m still trying to figure out how to do things these days. The last thing I released was in the CD era, and most of my income came from selling CDs.
A son of “Waimea Cowboy” Ernie Cruz Sr., Cruz followed a unique musical path, leaving Hawaii young for the East Coast, where he performed for over 10 years. Back in Oahu, he started to make his debut “Acoustic soul” songs at Ka’au Crater Boys concerts.
“I knew ‘Island Style’ was a special song, but I wasn’t sure if it would translate around the world.” he remembers. “At Tower Records in Oahu, the manager said, ‘this record is going to sell forever. “”
Not wanting to be a maverick he said, “I’ve always done my own thing. I left Hawaii because I saw my uncles and aunts playing in the same living room for 20 years, and I couldn’t see myself doing that. And there was hardly any radio support for anything original.
In recent years, he has contributed to the Playing For Change video series, which raises funds to build music and art schools for children around the world. He covered Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in limbo” and that of Bob Dylan “All along the Watchtower” and “Jokerman”, and the band’s song “The weight,” with Robbie Robertson, drummer Ringo Starr, Lukas Nelson and ukulele virtuoso Taimane.
His solo version of “Jokerman” has nearly a million views on YouTube, with fans praising his passionate performance as one of the best Dylan covers of all time. Upcoming change videos it will be featured on include “Mutineer” by Warren Zevon and Bob Marley “Rastaman song” merged with “Amazing Grace.”
Grateful to live in Maui, he concludes, “I love Upcountry in Kula. It’s a good time for me physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s nice to finally be here and play for an audience again. I love the live performances.
* John Cruz performs at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei on Tuesday and August 17 and 24, with performances at 5 pm and 7:30 pm Shows are limited to only 50 participants. Masks are mandatory. Tickets are $ 52, with a minimum of two tickets per purchase, available at thelittleboxoffice.com/proartsmaui/event/view/143849. For more information, call the box office at 463-6550.