25 years later, John Cruz looks back on “Acoustic Soul” | News, Sports, Jobs
When John Cruz was on the mainland writing songs about the disappearance of his homeland, the first thing that came to mind was remembering his mother “Cook stew in the kitchen and hum an Al Green song.”
“I had left Hawaii for a while because I wanted to expand my musical being. I was looking for my musical voice.” said Cruz. “Growing up, I never played traditional Hawaiian music. Back then, there was only one club on Oahu that played original music, Anna Banana’s.
“Someone once wrote that the best thing to do is get as far away from home as possible. Only by moving far away from where you came from can you become who you are.”
Therefore, “Mom is in the kitchen” became one of the lines in Cruz’s classic song “island style” on his album “Acoustic Soul”, Released in 1996.
Few Hawaiian artists have released a debut recording as accomplished as “Acoustic soul.” Memorable original songs like “island style” and “light on” were mixed with a handful of curated covers, including Jimmy Cliff’s classic “sitting in limbo” and a beautiful rendering by Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewetts “Kawailehua’a’alakahonua.”
Twenty-five years after its publication, it was awarded the Na Hoku Prize “Acoustic Soul” has achieved cult status.
“I feel very happy and grateful” said Cruz, who now lives in the Highlands and will celebrate the anniversary with a state tour and TV special. “When you make an album, you hope to have a lasting impact. It’s an album that’s still alive.”
The hour-long TV show “John Cruz — ‘Acoustic Soul’ 25th Anniversary Special” features an inside look at Cruz’s legendary album of select songs, an in-depth interview with this reporter at his home in the highlands, and commentary from various Hawaiian celebrities. It debuts Friday at 8:00 p.m. on K5, followed by KGMB on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and KHNL on June 5 at 4:00 p.m.
Cruz will perform as part of the celebration “Acoustic Soul” Maui 25th Anniversary concerts begin June 8 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
Cruz grew up surrounded by music. The son of legendary Hawaiian country artist Ernie Cruz Sr., he played bass in his father’s band at age 15. Raised with talented siblings, including brothers Ernie Cruz Jr. and Guy Cruz, he decided it would be best to pursue his love of music on the mainland. On the East Coast, he briefly studied political science and philosophy at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, then switched to theater and dance. He settled on Martha’s Vineyard and later played in Boston and New York.
Back on Oahu, he began debuting some of the “Acoustic Soul” Songs at Ka’au Crater Boys concerts.
“I played bass in my brother’s band and played these songs before they were even recorded.” said Cruz. “I had played ‘Island Style’ and knew it was a powerful song. When I wrote it, it basically wrote itself. I was like, wow, what is this? I had the first verse and chorus on the mainland, and when I got home I wrote the granny verse. The rest of the songs were all on the mainland. Looking back on it now, when I released it in Hawaii, I guess it felt very different to some people.”
Nominated for six Hoku Awards, “Acoustic Soul” won 1997 Contemporary Album of the Year and Most Promising Artist.
Its follow-up in 2007 with the Hoku winner “One of those days” was one of the finest contemporary albums released by a Hawaiian artist in many years. Honolulu Magazine declared it one of the “Top 25 Greatest Hawaiian Albums of the New Century.”
He later formed the Rough Riders with Henry Kapono and Brother Noland and recorded the EP “We drive.” In 2021 he released the single “It’s time to build a bridge” dealing with the current polarized, divisive time.
In recent years, Cruz has performed his signature song “island style” with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne at a concert at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. He had previously sung the popular anthem with Browne and Jack Johnson at a Kokua festival featured on the benefit compilation “The Best of Kokua Festival.”
Last, “island style” was used in the soundtracks of the hit HBO TV series “The White Lotus” and further “Navy CIS: Hawaii.”
“I knew ‘Island Style’ would be effective for people in Hawaii.” he concluded. “But people from everywhere love this song. Even if they don’t know what kanikapila is, they have a sense of what’s being sung.”
Cruz’s ongoing residency at the ProArts Playhouse “island style” Concerts on May 25th, June 1st and June 29th. The Acoustic Soul 25th Anniversary concerts will take place on June 8th, 15th and 22nd. Tickets and more information are available at bit.ly/acousticsoul_maui.
To celebrate the anniversary, anyone who has a “Acoustic Soul” story, photo or video, or attend a concert, enter a contest where the grand prize winner will receive an At-Home “Acoustic Soul” Concert performance by Cruz somewhere in Hawaii. Details are available at www. johncruz.com/acousticsoul/.