Music & Memories

Harrell Baker
Harrell Baker on the baritone saxophone with the Olliephonics

Back in September, we blogged about the world of music on Hawai‘i Island, and our wealth of great venues for live entertainment of all kinds, from good ol’ American rock & roll to Zydeco style, and the various beautiful flavors of Hawaiian music. Since then, pandemic restrictions put everyone on a long break, but we’re delighted to report that live music is making a comeback.

As restaurants and lounges reopen, old favorites take the stage, and we remember how important music is to our island home. Whether it’s a special occasion, an impromptu street concert or romantic sunset dinner, music makes the soundtrack for many memories.

Music has been an important part of life for one of our team members, REALTOR® Broker Harrell Baker, who finds a common thread between his chosen vocation and his lifelong avocation.

“From music, I learned how to listen and I’ve always related that to real estate,” says Harrell, who believes that truly listening is key to success, along with the musician’s mantra: practice, practice, practice. “The more you work at it the better you get,” he says.

Harrell Baker

Originally from southeast Virginia, Harrell learned how to play guitar as a kid, then took up clarinet (a favorite of his mom’s) in intermediate school. He played saxophone as a ninth grader at Hampton High School, and performed in local clubs with a band called the Nite Liters, one of the better garage bands on the Peninsula.

“We did USO shows backing Jimmy Clanton and the Dovells. We were the opening acts for The Animals, The Yardbirds, Gary US Bonds, Little Richard,” says Harrell. When he was drafted in the 70’s, he chose to join the Coast Guard so he could play in the band. After his service, he attended school and majored in music in San Diego.

His first trip to Hawai‘i was in 1976. “I came to visit a friend, and I’ve been here ever since,” he says. “One day I was cruising down Ali‘i Drive in Kona, and when I passed by the Kona Inn, I heard a band playing. I noticed they didn’t have a guitar. So, I walked in and said ‘you need a guitar player.’”

After that, Harrell played the hotel circuits all along Ali‘i Drive. “Everyone back then in the early 80s had outstanding live music: Kona Surf, Kona Lagoon, Keauhou Resort, Kona Hilton, King Kamehameha, and a lot of local clubs. I used to do Sunday afternoon Jazz at Huggo’s.”

He worked his way up, into the position of music director for the Sheraton Royal Waikoloan Beach Resort, where he wrote and produced theme shows for the hotel. “We had a {weekly} paniolo show, a Hawaiian variety show; Friday was Broadway night; plus their lū‘au. We had five or six musicians, five dancers, and a choreographer.”

More recently, Harrell enjoyed playing with the popular local big band, the Olliephonic Horns. “The leader, Ollie Mitchell, was an icon in the music recording industry who played with all the top recording artists. I probably learned more from him about music and life than I ever did in music school and growing up,” Harrell says. “I also got married to my lovely wife, Ginny, on stage at a performance while we were on a break,” Harrell says. “Also, in the not too distant past, I was fortunate to play with The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Platters, The Coasters, and The Drifters.”

Harrell said that most of the resorts started cutting back on their live music in the late 80s, with the exception of the lū‘au. “When you see resorts start cutting back on flowers, you know that music will probably be next,” he says. He decided to stop playing professionally and just play for fun, took a sabbatical and get his real estate license.

“You know what I found out? Doing Real Estate is a lot like playing music,” Harrell says. “You always have to keep learning, keep practicing, do your homework, there’s always something to do, and new stuff to learn. Sometimes you are lucky enough to work with really great people, and sometimes folks can be challenging. In a band you always want to work with the best musicians; that way you play up to your ability.

“Real Estate is the same, and you want to surround yourself with the best people in the business,” he says. “That’s Tomo. She is the hardest working person I know.”

Harrell is not currently playing in any of the island music venues, however there are still options for music-lovers to enjoy our many talented performers. Here are a few options, and we suggest calling to confirm their schedule. In addition, Big Island Music Magazine provides current online information about the island’s music scene.

  • Napua, at Mauna Lani Beach Club. Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. daily.
  • Red Water Café, Waimea. Open noon to 3 p.m. and 3-9 p.m. daily.
  • Gertrude’s Jazz Bar, Kona. Open Sun-Wed, 5 p.m. to closing.
  • Pineapple’s, Hilo. Open Tues-Sun, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.