First off, I initially began working on this project 4 months ago in April 2019, and in just a few short weeks, it has turned into something even more meaningful than I could have ever imagined. On August 13, 2019, just 5 months after my beloved mother passed away, my dad had his second stroke. His last one was in 2007, and my mom helped nurse him back to health. Maybe it was Divine Providence that inspired me to start producing this tribute album back in April, which I have kept as a secret from my dad since then. I was with him the night he had his second stroke in 12 years. We played music together and it was the best I have heard him solo in a long time. I had no idea he was having a stroke while we were on stage together! It was no mistake that I was with him to notice the warning signs and rush him to the ER, and it was no coincidence that this project was already in the works.
I was literally about to launch the Kickstarter campaign below to surprise my dad with a tribute album, and then Aug 13 happened...It changed everything. The urgency to release this project is underscored now, because time is so precious and fleeting. So now, my reasons for launching this campaign today are not just to preserve my father's musical legacy but to literally help him on the road to recovery.
After the stroke, Dad lost his ability to speak English because the left side of his brain was affected, but somehow, he was able to speak in Samoan and play music because his right side was not affected. Music literally saved his life and watching him play ukulele was an emotional moment for me. I know the music is helping him get better because this is part of what defines him, that gives my dad Jerome Grey his ESSENCE. That's why this project is so important to me, to him, to my family, now more than ever. All we have is the present. I want to honor my father while he's still around, while he can see how much he means to me and so many others. That's really what this project is about.
Following his footsteps. Music as therapy.
I decided to follow in my dad's footsteps, embarking on the adventure as a professional musician about 12 years ago, after almost losing him to his first stroke in 2007. Since then, I thank God for giving me many more years with my dad and I'm so grateful for his gift of music, because it helped save his life then and now. Music is therapy, and it's what has kept him going strong all these years and able to continue, performing at an unbelievable level at places like Disneyland, headlining his own shows, and winning people over at various private and public gigs (even at a young 72 years old.)
Unfortunately, my mom was suddenly called to heaven during a surgical procedure on March 4, 2019, which has left another cross for Dad to bear. He's such a strong man, but things will never be the same after losing his lifelong love. What DO you do when you find yourself alone after making and living a beautiful life with your companion of over 50 years? While this is his new normal–and of course Dad has his children and his grandkids–but Mom was his best friend, his forever. As the oldest son, losing Mom has been an unbearable loss for me and every member of our family, but especially for him. Again, music has been his therapy and brings him fond memories of his true love, when life was much simpler and carefree.
THE ELENI ALBUM.
A little background: “Hey, Eleni!”
"What's up Eleni?" "Malo Eleni!" "Eleni, Eleni, a falai fa'alelei e sili le manogi". These are the different greetings I received on a daily basis from the time I attended middle school in Samoa and then high school in Hawaii. I was called "Eleni" as soon as the Samoan kids found out who my dad was: The legendary musician (as they knew him to be), Jerome Grey,who wrote the ahead-of-its-time pop song “Eleni”, a song all about the various ways the poor people of Samoa cooked mackerel—also known as a song of protest—stating in its subtle way how “the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer”. My classmates would sing this tune out loud to poke fun at me, but definitely (in a good way.)
The other song dad was famous for was "We are Samoa", a nostalgic tune that talks about the beauty of Samoa and its people.
As a kid, I despised those two songs for a long time, because that's all I was known for. That’s why, it's ironic that I'm doing this project. Talk about a little foreshadowing! :)
Even though I studied to become an architect, somehow, Dad’s music was always a part of my journey (just like my "small kid" days!); I just didn’t realize it.
“Kickstarting” the Project: “Eleni” the Album
All that said, one of the ways I’d like to lift my dad's spirits is by doing this project: “Eleni” the Album, where I will be remaking and recording over 20 of his original songs with my own take on them. In the past, my dad occasionally mentioned that I should try redoing some of his songs. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, because, I thought they were perfect as they were. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? After all, (all biases aside) Dad has consistently made it on my list of favorite singers of all-time.
However, after some self-reflection and thinking through the gift he’s brought to the world through his music, I decided to make a go of it and to dedicate this album as a tribute to my dad, the man who inspires me to constantly work on my craft, who encouraged me to learn how to play music “because it makes people happy”, and because “it is a gift from God that should be used”!
So here I go, kickstarting this special surprise project for a special man: “Eleni” the Album, and I hope you will come along with me on this journey.
I've recorded a few albums of my own music over the past 10 years, but this will be the first time I will record a double full-length Samoan Album. This is where I would love your support.
So, what the heck is an Eleni you ask? Well, it's a can of herring or mackerel. Yup, all of this commotion for a can of fish!
A quick timeline.
My parents left Samoa in the early 70s to tour around the U.S. with his band. They performed all over the “mainland”, namely in Southern California and Las Vegas. (with a quick stop in Orange County, CA where I was born in Newport Beach, and another quick stop in Boise, ID where my sister was born)!
In 1978, my folks decided to settle back in Samoa, where they had 2 more children. That was when Dad really dove into the art of writing music. Many who know my dad, know that he released about a dozen albums in his whole career. Along the way, he wrote and recorded numerous hits. But, the 2 songs that really accelerated his popularity amongst Samoans were "Eleni" and "We Are Samoa."
A little more about the song: “Eleni”.
So, Eleni was written during a time in Samoa, when the economy was shot. The majority of the people were really poor, but, the politicians were living very comfortable lives. Eleni (that can of mackerel) was one of the few food items affordable to the people (it was on the menu basically every day of the week), so, my dad wrote a song about it. Using his comedic wit, the lyrics explain all the different ways to cook eleni: you can fry it, make curry, or add some coconut for more flavor, etc. He even pokes fun at the rich, mentioning the cost of everything going up while the people still remain broke. He goes on to say in the song, "you rich guys can enjoy your expensive corn beef and pork, but I'll still be here playing my tin can of fish."
But, the song wasn't just revolutionary because of its lyrics, the recording production was unprecedented. There was nothing like it at the time, it was a new sound for Samoan music a fusion of pop, jazz and funk. The groove itself had Samoan people singing it everywhere they went, but it was sung by protestors during that time. The song was impactful in so many ways, and because of how it resonated with the people and became and instant radio hit and drew a ton of attention to the entire album, “Ava”.
“We Are Samoa”. The sleeping giant.
On the B side of the same album, laid a sleeping giant song called "We Are Samoa." Before releasing the Ava Album in 1980, the producer told my dad that they needed one more song to complete the album. Dad completed a song he began writing while watching the snow fall during a tour in Alaska, as he was missing his Polynesian island home. That song is now considered the unofficial national anthem of Samoa.
Songs that round out “Eleni” the Album.
Without a doubt, “We Are Samoa” and “Eleni” will be a part of this project. I'll be hitting the recording studio this month to get to it. I'm also, including a few of my own original Samoan songs (I’m a tiny bit nervous to release these, but I hope you enjoy them), but I look forward to sharing this project with you all, especially my friends in Polynesian dance groups who are looking for some dance music, and dedicating this album to both my dad Jerome Grey and my beloved mother, Emily Taiuta Aolaolagi Grey.
These are some of the Jerome Grey Favorites I wanted to reintroduce to you all in this special project.
Apian Lady | Aue Aue | Eleni | Fia Va'ai Pea Ia Samoa | Ha He | Lo’u Sei Oriana | Lo’u Tau’au Ete Mapu Ai | Lue Mai / Pese Fa’ataupati | Moana | Naunau I Le Ufi | Le Olaga O Samoa | O Lena O Lenei | Pe Ana Mafai |Polynesia is Home |Samoan (Island) Beauty | The Man From Upolu Point | Ua Sili Samoa | We Are Samoa, and more.
My good friend, Shawn Ishimoto who is a Na Hoku Award Winner is producing this album with me. Anyone who knows about Shawn, knows the kind of musician he is. He plays guitar, bass, ukulele, drums at an amazing level and he's a great singer. Shawn is also huge Jerome Grey fan and he even recorded the song “Eleni” himself on one of his own albums several years ago. I've worked with Shawn on many projects, including the 2 singles I released in 2017. “ Malietoa” and “Nifo Oti” , which I co-wrote with my dad. Shawn understands my approach to music, but also my father's style and essence, so I trust him in co-producing this project the way it should be produced.
In addition to Shawn, another very talented musician making magic with us is a local Orange County artist, Francois Dean II. Check his out his work on http://francoisdean.com/.
Marc Solomon of Epic Music Studios in Hollywood is engineering the project.
I wanted to do something special for the album cover, and I'm a big fan of JP | Jason Pereira!
JP is an impressive graphic artist of Samoan and Portuguese descent. Born and raised in Carson / Harbor Area / Leone, American Samoa, he now resides in Garden Grove, CA, with his wife and son. Educated in graphic design and murals, with ties to graffiti art and Pacific Island culture, JP worked on both the manufacturing and the branding sides of the action sports apparel industry. He created and owns the Pacific Island lifestyle clothing brand, JPSOUTHPACIFIC, with distribution throughout North America and Pacific regions. JP designed and painted the first Samoan culture-themed murals in Carson, Santa Ana, and Long Beach, CA.
JP and I are in the process of reviewing my father's works, history and memorabilia to understand the true essence of who he is. Then JP will begin designing the cover for the album. I'm really excited for this collaboration!
Ready to kick start the surprise project for Jerome Grey.
I hope you join me on this journey and Kickstarter campaign to surprise this man who is loved by so many, and who has shared so much love with the world through his music. With your alofa (love), I hope to reintroduce his music to a new generation, while also expressing myself in a way that reconnects me to my roots and pays homage to my ancestry and heritage.
Risks and challenges
Heads Up! Some of the challenges and risks this project includes:
1. Keeping it a secret from my dad, Jerome Grey. He asks every time I see him "How is the project is going"? He knows about a project, but he doesn't know it's all his music. I hope no one "let's the cat out of the bag." I have an idea of when to officially present it to him. I'm thinking right after the first print of CDs, I'm going to hand it right to him and videotape his reaction. I also plan to film his reaction listing to the album for the first time, then share his reaction with you all. If you have any ideas, please share with me!
2. I plan to sing the final vocals before the winter season. Right around Halloween, my voice starts to act up because of the weather change, and of course, flu season is in full effect. This is why I'm aiming to finish final vocals and mixing and mastering in the fall, so time is of the essence.
3. Comparing myself to my dad. As a kid, people always asked me, "So can you sing like your dad?" Imagine having that in your head ‘til l your adult years, then trying to record his biggest songs like, "We Are Samoa" and "Eleni". Sheesh! Also, my dad recorded those classic songs when he was 33 years old. I'm now 43, trying to capture that youthful spark he had back then. Only until 10 years ago, I didn't think I could sing at all. So, I need to check myself when I start to doubt my ability and remember WHY I'm doing this. It's not about me, it's about him and his music. Your support and encouragement through this process is amazing!
4. Scheduling. Being a working husband and father of 5 kids under the age of 15, time is very limited to do anything creative. This is why I am aiming to finish this project in a matter of months. I know it's a quick turnaround, but with Dad's recent stroke, I'm trying to do this project as quickly as possible so I can present it to him and help aid in his healing. The kids' summer break is done, but I have one more at home, my preschooler. Once he is back in school, I'll be able to go in the studio hard to finish this. I'm hoping to reach our Kickstarter goal by then. Thanks in advance for all your love, support, and help! My whole family thanks you! Fa'afetai lava!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (14 days)