‘BIG ISLAND LOVE’ Talking Story with John Cruz


by Karen Rose

Originally published in Big Island Weekly May 2013



John Cruz is my personal ambassador of aloha. Before moving to Hawaii full time, I would play his music in my car as I drove over the snow packed mountain roads of Colorado, just dreaming about being back on the island with my family. I was counting the days until I could put away my snow boots forever, put on my slippahs, and live my life with ‘Island Style’ on the Big Island of Hawaii.

To me, John Cruz is Hawaii. His songs exude the sounds, smells, and warmth of our beautiful island home, and have the power to transport the listener thousands of miles over the vast ocean, from city to paradise, in a matter of moments.

This Friday, May 10th at 8 p.m., John will perform at the Akebono Theater in Pahoa for the 2013 Puna Music Festival. I had the opportunity to talk story with him a few days before his show.

Just as I expected, John was a warm-hearted local boy, filled with love for the islands and with gratitude for sharing his music with others.

BIW – If you could interview your favorite musician, what would be the first question you asked him or her?

JC – Well, I think I would ask what motivates them to continue writing and playing. What keeps them vital and keeps them going. That’s the first thing I would ask.

BIW – If you had a time machine and could go back in time, what band would you most like to a be a member of?

JC – That’s a good question. I think I would like to be a member of Miles Davis’s band. Miles has always been on the cutting edge of music. He always had fabulous players who were allowed to stretch out and do their own thing. Throughout his whole career from the 50’s through the 80’s. Yeah, I would have liked to be in his band. That would be cool.

BIW – Is there anything in your record collection that would surprise us?

JC – Hmm, I don’t know if it would surprise you. My record collection doesn’t have much popular music. I have a lot of music from friends and family, or friends of friends. Most of my music I have a personal connection to. Although that being said, I do have Madonna and Sheryl Crow in my collection. I enjoy listening to a variety of music. I’m definitely not a musical snob.

These days I listen mostly to public radio, because most radio is in such dire straights in Oahu. When I go to other islands, radio is a breath of fresh air. They don’t have such a strict play list on other islands like they do here on Oahu. The commercial stations are so narrow. You hear the same handful of songs over and over and there’s no room for something different. It’s a competitive market and they don’t want to make any mistakes that might cost them their jobs – it’s all about ratings. Ratings are all science with no room for feeling – they play a song because they know it works. Where on the other islands there seems to be more room for ‘Hey lets try this out’, or ‘Listen to this’. They’re more likely to play something new because they don’t have mainland guys breathing down their backs like people on Oahu do.

For example, I get a lot of love from the people on the Big Island. People on the Big Island know me, they know my songs and applaud when I start playing them – lots of love. Also, my family has tradition on the Big Island, starting with my dad. That love has been extended to me and my older brother with Ka’au Crater Boys and to my younger sister It’s always great to play on the Big Island. It always feels like family there. They’ve seen me grow up. People who went to see my dad play now come to hear me play. What’s funny is people will come up to me and say “I grew up listening to your music”, and I’m like what? Thanks.

BIW – You’re involved with the organization Guitars in the Classroom who’s mission it is to transform learning into a creative, musical process. Can you tell us more about that?

JC – Music can change our world view incredibly. Music is something we all have access to. It’s a gift that is available to us and Guitars in the Classroom helps make that happen. Music is a universal language that can unite everyone. It makes you feel a part of something larger than yourself. Music is a force that brings people together. It’s how we find people who are like-minded – politically, socially, and spiritually. It can definitely change the world, and it already has.

BIW – Do you have any current projects you’re working on that you can share with us?

JC – Well right now I’m working on finishing my next album. I’m just about finished – it’s just a matter of getting back to Nashville. I’m happy with how that’s coming along. I’m also looking forward to doing a more traditional Hawaiian album and incorporating different musicians that have influenced me. And of course there’s one project that I’d like to see come to fruition. It’s a tribute album to Peter Moon. He is a huge influence on Hawaiian music, I mean huge. It would be nice to do a tribute to him while he’ s still alive. We often acknowledge people after their gone and they don’t get a chance to feel the appreciation, you know. I’m sure they might through spiritual channels but it’s nice to recognize people while their still around. There’s a lot of talented people who have come up from Peter Moon’s bands.

BIW – Who did you admire most when you were young?

JC – My dad of course, he was the musician closest to me. Of course everyone was psyched on Jackson 5 back then too. My brother Ernie was closest to me as a kid and I saw him play all the time, so I was definitely influenced by him.

BIW – Well you seem to have a pretty cool life. Is there anything that sucks about being John

JC – Well, just regular sucky things that everybody experiences, you know. I can’t complain. It’s great. I’m allowed to pursue my passion and it’s incredibly wonderful. I’m not complaining about shit.