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Arthur Lyman

Arthur Lyman

BiographyArthur Lyman was born on the island of Oahu in the U.S. territory of Hawaii, on 2 February 1932. He was the youngest of eight children of a Hawaiian mother and a father of Hawaiian, French, Belgian and Chinese descent. When Arthur's father, a land surveyor, lost his eyesight in an accident on Kauai, the family settled in Makiki, a subdistrict of Honolulu. Arthur's father was very strict with him, each day after school locking him in a room with orders to play along to a stack of Benny Goodman records "to learn what good music is." "I had a little toy marimba," Lyman later recalled, "a sort of bass xylophone, and from those old 78 rpm disks I learned every note Lionel Hampton recorded with the Goodman group." At age 8 he made his public debut playing his toy marimba on the Listerine Amateur Hour on radio station KGMB, Honolulu playing "Twelfth Street Rag." "I won a bottle of Listerine," he laughed. Lyman joined his father and brother playing USO shows on the bases at Kaneohe and Pearl Harbor. Over the next few years he became adept at the 4-mallet style of playing which offers a greater range of chord-forming options. In fact he became good enough to turn professional at age 14 when he joined a group called the Gadabouts, playing vibes in the cool-jazz style then in vogue. "I was working at Leroy's, a little nightclub down by Kakaako. I was making about $60 a week, working Monday to Saturday, from 9 to 2 in the morning, and then I'd go to school. So it was kind of tough."ExoticaAfter graduating from McKinley High School in 1951, he put music on hold to work as a desk clerk at the Halekulani hotel. It was there in 1954 that he met pianist Martin Denny, who, after hearing him play, offered the 21-year old a spot in his band. Initially wary, Lyman was persuaded by the numbers: he was making $280 a month as a clerk, and Denny promised more than $100 a week. Denny had been brought to Hawaii in January on contract by Don the Beachcomber, and stayed in Hawaii to play nightly in the Shell Bar at the Hawaiian Village. Other members of his band were Augie Colon on percussion and John Kramer on string bass. Denny, who had traveled widely, had collected numerous exotic instruments from all over the world and liked to use them to spice up his jazz arrangements of popular songs. The stage of the Shell Bar was very exotic, with a little pool of water right outside the bandstand, and rocks and palm trees growing around. One night Lyman had "had a little to drink," and when they began playing the theme from Vera Cruz, Lyman let out a few bird calls. "The next thing you know, the audience started to answer me back with all kinds of weird cries. It was great." These bird calls became a trademark of Lyman's sound.When Denny's "Quiet Village" was released on record in 1957 it became a smash hit, igniting a national mania for all things Hawaiian, including tiki idols, exotic drinks, aloha shirts, luaus, straw hats and Polynesian-themed restaurants like Trader Vic's.That same year, Lyman split off from Denny to form his own group, continuing in much the same style but even more flamboyant. For the rest of their careers they remained friendly rivals, even appearing together (with many of their former bandmates) on Denny's 1990 CD Exotica '90. Although the Polynesian craze faded as music trends changed, Lyman's combo continued to play to tourists nearly every Friday and Saturday night at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel in Honolulu throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He also performed for years at Don the Beachcomber's Polynesian Village, The Shell Bar, the Waialae Country Club and the Canoe House at the Ilikai Hotel at Waikiki, the Bali Hai in Southern California and at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. During the peak of his popularity Lyman recorded more than 30 albums and almost 400 singles, earning three gold albums. Taboo peaked at number 6 on Billboard's album chart and stayed on the chart for over a year, eventually selling more than two million copies. The title song peaked at number 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1959. Lyman's biggest pop single was "Yellow Bird," originally a Haitian song, which peaked at #4 in July 1961. His last charting single was "Love For Sale" (reaching number 43 in March 1963), but his music enjoyed a new burst of popularity in the 1990s with the lounge music revival and CD reissues.Lyman died from esophageal cancer in February 2002.Arthur Lyman Group personnelArthur Lyman - vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, bird calls, congas, bongos, guitar, percussion (including wind chimes, ankle spurs, timbali, cocktail drums, boobams, ass's jaw, guido, conch shell, tambourine, snare drums, wood block, finger cymbals, cowbells, castanets, samba, Chinese gong and sleigh bells)Alan Soares - piano, celeste, glockenspiel, guitar, clavietta, marimba, percussionJohn Kramer - string bass, bass guitar, percussion, ukulele, guitar, bird calls, flute, clarinetHarold Chang - percussion, marimba, xylophone, bassArthur Lyman - vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, bird calls, congas, percussionAlan Soares - piano, celeste, glockenspiel, guitar, percussionArchie Grant - bass, flute, guitar, ukuleleHarold Chang - percussion, marimba, xylophoneArthur Lyman - vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, percussionClem Low - pianoArchie Grant - bassHarold Chang - percussion, marimba, xylophoneKapiolani Lyman - percussion, marimba, flute, hula, vocalsKaipualani - percussion, hula, vocalsArthur Lyman - vibraphone, marimba, ukulele, percussionPaul Reid - pianoRandy Aton - bassPat Sombrio - drumsKapiolani Lyman - percussion, marimba, flute, hula, vocalsNeil Norman - guest guitaristRecording detailsMost of Lyman's albums were recorded in the aluminum Kaiser geodesic dome auditorium on the grounds of the Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki in Honolulu. This space provided unparalleled acoustics and a natural 3-second reverberation. His recordings also benefited from being recorded on a one-of-kind Ampex 3-track 1/2" tape recorder designed and built by engineer (and label owner) Richard Vaughn. All of Lyman's albums were recorded live, without overdubbing. He recorded after midnight, to avoid the sounds of traffic and tourists, and occasionally you can hear the aluminum dome creaking as it settles in the cool night air. The quality of these recordings became even more evident with the advent of CD reissues, when the digital mastering engineer found he didn't have to do anything to them but transfer the original 3-track stereo masters to digital. The recordings remain state-of-the-art nearly 50 years later.


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