Classic Tracks: Bruddah Iz "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"

Jan 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson

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“So he shows up—biggest human being I’ve ever met. And we record the songs ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and ‘What a Wonderful World,’ just Iz and his uke, two mics, one take. Beautiful. The other song he recorded that night was called ‘White Sandy Beach’ and he overdubbed another uke, so that was three tracks.

“I recorded dry to 2-inch 24-track tape on an MCI JH-24 or JH-16, through the studio’s Harrison MR4. The mics were Neumann KM84s, one on uke about a foot above the instrument, up the neck a little [so it wasn’t pointing directly at the sound hole and picking up what Bertosa calls the ukulele’s characteristic “bark note”], one on vox. Mic pre’s were in the Harrison MR4. EQ was minimal—maybe a light boost above 10k, highpass to get rid of unnecessary subs and most likely a small dip around 400 Hz on the uke mic. I may have used a UREI LA-4 on the vocal mic going to tape. I mixed the next morning using a blue Orban stereo compressor with an Idle function that kept the breaths from being sucked up too much. Reverb was courtesy of a Klark-Teknik DN780, which was a great digital box.” Bertosa mixed to both ¼-inch analog and Sony 2500 DAT, “and then the 2-inch tape was wiped—after all, it was just a demo! Doh!,” he says with a laugh. “I believe that the version that went to mastering [years later] was the DAT.”

The tape sat in Audio Resources’ storage library for five years before it was used. In the meantime, Iz launched his solo career (while still maintaining ties with the Makaha Sons for a while) with an eclectic 1990 album called Ka ’Ano’i, which actually included a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” but done in a fully produced “Jawaiian” style—a blend of reggae and Hawaiian that has long been extremely popular in the Islands.

It wasn’t until 1992, when Iz went into Audio Resources with Bertosa and Mountain Apple Records producer Jon De Mello to make a second album—Facing Future—that the idea surfaced to use the old demo recording, as is. The medley’s beauty lay in its simplicity: Iz’s soaring tenor sounds vulnerable yet optimistic; the recording is intimate—you can even hear the light clicking of Iz’s fingernails on the ukulele’s strings and soundboard. At the top of the song he quietly dedicates the tune to Hawaiian folk music legend (and sometime member of the Sons of Hawaii) Gabby Pahinui.

Released in 1993, Facing Future was an immediate smash in Hawaii, with several different tunes from the disc dominating the local airwaves for months, including the “Rainbow/Wonderful World” medley, a tune associated with the Makaha Sons called “Hawaii ’78,” and Iz’s wonderful Jawaiian take (via Toots Hibbert’s reggae version) on John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Road,” which has “west Makaha” substituting for “West Virginia.”

Alas, Iz’s soaring weight eventually killed him—he died of heart failure in 1997 at age 37. However, as occasionally happens, death was just the beginning for what has become a superstar career. He was already lionized in Hawaii, and then, slowly but surely, his music started spreading eastward. “Rainbow/Wonderful World” was used in a national TV commercial for eToys, and then was picked up for the soundtracks of Meet Joe Black (1998) and Finding Forrester (2000), and later appeared prominently on a key episode of the hit TV series ER and in the soundtrack for the romantic comedy movie 50 First Dates (2004). Soon it became a top-selling digital track, which led to its re-release as a single and more TV and commercial uses.

Not bad for a 15-minute session. “After that 15 minutes,” says Bertosa, who has worked on recent albums with uke phenom Jake Shimabukuro. “I was thinking, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing for a living; not that other stuff, one syllable at a time.”






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