Jeff Peterson

Jeff Peterson

Guitar player Jeff Peterson is one of Hawaii’s most celebrated musicians. A recognized master of the slack key guitar style the islands are famous for, Jeff shared with us via email how he started playing slack key guitar, some of his favorite tunings, and what he thinks the future holds in store for traditional Hawaiian music.

See the Masters of Hawaiian Music: George Kahumoku Jr, Led Kaapana and Jeff Peterson on Saturday, February 20 in Daniels Hall.

Read our Q&A with slack key guitar master George Kahumoku Jr.

How would you describe slack key guitar to a novice?

Jeff: Slack key guitar is a Hawaiian tradition that began in the 1830s when the guitar was introduced to the islands by Vaqueros who worked on the Big Island. The style of guitar playing features a large number of open tunings where the guitar is tuned to a chord and features independence between the bass, melody, and accompaniment parts resulting in a full sound on one instrument.

How did you come to embrace the slack key guitar playing? Did you encounter it when you were young? Were you influenced by family or a local community, or were there popular entertainers who influenced you?

Jeff: My father was a Hawaiian cowboy or Paniolo on the Haleakala Ranch on Maui and enjoyed playing guitar and singing Hawaiian songs. This got me inspired to play myself.

Is there a particular slack key tuning you prefer? If so, why do you like that tuning?

I enjoy many tunings including Taro Patch (open G), C Mauna Loa, open D, and a number of unique tunings that I use for particular compositions of mine like CGEbGBbEb or G Minor (DGDGBbD).

How has slack key guitar influenced non-Hawaiian forms of music? Have you found the music or its influence turn up in any places that surprised you?

Jeff: The biggest influence was in the south of the mainland U.S. where open tunings and Hawaiian steel guitar influenced Blues and country music with open tunings and slide techniques.

Finally, as creative forces behind The Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music, how do you see the music evolving, and what does that direction mean for the future of Hawaiian music at large?

Jeff: The music is evolving and is always best served when it moves forward while still being deeply rooted to the kupuna who developed the tradition. There are many elements beyond just the slacked strings and open tunings that make slack key unique. It is the aloha spirit in the music, the phrasing, the alternate bass lines, the nahenahe or soothing sound, and the great repertoire of songs that make the style distinctive.

This interview was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Marketing Manager Barry Osborne.

Masters of Hawaiian Guitar

The Masters of Hawaiian Guitar, from left to right, Led Kaapana, George Kahumoku Jr. and Jeff Peterson.