In 1973, on the heels of him rocketing into the big name star echelon, Neil Young came to Hilo Town on the Big Island of Hawai‘i and settled a feud between Larry Delauria and Pete “The Rock” Kaneshiro.
Larry lived in the northwest part of Hilo with his wife Zelma Kila and their daughter Chloe. At the time, Chloe was nineteen, and this is important for the story, as you’ll see.
Now Pete “The Rock” Kaneshiro live on the Kona side with his wife, Momi Kaneshiro-Heitz, and his son Bobby, who was nineteen at the time as well, and that too is important.
Larry over on the Hilo side ran a place in Hilo Town called Larry’s Guitar and Fender. Now you may assume that “Fender” referred to the venerable guitar brand, but it did not. What it did refer to was that Larry ran a body and fender shop. So his business was actually two businesses in one: A car repair shop and a music shop.
Larry, you might say then, was a jack of two trades, for he was a crack body repair man, and a pretty damn good guitar player. In fact Larry fronted one of the two most popular bands on the island, The Lickety Splits. They played what Larry termed Country Blues music, but they could definitely rock out if the mood struck them.
The Splits consisted of Larry on guitar and vocals, Larry’s daughter Chloe on vocals, Ralph Ortiz on bass guitar, Rafael Nieto on keyboards, and Polka Dot Sanchez on drums. Polkadot, he got his name on account of when he had chicken pox as a kid, he scratched his chicken pox, even though you know we’re not supposed to, and as a result, he had these brownish dots all over his body. He never tried to cover them up either. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might think he was proud of those dots.
Anyway, one day a shipment of Fenders arrived at the Larry’s – the guitars, not the car kind – and one of them was this beautiful baby blue Fender Stratocaster Larry had liked the look of in the catalog. Not only was it great looking, but Leo Fender had autographed it, in gold lettering. And it played beautifully, to Larry’s ear, like a dream.
That guitar sat there week after week, and although many folks came in to admire it, no one had that kind of money to invest in a such a pricey guitar. Larry would love demonstrating it for folks who were too shy to try it, not feeling that their playing was worthy of such a fine instrument, and since no one had bought it so far, Larry started taking it with him to play at gigs. He played it so much, in fact, that you’d think he owned it, and really he did, since you had to pay Fender up front for any inventory you ordered.
So the Lickety Splits performed mostly on weekends, and one night they happened to book a gig over on the West side at the Kealakekua Armory. Larry had brought the baby blue Fender along, and the guys were really in the groove that night.
It just so happened that in the audience were the other premiere band on the island. Kaleo, as they were called, consisted of Pete “The Rock” Kaneshiro on guitar and vocals, his son Bobby on bass, Cat Desantos also on guitar, Rio Alita Novelo on drums, and Pete’s brother Duffy Kaneshiro also on guitar.
At the break between sets, Pete “The Rock” came up to Larry and asked about that baby blue Fender. Word of that guitar had worked all way over to Kona, and Pete was curious if it were even still for sale, since word of Larry playing it at all his gigs had also spread far and wide.
“Well,” said Larry, a bit grudgingly, “technically yeah, Pete, it’s still for sale.”
Pete asked if he could try out the guitar and Larry said sure. So Pete picked it up and began, as his name suggests, to rock out big time. Not only was he a good guitarist, but in his heart of hearts, Larry knew that Pete was the best player on the Big Island. Although Larry knew his way around a fret board, there was no way that he could ever hope to outplay Pete.
Pete thanked Larry for allowing him to try the Fender, and that was all. He said nothing about buying it, which actually brought Larry relief, since it meant that he could keep playing the guitar he’d come to adore.
Meanwhile, off in a corner of the armory, Pete’s son Bobby, was deep in conversation with Larry’s daughter Chloe. The Big Island is actually not as big as the name might imply, and because the two bands were constantly crossing paths, Bobby and Chloe, even though they lived on opposite sides of the island, were often able to meet and speak to each other.
Truth be told, it had been love at first sight for both of them, and given their frequent encounters because of meeting up all the time at gigs, they were well on their way into that very deep kind of love that teenagers know so well.
This night’s conversation had a lot to do with that. In fact when it was time for Chloe to get back up on stage with her father, Bobby had proposed to Chloe and she had accepted.
There was only one big problem, and it was this. Both Chloe and Bobby knew that their fathers, while outwardly exhibiting a fairly collegial relationship, were in fact pretty bitter rivals on the music scene. And because of this rivalry, both Chloe and Bobby knew that breaking the news of their now impending message would most likely not be viewed as good news for the two fathers.
They made a pact, however, to tell their dads the news the following morning at breakfast time, and then they would see which way the wind blew, and proceed with further strategies as needed.
To wit, on the following morning, on their opposite sides of the Big Island, both Chloe and Bobby announced to their fathers their plans to marry, at the breakfast table. As they had both foreseen, the news was not taken well by either father, and it was with a heavy heart that they relayed via phone call to each other how badly the conversation had gone post revelation.
Both agreed to work on their dads over the course of the week, for they knew that there was a big event up at the Kohala Kiwanis Club come Saturday night, and both the Lickety Splits and Kaleo would be there to perform. By that time, they both hoped, they would have calmed down their fathers enough to bring them together in future in-law camaraderie.
Now this plan based on hope and prayer might have played out well enough, but we will never know, for on Wednesday afternoon, when Pete The Rock’s work for the electric company brought him over to Hilo, during his lunch break he decided to pay Larry a visit at the guitar and fender shop.
Larry, who was doing a lube and oil change on a Chevy out in back did not see Pete come into the music store up front. Leroy, the kid running the music shop side came to get Larry, telling him that The Rock was waiting for him.
Larry shot out from under the Chevy, and walked to the shop with purposeful steps.
These men, fueled by their longstanding musical rivalry were both pretty definitely damn mad about their kids wanting to marry, but they were also gentlemen, and as such they shook hands when Larry came in behind the counter.
“Hey, Pete,” Larry said in a well-controlled voice, “What can I do for you?”
“Well,” said Larry in an equally restrained manner, “I wanted to take another look at that baby blue Strat.”
“Oh,” said Larry, looking over at the guitar hesitantly, “why sure, Pete.”
Larry gently took the Strat down and carefully passed it over the counter to his rival. Pete took a seat and plugged the baby in. Then, as if to taunt Larry with his virtuosity, he proceeded to jam some Jimi Hendrix riffs.
After a few minutes of showboating, Pete unplugged the guitar, stood up, walked over to the counter, and laid down the Strat in front of Larry.
“How much?” he almost whispered.
Larry doubly mad now, leaned on the counter, moving his face closer to Pete’s. He too was barely audible. “I’m thinking about just keeping it for myself,” he said.
Pete and Larry stood face to face, hovered above that guitar, their mutual dislike of the idea of their children uppermost in their minds. The scene had all the ingredients of erupting like Kilauea Volcano.
Now meanwhile, Neil Young, remember how I mentioned Neil Young back at the beginning of this story? Well Neil Young was coming off the high of having his album Harvest make him a big reputation and some big money.
While he was thinking about his next album and fiddling around with new song ideas, he happened to be vacationing on the Big Island up at the famous Volcano House, the hotel that overlooks the caldera called Halema‘uma‘u. As fate would have it, Neil had decided to come down from Volcano and poke around Hilo Town.
And wouldn’t you know it. Right at the moment Larry
and Pete were squared off above that baby blue Strat, Neil Young sauntered into the music store.
“Howdy, folks,” he said as he came through the door.
Larry and Pete, their concentration broken, turned to look at Neil, and of course they both recognized him right off the bat. Well, this broke the tension right away.
“Mr. Young,” said Larry, “welcome to my store.”
Neil Young looked around the shop. “Wow,” he said, “I really like this place. You sure have a nice collection of instruments here.”
And right then his eye caught the Fender on the counter. “Man,” he said, “is that ever a sweet looking Strat. I love that baby blue color. Mind if I try it?”
“Oh, no, go ahead please,” said Larry, falling all over himself to get around the counter and plug in the Strat.
So Neil Young sat down and basically gave a mini-concert of his songs. Pete and Larry got so wrapped up in the music that they both took up guitars and started playing along with Neil. So the three were jamming and working out cool harmonies right on the spot.
After about nearly thirty minutes, Neil stopped, and so did Larry and Pete. Neil says, “Larry” – Larry had introduced himself, but not Pete, “Larry, how much is this sweet axe?”
Now this knocked Larry for a loop. He’d grown very fond of that baby blue Stratocaster, and since Pete had walked in and asked the price, he’d grown exponentially fond of it.
“Well,” said Larry, “I was actually, Mr. Young –“
“Please call me Neil,” Neil interrupted.
“Well, Neil,” Larry said, “I was actually thinking about keeping it. I’ve grown real fond of it.”
Neil nodded. “Well I can certainly understand that, Larry. She’s a beauty. Still, I’ve instantly grown pretty fond of ‘er myself, and I’d be willing to pay you top dollar for her.”
Larry was torn. It wasn’t every day a celebrity walked into his shop, let alone being willing to pay a lot of money for an instrument. He sat there motionless, thinking.
Then all of a sudden Pete, who’d been sitting there listening to this, said, “Larry, I thought you were going to sell the guitar to me?”
Neil turned to Pete. “Mister – I’m sorry, what was your name?”
Pete said, “Pete.”
“Well Pete,” said Neil, “I sure didn’t mean to get between you and this guitar. I’m sorry. If she’s yours, I certainly don’t want to stand in the way of you two getting together.”
Larry coming up to full steam again, said, “No, Neil, don’t listen to him. I was definitely not going to sell him this Strat.”
“Oh yeah,” said Pete, standing up and glaring down and Larry. “You weren’t, you say?”
“That’s right,” said Larry, standing up as well, “if anything I was going to keep it for myself. I would never sell you that baby blue Strat, Pete.”
“Whoa whoa whoa, gentlemen,” said Neil Young, standing up as well, but not angry in the least about anything. “I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but I sure didn’t mean to rile you both up.”
This instantly lowered but did not completely snuff out the fire that had been building between the two music rivals and upset fathers.
Larry said, “I’m sorry, Neil, there’s a lot of history between us two.”
“Yeah,” said Pete, “and it’s kind of come to a head over this guitar.”
“Oh really?” said Larry, “I thought it might have come to a head over something else.”
“Well now that you bring it up,” said Pete, “I guess you could say that. Go ahead, spit it out, Larry.”
“All right,” said Larry, “I think I’ll maybe agree to let my daughter marry your son, Pete, when hell proverbially freezes over.”
“And I’ll say the same to you, Larry,” said Pete, “since you have the gall to bring it up. My son will never ever ever have my blessing to marry your daughter.”
Neil Young laid the Strat down and held out his arms to pry the two men apart.
“Whoa, guys,” he said, “peace, peace. I surely did not think I’d be walking into a situation like this just now.”
And right at that moment, who should walk in but the soon-to-be wed couple, Chloe and Bobby.
“Chloe!” said Larry.
“Bobby!” said Pete.
“Neil Young!” the two lovers both said.
“Howdy,” said Neil Young, tipping his Stetson to them. “And who might you two be?”
Larry said, “This is my daughter Chloe.”
Pete said, “This is my son Bobby.”
Neil said, “So this is the happy couple with the,” he looked at Larry then at Pete, “unhappy dads.”
Larry cleared his throat. “Well, it’s not so much unhappiness, as maybe, I don’t know.” He shook his head.
Pete said, “Yeah, Neil, it’s not that I’m sad about our kids getting together, it’s just that, well, I don’t know.”
“Well,” said Neil Young, “I can tell there’s a whole lot of history behind all of this, but I gotta say, you two kids look great together. I mean I can tell you’re both crazy about each other just by seeing you.”
He spoke to the two fathers again. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I sure hope you can work out whatever differences are between the two of you. I gotta feeling that somewhere down the road you all are going to maybe feel not so good about trying to keep your son and daughter apart.”
And with that he doffed his hat, bid them all a good day, and then walked out the front door.
The upshot of that incident was that Larry and Pete buried the axe. They actually became the best of friends after their first grandchild was born.
And that baby blue Stratocaster? Well, it’s sitting in a glass case above the counter of Larry’s Guitar and Fender Shop with a little sign that says, “Neil Young Almost Bought This Guitar,” along with another sign that says, “Not for Sale.”