Comeback Kid

John Cruz, one of Hawaii’s most gifted musical talents, fell out of sight for years, but he’s on the road back, performing live and recording

Bill Mossman
Friday - October 21, 2005
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John Cruz and Jack Johnson jamming during a photo shoot with famed Rolling Stone photographer Danny Clinch
John Cruz and Jack Johnson jamming during a photo
shoot with famed Rolling Stone photographer
Danny Clinch

Musician John Cruz is rolling down Highway 17 on his way from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, with his latest gig fast disappearing in his rear-view mirror and his next scheduled performance rushing at him quicker than the oncoming Bay Area motorists’ headlights. Suddenly, he presses his manager’s cell-phone against his ear and asks this reporter to repeat the last question.

Instantly, the do-again query forces Cruz to make an abrupt U-turn into his past - well before his days as a multi-Hoku award winner, an aspiring politician, and an actor/dancer wannabe - and immediately following his high school daze of inertia and marijuana, when he was but a budding journalist at the University of Hawaii interviewing such media personalities as MidWeek editor Don Chapman, then a columnist at one of the Honolulu dailies.

“What would I ask myself if I were interviewing John Cruz?” he repeats out loud, reflecting on that period of his life when he was the one with all the questions. “Well, I would say, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you, boy? And when is your next album coming out? Every year for the last five years, you’ve been promising people that you were gonna release an album. So what’s going on?!’”

Already anticipating the follow-up question, the musician quickly adds: “And then I’d answer myself by saying, ‘None of your %#@(&*) business!’” he proclaims before breaking into a stream of infectious laughter.

The response is vintage Cruz. Eight years may have come and gone since the release of his first and only album, Acoustic Soul, but for the artist who gave fans the timeless classic Island Style, the period away from the spotlight hasn’t dulled his sense of humor nor curbed his penchant for candor.

What the time out of the public eye has done, however, is made him eager to resume a promising solo career that, up until recently, has been up in the air. And from all indications, the multi-talented Cruz seems to be off to a good start on the road back to stardom.

Following a six-week swing through the East and West Coast states, the always unflappable showman returned to the Islands earlier this week refreshed and wanting more. His wish was granted with the scheduling of two shows: the “Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 2” concert, which features him and the nine other artists who appeared on the Grammy-award winning album, at 8 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Hawaii Theatre; and a performance with slack-key guitarist Makana at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Hawaii Convention Center, Lili’u Theatre.

John Cruz performs at Bayfest 2005
John Cruz performs at Bayfest

Beyond those concert dates are plans to release Cruz’s second studio album by next spring, as well as a documentary film on his life. The latter is the brainchild of Leslie Truglio, an independent filmmaker and former producer/reporter for CNN who Cruz first met at the most recent Kokua Festival.

“It’s kind of exciting to think there will be a DVD out there with the name Cruz on it,” says the Palolo Valley native.

In addition to the aforementioned projects, there’s also been talk of him releasing a live album prior to his studio opus. “I already have a lot of live stuff recorded over the years that I might just throw together and get out,” reveals the 41-year-old musician. “It’s definitely a possibility. But who knows?”

For now, however, he’s just anxious to give his admirers what they’ve long wanted: a worthy follow-up to Acoustic Soul, which to date has sold approximately 100,000 units.

“My fans have been very patient,” says Cruz, whose second album will showcase the same type of acoustic warmth as his first - although with a greater emphasis on a driving rhythm section - as well as the usual staple of blues, rock, folk and traditional and contemporary Hawaiian tunes. “Wherever I go, people are constantly asking me when the next album’s coming out because they liked the first one. I’m honored by that, and I’m trying to be respectful of their wishes. I want to come out with something that can stand up to people’s expectations.”

On the road to fatherhood, recovery

Great expectations are somewhat expected when you hail from a family whose surname is synonymous with entertainment. Cruz’s father, Ernie Sr., is widely recognized for his contributions to the country-Hawaiian music scene and is still known by the moniker, “The Waimea Cowboy.” His older brother, Ernie Jr., made up one-half of the wildly successful contemporary Hawaiian duo, Ka’au Crater Boys, and a

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