Some time with multi-Grammy-nominated guitarist Jim ‘Kimo’ West 
By Dean Lee and Naughty Mickie

With the 63rd Grammy Awards less than five months away, and likely to be unlike traditional shows of the past, we sat down with Jim “Kimo” West. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this extraordinary musician, he is known by some as the lead guitarist for Weird Al Yankovic, for others he is known as a talented slack key guitar player who performs both as a solo act and with a range of other Hawaiian music artists and the lucky few (like us) know him for both!

This year, West has been involved in Grammy compilation album entries, “Aloha Radio Hawaii” and “Rooted in Song,” and his own album, “More Guitar Stories,” which has been nominated for “Best New Age Album.”

West missed the NAMM 2020 music trade show in January-- something he has never done. He was instead on the 20th International Guitar Night Tour throughout North America. Every year, four guitar players from around the world - who usually do not know each other - are selected to tour together. West said he toured with England’s Mike Dawes, Turkish fretless guitarist Cenk Erdogan and Finnish gypsy jazz player Olli Soikkeli. 

“We toured over about two months and it was super fun because the first half of the show would be everybody doing their own solo things and then the second half we would take turns doing duets with each other and then we would have a quartet at the end where we all played with each other,” West shared.

West’s newest album “More Guitar Stories,” is a follow-up to a previous record he put out in 2015, “Guitar Stories.” He said that this was his first record deviating from the Hawaiian slack key spectrum.  

Jim 'Kimo' West“Most of my records are based on Hawaiian slack key and I’m usually writing new songs in that style or maybe doing arrangements of older songs,” he said. “Basically the concept was to use the Hawaiian slack key tunings, but explore other cultures. Essentially that’s what I’m doing on this record too, so it’s an extension of ‘Guitar Stories.’”

Although he said there was not a direct connection between the International Guitar Night Tour and his new album, he does have Cenk Erdogan performing on one of the tracks.  

His writing process is a simple but lengthy collection of stored ideas.     

“Most of my songs come from exploring tunings, finding new tunings and just being inspired,” West explained.  “What I usually do on most of my records, some songs are written out of inspiration and I just write them up and record them; other songs come from ideas that I have stored. When I’m on tour I’ll have a little recorder with me and when I’m playing a lot in my hotel room I’ll come up with an idea. I catalog all those ideas and on my computer I have hundreds of little snippets of ideas that I put in different folders, this is a traditional slack key piece, this is more of a world music thing. And when I’m doing a record I’ll go back to those snippets and ideas and sometimes I’ll burn a CD of them and play them in the car and certain ones will pop out. I’ve got hundreds of them, I’ll never get to recording all of them.”

West, being able to play many genres of music, said the difference with slack key is the style is based on hundreds of traditional tunings, many handed down through family generations.    

 “The thing about the tunings is none of your previous knowledge helps you at all as far as your fingerings and the chords because every time you have a tuning, the chord shapes are completely different, so you tend to be led more by your ear than you are by your fingers and you’ll make these incredible, happy mistakes because you really don’t know what you’re doing on the guitar. It just opens your mind up to creativity,” West shared.

 In arranging the songs on an album, West said that he likes to stick with tradition so that it has a flow. 

“Nowadays with streaming people don’t listen to albums all that much, they just listen to individual songs, but every once in a while some people still put a record or CD on and like to experience the journey of the music so I try and arrange it so that it has a natural flow from one thing to another,” said West.

He added that with “More Guitar Stories” it varies, starts slowly, then moves uptempo, then down and mysterious with a West African groove and so on. 

“Nowadays people just put out singles. An album, there’s something very special about it. I’ll continue to make albums, in fact I have another record almost finished, which is going to be a follow up to ‘Moku Maluhia,’ a very slow, relaxing album, which earned a Grammy nomination,” added West.

West said his Grammy projects, in addition to his own projects, include “Aloha Radio Hawaii” with steel slide guitarist Ken Emerson and others. A tribute to the classic Hawaiian music of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, eras before slack key was recorded so there isn’t any slack key on the album he said. “It was recorded all live in the studio, as done in the past, except with high end equipment.” 

West explained, “this was a real unique chance to make a quality record. The idea was to do this golden age of Hawaii record. (Producer Dave Way) talked to me about it when I was on tour with Weird Al, I think he called me when I was in Toronto, and I said you’ve got to get Ken Emerson involved because Ken is the guy that really knows how to play that old style steel guitar and the acoustic style, he’s really good at that era of music. So we got Ken involved and the producer lined up other musicians. It was a really great opportunity to make this kind of record; these kinds of records are never made any more.”

West also contributed a single track, “Hapa Huli Chicken,” to the Americana compilation album, “Rooted in Song.” It’s a reworking of a song he had written for a previous album, but never used. He had never officially released the tune, but laughed as he explained that it somehow went viral and was even used in several online videos, earning him some money.

As with all musicians, the Covid pandemic has changed the way West sees the music scene now and in the future. He said that they were lucky with The International Guitar Night Tour, as it had wrapped up just as social distancing was closing down the world.  

“We flew back from Seattle and the airport was completely empty. We were lucky because we got every show in,” West shared. “For me, it’s been a blessing in disguise because normally I don’t get to spend so much time in my studio. Because of the pandemic I’m just staying home a lot so I’m writing and recording music like crazy. Of course I’m not playing any gigs, but I’m lucky because my music has been out there streaming so I have a bit of a regular income. But a lot of my musician friends who rely on playing shows, they’re in bad shape so I try to support them when they’re doing their online concerts.”

“As far as the future goes, it’s hard to say.” West went on, “With Weird Al this year was going to be off, but we planned a new tour for the upcoming year, February or something like that. Of course that’s changed, but the plan is, if possible, to try to start the tour in the fall of next year. Perhaps by then we’ll have a vaccine. Big concerts will be the last thing they let happen, so we’ll see what happens.”

Additionally, West normally plays at the annual Slack Key Festival held each January at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. West said that in 2021 he will hopefully travel, as producer Mitch Chang is planning to offer a virtual show with the artists playing from Oahu. 

As for the future, he has an idea for a dreamy “Pink Floyd meets Americana” album-- “Something for all the yoga moms in Nashville.” After that he wants to do a traditional slack key record, bringing in guest artists from Hawaii and it may even include some vocals from his lovely wife, Diana.

Check out Jim “Kimo” West’s music and videos at

No. Title Length
1. "Mele Ahiahi-Evening Song" 5:31
2. "Windward" 5:45
3. "Birimintingo" 5:34
4. "Paniolo Starlight" 4:27
5. "Tin Roof Shing-a-Ling" 5:17
6. "Moonbow" 4:44
7. "Green Islands" 4:06
8. "The Lydian Sea" 5:59
9. "Sugar Cane Blues" 5:15
10. "Soul Motion" 5:09

  • Release:  August 14th, 2020
    Westernmost Records
Jim 'Kimo' West - More Guitar Stories 


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