The Beachcomber Trio
Live From Kahiki, 1965
1965 / 2010





Here we have a true rarity both in terms of availability and aesthetic value: music historian and Exotica specialist Jeff Chenault was able to gain access to the master tapes of a few gigs The Beachcomber Trio did at the Kahiki Supper Club in Columbus, Ohio in 1965. The trio consisted of bandleader and pianist-bassist Marcel "Marsh" Padilla, John Dragu who played the drums, vibraphones and the saxophone, and the guitarist Don Hale, all of them playing for 17 years at the Kahiki, from 1961–1978. Due to the large timespan of their commitment to this venue, the band was also known as The Kahiki Trio. Unfortunately, the Kahiki ceased to exist in 2000 and closed its doors for good.


People who visited the supper club definitely want to check out this LP which was released in 2010 and is strictly limited to 500 copies, a few of them left in stock at Dionysus Records at time of writing this review. But even for those who did never enter the holy doors of the Kahiki – I am raising my hand here –, Live From Kahiki is a worthwile investment and has plenty of welcome peculiarities to offer. For one, there is a download code included so that you don‘t need to attach your record player to the cigarette lighter in your car if you crave for your Beachcomber Trio dosis. But as I‘ve stated above, the aesthetic value is also perceptible for non-Kahiki people: as a so-called restaurant album, the record is loaded with bustling activities by the waiters and guests, you hear clanging glasses, distant waterfall sounds and the occasional laughter in the far back of the audience.


Naturally, the tradeoff of live recordings is the omission of pristine sound quality for energetic surroundings, so audiophiles won‘t be overly happy with this record, but Exotica afficionados won‘t care too much and will still enjoy this entry of the Bacchus Archives, a sublabel of Dionysus Records, as they don‘t just listen to the music, but feel and experience the invisible, encompassing vibe of the album. 8 tracks are pressed on vinyl, 7 of them Exotica and Latin classics, and one track written by bandleader Padilla himself.


The performance starts with Jack Pittman‘s greatest hit Beyond The Reef, first performed by Bing Crosby in 1949. The version of The Beachcomber Trio barely passes the 2-minute mark, but is a great start into this enchanted evening when two careful woodwind notes are released by Padilla. The gingerly played vibraphone, the short guitar section and the barely noticeable percussion make this a faithful rendition of the original and a dreamy start. Due to the quiescent nature of the song, you can hear the chatters of the audience even more. If you find these distracting, you have missed the point of restaurant albums like this.


If this really bothers you, there‘s a good chance you might like the next song better, as it is an adaptation of Les Baxter‘s Quiet Village classic which is more upbeat and dynamic – plus it‘s over 7 minutes long, a proof that The Beachcomber Trio isn‘t just a lackadaisical cocktail band! The keyboard chords sound fantastic, the drums are more upfront and the introduction of the vibraphones 2 minutes into the song adds another missing piece. When the Polynesian flute sets in, the song becomes a towering example of the band‘s capabilities. I really like the rendition and I wager that the audience was mesmerized by it, though I would likely lose the bet as there is the occasional prattle going on in the audience.


Yellow Bird is next and harks back to lush island vistas with polyphonous vibes, bird noises and another quiet percussion by Dragu. This song is a fitting foil to Beyond The Reef, as both feature the same mood and style. Coming up next is Shangri-La by The Lettermen, and again, The Beachcombers deliver a soothing take. A huge plus is the lapping of the waterfall and the burbling of the audience, because these parts fit equally well to the ambience as do the absorbing vibes and the Eastern-style piano backing. Say what you will, but the album really transfers the spirit of this evening. What sounds odd on paper is so much better on the LP.


Polynesian Spell is a unique composition by Marcel »Marsh« Padilla himself, and it is the most effervescent tune of their roster with clarion cymbals, a repetitive guitar riff and another gorgeous, tremoling interlude of Padilla‘s woodwind flute. The vibraphones are played in twofold styles here, either played straight to the point or with a long sustaining reverb. A surprising inclusion is Never On Sunday which itself is based on the Greek folk song Ta Paidia Tou Piraia. Naturally, The Beachcomber Trio plays it in tropical style with swinging pianos, and both the piano and the vibraphone are used for the iconic refrain. This version could also be remembered in the future for a guest‘s urge to cough dominantly near the end of the song. Quite a funny and overly human addition if you ask me.


Sway by Pablo Beltrán Ruiz is following and transports a Latin feel that wasn‘t perceptible on the record before. Finally, Dragu‘s saxophone is boldly used for the main melody and Padilla‘s hot-tempered Latin piano sprinkles heat things up. I‘m not too fond of this Latin classic to be honest, but my peculiar problem shouldn‘t be yours, for the band delivers a skillful adaptation that you will surely dig if you like Latin Exotica. The final song on this evening adds another style: Like Young is a typical Jazz song that features the slightest hints of a crime theme that is especially resembled through the bassline. Hale plays the cheeky melody on his guitar, while the accompanying vibes amplify the sleaziness. The audience surely is up for this song, as there is lots of laughter on the master tape – you won‘t tell me that they haven‘t been hypnotized by The Beachcomber Trio but minded their own business instead, do you? Anyway, this song closes the surprisingly varying second half of the album, which contains Latin and Crime theme Jazz next to the dominant Polynesian flavor.


Even though collectors are used to the thrill when they get their hands on rarities, the limit of 500 copies is quite sad in the case of this record, as many a listener still remembers his or her enchanted evenings at the long-lasting Kahiki. For all these people, the record is not just essential, but overloaded with emotions, reminiscences and synaesthetic qualities. I for one have never entered the Kahiki, I know its interieur from various photographs and videos, its history through articles and blog entries and the infamous closing party with Don Tiki attending. I am still able to enjoy the performance, the ambience, the chit-chat and the gurgling water. But for those who really got to experience the Kahiki with all their senses and went out of it with a few of their senses temporarily damaged, this is a killer release.


The laidback atmosphere is especially noteworthy: the band‘s performance heard on this album isn‘t an exceptional, ground-breaking paradigm of their expertise. It‘s just another evening of hundreds more to follow, and this, in the end, is quite solacing. At time of writing there are still a few copies available as I've mentioned before, but who knows about the situation when you are reading this review? It would be tremendously helpful if the people at Dionysus considered a digital-only reissue of future rarities. I wouldn‘t mind if this happened several months after the release of the vinyl edition. If the music wasn‘t so attractive, I wouldn‘t care, but I deem it essential that lots of people have access to this and future releases. This is a crucial release of the Bacchus Archives, and all I can say about the future is: keep ‘em coming, Jeff!


Further reading:

  • In Episode 24 of Mark Riddle‘s Quiet Village Podcast from, Jeff Chenault presents the recordings of the Beachcomber Trio for the first time and talks about the lucky circumstances that led him to the master tapes.
  • A longer version of Yellow Bird was originally performed at the Kahiki, but Jeff Chenault decided to edit it due to a conversation by two attending guests who talked about a friend‘s medical procedure. Even though the conversation is barely noticeable, it was left out for good. However, Chenault decided to upload the longer version of Yellow Bird to his SoundCloud page.


Exotica Review 024: The Beachcomber Trio – Live From Kahiki, 1965. Originally published on Jan. 21, 2012 at