Touring musicians are supposed to say they like the venue they’re about to play.
John Cruz and the Island?
You can’t shut him up.
“Yeah, I was in Amherst at University of Massachusetts and a friend I gigged with always summered there and told me the Vineyard was perfect for my music,” the Hawaiian born performer songwriter said by phone this week from Oahu.
“Two things kept me there. One, I fell in love with the place and, two, the bonito, man. I fell hook, line and sinker for fishing bonito and the derby.
“Fished it for years. I remember Barbara Hoy with her new baby all snuggled up on the jetty, fishing hard,” said the Grammy Award-winning musician.
An original member of Island band Entrain, Mr. Cruz co-produced its first album in 1994 before returning to Hawaii. In all, Mr. Cruz spent 13 years playing subways, coffeehouses and bars in New York, Boston and way stops, getting it right. He lived and played on the Island for about six years.
And the music? He’s described as a world music artist by some, and a hybrid by other reviewers. His two Grammy Award nominations last year were for best male pop vocalist and best contemporary folk/Americana album.
He describes his music as warm.
“Warm, bluesy and soulful,” he said. “I never tried to play a particular style. I take all my influences into the music. I love a warm, inviting, inclusive sound.”
For the record, his latest disc, One of These Days, includes blues, rock, ballads, reggae influence and some native Hawaiian songs. “About half I wrote and the other half were written by friends and family,” he said.
Island musican and longtime friend Joe Keenan wrote Baby’s Gone Blues, and Island resident Heather Goff wrote Missing You for the album which went to number six on the Billboard worldwide chart after its September debut.
Island radio station WMVY has added Missing You to its regular playlist and released the song on Fresh Produce 4, a compact disc compilation of the station’s favorite tracks.
Winner of a Grammy for a compilation to which he contributed in 2005 (his song was Jo Bo’s Night; the album was Slack Key Guitar Volume 2), Mr. Cruz is skilled in both acoustic and electric guitar as well as bass. He will be joined on Wednesday night by percussionist Jan Jeffries and Island friend John Caban on guitar — “and a few surprises who’ll be up on stage with us,” he added.
Mr. Cruz is a proficient voice, exhibits Jordanesque hang time on the ballad notes in Missing You, and serves up the grits on a hard-driving Blues Baby Gone.
It’s been a circuitous route for Mr. Cruz, who was born in Hawaii after his father, born in Modesto, California, went to Hawaii as a U.S. Marine, met the musician’s mom and settled down there. It was a pretty easy transition for dad because his father, Mr. Cruz’s grandfather, had immigrated to California from Hawaii to grow grapes for the Gallo wineries.
“Dad loved country music, Mom loved R& B and Motown, and I got the Hawaiian musical culture from my grandmother,” Mr. Cruz said.
Yet being without a niche in the music business makes it difficult to, as the suits say, “package talent.”
So Mr. Cruz solved the problem for himself. He has his own label, uses Jackson Browne’s analog recording studio in California, and produces his and other artists’ music. His record label is called Lilikoi. “It means passionfruit in Hawaiian,” he explained. “I wanted passion in the name.”
He’s built a business with a professional, updated look: a tasty Web site with a company store (hats are temporarily out of stock but the T-shirts look sharp with a JC signature logo sweeping into a guitar head), even a John Cruz documentary including hilarious interviews with pals Jackson Browne, Jack Johnson, Jake Shimabukuro (check out his Let’s Dance on YouTube) and surfing god Kelly Slater.
He credits people who have helped him stay his own course. An Island example? “Maynard Silva. I used to go watch him when I wasn’t gigging. He puts everything, all of himself, into his music.”
Evoking of his grandfather’s wine background, Mr. Cruz’s development has been steady and patient.
He believes the Cruz vintage is ready now.
John Cruz and his band appear Wednesday, Feb. 27, at Vineyard Haven’s Katharine Cornell Theatre at 9 p.m. following a set by Joe Keenan.