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Music runs through Larry Dupio’s blood

Updated: 
June 16, 2017 - 4:17pm

Larry Dupio had an epiphany when Jimmy Page played in 1970 at the Honolulu Civic Center.

Watching and listening to the legendary Led Zeppelin guitar master was life-changing.

“It psychologically got transmitted to me,” Dupio said. “I went home and practiced one or two things and it was like finding gold”

Even though he had been playing for years, that concert sparked a fire, a passion in him that continues to this day.

Music runs through Dupio’s blood. His father played trumpet in Big Bands of the 1940s.

“I was this little kid who sang and played and entertained myself,” Dupio said. He learned ukulele at 8 and acoustic guitar by 12.

Music became a part of his long-range plan and became the easiest thing to do.

When he told his father that he planned to make a living playing music in a band, his dad told him to get another job. So, throughout high school Dupio worked at the Dole Cannery, went surfing every chance he had and played gigs on the weekends.

At age 16, Dupio obtained a musicians union card so he could play with bands on Oahu. He even had to sign a waiver saying he wouldn’t drink until he turned 18, the legal drinking age at the time. It was 1968 and what is now referred to as “classic rock” was in its infancy.

His style and skill on the guitar landed him gigs at bars and clubs throughout Waikiki and Honolulu.

But a shift from rock to disco took over the scene in 1977.

“You were at the mercy of the club owners,” said Dupio. “You needed to accept their terms if you wanted to play. They even dictated the playlist. After six months of that, I wanted to check into a psych ward.”

The Big Island didn’t follow the disco trend and there were many rock venues available to Dupio, so he packed up and moved to Hilo.

“I’ve played everywhere you can imagine on this island. Clubs or back porch — it’s all about the playing, the music,” he said. “It’s not about the money or being famous.”

Here, Dupio made a name for himself here, playing Big Island clubs and establishing a following with his hard rocking sound.

“Whenever I played Kona Hotel gigs I’d always bring my wife and kids. The staff all knew them and watched my kids grow up,” he said.

In 2001, Dupio moved to Portland, Oregon, and became a part of that music scene.

“I was trying to reinvent myself,” he said. There, he continued to hone his guitar skills even playing steel guitar for a hula show.

“After Hurricane Katrina, a lot of New Orleans musicians moved to Portland. It was like a breath of fresh air. Their music, you get it but don’t know why. Your heart beats in that cadance. It’s easy to get into. It’s got a nice beat,” said Dupio.

Blues is a natural fit for Dupio.

“I’ve been a blues fan since 1967. I saw Johnny Winter in concert and just watched and wondered how did he do that?” he said. “One of my first idols was Jimi Hendrix. I saw him four times.”

But the islands were calling him home, and in 2011 he returned to Oahu.

“I knew a lot of people over there and got a lot of quick gigs,” he said. He stayed in Oahu for three years, planning his move back home to Hilo.

“My friends asked why I wanted to move back to Hilo. I told them I can do the same things here that I can do anywhere in the world with technology today,” said Dupio.

That became apparent when his wife, Caroline, entered his blues album “Lightning Larry Dupio” in the 2014 Grammy Awards earning him six nominations and providing him international exposure. He has sold his CDs all over the world from his website www.larrydupio.com.

“My wife is my angel,” Dupio said. “She is always watching out for me. She takes care of everything so I can just play my music. We’ve been married 37 years and I love her more and more every day.”

Because they did not attend the awards ceremony, Caroline framed his invitation and tickets.

“It hangs on the wall as a sort of vindication. A desire to prove oneself is a Filipino thing instilled from birth,” laughed Dupio.

Dupio has been a regular at Huggo’s on the Rocks for the past two years, playing the first Saturday and third Friday of each month. He also makes guest appearances subbing for other musicians. It’s deja vu for him, having played in the restaurant bar in the 1980s with Randy Lorenzo and Ronnie Atwater.

He also occasionally plays at the Korner Pocket in Kealakekua as well as at Hilo’s Kukuau Studio Blues Night on the second Tuesday of every month.

“I have been so fortunate that a lot of people who have known me for 30-35 years are still coming to see me play,” said Dupio.

“A lot of songs I play, I remember learning back in high school. I’d listen to them over and over and over to learn them,” he said. “Back then at Farrington you were either a Hawaiian musician or a wild boy playing rock ‘n’ roll. I was one of the wild ones.”

Dupio is now concentrating on his acoustic guitar skills, creating a sound he calls priceless. He recently acquired a Dobro and plays Hawaiian steel, ukulele and “whatever else I can get my hands on that has strings.”

“My father told me whatever you do in life you need to dedicate yourself to it. I’ve dedicated my life to guitar playing. It’s all I want to do. It’s too late to become a brain surgeon” said Dupio, chuckling.

“I’m facing facts. I’m 63. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here, so I have to enjoy every day, be happy and play what I want,” he said. “And as long as I’m having fun I’m happy. Music makes people happy. I like being a part of that.”

We hope you are here to keep us rocking for a very long time.

Dupio performs on Saturday and returns to Kailua-Kona to perform June 23 at Huggo’s on the Rocks starting at 8:30 p.m. On June 24, he will be performing at Hilo Brew Fest from 3 to 3:45 p.m. On June 30, he will perform at Korner Pocket in Kealakekua. ■

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