POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 07, 2012
~~<p>There’s no mistaking the food court in Sears at Ala Moana Center for the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but for those who like a little Neil Diamond with their Zip Pac, there’s no better showroom.<br />
There’s no mistaking the food court in Sears at Ala Moana Center for the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but for those who like a little Neil Diamond with their Zip Pac, there’s no better showroom. Credit retired cop George Aio and his band of merry acoustic strummers for that. Aio, 69, has been hanging out at the dining area between Zippy’s and Ba-Le Sandwich Shop for the last year or so, strumming his Aria guitar and singing his favorite pop, country and Hawaiian songs in rich Diamond-esque voice. “I’m Neil Diamond’s biggest fan,” Aio says, laughing. “And I guess I have the same kind of voice — deep like him.” Aio strums a gentle G chord and starts in: L.A.’s fine/The sun shines most the time/And the feeling is laid back … Aio says he’s been singing all of his life, first in church and for an a cappella choir, later with his musician buddies and on his own. He might even have made a profession of it if his path hadn’t led somewhere else. Aio grew up in Honolulu, the third of eight children. His father had a good job as an accountant but struggled to support his hungry brood. “We lived in Kalihi Valley Housing, Lanakila Housing — any place that had the word ‘Housing’ in the name, that’s where we lived,” Aio says. The surroundings were rough, the temptations to stray present, but Aio never wanted to be one of those guys who let circumstances get the best of them. One of his earliest memories is of a Kalihi beat cop who used to carry around a bag of apples to give kids. “That kind of thing will leave an impression on a young kid,” Aio says. “Especially a hungry kid.” Aio would serve 30 years with the Honolulu Police Department, retiring as a watch commander at the Kaneohe station. I’m not a man who likes to swear/but I never cared for the sound of being alone. Three years ago Aio took up the guitar and found his love of music rekindled. A couple of years later, befriended by Dorothy Kihewa, Mary Rawlins and other Ala Moana Center regulars, he started bringing his guitar to Sears and soon found himself surrounded by fellow amateur musicians on ukulele and guitar. The friends gather each Thursday to pluck through their favorite songs. “I couldn’t be happier,” Aio says. At some point the regulars will call for Aio to break out the Neil Diamond, and he’ll graciously oblige: Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king/and then became one/Well except for the names and a few other changes/if you talk about me, the story’s the same one.
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