SONNY LIM, a member of Hawaii’s famous musical Lim family, was born and raised in the heart of paniolo (cowboy) country on the Big Island. Sonny’s parents taught their children to play a variety of musical instruments. Sonny’s father was a paniolo at Parker Ranch, where Sonny also worked for 23 years. His introduction to ki ho’alu (slack key guitar) came as a child, when he was inspired by Gabby Pahinui while watching him perform at a lu’au in Kohala. Sonny’s biggest inspiration and influence came at age 12 from a well known slack key guitarist and family friend, Uncle Fred Punahoa. Punahoa took a keen interest in Sonny’s playing, and spent several weeks living with the Lim family in Kohala in order to teach him. Sonny’s professional career started as a teenager when he commuted to Oahu to perform with the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. Over the past two decades Sonny has performed with virtually every ‘name’ musician in Hawaii. He is a multiple Hoku award winner, performs regularly with his family in Hawaii and Japan, and performed on Hawaii’s first GRAMMY CD, “Slack Key Guitar Volume 2” (Palm Records). Sonny helped to accept the inaugural Hawaiian GRAMMY Award with GRAMMY Award winning producer Charles Michael Brotman in 2005. Sonny’s speech was in Hawaiian – the first time ever that the Hawaiian language was spoken on the GRAMMY stage. “Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Sonny Lim” is Sonny’s first solo CD. The songs include traditional slack key pieces and several songs that Sonny wrote and co-wrote with Brotman. The CD was produced by Brotman for Palm Records.
Around the 1830s, King Kamehameha brought Mexican and Spanish cowboys to the Big Island to help the Hawaiians handle the growing population of cattle. These cowboys introduced the guitar to the Hawaiians, who adapted aspects of their own musical heritage to the instrument. They loosened or ‘slacked’ the guitar strings, which creates the variety of tunings that give slack key its unique and beautiful sound. Slack key guitar first developed as a thriving musical force in paniolo regions of Hawaii and now continues to evolve throughout the state.