IM 001: Playing Guitar for the Love and the Money Followed | Jim Kimo West

Today, I'm speaking with guitarist Jim Kimo West. Now I grew up watching Late Night with David Letterman in the early 90s. I've always had this understanding that the best musicians were those like Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band because they could perform at the highest level with any musical guest covering all genres.

It's in the same light that I have such high regard for Kimo. He great at what does and he plays from the heart. If you do not know him, he has played along side the king of parody Weird Al Yankovic for over 35 years. He can pull off an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo with ease (as heard in Eat It), then followed by a spot on Green Day guitar tone (as heard in Canadian Idiot.) If that weren't enough, he's just as proficient covering the Back Street Boys, Lady Gaga, and Don McLean. I've seen him rap in the style of Chamillionaire on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

As a guitarist myself, I'm kind of a sucker for listening to creatives talk about their work – perhaps because it's so different from my desk job. I also appreciate sitting down with Kimo because of his very unique career path to success. His band is truly like no other. His band has sold more than 12 million albums, recorded more than 150 parody and original songs, and has performed more than 1,000 live shows around the world.

Kimo is also a prolific and respected Hawaiian “slack key” guitar artist. If you've seen the Oscar-winning film, “The Descendants” you have experienced this great acoustic guitar tradition. He's a two-time winner of the LA Treasures Award.

In this interview we talk about money, music, taking risks, and what motivates him to be the best musician he can be. Let's get inspired with Jim Kimo West.

Guest Biography

Jim "Kimo" West first visited Hana, Maui in 1985, after a long summer on the road as guitarist for famed musical satirist, "Weird Al" Yankovic. As the sounds of Gabby Pahinui, the Sons of Hawai'i, Sonny Chillingworth, The Sunday Manoa, and others, played on the turntable, he jammed along for fun and relaxation. Already a devotee of open tunings, he was immediately drawn to the gentle rhythms of ki ho 'alu (slack key guitar) and soon began writing his own songs. The rich physical and cultural landscape of the Hana Coast has provided the inspiration for many of his compositions.

While always retaining the heartfelt essence of traditional slack key, Jim "Kimo" West brings much of his own musical heritage to his original ki ho'alu instrumentals. His style can best be described as "nahenahe", meaning "soft, sweet or gentle voice", a fusion of old and new but still rooted deeply in tradition.

Jim lives in Los Angeles where he writes and produces music for film and television. His music has graced feature films and TV shows on all the major networks and cable channels and his slack key compositions have been featured on National Public Radio, Honda TV spots as well as the Disney Channel . He travels regularly to the islands to perform, relax and visit with his "ohana". He also performs slack key concerts around the mainland US, especially in the Southern California area, and at selected private events.


In this episode, you will learn:

  • How Kimo came to know what he wanted to do professionally at just 18 years old.
  • Why sometimes you need to take a chance, leaving a steady job to find something bigger and better.
  • Insights into the music business from making money from downloads to Kimo's 35+ year successful career playing with Weird Al Yankovic.


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Special thanks to Jim Kimo West for the music. Until next time!

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About the Author: Andrew Wang

Andrew Wang


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