KAILUA-KONA — Johnny Valentine had a natural talent for performing, even before he ever set foot on a stage.
“My father told me that I used to walk around the house singing a lot of Beatles songs and pretending that I was strumming the guitar,” Valentine said. “The second year of college, I started performing professionally and I got hooked. I haven’t stopped since.”
Many years and albums later, Valentine said his love for playing music hasn’t died.
“I have to pay the mortgage,” Valentine joked when asked what has kept him performing music for some many years. “Mainly, I just love seeing people’s reactions when I play. Not many people can say they make people happy for a living. I chose this profession because I think that’s the No. 1 thing I love about it — seeing smiles, and people crying and people just having a good time.”
Valentine is based in Oahu, but he regularly tours the world and other Hawaiian islands. He has spent the past week in Kailua-Kona, and will play a final show at 5 p.m. May 31 at Don’s Mai Tai bar at the Royal Kona Resort before heading off to California.
Valentine said the atmosphere on Hawaii Island is unlike anywhere else he plays.
“This place is so magical,” Valentine said. “There’s something about this place that is just really relaxing and out of the whole month, when I come here, I just feel rested for some reason.”
The musician deserves the rest, too. This month, at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, Valentine won entertainer of the year.
“I love the fact that the award came from the people. The people voted for this award … so I’m very humble about that and I’m very flattered that people selected me for that,” Valentine said. “I’ve been performing for so long, and I’ve never entered the Hoku awards before because I never thought music was a competition — your art is your art, and my art is different.”
It wasn’t Valentine’s idea to submit his name for the award. He got a push from someone close to him.
“My wife always wanted to go to the awards show. So this year, my wife entered my CD,” Valentine said. “I was selected as a finalist, and then she attend the Hokus. She wanted me to go, but I couldn’t go because I had to perform at the Waikiki Shell. The next thing you know, I’m getting off the stage and driving to pick her up, and I’m getting all these texts that I won.
“When I went to pick her up, she was on stage accepting the award for me. So I guess I scored some points with my wife because now she got to go, and she got to go on stage.”
All in the family
Valentine is not the only musician in is family. Valentine has passed on his knowledge to his nephew, pop star Bruno Mars.
“My sister would call on a weekly basis and be like, ‘pick him up, he wants to hang out with you.’ So he would come over, and I would teach him how to do dances and sing and play ukulele and guitar,” Valentine said. “I have a recording studio, and it would be like Fun Factory for him. He would actually rather go to my studio than Fun Factory.”
When Mars was 2 years old, Valentine was part of a show in Waikiki called Love Notes, which featured Valentine impersonating famous musicians such as Elvis and Richie Valens.
“He would be at the show almost every night because my sister was in the show, too,” Valentine said. “My mother, Bruno’s grandmother, she would be watching him while we were doing the show. Every night, he would watch the show and study it, and then afterwards he would want to come over and sleep over at my house, and then the next day I would teach him. He would keep doing it, and by the time he was four, he was in the show.”
Later, Valentine said he and his nephew worked together in a show called Aloha Las Vegas, where Mars performed as a Michael Jackson impersonator. Valentine said the early training and musical environment Mars grew up in led him to be successful today.
“He’s perfected his craft on stage, and that’s why he’s so good on stage,” Valentine said. “He lives on stage. He loves performing, and he loves seeing people dance and sing along with his songs. That’s all he knows and that’s why he’s the best at it. If you think about it, he’s going to be around the longest with the biggest hits because he grew up listening to Jackson Five, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Motown. That’s why he is the best today.”
Performing from the heart
Valentine’s instrument of choice is the guitar, but he said he also can play ukulele and drums. His shows in Hawaii usually consist of him playing any of his songs or cover songs by request from the audience.
“When I do shows on the mainland, there’s a set list,” Valentine said. “Here, it’s more loose. I can play whatever the people want or whatever I want. You know, if you deliver it from the heart, people won’t even notice the difference, because I try to give it everything I’ve got with each performance.”
Valentine said the feedback from the audience is what makes each performance special.
“A lot of it is when I get off stage and they actually tell me ‘we scheduled our vacation toward your schedule,’” Valentine said. “They actually go to my website and see where I’m performing, and they actually schedule their vacations around it. And the best compliment I hear is from first-timers who see me, and they they say they didn’t expect anything like this, but I made their vacation. That’s kind of nice to hear.”