Ken plays both Hawaiian Slack Key and lap steel guitar and switches easily between them during his performance, laying his guitar on his lap and picking up a steel bar for an instrumental interlude. This requires a special finesse and light touch because the slack key guitar has lower action than a dedicated lap steel guitar.
He has developed his unique style through many musical genres. He has played his special blend of Blues/Jazz Hawaiian guitar for 40 years.. Born into a musical family, Ken grew up with his fathers’ extensive record collection of jazz, swing, Hawaiian and world music styles.
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, He played the folk and blues songs of the early ‘60s, learning right hand fingerstyle techniques that led to his development as a fingerstyle picker.
With the explosion of the San Francisco sound of the mid- later ‘60’s Ken also immersed himself into rock and electric blues styles. He was particularly drawn to bottleneck and slide guitar.
In 1968 Ken’s family moved to Hawaii. Absorbing the Hawaiian culture, Ken began studying Hawaiian language and music emulating the players of the 1920’s and ‘30s era by listening to vintage Hawaiian 78 rpm records, zeroing in on the jazz and blues styles of Sol Ho’opi’i and Sol K. Bright.
Soon Ken was playing alongside such legendary performers as Gabby Pahinui, Genoa Keawe, Raymond Kane, and Moe Keale.
Dividing his time between Kaua’i and San Francisco, Ken plays many Hawaiian venues and festivals and frequently tours the east coast of the United States as well as Europe and Asia.
“Emerson writes pieces that update the classic sounds of Hawaiian Slack Key guitar. His unaccompanied songs have an open, relaxing quality to them, moving forward in a gentle rhythm..”
Jessy Terry, Rolling Stone Magazine
“Ken Emerson’s style reflects the Hawaiian guitar’s grassroots origins of a century ago. He taps into classic jazz and blues influences as well as Latin styles, completing a cultural circle from the first vaquero guitarists through jazz steel guitar virtuoso Sol Ho’opi’i and into new unexplored musical territories”