Lightning Larry Dupio plays Hilo concert to honor Carlos Santana for giving him hope 30 years ago
August 6, 2023, 2:30 AM HST
“Lightning” Larry Dupio, a two time Nā Hōkū Hanohano winner with six albums, will be headlining a tribute concert in Hilo to honor the man who nearly 30 years ago helped pull him out of his deep depression — and back playing guitar.
None of other than legendary musician Carlos Santana.
“I think the Heavenly Father sent an angel to me in the form of Carlos Santana,” Dupio, now 70, said with a laugh.
The story begins in 1994. Dupio was driving home from a music rehearsal on Kīlauea Avenue by Kawili Street in Hilo when he was struck by a car that ran a red light and “plowed through” him. The impact caused his vehicle to also collide into another car.
Dupio was seriously injured, causing him to sink into a bad place mentally, physically and spiritually. It didn’t help that his recovery was long and drawn out, with doctors taking more than six months to make a diagnosis. And when they did, it wasn’t good. He had nerve damage from a cracked vertebrae in his neck and was told it would require surgery.
“If I didn’t do anything, I would be paralyzed from the neck down,” he said.
At the time he was worried the technology wasn’t good enough for the surgery to be successful, or worse and cause more harm.
“Here we are down the road  years and the technology is a lot better. Gives you a better chance,” he said.
He had chronic pain that could be excruciating.
“It was such a downer because every time I moved I would get these electric shocks from the neck down to my toes. Sometimes I would be sitting in a chair and my whole body would fall asleep. It would be numb or feel like my body was on fire,” he said.
With the news and pain, he sunk into an even deeper depression, the lowest point of his life. He was beginning to lose all hope, thinking: “Wow. Would I not be able to play music anymore?”
Dupio had been playing music since he was 16 years old, influenced by his father, a trumpet player in the 1940’s after World War II. His father played in an orchestra with friends and family, in taxi dancing halls that were a huge part of the social fabric of the time.
“In the 1940’s, that’s how adults met — in these dance halls,” he explained.
Learning that type of music from his father and later rock and roll after joining the musicians union in Hawai’i, he was playing in the rock clubs in the 1960’s before getting a draft notice to go to Vietnam. While in the Navy, he got his nickname “Lighting Larry.”
After serving 2 1/2 years, he got out of the military and began playing music in San Francisco. He eventually moved back home to O’ahu, where he played in rock and roll bands before moving to the Big Island.
At the time of his accident, he had his own band and was playing all over the island. From Kona and South Kona, to South Point and old Hilo clubs such as JD Banyan Broilers and Uncle Billy’s. He was playing wherever he could get a gig until the accident. It forced him to cancel shows.
While in his deep depression, his wife Caroline was trying to figure out how to cheer him up and came up with a plan to whisk him away to Maui to see Santana perform at the opening concert of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.
But her husband needed convincing: “I didn’t want to go, I was so depressed. I didn’t see any way out.”
Caroline Dupio countered: “It was difficult, but he finally gave in and we got a hotel room and rented a car and all that. We had friends who went early to save us seats right in front because the concert was outdoors.”
Santana opened the show by playing his song “Spirits Dancing in Flesh,” and by the end of the concert Dupio said he was starting to feel a little better, and inspired. But he still had to make a decision about whether to have surgery.
The next morning, the couple were at Kahului Airport to head back to the Big Island and that’s when serendipity stepped in. Santana and his band were flying out at the same time.
Dupio was wearing a hat from the concert, catching the attention of one of the world’s most legendary guitarists of all time.
“Santana walked right up to me and asked me if I enjoyed the show,” he said.
“I had a neck brace on and he asked me what happened and I told him I was considering quitting playing guitar and music altogether. When I told him that he looked at me and said, ‘If you really love it. Don’t ever give up,'” he said. “So right then and there I said I’m not going to give up. I guess I’m going to get the surgery and see what happens.”
Caroline Dupio said she ran into a store at the airport and grabbed a disposable camera to snap a photograph of the two.
“I think it was all meant to be,” she said. “Larry needed that one-on-one time with Santana. It was a divine intervention.”
Dupio underwent the difficult operation, which took him more than a year to recover from. He also started playing guitar again, and although he was rusty at first, he said it wasn’t that bad to start again.
“Before I would step out the door I would practice for hours and hours and days just to get ready,” he said. “I didn’t want to fall on my face.”
With the support of his wife and his friends, he kept at it and eventually he started producing albums by 1996 and 1997. His second album “All Fired Up” garnered a Grammy nomination and a Nā Hōkū Hanohano nomination. A few albums later he landed his first Nā Hōkū award, and said it made the perseverance worth it.
“You always hope you get successful in anything you do, so that was a benchmark for a succession of success for me,” he said.
Now he’s working on album number 7, and is shooting for a Grammy award this time. He says it’s thanks to his family, friends and Santana that he never gave up.
“A Tribute to Carlos Santana” concert will take place on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theater in Hilo. He will be accompanied by Big Island musicians Yumbel Marassi, Noa Eads, Josh Timmons, Trevor Veilleux, Leo Brayman, Reggae McGowen and Jason Sherbundy.
He plans to play music he’s never played before, as well his favorite Carlos Santana songs such as “Samba Pa Ti,” “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Coma Va.”
“All the ones that established him as a bonafide artist,” he said. “I’ll just play the best of his work.”
After all the years, Dupio said he felt at this point in his career he owed Santana a debt of gratitude for instilling a belief that he could do it if he didn’t quit.
“I’m going in a direction I always dreamed of going,” he said. “This show is something I always wanted to do.”
Tickets are on sale for $30 at www.hilopalace.com. Prices will increase the day of the show.