For the second time this week, the local music community is mourning one of its own with the death of Chino Montero.
The Na Hoku Hanohano award nominee died suddenly early Friday morning from a pulmonary embolism, friends said. He was 52.
A skilled guitarist and singer, he backed several other local entertainers, including Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom. Even as a backup musician, he stood out.
"Whether it be his voice or his guitar, there as no mistaking that sound," said musician and longtime friend Nathan Nahinu. "You know that's Chino playing."
Nahinu played with Montero in Manoa Madness, and before that, in their first group, Palolo, which they formed while they were still in school.
Nahinu remembered the first Na Hoku Hanohano awards they attended in 1996 after the release of their debut album. "And we saw each other in tuxedoes for the first time, first thing he said to me was, 'Eh, just like going to the senior prom, yeah?' Which he never went to," Nahinu said, laughing.
It was only last year that Montero finally released a solo CD.
"We did something in Japan a few years ago. And we were at the CD table, and we're all signing CD's except for Chino," said musician Herb Ohta, Jr. "And I pulled him on the side and said 'you gotta get one out.'"
Ohta co-produced Montero's CD, Made in Hawaii, which was released last October. It gained Montero two Na Hoku Hanohano nominations, one for ""Kawena" as Song of the Year, the other for Entertainer of the Year.
Montero also shared the stage with Dennis Kamakahi, who died of lung cancer Monday. Montero had played at a benefit concert in March for Kamakahi, and told Nahinu that he wanted to do something to mark Kamakahi's passing.
"He said, 'Nate, Uncle Dennis just passed away.' And he said 'We, Manoa Madness, should do a tribute to him. And I said yeah, let's do it, let's about it Friday night." That's when Manoa Madness was scheduled to play at the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki.
Thursday night, Montero told Nahinu that he wasn't feeling well and asked if he could skip the gig. He died a few hours later.
"For me, it was my last aloha to him, and -- it leaves a void in my heart. And I know the rest of Hawaii, leaves a void to them as well," said Nahinu.
"I just feel very blessed that, you know, he was a friend to me, and a wonderful musician," said Ohta.
Nahinu reflected on the fact that Montero died after he finally released his first solo album.
"It was his time to come out. And at the same time it was his time to leave his music behind for us."