The band placed second in the band competition that day, defeated by a Michael Jackson impersonator. The rest is history. They have become one of Maui’s most successful, hardworking and in-demand party and convention bands.
“We don’t pretend to be anything more than what we are—a great party band,” said Jimmy. “We aim to please. We are and have been in the entertainment business and that means we want to make sure our audience has a memorable experience.”
Jimmy Mac and the Kool Kats specialize in ’60s cover tunes and fun.
Jimmy Mac (McLemore) has been rocking Maui for 25 years.
McLemore—who is known for his schticks—said that his most memorable and valuable experience came when he placed a guitar on a young boy and got him to join the band.
“For a moment, that boy was a rock star,” he said. “Later, his parents came up to me and were beaming. ‘Do you know what you have done?’ they asked. ‘This boy has been traumatized for 10 years and you broke through and got him to respond and smile.’ I had no idea what I had done, but that’s what I do this for—those moments when you can make people happy.”
As a convention band, Jimmy has been involved with a private side of Maui that most only know about second- or third-hand. He has seen some of the greatest acts in the pop and rock world fail to reach these special audiences because they are too big or full of themselves to entertain.
“When the audience asks for their favorite song that these bands are known for and they refuse?” he said. “That’s not what we do.” We are there to entertain, to make sure people have fun.
“Sometimes the men are afraid to get up and dance because they are worried about making fools of themselves in front of their bosses or colleagues,” Jimmy said. “I like to put guitars on the CEO’s or get them up at the keyboard and play a tune with the band. This always loosens the crowd.”
Jimmy Mac, who is not afraid to be called corny, regularly employs a hula-hoop as a surefire way to get the audience involved. Once he gets them dancing, the band is legendary for playing 90-minute sets with no breaks.
“I’m in the entertainment business,” he emphasized.
He also prides himself on his reliability. He said he has missed only two gigs in 25 years—once when his daughter, Elaine, was born and the other was when he had one of those inevitable carpenter encounters with a power saw. He had to have an artificial knuckle put in.
“Not great for a guitar player, but the positive was, I could still play,” he said.
Jimmy, a Houston native, started out as a drummer at 12.
“I was always banging on something,” he said.
He was also an avid surfer, and sold his drums to finance a surf trip to Mexico. That’s what brought him to Maui in 1968, where he became a successful homebuilder.
He always loved music and wanted to perform. In 1984, he took voice lessons from the late Don Alton and packed himself off to the Southwest Guitar Conservatory in San Antonio, Texas, for four months of intense instruction. At first, he was intimidated when he saw the chops that his fellow students possessed. But when the charts came out, that was the great equalizer.
“I played all day and went out to the clubs to listen and learn from the great guitarists who were playing there,” he recalled.
He is self-effacing about his vocal and guitar abilities.
“Over the years, I’ve been blessed to play with many great musicians on Maui, and some of them I was lucky enough to get in my band,” he said. “The people that have been with me on this ride, ‘Jimmy Mac & the Kool Kats,’ are really some of the best people I have been lucky to meet in my lifetime. Truly, without their support through 25 years, I would not have made it through my first gig.”
The current lineup consists of Joel Katz, keyboards, guitar and vocals, who is also the musical director. Other band members include Joette Burke on vocals and keyboards, Barney Cortinez on bass and vocals, Christopher Carter on drums and vocals, Howard Eisenberg on saxophone, Elaine McLemore (Jimmy’s daughter) on vocals, and Gregg Haines and Chris Mamuad as sound technicians.
Over the years, some of Maui’s best musicians number themselves as alumni of the Kool Kats, including Jimmy Coulter, Brian Whittman, Tess McManis, Bentley Kalaway, Joy Fields, Joe Rivers, Chris Johnson, Tim Marmack, Gordon Stellway, Jim Elliott, Jennifer Weatherly, Rusty Smith, David Gallagher, Al Harris and Pat Deter.