The New Zealand Music Hall of Fame pays tribute to those musicians who have had a significant impact on New Zealand life and culture through music. APRA AMCOS has this morning announced that songwriter and guitarist Bill Sevesi will be inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame at the 2015 APRA Silver Scroll Awards.
The remarkable Bill Sevesi - born Wilfred Jeffs in Nuku'alofa, Tonga more than 90 years ago - grew up at a time when Hawaiian music was a global phenomenon and the sound of lap steel guitar evoked a Pacific of palm trees, warm breezes and the exoticism of the islands.
As a boy in Auckland he tuned his crystal set to hear Sol Hoopi and other legendary Hawaiian guitar masters, learned to play lap steel by listening to 78rpm records on a wind-up gramophone, and in the early 40s watched band leader Epi Shalfoon at the Crystal Palace in Mt Eden week after week until eventually he was invited up to play.
Bill only knew one song with any confidence - the standard Isa Lei - but the makings of a career started that night . . . however, the war intervened. On his return he picked up where he left off.
Bill Sevesi and his Islanders became increasingly popular at dances in those days before television. In '54, after being invited to play at the Orange Coronation Hall in Auckland's Khyber Pass (which he renamed, giving it a little more sophistication) Bill Sevesi and His Islanders became an Auckland institution and would remain there until the mid-Seventies.
Sevesi and His Islanders recorded frequently, sometimes under pseudonyms. His first recording was with country singer Tex Morton in '49 with the band credited as The Rough Riders; with Canadian-born hillbilly singer Luke Simmons they were the Bluemountain Boys; for jazz singer Mavis Rivers "the Astro Trio or some damn thing" he says; and in '59 for the song Bye Bye Baby Goodbye, he was Will Jess. The song - recorded in half an hour of studio downtime - was the country's best-seller for four weeks.
In the early 70s he left the Orange Ballroom and increasingly turned his attention to the modest home studio he built and to nurturing and encouraging the talent of others. He recorded and encouraged numerous singers (among them the Yandall Sisters and Annie Crummer), played with fellow steel guitarists Trevor Edmondson and Bill Wolfgramm, and has appeared with Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn.
His work is universally admired; he toured in Australia, the United States and around the Pacific; gave 200 of his songs to the university archives, and he has been much honoured. Among the accolades are the Queen's Service Medal for public service in '95; the Creative New Zealand Pacific Island award ('97); and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Pacific Music Awards in '06. His name is in the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in St Louis, Missouri.
Almost 15 years ago the New Zealand Herald compiled a list of "10 Essential Pacific Songs", songs like Blue Hawaii by Elvis Presley, Bali Hi from South Pacific and Papa E by Te Vaka. The final one on the list was "anything by Bill Sevesi". "Bill and his music are national treasures in this small corner of the vast Pacific," the entry read.
"We are very proud to be able to acknowledge Bill in this way." says APRA ‘s Anthony Healey. "It is entirely fitting that finally this generous, good-humoured and exceptionally talented man - whose music conjures up an almost mythical, timeless Pacific - should be acknowledged in his 93rd year and take his rightful place in the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame".
The New Zealand Music Hall of Fame was created in 2007, with inductions shared between APRA and Recorded Music New Zealand. To date the award has paid tribute to Jordan Luck, Johnny Devlin, The Topp Twins, Straitjacket Fits, Hirini Melbourne & Richard Nunns, Ray Columbus & The Invaders, The Fourmyula, Shihad, Hello Sailor, Dragon, Herbs, Toy Love, Dave Dobbyn, Shona Laing, Douglas Lilburn and Supergroove.
The 2015 APRA Silver Scroll Awards are generously supported by Yealands Family Wines and Becks.
Photos courtesy of Bill Sevesi Private Collection