“Kanaie‘ole a laila ho‘okani i ke mele me ka pu‘uwai.”
Put the ego away. Be humble and let your heart express your music.
Her name was Marion Keohokupuhina Kealoha. Most people called her “Aunty Marion” but to him, she was “Mom”. She was the one who brought music into the life of her children, two litle girls and finally a boy she called Buzzy. He remembers always the “sound of music” as she played her piano throughout his childhood. All genres were included from contemporary music to standards of her time, but she had a special way of playing what was later referred to as the “Old Style Hawaiian Music”.
During his childhood, he listened and absorbed the chords that came from her piano while she created those lovely melodies at family gatherings, parties and night clubs all over Oahu and at their Palama/School Street home, not realizing how it would affect him later on. When his family sold their property in the Palama district, they moved to Waialae Kahala. She was able to purchase a Baby Grand Piano, and her music was lovelier than ever. She played with big bands then, all the way from the ‘60’s through the 80’s and during one period, a soloist at the Tahitian Lanai.
Buzzy hung out with boys his age; he was 9 years old then. One of them was a boy named Gilbert Chang who taught him how to play the ukulele and guitar. Over the years, he started to play bass and did not realize, until later in life, that there was somehing in the bass chords of his mother’s piano that he had picked up by “osmosis” where he mimed his mom’s music with his left hand in bass line playing. As time passed, he gradually changed his style of playing to mimic hers in a more progressive style.
But…before that happened, he was very young at 16 in 1964 when he joined a band of five girls: Marsha Kalima, Fely Valdez, Pearl Miyashiro, Toni Correa, and Charlene McCabe who soon called themselves “Buzzy and the Frolics Five”. He had his mom’s permission to leave high school, moved to Los Angeles, and with the band, traveled throughout the Continental United States and up to Canada. Eventually, they landed back in Hawaii at the Queens Surf and renamed themselves “The Surfettes”.
One night while he was playing at Queens, Elvis Presley’s driver brought him there and Buzzy’s base playing caught Elvis’ attention. Awhile later, Don Ho met Elvis and Elvis asked about the base player at the Queen’s Surf. Elvis said that he liked the bassist’s style and would have liked to have tried him out in his band. Don Ho mentioned it to the driver who knew Buzzy, but nothing ever came of it. Too bad.
Up until 1965, besides the Surfettes, Buzzy also played the Dunes Night Club and the military clubs when he traveled to Midway Island. In 1965, he moved to Los Angeles and began to perform on the road until he came back to Hawaii in 1967.
When he moved back to Hawaii, he performed at Queen’s Surf and played with a variety of well known singers: 1968 with Al Lopaka, 1971 Nephi Hanneman, and 1973 with Iva Kinimaka. Buzzy also worked with other entertainers during this period: Rene Paulo, Rod Young, Tony and Norm Compton, Joy Woods, and Jimmy Funai.
In 1978, Buzzy left music to start a family. When Buzzy’s mom passed away in 1996, a keyboard player named Dale Senaga, of the Orient Express, played the keyboard at her funeral. One of Buzzy’s sisters came up to Buzzy, surprised that Dale was playing just the way his mom did in that “Old Style Hawaiian Music”. They found out later that he had studied her style of playing and determined to memorialize her by doing the same. The family was very touched by that.
It wasn’t until 2010, that Buzzy encountered someone who wanted him to play bass for a gig, and by a fluke, that one incident restarted his career. He bought new instruments and sound equipment—back in business again, as if he hadn’t left, playing better than ever. He says if he were to have chosen his favorites, it would be soft rock and jazz, but he’s branched out into everything now and quite versatile in all genres.
Buzzy, as an accompanist, is conscientious about accomodating, sensitive to whomever he’s with and strives to make them shine. He says, he “plays with deep passion and treats the playing together as if he were in an intimate love affair.” Many agree that Buzzy is one of the fiinest bass players in Hawaii.
With a proficient commitment to his work, Buzzy is a well versed musician who covers everything from Jazz, to Rock & Roll, to Big Bands and Hawaiian trio’s. Buzzy Kealoha brings a great degree of skill, insight and professionalism to his craft. He presently serves as Director of the Business Division as an administrative part of the Executive Committee of Na Mea Ho‘okani.