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Billy T K Still Guitar Master
Veteran Strikes Progressive Chord
(the long version, 1129 words, Current July 2002)
Short version

Billy T K is a Kiwi cultural icon, an intense and exciting guitarist who melded contemporary blues-rock with flowing progressive Pacific rhythms when many Maori musicians were still considered part of the showband heritage.

Billy T K’s mastery of the art of controlled feedback and wah wah was initially based on the influences of bands like the Pretty Things but when he heard Hendrix his world changed forever. Later under the influence of Carlos Santana, and John McLaughlan he continued to innovate with his own unique blending of Pacific grooves.

Billy Te Kahika (Billy T K) began experimenting with feedback and developing his own electronic pedals in 1966 with his Palmerston North-based band The Sinners. As soon as the music of Jimi Hendrix hit the airwaves in he devoured the sounds, rapidly learning every track he could.

He was impressed and further inspired by the skills of his friend Reno Te Hei (Sounds Unlimited, Joyful Crye, Compulsion) another Hendrix fanatic who he visited in Melbourne in after the Sinners split.

On his return in early 1988 he was keen to hit the big time with a big sound. Fellow Palmerston North singer and stand-up drummer Maurice Greer had just returned from two years in the UK playing alongside the greats of the British rock scene with his unit Human Instinct, and was on the look-out for a guitarist who could foot it with the best.

Instinct for the big time

The two hit it off and after a four month familiarisation tour headed to Auckland and the trio, through a succession of bass players including Peter Barton, Larry Waide and Neil Edwards quickly became one of the loudest, most highly paid and respected rock units in the Queen City.

They worked most nights of the week, recorded three albums Burning Up Years, Stoned Guitar and Pinz In It which became underground classics catapulting him and the band to legendary status.

The albums sold well locally and came to the attention of the international progressive rock community. Good copies were selling for hundreds of dollars to collectors in Australia, the UK and Europe. In the late 1980s the German-based Little Wing label re-released a box set of the LPs.

In the liner notes the label applauded Billy T K as "technically and melodically … one of the best and most innovative guitarists of the 70s" … the (first) box set ensuring "Billy T K his place beside Hendrix, Beck and Clapton".

In the early 1990s Australian label Ascension Records, debuted its series of New Zealand re-issues with LP releases of Burning Up Years and Stoned Guitar. It followed up with CD versions adding Pins In It to the line-up. Ascension also launched a special release Human Instinct Singles 1966-1971 containing many of the bands singles and B-sides.

Billy left Human Instinct after their 1972 tour of Australia and shortly after began recruiting for his own unit to play more fluid, rhythmic music. He convinced former Blackfeather drummer Steve Webb to come out from Australia and along second guitarist John Bilderbeck from Wanganui and Gav Collinge on bass created Powerhouse.

Initially the band worked in Wellington where at Ali Baba’s and Lucifer’s nightclubs then with only Collinge remaining from the original line-up a new unit was pulled together back in Palmerston North where Billy and promoter Murray Taylor started their own nightclub called the Boulevarde.

The new Powerhouse featured Billy on guitar, Gav on bass, Ara Mete on rhythm guitar, Jamie Tait-Jamieson on keyboards, Bud Hooper (later Neal Storey [Dragon] and Peter Kellington) on drums, Arnold Tihema on congas and lead vocals and Mahia Blackmore on vocals and percussion. Powerhouse remained in that residency about 18 months playing their own brand of contemporary South Pacific rhythms with strong Santana influences.

Alongside the best

They played the Ngaruawahia music festival taking the spot just ahead of Black Sabbath. The band continued to change both members and repertoire, increasingly leaning toward more ethnic oriented sounds interspersed with the trademark Hendrix and Santana covers. At its height Powerhouse played alongside Split Enz and supported John Mayall, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, UB40, Joe Satriani and the Neville Brothers.

When Powerhouse folded Billy went to the US where he began to follow the spiritual path of Maharaji. During this time he ended up working in a Hollywood Studio with top rated players exploring new musical directions. However, the proposed recording project was never completed, as he was inspired to return to New Zealand after black American musicians kept asking him what was happening with Maori music. He was convinced he needed to explore his own musical roots.

In April 1996 Billy was invited to perform a "walk on" with his hero Carlos Santana at an Auckland concert. He expected to trade a few licks but was surprised when Santana encouraging him to take all the solos on his version of Bob Marley’s Exodus.

In recent years he’s worked with several bands including Dunedin-based Flying Nun band King Loser, who he recorded an album with. He also recorded with hip hop band DLT.

Another cross-over project has him currently working with a film crew who went to India and recorded some Indian mystics along the Ganges river. They’ve asked Billy to play with the pieces as they meld it into something for the contemporary market.

His interest in indigenous Maori music continues to grow and he’s hoping to record some of the pieces he’s written and arranged over the years and is gathering tracks from the various recording projects he’s been involved in for a ‘best of’ compilation.

To date the only albums he’s released have been with Human Instinct and a rare release with his post-Instinct unit Te Whare Mana (Powerhouse) only available in the UK and Germany.  However he’s recently been collaborating with Blerta founding member Tony Littlejohn on a CD of his original songs to be released early in 2003 and featuring the tracks Prisoner, Winning and Destiny. 

Billy occasionally performs with the reformed Human Instinct, appears in Hendrix revival concerts and has a number of musicians he can call on up and down the country for concerts and club gigs. 

He still performs the Hendrix-Cream styled music he’s most noted for, as well as original flowing, rhythmic guitar anthems which send tingles up your spine. He appears in a number of guises these days – the full electric sound with a variety of musicians – many who’ve been faithful to his sound for over three decades - or solo and acoustic playing a range of material from blues to ethnic songs.

All Media & Bookings
Lynda Sayce
Phone Auckland: 8118047

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