Bill Sevesi

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Bill Sevesi
Birth nameWilfred Jeffs
Born(1923-07-28)28 July 1923
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Died23 April 2016(2016-04-23) (aged 92)
Epsom, Auckland, New Zealand[1]
InstrumentsSteel guitar, Ukulele
Years active1940s–2000s
LabelsViking, Armar

Wilfred Jeffs QSM (28 July 1923 – 23 April 2016), better known by the stage name Bill Sevesi, was a musician and master of the steel guitar who helped popularise Hawaiian-style music in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Tongan-born Sevesi composed more than 200 songs with over 20 albums to his credit[2] during a career spanning six decades.

He began playing the Hawaiian Steel Guitar in 1936, and in later years his band Wilfred Jeffs and the Islanders became Bill Sevesi and the Islanders. He performed all over the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Australia and United States.

He recorded some classic favourites such as '"Bye Bye Baby Goodbye" (1958) as well as recording artists such as Daphne Walker,[3] The Yandall Sisters and Annie Crummer.

Early life[edit]

Sevesi was born in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, in 1923 and came to New Zealand at the age of nine.[4] He saw active service during World War II and in 1944 he was in Italy. When he returned to New Zealand after the war, he resumed his career, performing with his band as 'Bill Sevesi and His Islanders'. They would play at the Orange Ballroom, in Auckland.[5]


He first recorded in 1949 with Tex Morton, a country singer.[5] They were credited as The Rough Riders.[4] Other names he and his group "the Islanders" had recorded as were: The Astyro Trio (or a similar name) for Mavis Rivers; and The Bluemountain Boys for Luke Simmons who was a Canadian-born hillbilly singer. On Phil Warren's label, he was Will Jess with "Bye Bye Baby Goodbye". This became a big hit in 1959.[4]

Along with fellow Tongan Bill Wolfgramm, he was a recording star on the legendary New Zealand Viking Records label.[6]

During his career, Sevesi recorded and worked with a multitude of artists, many of whom had recorded for Viking. They include Sione Aleki, The Samoan Surfriders, George Tumahai, and Daphne Walker. His daughter, Tania, made a recording in approximately 1984 (Waikiki Tamure) only on cassette tape, in his makeshift garage/recording studio in Mt Roskill, Auckland.

Awards and honours[edit]

Sevesi won numerous awards and honours, including the Queens Service Medal for public services in the 1995 Queen's Birthday Honours,[2][7] the Jerry Byrd Lifetime Achievement Award (1998) from the Steel Guitar Players Hall of Fame in Missouri,[8] and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the New Zealand Pacific Music Awards in 2006.[9]

In 2009 he was presented with the Nostalgia Award from the Variety Artists Club of New Zealand.[10]

Sevesi was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame as APRA's 2015 inductee at the 2015 APRA Silver Scroll Awards in September 2015.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Sevesi is survived by his wife Vika Jeffs, daughters Tania and Colleen Jeffs, and Wayne Jeffs from a previous marriage. Brent Jeffs (Vika's son) died 23 March 2016, one month before his father.

Selective discography[edit]

Bill Sevesi & His Novelty Five[edit]


  • Morgan Clarke & Bill Sevesi & His Novelty Five - "Christmas Time" / "Go Man Go" - Zodiac Z-1008, 1957[12]

Bill Sevesi & His Islanders[edit]


  • Bill Sevesi & Lin Peyroux - "Lau Noa" - (Bill Sevesi and his Islanders) / "Fariu Mai" - (Lin Peyroux) - Armar AR1002[13]
  • "Legend Of The Coconut Tree" / "Billy And The Pink Eyed Seahorse" - Viking SEV 101, 1981[14]

With other artists[edit]

7" EP[edit]

  • Daphne Walker avec Bill Sevesi et Les Samoan Surfriders - Reka Reka - Tahiti Records[15]
  • Daphne Walker With Bill Sevesi And His Islanders – Island Favourites - Viking – VE 53[16]
  • The Samoan Surf Riders with Bill Sevesi and His Islanders - Goin' Samoan - Viking VE 79[17]


  • The Samoan Surfriders with Bill Sevesi & His Islanders - Alaoha Samoa - Viking Records VP54[18]


  1. ^ "Wilfred (Bill) Jeffs death notice". New Zealand Herald. 26 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  2. ^ a b "New Zealand Events @". Archived from the original on 31 May 2004. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  3. ^ "Golden Hits ( featuring Bill Sevesi)". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b c "BILL SEVESI INTERVIEWED: Light of the Pacific | Elsewhere by Graham Reid". 14 January 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Bill Sevesi Team – Free listening, videos, concerts, stats and pictures". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Buddy Wilson's Musical Memories". 15 September 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  7. ^ "Queen's Birthday Honours List 1995". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 23 June 1995. Archived from the original on 14 January 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  8. ^ "Object: Lap steel guitar | Collections Online - Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  9. ^ [1] Archived 13 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Variety Artists Club of NZ Inc, Nostalgia Award Winners". Archived from the original on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  11. ^ Jenkin, Lydia (7 August 2015). "Bill Sevesi: Man of Steel enters NZ Music Hall of Fame". NZ Herald. NZME. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  12. ^ "Simongriggdotinfo | Zodiac Records". 21 December 1963. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  13. ^ "The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  14. ^ "The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  15. ^ "Daphne Walker Avec Bill Sevesi Et Les Samoan Surfriders* - Eddie Lund Presents... Reka-Reka (Vinyl) at Discogs". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  16. ^ "Daphne Walker With Bill Sevesi And His Islanders* - Island Favourites (Vinyl) at Discogs". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  17. ^ "Samoan Surf Riders, The* With Bill Sevesi And His Islanders* - Goin' Samoan (Vinyl) at Discogs". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  18. ^ "The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015.

External links[edit]