It is easy to forget in these post-Jonah Lomu days just how popular comedian Billy T James was in New Zealand during the 1980s. His live shows around the country always sold out and his TV series had a third of the country tuning in. Everywhere he went a crowd would flock around him. But, despite all the adulation, Billy remained a very shy man whose fame as a comedian had grown out of his love of popular music.
The adopted son of Wiri and Ruby Taitoko, William James Te Wehi Taitoko was born with a mimic’s ear for music and jokes. Wiri, who drove trucks by day for a rendering plant on the outskirts of Cambridge, was by all accounts a talented musician. Billy learnt guitar and saxophone from him and, as a slightly portly, self-conscious teenager in the 1960s, discovered that being able to play an instrument could move someone from the outer to being the focus of a group of friends.