“This is for all you heavy breathers out there,” says Bosco. He then asks everyone in the audience to take two breaths in and two breaths out, rhythmically and rapidly. It’s hard, but he usually gets a couple of dozen “heavy breathers” cruising on the ecstasy of the natural breath. “Don’t try this at home,” he adds calling out for a nurse in the audience, preferably female, to resuscitate him, sending giggles throughout the crowd. “All aboard!” he calls, and a barreling harmonica solo begins entitled “Breath to the Death,”. He plays the tune so fast the audience think he may actually pass out.
In between songs, he gently puts his guitar down and calmly announces “Let’s get serious for a minute.” After looking around for five seconds, he mutters, “Okay that’s enough,” picks up his guitar, and asks for the next request. Everyone laughs. In Bosco’s perspective this life is full of crazy ironies: “The Earth is spinning at over a thousand miles per hour and we’re not flying off. It just doesn’t make any sense that we’re NOT hanging on for dear life, but perhaps we should be hanging on for dear life. Then we’d take better care of our home.” In his more spiritual mood he says, “The Universe is vibrating in all frequencies. It’s all vibrations, not just good and bad. Sometimes they harmonize and overlap and make higher tones and harmonics. It’s all part of life’s flow.” Bosco defies definition – singer, songwriter, philosopher, comic, media producer and shaman. I’ve seen him perform, listened to his music, and heard his spontaneous bouts of polemic pontification for nearly forty years and yet Bosco’s world remains a mystery still to be revealed. Meanwhile, like many others, I greatly revere him.
We met on my second night in Hawaii in 1981. l drove with my girlfriend Nancy to Hilo, the island’s main town and heard her play her fiddle accompanying the amazing One Man Band. Bosco plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, trumpet and keyboard bass with his bare feet. He is a most unique individual respected island wide for his musical skills and philosophical ramblings. After booking him for community parties in north Kohala his legendary reputation flourished when he became the core element of our house band at all our Bellyacres parties, Hawaiian juggling festivals and several theatre shows. Bosco was popular with everyone and adopted as an unofficial member of our crazy circus family and a solid friend.
Our festivals may have been small coconuts compared to juggling conventions in big cities in the U.S.A. or Europe but we had special attractions, like a pristine tropical coastline, black sand beaches, warm ponds heated by a volcano, lava flows and………. the unique musical contributions of Bosco. Sitting on a stool with his bare feet plonking pedals adding a bass line to his rotating instruments, while singing renditions of old time favourites, feel-good originals and creative improvisations, he totally mirrored our own antics. Juggling is a risk taking art with club passing expressing both beauty and tension. The essence of a jugglers skill is to hold chaos in our hands and tame it, at least for a moment. It’s exactly like music improvisation and I believe that’s why jugglers enjoy Bosco so much because like him we feel like we’re living life on the edge. In addition to his potpourri of musical delights and surprises he made a strong emotional and mental connection with our eclectic troupe. He got so energised by our international melee of performers he made it a ritual to continue playing until everyone else was exhausted from dancing or juggling and retired to bed. No-one could match Bosco’s stamina.
A gift that our troubadour entertainers gave Bosco was the motivation and expertise to establish his own busking pitch. For the past thirty years, Bosco has entertained audiences of all ages at the seaside Kona Inn Shopping Village. His self-assembled “stage” sits under a dim light next to a tourist t-shirt shop. His instrument stand proudly displays a banjo, ukulele, trumpet, and mandolin. His comedic patter and personal style has evolved wonderfully over time and apart from lots of laughs he also hands out avocados, oranges, and tropical fruits as “prizes” for audiences members who play his trivia contests. When his mum was in the audience he joked with the crowd saying “Before mom came over here to live, she was sending me a check and thought I was going to college… now she’s my biggest fan.”
The magic of music became part of his life early on. He picked up his first trumpet at eight, played drums in a band at thirteen, added the guitar, mandolin and then harmonica because he was bashful and didn’t want to sing. He started playing tambourines with his feet, one on each foot, then exchanged them for the keyboard bass pedals. With all this equipment, his vocal harmonies and invigorating charisma he has plenty of resources to produce the full sound of the One-Man Band. He knows hundreds of songs by heart and humbly tells the crowd he plays all of the instruments, even the pre-recorded backing tracks that accompany him, which is true.
Bosco studied music therapy and film-making at Eastern New Mexico University in the 1970s. “Having an interest in the healing arts, I was amazed by how influential music was on people who had certain afflictions, like a person who couldn’t speak could sing wonderfully. A person who couldn’t walk could hear music and suddenly jump up out of a wheelchair and dance. Then the music stops, and they get all frozen up again.” Moonlighting through college led to playing in après ski lounges in Colorado, where he built his own log cabin when he was 23. During balmy weather, he journeyed from Mexico north along the Rocky Mountains and through Canada like a musical medicine show, winding up in Alaska. He later did a magical, nine-month music tour in New Zealand. “How I got to Hawai‘i was due to a flood which sent a 60-foot wall of water down the Big Thompson Canyon,” he says, “It wiped out the road and I couldn’t get home for two years. I was also freezing and as I played the bass pedals barefooted I thought I’d better go to a climate where I wouldn’t lose my toes from frost bite.”
Landing on Hawaii island with his treasure chest of pop, reggae, country, rock, folk, jazz and original songs, he recorded his first CD in South Point at his rinky-dink home studio “the rubber room” using only solar and windmill power. For his second CD “Bosco: The Amazing One Man Band,” he went to a more conventional studio. In 1994 he produced a travel/music video called “Hangin’ with Bosco!” featuring original witty songs and offbeat wacky adventures at spectacular locations around the island. Bosco struck up a friendship with, another fellow eccentric, Uncle Billy Kimi, the owner of Kona Inn Shopping Village, who provided a venue for his public performances. This has allowed him to share his joyful brand of music any time he chooses in the heart of Kailua Town. Typical of Bosco’s paradox and musical spontaneity, the One-Man Band often expands to two when he is joined by Chama, a protégé who took guitar lessons from him at the age of 10 and never looked back.
Bosco’s music is evocatively nostalgic. He can belt out “Hello, Dolly” on his trumpet, morph into Louis Armstrong then sing “Mr. Bojangles” with more passion than Jerry Jeff Walker. On “You Are My Sunshine” he can imitate Willie Nelson, and then channel the Animals lead singer Eric Burdon for his own version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” Whether it’s blues, rock, folk, Hawaiian, jazz, country, reggae, big band, bluegrass or latin, Bosco covers everyone’s favourite genre at the Kona Inn, in concerts and at private events. He’s appealed to thousands of people who return to Kona year after year, some of them specifically for the aloha they know they can find on the boardwalk of his pitch. It’s not unusual for someone to step up, shake his hand and say something like, “I remember you from twenty-five years ago!” Bosco’s classic response is to smile politely, and repeat, “I’m still here, still here.”
The blonde-headed troubadour, who enchants audiences with his tantalising trumpet, scintillating fretwork and hilarious impersonations plus jokes and witty remarks, has been called a Kona institution, but he’s is anything but institutional. “I just want to play and be able to make people happy,” says Bosco – a one-of-a-kind renegade musician.