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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, June 22, 2000

Photo courtesy Wili Moku
Wili Moku and wife Angie are learning
to live with his illness.

Wili Moku determined
to fight crippling diabetes

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Wili Moku has lost his right foot to diabetes. He may lose his left foot as well. At the moment, he fears for his fingers.

"I might lose a couple of fingers off my left hand, and for a guitar player that's actually more depressing (than losing a foot)," Moku said in a phone interview from a care facility in California. He was still recovering from the surgery, but his voice had the same warm and cheery tones that made him a favorite in island radio for more than 20 years.

"Back in the '20s there was a guitarist who didn't have a couple of fingers, and he played. I tell myself, 'If he could do it, I can!' "

Forte will be among the dozens of performers
taking the stage at the Backyard Summer Bash,
a benefit concert for Wili Moku.

Moku views his long-term prospects for living with diabetes and other health problems with similar determination. "I've been progressing through the (rehabilitation) program real rapidly and I'm actually very close to walking out of this place. When I go home it'll be a matter of watching my other foot to see when it needs to come off -- I hope it's going to be 'if.'"

He adds he decided to have his foot amputated after an infection reached the bone in his big toe and the pain became so bad that the medication needed to control it was causing hallucinations.

"The pain was so bad I was snapping at my baby girl, I was snapping at (my wife) Angie. My doctor tried some last-minute stuff but (the foot) was too far gone."

Moku also receives dialysis treatments three times a week and has had a defibrillator installed in his chest to help his weakening heart. A respiratory infection developed into pneumonia and complications from the amputation left him comatose for several days.

Although he is feeling better, he is unable to work. "It's been a rough couple of years," he said.

Several of his friends hope to lift a bit of the crushing financial burden with the proceeds of a benefit concert at the Sheraton Waikiki on Saturday. The six-hour event will include performances by Henry Kapono, Honolulu, the Krush, Natural Vibrations, Ten Feet, the Ka'ala Boys, Moke Boy, Cookie and the Ka'au Crater Boys (Ernie, Shawn & Jon). Jeff Kino will be the principal announcer with assists from Carole Kai, Jeff Apaka and Mr. Europe World Michael Monis.

Moku had hoped to be at the event, but isn't well enough to make the trip home. "I'll make it back though, maybe by the end of the year."

Moku said listening to the late Mike "Mighty Leader" Hamlin, Sandy Cole and Keala Kai during his high school years inspired him to get into radio after he graduated from Waipahu High School.

"I listened to them all through high school on KIKI-AM and I thought, 'I can do that.' "

He got into radio as a gofer for Steve "Blind Date Boogie" Clark at KORL in 1975. Clark became his mentor and by the end of the year, Moku had a show of his own. When KORL changed music formats several years later, Moku moved to KKUA with Kimo Akane. They became part of the successful team at KKUA's sister station, KQMQ.

"I believe we were the first FM (station) to become No. 1 in the state. We were doing stuff that nobody else was doing -- Kelly Randall was the air (and) Tony Taylor. The popping craze was happening then so we had a big popping thing at the Shell with 10,000 kids. We had a lot of fun."

Through the years, Moku's beard was part of his image. "I guess I'm just too lazy to shave," he says with a chuckle, adding that unlike many local broadcasters he preferred afternoon shows to the more prestigious morning-drive shift.

"I loved doing afternoons -- just the fact that you didn't have to get up at 2 in the morning. Your life changes when you do mornings; I was grumpy all the time."

Music was one of his passions. He wrote and recorded "Palolo Valley Girls," a local parody of Frank and Moon Unit Zappa's 1982 novelty hit, "Valley Girls." He also helped imprisoned Hawaiian nationalist John Kalani Lincoln set a poignant Christmas poem to music, and later performed with Mike Chung and Richard Natto as the Rhythm Bunnies.

"We were packing 'em in every Saturday night at Steck's. We were probably the only band playing that '70s kind of stuff. Everyone else was playing Hawaiian or Jawaiian, and there was a niche for it. We had a lot of fun with it. We went to Japan with Mark Santos joining us on keyboards, but basically it was just me Richie and Mike. That was fun!

"I wasn't looking at it to replace radio, but it was something I always wanted to do. To be able to work with guys like Mike and Richard -- Richard was one of my musical heroes from Toma/Natto."

Natto is now a member of the Krush, one of the groups that will perform Saturday.

"It would have been nice to come home for the concert, but they're not quite ready to let me out. I'll make it back though," Moku said. "Even if I can't play guitar someday, I'll still be able to sing."

Backyard Summer Bash

"Lending a Helping Hand" is a benefit concert for Wili Moku:

Bullet On stage: 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Bullet Place: Diamond Head Lawn, Sheraton Waikiki
Bullet Tickets: $10 pre-sale; $15 at the door
Bullet Call: 922-4422

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