I don’t have all the details on Brandon Bray, so I hope I’m not doing a disservice to his friends and family who knew him well. But his story needs to be told, regardless if I don’t cover everything from beginning to end.
First off, a huge mahalo to Chuck Davis, one of Brandon’s closest friends. Chuck’s a talented musician and comedian and an all-around nice guy. He’s got lots of stories about Vic Malo and Mel Cabang. But none of this here would be possible without him! Also, shout out to Rodney for introducing me to Brandon’s music.
Brandon Bray lives on for those who remember him from the 70s and 80sfm Hawaii music scene. (And also with record collectors, evidenced by the recent eBay auction for his 1979 self-titled debut album on Hula Records).
In the mid-1970s, Chuck answered a newspaper ad calling for musicians to play for a young, rising star.
Turns out Brandon Bray was only 16 and already had his own self-produced record.
Brandon released a single 45 rpm called “Glad You’re In My Life” (circa 1975; b-side unknown). Check out that link, it says “w, m & arr. Brandon Bray”. Looks like he wrote, mastered and arranged the entire track. “He basically directed the entire thing by himself,” Chuck told me.
Where did Brandon get his single played? At the local Zippy’s Restaurant jukebox! (Other places too, of course).
The meetings following the newspaper advertisement fell through and the musicians never had the chance to perform together.
“Brandon was more music-oriented than show-oriented,” Chuck explained. “His entertainment skills were more geared around music than a show, like Al Harrington or Don Ho or Melveen Leed.” So Brandon’s show biz gig didn’t happened.
But Chuck and Brandon started hanging out more and even formed a band that played at Paradise Park (reporters called them the Paradise Serenaders, nothing to do with Rodney Arias). They worked on various projects throughout the years, including Brandon’s first LP.
Brandon got a contract with Hula Records sometime around 1978. Chuck had a hand in some of the arranging and composing, and even wrote the music for Hoapili, which Brandon wrote all the words for—in Hawaiian.
Yup, Brandon was fluent in Hawaiian. A rare case even in Hawaii. For those who don’t live here, you’re more likely to hear Japanese, Cantonese, or Filipino languages before hearing Hawaiian spoken fluently in any given day. I’ve only heard fluent Hawaiian conversations at the Na Hoku Hanohano awards.
From his photo I thought he’d be Japanese-Caucasian. But apparently one of his relatives was a kahuna, or Hawaiian priest. Brandon also earned a degree in Hawaiian language (in high school?).
I guess that’s why the cover says “A CONTEMPORARY HAWAIIAN AND HIS MUSIC”.
Brandon graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1978 and went on to study law or sociology. All the while his music career was just starting to blossom.
Check out “Manoa Rain” by Brandon Bray from his debut LP on Hula Records:
Brandon’s music extends beyond the disco-funk sounds you’re hearing now. He later delved into religious music and even won a Na Hoku Hanohano award in 1987 for his album Healing Love (most likely a cassette-only release). There’s another cassette-only album out there called Nana I Ke Kumu, but I haven’t heard that one either.
Brandon dipped in and out of recording music from 1970s to 1990 and his final album featured some of his original tunes re-arranged for the 80s pop sound (I haven’t heard it yet so I can’t give you any more details).
Apparently Brandon worked as a legal aide and he never entirely focused his energy on the music business, which is probably why he never became as famous as some of his contemporaries. Education and a steady career took priority.
After the release of his final album, sometime in 1988, Brandon fell ill with AIDS. He was gay.
Chuck recalls the final day that Brandon was with us.
“Watching a man lose 30 pounds when he was light to begin with … Just watching him slowly deteriorate so fast was … I cry now, but back then I wanted him to die because of the pain that was involved …
“He was taking some really strong medications that were pretty magic[al] on his body … He would call me and tell me how good he feels—he felt like he was on top of the world! But the next day, it was back to normal …
“The day he was on his death bed, I got a call while I was teaching kickboxing. I was teaching these two guys … their mother was a medical doctor, their family were doctors.
“Brandon calls me from the hospital and tells me, ‘Chucky, I need you to come to the’—I was always at his begging call—so he said ‘I need you to bring me this, I need you to buy me some aspirin, I need you to buy me this.’
“OK that’s okay Brandon. ‘And I need it because I’m going to go into surgery.’ So I go to the store and buy all this stuff.
“The boy [Chuck’s kickboxing student] takes me down there in his truck. We go into the hospital. Brandon was sitting in the room, hallucinating on all the drugs they’d been giving him … All the sudden the doctor says they need to take him to this other room because ‘Brandon’s just having some complications’.
“And I’m thinking okay, Brandon’s just having some complications right now, you know; he’s having a seizure, you know. So finally after they take Brandon away, the boy pulls me over and says, ‘Uh, I gotta tell you this: he’s dying.’
“‘What do you mean he’s dying?’
“‘They are taking him to this room where they hook you up because all of his vital signs are going down,’ the student told Chuck.”
That night, Brandon went into a coma and passed away.
Chuck was the last of Brandon’s loved ones to see the talented musician before he left the world.
Brandon died in circa 1990 from complications with AIDS.
No matter how much Brandon’s debut LP ever sells for on eBay, nothing is more valuable to me than learning Brandon’s story from his good friend. Thank you, Chuck, you’ve opened a doorway for me and many of Brandon Bray’s fans around the world.
Here’s Chuck’s outstanding tribute to Brandon’s song, “Manoa Rain”.
Mahalo for reading this far! Please consider donating to Aloha Got Soul to help document this Hawaiian funk, disco, soul, jazz and contemporary island sound. I love this music as much as you do, and sometimes I need an extra cup of coffee to keep me going.
If you knew Brandon, please feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment below.