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Hazel Payne

After traveling across country by car with her family and listening to some of her mother’s favorite artists like Mongo Santamaria, Ray Charles, and Kenny Burrell, Hazel decided she wanted to stop taking piano lessons and learn guitar. Her appetite had been whet by the duet performance at her 6th grade graduation by her favorite teacher Mrs. Porter and one of her classmates. But, “It was the ride to Louisville and Kenny Burrell that convinced me guitar was the instrument for me,” touts Hazel. “My mother was an aspiring opera singer in her youth and she always encouraged my brothers and me to embrace music, if only as a hobby,” Hazel maintains. “It was just recently my father told me he had a band with Duke Ellington’s nephew. I think the ‘force was with me’ to pursue music.”



Hazel proceeded to take lessons at the Compton Music Center for several years under the instruction of Gary Bell. In the high school marching band, she played bass clarinet. “I was infatuated with an upper classman that played it, among many other instruments. I particularly felt the bass clarinet was more unusual and would require lots of tutelage from him!” Hazel grins. Hazel was able to take her first trip out of the country when the Compton High marching band was invited by the Mayor of Mexico City to perform there for a ‘youth in music’ exchange program.

During her high school years she was also the guitarist in a popular local band The Sematics who happened to be close friends with Tito Jackson. This gave them the opportunity to be the house band at Tito’s wedding reception. (Of course Michael was there!). Jackie Jackson took special notice of the ‘girl on guitar’ and made a special effort to go on stage and acknowledge her. It was with this same band that Hazel was fortunate enough to be invited to perform for the special appearance of James Brown to the Compton City Hall. Mr. Brown also took notice of the ‘girl on guitar’ and pointed her out, smiled, and made comment about it to his entourage.



It was at one of my rehearsals with a ‘girl’ band that Janice Johnson, a bassist with a group called A Taste Of Honey came to talk to me. She said she had heard of the ‘girl band’ but only came to find a guitar player for her group. Janice and I talked, she came to my house we talked some more and the rest is history. Quite incidentally, I had just botched an audition for Bill Withers’ band the day before I auditioned for ATOH…I think it was fate.”

It was a year after Hazel joined A Taste Of Honey that the group scored a recording contract with Capitol Records. ATOH recorded four (then called) albums for the label. It was quite a coincidence, Hazel thought, that she would end up on the same label that the vocalists she had previously backed, The Sylvers, were on.

As a member of A Taste Of Honey, Hazel wrote and arranged a number of songs alone and with other members of the group.

During the auditions for the touring for ATOH, Hazel met a fellow Compton High alumnus, now a recording artist popularly known as Kebmo’. ”I didn’t know [Kevin] before because he was an upperclassman, but I did, however, know and played in the Compton High marching band with his sister,” says Hazel. As a result of their meeting, Kebmo’ asked Hazel to finish the writing of a song he had the beginnings to but was stumped for the rest of it. Hazel indeed finished the song and it is now the official reunion song of her graduated high school class: The Good Ol’ Days.



After numerous gold and platinum disc awards, domestic and international tours, a plethora of television shows, and a Grammy, Hazel decided to get married and settle down with then Manager of A&R for Capitol Records, Steve Buckley. (Steve later went on to become Vice President of A&R at Motown). They had 2 boys, Steve and Sterling. It was while she was pregnant with Steve that she received a phone call asking her to play guitar on tour with the one and only Bob Dylan. “I had to turn it down because I was with child. I was extremely flattered!” Hazel notes. So, Hazel put music aside for mothering (other than the occasional performance for her church).

It was after her boys were older that Hazel decided to woodshed, first with a refresher course in keyboards at the noted Dick Grove School of Music in Hollywood, then, in Japan for 2 years in a band led by a childhood friend and nephew of Fats Domino. “Leroy,” (Fats’ nephew) “says Fats is still mad about how Chubby Checker took his name!” Hazel laughs. Japan was where Hazel honed her vocal chops. Later, she landed an endorsement in the USA with a karaoke manufacturer and, in between her Japan tours, promoted the karaoke players at the prestigious NAMM Convention for 2 years.

Upon returning to the USA, Hazel formed her own band and performed at venues around southern California. After battling the frustration of maintaining a band in greater Los Angeles, Hazel once again directed her energies overseas. “I discovered it was more lucrative to travel as 1 or 2 individuals and rehearse the band myself as their musical director. I even became so busy I had to turn down a background vocalist job with CoCo Lee! Imagine that!” Hazel exclaims. “Sony records, through a referral, came to the venue in Hong Kong, loved my voice and wanted me to work with CoCo right away. I just couldn’t get out of the current contract…that’s life,” Hazel quips.

After receiving a referral from Mal Ford of Personality Artistes via a manager in the USA, Hazel was off to England to audition and subsequently to co-star in her first musical theatre show Oh, What A Night with the modern icon of the zoot suit Kid Creole (of Kid Creole and the Coconuts). “Kid is a consummate professional! He knew this was my first time doing musical theatre. He was supportive and encouraging. He is truly an amazing man to work with!” Hazel boasts.

The production has been touring successfully for 8 years in England and throughout Europe. Hazel has done 2 seasons with Oh, What A Night. She had rave reviews and was christened “the little lady with the big, big voice”. She has another run with the show in late 2005/early 2006..

Hazel’s Las Vegas production showcases in the Spring of 2005. During her “coming out” performances at The Plaza in Las Vegas, Hazel was joined with Noriyuki “Pat” Morita (Mr. Miyagi from the movie series “The Karate Kid”). “Mr. Morita was very impressed that I spoke Japanese. We performed Sukiyaki together, singing, of course, in Japanese, and he is quite the comedian as well! I always had to stay on my toes to keep up with him,” Hazel asserts. “Wait ‘til he finds out I play the koto!” Hazel adds.

In 2005, Hazel will be recording her instrumental jazz CD in various countries with musicians she has come to know throughout her travels.

“Simply put: I love what I do. I’m quite fortunate and I’m happy!” Hazel smiles. “People tell me all the time ‘you’ve got so much energy!’ What can I say? I feel that if I’ve got a choice, Don’t Walk…Boogie!”