Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


Andy Fraser of Free

THE week gone by has been rather sad for rock music, following the death of three outstanding musicians – Toto bassist Mike Porcaro, Free bassist/ pianist Andy Fraser and Twisted Sister drummer A J Pero. While each of them was incredibly talented, they were at their prime in different periods – Fraser in the late 60s and early 70s, Porcaro in the early to mid-1980s, and Pero in the late 1980s.

Followers of good old ‘classic’ rock would remember Fraser’s group Free not only for its rock staple ‘All right now’, but also because it was the earlier band of super-vocalist Paul Rodgers, who made waves in the mid-1970s with Bad Company. In fact, Rodgers is considered one of the greatest rock vocalists ever, but there again, much of his success and memorable songs are due to Bad Company.

On its own, Free was one of the most popular bands on the British circuit, shuffling between early hard rock and blues-influenced rock. It released six studio albums, including the successful ‘Fire and Water’, ‘Highway’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. Besides Rodgers and Fraser, who passed away at age 62, it had the incredible talents of guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke (who also joined Bad Company), and later featured keyboardist John Rabbit Bundrick and bassist Tetsuo Yamauchi.

Yet, barring those who followed Free as part of the late 1960s and early 1970s British rock scene, a large number of people outside the UK and US knew it primarily as Rodgers’ earlier band. Thus, the work of Fraser and Kossoff was somewhat overlooked during their hey days, but recognised only much later, specially when people saw footage of their performance of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival. In many cases, Bad Company fans became Free admirers later.

FREE is a classic example of the earlier band of a rock superstar (in this case Rodgers). And come to think of it, there are quite a few examples of such outfits, which were on the one hand admired by a select set in its performing days, but became even more famous because one or two of its members became superstars later.

Here, let’s take a look at 10 such names. This isn’t a complete list, but an ideal starting point for those who want to follow the larger repertoire of the more famous artistes we have idolised over the years.

Yardbirds: An extremely popular group on its own, this also was a launch pad of sorts for guitarists Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja. Hits included ‘For your love’, ‘Heart full of soul’ and ‘Over under sideways down’.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Mayall was one of the biggest names in the British blues scene in the 1960s, and his group Bluesbreakers included guitarists Clapton, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, and bassists John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and Jack Bruce of Cream.

Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated: Like Mayall’s group, this outfit launched many stars, including drummers Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones and Ginger Baker of Cream. Jack Bruce played with both Bluesbreakers and Blues Incorporated, and he and Baker played with Graham Bond Organisation, before they attained superstardom with Cream, along with Clapton.

Mott The Hoople: Best known as the band featuring guitarist Mick Ralphs, who later made it big with Bad Company. The group also featured guitarists Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, best known for his collaborations with David Bowie.

The Byrds: Hugely popular in the mid-1960s with hits like ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’ and its cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, it also was the earlier group of David Crosby, part of the legendary Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Buffalo Springfield: The earlier group of Stephen Stills and Neil Young of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, it also featured Jim Messina who later formed country-rock group Poco and earned fame with the group Loggins & Messina. Interestingly, Poco also featured Springfield’s Richie Furay and bassist Randy Meisner, later of the Eagles.

Flying Burrito Brothers: The earlier group of Eagles founding member and multi-instrumentalist Bernie Leadon and singer-songwriter Gram Parsons.

The Jeff Beck Group/ Faces: Super-singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood, later of the Rolling Stones, were an integral part of guitarist Jeff Beck’s group, before they formed the Small Faces, which later became the Faces. Interestingly, the Faces also had keyboardist Ian Maclagan, who toured and recorded often with the Stones.

Spencer Davis Group: Best known because it featured keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Steve Winwood and his brother Muff. The group is best known for the songs ‘Gimme some lovin’, ‘Somebody help me’ and ‘Keep on running’. Steve later played a leading role in the groups Traffic and Blind Faith, before embarking on a solo career.

Them: A hugely successful Irish band in the mid-1960s, Them featured vocalist Van Morrison, who became a solo legend in his own right. The band was best known for its anthem ‘Gloria’, and was also a huge influence on the Doors.

AS we said, besides Free, we have cited the examples of 10 such bands which featured future greats. For those interested in the earlier work of these phenomenal musicians, it would be a good idea to check out their songs from their early career. There are a lot of unknown gems left to discover.


Shadows in the Night

Artiste: Bob Dylan

Genre: Evergreens

Label: Sony Music

Rating: ****

BOB Dylan is Bob Dylan. He definitely isn’t Frank Sinatra, and never would have been aspired to be one. So when we heard that he was attempting an album containing songs popularised by the older American hero, our question was: What on earth was he up to?

Thankfully, our fears were laid to rest after a few listens of ‘Shadows In The Night’, Dylan’s 35th studio album. With a voice that’s sounding smokier and mustier as he approaches his mid -70s, and an orchestration that will make you long for candlelights or full-moon nights, low-lit bars or a sky filled with stars, Dylan does his own take on Sinatra. Effortlessly and elegantly, he does it his way.

Strangely, Dylan avoids Sinatra’s anthem ‘My way’, whose words would have been equally suited to describe his own approach to music in particular, and life in general. And if you thought the album title would compulsorily mean a version of the brilliant ‘Strangers in the night’, he skips that one too. Sure enough, he doesn’t even touch done-to-death numbers like ‘Something stupid’, ‘Fly me to the moon’ and ‘Under my skin’.

The 10 songs Dylan chooses to interpret largely belong to an era preceding Dylan’s super success in the 1960s. Yet, only two would fit into the category of tunes that most people would recognise. He gives a completely different spin to the Rodgers-Hammerstein II beauty ‘Some enchanted evening’, charmingly singing the opening lines, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then that somehow, you’ll see her again and again.”

The other hit, ‘Autumn leaves’, may come across as one of the album’s weaker moments, but that’s because you would instantly compare it with some outstanding versions done in the past by singers Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone, and the trumpet-saxophone jazz improvisation by Chet Baker and Paul Desmond. For that matter, even Bollywood’s Sapan Chakrabarti didn’t spare the song when he created ‘Tum bhi chalo’ in ‘Zameer’. Still, Dylan makes you hum along, even if in disagreement.

Of the other songs, Dylan gets into form instantly on the opening track ‘I’m a fool to want you’, where he changes the mood from “Time and time again I said I’d leave you, time and time again I went away” to “Take me back, I love you’” to “I can’t get along without you.”

‘The night we called it a day’ brims with romance on the lines, “There was a moon out in space, but a cloud drifted over its face.” On ‘Stay with me’, ‘Why try to change me now?’ and ‘That lucky old sun’, the vocal style is vintage Dylan, at times sounding uncomfortable in comparison to the originals, and yet proving how easily he’s adapted them to match his own style.

On ‘Full moon and empty arms’, a song which jointly names Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman and famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on writing credits, Dylan sings, “The moon is there for us to share but where are you?”

The next song, “Where are you?” has similar emotions as it goes, “Where are you? Where is my heart? Where is the dream we started? I can’t believe we parted?” And on Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I do’, he moans, “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” On each tune, a combination of trumpets, trombones, French horns, guitar, pedal steel and minimal percussion lend that special mood and ambience.

Yet, barring some of the unusual song choices, there’s nothing really new about this Dylan venture. It’s definitely not the first time he hasn’t written original material for a new album after his 1962 self-titled debut, as in late 2009, he attempted popular festive favourites in the album ‘Christmas in the Heart’. He’s also not the first person to record an album of Sinatra hits – after the jazz interpretations by the pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio in 1959, we have had attempts by Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton and, Teny Bennett, among others.

Likewise, Dylan is among the many singers to have attempted songs from the Great American Songbook, with the list also including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. And he’s also not the only singer to try out cover versions of popular hits in recent months, as Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox have also done that.

In such a scenario, one may ask what’s new. Well, that’s the beauty of ‘Shadows in the Night’. Dylan sings these songs in such an individualistic manner that they are bound to keep your evenings enchanted.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


Lady Gaga at the Oscars 2015

LET’S start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Among other things at the Oscar Awards 2015, Lady Gaga’s rendition of’ The Sound of Music’ medley made headlines worldwide. Both the social media and conventional publications were abuzz with comments and articles on how the pop sensation could actually sing too. For many, it came as the biggest surprise on earth.

Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a very talented artiste, having started at the age of four and been a teenage sensation in theatrical musicals. However, she has largely been known for her antics than for her music. The world discussed her more for her outlandish ‘meat dress’, her egg-shaped costumes and ultra-weird hairdos. She’s also been the product of some extremely creative new age marketing strategies aimed at various categories which lapped things up instantly.

Her performance at the Oscars was not only an eye-opener, but also the smartest thing she’s probably done. Within a 10-minute span, she and the event organisers did nothing but sell pure nostalgia to the ideal target audience, comprising millions of television viewers across the globe, a large chunk of which had never taken Lady Gaga seriously before, and who after her show associated her instantly with emotions they had related to while they were growing up.

If one looks closely, it’s not that Lady Gaga is the only singer in the world who could have given this performance. Yes, she hit the right notes and created a stir, but that’s something that any talented singer would do, including Mumbai’s very own Vivienne Pocha, Samantha Edwards, Dominique Cerejo and Caralisa Monteiro. Most singers begin their lessons with ‘The Sound of Music’, and songs from the movie are ingrained not only among singers but among music lovers too.

An entire generation has grown up on and has mastered these songs, but when Lady Gaga performed them, everyone raved about her singing talents and how hard she worked on voice training. And the trick there clearly lay in how the whole episode was packaged. It wasn’t just an ordinary medley, but the epitome of marketing savvy.

First, extracts of songs from the original movie were shown, getting the audience into a nostalgic mood. This was followed by Lady Gaga’s performance, comprising songs not featured in the visual clip. Her trained voice, flowing gown, tattooed arms, uncharacteristically simple hairstyle and minimal physical movement, as well as the live violins, went perfectly with the ambience, and one didn’t really care if the classic ‘Edelweiss’ didn’t really fit in or match the original. Across the world, the ‘halls’ were alive to the sound of music.

The performance touched a chord, and the singer got a standing ovation. Even as people were clapping, in walked Julie Andrews, the star of the original film, and after a brief interaction, Lady Gaga just vanished. The applause continued, and what would have been an ordinary rendition turned out to be a memorable moment in recent Oscar history.

Within minutes, videos of Gaga’s act went viral on YouTube, and in the hours that followed, the world posted and shared more about her enormous singing talent than about best actor Eddie Redmayne or best film ‘Birdman’. Articles on her ‘surprise performance’ were posted everywhere, while some sections wondered what the hype was all about. This was showbiz at its very best. To pun on a Queen song, don’t be surprised if for a few days, all you hear is Lady-O Gaga.

EVER since she arrived on the scene in 2008 with her album ‘The Fame’, Lady Gaga has been one of the music industry’s most successful marketing stories. While much credit to her success would go to her former manager Troy Carter, with whom she split a couple of years ago, the singer has herself contributed with ideas that have revolutionised the way celebrity brands can be sold.

Initially, her focus was on the teenage and young segment – and she used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remarkably to build her fan base and popularise songs like ‘Just dance’, ‘Poker face’ and ‘Bad romance’. But that was something many people were doing.

Before one could blink, she aimed at the other extreme of the audience, collaborating with veteran singer Tony Bennett, 60 years her senior, first on the song ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, and then on the album ‘Cheek to Cheek’, which has immortal classics like ‘Lush life’, ‘It don’t mean a thing’, ‘Sophisticated lady’ and ‘Nature boy’. The recoding won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance, and her new manager Bobby Campbell became a celebrity too.

By doing this album, she targeted a much older generation, making many grandparents relive their younger days and also relating to their grandchildren’s fascination for Lady Gaga. More than any other pop singer, she charmed two extreme generations, using nothing but simple common sense, and bridged the gap in her own way.

The Lady Gaga success story till her third album ‘Born This Way’, released in 2013, has been covered in Anita Elberse’s thoroughly researched book ‘Blockbusters: Why Big Hits – and Big Bucks – are the Future of the Entertainment Business’. In fact, she is the only case which has been studied twice in the book, which also talks of brands like entertainment houses Warner Brothers, MGM and Marvel Entertainment, superstar Tom Cruise, record label Octone Records, musical acts Radiohead and Jay-Z, online video channels YouTube and Hulu, football club Real Madrid and tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, besides other names in book publishing, television and basketball.

The first case study on ‘Launching and Managing Blockbusters’, talks about Lady Gaga’s rise to fame, her initial album launches, how she targeted the young generation through the social media, her obsession for image-building through shock value and the way she used the live concert medium to build up her fan base.

The book says: “Gaga heavily relied on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread further word of mouth and strengthen her connection with her fans – or her “little monsters”, as she liked to call them. She turned out to be extraordinarily skilled at doing so: by 2011, Gaga was the most popular living person on Facebook and the most followed person on Twitter.

The second case study is used in a chapter on the ‘Future of Blockbuster Strategies’. Special mention is made on how, while releasing her album ‘Born This Way’, she partnered with brands like Beats high-end headphones, Amazon, Belvedere vodka, Best Buy, Guilte Group, Starbucks and Zygna. With most musicians relying on conventional marketing means by tying up with record labels, Gaga collaborated with an unusual mix of brands, to reach out to a wider set of audiences.

The Beats headphone tie-up helped her connect with sound-conscious audiences. While Amazon offered her album ‘Born this Way’ for 99 cents to promote its new cloud-based service, Belvedere promoted its vodka by holding a contest offering tickets to her concert in London. Best Buy bundled the album with the purchase of a phone, and Gulite Group created special Gaga-inspired merchandise including a dress similar to one worn by her. Starbucks promoted her album big-time in their stores, and Zygna, the social gaming giant, created a special game called ‘Gagaville’ based on its very popular ‘Farmville’.

Now, many musicians had done such collaborations in the past. But where Gaga scored was how she used a combination of various consumer segments to attract the larger sum of people who would directly listen to her music. And while she followed these new age marketing tactics, she also stuck to conventional philanthropic practices like contributing to various charities and relief efforts, besides launching the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organisation that focuses on youth empowerment and issues like self-confidence, well-being, mentoring, anti-bullying and career development.

Unlike Michael Jackson, Madonna or Whitney Houston, who relied primarily on individual image, record sales and live performances, Lady Gaga has been lucky to bloom at the right time in the digital age. She may not really reach the pure artistic status of the three names mentioned above, but as a brand, she has spearheaded a completely new approach. And to her credit, she hasn’t stuck to the same formula, but experimented fearlessly.

If many questioned her talent earlier, and insisted she like many of her contemporaries was more the creation of hype than substance, they slowly changed track after she released ‘Cheek to Cheek’ with their old favourite Tony Bennett. By singing ‘The Sound of Music’ songs at the hugely popular Oscar ceremony, she has seemingly laid all the criticism to rest. Equally important, this being the 50th year since ‘The Sound of Music’ was first released, she and Julie Andrews combined in a manner that would attract today’s youngsters to the legendary film.

The best thing was that she sang songs everyone knew and sang along, and yet made the world believe she was the only person in the universe who could manage it so well. It doesn’t matter whether most of her newfound admirers bother whether her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Who cares, as long as ‘Lady’ portrays her older, mature side, and ‘Gaga’ her young, fun-loving one?


Swappnam – Dance, Theatre, Dreams

Music: Ilaiyaraaja

Genre: Classical dance music/ Carnatic/ devotional

Label: Purple note

Price: Rs 150

Rating: *****

ONE of India’s greatest composers ever, Ilaiyaraaja has recently been in the news for providing the music for the Amitabh Bachchan-Dhanush Hindi film ‘Shamitabh’. On a more traditional note, he has also composed ‘Swappnam’, a dance ballet based on a performance by Bharatnatyam exponent Krithika Subrahmanian.

With a heavy Carnatic and devotional base dedicated to Lord Shiva, the 10 tracks take you through various emotions and situations like dreams of the young, adoration, romance, recognition, awakening, realisation, reverence, wisdom, dreams of the old and truth. The presence of talented vocalists like Poornima Satish, Sudha Raghunathan, Abishek Raghuram, Vasudha Ravi, Rajashree Pathak and Bharath Sunder lends variety.

The six-minute-plus ‘Dreams of the Young’ or ‘Aezhisayaai’ is a perfect opener. It begins with an orchestral portion played with a western classical feel and yet including Carnatic overtones, followed by Abhishek Raghuram’s vocal, set to a flute, veena, violin, mridangam and ghatam backdrop. ‘Adoration’, or ‘Kaadhaar Kuzhaiyaada’ is rendered with melodic brilliance in raag Jog by Poornima Satish and Vasudha Ravi. An extract of Adishankara’s Ardhanareeswara Ashtaka, ‘Romance’ or ‘Pradeepta Rathnojwala’ sung by popular Malayalam composer Shareth, Arunmozhi (who is actually Ilaiyaraaja’s flautist who otherwise goes by the name Napoleon) and group has excellent display of percussion.

One of the highlights is the sargam-driven voice symphony ‘Recognition’ or ‘Koovina Poonguyil’, sung by Poornima Satish and group, and beginning with the heavenly sound of birds humming. Sudha Raghunathan, Vasudha Ravi and Sreenivas team up on ‘Realisation’ or ‘Ammaye Appa’, whereas Rajashree Pathak makes apt use of raag Puriya Dhanashri on ‘Reverence’ or ‘Bhajeham’, which has the theme line ‘Bhajeham bhajeham shivoham shivoham’.

Bharath Sunder’s ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Aye Metha Kadinam’, composed by Gopalakrishna Bharathi, makes exquisite use of the veena. Swati Tirunal’s ‘Dreams of the Old’ or ‘Visweswara Darshan’, sung by Rajashree Pathak, Abishek Raghuram, is a melodic anthem rendered with a Hindustani feel in raag Sindhu Bhairavi with the lines ‘Visweswara darshan kar chalo man tum Kashi’.

The album concludes with a 30-second spoken stretch by Ilaiyaraaja on ‘Truth’ or ‘Anbum Shivamum’. It’s an apt ending to one of the best creations by the master-composer.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


Zikr Tera/ Roopkumar and Sunali Rathod

Genre: Ghazal

Label: Copyright Roopkumar Rathod; published by Turnkey Music & Publishing

Price: Rs 200

Rating: *** 1/2

OVER the past two decades or so, the ghazal duo of Roopkumar and Sunali Rathod has released some popular albums like ‘Ishaara’, ‘Mohabbat Ho Gayi’, ‘Mitwa’, ‘Khushboo’ and ‘Bazm-e-Meer’. To mark their 25th wedding anniversary, they have now come out with ‘Zikr tera’, which is also a tribute to the late Jagjit Singh.

Featuring eight ghazals, a highlight of the album is the choice of simple yet effective poetry, mostly penned by newer names. Each ghazal contains only three or four shers, which help the songs attain a certain compactness. The arrangements by Deepak Pandit are melodic, with some neat solos and interludes.

The collection has five solo songs by Roopkumar, two by Sunali and one duet in the opening song ‘Haathon mein haath’. Penned by Shakeel Azmi, it impresses with the matla “Kuchh is tarah se milein hum ki baat reh jaaye, Bichad bhi jaaye toh haathon mein haath reh jaaye”. The poet also writes Sunali’s ‘Aur kuchh din’, which begins, “Aur kuchh din yahaan rukne ka bahaana milta, Is naye shahar mein koi toh puraana milta.”

The young poet Saani Aslam contributes with ‘Zaroorat uski’, which goes, “Rukh badalte hue mausam si hai fitrat uski, kuchh dinon ke liye main bhi tha zaroorat uski” and the veteran Madan Pal writes ‘Sawaal sabne kiya’. Both songs are sung by Roopkumar.

A highlight of the album is Parveen Kumar Ashhk, who writes the last three ghazals. On Sunali’s ‘Abr guzra’, he shows a distinct influence of Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the opening sher “Abr guzra hai bekhabar kitna, zard hai aaska shajar kitna”. Both ‘Meri chaadar tha’ and ‘Zamin ko aye khuda’ have been sung by Roopkumar, with the latter having the wonderful lines, “Mohabbat mein badal jaaye siyaasat, Khuda Lahore Dilli se mila de.”

The rendition of the poetry is assisted by the clear diction of the singers. Among the musicians, Deepak Pandit shines on the violin, with Ashvin Srinivasan and Rakesh Chaurasia chipping in on flute, Sunil Das playing sitar, Heera Pandit handling tabla and percussion, and Sanjay Jaipurwale contributing on guitar.

On the whole, it’s a well-produced album, though one wishes there were a couple of duets more. That would have created a perfect balance.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


IN my last blog, I talked of how I was first exposed to American band Eagles through the radio. Yesterday, barely a week after its publication, we heard of the death of Greek singer Demis Roussos, who was incidentally another artiste whom many of us first experienced on the radio. In fact, the news came barely an hour after we learnt of the demise of India’s greatest cartoonist RK Laxman, who was an institution by himself. While Laxman was mourned across India and by its diaspora, Demis’ death came as a double blow for a small section of us who have admired him earlier on.

Unlike the Eagles, whom I continued to explore over the years, and do so even today, my following of Demis’s music by and large ended in the 1970s itself. Yes, a few songs are definitely part of my childhood memories, and I have occasionally heard them in recent years. These include ‘My only fascination’, ‘Goodbye my love goodbye’, ‘Lovely lady of Arcadia’, ‘Forever and ever’, ‘My friend the wind’ and his version of George Baker Selection’s ‘Una paloma blanca’. Some would have heard his progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child, formed in the late 1960s with famed keyboardist Vangelis. And, of course, the hardcore Hindi film music fans would know that RD Burman’s ‘Mehbooba mehbooba’ was actually a direct lift of his ‘Say you love me’.

In the 1970s, in the absence of music television, one was acquainted with Demis only through his voice on the radio. He had a distinct timbre, which was deep and sensuous, and though it wasn’t necessarily so as a rule, just by listening to him, one might have suspected that he was a towering personality. Only after seeing his photos in magazines like ‘Sun’ and ‘JS’ could one confirm that his bulk and his extra-colourful kaftans matched his enormous voice.

The timbre is like a signature of the voice. Though a distinct timbre is no guarantee for greatness or success, it’s definitely an advantage for those who possess it. Accompanied by flawless expression and good compositions, it can do wonders. Among the male English singers, there have been quite a few with a completely unique texture. Besides Demis, examples would be Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, Roy Orbison, bluesman John Lee Hooker, James Taylor, the nasal Bob Dylan, later-day Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Engelbert Humperdinck, Cliff Richard, Paul Anka, Queen’s Freddie Mercury, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, and among the newer singers Richard Hawley and the National’s Matt Beringer.

The thing about such voices is that they stand out, even when the compositions or words aren’t great. Though the singer may be influenced by someone from the past, he uses his timbre to sound completely new and unique. Moreover, it’s extremely difficult to copy the singer exactly the way he sounds, unless one is a master mimic. Whenever someone tries to ape these singers, one can easily detect that he is just a clone, and vastly different from the original.

Demis’ voice had all these qualities, but what made him even more different was that he possessed a thick Mediterranean Europe accent which one hadn’t heard much in English music. There was a mix of pop, gospel, old-school opera and modern theatricality in his rendition style, and some people even called him the ‘pop Pavarotti’. And by mixing all this with lush, balladsy tunes that pleased the ear, he had a concoction that stood apart by miles.

Though Demis has sold a whopping 60 million records in his lifetime, his success was restricted to the 1970s. He released successful songs like ‘Follow me’, ‘I need you’ and ‘Island of love’ in the 1980s, but he couldn’t penetrate the much-changed pop market which relied more on Michael Jackson’s dance-driven showmanship, Madonna’s stage presence or Prince’s flamboyance. Later efforts to re-release his greatest hits on cassette or CD met with a limited response, restricted to the hardcore fans. Though he continued to perform live shows, he remained largely unseen on video. Unless one had heard him on the radio during his hey day, one barely got exposed to his music.

BACK in the 1970s, English music radio in India was a completely different scene. Most of us heard songs on All India Radio or Radio Ceylon, and a few tuned in to Voice of America or BBC. On AIR, Mumbai had slots on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Growing up in Delhi, I regularly switched on to ‘Forces Requests’ on Monday, ‘A Date With You’ on Friday and the 25-minute Monday-to-Friday programme ‘In The Groove’, which also became well-known because guest RJ Geeta Chopra and her brother Sanjay were kidnapped and murdered while returning after recording an episode in 1978, in what turned out to be the Billa-Ranga case.

The airplay on the radio shows primarily consisted of pop, evergreens and country, with a bit of radio-friendly rock thrown in. The teenagers couldn’t afford too many vinyl records, and the recorded cassette fad was yet to begin. So the best option was to catch the best songs on radio.

Broadly, one may divide the popular radio artistes of those days into three categories. The first comprised those who one first heard on the radio, and continued to pursue by buying vinyl records or cassettes, and much later, CDs. These included the Beatles, ABBA, Boney M, Cliff Richard, Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Cerrone, John Denver, the Carpenters, Bread, the Eagles, Uriah Heep, Santana, specific Pink Floyd songs like ‘Time’, ‘Money’ and ‘Another brick in the wall’, and songs from the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Grease’ soundtracks.

Secondly, there was a category of singers who were primarily recognised for one or two songs in India, though they weren’t necessarily one-hit wonders abroad. Examples were Carl Douglas for ‘Kung fu fighting’, George McRae for ‘Rock your baby’, Mary Hopkin for ‘Those were the days’, Johnny Wakelin for ‘In Zaire’ and ‘Black superman’, Tina Charles for ‘Dance little lady’, Baccara for ‘Yes sir, I can boogie’, Helen Reddy for ‘I am a woman’, Gloria Gaynor for ‘I will survive’, the Archies for ‘Sugar sugar’, Susan Raye for ‘LA International Airport’ and even the versatile country singer Glen Campbell, who we in India knew only for ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. There were also acts like Mungo Jerry and Terry Jacks, whose respective songs ‘In the summertime’ and ‘Seasons in the sun’ were revived through remixed versions in the 1990s.

Thirdly, there were these acts which were quite prolific on radio in the 1970s, but lost much of our attention in the following decade, though some of us still bought their greatest hits compilations many years later to refresh memories of days gone by. These included Paul Anka, Perry Como, Lobo, Diana Ross, Brotherhood of Man and George Baker Selection.

Needless to say, Demis Roussos belonged to this last category. Those who heard radio during the 1970s would have specific memories of his ‘Goodbye my love goodbye’, ‘Lovely lady of Arcadia’ or ‘My only fascination’, and the news of his death would have taken them down melody lane. Significantly enough, even four decades after he created these songs, one can’t think of any singer who sounds remotely similar to him. That was the uniqueness of his style.

Flying with the Eagles


SOME time in the early 1980s, my first exposure to the Eagles came through the radio. Strangely, it wasn’t with their super-hit ‘Hotel California’, but with two other gems ‘Lyin eyes’ and ‘One of these nights’, both of which impressed me instantly. Those days, I was just getting into rock, but by tastes were quite strong on pop and country. As the Eagles used a bit from all these genres, I loved their sound.

Memories of my early and subsequent exposure to the Eagles came alive again on Saturday, January 17, when I attended the performance by Scottish tribute band Hotel California at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. Almost 20 years ago, I had seen another tribute band whose name I don’t remember, at the Sophia Bhabha Hall. Needless to say, I enjoyed both shows thoroughly, but one of my regrets is not seeing the original band live.

On Saturday, the Scots played many of the popular songs, right from ‘Seven bridges road’, ‘Peaceful easy feeling’, ‘New kid in town’, ‘Take it easy’, ‘Desperado’, ‘Lyin eyes’, ‘Best of my love’, ‘Witchy woman’, ‘Already gone’, ‘Tequila sunrise’, ‘One of these nights’, ‘Life in the fast lane’, ‘Take it to the limit’, and ‘Hotel California’, to some solo numbers like Don Henley’s ‘Boys of summer’ and Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain way’. They also omitted a lot of favourites, like ‘Heartache tonight’, ‘Pretty maids all in a row,’, ‘The long run’, ‘Doolin-Dalton’, ‘Love will keep us alive’, ‘Get over it’, ‘Victim of love’, ‘In the city’, ‘I can’t tell you why’, ‘Waiting in the weeds’ and probably because they didn’t have a saxophonist, ‘The sad café’.

The tribute band definitely provided many moments of nostalgia, and musically, they excelled with their crisp vocals and tight guitars, with Jim Bowie producing some amazing slide and wah-wah riffs. The strong point of the Eagles music was their vocal harmonies, and the duplicates blended them well, though at times, one felt they never went as effortlessly high as the originals. One guesses they should have been given more time, shortening the performance of opening act Silvia, who buoyantly sang some bubbly pop and disco hits, but whose music wasn’t really in sync with what was in store. Another four or five songs by Hotel California, and it would have been perfect.

THAT much about the tribute. A bit more on the Eagles influence.

To me, the Eagles is one of the three American bands to release relatively fewer albums, and yet consistently produce sing-along anthems. The other two bands I am referring to are Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and the Doors featuring Jim Morrison. If one excludes the two Doors albums without Morrison and includes their ‘An American Prayer’, which posthumously used recordings of his vocals and spoken words, all these three bands released seven studio albums of fresh material.

The Doors released their first six albums between 1967 and 1971, when Morrison died, and ‘An American Prayer’ was out in 1978. CCR released their seven albums between 1968 and 1972, the year in which the Eagles came out with their self-titled debut. The latter released six great albums till 1979, and then after a really long gap, came out with ‘A Long Road Out of Eden’ in 2007. Their songs continued to be played, and there was a sudden Eagles wave in 1994 when they released ‘Hell Freezes Over’, essentially a live album with four new studio recordings thrown in.

The Doors, CCR and the Eagles thus released very few albums. But their consistency with whatever they released was too high. The only other band which arguably beat them in the frequency of widely-known hits was the Beatles, despite releasing more albums. And if one includes the pure pop world, Swedish group ABBA were probably equally high in consistency over eight studio albums.

With such a perfect record, it’s no surprise that the Eagles are one of the world’s most popular groups. And the best thing about them is that had could attract rock fans, pop fans and country fans. They had what is called a ‘four quadrant appeal’, in that they were loved equally by young people, old people, males and females. That’s what makes them the largest selling American band, and the fifth largest selling musical act, in history, with figures exceeding 150 million records.

MY own experience of listening to the Eagles can be divided into many phases. First came the radio phase, with ‘Lyin eyes’ and ‘One of these nights’ followed by ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Take it easy’. Those were the days I enjoyed the basic melodies and sound. From their accents, it was obvious they were an American band, but for many years, I had no clue they represented the southern California sound.

This was followed by the compilations phase, when I heard cassettes of ‘Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)’ and ‘Eagles Greatest Hits Vol 2’, discovering gems like ‘Peaceful easy feeling’, ‘Tequila sunrise’, ‘Desperado’, ‘The sad café’, ‘I can’t tell you why’ and ‘Life in the fast lane’.

Naturally, I began exploring the studio albums, first buying vinyl copies of ‘Hotel California’ and ‘The Long Run’. This introduced me to the individual contributions of vocalists-guitarists Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, drummer-vocalist Don Henley and bassist Randy Meisner and his successor Timothy B Schmidt. I read in a magazine that singer Bob Seger did the back-up vocals on ‘Heartache tonight’ but didn’t get any credit, and that jazz saxophonist David Sanborn played the remarkable solo on ‘The sad café’.

After listening to earlier studio albums like ‘Eagles’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘One of these nights’, I also began appreciating the work of vocalist-guitarist Bernie Leadon. I discovered that Jackson Browne co-wrote ‘Take it easy’ and Jack Tempchin penned ‘Peaceful easy feeling’. The one album I have never heard completely is 1974’s ‘On The Border’, and was thus clueless of the Tom-Waits-written ‘Ol 55’, which the tribute band played the other day.

Barring ‘On The Border’, I heard the albums repeatedly, but like is the case with many bands, there was a temporary stoppage as far as the Eagles were concerned, the only exception being the song ‘Hotel California’, which was covered by half the bands on earth. There were some small forays into the band members’ solo albums, like Don Henley’s ‘The End of the Innocence’ and Joe Walsh’s ‘Got Any Gum?’ but most of the solo recordings were not available in India, and they didn’t sound as great as the band anyway.

In the mid-1990s, the release of the live album ‘Hell Freezes Over’ marked the return of the Eagles phase. The acoustic version of ‘Hotel California’ was stunning, the newer songs ‘Get over it’, ‘Love will keep us alive’, ‘The girl from yesterday’ and ‘Learn to be still’ had the Eagles class, and the live renditions of ‘Tequila sunrise’, ‘Wasted time’, ‘Take it easy’, ‘I can’t tell you why’ and the Henley solo ‘New York minute’ was all superbly executed.

By this time, the way one appreciated music also changed. If I initially liked the songs more for the melodies and hooks, I now got deeper into the lyrics and the harmonies. The Eagles songs have such intricate vocal harmonies, and hearing them closely offered a completely new perspective. So I would hear all the old favourites again, but with special focus on the harmonies. I would appreciate the guitaring patterns in greater detail, and also the drumming of pieces like ‘Heartache tonight’ and ‘New kid in town’. One also started identifying more with the southern California sound they represented, and that added to the listening pleasure.

After another short pause, the DVD phase arrived. The ‘Hell Freezes Over’ DVD was out in the late 1990s, but the real masterpiece was the ‘Farewell Tour 1-Live from Melbourne’ double set released in 2005. Besides the popular hits, it had the Walsh solo ‘One day at a time’, which celebrated his recovery from cocaine and alcohol addiction. The 2013 documentary ‘History of the Eagles’ also makes for perfect viewing for fans.

The last album ‘Long Road out of Eden’, released in 2007 after a 28-year gap, had some great numbers too, specially ‘Waiting in the weeds’, ‘Busy being fabulous’, ‘No more cloudy days’ and ‘How long’. Sadly, many old-time Eagles fans didn’t get too deeply into it, even though it did commercially well, and was the highest selling album of that year.

As with the general trend, the past few years have involved discovering some rare Eagles footage on YouTube, including some fantastic live sessions from 1977. Now, after the recent tribute concert, another Eagles phase has begun. Of course, the immediate priority is to give a closer listen to ‘On The Border’.

For its part, the band has had some well-received tours since 2013. Though the shows continue today, Henley has indicated their performances may soon come to an end. The fact, of course, is that the Eagles have released enough great music which fans can relish forever. Even after 35 or 40 years of listening to them, one finds something new. That’s precisely why they are so special.

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