Tuesday, November 8, 2011

With Love from Lucknow: Van Shipley

Ernest Kaʻai was a Hawa’iian entrepreneur and master of the ukulele. Indeed, he’s often referred to as “Hawaii’s greatest ukulele player”. He did much to promote the instrument and ran a couple of ukulele factories in Hawa’ii.  Like many other American and European musicians, Ernest toured many of the colonial capitals of Asia and Australia in the 1920s and after some time settled for some years in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  He eventually returned to the USA and settled in Florida where he passed away in 1962.
Ernest Ka'ai

Few in India would remember his tour but it left a huge legacy: the practice of playing the guitar with a slide. Ernest Kaʻai could be considered then the grand (god?) father of the modern Indian guitarist. One of whom the Washerman’s Dog salutes tonight.

Lucknow, a historically important and culturally rich city in north India, was in the 1930’s and 40’s a hot bed of American and European swing, jitterbug, hot jazz and foxtrot. The city’s Goan and Anglo-Indian (Indians of mixed European and Indian parentage) played every night to large audiences of American and British servicemen, colonial administrators and European residents.

78 rpm records were available in the posh shops of Hazratganj and radio was the internet of the day, spreading news and culture across the globe at a mindboggling pace while creating hitherto unimagined communities. Anglo Indian and Goan boys listened to these records with the same determination and avidity that several decades later Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would pick apart the records of Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo and Howlin’ Wolf.

They slavishly learned the licks and then gave them a bit of local masala. Made them unique.  The lads of Lucknow combined what they heard on the radio and records with the music their father’s had of Ernest Kaʻai’s slide guitar and brought in the rich north Indian raga traditions and improvised something totally new.

Van Shipley who died in Mumbai in 2008 is often held up as India’s original electric guitarist.  While this is dubious, he was beyond a doubt one of that country’s most respected and widely recorded (and posthumously appreciated) guitarists. Van Shipley was an Anglo Indian lad from Lucknow, whose father or uncle may have played the Christmas Dinner Dances at the Ambassador Club.
The Savoyans, an Anglo-Indian, Goan swing band
Lucknow ca. 1930's
Inspired by his mother, who played the sitar, Shipley took to music at a young age. His first instrument was the violin. He attended Saharanpur to study Indian Classical music. There, he studied under Ustad Bande Hassan Khan and his son Ustad Zinda Hassan Khan, who were both famous Khyal singers from Northern India. At the same time, he took lessons in western music from an American identified as Dr. Wizer.
Shipley then returned to Lucknow to attend college, where he became involved with All India Radio. After college, we went to the city of Pune to work for the Prabhat Film Company before moving to the center of India’s film industry, Bombay (Mumbai). It was there that he caught the attention of producer and director Raj Kapoor, who spotted him performing on stage. Kapoor enlisted Shipley to play violin on the soundtrack for Barsaat (Rain) in 1949. The following year, Shipley added his electric guitar to a dream sequence in Awaara (The Tramp), which brought him to the attention of The Gramophone Co. of India. In 1955, Shipley teamed up with accordionist Enoch Daniels, who he had met while working for the Prabhat Film Company in Pune. This musical partnership ultimately lasted for many years.
Van Shipley (lft), Madan Kumar (cnt), Enoch Daniels (right)
Shipley set off the steel guitar craze in India. Other steel guitar players from the 78 era include Batuk Nandy, Brij Bhushan Kabra, Kazi Aniruddha, Mohon Bhattacharya, Nalin Mazumdar, Robin Paul, S. Hazarasingh, Sujit Nath and Sunil Ganguly. But most of these guitarists only recorded Tagore songs, with only a few (Kazi Aniruddha and S. Hazarasingh) recording Filmi tunes (Sunil Ganguly and Batuk Nandy would start doing film songs in the 60s and the 70s, respectively).
One of the most distinct things that set Shipley apart was that he played an eight string guitar, which he had designed and built to give him the drone sound that was more common in Indian Classical music than in the Film songs. Almost all of the other Indian steel guitarists played a National Dual Six Console guitar. Shipley also designed his own electric violin as well, which he dubbed the ‘Gypsy Violin’ and used on many of his later records.

Shipley’s first album, The Man with The Golden Guitar, a title that stuck with him the rest of his career, was released in 1962. He would go on to release an album every year until 1982, as well as a dozen or so EPs. He also tour the world, playing shows in Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean Islands, Suriname, Guyana and the U.S., including the cities of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Buffalo and Detroit. Besides recording, Shipley acted in a few films as well, including 1964s Cha Cha Cha. (http://radiodiffusion.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/van-shipley/)

Van Shipley’s daughter, Ingrid lives in New York City and his nephew, Valentine, carries on the family’s musical mission as a singer and musician in Mumbai.

Many travellers of the blogosphere will know Shipley from the great collection Bollywood Steel Guitar (Sublime Frequencies). Tonight’s post is a rare album I picked up from an acquaintance in Allahabad. It features several film love songs from some of the most popular films of the early-mid 1970s, including a great version of one of my favorite Kishore Kumar hits, Yeh Lal Rang.

         Track Listing:
         01 Hum Dono Do Premi (Ajnabi)
02 Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai (Kati Patang)
03 Zindagi Hai Kaisi Hai Paheli (Anand)
04 Aaiye Mehrbaan (Howrah Bridge)
05 Kaise Koi Jiye (Badban)
06 Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho (Hanste Zakhmi)
07 O Mere Sona (Tisri Manzil)
08 Yeh Lal Rang (Prem Nagar)
09 Pal Pal Dil ke Paas
10 Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon (Mehbooba)
11 Bhigi Bhigi Raton Mein (Ajnabi)
12 Teri Talaash Mein (Teri Talaash Mein)
Listen here.


Asli Jat said...

Love your background write-ups, you really have a way with words.

Thanks for sharing, used to see this album in the Southall record shops back when I lived in UK.

ajnabi said...

Asli Jat,
thank you so much.

Vikas Gupta said...

Hi there! great post. Thanks for sharing a very interesting and informative content, it is a big help to me and to others as well, keep it up!

Music Institute in Lucknow

Nathan Rabe said...

Vikas, thank you. are you aware of Van Shipley? Good luck with your career.

SM said...

So glad to find a write-up on Van Shipley. Growing up in the suburbs of Calcutta in the sixties and listening on the radio (Vividh Bharathi or Radio Ceylon) to a daily (I think) instrumental program of film songs, I would hear the name Van Shipley again and again. I was curious about him for years.


great man was very inspired by him rip

Rabindra Sameeran said...

Respected Sir/Madam,
Van Shipley, Enoch Daniels and Talat Mahmood inspired the romantic
muse in me in my younger days....still they do.I clicked the mediafire
link to Van Shiples Romantic Melodies to download those 12 priceless
gems. Much to my chagrin, the link does not work anymore. Will you
please revive the link or suggest some other link or source.
R.Sameeran, Hyderabad