Crimaldi, What kind of music do you like?" What!? Punk? "
Dr. Blues was tracked down in his native Scotland. He was kind enough to answer all my my questions via email.
I arrived in 1988 just a blues guitar player looking for gigs and for some odd reason was nicknamed by someone ‘Dr Blues’, which stuck. (After I discovered there were as many as 800 Dr Blues scattered around the world so I added the Mekong just to be sure.)
My first band was the Delta Boys Blues Band then the Cadillac Kings, and then of course Mekong Doctor Blues and the Groove Junkies featuring Texas Buddy Walker. On the side, I have been promoting the blues all my life and played at the opening of the first Koh Samui blues festival. In an interview the Bangkok Post called Dr Blues “Thailand’s very own Blues Ambassador!” In 2001, I survived a terrible road accident which involved major brain and leg surgery; but, bounced back to play the annual Ploenchit Fair with my band The Delta Boys Blues Band - just four months after being in intensive care. I also own and operate the musicians’ web site http://www,bangkokjungle.com with its useful classifieds section and occasional gig news.
I first arrived in Bangkok in 1988 and of course started to scope out the city for music – rock, blues and any kind of live music. There was a scene – beer gardens, Siam Square, before Hard Rock, but it was almost entirely Thai with few expats involved. Saxophone Pub had not yet arrived and there were only a couple of pubs with blues and that was acoustic mainly – the nascent Brown Sugar on Soi Sarasin among them. It was the period after the Vietnam war so there loads of R&R joints – bath houses (Ab Nam Yang?) mainly with lovely ladies and finely engineered rubdowns, but the music scene was in a bit of a vacuum…eventually the Rock Pub was born, then Saxophone and one or two others we frequented for the music, beer and chicks in that order.
After Vietnam, Thailand began to emerge as a cool place to holiday, recommended mainly by the GI’s who’d briefly made it their home or their preferred R&R stop. The Europeans were getting fed up with Spain and its crowded beaches so they started venturing further afield as air fares came in to line. More venues popped up in Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and so the 1980’s Western pop catalogue was eagerly grabbed…eventually Hotel California topped the list to become the most played song - live and on radio - in the history of Thailand.
Thai pop changed too from the conservative Luk Thung style to a more western style and then rock finally ‘arrived’ firing up bands moved by the likes of Jimi Hendrix – notably the fiery and flamboyant Lam Morrison and VIP who first popped up playing for US soldiers and who prompted the likes of Kaleidoscope, Olarn Project, Rockestra, Micro and Asanee-Wasan to take off – all amazing bands doing covers first and then some awesome stuff of their own. My personal favourite was Micro. Along side this progressive streak came funky ‘Phuea Chiwit’ or folk rock pioneered by Caravan and Carabao and a cross between rock and pop almost, but with a ‘message’ and they were soon a major new force in pure Thai music.
Then came the serious rockers with their bands like the Sun and Stone Metal Fire, Kaleidoscope, and Dezember and that crossover set the scene for the likes of Potato and Silly Fools and many more who carried the torch before the pop thing washed the rock dream away.
I f you were listening to Thai radio you were getting an amazing mix of very interesting stuff inspiring the likes of Grammy and RS to grow to match the time.
The challenges for musicians and venues has always been serving up what punters want as they scoff their beer, ice their Scotch and order more. It’s that simple, and if you want to make money in the entertainment business anywhere, you must have good food, cheap beer, whisky, ice and a good vibe – a beer garden, a cool downtown venue – location, location, location. The musicians are caught between what they want to play and what they have to play to make a living, and any musician who wants to break through better have great originals he can try out on his captive audiences, between covers. And a musician who wants to make money regularly needs to study up on jazz standards, pop standards, blues standards and generally be a sweet guy who can play anything. My Thai buddies from those days all have cars and own their own houses today…it’s a grind sometimes, but you are doing what you love and you don’t know what you will be doing a day, a week or month later, which also has its charms if you want to avoid the drudgery of 9-5. A true musician is a nice player and a nice guy.
Nowadays music is scattered far and wide in Bangkok. The best venues are those that have the best equipment, cool location, reasonable prices and a genuine love of all kinds of music. That narrows the field to a couple of handfuls but any visitor to Bangkok should try and get to Saxophone, Thaitanium (see the cool all-girl band), Route 66, Cosmic Café, Fatty’s; and for Blues you must visit Adhere the 13th, Nothing But The Blues and Apoteka. To take the pulse of what is currently pop(ular) here and for a good time, visit Tawandaeng on Rama 3. Indie music can be sampled at Fatty’s, Parking Toys, Haus 20 and Play Yard among others.
The indie scene before the recent coup was red hot with a huge number of very cool young bands breaking down doors and testing the musical waters. Still a few good unsigned indie bands out there among those young turks, so try and catch The Sangsom Massacre, Degaruda, Yellow Fang, Plastic Section…the list goes on. To see what the shy and retiring can do, catch the open floor Monday nights at Det 5, or Tuesdays at Fatty’s. To ‘discover’ good musicians – Thai and expats – you need to visit Saxophone most nights, Adhere, Jazz Happens, Brown Sugar, The Living Room, Bamboo Bar, Route 66, Apoteka – most have quality music most nights – take your pick from pop, blues, rock, jazz.
If you consider we all have a bit of an artist in us…some paint, some sing, some design…I found when I was a kid that the Blues really triggered something in me…I had to get a guitar….first thing I ever learned to play was 12-bar Kansas City Blues….I was a blues musician when I was knocked down on New Petchburi Road late one July night in 2001 and I was a shattered, unconscious victim with blood pouring from my eyes and head, both legs smashed. But literally, within a very few months of being treated under morphine in intensive care, with a hole in my head and two broken legs, I was up on crutches, concussed and back playing my music, unable to contemplate the confines of a hospital room or dying alone, while my band the Delta Boys played on. And the Blues and playing my bit of the Blues is that important. As I have said elsewhere Blues is about life – good, bad, fun, love, anger, disappointment – we are the Blues!
Performing is to be a conduit to the people in the room. Your personality, your moods, the lyrics, the groove, your feelings, the vibe of the room, of the people there…and out it comes, the music inside – good bad or indifferent. And once you step over that line on to whatever passes as a stage – you are home, giving it up for yourself and anyone else who wants to listen. In charge of your art!
My buddy Chainsaw Tony Wilson and I played the inaugural Koh Samui Blues Festival. Me with my beat up Gibson ES150 acoustic, and him on voice and harmonica. We played eight venues in three days, just working up our sets on the fly and working the audiences from all over the world. We got a write up in the Bangkok Post, were filmed playing, and the punters loved us, with one visiting Chicago blues star even threatening to take us back to the US with him! And we got flown there, all expenses and a fat fee too! On beautiful Koh Samui – ‘nuff said.
The future of music is linked directly to the future of the youngsters – anywhere in the world. Bangkok is a cool city with a deep and strong tradition of live music - traditional or otherwise…and Thailand is no different from other cultures who value and revere music as part of their lives...and music is all about self-expression, giving it up about what’s on your mind, in your heart, who you are, questioning, declaring, probing, grooving, improving, convincing, persuading. Music can not die. There will always be kids who got something to say and those special kids with the talent that stops you in your tracks and makes you listen – whatever they are saying. Punters come to listen and watch – a little bit of them is up there with you – so you are doing it for them too…if you do it right, they come back. If you are really good, they go home and get a guitar and start doing it for themselves…just like you and me did!
People will come if the music is good, if the venue is good, the food, the prices…the vibe. Musicians need to make interesting music…put on a show…break the mould…and they will come…the indie scene in Bangkok is a great example of unheard of bands doing their thing in small but sympathetic venues, often entertaining capacity crowds because they got what the punters want – an alternative view, sound, message, vibe, attitude…add personality, youth, talent and a finely honed message that people want to hear. Out with the old...rewrite the script for your own times and you have a revolution in your hands…the Stones, The Doors…Nirvana…when the feedback from the gigs is so ‘loud’ you can’t ignore it, it’s time to head for the recording studio and at least do a single..watch Yellow Fang breaking through to the other side – hopefully on their own terms..
Thank You for the inspiration Dr. Blues!
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