Musicians always fascinate me.
I remember when I was little, my friends and I would clamber to hold on to the windows of a room to peep where the US Band would be practicing, in Darjeeling. Back in the 80s, they were one of the ‘happening’ bands in town. They wouldn’t let anyone, especially us kids, enter the room, but at least they would let us peep. I remember few names of the band members clearly. The lead guitarist was Shibu Dewan, the drummer was Sachin Rai and the front man was Glade Fonning. Their names are stuck in my memory because Sibhu and Sachin were my elder brother’s friends and Glade was my sister’s college friend. There was a bass player whom I don’t remember clearly. It was so much fun to watch them rehearse the songs one after another. Sometimes, they would get stuck somewhere in a song and would start all over again. My favourite part was Shibu’s guitar solos. He looked like a rocker straight out of the posters. We called him David Lee Roth, but he played the guitar. The band covered the usual suspects of the 80s — ACDC, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, little Chris Rhea and the likes.. One song I remember them playing is Bon Jovi’s Runaway. Shibu would play the keyboard intro on his guitar and rest of the band would join in. They did it with ease. But with minimum equipment, it surely must not have been so easy, however, they managed to create sounds that were close to the recordings. They played Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing, DP’s Highway Star and other songs just like that.
Back then, getting music transcripts weren’t so easy as it is today. Thank god for the internet! If one got lucky, someone with relatives in the ‘West’ would bring along magazines or song books that somehow got around musicians and the music spread from there. Otherwise, it was listening to the songs over and over, memorizing the musical arrangements and trying it out on the instruments. It’s not easy to listen to a cassette player and pick up chords, guitar solos, drum patterns and everything else. But that’s how bands did it then. Unlike the MP3 format, a cassette contained about maximum 30 songs and different cassettes for every band. So to make things easier and quicker for ‘picking up’ songs, a popular method was to wound up the tape of the cassette to a point where a certain song would begin while listening to the other one on the player. They did this by spinning the cassette wheels with a pencil or a pen both ways for Side A or Side B, whichever the requirement. Sometimes in the process, the record player head would get dirty and needed to be cleaned. Cotton dipped in nail polish remover or alcohol usually did the trick (I am not too sure how it worked though). The other problem that frequently occurred would be the tape getting stuck on the faulty player head gap, and instead of running smoothly, the tape would jumble up. It had to be straightened up carefully before it got playing back again. Chances were that the jumbled tape would not be restored, so the only option would be to cut off the damaged part and rejoin them again. A part of the song would vanish! Phew. To pick up fast guitar solos, the belt attached to the player’s motor would be loosened. It was done by replacing the original belt with a slightly longer rubber band, usually a thinly cutout from a car wheel tube. Doing this, the actual speed of the song would slow down a bit and the pattern of notes played could be followed relatively easily.
Yes, that was the messy bit the bands endured those days. But all in all, they were musicians who left an impression on me and many others. When I look back now, I appreciate them more. I marvel at their aural ability, their passion and dedication for music despite the handicaps. I don’t know if the US band recorded anything back then but I got to see them perform many times. They were gods for me on the stage, all dressed up in leather pants and jackets, singing AC/DC’s TNT (I am a dynamite).