Atomic Forest interview with Madhukar Dhas (aka Madooo)
The Atomic Forest’s mix of blistering, fuzzy rock and synth-lead funk inspired collectors the world over to fork over thousands of dollars for original copies of their solitary release, Obession ‘77. Part of the interest certainly stemmed from its liberal doses of searing fuzz guitar. Part of it sprung from the oddity of it all: India, a country that had, quite literally, churned out tens of thousands of albums during psych- and hard-rock’s heyday, only produced this one, lonely psychedelic album? Part of it sprung from the album’s rarity: unknown for years, Obsession ’77 suddenly became a top want on every global-rock collector’s short-list.
It’s a great pleasure to have you here Madhukar Dhas. Madooo was member of Mumbai’s Atomic Forest. This is a great opportunity to get to know more about the Indian scene of the 70’s. Let’s start with your childhood. Were you growing up in Mumbai?
It depends on what age you are referring to when you say ‘Growing up”. I’ll be 63 yrs. old this October and even the 20’s seem part of ‘growing up’ when I look back. Preteen and teen years I spent in Madras (now Chennai). And I spent 9 years in Bombay (1970-1979). I still like to call the cities by their previous names.
What are your childhood and early teen memories. What was the scene back then in India or should I say in Mumbai?
Seems like a 2-part question. Early ‘Childhood’ & ‘Teen memories’ are from Madras. I grew up speaking in English because my Dad put us through “English-medium’ schools (I have 3 brothers). It is not that I am not patriotic, its just that the circumstances led me to think in English and hence my musical interests also tilted to the ‘West’ ‘coz I understood it easier than Indian music. I guess my Dad envisioned we would need to study in English if we were to seek careers abroad. He was a Sales Manager for Shaw Wallace & Co. and they kept moving him around to various cities in India. Dad perhaps had no choice but to put my elder brother Mano & I into boarding schools from an early age. The shock of being transferred to a total different environment after being raised a closely knit and over-protective home made me a very isolated and lonely kid. I think I had only one or 2 friends in the hostel. Most of the others thought I was a nerd. I looked and dressed like one, and walked around with a violin case. Dad wanted me to take up the violin, the instrument of his fancy. I hated it, perhaps because of the way I was taught. While in grade 4, my teacher, a Nun, was so impatient with me, she used to knock my arm down because the violin was to be held between the chin and shoulders without arm support, and I would use arm support ‘coz it was painful. The violin would fall to the ground and she would twist my arm backwards and make me pick up the instrument. Grade 6 to 12, Dad still insisted I continue the violin and passed on a Stradivarius that belonged to his father. All I knew was it was a valuable violin and took good care of it. (It later got stolen in Bombay, according to a claim by the brother of an Atomic Forest member who borrowed it from me. Till today I don’t buy that story.
I think I should mention another pivotal point during my younger years that steered me to becoming the musician that I am today. While at the hostel in Madras Christian College School, my lonely days would be colored only by the little bit of music I heard and liked. My pocket money was a couple of Rupees a month and I saved it to buy an EP that Parlephone Records, India put out – “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. But I had no player to play the record on. The Hostel owned a dinky record player that had a 2″ speaker and boarders were allowed to listen to their records once a week on Sunday evenings. I recall an evening when I stood in line for almost the whole alloted hour to hear my EP. “Twist and Shout” over the tiny speaker changed my whole attitude about music. The rest of the kids were laughing at my tastes but I did not care. I wanted to be a singer some day.
While in high school, I was befriended by the late Sukumar Nambiar (son of the late actor M.N. Nambiar) and that was a highlight. My Rock-musical career started because of him. He used to get his import records from the UK and I got to listening 60s rock for the 1st time … songs that were never played on the Radio.
The second part of your question fast forwards to Mumbai (Bombay). I got there early 70s and the Rock music scene was in its early stages too. Initially I stayed at the YMCA with very little money to spare (That’s another whole chapter!) and I had no funds to check out bands. I did hear about names like Waterfront, Jets, Trojans, and Biddhu Appiah who became the ‘Lone Trojan” etc. but as I said never had the opportunity to listen to them ‘Live’.
Were you influenced mostly by western bands or did you like listening to Indian traditional music as well?
As I said, I was led to listen to Western Popular music because of my upbringing but now wish I had studied some Indian classical music. That is my one true regret. It would have changed my musical career off to a different tangent and the fusion music I’m now trying to do would have been far superior had I studied even a tiny bit of Indian music. I continued to listen to records by The Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, Doors etc. Naturally I was influenced by all that I heard and liked musically.
You were part of The Voodoos. This was your first band. How did you came together to form it and who all was in the band?
Yes! I was part of the Voodoos. As for background my vocals were far from Rock n’ Roll. My Mom used to teach us Bible songs and choruses and I mostly sang before a church audience with my elder brother Mano. It was Sukumar Nambiar’s idea to get the band together. It came about when we were listening to some records at his father’s home. He had the money and could afford the instruments. I was to play lead guitar and back up harmony vocals. I had a musical ear for picking up basic chords and simple lead solos, and hence was ‘self-taught’.
Sukumar’s younger brother Mohan Nambiar, played the drums. We constantly had trouble finding a dedicated bass player. We even had a guy from Singapore who so desperately wanted to be in the Voodoos that he lied saying he was importing the latest Vox amps etc. for use, like the kind The Beatles used. Many hilarious bits like this which I don’t think I have time to go into at this point. The bassist who stayed with us the longest was Patrice Dedeyn (son of the then French consulate in India.) Oh! And we were probably the first band to have a ‘dunmmy-rhythm’ guitarist, Rajan Joshua. He also just sort of forced his way into the band in the early days. He would perform even if his guitar was not plugged in. It happened at a Loyola College’s annual event when there was no outlet to plug his amp into. We were all having fun most of all.
Where did you had rehearsals? I mean in what city were you located?
We rehearsed at Suku’s home. His Dad’s home was fairly large and it was in his bedroom really. He would rent Ahuja amps and speakers from a tiny shop called Violin crafts. (Most of the amps were duds and used to even give way during a performance and we had to use stand-by Ahuja amps which were no better than the main ones. This was in Madras city. Suku even got a custom lead guitar made for me that was supposed to resemble a Richenbacker but turned out far from it except for the 2 horns. (This guitar, which I treasured, was not returned to me by a guy who was to paint it silver in Mumbai (1972). I wonder who owns it now.
I did not get to show my vocal ability with the Voodoos because Sukumar was the lead vocalist. I recall we had one gig at WCC and it was an all female audience. At the last moment, Suku backed out with cold feet or something and refused to perform that evening. I did not want to let down the agreement let alone an opportunity to sing for an all female audience. I performed and belted out all the songs because I was familiar with all of them. And I think I went over big and that was the beginning of my rock music career as a lead-vocalist.
Around that time a few psycadelic clubs opened up, one which I clearly remember was “Psyclops” on the Madras beachfront. The owner persuaded me to paint his walls and I painted it using luminous paints that glowed in UV settings and also got to play there on occasions … again all for ‘No-fee’. Note in the attached image, my bell-bottoms made from curtain cloth. Which leads me to recall another funny moment. Sukumar had arranged for The Voodoos to play at a private gig. Suku had all Voodoo members go to his taylor and had us all in uniform clothes that were stitched out of bright curtain cloth material. I guess it looked ‘groovy’ on stage but not quite so at the private party were were to play in. The curtains there were of the same material as our shirts. We made a quick exit hoping no one noticed. Word went around the band was a ‘No-Show’.
Did you ever recorded anything?
Unfortunately not. That’s my one of my all-time regrets.There is no audio or video. I am told I was quite a showman, but have nothing to show as proof of it. We were so immersed in the music and just having fun playing that we did not think about recordings. It would have made good listening to people who now are trying to get a bit of history of the “Live-sound-that-was” during psycadelic 70s in India.
I know Doorshan did a couple of features on me. First I did a 1/2 hr. B/W TV special around 1973-74. Doorshan also did a documentary on a day in my life. Dolly Thakore was the producer. They filmed me at Church, then at Lintas:India where I worked as an Art Director. They also filmed me singing “Gethsamane” from Jesus Christ Superstar, inside Birla Hall and a finally a segment at the Blow Up disco when I performed at with Atomic Forest.
I wonder if someone could trace these 2 films from their archives. Those days there was no video. BBC also did a feature on Devika Bhojwani who played Mother Mary in JCS. If they can find that film footage, there would a bit of me there too.
I certainly have to give kudos to Eothen Alapatt of Now-Again Records who has made a tremendous effort in re-releasing additional tracks on “Obsession 77″. I was able to give him 5 tracks from my archives. One track is a 90-second excerpt from a Jeff Beck cover – a ruff recording at the ‘Blow-up” (Taj Mahal Hotel). There is a track from Jesus Christ Superstar in which I sing a 2-track recording of “Gethsamane” at Mehboob studios. The other 3 are originals of mine and all of them were 1st track takes … no rehearsals … with Ramesh Shottam (ex-Human Bondage) on percussion, Remo Fernandez on rhythm guitar, Babu Joseph (also ex-Human Bondage) on flute, and Daryl Mendonza on Bass.
While I was transitioning between Madras and Bombay and in between the 2 major bands I had an urge to record something and I had a fever to get on Vinyl. I wrote a song that strangely had a sort of an Indian flavor to it. “I’ll be Myself” and side 2 was “On a Cool Summer Morning” written by Dr. Santhosham who gave me permission to record it. They were recorded at HMV studios. Only 100 copies were pressed. That’s another whole story. A “friend” took most of the copies saying he’d sell them for me and I did not hear from him about that. I don’t know if anyone has a copy today. Any case it was badly recorded. Both were 1st takes with minimal rehearsal with Ben Surrender’s entourage. The studio had no mike booth. I was in another room with a door that had sealed blinds and I could not even see the band. No monitors … nothing. All vocals I had to pitch by guess work including the start and finish of the songs. By the way, these 2 songs were played over “Radio Ceylon” I have copies of the contracts which one can view at the bottom of this webpage: http://www.bigdooker.com/press.html
What songs did you play? Were this mostly cover songs or did you also have your own material?
With all bands, we were only recognized if we did covers. The major bands could not make it to India then. So we were the in-betweens to be able to bring the sounds live by covering the big bands. We covered The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Allman Bros. band. Jethro Tull. The Kinks, The Animals, The Doors, Cream, name it. And I was no good unless I sounded like Mick Jagger if we did a Stones cover. I don’t regret it because it was a lot of ‘ground-work’. And copying them to the T gave us schooling in Rock music.. I would occasionally sneak in one of my originals but was never remembered for it. The audiences expected covers and were happy when they hear a good one.
What clubs did you play and with who?
As the Voodoos we mainly played College venues and Beat Contests that were organized by business minded promoters who rarely payed the bands. The Atomic Forest played clubs in Bombay mainly. (We did get paid but never saw the money because of our Bassist Keith Kanga who always blew the money. The clubs were “Slip Disc” “Hell (Hotel Hilltop) and “Blow-Up” (Taj Mahal Hotel) And of course concerts in Bombay and some cities like Madras and Pune, including a performance at the infamous imitation-woodstock festival at Malavli, “Sneha Yatra”. The band also played for private parties. I recall one at which Neetu Singh did a dance also when she was a new comer at the same party alongside us.
I began to also do a lot of singing for jingles and at one point got Atomic Forest involved in backing me up. We did a commercial for Swan Mill Shirtings. Wonder if that clip is around in some vault from 1975. A friend of mine, Clarentha Perera just posted an Ad from a HMV sponsored evening in 1975 on my FaceBook page. And I’m reminded of taking Atomic Forest with me whenever an opportunity arose. Even though I had quit the band, I was still loyal towards them.
When exactly did you join Atomic Forest? Were they well know at the times? Did they had anything out or was it only local?
I joined the original Atomic Forest in 1971. I did attempt to put a few bands before that. “Burning Ice” was one of them. One gig with “Burning Ice” was hilarious, looking back. We were picked by JS magazine (Junior Statesman) to perform at their promotional event. Our part was to sit in the back of an open pick-up truck and sing all the way from Nariman Point to Juhu beach. There were no amps or mikes, just acoustic guitars. Man! And I sang like people were listening to me all along the busy roads of Bombay city. Eventually we reached Juhu beach and were welcomed by the producer at a thatched-roof shack and the fire place was dying out and there were no throngs of fans like we were promised for which he apologized. These initial efforts to hold bands together were unsuccessful because we had no way of sustaining ourselves. had to get jobs to survive which were very low-paying too. (OMG There lies a whole lot of stories before the days I joined Atomic Forest, but perhaps too lengthy to include in this interview). I plan to write a book on my life in the near future.
It was a September day in 1971 I think when I joined Atomic Forest. Keith Kanga and Neel Chattopadhyaya had heard of me vaguely because I was known to have a loud voice. (I did not need a mike to sing over the electric guitars and drums at rehearsals) and they had come by the YMCA to meet me. I returned from work which was an Ad-agency called Interpub and found a note signed by Keith, stating I was welcome to go over to their place “Jony Castle” if I was interested in auditioning as singer for the Atomic Forest. I ran there head over heels the same evening. After a brief chat and a rendition of “Heaven on their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar, I was welcomed in as their frontman. I never knew them before and was a bit pleasantly surprised they’d include me so quickly. They perhaps had some music out before and played around too, but I don’t know too much about that. I do know that the name “Atomic Forest” was picked by Neel and it was his request we discontinue the name when Keith later decided to “let him ‘Go'” very sad night when it happened, but Keith who controlled everything from behind the scenes, would not let go the name Atomic forest and continued to have many line-ups for the 6 years that followed even after I left the band in 1975 right up until his demise. This again is something I feel badly about. I was probably the ‘bad guy’ to everyone, because I had to be the spokesman. Keith would make the decisions to let a particular band member go and would hide away from the scene when it happened. I always was the bearer of bad news and was perhaps misunderstood and hated for it in those circles. The worst evening was when I was forced o tell Neel that he was being replaced. It was right outside Slip Disc where we used to tune our guitars on the street curb. Neel kept shouting at me to join him for the tuning and Arun was standing 10 feet away with his guitar for a tune-up 10 minutes before we had to get on stage. What a sad night that was and one of the few times I really wept.
The Sneha Yatra Festival was famous festival for ‘hippie’ music. Do you perhaps remember what were the bands that played there?
I don’t know what you mean by “Hippie-music” It certainly was the music of the times, part of which, “Psychedelic Rock”, was embraced by the “Hippie” culture in the USA and had bled into the music audiences in India, those of whom identified with it. I guess there were no ‘anti-war’ motives or movements like in the real Hippie-world, but it was cool to be hip and smoke weed and just pretend back in India. I never indulged in drugs and for me it was mainly the music … “Hippie-music” as you call it.
Regarding Sneha Yatra, we had a meeting with the organizer. a gentleman who wore a ‘dothi’ and whose name I do not recall. He said he was a professor at one of the Bombay collages. I was in disbelief at his proposal, and took quite some convincing to get me to agree. Besides we had a contract at Slip Disc and had to be there nightly to perform and I had a day job too at an Advertising agency. The money part I don’t recall and in any case did not see any of it, because Keith always came up with a story of how either the expenses were too much or he ‘bought chocolates’. Fact was he blew it all away mostly on drugs.
I had to go to the 25th anniversary of Woodstock which was held at Yager’s farm just to experience standing on that ground, upstate New York. The Sneha Yatra venue was pretty much the exact landscape of the real ‘Woodstock” except it was more scenic with mountains in the far distance. We arrived in the evening, performed 1 to 2 am. and after a brief nap at the shack we were given. I woke up surrounded by groupies I never knew were sleeping next to us. We had to leave in the morning and return to our schedules. which involved playing that night at Slip Disc. No! I do not remember the names of other bands who played that gig except one. “People” which starred Neel our original lead guitarist. I also recall hearing him as we were leaving. He had amps fed into each other and was seated on the floor of the main stage playing like a reincarnated Hendrix. The crowd woke to his playing and gently started gathering around the stage. It was just amazing!
Who was in Atomic Forest in the early days and how did the line-up changed during the time you join them?
I gave you the first 2 names. Keith Kanga considered himself the leader and the business dealer. I guess he had the right to, ‘coz he owned all the equipment. Keith was our bassist. Neel Chattopadayaya was the original and founding member of Atomic Forest. They brought in a drummer from Pune, Valentine Lobo fondly called ‘Valu” And I was on lead vocals and ‘rhythm guitar’ I saw 3 lead guitarists in my term. After Neel came Arun Pathak, also from Pune. And then was Freddy Manricks.
I still used to play gigs with Atomic Forest’ even after I left the band. I was hired by 5-star hotels across India and at my concerts I used Atomic Forest as my back-up band. At that point I knew Abraham Mammen (Abe’s to all who knew him) was on lead and Jerry D’moss was the drummer later replaced by Steve Sequiera I think. Kittu Vaz joined them as the 1st female singer of the band. I heard there were many changes and at one point my brother Dheena Chandra Dhas also fronted them for a while. I don’t know of any other members came in to replace the ones I have mentioned.
Slip-Disc was a club in Bombay. What was the scene there. Did bands from other countries played there or was it only local?
Slip Disc perhaps started out just around the time we got together. DJ Arul Harris used to dish out a lot of hard psychedelic rock music and it was the only club that did so among the 3 well-known ones then. It drew the younger crowd that did not really care about dressing up to go out. The atmosphere was casual, very dimly lit with ‘Lava” UV and Strobe lights synchronized to fit the mood of the music. The bands would play 2 sets of 45 mins… of music. All bands I know of that played there, were from India itself.
It started getting more sleazy around 1975 when it was haven for shippies. Call girls dominated the club and that’s the last I know of it. But we had our moments. An outstanding one was when Robert Plant and Jimmy Page walked in one night. I guess you could say that was the only foreign band that played there, to answer your question in full. Arul had run a cassette tape, recording the whole evening. It would have been quite a historical recording had it been around today. Sadly the tape disappeared.
You met there Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and I think we would be very happy if you share this story again with us.
The night when it happened.
Slip-Disc, as best as I can describe it was a very very small venue, about 30 feet deep by 18 feet wide. Both sides had 4 rows of steps, that were carpeted. No tables, nothing. The ceiling height might have been about 14 feet maybe. (I used to climb on the speakers and touch the ceiling, jumping off the top of them etc.) At the back of the room was a tiny stairway that led to a 10 feet deep area, a quarter of which was the DJs booth, that could only hold 3 people shoulder to shoulder, and Arul & I always had a problem standing up ‘coz we are both 6 feet tall.. The atmosphere seemed cool, ‘coz it was always very dark with psychedelic lava lamps/strobes/UV lights n’ all, and ideal for teenagers to come in and neck as much as they wanted to without being recognized.
I was at “Slip-Disc” that evening, just hanging out. I was not on contract to perform there. There were about 10 guys, including the DJ Arul Harris, in the club just opening up. Arul Harris had all his psychedelic lights & projections ready from the overhead booth. ((Point to remember: Arul ran a cassette tape of the entire night that followed. Keith Kanga took possession of that precious tape, which I remember clearly, because we played it over and over to death and unfortunately did not care to dupe as a ‘master’, and that tape is lost .. perhaps Keith sold it to someone .. that is my best guess) I have found some pix that were printed in JS, the following week. See attached. I have to explain some pix.
This night in 1972 was nothing out of the ordinary at Slip Disc, till 3 gentlemen … strangers … walked in … some of their faces seemed unbelievable familiar .. but I thought .. perhaps “Visitors”. OMG … It was Robert Plant & Jimmy Page and another guy (who I later learnt was Richard Cole.)
Ramzan, who was one of the shrewdest businessmen I came to know, had no clue who Led Zep were. I recall him snapping his fingers at Jimmy calling him “Plant” .. “Come on Plant, Plant, Plant, have another drink”, which he brazenly took the liberty to do as the owner of Slip-Disc. The beer as you can see in one of my pix was pretty bad. Then called “Bombay Beer”, when you got a bottle open had no head … it looked more like soap bubbles. Nevertheless Plant and Page had quite a few and got tipsy. Next I was commanded by Ramzan to go and talk to them. My feet were colder than ice, but did. See that same image with Xerxes (from ‘Human Bondage’, next to me. I looked then like a total geek. And it came my turn, I was introduced to Plant as India’s No. 1 rock singer. Plant asked me. “What kind of music do you do?” And I went, “Hummana…hummanaa…hummanaaa..’we try to copy you” Clearly Plant was not impressed. His next question to me was, “Where are the chicks man?” I promised there would be a few that would show.
I called one who I was interested in. She was on the way (By the way, I had never ever had any intimacy with her, but have to confess I tried many times with no success. She would always jump up on stage and do so many things that might have seemed to the audience that she was my woman. And this night she came with a see-through top with fish nets or something. Keith Kanga’s girl, whom I also introduced to the ‘Advertising world’, later one of India’s leading female models, designed by me )… arrived later looking as glamorous as she could be. My lady friend was gunning for Plant but did not succeed, and I saw her sitting next to Page. Keith’s girl was sitting next to Plant.
I went out to the street to see crowds coming in. Ramzan’s next command to me was, “SO SING”. Not being under contract, and also with such cold feet, I refused. He dug his fingers into my left ribs, commanding me, “Go sing, you bastard!” And I did. I sang “Honky Tonk Woman”. Robert Plant was sitting on the 1st level of the steps about 10 feet away from me. When I was done, he gave me a ‘thumbs-up” THAT IMAGE IS FOREVER ETCHED IN MY MIND, AND PERHAPS THAT IS WHY I WILL NEVER STOP SINGING”
I have a faint feeling perhaps enthused Plant & Page to get up and jam with the band. Plant went into a wild ad-lib about “Blow-Up” at the Taj Mahal Hotel not letting them get in there. (I’ll get to that in the next para) and after a 10 minute ramble, went into “Whole Lotta Love”. jamal who was drumming & Xerxes were v. familiar with the song and did a great job backing them. Pity was Keith Kanga’s rented equipment was v. inadequate for the power of Zep. Richard Cole fed one amp into another and managed to get a pretty sound. I used a guitar amp to sing through, a FenderSuper-Reverb, (Pathetic … right?” and my mike was an Indian made mike (which you can see in one of the pix) that had to be screwed on to the stand…not the kind where one could whisk off a hand-held off the stand. Towards the end of that song, Plant tried to do so and realized it was screwed on and began to spin it off the stand, wrapping the mike cord around the stand. The soldering broke loose and just as he was doing his famous “Loooooooooooooooooove” it started cutting off . I wish I could vocally express how it went, but in type, more like “Looo uu..ooo…uuuu…oooove” I went to his rescue and held the mike wire to the mike to keep it from cutting out. I was shoulder to shoulder with Plant and wished someone had taken a photograph. I even tried to get the attention of the photographer, but he was looking the other way. There went a very historic moment in visuals from my side of it all. I recall Page saying, “Fuck man, piano strings” as he tried to bend the Karuna heavy gauge strings on Willie’s lead guitar.
The evening ended weird. I think Plant ant Page had quite a bit of booze. This part I want you to consider for editing, because I do not want to bring my heroes down. This also ended my ‘hero-worshipping’ them. They went upstairs to a whore-joint where then you could get a dozen women for a few bucks. I waited outside for a few hours. Richard was talking to me. I was asking him if they would ever consider playing in India. His answer to me was, “Fuck man, the Government of India cannot afford us” I felt sort of let-down and went home because I also had to be at work at my Advertising job in 4 hours.
One of our road crew said that the next day Keith Kanga’s girl was spotted next to Plant poolside sipping champagne, pretending she was a journalist. As for my flame I never heard from her.
The next night Rumzan capitalized on the incident. Slip-Disc was packed to capacity and beyond. Plant and Page had promised to show, and eventually did. But I think they were hugely disappointed. The 1st night was so tranquil and innocent. The 2nd. was a fiasco. Girls were trying to sit next to them. I remember Plant shoving a few off his row. Plant threw a glass of beer into the camera of a photographer and both of them left in a huff.
The 3rd night, Slip Disc was down to the handful of faithfuls. Keith as he most often did was sitting on the roadside. We looked at each other, and didn’t say much, till Keith broke the silence, “CHICKS ARE DASH WEIRD, MAN!” (Meaning of course, we were both in limbo with our flames!”)
I don’t know accuracies, but later heard that Zep had a plane load of equipment at the Mumbai airport. They were headed for the land down under for a bunch of concerts. In transit, they might have been inspired to write “Kashmir” I am not certain about that. All of these were 2nd hand information/rumors.
This is what I can recall of the Led-Zep nite at Slip Disc. If you’d like to hear more about HELL etc where ATOMIC FOREST used to perform at, you’ll have to wait another day.
I did speak to Robert Plant over the phone when he was on national radio in the USA (then NEW-FM with Scott Munni) in 1981 and he remembered the night at Slip Disc.
Now let’s go to Atomic Forest recordings. Atomic Forest had a few reincarnations and that had an impact on the music. Tell me how did the sound changed during the years?
Again please refer to Eothen’s liner notes in his Atomic Forest release of “OBSESSION 77”. After I left the band and came to the USA, I don’t know much about which road the band went, nor details about the members who continued to carry the name of the band. The only common thread through the entire journey was Keith Kanga who sadly has passed on.
Thanks to Egon we have a great compilation of your music on hi label Now-Again. What can you tell me about this material.
I think Egon or Eothen as I know him has a very strong vision and sticks a 1000% to what he is venturing to put out, giving it every thing he has got. He was very thorough in his interviews with me but perhaps believed me only when I showed him the press clips I had saved from that time. , At first I was a bit skeptical about his intention to re-release Atomic Forest’s OBSESSION 77″. “Why would anybody be interested in Atomic Forest?!”, I thought. But he has proven me wrong. In fact his pet project has sort of renewed my interest in that arena and I wonder if someday we could put together a reunion, reuniting the bands from that era. There are so many of them around. I must mention Human Bondage who to my mind were the pioneer band who were totally committed to their music. The gave up all their studies & careers and lived and breathed music.
From a personal point, I tried my best to push Eothen to represent my “Beatles tribute album from INDIA”, but he was clearly reluctant to do so because he felt it was out of his territory and I respect him for that.
I read that some of the members were heavy into drugs. I would like to know if you think this was the influence for your sound?
Well, there were excesses. I don’t want to point fingers. It was all around us. At another interview I mentioned Neel’s name only for the sake of relating a funny episode that took place on stage. But the way it read, I felt it might be taken the wrong way in singling Neel out. He clearly gave us the sound that we first created, a lot of free-form and down to earth raw rock n’ roll. He’s really one of a kind and I respect him a lot as a human being too. I think the liner notes from Eothen’s “OBSESSION 77” tells the story more clearly than I know it because he had interviewed many others who were more aware of the drug use. Anyone who really wants to know has got to pick up this album from Now-Again records.
The drugs definitely were not the influence of Atomic Forest’s sound. I clearly did not indulge at all and know I was part of the original sound of the band. Then again I must admit if you gave me a couple of beers I’d be climbing the speaker stacks, touching the roof of Slip Disc, jumping off them etc. People rumored that I was on drugs because of my wild ways on stage. I once heard a comment from a curious fan who told me that it was rumored that I’d turn green in color and they’d have to carry me off stage. Totally false! The psychedelic music and the rock n’ roll from the UK & US was the only influence of our sound.
What would you say inspired you the best except from stuff like Led Zeppelin?
I really did not cover any Zeppelin because my range was not as high as Plant went, but did listen to a lot of their music. And the host of names I mentioned earlier, even Elvis Presley. I could mimic his voice well and so did some impersonation more for a parody but later on realized that whenever I put on the Elvis clothes and the wig, there was a party. I still fit into that outfit that Pam Crain stitched for me in 1975 and so I can put on a real good Elvis show too and still do so upon request. The Beatles of course were my primary influence.
None whatsoever as far as the band days is concerned. Atomic Forest was a cornerstone in my musical journey and will always be. I still dream of being on stage with the original members despite the years that have passed. It made me open up. I was a very shy & timid kid in my childhood.
There are moments I wish I could have avoided and worked around situations. But that was the time. Everything I did was ‘in-the-moment’, and basically I was just living a dream and having fun. I did not know any better and did not care much for money either. When I became a solo act, I’d get paid like 50,000 rupees for singing a few songs per evening and at that time it was a lot of money. I recall one instance when I walked away from the stage after just a couple of songs because the sound system was very very poor and was distorting. Another time Atomic Forest came down to Chennai to back me up and realizing they were stoned pretty badly, I walked off the stage again after a few songs. Very unprofessional … looking back. I recall that night the organizer came to pay me and reminded me that I had not delivered. He handed me a stack of 100 bills saying he had kept his end of the deal. I had just Sophia my wife and another friend in the room. I kept a straight face and once the door was shut, threw the 50,000 into the air and the bills came down like snowflakes. I really did not care for the money, and took a trip to Ooty and blew it all away like a second honeymoon with Sophia. But the major memories are all good!
This is a regret of sorts. Had I listened to some advice from professionals in the India Film music industry, I’d have been financially very well off. I was advised by Vanraj Bhatia and R.D.Burman to learn to sing in Hindi for playback songs. I did not know Hindi and they still advised me to learn to sing phonetically. I turned down 50,000/- per playback song in 1973. I somehow felt it would take away from my style of aiming to be better as a rock singer. I didn’t care too much for money like I said before. I did sing in many commercials … a popular one being the track for Close-Up tooth paste. Hindustan Lever paid me Rs. 400/- for it. I think it was played nationally in every movie house for almost 7 years. All I got was Rs. 400/- (No residuals). And they wanted me to sing it in Hindi. I refused again and they wound up matching my voice with Mukesh’s. I’m sure he must have got paid a packet but that comparison was an honor for me. I also recall movie stars like Raj Kapoor, Sashi Kapoor, Zeenat Amaan among others came to catch my spot shows at Oberoi Sheraton, Bombay, Oberoi Intercontinental, Delhi etc. And maybe I should have tried to sing in Hindi. I can wing a couple of songs. Yup … not doing so makes my regret list.
Last of all, I wish I could have connected with Keith Kanga to try to get him off the road of destruction. Basically he was a very nice person. Even the last time I saw him ended with harsh words. I met him in Bangalore where the Forest was playing in a club. I went to hear them and he demanded that I get up and sing. I was on a vacation and not in a mood to act like an employee. We exchanged some harsh words when he claimed he had “Made’ me. I left soon after and while I got into a taxi, I saw Keith sitting on the sidewalk. He waved and said he was sorry. I wished I had stayed longer to make peace with him. This I regret most of all.
Was there any particular moment in a band that stayed during all these years as your favorite?
Oh, there are too many to talk about. It was one helluva ride.
What happened for you and what for other members after the Atomic Forest and why did you decided to breakup?
I left the band because I felt I was not progressing. I wanted to try different things and travel too which the band was not able to offer. I also played the part of Jesus in the Bombay production of Jesus Christ Superstar that opened up new avenues for me. By the way, that role I accepted and played the lead role of Jesus for 1-1/2 years. There were no understudies, which meant if I fell sick, there would have been no show. And strangely I never got a dime out of it. A lot of the other cast members got a small sum of 400 Rs. or so per show which was awarded to them after they protested not being paid even for conveyance. I still fail to understand how band/musicians from my era were exploited. I was told by one of my closest friends/mentor that I had no right to talk about this because I became a ‘Superstar’ only because of JCS. But I disagree. I worked very hard at it and here in the US and elsewhere, everyone gets paid to play a part in a professional production that is playing to packed houses making a lot of money. Even coming to the USA was all my work and initiative and I struggled many long years to live here. My intention was someday to make a mark in music. I hope I can achieve it before my time.
As a solo act I then got commercial and went on to do spot shows for the Taj Group of Hotels performing in Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Goa and Madras besides Bombay. I also performed at Supper Club Oberoi Sheraton for 3 months in a row. There were no ratings to measure the successes of a singing artist. Before I left India, I was the highest paid male-entertainer in those circles and sort of broke the rule where female singers topped the “Spot singing” venues. with names like Asha Putli, Usha Iyer/Uttup etc.
Again, to answer your question I am not sure as to exactly what each of the past members of Atomic Forest are doing, except for Keith who eventually succumbed to his drug habit I heard. The drug scene was also a major factor that deterred me from staying with the band.
What currently occupies your life and do you have any future plans?
I worked 30 straight years in Advertising after I came to the USA. Music sort of went to the back burner. I was happy as a family man and once my daughter Aiesha came along, vowed to be the best parent I could. Had I continued on with my musical pursuits, I’d have been on the road more than I’d have liked to and also it is a tough world out here to make a living doing music unless you are a superstar. While I was working, I released 2 albums on my indie record label MADOOO Records. The first carries a tribute to 9/11… a song I wrote. There are about 7 of my originals and some other covers. I am not very happy with the way the sound turned out. It was all recorded in my home-studio and I mixed, mastered and designed the whole package. I got better at it and it shows in my Beatles Tribute CD. It is available on iTunes etc. and the 9/11 Memorial Song has close to 500,000 views on YouTube. By the way, your readers can download the Radio Edit version of my “9/11 Memorial song” FREE from: http://www.bigdooker.com/sept11.html
Eothen has put out this album and has re-kindled the fire in me. I threw in the towel with my Advertising career and plan on recording a couple more albums covering songs I grew up with in the same way I covered the Beatles tribute with as much Indian influence that I can put in. And who knows, I may come to INDIA once again before my time.
I have a strange pattern of recurring dreams. I’m not sure how to interpret them. I see myself on stage often with either Atomic Forest or the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Strangely all these dreams end in frustration. Something does not go over well. Most of them are about equipment failure and the likes. I guess these dreams will end someday when I reunite in my motherland India with the musician friends I grew up with and have a hulluva reunion jam session. Though the body has slowed down in time, my voice is still in tact. I wish I could connect with some possible sponsors and make this happen. Maybe you could help in this process. What say?
Thank you for taking your time to share the whole story. Would you like to send a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
There is a lot more to my whole story. I guess you have to ask me a 1000 more questions or else wait for my book on my life story.
For Psychedelic Baby readers, a big “Hi” from me. Do pick up OBSESSION 77 and besides listening to the album, go through the liner notes.
Eothen Alapatt has done a great job documenting it and it is well worth the read! Peace!
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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