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CoCo Lee played a major role in our ARCHIVE column ASIAN EQUATION - Sony Music photo

 

THE ASIAN EQUATION

James Loving/National Radio Text Service

 

 

As life goes on the learning process continues. We take a look back from the then to the now of past experiences in the music business to fast forward and traveling though Southeast Asia and being fascinated by the cultures. There are no International marquees names in the region but we did absorb experiences that are truly Asia's

 

Friday November 2, 2001

Having traveled to Thailand since 1989 I have witnessed many changes. Upon my initial arrival there was only one 7-11 and zero McDonalds that I could see on my trips to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pattaya. Earthy entertainment for a Westerner was basically nil.

There was little television programming from the Western world. At the time one local over the air Thai channel carried the ABC news around six or seven in the mourning for about a half hour. English speaking television was minimal.

Then came pay television with IBC cable, Star television and later UTV. On Star Sports you were more likely to see bicycle races than the NBA. IBC carried HBO but the rest of the menu was somewhat distasteful for a westerner.

At the time Thai newspapers were censored. Walking past a newsstand I noticed the Bangkok Post had big blotches of black ink covering columns that the government deemed were not suitable for the public to read.

The Thai music that I heard at the time sounded old, tired and uninspiring. There was some jazz music to be heard from bands at some of the local venues. Rock & Roll, Soul, R&B or Pop music was available but the bands lacked energy and offered very little in the way of self-expression.

Filipino bands working in hotels were the closest thing to qualify as being pleasant to the ear. The Thai bands lacked guts and soul when they attempted to play popular music from the western world. At that time they had minimal exposure to it.

The musicians that could afford instruments and had the time to play in a band were usually affluent and had, for the most part, no experience to the real world; they were just Thai with a Thai expression…..Basically sterile. To have soul you have to experience suffering.

I asked around who is the best musician in Thailand? Rock guitarist Lam Morrison was brought to my attention. He was considered to be the greatest ever rock guitarist in the country. I went after and later met Morrison at a small bar in Phuket.

His story was that he became popular while playing for primarily a military audience that was in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He had exposure to western music, much of it from the soldiers.

 


Lam Morrison - NR photo

Dennis Rodman as a San Antonio Spur - Maxi Basket photo

Dennis Rodman as a ???

Loving and Ringo party on as Ringo's then wife Mo insisted on taking this photo - NR photo by Mo Starkey

Ringo's Tittenhurst Estate main house - NR photo


Jimmy Marr - NR photo

 

When I first saw him at that small club in Phuket (around 1992) it was obvious that he was a gifted and talented musician. He was the best that I had been exposed to in Thailand up till that time.

The problem was the two other members in his trio weren't very good. They couldn't match his talent thus Morrison didn't sound as powerful as he could have if he had a strong supporting cast. He struggled to keep the beat and energy together. He had no strength or a firm foundation to play off of.

Morrison claimed that in the early days of his career his band went on tour as the opening act for Deep Purple at their concerts. As time went on and the US military left the Thailand area, Morrison's popularity declined.

Western music exposure in Thailand changed for the better in the mid nineties. This was due to more western music being played on radio and the exposure to MTV.

Computers, MP-3, portable CD players became popular and the music improved. The Thai youth started to get it, they attained a feel for western music. They started to get with the beat and the dance moves that are popular today.

Pop culture styles also came about. Thai teens began to emulate the dress attire of young Japanese youths. Four to six-inch stacked heeled shoes, dyed, streaked and spiked hair became popular. Thai's are now seen with dread locks, or adding dread extensions to their hair. Some walk around like Bob Marley clones.

The Dennis Rodman influence is also evident. Many young Thai's, male and female, are wearing rings in their nose and ears.

One fellow was recently seen with an earlobe that was so stretched out you could put a silver dollar through it. It drooped. It was difficult to take your eyes off of this spectacle. Dennis Rodman would be proud of this young man.

Cell phones came into vogue in the latter nineties. It enabled the teens to keep in touch and up to speed with what was popular, where to go, what to do and listen to.

The Internet also played a major role in the popularity of western music. Internet cafes are filled with teens listening to music, looking at sites of popular international pop stars and sending email to new friends around the world exposing them to their music tastes and ideas.

These opinions are based on my having traveled to Thailand four to five times a year. As much as six months a year was spent there observing the development and changes.

Many Thai and Khmer youths were interviewed for this story, the majority being college students.

My having been a musician, playing electric bass, also factored into the equation.

I worked with talent such as Actor/European folk artist Theodore Bikel, The Monkees Davy Jones, Cajun/country artist Doug Kershaw, Rock Blues band CK Strong as well as being the musical director for the Hues Corporation that recorded the hit song "Rock The Boat." Famed guitarist Roy Buchanan asked me to join his band but I didn't want to move to Washington DC.

In the mid-seventies I recorded with the Beatles, Ringo Star and famed songwriter/vocalist Harry Nilsson. From all that I know that record, "Birmingham" was mothballed and never saw the light of day….but... it was an experience.

I stayed at Ringo's Tittenhurst Estate in Ascot/Sunnydale England for over a week. Another Beatle John Lennon formerly owned it. That experience of recording, hanging out and drinking (frankly I couldn't keep up with them) with a couple of the then mega superstars gave me a full perspective of how they think. I absorbed their comments about other super stars such as Elton John or Reggie, as they called him. It helped give me the big picture of how major talent rose to the top. Basically people are people and we all have the same basic hang-ups.

It became obvious from that experience that being an individual talent on your instrument didn't really matter, it was how you put things together and the associations one had to become a mega star. Of course having hit material/songs is essential.

During my club playing days in the Philadelphia ( in the US state of Pennsylvania ) I used the stage name Jimmy Marr. The first successful band I was with was the Four Sons with Michael Warren as leader and musical director.

Warren went on to be Diana Ross' musical director for a number of years. He also served as musical director for Donna Summers (when she was at her peak), Helen Reddy, Ann Margaret and Rita Cooledge.

I then had a band that included now famed jazz guitarist Pat Martino. He left the group to join Lloyd Price who at the time had major hits "Stagerlee" and "Personality." Price was the person who gave famed boxing promoter Don King his famous hair style.

After suffering a hand injury playing basketball I couldn't press down on the fret board of the instrument. Being unhappy with deteriorating skills from the injury I stopped playing. I then became a talent agent. I negotiated bookings for The Doobie Brothers, Sweetwater, Joyous Noise and other known recording artists of the 60's and early 70's.

When the hand healed two years later, I returned to being a musician but lost the ability to play as well as before. At that point I decided it was time to retire from the business.

The next step was becoming a music journalist reviewing music talent for the Los Angeles Musicians Union Local # 47 newspaper. It's readership was the who's who in music. Members included John Williams, Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini.

Interviews with major recording artists were to follow with bands such as, Paul McCartney & Wings, The Jazz Crusaders, Natalie Cole, Lynard Skinard, Alabama, George Benson, David Sanborn, Roy Buchanan, Little River Band, Dr Hook among others. Basically I exposed myself and related to all types of music.

In the business world I interviewed the likes of Ted Turner the founder of CNN, TNT, and Turner Broadcasting. I interviewed numerous times Bob Pittman who was the first president of MTV and now the president of AOL, Aaron Spelling the producer of the television series 90210, Melrose Place and the original Charlie's Angels.

As a journalist I've covered the Grammy, MTV, American Music, Country Music, Soul Train, ACE, and Golden Globe Awards. If it came to music and entertainment you name it... been there and done that applies.

As a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA) I've interviewed great number of television and film and recording stars such as Jerry Sienfeld, Angelina Joile, Jon Voight (Jolie's father), Katie Holmes and the cast of Dawsons Creek, Dominique Swain (Lolita), rap artist MC Hammer, The Jackson Five and Mick Fleetwood the leader of the band Fleetwood Mac.

Loving interviewing Danny Bonaducci, formerly of the Partridge Family, at the Television Critics Association (TCA ) press tour - NR photo

Al Kasha a two time Academy Award Winner - Al Kasha photo


STEPS - Jive Records photo


Aom - NR photo

 

The transition continued to be followed by producing and hosting a television show with guests such as George Duke, Moon Zappa (the Valley Girl and Frank's daughter), Booker T from the MG's, Willie BoBo, Martha Davis from the Motels and numerous other recording stars.

Also composers and in some cases performing artists including two time Academy Award winner Al Kasha, Will Jennings, Jeff Barry who created the Archies television show and wrote the Archies hit song "Sugar Sugar," Dave White from Danny & The Juniors who recorded early Rock N Roll mega hits "At The Hop" and Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay."

But this isn't my story. Dropping names? Why not? It adds to the perspective. It's simply a background that my having been there and done that at virtually all levels of music there is a basis for an insightful opinion. It helped shape my thinking about music and musical tastes. It's unlike an authority on sex that never had it.

This story is about how music and entertainment can transcend cultural and language barriers. It's about the east meeting the west. It's about the beat that can move ones feet… give mind stimulation and body heat. Thailand... was my first look.

After witnessing the cultural music and fashion revolution of the young Thai's I decided to take a look at their world and ask them questions of what they think and how they got exposure to the western influence.

The first step was to attend a concert in January of 2000; featuring "Steps" a Pop group from England that were under the same management as "The Spice Girls." They had hits "5,6,7,8" in 1997 and later "Tragedy."

Also on the bill were two Thai pop acts from Thailand's Grammy records. One featured two girls and a guy. They were very animated, artificial, mechanical and not very good.

The other act was somewhat better. She was a Thai female singer that was in a cutesy pie mode, animated not as mechanical but very contrived. Her material was easy to listen to. She was a six on a scale of ten. Her name escapes me since I wasn't that impressed.

The Thai teens reacted wildly to all of the acts. They jumped and danced around with joy in a packed house. The show was being televised. The concert was free so that helped in the joyous reception. What was most impressionable was how the teens were dressed. The Thai look was out the western look was definitely in.

At that concert I interviewed AOM, a then 17 year-old college student. She was treated like a pop star at a "Steps" meet and greet after party that Grammy records put on for the media and invited fans. Aom was known by almost everyone there. She was well known by the Grammy management and Jive records (who oversaw Steps in the region) promotion executives and the Steps group members. Her popularity came about when she won a contest that entitled her to spend a week in America to meet and hang out with Britney Spears and attend her concerts.

Aom is a young lady with very strong opinions about her likes and dislikes… At that time Spears and The Back Street Boys were at the top of the list.

The next step was to attend a press conference for CoCo Lee an Asian vocalist whom I had never heard of before.

That was the experience that set the table of how Thai and other Asian teens think about western pop culture. They shared their thoughts about the movie, television and music artists they enjoy.

Lee was an incredible interview. She was perky, poised and handled every question with ease….Even the hard questions.

A young Thai journalist asked why do you color your hair? Are you ashamed of being Asian?

With that question I could see that all was not perfect in the East Asian teen world. They had or adopted the Western way of going for the juggler. It prompted my thinking. Thus... I began to go to the source and ask the Asian teens…WHAT DO YOU THINK?

 

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