Those Foggy days...(part 1)
(Interview with Joseph C. Pereira(Singapore))
Back in the late sixties, as a young teenager who had just joined college, life was like a
roller coaster ride. Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll was the magic mantra in those flower power
days. After girls, Music was my paramount interest and I desperately wanted to be involved
in creating it. Although I had just no idea how to go about doing it, I was blessed to have
been born at a time when it was at it's creative best. The Golden period of the Beatles,
Stones, Who, Doors, CCR, Jimi Hendrix and countless other great artistes of that magical
period were at their peak and new great music was being produced by the hour! The numerous
beat shows in Bombay at that time, with bands like the Reaction, The Jets, Beat 4, The
Savages etc. had got me hooked and I was ripe to join the Rockers of the world.
It was on the very first day of college, as I climbed the stairs to get to my new class that
fate dealt its first hand. Another student asked me for directions to the same class and I
asked him to join me. This was how I was to meet this young man who would go on to make
such a big difference in my professional life. Prakash Bijlani, who played rhythm guitar,
was an avid music freak. He was already an experienced guitar player as he had formed a
group when he was in school in Bishops, Pune. He was very keen to form a band in college
and within a few days of our meeting, I was recruited to be it's new member. It wasn't
too clear what role I was to play but it seemed then that my enthusiasm and long hair
were enough qualifications!
The founder members of this brand new group 'with no name' were Prakash and I and we then
set about looking for other like-minded music lovers to join up with us. We met up with Dick
who was a foreign student from Africa whose biggest qualification was the possession of two
electric Hofner guitars. At that time, just looking at the guitars was heaven for us, as
good music instruments were unheard of. Dick agreed to join the band after much kowtowing
but the only thing we had, besides our unbridled enthusiasm, was Prakash's beat up Indian
made Spanish guitar!
We used to go zooming down in my car with the system playing loud and pretending to be
Rock stars. I used to sing along with the music and Prakash decided that I was not too bad
as a singer. It was then decided that I could share the lead vocal chair along with him. To
be fair, I had already done some singing as a school kid, along with my sister, when I sand
for the Youth program on Radio. We used to sing Cliff Richard and Beatles songs with piano
accompaniment from the staff pianist, Hubert. I could also keep the beat rather well and
as there seemed to be no drummer in sight, Prakash decided that I should be the drummer too.
Visions of the Dave Clark Five were shooting through my brains as we set off on yet another
drive down Marine Drive. Prakash also had a music-loving neighbor, Babloo, who used to do
violin tuitions and recruiting him for the Bass guitar chair. We now had the beginnings of
a band, Prakash on lead/vocals, Dick on rhythm/vocals, Babloo on Bass guitar and yours
truly on Drums/vocals.
One day we took Dick's electric guitars home and after some heavy tinkering, played them
through transistor radios. It was truly exciting to hold the electric guitar in your hands
and hear the sound emanating from the speaker and we really felt that we were getting
somewhere. Unfortunately, Dick, who was older, did not feel so. He left in a huff when
he realized that we were too green for his liking. I guess there was no way we could hold
on to him just on the basis of our enthusiasm! What followed this event was an even bigger
drawback and nearly the last straw. The incredible cost of a good drum set (Rs 3000) made
me realize that there was no way I could ask my Dad for that kind of money and not get
blown away. I had to chicken out of the drummer's stool and we were back to square one!
It was truly disheartening and for some time we felt that our dream of having a Rock band
would stay just that. Fortunately it was not long before Prakash and I got our heads
together and came up with a plan. This dual setback had got us into rethinking our strategy
to get this band off the ground. We decided that it made more sense to team up with existing
new musicians and try and get somewhere through them. Somebody who had more experience, more
money and more importantly some equipment!
It was around this time that my cousin, Nissim arrived from the States with a Fender electric
guitar and an Ampeg reverb amplifier in tow. He became an instant hero in our eyes and we
started frequenting the rehearsals that the band he was trying to put together were having
at his place. This was the first time that we met semi professional musicians with some
experience. These were exciting times as we actually talked to people who had performed
shows and owned their own equipment. We had already picked up a lot by our self but here
we got an opportunity to get guidance from experienced hands. My cousin, Nissim, was a
great help, as not only did he have the best equipment, he also had the best music!
In those days, good music equipment was rare to find. A good guitar, a foreign amplifier,
a wah wah pedal were worth their weight in gold in India. I remember asking the sound systems
guys in the city for a reverb and nobody had heard about such a thing! To make western music
in such trying times was indeed a miracle but there was no way that we were going to be stopped.
I sometimes marvel at myself at the determination with which we went about getting this done
and I must admit that Prakash was an incredible help. Together, we seemed to surmount all the
hurdles that presented themselves at regular intervals.
We spend our days struggling with the task of making music that could sound decent without
any decent equipment. Babloo bought a second hand homemade six-string guitar and we decided
to pass it off like a bass guitar. Prakash bought a new Indian electric guitar from a local
music store while I bought a mike, which we would connect to archaic Ahuja amplifiers that
made more noise than music. We were desperately in need to be rescued and just as all looked
lost, a miracle took place that was to fast-forward our entry into show business. My
cousin Nissim got an offer to join one of Bombay's best bands "The Combustibles" and we
managed to convince his former guitar player, Willy Libera, to join us. Not only was he
better experienced than all of us, he also came up with a show for our band to play! The
New Years' Eve Ball at the Sachivalaya Gymkhana was to become the day when we were to
make our entry on the music scene for the very first time.
In our numerous preoccupations with the countless crisis that overtook us repeatedly, we
surprisingly had clean forgotten to name our new band. We also had no drummer till now! We
decided to solve the drummer problem first by hiring a professional musician even if it
meant paying him the entire amount that we were to receive for the show. Some friends
recommended Erwin, the son of the famous Bombay trumpeter, Chick Chocolate, and we
promptly landed up at his house to request him to perform with us. Thankfully he agreed
and we set up rehearsals in Prakash's uncle's empty flat. We also had to hurriedly prepare
a list of songs that could befit a show of this nature. Fortunately, there was another band
playing along with us. Mickey Correa and his band was one of Bombay's old standards and we
were thankful that we would not have to attempt to do any Waltzes. That would have been an
absolute disaster! Our first song list included a fair amount of the Beatles, the Stones,
CCR, Bee Gees, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and a song which was to become identified with me
till today, "Night in White Satin".
The next fortnight was hectic as we hired some amplifiers and got ready for Erwin to come
with his drum set for a few rehearsals before the show. In all this mess, we had still not
managed to name the band. Willy finally came in one day for rehearsals and said that they
needed the name immediately as the advertisements had to be given to the papers. For many
days we had been toying with the idea of a few names but none of us could agree on one.
One idea was to have a name with the standard 's' at the end, like the Toys or the Savages
but I was dead against that concept. Yet I just could not come up with any name that would
not get corrupted with a 's' added to it at the end. We finally got tired of it all and
reluctantly gave the name "the Love Machines" after a book I happened to be reading at
that time. Willy promptly passed on the name to the organizers but as the show date
approached, we were already embarrassed about the name and desperately wanted to change it.
It was too late for the ads but as we rehearsed, the concept of the band was slowly evolving
in Prakash's and my head. Jimi Hendrix was a major influence on us and his "Purple Haze" was
one of our favorite tracks. We were also reading some foreign Rock magazines where the new
drug influenced music with it's psychedelic imagery was highlighted. Suddenly the beginnings
of the name hit Prakash and I. It had to signify a vibe and the words velvet and fog were
used in different sentences in an article. Prakash decided to put them together and voila,
we had a name! Yet somehow 'Velvet Fog" did not seem to work for me. I decided to change the
spellings! Those days I was crazy about French (maybe because I was in love with the teacher!)
and so Velvet became "Velvette" and Fog was changed to "Fogg" after Dr Fogg from Jules
Verne's "Around the world in Eighty days". (That movie was some trip!) We had finally
come up with a name that everybody could agree upon and be proud of. It was only much
later that we heard that Mel Torme, the famous singer, was known as Velvet Fog. In fact,
I don't think we knew Mr. Torme existed!
Finally the day arrived and we were naturally nervous. All our friends and cousins had bought
tickets to witness the occasion and as our turn to play approached, I actually felt relieved.
After months of struggle, we had finally reached this point and it was gratifying to know that
dreams can be realized. You only had to dream those dreams hard enough! The show went
off rather well for a first performance and after that fateful day on 1st January 1970,
life for me was never going to be the same again!