“I was a very shy kid.”
Well, when one of India’s original rockstar/superstar says this at the start of your interaction, one is lost for words. The man has a larger than life image on the stage. An entire generation of music lovers and artistes looked up to this man who answers to the name Gary Lawyer.
Gary has always been conferred adjectives to the fullest. ‘Man with the Golden Voice’, ‘India’s first rockstar’, ‘The Indian Jim Morrison’, are a few of them. None of them do justice to the man who goes beyond a certain genre of music. Gary started playing in a band when he was just 11 years of age. Like all good Parsi kids, his preferred choice of instrument was the violin. He would be drawn towards the trumpet just out of his admiration for the great Louis Amrstrong. He claims he was too shy to belt out vocals on the stage and music has never been a joke for him.
“Music is like a religion to me. I am far too serious a musician, deep inside, to just get on to the stage to have fun and forget about it,” said Gary.
With Bill Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley as your heroes, one would definitely want to perform at the venues these legends have. At the onset of his career, Gary travelled to New York for the same. But the New York system was too complex and professional for him. The artistes were required to have their personal managers, agents, lawyers, in short a team which would fend for him.
“You are literally controlled and I am not the kind of person who wants that under any circumstances. Even if you assured me that I would be the biggest international star, I would still choose to be a free bird rather than been controlled by men in suits,” said Gary, speaking like a true rebel that he is.
Gary did perform at the showcase theaters in New York and was invited to showcase his skills at the then prestigious ‘Catch a rising star’ platform. It was a 2 am slot for him and guess what? He skipped the slot! The man did not want to venture out in the chilly night. No wonder one of his favourite song is ‘I did it my way’ by Frank Sinatra.
Gary made his way back to Bombay and teamed up with another jazz legend Louis Banks for a jazz classics album ‘High Standards’. His next album ‘The other side of dawn’ was released internationally and ‘Nights on fire’ went on to be one of the first Indian music videos on MTV. One common feature of all his videos is his bike. The man still rides one whenever possible.
Coming from a traditional Parsi family, Gary could imbibe all genres of music especially western. But still years later, Gary still has not been bitten by the Bollywood bug. Scores of composers have approached the man but like in his own words, he will sing what he likes. He attributes this to the fact that he was inspired by the ‘Black Musicians’ of the yore.
“Ray Charles made me laugh, cry and go into a trance. Those guys were the gods. I am so privileged that I can even hum their songs,” reminisces Gary.
Though averse to certain genres of music, Gary is strongly anti-criticism. Musicians are often ridiculed for attempting a breakthrough sound or even for the covers they perform. No art form can escape from been questioned or even demeaned.
“They can label me as they please. I want to be known as a universal singer. I sing what moves my soul. I sing what moves my fans because they shell out money for the tickets,” said Gary with a wry smile.
Speaking about the live concerts that once rocked this city, Gary’s focus shifts towards the ‘Rang Bhavan’ days. One of the most iconic open air venues the city had is now growing shrubs. The ‘Rang Bhavan Generation’ would recollect the era when some of the world’s iconic musicians performed at the venue. The closing down of such venues has had an adverse effect on the live music space.
“Unfortunately not many realise that this is killing every kid’s musical mind-set. They are just exposed to a band performing in a cramped up room. They are not experiencing what we were fortunate enough to,” opined Gary.
Lack of platforms is something that is beyond our control. Economically smaller venues are feasible. Gary feels the younger lot should be focused only on what they do as musicians and not really bother about the rest.
“Keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and focus on what you are doing. Take every gig that comes to you as a gift,” advised Gary.
Being a purist, Gary could never get himself to perform fusion or even Bollywood. He might be the only established name to never dabble into Bollywood. As an artiste, he has followed his instincts which he has been loyal to. His understanding of music is old school. Even his love for jazz is restricted to the classical way of performing. Improvisations are something he has never fond of.
“Jazz for me is the big band sound. Music, for me, is melody and emotion not experimentation. Its ok to experiment but I don’t belong to that school of thought,” said Gary, adding,
“A song is written to be performed in a certain way. Music has to be logical, one just cannot improvise Beethoven’s 9th symphony and try to make it sound cool.”