A Chap Goh Meh CNY Posting:
This article is a Chap Goh Meh (15th Night Chinese New Year Celebration) treat for readers and friends who have been regular patrons of this blog.
The Trekkers' leader has written a short article about the history of the band. Henri Gann, who lives in Los Angeles (USA) since he left Singapore in 1964, frequents this blog and wrote to me when Mr. Tan, owner of TMA Music, passed away recently.
I asked if he could do an article of the guitar group and he obliged. Although the group has never recorded on vinyl, Henri has managed to salvage some music tapes. You can listen to them on his You Tube connection.
Thank you very much Henry for your detailed, informative write-up, the video tribute to my blog (above) and the lively tea-time chat we had in Singapore.
Remembering The Trekkers 1960-1963
In those days, we were the Katong boys who played music for fun and walked along Marine Parade to feel the ocean breeze. We were entertained by Rediffusion, got the latest hits at the local town record store, and saw Elvis’ movies at the Roxy Theater. Guitars were affordable and to some extent drums were, too, so a lot of kids got together to play music.
Many bands formed in Katong at that time, including the Muskrats and the Tornados. We had no musical training and played by ear. We measured our progress by participating in talent shows. We didn’t dream about becoming recording artists. There wasn’t even a recording studio in Singapore at that time.
We called our band The Trekkers. We met in the Presbyterian Boys' School where we all attended. Drummer George Wang still had baby fat at the age of fourteen, but he also had a full set of Premier Drums. Charles Ng, thirteen, played an acoustic guitar that was as big as he was. He was a gifted musician who could detect the slightest wrong tune on a guitar and played very expressive chords. My favorite was his rendition of Stardust.
Our bass player William Tan was the oldest at sixteen and another gifted musician. He had never seen a bass guitar when he joined The Trekkers and learned to play the instrument proficiently in a very short time. I was fifteen and the tallest in the group. I demanded perfection for our music and encouraged the others to practice. My older brother Johnny Gan was our unofficial manager and toughest critic; he inspired us with his extensive record collection.
The late Mr. Tan of TMA was our best friend. He always had a solution to our equipment problems, and there were a lot of them. It was hard to find the musical equipment we needed to make the sound we craved.
Solid body guitars were rare in Singapore in the early 60s and when we found them, chances were some of the frets were positioned out of tune. There was also frequent feedback from the guitar pickups, which caused the amplifier to hum embarrassingly on stage. The amplifiers we could get were usually compact and designed for roving jazz players, and we would be lucky to find ones with multiple inputs for our guitars. And to make the popular reverb sound, we relied on vibrating the tremolo arm to prolong the sound of the guitar. Still, we loved to play our music.
We played Duane Eddy first and tried to replicate his deep base note and reverb by playing at the back of the guitar and using the tremolo arm. This was especially true when we played Rebel Rouser.
We liked The Ventures because we had to go through a learning curve for each track. By the time we learned all the songs on their first few LPs, we could play almost any new guitar hit simply by listening to it. We went through these Ventures tracks: Night Train, Caravan, Hawaiian War Chant, Gandy Dancer, Poison Ivy, Sleep Walk, Morgan, Ginchy, Guitar Twist, Bumble Bee Twist, No Trespassing, Detour, Moon Over Manakoora, Home, Torquay, Mexico, Harlem Nocturne, Blue Tango, Torquay, Josie, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Cherry Pink, Red Top, White Silver Sands, Yellow Jacket, Honky Tonk, Lullaby of the Leaves, Walk Don't Run, and many more.
We played the Shadows, too, and were good at it even though we were unable to reproduce their unique Vox sound and delayed reverb with the equipment we had. However we could never get ourselves to do the band's distinctive walk or kicks as we were four shy lads on stage. That cost us a trophy in a Shadows contest. We were better off playing the music of groups that did not require stage choreography.
We had many great jam sessions playing music of surfin' guitar groups such as The Astronauts, Chantays, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, Dick Dale, The Bellaire, Surfari and The Marketts. The amplifiers built by Mr Tan and our new Fender guitars reproduced the surfing sound well. The tracks we played were Let's Go, Baja, Movin', Pipeline, Vaquero, Bulldog, Misirlou, Hava Nagila, Mr Moto, Wipeout, Penetration, Out-of-Limits and Let's Go.
We all had our favorite songs to play. George’s favorites were Duane Eddy's Lonely One where he could play his bongo drums; the Ventures Walk Don’t Run and Perfidia because he’d perfected the rim shot on the drums; and the Surfaris' Wipeout where he did his long roll on the drums.
Charles liked the Ventures’ McCoy because he could play lead in part of the song; the Ventures' Guitar Twist and The Shadows' Frightened City where he demonstrated his rhythm skills. William liked all the Ventures and Shadows because their bass was fun to play.
I enjoyed playing Arthur Smith's music namely Guitar Boogie because it was so long and elaborate on the guitar; Boomerang because it was fast on the beat; and I H Boogie because it had a good rhythm to it.
Part Two will appear in another posting.
A Happy Chap Goh May everyone!
Henri Gann (with shades) is still trekking today.
Images and You Tube Videos: The Trekkers from Henri Gann (Copyrights Reserved.)
You Tube Connection: