Monday, February 22, 2016

Tracking 'The Trekkers' 60's Music Trail: Part One

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
by Henry Gan

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. 

The Band

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 Equipment

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.

The 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.
                               With Compere Tan Hock Lye's Voice

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. 

Our favorite Shadows songs were Apache, Quarter Master Store, Midnight, Blue Star, Gonzales, Find Me a Golden Street, Frightened City, FBI, Savage, Mustang, Shane, 36-24-36, Nivram, Shindig, Man of Mystery, Shadoogie, Kon Tiki, Back Home, Atlantis, Geronimo, Guitar Tango, Peace Pipe, Dance On, Foot Tapper, Theme for Young Lovers, and The Stranger.

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:



Brings back memories. thku


Thanks Henry for the very informative write-up of a band not many of us know the details about as against the "big guns" viz a viz the Quests, Thunderbirds, etc.


Thought I let you know that the Trekkers memoir I gave you is related to the MANY Trekkers videos I have on youtube: The Trekkers, 60s Singapore Surf Band Pt 1, 2, 3 and so on.
Thanks Andy !

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

A special thanks to Henri Gann from the U.S.A who wrote and contributed videos, stories and insights about Singapore music when it was still in its infancy. His group 'The Trekkers' were one of the first to record Shadows' music and other US instrumental groups at the Rediffusion Studios in Singapore. Henri has released these recordings on You Tube, some of which have been posted on this blog.

Thank you for early comments from Joe and Oliver, both of whom are band boys even today, although Oliver has become a school principal and Joe leaving a successful career; one is still drumming and the other hitting his fingers on the thick bass strings.

Let 60's music go on...


Nice article to read. Keep it up Andy; one day who knows, your blog will be awarded. Let's keep our music of the 60's alive for our future generation.

henri gann said...

Thanks Joseph !

henri gann said...

You are most welcome Oliver !
Happy listening...

henri gann said...

Thanks Andy ! Keep up the good work on the Singapore Pop 60s music.
A little correction: I have been an LA kid since 1964. Not Vancouver :)

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Oops, yes. Hardly anyone writes from the US. Mostly from Canada. Sorry Henri. Mistake has been amended.


Thanks for the Trekkers' profile and honestly I don't know any of them, only know they won the Shadows contest during the 60's; and never got a chance to listen or play on the same stage with this group.

Wow it seems they are more an instrumental group because they play a lot of Ventures and Shadows but Silver Strings are not an instrumental group. So it's a different cup of tea.

SUNNY WEE said...

Hi Andy,
Great of you to put up an interesting article about The Trekkers' music trail. Another popular band seen and heard in the early 60's music scene. Wish this band could rediscover their musical talent and showcase it at the Esplanade waterfront.

Happy Chap Goh Meh to all blog readers.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

1) "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."

From Henri's story, the group didn't win the SHADOWS contest. Thanks very much Audie for your feedback.

2) Another big thank you for your comment Sunny. According to Henri, during our chat in Singapore, the group disbanded after each member went on his way a long time ago. In fact they are either living overseas or are unable to perform for personal reasons.

chakap chakap said...

The Ventures, very popular in Singapore, even up till today, are an American instrumental rock band formed in 1958 in Tacoma, Washington. It was founded by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle. This particular guitar group has an enduring impact on the development of music worldwide.

They experimented with guitar effects and unique virtuosity with special sounds laid the groundwork for other such groups, earning Ventures the label "The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands".

While their popularity in the United States cooled in the 1970's, the group remains well respected in Japan, where they still have tours regularly.

The band had over 100 million records sold and is the best-selling guitar band of all time. Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

henri gann said...

We did win the Shadows contest at Rediffusion but I believe there was a contest where we were placed second just before we brokeup. And, I remember that one because Swee Leong came to us at the back stage and asked why we couldn't " kick our damn legs."
Yes we were strictly an instrumental like many of the surfing groups in america at that time. We did experiment with playing with the Jaywalkers on vocal and hiring someone to sing Buddy Holly songs.

henri gann said...

We talked alot about a reunion especially right after the Swee Leong interview in 1980. But with each Trekker living in a different country that was an almost impossible task. And so we left it as a sweet memory. In the earlier years, whenever I am in town for the Chinese New Year, we used to get together and listened to our recording and reliving the moments we had fun playing music in The Trekkers. Now we are all just good friends and proud of what we did.

henri gann said...

Right On ! Chakap Chakap. Another Ventures Fan. I like that.


Hi Andy, a very interesting piece from Henri. I've heard of the band but cannot remember if I've seen them perform. Can't wait to read Part Two. Thanks for posting it on your blog.


Tan Hock Lye was a pioneer DJ of Singapore Pop 60's at Radio Singapore. The Trekkers were an instrumental guitar group formed in 1960. Their ages ranged from 13-17 yrs old.

The You Tube video was a recording of the early Trekkers using the F hole acoustic guitars where the strings were high above the frets and the amplifiers were small ones and had little reverb.

The Trekkers were the first guitar group to perform in Radio and Television Singapore.
This recording was made by Johnny Gan with an 8 inch reel to reel tape recorder.

chakap chakap2 said...

The Shadows, a British instrumental rock group, is Cliff Richard's backing band, with 69 UK chart singles from the 1950's to the 2000's, 35 credited to the Shadows and 34 to Cliff Richard and the Shadows.

In the forefront of the UK group boom, The Shadows were the first backing band to emerge as pop stars. They created the four-member instrumental format, consisting of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar and drums, covering pop, rock, surf rock, ballads and jazz.

The original members are Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett. The sound was produced by Fender and Burns guitars, amplifiers by Vox and echo units.

With Cliff Richard, Shadows dominated British pop music in the late 1950's and early 1960s before the Beatles. They lost some in the late 60's, the band had a second success from the late 70's because of their versatility to innovate and produce new sounds. Richard was also another success story fronting them with many hits on the pop Parade Charts.

They are the third most successful act in the UK singles chart, behind Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard. Each have had four #1 selling EPs.

Victor said...

I remember the tune Walk Don't Run. It was an instrumental demonstration recording that came with our open reel Akai recorder in the 1960s. As for Wheels, I recall 2 classmates playing a duo during a class function in lower secondary school in the early 70s. Thanks for this post which surely brought back lots of memories from yesteryear.

henri gann said...

Hey Victor
Glad to hear that Walk Don't Run and Wheels are bringing back old memories. Believe me I can still enjoy listening to the guitar hits of The Ventures, The Shadows and Duane Eddy today.
Henry Gan

FL said...

Thanks to Mr Henry Gan for putting up The Trekkers profile in Andy's blog. Very interesting to read about you guys, very young musicians then. I could have missed out reading about this instrumental band, probably, I was very young then. Another reason could be they disbanded very early after forming the group, I understand. Nevertheless, it's a joy to hear some something new from the past. Also, we have to thank Andy for putting up interesting articles which we might have missed them out during our youth.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

FL has always been a supporter and believer in this blog and I thank him again for the feedback.

Also thanks to Jimmy Chng, Sunny Wee, Victor Koo and Anthony Tan for their feedback and for visiting this blog time and again.

Henry and I are glad you all appreciate THE TREKKERS story.

henri gann said...

My experience with The Trekkers has been a beautiful memory. I am sure there are many musicians who had similar experience in their life and could relive their wonderful memories when they read The Trekkers story.

henri gann said...

The Trekkers Story and the 60s music...
A text from my daughter Melanie on The Trekkers Salute to Andy Pops Music Group 60s music
"...Cool video Dad! Did you put it together yourself? It looks professionally done. It’s cool seeing all the styles of the bands you included. 60’s fashion is the best. "


Get her to read the connection under VINYL COVER FASHION to read more.




Wow! Musicians who diversified into different professions seem to be very successful. Like Dr Charles Koh. Sad to say musicians of our times in Singapore who continued in the music indusstry dun seem to be doing well. As you can see many left the music profession have found success in their new fields.

henri gann said...

Hi Andy
An email from my old buddy, Lawrence Koh, whom I have not seen for over 50 years. Thanks to your bolg that we found each other.

"You would not believe this, last night I spent quite a while, listening from the U Tube music by The Shadow, Ventures and Duane Eddy performed by four young lads from PBS and you guys sounds just like them. Fantastic sounds and I am really impressed with the talents that all of you had. Congratulations and such a pity that you had to disband to further your studies. But at least all of you can say that you brought the guitar music to Singapore during the 60s.

The late Tan Swee Leong and Larry Lai are good friends of mine due to connection with my late dad who was the network engineer for Rediffusion."

henri gann said...

from my friend Ron who now lives in UK
"Hope you and your family are well. As youngsters, we at PBS enjoyed your music and were proud of your group's musical talents."
Best wishes

henri gann said...

from my friend Jj after sending him a link to Andy's blog on the Trekkers

Wow, good stuff!They take me down memory lane. I learn lots more of the Trekkers than the time I was in school.

Great that you took the trouble to bring history to life. Thanks.



henri gann said...

from my daughter Carolyn ...

You are still getting compliments decades later. Amazing!

on the Trailer's comments...
Trailers lead guitarist, VICTOR WOO, wrote to me to say that you are his guitar hero, having watched you in the 60's and loving your playing of SHAZAM especially and other hits. He admired your skill and style of playing and asked me about you.


I see William Tan, the first Straydogs guitar player in the picture.
He was the bass player. He was an important part in the formation of the early Stray dogs..
He was the musical director and often left out in the Dogs history.
He is somewhere in Australia
Excellent band

Hiroshi Deguchi
I am very happy to read the article which brought me back to good old days.
The songs we loved still shines in our heart.

Andy Young
Thanks again Jimmy for the information. Yes, I meet Henri Gann sometimes when he's down in SG. He now lives in California. And Hiroshi for the nostalgia on past hit songs.