A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog
Sometimes great music comes from the most unlikely sources. In 1957, a few years after the Korean War armistice of 1953 has been signed, a waif-like 19 year-old guitarist is playing for US troops at the Eighth US Army base in Seoul.
“Hey, shorty! Play a solo!” a soldier shouts from the crowd. He turns to his band leader for permission, and duly obliges. The crowd goes wild, and the rest is history.
Albeit, a very short, turbulent, and tragically under-documented history.
Shin Joong-hyun, the “Godfather of Korean Rock”, was a pioneering influence on the peninsula’s short-lived beat and psychedelic scene. Having been influenced by the Western sounds he heard on the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN), Shin mimicked several bands of the time, such as Jefferson Airplane. Indeed, it was covering the band’s ‘Somebody to Love’ on Korean TV that he rose to prominence.
It was not long, however, before Shin was cultivating his own style. Having been introduced to LSD by anti-war protesters, the guitarist’s style took on a distinctly psychedelic tone, for which he is best known.
Shin was extremely influential in launching the pop careers of Kim Jung-mi and The Pearl Sisters, and became something of a Svengali figure of performer, producer and songwriter. In 1972, with his star very much in the ascendency, Shin was asked by the Korean government to compose a song in honour of president Park Chung-hee (assassinated father of current female president Park Gun-hye). The request of the dictator was promptly refused and, as quickly as it had risen, Shin’s fame and influence fell. His songs were banned from Korean radio, and he was shunned by a fearful music industry.
In 1975, Shin was arrested for marijuana offences (no small matter), and subjected to torture by prison guards. Following subsequent spells in and out of psychiatric wards, he jumped ship to Los Angeles, living quite anonymously among the city’s huge Korean population.
Thankfully, Shin’s music has made a terrific resurgence in the past few years, and the man himself is alive and thriving, recently performing at the Korean Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2010, the record label Light in the Attic released a fantastic compilation of essential tracks of Korean psychedelia called Shin Joong-hyun: Beautiful Rivers And Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound Of South Korea’s Shin Joong Hyun 1958-74. It is a worthy testament to an unknown scene. Give it a look, if you get a chance, and immerse yourself in some sounds of the Seoul!