When The Savages were signed up in 1970 to release two LPs, it seemed like a dream.
I had joined the band as a keyboardist in 1968, four years after it had been formed by my friend Bashir Sheikh. Soon, we went beyond playing cover versions of popular songs and were actually performing tunes we’d written ourselves.
Our first big break came in when we won the Sound Trophy competition in Mumbai – twice.
Gerson da Cunha, the general manager of the Lintas advertising agency, was a judge at the second edition of the event. Seeing our potential, he helped us cut our first record with HMV in 1968 by talking to their artists and repertoire manager, VK Dubey. Da Cunha even printed the record cover for the single in colour at his own cost so that it would stand out from the other 45s in the market that came in loose unbranded sleeves.
One side had a song called Pain, an instrumental composed by our lead guitarist Hemant Rao, It featured the scatting of Asha Puthli, long before she made her mark on the jazz scene in New York and the disco floors of Germany. The other side featured Girl Next Door, another Rao composition, with Bashir Sheikh on the vocals.
Our fame began to spread to other parts of India, landing us a six-week gig at the iconic Trincas restaurant on Kolkata’s Park Street. We returned to Mumbai for a stint at the Taj Mahal Hotel’s newly opened Blow Up discotheque. That put us in touch with the managing director at the Polydor label, which had just launched in India. He signed us up to do two LPs and an EP.
Our first LP, The Savages Live, released in 1971, was a landmark for western music by Indian musicians. It was one of the first LPs in the genre to roll out in that era. We fused our own musical style in each of the songs with a liberal dose of the beat/garage/psychedelic sound of the 1960s.
When we first walked into the Jyoti studio at Worli to record the album, we were a bit shaken by the facilities. The sound engineer had not recorded western music before and was grappling with the drum kit, a bass guitar (almost unheard of in the film music of that time that he usually worked with), guitars and keyboards and singers who would scream their head off like Russell Pereira did. He was more used to playback musicians who would sing Hindi film tunes into the mic on an even keel without too much variation in volume or tone.
Bashir Sheikh, our drummer, had to make do with only one microphone for his entire drum kit. The single mic was placed strategically so that it would pick up his snare, tom-tom, high hat and cymbals although their relative distances from the mike were varied. Today’s modern drummer would use anywhere between six-12 mics.
Bass guitars were normally plugged into the mixer in the control room, but I think that facility was not available then, so Ralph Pais joined the rest of us huddled together in the Live Room. Russel Pereira was packed off into the vocal booth for his songs.
But there was no reason to complain. Our first single in 1968 had been recorded in the HMV studios on Mumbai’s Pherozeshah Mehta Road in even more primitive conditions, with the musicians sharing only one mic.
Still, when we heard our debut LP for the first time, the result was somewhat disappointing. But we let it go in quiet resignation. It was the best that we could do in 1970. We couldn’t expect it to sound like the Beatles’ Apple Studios.
More than five decades later, when Rajiv Pandey and Aveek Chatterjee of Free School Street Records approached us about doing a re-issue of the LP, we couldn’t quite believe it. Imagine our LP coming back into the market after all this time. We naturally viewed the project with some consternation.
Of course, we were aware that the album had at one time been offered on eBay for $3,000 (Rs 2.5 lakh). We used to have a good laugh over it, wondering if it was a joke. But Chatterjee had done some market research. He informed us that the original copies of the LP changed hands via the Discogs online marketplace for sums ranging between 400 euros to 500 euros (Rs 36,500-Rs 45,500).
The process of doing the re-issue has been a deep immersion into nostalgia. Pandey and Chatterjee started digging into all our combined memories. But 52 years is a long time to go back. Along with our frayed memories, we dug up frayed pictures. We added them to as four-page insert in the record.
However, the real challenge of this vinyl reissue was audio mastering. Because our rock band had been recorded in stereo with primitive gear, there were some sonic oddities on the original. Pandey has rectified them.
For me to see our vinyl in its new avatar again has been a real thrill. It is as much of a dream as when it was first made. It also gives me the satisfaction that although the band itself wound up five decades ago, it still lives on in many ways and is an important part of the history of rock in the country. Looking at this album, I feel like a rock star once again.