Sixties rocker Sixto Rodriguez, who found mainstream fame in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, is finally enjoying the fruits of his labours at the age of 80
By Graeme Culliford, 4 June 2022
Even Sixto Rodriguez himself didn’t know how famous he was in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand… because the money wasn’t exactly rolling in. Now the mystery of his missing royalties has been solved at last, and the 70s folk rocker – likened to Bob Dylan – has finally been paid his dues.
The American singer spent decades working as a builder and had no idea he was famous until he was tracked down by a couple of obsessed fans from South Africa. His records bombed in the States and his record label failed to alert him to the fact that he had developed a cult following overseas.
Now, ahead of his 80th birthday next month, we can reveal that Rodriguez has finally been paid the royalties he was owed and – after decades of living hand to mouth – he has made enough money to retire. But he still lives in the same modest house in Detroit and refuses to let his fame go to his head.
Stephen Segerman, 67, is one of the fans who tracked him down. The pair are now friends, and record shop owner Stephen says: “He’s a very philosophical about what happened and I don’t think he’s held on to any anger.
“He’s a lovely, humble guy and, although success happened very late for him in life, he’s just happy people found out about his music and that he’s now famous around the world.
“There was a court case that sorted out his publishing, so he started getting all the money he deserved.
“He knows that his life is just about as good as it can be – and there is no doubt his is one of the most amazing stories in rock history.”
Rodriguez wrote his seminal album Cold Fact in 1970, swiftly followed by Coming From Reality a year later. His lyrics delve into inner-city poverty and drug use – Sugar Man is the first track on Cold Fact.
Music producers had high hopes he was the next big thing and he was signed by famed Sussex Records boss Clarence Avant, who had previously worked with soul star Bill Withers and was known as the Black Godfather.
Rodriguez, however, was cripplingly shy and turned his back on the audience while playing on stage at a key concert in Los Angeles. He sold only six records in the US, according to Avant.
He faded into obscurity and went back to working in the construction industry in his hometown of Detroit.
Rodriguez later said of his decision to quit: “I would have loved to have continued, but nothing beats reality, so I pretty much went back to work. I do hard labour, demolition, renovating buildings. I do enjoy it. It keeps the blood circulating and keeps you fit.”
Little did he know that a few copies of his albums had made their way to the southern hemisphere, where they became a huge hit.
In South Africa, a number of his songs were banned by the apartheid government as they became a soundtrack to the revolution that eventually led to the fall of the regime in 1994. “In the 80s, every liberal white teenager in South Africa had a copy of Cold Fact,” says South African fan Karin Wright, 50. “It was blasted out at every party. We had no idea Rodriguez wasn’t a massive star worldwide.”
In Australia and New Zealand, rare copies began changing hands for hundreds of dollars.
His albums sold 500,000 copies in South Africa alone. They are said to have outsold both Elvis and the Rolling Stones in that country, and in New Zealand and Australia too.
Yet Rodriguez remained an enigma, a mystery lurking behind sunglasses. Fans could find out little about him.
Rumours abounded that he had set himself on fire on stage, died of a drug overdose or joined a left-wing terrorist group. Stephen had no connection to Rodriguez when he decided to solve the mystery with music journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom.
In 1997, Craig spoke to a US producer who told him Rodriguez was still alive. Stephen then set up a website dedicated to the singer that caught the attention of his daughter Eva, who got in touch.
Stephen said: “When Craig and I set out on our search, all we wanted to know was, ‘How did this guy die?’
“Then one day, at 2am, the phone rang and I knew it was him straight away, because I knew his voice. It’s impossible to describe how I felt. Can you imagine Elvis calling and saying, ‘This is Elvis.’ How would you feel?”
In 1998, Rodriguez flew to South Africa to play a series of sold-out concerts to enraptured fans. He went on to tour the world, including London, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds. Then Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul got wind of the story and contacted Stephen to ask if he could help him shoot a documentary.
Searching for Sugar Man won Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Academy Awards, as well as a BAFTA that year.
Intensely shy Rodriguez refused to attend the ceremony in LA, claiming he was busy playing gigs.
Two years later a lawsuit was filed in the States that eventually settled the issues of royalties, according to Stephen. The acclaim the documentary achieved has allowed Rodriguez to retire. Tragically, director Malik took his own life in 2014.
Stephen said: “When we went to the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars, we were so out of our depth. I was standing in the middle of this party watching Robert De Niro going past. There was an elderly guy with a buzz cut across the table, it turned out it was astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I felt like I’d landed on the moon.
“This whole thing has been a trip and such a wonderful experience. The only real downside to this story is that Malik is not around to see the effect his movie had. Malik was just a fun dude who came here and said, ‘I want to make this movie.’ Me and him drove around Cape Town with a camera woman shooting it.
“It’s so sad because he had the world at his feet and his movie helped bring Rodriguez to a whole new audience.
“A few years ago, I met two teenagers from China. They had watched a pirated version of the documentary and decided to buy a campervan and drive across Asia and Africa, all the way to my front door. That is the effect this story has on people.
“Rodriguez is delighted that people found out about his music and that he got to tour the world.”
Detroit street-poet folky appeared in the ‘60s then disappeared
In a 1969 interview, Mexican-American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez had some harsh words for some of his fellow Michigan musicians. “I don’t have much respect for the MC5 because they stopped fighting the machine,” he casually told the Detroit Free Press.
While today both parties are known for their own revolutionary sonic missions, it’s no wonder why Rodriguez felt lukewarm about the hard-partying and grandstanding MC5. The modest Rodriguez lived the life he sang about. He was, and still is, a true underdog — a disconnected outsider who sings songs for other outcasts.
“I grew up in an orphanage and I’m grateful to the sisters of the Roman Catholic corporation for all they gave me and instilling that higher motivation thing,” he said in the same 1969 interview. “But that doesn’t work on the street, you know?”
And he knew all about the streets. During his 1950s youth, it served as his makeshift education. Though he never attended high school, he took part in the University of Michigan’s mature student program in the late ’60s. He fought for his education. “Street life teaches you a lot,” he said at the time. “At school, they’re just giving me different names for the things already in my head. … I function out of the reality of things around me.”
And that reality is cemented on his two now-legendary albums: 1970’s “Cold Fact” and 1971’s “Coming from Reality.” Billed simply under the name Rodriguez, the now-cherished records flopped here in the United States, causing the songwriter to sink deeper into the underground and step away from the stage. For years, his small but loyal fanbase didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Info on him was scarce. His followers were limited to reading tidbits written in his LP liner notes and clues he peppered into his poignant storytelling song lyrics.
However, on the other side of the globe, his two loner-folk LPs were secretly bootlegged and released in the Apartheid-era South Africa. Because it was pre-Internet, Rodriguez didn’t even hear about his South African success until years later. There, he was a mysterious celebrity, but here in the U.S. he was living hand to mouth in inner-city Detroit.
So what sound was it that captivated a far-away country to worship an unknown Motor City folky? A 27-year old Rodriguez explained it best. “Some people say I’m a folk singer because most of my stuff is soft with an acoustic guitar and all that,” the prophetic songwriter said. “But on my album, there are some very Motown-ish things. The division they talk of in music really isn’t there. … Later on, they’ll integrate music on the stations. There’ll be no ‘This is ours and that is theirs.’ It’s all music. It’s the universal thing.”
After years of obscurity, after a slowly swelling grassroots cult following grew, Rodriguez finally got his due. He began touring the world, sharing stages with the likes of Brian Wilson. During the last decade, he’s gone from scraping by, to earning an easy living thanks to his poetic songbook.
In 2012, his life was artfully documented in the “Searching for Sugar Man” film (“Sugar Man” being one of his most notable tracks). That year, it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Not a bad feather in the cap for most, but the elusive Rodriguez was nowhere to be found at the ceremony. He later humbly admitted he didn’t want to steal attention from the filmmakers, among a few other reasons.
“We also just came back from South Africa and I was tired,” the forever-enigmatic Rodriguez told Rolling Stone at the time. “I was asleep when it won, but my daughter Sandra called to tell me. I don’t have TV service anyway.”
It’s hard to believe the last music we heard from Steve Louw arrived seven long years ago. With the wait now finally over, fans right around the world are already embracing the pop-rock icon’s return with arms wide open. The past year has been a rich and hugely rewarding one for Louw. Not only did Louw record his brand-new album, Headlight Dreams, in Nashville along with his long-time friend and producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley (John Hiatt, Joe Satriani, Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes), but Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and genius guitarist Joe Bonamassa also pitched up and added his magic to the record.
To boot, Sony ATV, upon hearing the finished album, offered Louw his first international solo artist record deal.
The album, which is out now, already has two singles on high rotation, “Crazy River” and “Wind in your Hair”; the latter is the one that’s quite literally blowing up all around the world. In its first week of release in the US, the track landed at the highly coveted number two position on the Billboard ACC Folk Chart, ahead of the likes of the equally commendable Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi.
“Wind in your Hair” is the track that sports Joe Bonamassa guitar fills and outstanding middle-eight. The single has had over 100,000 plays on Spotify in under three weeks.
With 10 tracks captured in an arresting three-day recording sprint, producer Kevin Shirley channelled each one of Headlight Dreams’ songs through a vintage Neve console inside of a converted church.
“From the first moment, I loved the acoustics of the studio and the vibe created by the wonderful Nashville musicians with their great feel and playing, drawing you into a world shimmering in the half-light, just out of reach,” Louw shares.
A consummate storyteller, a supremely gifted guitarist and a genuinely wonderful human being, Louw’s Headlight Dreams is a beautiful statement.
I caught up with the Cape Town resident last week.
The new decade means: Radical carbon emission cuts.
Fame is about: An illusion.
Retirement will happen when: You have lived beyond three figures
I don’t do:Fake people.
My music is about: Everyday experiences.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your work? Playing live and singing.
The song you must do in every show: “Waiting for the Dawn”
Any funny moments on stage: When the power tripped, half the show was acoustic; we just kept playing. Luckily, the power came back and then we had an electric show.
My style icon: Bob Dylan.
What is your most treasured possession? My 1964 Epiphone as played by John (Lennon), Paul (McCartney) and George (Harrison).
It’s your round, what are you drinking? Glenmorangie Single Malt.
What makes you stand out? The stage lights.
If you were not a musician, what would you do? Conservation.
Who would play you in a Hollywood blockbuster and why? Edward Norton; we both smirk.
Pick five words to describe yourself: Musical, songwriter, guitar player, dendrophile, singer.
Five favourite SA albums:
GBB – Eet Kreef
Baxtop – Work It Out
Juluka – Scatterlings
Tananas – Tananas
Tribe After Tribe – Power
What is your favourite word? Truth.
Favourite fashion garment: My leather flying jacket.
Give us some real proper slang and what it means: Lank kiff: Awesome, great.
Your greatest achievement: My family.
What do you complain about most often? Dishonesty.
What is your fear? Large puff adders.
Happiness is: Riding motorcycles.
Where would you like to be right now? Where I am.
Do you do charity work and, if you do, what do you do? Yes, conservation.
From Jive Talking & Eyeballing
by Ernesto Garcia Marques, April 2021,
edited by Brian Currin, May 2021
Anyone who supported local South African music will remember All Night Radio, the blues rock band from Stellenbosch who were truly world class. I have been meaning to interview Steve for the longest time and now that he is about to release a new album it seemed like the perfect time to interview him now. I would like to give a big shout out to Martin Myers and the sterling work he is doing as CEO of Music Exchange and Triple M Entertainment. Martin is handling the PR for Steve Louw and is also his manager. I contacted him about doing this interview. Thanks Martin 😀
By way of introduction many of you should remember this song, recorded live at Ellis Park Stadium, 1985….
Ernesto: Howzit Steve, hope you are doing well? No need to ask if you are still rocking as I am really thrilled to hear that you have a new album coming out soon but more about that later… I believe ANR started at Stellenbosch University where you met Nico Burger and Rob Nagel and your combined love for the Blues and Rock ‘n Roll got you out there and playing with David Kramer and Lesley Rae Dowling in various clubs and student venues. When was this exactly and what songs did you play at those early gigs? Did you play any covers or only original songs? How did you get involved in music and who were your main influences?
Steve: Hi Ernesto, Great to hear from you! I met Rob Nagel and Willem Moller in 1976 at the Stellenbosch Folk Club and we have been friends ever since. It was great place to get heard and there was always an enthusiastic audience of music lovers. Most of the artists wanted to showcase their own songs, but there were also versions of other artists’ songs. I can remember doing a cover of Gallis Pole (Gallows Pole) on 12 string guitar, thinking I was covering a Zeppelin song! I never dreamed that 25 years later my bud Kevin Shirley would be working with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant! My Dad had a DJ friend in Johannesburg, and one day he brought home a copy of Duane Eddy, ‘Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel’ and I was mesmerised by the sound. Another of my earliest memories is hearing Fats Domino sing Blueberry Hill on my Mom’s car radio and I felt that I was being taken to another mysterious and beautiful place. I started playing piano when I was 8, and when I found my brother’s discarded GalloTone guitar that was it. Willem and I had a band called Rockaway which gigged doing originals and covers. Willem was always into recording, and we started doing demos of our songs between gigs.
I formed ANR in 1983 with Rob, Pitchie Rommelaere and Nico (Burger), as Willem had left Cape Town for Johannesburg with his band Nothing Personal, which had started to do well. Our first drummer was Ronnie Milne, a great Scottish drummer. I had started recording with Willem at a Studio in Cape Town in 1979 and 1980, and we did demos of my songs and then focussed on two songs which we thought had a shot. I finished them up when I moved to New York City in 1981. After trying to get going in NYC, and having some interest from A+M Records, I decided to come back to Cape Town and form All Night Radio.
E: ANR broke up and Steve headed for New York City and Rob Nagel went to Hamburg, Germany. Two years later Rob and Steve decided to return to Cape Town and, re-uniting with Nico, used the Mother City as the base for their assault on the record industry. Then came months of all-night rehearsals, live gigs to test the songs, more rehearsals, more gigs, and live recordings until the band felt they were ready to record.
Why did the band break up? Did you and Rob intend going overseas to gain experience before returning to give it a full go in South Africa? Did either of you play live while overseas or did you go and see as many bands as you could, or both? What bands really blew you away and inspired you with All Night Radio?
S: So we formed ANR, when I came back to Cape Town in March 1983. When I was in NYC, I saw so many great bands! It was a really inspirational time and also quite tough to survive! I met lots of musicians and recording engineers, and we would go into their studios during quiet times, like a Sunday afternoon, and work on songs. I remember walking in the streets of New York in 1981 hearing the Stones’ Start Me Up blasting from every car, shop and taxi wherever you went. It was incredible! Springsteen released Nebraska in 1982 and it played over and over on my cassette machine. The songs really resonated with me and I realised that the art of songwriting and storytelling were one.
That album really inspired me and I bought a 4 track cassette recorder and started making demos. All the first demos of the songs that were released on the first ANR album The Heart’s the Best Part were recorded on that machine, which I still have! I also remember a stand out gig by Elvis Costello, during his Imperial Bedroom tour which was just mind blowing. I knew that I had to really focus on songwriting to connect with people.
All Night Radio’s first release was the double A sided single: Breaking Hearts/Sea Side Love which was released on 1st September 1984 and what a great song it was…
This was on the other side and my own personal favourite…
E: That was a really good single Steve and though the blues influence was there these tracks have a real ’80’s feel. Were you listening to ’80’s music at the time because I can hear a little Billy Idol, Springsteen and Simple Minds influence on these tracks; meant as a compliment of course 😉. I believe your intention was to go back to basics with your sound and this was the first result of that….
S: Yes, the 80’s; what happened was the sound of drums completely changed. Everybody was competing to be heard on the radio and the drums, particularly the snare just got massive! When we recorded The Hearts the Best Part, we put a mike on the metal freight elevator wall, took all the toms off the kit, and placed the kit in front of the lift’s gaping mouth! It seemed like a good idea at the time, and that why the drums are so in your face. Luckily the 80’s passed!
E: The single received a very favourable review from Andrew Donaldson in his review in the Cape Times of 5 October 1984: “The first single from All Night Radio’s debut album was released last week. The double A-sided rocker, Breaking Hearts, c/w Sea Side Love, is a no-nonsense uncompromising recording debut, and an exciting glimpse of what the group intends to offer on its forthcoming album. Produced in Cape Town by New York-based John Rollo, “Breaking Hearts” is probably the noisiest and freshest-sounding rock single produced in this country to date. Guitarist Nico Burger effortlessly establishes himself as wunderkind here in one neat and fluid solo. ANR think they’re a great group. They probably are.” All Night Radio Released their first album, The Heart’s the Best Part in 1984 and you can listen to the album in full here but please go out and buy the album….
E: There is a very interesting story connected to the first ANR single and album and I can remember reading about that in the Argus Tonight newspaper and instead of repeating that article I will try to tell the story in my own words. So, Steve Louw was going to Joburg at the same time as Little Steven (Van Zandt) was in South Africa. A local journalist from Cape Town could not go to Joburg so he drew up some questions, arranged a meeting with Little Steven and gave these to Steve. Louw saw this as the perfect opportunity to promote his own music and looking for a break, dumped the questions and when he did meet Little Steven he asked “Will you produce my band?”.
Steve also insisted that Little Steven listen to the tapes (of the first album) to which Steven replied: “Er, I’d really like to,” said Little, “but, you see, I just can’t spare the time…” Unperturbed, Louw expressed his band’s willingness to wait. The persistence and determination paid off as Van Zandt told Steve that he could not do it but he could introduce Louw to the co-producer of his album, John Rollo. (Rollo was a British producer who lived in the USA who had produced: Little Steven & the Disciples Of Soul, Roberta Flack, Stevie Nicks, The Kinks and George Benson amongst others). Transatlantic phone calls followed, finance was discussed and after listening to the tapes, Rollo came out to Cape Town while leaving George Benson waiting…. Watched by Louw, Rollo completed the mixing of the single and subsequent album in his New Jersey studio, and that is why it sounds so good.
E: Phew Steve, that must have taken a lot of guts. Were you nervous meeting Little Steven but also determined not to miss out on this career altering opportunity? Did you really just drop the interview questions completely and just ask him to produce your first album? He must have been dumbfounded and impressed at the same time?
S: No, I was freelancing as a record reviewer for The Cape Times, so that I could get all the new releases from the Record Companies. I offered to interview Little Steven for the Cape Times and they said sure. I was really keen to meet him as I loved his work as an Arranger/Producer with Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Gary “US” Bonds. I also loved his debut first album, and he had just released Voice of America his second album. We had a great time talking music, studios and production and a 20 minute time slot stretched into hours. He asked me if I was gigging and recording, and said he would love to hear some of the songs. I had the cassette of our live 4 track recordings with me, and the band sounded good after a year of gigging. He listened to the set while I took photos to go with the piece on him. I can still see him in his bandana and leopard print coat looking into the camera while listening to ANR on my walkman. It was a great moment in my life. Anyway he liked what he heard and put me in touch with John Rollo in New Jersey. John agreed to come to Cape Town and work with us on Little Steven’s recommendation, so that meeting was the start of my career.
E: Rollo must have been impressed right off the bat with your sound that made him come out to South Africa and produce your album though I am sure a few words from Little Steven helped that project on its way 😉. Do you know if Van Zandt ever heard the album and I sure hope that you sent him a copy…..?
S: Yes, he came back to South Africa for a second visit in August 1984, (I first met him in May 1984), before starting on his Sun City project. I brought the album, which had just been pressed, (literally hot off the press), to him at his hotel in Johannesburg. Journalist Andrew Donaldson also published a review of the album in the Cape Times Funfinder of 9 November 1984; “All Night Radio’s The Heart’s The Best Part is a thunderous debut, with its hard-driving snare-drum guitar orientated sound (Springsteen a la mode). Forget the “well-produced, technically perfect” spiel (it is a remarkable album in that aspect) and listen to the songs. Singer Steve Louw displays a talent for crafting songs that are free of obvious and clichéd hooks. They’re energetic, they’re thoughtfully constructed and, what’s important, they have a shelf life that takes you far past the first listening.”
E: Jip, I agree. It is a true South African classic. The second ANR album; The Killing Floor was released in 1986 on Previous Records and was produced by Cape Town’s own Kevin “Caveman” Shirley who has produced albums by Journey, Iron Maiden, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Marya Roxx, Dream Theater, The Springbok Nude Girls, HIM, Tyler Bryant, Mr. Big, and Europe.
Did All Night Radio ever play any gigs with Kevin’s band The Council or did you only meet him later on as a producer? Your album must have been one of the first albums that he produced?
S: Yes we were often on the same bill at festivals, and he had been blown away by how our first album sounded, and was keen to do our second album. Kevin had already done a lot of albums. He has always been really busy.
E: Awesome. Did the above musicians come in and do their parts or did you jam and record with them in the studio? Who were the Glee Singers? Rob Nagel had left the band at that stage to join the Blues Broers hadn’t he?
S: We used Richard Pickett on our first album, and Richard Devey played live with ANR in 1984/1985. ANR stopped gigging in early 1986, but I still kept writing, and I love recording, so Kevin offered to produce an album with me. He put the band together and we cut all the tracks live. I love Tim’s solo on The Killing Floor. The Glee Singers were a gospel group that came in and sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica in the studio. Rob formed the Flaming Firestones after ANR.
E: The album contained seven Louw originals with a storming cover of Here Comes the Night by Them (which featured Van Morrison) (also covered by David Bowie on his Pin Ups album) and The Killing Floor by Howlin’ Wolf and here is the original of the latter…
E: Listen to the album in full here but please go out and buy people. Support our own…
E: The Killing Floor features the cream of South African musicians including: Steve Louw: Vocals and acoustic guitar, Nico Burger: Electric Guitar, Slide Guitar, Dobro, Mike Campbell: Electric Bass, Tony Drake: Piano, Organ, Synthesisers, Herman Eugster (of Ella Mental): Drums, Mike Faure: Saxophone, The Glee Singers: Choir on ‘Fire of Reign’, Tim Parr: Guitar on ‘The Killing Floor’ and André de Villiers, Tracey Dogon, Mynie Grove, Tam Minter: Backing Vocals.
What made you decide to include those two covers, though you do them really well? Were they live favourites perhaps?
S: Kevin thought they would be great songs to cover, and he was right!
E: When and why did All Night Radio stop/split and when did you start with your Big Sky project/band? Big Sky was essentially your band, a solo project where you were joined by some of South Africa’s finest. Would I be right in saying that?
S: ANR stopped touring in April 1986, and The Killing Floor was recorded after that. I just kept doing what I always do which is write songs, and when you have ten good ones you can make an album! Some times it just takes longer to come up with at least ten good songs. Kevin and I just started making another album, and both Rob and Nico play on the album. I had come across a great band in Johannesburg, Ymage, and I thought it would be great to cut the tracks with them. So we recorded with Godla Mgcinga (drums) Jimmy Mngwandi (bass) and Don Laka (keyboards) at UCA Studios in Cape Town where I recorded the two ANR albums.
E: The first Big Sky album, Waiting for the Dawn was released in 1990 on Gallo Records and re-issued in June 2001 on the Epic label and it is indeed epic! The album was produced by Kevin Shirley again and features more of the top South African musicians including; Steve Louw: Acoustic Guitar, vocals, Nico Burger: Guitar, Honest Rod Nagel: Harp (previously on bass), Don Laka: Piano, keyboards, Robbie McIntosh: Guitar, Slide guitar, Rupert Mellor: Accordion, Piano, McCoy Mrubata: Sax, Steve Newman: Acoustic Guitar, Jimmy Mngwandi: Bass, Godla Mgcinga: Drums, Benmont Tench: Piano, Hammond organ, Waddy Wachtel: Guitar, Roy Bittan: piano on ‘Here Comes The Night’, Cape Town Highlanders (The 1000 Pipers): bagpipes on ‘Waiting For The Dawn’ . The Atlantic City Horns: Horns (arranged by Mike Campbell), The Long Street Gang: Backing vocals.
Stunning selection of South Africa’s top musicians and the legendary American Guitarist Waddy Wachtel who has played with the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, Don Henley and Jackson Browne and co-writing songs with Keith Richards in the X-Pensive Winos. How on earth did you persuade Waddy to play on your album? Did you meet him when you were in the USA or did you send him some demos?
S: When we were mixing the album, the engineer Shelly Yakus thought that ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ would sound great with Hammond and another rhythm guitar, so he called up Benmont and Waddy, and as a favour to Shelly, they came down to the studio and played on the song.
E: This is the brilliant Waiting for the dawn title track and the album also features a Radio Edit towards the end…
Another great song off the album is this one but every track off Waiting for the Dawn is really good…
and another which has a lekker South African sing along chorus…
E: The second Big Sky album, Horizon was released in 1995 and with it Louw clinched the “Best Rock Act” of 1996 award at the FNB Music Awards. The album was mixed by Rob Jacobs and Shelly Yakus and produced by Steve Louw himself. Horizon featured: Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar, Scott Crago: drums, percussion, Mark Harris: bass, Benmont Tench: Hammond organ, piano, Tommy Girvin: electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals, Mona Lisa & Terry Young: backing vocals on ‘One Cut With A Knife’, Kip Lennon & Mark Lennon: backing vocals on ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ & ‘Kathleen’. This is one of the great tracks off Horizon…
The album sold over 10,000 copies…
E: Well done Steve, that is probably your most successful album then?
S: Yes, ‘One Cut with a Knife’ connected with people, and ‘Kathleen’ got a lot of Airplay. My favourite is ‘Strange Room’, so there were three songs that got people listening.
E: Going Down With Mister Green, the third Big Sky album was released in 1997 by Polygram and was produced by Steve Louw. The album featured: Steve Louw: vocals, guitar, Scott Crago: drums, percussion, Mark Harris: bass, Benmont Tench: keyboards, Tommy Girvin: guitar, Tim Pierce: sitar on ‘Wasted’. Another really good selection of songs and you can listen to all of them here but please buy if you like…
E: Great album and you must have been really pleased with the result but also sad to learn that your former All Night Radio guitarist Nico Burger had died (sometime in 1996). How did that affect you and did it change or inspire the recording of this album?
S: It was really sad, and I wrote ‘Wasted’ for Nico. He was an incredible musician, really just genius! He was very intuitive both live and in the studio and came up with some incredible performances. His playing really makes the ANR albums as does his playing on ‘Waiting for the Dawn’ .
E: Steve Louw and Big Sky opened for Rodriguez on his 1998 South African Tour.
The 1999 album Best of the Decade featured the best songs Big Sky recorded and every single song is a classic. Pick your own favourite. Mine is probably Diamonds and Dirt but that changes, which shows how good the songs really are.
Were any of the songs on this best of compilation CD re-recorded, remixed or remastered or changed in any way from the versions on your previous Big Sky albums?
S: No, they were just taken from the albums, but I recorded two new songs for the compilation with Kevin, ‘Destiny’ and ‘Skin Deep’.
E: Louw returned with an album of new Big Sky songs with the Beyond the Blue album on 9 September 2002 and the album was produced by Kevin Shirley again. The album featured the ex South African musicians; Anton Fig: drums, percussion, Keith Lentin: bass, harmonica, acoustic guitar on track 9, Blondie Chaplin (The Flames/ Beach Boys/ Rolling Stones): guitars, vocals, Pat Thrall: guitars, Adam Holzman: keyboards and of course, Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar. In 2003 Steve Louw composed Amandla for Madiba’s 46664 benefit concert with Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, Anastacia and Brian May of Queen. The song was performed by Bono and Beyoncé. Here is that song from this historic concert…
E: Wow, aside from co-writing that song were you involved in Madiba’s 46664 benefit concert and did you perform there? Did you ever get the opportunity to meet the great man?
S: I was lucky enough to be on stage for the performance of the song Amandla, and it was great being backstage and watching so many incredible musicians perform. I think the highlight for me was watching Johnny (Clegg) sing ‘Asimbonanga’ for Nelson Mandela in the audience. It was a riveting performance.
E: The Trancas Canyon album was released in 2008 by Sony Music and was recorded in a house in a canyon in Malibu, California, over three days. The album featured: Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar, Blondie Chaplin: guitar, backing vocals, Pat Thrall: guitar, Rick Melick: keyboards, Anton Fig: drums, Keith Lentin: bass. You can listen to the here but please buy…
E: Always thought that this album has a real warm, easy flowing homely sound as it was with the Travelling Wilburys. It sounds like you all had a lot of fun making this album. Can you tell us about the recordings?
S: The studio is up in hills above where Kevin lived in Malibu. It was done over a weekend as Anton had to get back to NYC to do his Letterman show on Monday. Its always great when Keith, Blondie and Anton get together as they are all friends for over forty years, so it is a lot of laughs ,and of course brilliant playing, from them.
E: Heart & Soul was a live DVD “Recorded live in front of a sell-out crowd at Cape Town’s historic Little Theatre. The show captures iconic South African songwriter Steve Louw and his band performing classic material from their other albums as well as previously unreleased songs.” This took place in 2009 and the recording featured : Steve Louw: Acoustic Guitar and Vocals, Willem Moller: Electric and Slide Guitars, Jacques Steyn: Double Bass, Electric Bass and Mandolin, Simon Orange: Keyboards, Tea-Chest Bass, Rob Nagel: Harmonica These are the videos from that show…
E: So good to see you at home in Cape Town playing with your blues buddies and having fun. Did you enjoy that performance? Did you do any more shows like that at the time or was this a once off performance?
S: It was a once off show at the Little Theatre, and as you can see we had a blast!
E: What have you been doing since this live performance and the release of your latest album? Were you in South Africa during the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa in 2020?
S: Yes I have been living in South Africa the whole time trying to come up with ten good songs! Yes, I left New York on March 7  right at the very end of the beginning of the time before.
E: On 6th April 2021 Steve Louw returned with a new single; Crazy River and you can watch that right here…
E: Louw says of the song “once took a long canoe trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon and out again. It was a very spacy spiritual place and it felt like I was on a journey to the middle of the earth. I wrote this after the trip. On one level the song is about the river trip and the journey deep inside the raw power and beating heart of nature, but it also reflects on time, our time on Earth, how we experience it, and how the bonds of deep personal relationships with our fellow travellers nurture our souls. I played the acoustic guitar using a few African-style riffs and the band picked up on that feel. Guitarist Rob McNelley contributed beautiful slide guitar.” The song is from Steve’s new album; Headlight Dreams which is due to be released on May 7, 2021. The album can be pre-ordered right here…. https://orcd.co/SteveLouwHeadlightDreams
The album was produced by Kevin Shirley and mastered by Bob Ludwig.
Can you tell us about the latest album Steve? I believe the song, Wind In Your Hair features the legendary Joe Bonamassa on guitar. Awesome, who else plays on the album with you? Where was the album recorded?
S: We recorded in Nashville with a great band that Kevin put together. Greg Morrow on drums, Alison Prestwood on bass, Rob McNelley on guitar, and Kevin McKendree on Keyboards
E: Are you going to have a South African launch for the new album or at least a few shows in Cape Town? I know a lot of people would like to see you perform live in Cape Town again…
S: I would love to, it just depends on how things pan out.
E: Well, I think we have pretty much covered your career and recordings but if there is anything we left out please tell us about that. What would you say has been the highlight of your career, the defining moment that you will never forget? Also, any funny incidents during recordings or live shows that still make you smile?
S: I think meeting Stevie van Zandt in 1984 was a career defining moment for me.
E: Any last words for all the people who have followed your career? What do you still hope to achieve musically and do you have any future plans after this latest album has been released?
S: Keep looking forward to the next ten good songs.
E: Thanks so much Steve and I wish you everything of the best for your future endeavours. Check out Steve Louw’s website here…. http://www.stevelouw.com/ Soundcloud… https://soundcloud.com/stevelouw Twitter @stevelouwmusic Thanks everybody. It is always a humbling experience interviewing someone as good as Steve Louw because he is just as good as any international musician out there. I can not stress how important it is to support our artists like Steve because the music was made by a South African and mostly recorded in South Africa for the South African people which means you and me.
Ernesto Garcia Marques, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, 9th April 2021
Q. Howzit Carl, It is an honour for me to be able to help tell your story because as far as I know it never has. Did you start playing in Springs and carry on in Grahamstown or the other way round?
A. My first band was in Springs, but don’t ask me now what it was called. All I know was that we wrote our own songs. Pretty much a jam band. We used an old gramophone as an amp. It’s main claim to fame was that we invented a weird kind of guitar synthesiser by putting the record needle on the bass string of a guitar that I’d swapped my bicycle for. The feedback we extracted from that old gramophone was unbelievable. I think that’s where my love for Psychedelia came from. But it’s also probably the single reason we never made it out of the garage. You couldn’t lug a gramophone around to a gig. If anybody out there wants to try doing the same thing with the record needle I promise the sound will blow you away.
Q. Can you tell us about your first band – Amazing Head – which featured Bill Knight in Grahamstown? Bill also mentioned the punk bands, Broederband and later Head Office. Were these just varsity bands gigging around Grahamstown or did you play anywhere else?
A. In Grahamstown Bill and I started Amazing Head. We mainly played at the folk club but had a couple of gigs in and around Grahamstown and one in Port Alfred at a dance type thing. Went down like a lead balloon. It was a band with a revolving line up. Sometimes just two or three of us but once when we were playing at the great hall our numbers leapt up to about eight or nine of us. The only reason we played in the great hall was because Colin Shamley or some much bigger act ran out of petrol on the way down to Grahamstown and we were offered a chance to play. As soon as the organisers heard our first song they leapt into action and spent the next half an hour trying to get us off the stage. But we were having none of it and played our whole set. After that we weren’t even allowed to play at the folk club!
Q. And then you had something called “Carl Mark’s”?
A. Well. In between Rhodes and the rest of my life there was a period back in Springs when there was nothing do but wait for Godot so Mark Bennett and I got this little folk duo called Carl Mark’s together. One of us had organised a local folk club which had meetings in the East Geduld Recreation club. Musicians like Jonathan Handley, Dave Ledbetter, James Phillips and us played there.
I’d heard about this music competition in Klerksdorp. First prize was a recording contract which in those days we thought was quite a good idea. So we decided to get into my little blue beetle and off we went. We played a pretty decent set as far as I remember but we came nowhere. The winner was this old ballie on a bek fluitjie. We couldn’t believe it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the kompetisie was organised by the Afrikaans Taalkunde Vereeniging. And with a name like Carl Mark’s…. Well.
Q. So did Corporal Punishment emerge from Carl Mark’s?
A. Sort of. Jonathan Handley from the Rats had moved into my suburb and although he was from Welkom he was by far the coolest person we’d met in Springs. He was also writing his own songs and was busy getting the Radio Rats together. It was only natural that we’d set up a loose collaboration of musicians even though we weren’t in the same band. We knew after hearing his stuff and jamming in the back yard of his house that that was the way our music should move. Mark and I soon realised that what we actually wanted was an electric band with loud amps and a drummer etc.
Q. So how did Corporal Punishment come about?
A. Well after Rhodes university I had the small matter of conscription to contend with. I had never had any intention of going to the Army. There was a Dutch organisation called “Omkeer” which I’d contacted. They facilitated South African conscientious objectors get refugee status in the Netherlands. The only problem was that I had to get there to apply. And there was no way I had that kind of money. I decided to pretend to be insane and managed to inveigle my way into the embrace of military psychiatry. Ward 22 at 2 mil hospital. While I was there I slipped over the fence to the entertainment unit for an interview and lo and behold they accepted me. So there I was. In the first six months of military service. Not my ideal, but better than infantry. At the same time my old pal James Phillips was in the last six months of his stint. I had organised a flat in Pretoria and James used to come around every night and we started jamming and writing songs together. That was the beginning of Corporal Punishment
Q. That was 1978, the disco era. You started off quite funky in the beginning but then you became more alternative. Did the Radio Rats have any influence on you?
A. Yes very much so. But other things also influenced us. Even though we started off in the Disco era, it was also just two years after the ’76 Soweto uprising. We’d been conscientised. There was more than just one agenda in our world.
Q. The first time I heard Corporal Punishment was with the 2 songs you had on the Six Of the Best compilation album released by Benjy Mudie’s WEA Records. Did Benjy approach you to submit tracks or how did that come together?
You recorded 2 songs for that album, Victim’s Victim and the brilliant Raubenheimer penned; Goddess of Depression. Can you tell us about the latter, which for me is one of the greatest South African songs of all time?
Here is Goddess:
A. Well thank you. I think Victim’s Victim is utter rubbish. Something I’m ashamed to admit I wrote. But you’re right “Goddess” is fantastic. Not just because it’s my song but the Corporals gave it such an amazing feel. Much later after Corporal Punishment had disbanded we had a brief revival and played a couple of gigs in Joburg and Lloyd Ross allowed us access to his Shifty mobile studio which was a caravan parked outside the garage where we were rehearsing. We re-recorded some of our songs and “Goddess” was one of them. Even better the second time round. All those songs eventually ended up on the cassette release “The Voice of Nooit” Get it if you can!
Q. Corporal Punishment seem to split between heavy political commentary about the injustices of Apartheid like on Darkie and Brain Damage. Do you think you were a political band or just commenting on the times and your working class background?
This is Brain Damage…
A. Of course we were political. The country was completely fucked up. We were involved in an indefensible war. Racism had seduced all the whities into believing that we would always be able to get jobs, we would always have money, our lives would always be safe. All we had to do was look the other way. All of us! The Corporals couldn’t ignore what was going on. But at the same time James and I were in the army, Mark Bennett had a nicely paid job. So what to do. We sang heavy songs about the shit that was going on. I changed my name so that “Sersant Majoor de Koker” wouldn’t find out about my “other” life. In interviews we said that we were just “ordinary okes”. We hoped that the other “ordinary okes” would also start putting up their “ordinary” hands and things could maybe start changing!
Jonathan Handley of the Radio Rats said of you, “…the Corporals were completely fucking unacceptable. They smoked dope and were very political”.
Q. Your comment to that? Time to call in the exterminators?
Q. The band released a four song EP: Fridays and Saturdays?
A. At the time the Rats had secured a recording contract and Greg Cutler, their record producer, had organised a demo recording session at SATBEL studios so that he could familiarise himself with their songs. But Jonathan was our chom and he gave us four hours of their studio time. The Corporals pulled in sober and we recorded 4 songs which ended up on that EP. I then took the EP around to all the record companies, again looking for that idiotic thing, “The Recording Contract”.
I think “spat out” would be a good phrase.
Corporal Punishment broke up in 1980. James Phillips went to university in Grahamstown and Carl Raubenheimer moved to Cape Town. But Carl and James were to be reunited again in another band called “The Illegal Gathering”.
The Illegal Gathering were Carl Raubenheimer (guitar/vocals), James Phillips (guitar and vocals), Wayne Raath (drums) and another Springs alumni, David Ledbetter (bass/guitar & vocals). Legend states that the band spent 6 weeks in the Cape Town summer of 1982 writing most of their songs, rehearsing them, playing live and then recording them (onto a 4 track cassette machine). The songs produced by The Illegal Gathering composed half of the tracks on The Voice Of Nooit, a cassette released by Shifty Records in 1986 which also featured Corporal Punishment.
The title, “The Voice of Nooit” was adapted from a poem by James Phillips which was featured in Jonathan Handley’s Palladium fanzine – “This is the Voice Of Nooit”… https://illegalgathering.bandcamp.com/releases
Q. Did you ever try to get this released on vinyl because it would have made an awesome split LP?
A. Nope. By this time I’d had it with the record industry. But I am so proud of this little adventure. We infiltrated the Broadway building in the Foreshore. My friend Piet Maree had found this abandoned studio one floor below the American embassy. Already there was the biggest mixing desk I’d ever seen. All we had to do was bring in the Portastudio, the wine and the zol. We also brought in some blankets to dampen the audio in various areas of the studio. We took it seriously. So did the embassy staff who thought we were moving in. Their first cadenza was when James took to stomping through the corridors with his size 12 bare feet recording sound effects. The thing is that the music was absolutely beautiful in its own dissolute way. Three songs were used in the movie “The Bang Bang Club”.
Q. In 1984 you released a brilliant and very controversial compilation LP called “Out Of the Blue”. The LP featured an all Cape Town line-up of bands with songs by The Quarter Zones, Tony Wood, Wunderbah, Carl Helgard (Raubenheimer himself), Under 2 Flags, The Outfitters, Bionic Automaton and The Illegal Gathering. Can you tell us how you came to put this album together? Did you do it in conjunction with Chris Quirke who had his Observatory productions tape distribution? No album or subsequent release captures the excitement and buzz of Cape Town music in the mid-80’s as this release does and it should really be rereleased on vinyl or failing that on CD. Go for it Carl.
I will help…
A. The thing about that record is that it had a few different silk screened covers so that, apart from the music, if you come across it, and you’ve got one signed by David Rosen, you’re in luck. This is the same David Rosen who went on to become a leading designer in the New York fashion scene so I’d imagine it might even have some value attached to it. Chris and I were both into that Indie thing so his Obs Prods and my Skate productions although similar in intent weren’t part of the same stable. But you’re right. There was some amazing music on that record. I’ve still got a couple but sorry for you. I’m not letting them go.
Q. Carl’s next band caused quite a stir in the live Cape Town scene but alas I never did see Teenage Botha live. It featured Joelle Chesselet, mother of Alice Phoebie Lou. The band played many drunken gigs at the Base, Club Indaba and what else can you say about that band Carl?
A. Not so much of the drunken… This was the biggest band I ever played in. At one stage I think there were maybe 14 members in it. The guys were all attracted there by the presence of three extremely talented and dare I say it, beautiful female musicians. What can I say? One by one the guys left until only the musicians who were interested in the songs remained. Teenage Botha wasn’t a bad band by a long chalk but we were playing in an era of uncoolness. The cultural boycott meant that we all had to be embarrassed to be alive. Even now I find it hard to make that kind of statement. Forgive me Steve.
Q. The next band Carl Formed was “Shake Baby” The band managed to get 2 songs on the In from the Cold album. I believe you were not too thrilled at being on an album with all the other, mostly gothic bands….
Here is In from the Cold featuring 2 tracks by Carls Shake Baby band from 1988….
A. Well if you listen to that record you’ll notice that we sound like wedding gatecrashers who refused to dance on broken glass. It wasn’t worth the trouble.
Q. Moving to Cape Town in 1988 I went to go and see Carl’s next band The Beat Poets many times. The bands saxophonist Vernon Matzopoulos ran the Cafe Royal club in Church Street Cape Town and for a few years it was the mecca of the live music scene. Every Friday and Saturday the Cafe Royal used to put on gigs by all the best local bands of the time including, Bill Knight, Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, Artvark, the Beat poets themselves, Piet Retief and the Great Trek and many other cool bands. Those were incredible days hey Carl, most definitely a highlight of my jolling days. Can you recall any special moments there? When and why did it close?
A. My abiding memory of that club was when I gave up smoking and I used to go there because it was so smoky you didn’t have to put lip to filter in order to smoke. I was there every Friday and Saturday night even if we weren’t playing. Actually I have a very special memory of playing the Cafe Royal. It was December ’89 and I was getting married. Koos Kombuis had a residency at the Cafe and Gary Kerel wasn’t able to make it and I was asked to fill in for him on bass. Of course I was in like Flynn. The other musicians in Koos’s band were James Phillips, Mark Bennett and Steve Howells – all ex Corporals. So… one thing led to another and we had this secret reunion. A one off. Unfucking believable. I’ve got photo’s of Steve Howells looking so beserk that I know we also had to have been that way.
The rumours of the demise of the Cafe Royal… Well we know there was a fire and we also know there was an insurance claim but you never heard that from me.
Q. Your next outfit was called A Hundred Camels In The Courtyard?
I’d discovered an author called Paul Bowles. One of his short stories was called “A pipe of kif before breakfast gives a man the strength of a hundred camels in the courtyard” I bust that and smoked it. The band had some groovy musicians and some interesting songs but I think I was getting to the stage where it was all just getting to be a little too much.
Q. So where was your mind at that time
A. Over the years every time I resigned from a job I’d buy recording gear from my pension contributions so by this stage I had put together a pretty decent recording studio. I went to ground in there. I ended up recording literally hundreds of songs. Some of them are brilliant. Some of them are utter crap!
Q. It was a very sad day for South Africa when James Phillips died and a very sad day for you in particular as James was your mate, your old school buddy and it must have hurt so bad.
I believe you were instrumental in the organisation of the Concert for James show at the River Club in Cape Town which featured the cream of south African musicians at the time. Did you put the show together?
Not really. It was a collaborative thing. It really couldn’t go wrong. Apart from all the other musicians who’d given their time, we put together a tribute band called “The Phillipstines”. What a line up. Myself on bass, guit, vocals. Dave Ledbetter on keys, vocals, Steve Howells on drums, Hanepoot van Tonder on trombone, Buddy Wells on sax, Marcus Wyatt on trumpet, Willem Moller on Guit, Tim Parr also on guit, Aletta bezuidenhout – vocals and what was that guy’s name from Blood Sweat and Tears also on a horn of some sort. D’you know that feeling when you’re about to fall asleep and it feels like you’re bobbing in a taut spiders web. That’s what that band felt like. There are recordings of that concert but I’ve never heard them.
There was another Concert for James show in Johannesburg shortly after this. The shows were slightly different as the Radio rats played at the Jo’burg gig but not the Cape town one….
This was the Concert for James. The day the music died in south Africa and a part of it really did… https://jamesphillips.co.za/concert-for-james/
Lloyd Ross of Shifty Records put together a very moving movie for James called famous for Not being Famous.
Durban film maker Michael Cross also made a wonderful movie on James called The Fun’s Not Over and it is really, really good don’t you think Carl?
A. Michael Cross is an unbelievably talented film maker. He made two impossible to make documentaries. Firstly the Radio Rats and then the James Phillips one. Neither of those films had any kind of access to archival material and yet he still managed to make two utterly watchable movies. Well done Michael.
Q. These days Carl works as a freelance cameraman. Are you still doing that and still making music? I remember years ago you said that one day they would find you collapsed over your PC working on some new tracks.
I presume you are still composing your own music and did you write any new songs during the lockdown in South Africa? If you have any music online on Bandcamp or anywhere please share link…
A. I spent an incredibly fruitful period in the nineties and noughties recording hundreds and possibly thousands of songs. I stopped wondering long ago about what these recordings mean. What am I going to do with them. One of my biggest failings I’m told is that I don’t know when a song is finished. I keep adding to it. Just one more bit of guitar. Just a teensy little harmony. Maybe another synthesizer pad. During the time of the plague I’ve had a chance to go back to those recordings and what I’ve found hidden in that over recorded miasma are the most beautiful little echoes, the most gentle harmonics and the most hidden roarings of guitars. Me? I’m just going to mine my own trove!
Q. I have just one last question and I would appreciate it if you would give an honest answer. Where is the jol?
A. I’ve got no idea.
Thanks so much Carl, Looking forward to more bands and more releases…
Ernesto Garcia Marques 30/07/2020
A. My musical memory goes back to before the Beatles when instrumental guitar pop was big (the Shadows, the Ventures, Duane Eddy), so twangy electric guitar is in my genes! By the late sixties I was listening to Hendrix and the Who and then I saw the Woodstock movie . . . Jimi, Pete, Carlos! When I turned 12, I started getting R5 pocket money (for the month!) New albums cost R4.99 at the time (for a crappy local pressing) so the first time I got R5 I set off for the old Musica in Adderley Street, which then was a really hip record store that stocked everything and had staff who knew about the various genres and new release, and you could listen to an album on headphones before buying. I chose Live Cream simply because I like the cover, I actually didn’t know who the people in the band were. I was really into this heavy blues music but the minor pentatonic scale confused me; it didn’t fit into my understanding of music theory. But on Live Cream there’s a slow blues called Sleepy Time Time with a riff that goes from minor to major, and suddenly I understood how that minor scale works with major chords to establish the blues sound. A light went up! But that song gave me another epiphany: Eric Clapton’s unbelievable guitar solos made me feel an intense emotion every time I listened to them. I couldn’t really explain it but I suddenly saw a very clear goal for myself: I want to know how to do that – play guitar that make people feel emotion.
And this is Sleepy Time Time…
A. I was self-taught, with the help of the many mates I jammed with – we all taught each other. We were forever seeking out new people to jam with as they might know chords or riffs we didn’t! And I listened to records and tried to work out and copy riffs and licks. I was also taking music theory as an extra subject at school, and that knowledge definitely helped me to understand what I was learning. So by my late teens I was the ou in the band who’d work out the arrangements and parts.
A. When Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness at the Edge Of Town came out the lyrics connected with me in an incredibly powerful way. To this day Badlands has me in tears by the first chorus . . . that album opened my eyes to the impact songs can have when combined with focused arrangements and production. It changed how I listened to music. I guess I started to think like a producer, looking at the bigger picture rather than individual parts or sounds – everything must serve the song; if it doesn’t it must go.
Here’s one of the songs off Darkness that really moved Willem:
A. To me punk is an attitude more than a musical style, and that song certainly has that attitude. I love punk, but then I love all genres – just when I think I don’t like a genre I hear a track that I have to admit is really cool! But there are many artists and tracks I don’t like, for many reasons – mostly to do with them being derivative/unoriginal/formulaic/boring/dishonest, and you find those things in any genre. Actually the word genre has become meaningless; the interesting things are always when people come up with stuff that doesn’t fit into any ‘genre’! In the early seventies I got into the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter scene big time – Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor etc – and by the late seventies I’d gotten bored with loud blues rock and was immersing myself in jazz, particularly post-war jazz and more particularly what Miles Davis, John Coltrane and John McLaughlin were doing in the 60s and early 70s. I’d also discovered the real blues artists that all these loud longhairs I’d been listening to were copying, and immersing myself in that. So I wasn’t paying attention when punk happened in England in 76/7, but I caught up big-time a year or two later. I love the Pistols, Clash, Jam, Ramones, MC5 . . .
A. I first heard Django Reinhardt when I was 12 or 13, and a year or two later I heard Inner Mounting Flame by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra . . . the guitar playing was just beyond me. Also at the time drums were my main thing, and Billy Cobham changed the game! From there various roads led to Miles Davis . . . Miles’ 60s quintet is the highest level of musicianship I’ve ever heard, for me listening to that stuff is a spiritual experience. I also got big time into Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus and many others, and other guitarists like Larry Coryell. Listening to so much jazz changed the way I hear music and particularly the way I play guitar; my chord work is influenced by jazz pianists and my single-line playing by horn players, particularly Miles. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician though, although I’m a capable improviser and can hold my own with modal stuff.
On that note, this may be of use to guitarists out there . . .
A. While at varsity I’d met a bunch of wonderful musicians, many of whom have become lifelong friends – Adriaan Eksteen, Steve Louw and Rob Nagel among them. By the early 80s I’d graduated and was doing my 2 years in the army, but I had it fairly easy and had a lot of time to myself. By that time Adriaan Eksteen and I’d been playing together for 6 or 7 years and had a good vibe going. A guy we knew from varsity, Robin Hawkins, who had a band called Artvark was living in a house in Wynberg where he had a rehearsal room with gear where we’d often go for a jam; there were always people hanging out looking for a jam. That’s where we met drummer Simon Falkiner and singer Michael Copley. The four of us hit it off and were soon putting songs together from the riffs Adriaan and I would come up with and Michael’s lyrics. We played our first gig as Nothing Personal at the Movement Too club in Cape Town in December 1982. We weren’t exactly punks but we certainly had punk attitude in buckets! Our sound was more like a mix of Live At Leeds-era Who and the Jam, with a bit of our blues influences thrown in, and we were Bruce & the E Street Band nuts . . . but we played it all with Ramones-like energy. After playing every venue in the Cape Town area for about 6 months we moved to Jozi and tried our luck there. The band didn’t last but I loved Yeoville and I ended up living in Jozi for 20 years.
A. I’d studied journalism, which provided me with an alternative career and I’ve worked on and off at various newspapers and magazines over the years while also pursuing music. By 1984 Nothing Personal was over. I’d quit a copywriting gig I hated and was at a loose end. Some mates with a band and an album out were about to go on tour and asked me if I knew how to mix a band. I’d never actually done it but bullshitted myself into the job . . . basically I learnt by making mistakes! But I did know how a band was supposed to sound and once I got a hang of the technical stuff I became a pretty good front-of-house engineer. I ended up mixing a bunch of bands, permanently on tour – at once stage I lived in the back of Kombi for a year! The gear was often iffy and the venues often unbelievably crap – like the Roxy Rhythm Bar in Jo’burg. I walked in and looked at the place and thought, you seriously play live music in here? It’s a square concrete box! That’s an echo chamber, not a venue! After about 5 years of this type of thing I was asked to mix a musical production in a proper theatre, with good acoustics and equipment. After that I only worked in theatres where you can do a really good, satisfying job. I did live sound on musical productions for another 10 or 15 years.
A. A bit of background: By the late 80s South Africa was in a terrible state – state of emergency, people being detained and tortured, people dying in townships, a cultural boycott that isolated this country, the SABC and record companies refusing to touch artists that had anything truthful to say about the apartheid regime . . . An incredibly stressful and tense time. Amid this, in places like Yeoville, people were responding with fantastic creativity – they had nowhere to go. The saviour of SA music was Lloyd Ross, who started Shifty Records to record huge talents like James Philips, the Genuines and the Kêrels when no one else would. A few venues like Jamesons let these people play there, and a small but very powerful and influential scene developed. At that time Afrikaans music was basically an embarrassment to mankind – really bad schlage (German middle-of-the-road) songs that got even worse in translation. We all loved James Philips’ Bernoldus Niemand record which, along with David Kramer’s early records, showed that it was possibly to write Afrikaans songs that rang true and had something real to say. In early 1988 trombone player Jannie Hanepoot van Tonder and I’d both heard people talk of this one-man cabaret show at the Black Sun that we should go and watch. That was Ralph Rabie, then already known as Johannes Kerkorrel, and we were blown away by his songs. Also on the bill was Andre le Toit, later to become known as Koos Kombuis. We soon got chatting and, along with their manager ‘Dagga’ Dirk Uys, concocted a plan to start a rock and roll band that could bring Ralph and Andre’s songs to a bigger audience. Hence the Gereformeerde Blues Band. Our first gig, in April that year at the Pool Club in downtown Jozi, was a huge success and we realised we were onto something. At first I played bass and Andre played acoustic guitar, but he wasn’t a band person so Jannie and I asked Gary Herselman of the Kêrels – aka Piet Pers – to play bass, and I switched to guitar. Soon I quit my other gig – I was in Wendy Oldfield’s band at the time – and we started playing lots of shows. Lloyd recorded the Hillbrow/Ry single, which took off, and in January 89 we finished the Eet Kreef album. Meanwhile Dirk had organised a tour of university campuses for the first part of 1989, which became an ongoing, national tour sponsored by Max du Preez’s newspaper Vryeweekblad and named after a Shifty compilation of alternative Afrikaans music – Voëlvry.
A. The idea was a play on ‘let them eat cake’. So the art director organised a table with a few crayfish (as well some plastic ones) and a few actors to portray the aristocracy stuffing their faces, and then on the back cover you see the proles (the poor band) looking at the scraps that remained. Which is exactly what happened in real life! When we got there the actors had eaten all the crayfish and we were left with plastic props! The disappointment on our faces was real.
A. Jannie, Gary and I had all been in bands for years by that time so were pretty experienced. We could all play drums, Gary and I could play guitar and bass, and Jannie is one of the best trombone players I’ve ever heard so there was no way we weren’t gonna feature him! So it made sense to swop around; I thought it gave us an advantage musically, sonically and, on stage, visually. Ralph wrote the songs and could perform them solo at the piano, so whatever we added had to serve the song and make it better. That was the only rule. We were helluva stoked to have Piet in the band – we were huge Kêrels fans and Gary is a rock and roll legend . . .
A. In the 90s I basically became a sideman for hire. I’d started playing on all kinds of people’s records, which then often led to me working with them on gigs and tours. I worked with Nataniel for about 15 years, which was a fantastic expierence! I played guitar, bass and drums in his shows and mixed many of his big theatre productions. I’ve been fortunate to perform with so many hugely talented people, all of whom taught me things and enriched my life – Nataniel, James Philips and the Lurchers, the Radio Rats, the Pressure Cookies, Big Sky, Luna Paige . . . to mention just a few. I played on various albums with these people as well.
In 1990 I bought an analogue 8-track setup and started my first studio in the basement of my house in Sharp Street, Yeoville. To this day my studio, wherever I live, is called Sharp Street Studio. Over the years I’ve recorded, mixed and produced albums for tons of SA artists and today it’s my main activity; I don’t gig that often anymore. I’ve recorded so many talented people – the Sunshines, Valiant Swart, Henry 8, AD de Vos, the Blues Broers, Bright Blue, to name a few . . . Currently I’m working on projects by people like Dax Butler, Greg Schoeman, Belinda van Zee, Marcia Moon, Bacchus Nel, Riku Latti and Adriaan Eksteen – all great stuff!
A. I recorded their one and only album! Scotty, Bertie and Andrew are all old mates and I loved their tunes and sound. Bertie (Mark Bennett) is a hugely talented songwriter. I played with them a few times over the years too. I even played drums with them once, but they thought I wasn’t hip enough so they replaced me . . .
For more on the Hips:
A. Since 1990 I’d been playing on and off with my old varsity mate Steve Louw and his band Big Sky. Early in 1998 Steve called and said, ‘If Rodriguez was to tour South Africa, would you like Big Sky to be the support band?’ I said, ‘Sure, but I thought he was dead?’ Steve said, ‘Well apparently not.’ So we rounded up the band, which at that time was Reuben Samuels on drums, Graham Currie on bass, Russel Taylor on keyboards and my wife Tonia (of the Pressure Cookies) on backing vocals and percussion. Then about 2 weeks before the tour was supposed to start we got word from the promoters that not only did Rodriguez not have a band, he hadn’t played for 20 years and didn’t even own a guitar anymore! So the promoter bought him an acoustic and asked Big Sky (minus Steve) if we would be his backing band if they paid us double. Of course we all knew the songs and had played some of them in cover bands, so we listened to the records and prepared. Then a few days before the first show we were in the old Milestone Studio in Cape Town, rehearsing along with a Greatest Hits CD so we could follow Rodriguez’ voice. Halfway through a song Rod walked in, grabbed a microphone and started singing along. Someone switched off the CD player and we finished the song together! We all looked at each other and agreed, yep we can do this. The tour is legendary. It was the only time in his life the guy performed live to his full capacity – his career stalled back in the early 70s partly because he was stage-shy and wouldn’t tour to his promote his records. Once he realised that Big Sky knew and respected his material and had his back, his confidence grew and he was great on that tour. Sadly from what I’d experienced and heard of subsequent tours, his drinking often got the better of him and some shows have been disastrous – which is sad. His health also deteriorated and he’s gone blind, yet his daughters (who manage him) kept sending him out on endless tours . . . it’s unfortunate. But on that 1998 tour he was fantastic.
Check Tonia Moller’s documentary on Rodriguez’ 1998 SA tour, Dead Men Don’t Tour, which features the man in full force – the live footage in the Oscar-winning doccie Searching For Sugar Man came from Tonia’s film:
A. We met in the late 80s in Yeoville. I’d seen her perform with her band Khaki Monitor – which was one of the first alternative bands to use Afrikaans lyrics – and she was doing cabaret work. Then she joined the Gereformeerde Blues Band on backing vocals and percussion for the Voëlvry tour. After that the two of us had a string of blues bands and played in venues around Jozi for years, while she also formed the Pressure Cookies to perform her own songs. We got married in 1996. (Interview with Tonia coming up in a month or so – Ernesto.)
A. I’d been playing with drum legend Barry van Zyl for years. He and James Stewart (formerly of the Usual) had formed a music publishing company and among other things were writing movie soundtracks. Barry asked if I’d be interested in creating the music for a new movie, and that it would involve a band improvising rockabilly jams while watching the images. That sounded like fun, so I was in. In the end the whole deal became a lot more complicated, but much of it did involve jamming some breakneck stuff while watching the movie projected on a wall in the studio, with the director, Tim Greene, jumping up and down as he directed us . . . it’s actually a fun soundtrack to listen to.
Here’s the trailer:
A. I recorded their album back in the 90s. I thought they were ridiculously good and that Andrew was a real special talent. He revived the band for a few shows a few years ago and I played 2 gigs with them. I love those songs!
A. I’ve recorded hundreds of artists at Sharp Street Studio, especially in the 90s when I guess I was cheaper than anyone else! As it turned out a whole bunch of really talented people never released what they recorded with me and never really recorded again, so I have these gems in my archives . . . Machines of Joy, The Andy Clegg, Rear Window are 3 that spring to mind – really original and quirky material that the world should have heard but didn’t. Those recordings are close to my heart . . . Of the released stuff, there are a few I’m really proud of, such as Valiant Swart’s Mystic Boer (for me his best songs) and Kopskoot, Henry Ate’s Slap in the Face, Randy Rambo and the Rough Riders/Die Naaimasjiene, the Blues Broers’ Sharp Street, Been Around and Cellar Tapes, AD de Vos’ Diep Karoo and Wolfman . . . I also co-produced James Philips and the Lurchers’ album Sunny Skies (with Lloyd Ross), which I think is a fantastic record. I also play guitar on it. I also really love Greg Schoeman and the Comeback Kings’ In my Street and Dax Butler’s Drink in Everything and Trouble in Mind.
. . . and Die Naaimasjiene – Die Saai Lewe: https://naaimasjiene.bandcamp.com/album/die-saai-lewe
Check out Die Naamasjiene’s recent material:
Q. Any last words/thoughts?
I really miss those musical compadres who are no longer with us – Johannes Kerkorrel, James Philips, Nico Burger, Izak van Zyl, John Mair, Simon Falkiner, Michael Copley . . . all wonderful talents, all gone too soon. You guys rock, wherever you are.
Ernesto Garcia Marques 01/07/2020
It all began with a band called Zennith in Brakpan near Johannesburg in 1977. Dutch born Lucien Windrich began playing with school friends which included bassist Benjy Mudie, the future South African music custodian. The band changed its name to Void and the following year was joined by Lucien’s younger brother, Erik also born in Holland. Even though the band had won a battle of the bands in Joburg in 1978 they were battling to find paying gigs in South Africa. The band found the opening they needed in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, on the live circuit. The guys spent 8 months there together with drummer Danny de Wet (Petit Cheval & Wonderboom) and bassist Terry Andalis. In 1979 the band recorded a cover of the Knack’s smash hit My Sharona but it was the B-Side Magicia that took off and reached number 4 on the country’s charts. Here is My Sharona, Void style…
Can’t seem to find a copy of Magicia. Lucien?
Q. Hi Lucien, thanks so much for Jive Talking with us in South Africa. So, one could say that you had your first taste of success in Rhodesia. It is obvious that you had your African spin right from the start, even with Void, and your version of My Sharona has that tribal influence. Did you listen to tribal music and was this the main influence on your music? Who were you listening to at the time?
A. In the late 70’s I was listening to rock bands like Grand Funk and Bad Company and prog rock bands like Wishbone Ash and Genesis and learning to play guitar like all the guitar players back then. The local South African influence came later in the early 80’s during our residency in East London when we started afresh as a three-piece.
I don’t think we had an obvious tribal influence back in the 70’s. We were just experimenting with various rock and pop idioms. As ‘Void’ we went from one extreme to the other. We composed and performed a 17 min prog rock epic called How Calm the Storm which people would sit and listen to quietly throughout. And then we put a middle-of-the-road song called Magicia on the B-side of My Sharona. It was an eclectic mix of stuff.
Going to Bulawayo in 1979 was the first professional residency gig for the four of us, me Erik, Danny and Terry. We told ourselves from the outset that we would only do residencies playing cover songs as long as we could write and perform our own stuff as well. So it was a real boost when people requested our own stuff. It gave us the confidence to continue writing. Those early residency gigs were an invaluable learning curve for us towards developing our own original style and sound.
We had our first success in Rhodesia with a cover version of My Sharona because the original wasn’t allowed to be played due to sanctions. It was fun watching everyone do ‘the pogo’ when we played the song in the club. There’s even a video of us doing the pogo in the Zimbabwean TV vaults somewhere. What we never expected was to be playing to young soldiers who had been in the bush for six weeks shooting and killing people, and then coming into the club to dispel their tensions. We quickly learnt to keep them entertained with our music and performances which helped to prevent outbreaks of violence suddenly erupting inside the club. And believe me, it did erupt. We threatened to stop playing if they didn’t stop fighting. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. One of the cover versions we did at the time was a song by Rush called Bastille Day which strained Erik’s voice so much he had to have an operation to remove the nodules on his vocal chords.
And what should have been a highlight for us was when Bob Marley came to play at Independence Day, April 1980. We were literally in the next town. We asked the manager Marjorie if we could have the night off and she said no. Can you believe it? Like good Catholic school boys we did as we were told. WTF!
Void returned to South Africa and decided to change their identity after Terry Andalis, José “Aggi” de Aguiar and Danny de Wet departure in 1982. Lucien, Erik and third brother Karl, the band’s manager, changed their name to éVoid and it became a three piece with Georg Voros on drums who was replaced by Wayne Harker early in 1983. éVoid built up a large, loyal following which started in East London and then spread like a forest fire over the next 4 years. The band were creating a highly original and subtle fusion of Afro-rock (which they christened ethnotronics), which was different from the more traditional sounds of their contemporaries, Juluka and Hotline, or the rock-based Tribe After Tribe, Ella Mental, Via Afrika, Flash Harry and Neill Solomon’s Passengers. éVoid conveyed immediacy, simplicity and warmth of spirit of other Afro-rock bands with their newly painted faces, tribal dances and South African jive rhythms.
Q. Your style, was it based on any one African culture like the Ndebele patterns and the Zulu bracelets and beeds or a combination of those and others. Who made your outfits and what did the African people think of it? Did they give you their blessing?
A. The eVoid style was developed in East London when we were faced with becoming a three-piece. It was a deliberate attempt to create what Aggi called Soweto New Wave – a fusion of rock & mbanga grooves, jangly guitars, punchy keyboard riffs and a local South African influenced image. But vocally we were still mainly European sounding.
We weren’t interested in being as indigenous as Johnny Clegg much as we respected him. We wanted to create our own punky afro-pop style. Plus we were into the nu-romantic image at the time.
My ex-wife Kay designed and made the clothes and Erik’s ex-wife Linda helped make them. They were called K-rags and we loved wearing them. It really helped define our local white South African image at the time.
We commissioned a whole lot of African women to make the Ndebele beadwork merchandise for us. We gave them the eVoid logo and told them to incorporate it into the designs as they wish.
Yes I admit it was a cultural appropriation but we never exploited anyone. Our feeling at the time was that we were promoting local music and images. And we were financially supporting groups of women who were happy to be given the business. Did they give us their blessing? Well, at no time did anyone of them refuse the work. As to what they actually thought of us, I don’t really know. We told them they were making merchandise for the band and they never objected.
Success arrived when WEA (now Tusk) signed them to a recording contract. The band released their debut self titled album éVoid in August 1983 which yielded their first single Shadows. It was backed by the infectious Dun Kalusin Ta Va, which had become a hallmark of their sound. Shadows peaked at number three on the national charts in November and, to this day, remains a staple of South African rock and pop-oriented radio stations. Here is that classic single performed to adoring fans at Ellis Park in 1985.
Q. That was probably one of the greatest era’s in South African music and those concerts at Ellis Park were magical. Can you recall any special moments at the Concert in the Park?
A. It was an emotional high for us. Three weeks after playing the biggest and most prestigious concert in Joburg we left for the UK. Towards the end of playing Shadows it dawned on me that it may be the last time we ever played in SA again. And what a gig to be ending it on. I have been known to be melodramatic.
It was magical stepping out on stage early in the evening and seeing a sea of faces stretching out and upwards towards the top of Ellis Park stadium. I will never forget that. Amazing! People often ask what it feels like, and to be honest once you’re actually playing all you can see are lots of tiny heads bobbing up and down. You’re really just performing to the front rows with whom you can have some kind of connection. And then when Erik starts waving his hands in the air from side to side, and you see 100’000 people responding, there’s nothing quite like it. It’s a huge high!
I can remember being backstage with Johnny Clegg on the day, along with some other musicians getting ready. We hadn’t met or spoken before and we exchanged pleasantries about how wonderful this gig was. He complimented us on Shadows which was a lovely thing to do. That whole day and everything leading up to it was a sign that we were at the top of our game. And we were about to leave that all behind.
The weird thing is we nearly didn’t even do the gig. We were offered the gig a few months earlier knowing it was for a worthwhile cause but we had already booked our flights to the UK so we turned it down. The organisers offered it to us a second time and by then the hype was building about how momentous the gig was going to be, featuring 25 of the top acts in South Africa at the time. So we agreed. Thank God we did. Imagine if we had turned it down? It would’ve been our ‘Dylan misses
Woodstock’ moment. For us, I mean.
What we’re really proud of is the fact that the SA organisers conceived and actually pulled off this benefit gig for Operation Hunger six months before Bob Geldof launched Live Aid. Yesss!
éVoid had found their niche and this time found them at the peak of their creative spirit. The follow-up single Taximan was released in February 1984 and it got to number 6 on the national charts..
Later that year, I Am a Fadget became the band’s third single. This version was performed live at At The Half Moon , Putney in 2015….
and here are the lyrics…. https://genius.com/Evoid-i-am-a-fadget-lyrics
Q. So good to see you still playing this after all these years. I would assume that it is mostly old ex South Africans jumping around or are the true Brits also getting into that now? Would you like to comment on where the name Fadget came from as there have been a number of different theories and it is maybe time to set the record straight so to speak.
A. Are there many theories about what a Fadget is, really? I’d love to hear them.
Erik and I wrote the song in a rehearsal room one day, and when it got to looking for lyrics for a particular section I blurted out ‘I am a Fadget’ and we burst out laughing because it obviously sounded like ‘faggot’ which was a ridiculous choice and not what I had intended.
You see, I liked this British artist called Fad Gadget, and whilst developing our pseudo African image, to be seen as fashion icons or ‘fad gadgets’ must have been at the back of my mind. So when I blurted it out as a possible lyric it came out as ‘fadget’. We weren’t seriously going to use it cause people might think we’re calling ourselves ‘faggots’ which as you well know is a derogatory term for gay men. But as so often happens when you try and replace it with something else, the song loses something. So we went with it in the end. Our colourful jive image now had a name.
When we arrived in London we played at the Springbok Bar for many years, first in Paddington then Shepherds Bush and finally in Covent Garden. And yes like you say mainly all ex-pats. eVOID then was just Erik and I with a drum machine and bass loops. Every now and then Colin, one of the ex-pats would organise a booze cruise on the river Thames and we would experience a few hours of absolute mayhem on board. We also played on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship which was docked at Victoria Embankment. It was a lot of fun.
Did the Brits get into our music? Yes they did. We played at some smaller pubs and clubs and sold loads of CDs but without an international album and English management we couldn’t get onto bigger venues and tours. We did a gig at the Astoria in Tottenham Court Road, and a small tour of Germany in the late 80’s with Ilne Hofmeyr on bass and Richard Devey on drums. That was great. In fact I remember this German guy coming up to me afterwards saying ‘that guitar, is INXS, ja? He was referring to my Junk Jive riff of course. ‘No it’s not’ I replied. ‘It’s just some Aussie shits stealing our thunder!’
éVoid were performing with not for dedicated fans — “fadgets”, as they were known — dressed in almost equally outrageous and colourful ethno-gypsy garb, who queued for hundreds of metres to see them. We all used to go and see them at the Chelsea Hotel in Berea, near Hillbrow and the venue was always packed. I can recall going to one of éVoid’s gigs at the Chelsea only to be told the club was full and I had to go clubbing elsewhere… “Oooh La la Laa, I like it ”
Q. Do you remember those Chelsea Hotel gigs? I only managed to go to a few but heard that you played there many times…. Like how many?
A. Can’t remember how many gigs we did there but without a doubt the Chelsea Hotel years were legendary. It was 1983, the same year we recorded our first album, and fadgets were queuing round the block to come and see us. It was an extraordinary sight.
We lived round the corner so we couldn’t even go to the shop to get some milk for fear of being caught without our fadget gear and make-up on.
I remember our drummer Wayne being stoned a lot; Karl our brother/manager was running the door and it was where we wrote Shadows. We used to rehearse in the club during the daytime which was handy.
I don’t know if you know the story about Shadows nearly not making it on the album. What happened was we had already decided with WEA Records which songs we were going to record and put on the album. And then we wrote this new song called Shadows and I remember saying to Benji we have to include this new song we’ve just written and he said no, the track listing had already been agreed, and that he couldn’t change it so late in the day. Erik and I pleaded with him and he eventually agreed. But that’s not the end of it. Whilst recording the song, the studio engineer told us the song would never make it. Well you were wrong, Richard.
Every night we played at the Chelsea Hotel the dance floor would dip inwards and creak from the weight of people jumping up and down to Shadows. I thought the floor was going to break and we’d have a catastrophe on our hands. Which did happen when we were on tour at Stellenbosch University; the floor collapsed and a group of people tumbled and disappeared. And then people pushing from behind caused an even bigger pile-up. Crazy stuff. They eventually laid a couple of tables across the hole for people to dance on. Luckily it never happened at the Chelsea.
Occasionally the Chelsea party would spill out onto the streets though. That was fun. I particularly liked the State of Lumo theme we designed for the stage. Nic Hauser helped design and build a lot of the sets, and he also designed the cover for the 12-inch version of ‘I am a Fadget’. What’s happened to Nic, I wonder?
The band went on a gruelling 3-week national tour playing to packed venues on the Durban University Campus, Bloemfontein, Cape Town but they ran into problems before the start of their Eastern Cape leg of the tour. In Grahamstown military police arrested drummer Wayne Harker for being on AWOL since December 1982 from his 2 year national service. Original drummer Danny de Wet was hurriedly recruited to complete the tour.
Harker was discharged in March 1984 and the band was back in business. In September 1984 their debut album was high in the national charts which was rare for a local band competing with the big international acts of the time. While this was happening their three-track 12″ maxi single Kwela Walk/I am a Fadget/Tellem and Gordon, was receiving rave reviews.
Q. This song and in fact a lot of your music had a definite crossover appeal. Is that what you were hoping for and did you play to many mixed-race crowds? Did you have many “black” fans and friends at the time?
Kwela Walk was a great tune. Erik wrote it with crossover appeal in mind but we didn’t get to play to many mixed race audiences. We once did an outdoor township gig and were viewed with amusement. There were more people sniggering in the crowd than actually grooving to the music. Which pretty much says it all. We were a white nu-romantic pop band not an African groove machine, much as I would have liked to have had more of that in our music.
Having said that, I was exposed to mbaqanga music whilst working in an African record shop which came out later in my guitar playing. Junk Jive comes directly from my early attempt to create a hybrid mbaqanga punk sound. Taximan was another example of creating an interlocking groove. Baghiti Khumalo loved playing the bass on it. We bumped into him in London a few years later when he was gigging with Paul Simon and he said how much he enjoyed doing the track. He asked why we weren’t doing what Paul Simon was doing. That was our intention, I said, when we left SA. But It’s not as simple as that. In South Africa we were big fish in a small pond and in the UK it’s the exact opposite. Plus we’re white South Africans.
During the three prominent years of our career from the end of 1982 to the beginning of 1985 we played to young white audiences. That’s who the management and record companies targeted, and that’s the demographic we attracted. Not many clubs were multiracial back then. I had more relationships with black people in the 70’s when I was working in an African record bar called ‘American Music’, and when I frequented black music clubs in downtown Jo’burg. In terms of lasting friendships back then, not many. We lived our whirlwind lifestyle in a bubble. That’s what it was like.
The band usually attracted good press coverage though éVoid were on occasion labelled as androgynous misfits, pretentious white boys in beads, and shallow-minded slaves to fashion and rhythm.
In 1984 the group won a prestigious Sarie Award for “best arrangement and production of an album”, and the single I Am a Fadget landed them the “best contemporary artist” award.
On Saturday 12 January 1985, the band performed at the Concert In The Park in support of Operation Hunger to an estimated 100,000 people, along with Hotline, Via Afrika, Juluka, All Night Radio, Ella Mental, Steve Kekana, Harari, Mara Louw and The Rockets. This is Junk Jive live at the Concert in the Park…
Q. How did you get along with your contemporary bands at the time?
A. That’s a good question. Um…at some point from 1982 onwards we were totally focussed on our music and on developing our sound and we rarely met up with any other bands. Although I have to admit that when a fire gutted our equipment in 1982, well before we had any success, many local bands did a benefit gig for us to raise money so we could replace our equipment. It was such a touching thing to do and we really appreciated it.
But generally speaking we didn’t mix with other bands that much. In the early days as Void we did a gig at the Polo Club in Springs with our East Rand contemporaries The Radio Rats. That was a big deal at the time, and Ozzie went on to play for them years later. And I also developed a close bond with Wonderboom in 2006 which came about when Danny de Wet asked me to fly out and produce the City Of Gold album. That was a great experience. Not only did we produce an album together I even got to skydive with the boys.
But during the eVOID heyday in the early 80’s we didn’t have much contact with other bands. I mean, I Ioved Ellamental and Via Afrika but we didn’t move in the same circles, so we never got to meet and chat much. We certainly didn’t hang out at clubs all night, that sort of thing. And neither did we do any drugs or heavy drinking at the time. I’m talking about Erik and I. Wayne was a law unto himself. But no, really. I smoked dope when I was younger but not during the eVOID years. And the same for Erik. We were the Nerdy Fadgets! Oh dear, maybe you shouldn’t print that.
We were also both in serious relationships at the time which probably had something to do with it.
In intervening years the Windrich brothers were going through a period of personal introspection: they had reached the pinnacle of their career in South Africa and perhaps it was time to head overseas. They were not happy with the production of their first album and Eric had received his call up from the SANDF. Wayne Harker quit éVoid to join the Cape Town band, Askari and in 1985 the brothers left for London where they set up an eight-track studio in their garage and performed as a four-piece with fellow South Africans, Ilne Hofmeyr on bass and Richard Devey on drums. For most of 1986 they worked on their second album: Here Comes the Rot from which WEA released the single Dance the Instinct/Sergeant Major. This is the demo for Dance the Instinct…
Q. So the original plan was that this was to be released as a single in South Africa but that never happened? Your decision or WEA?
A. Dance the Instinct was definitely released as a single in SA. Actually I’m glad you put up the demo of Dance the Instinct in the link. I prefer that version.
The band learned that their infectious Afro sounds did not appeal to British A&R executives and no new opportunities presented themselves. Meanwhile back in South Africa, WEA released . . . Here Comes the Rot in December 1986, to coincide with éVoid’s six-week nationwide tour of the country. This is Altar Pop which contained the line “Here Comes the Rot”
Q. That tour went very well didn’t it and you were playing to packed houses again. perhaps it may have been a better option to stay and plan a strategy to invade the USA instead? Were your albums released in the USA and if so how did they fare?
No. There was no penetration into the US market. Sometime in 1983 Mutt Lange saw us playing at the Chelsea Hotel and he told Zomba Records about this young band he had seen in SA. Zomba records offered us a 9 year deal, the same deal that was offered to The Stone Roses who accepted it. Karl, our older brother/manager advised us not to go for the deal as it was tying us up for too long. Had we accepted the deal we would have become international artists for a few years before ending up in court, like The Stone Roses did fighting to get out of the contract. Do we have any regrets? It’s always nice to have your music heard and appreciated far and wide but it wasn’t to be. We will never know what might’ve happened. It’s a toss of the coin as to what the future holds … I wasn’t doing much astrology back then.
In the blurb leading up to this you mention that our ‘infectious Afro sounds did not appeal to British A&R executives’.
It wasn’t so much the music as us being white South Africans and our bizarrely colourful image that they objected to. I’ll tell you a story.
It was snowing in the UK in Feb 1985, and Erik and I went to our first and only appointment with Warner Brothers dressed like African warriors. We were excited but nervous. The young A&R man who met us, dressed as a Deutschpunk in black underground gear, took one look at us and said ‘you guys are like a canary amongst sparrows’.
Erik I looked confused.
‘The sparrows’, he said ‘will kill the canary’.
Charming. We weren’t off to a great start.
‘Aren’t all white South Africans murderers? he asked.
We left soon afterwards.
Without a UK record deal of course.
In 1993, the group released a compilation called, éVoid – Over the Years, and made it available on cassette for limited distribution at the Springbok Bar in London.
Q. Was this tape made up of songs from your first 2 albums or was this a live tape made in London? Any way to get one of these?
A. The songs on the cassette tape are available on Spotify under a new title – London Kazet. Have a look. They’re not songs from any of our previous albums. In 2006 we re-recorded a few of them (Mix it Up, Language of Love and Ikologi) and put them on Graffiti Lounge. But the original versions still exist on London Kazet. I still have one or two of the original cassettes somewhere.
Lucien and his wife and family live in East London while Erik, wife and family live in North West London. Erik has stated that since arriving in London in 1985 and trying to earn a living as respected musicians has never been easy, and éVoid’s arrival in London at the time of South Africa’s State of Emergency made people suspicious of them. The brothers did benefit from some lucky breaks and, over the next decade, played many clubs and festivals in the UK and Europe especially Germany.
Q. I believe you are a qualified astrologer now Lucien and Eric is a Creative And Performance Manager at an English high school? Can you tell us about your work and the “lucky breaks” you have had in London since 1985?
A. We’ve both been immersed in work and family life since we arrived in the UK. Erik has worked at that high school for many years developing projects and set designs. And I’ve been helping my wife, a midwife, run her health remedies business whilst doing my astrological research. Family life is important to us, in our own separate ways.
In the late 80’s Erik did quite a bit of film music and we worked together on a film called ‘On the Wire’. Erik had a solo venture called The Vision Thing and he recorded a solo album.
I’ve played in two other bands since being in the UK, The Redemption Blues Band and a punky gypsy instrumental band called Victor Menace. Both are now defunct.
My ‘lucky break’ was meeting my gorgeous wife, Cath, on New Year’s Eve, 1992 at the Springbok bar in Paddington. I was on stage, she was in the crowd. I walked off stage to say hello and we hugged each like we had known each for years. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Erik’s ‘lucky breaks’ include meeting his wife Alix in 1991, performing in Paris as “The Vision Thing” and having a permanent job since 2004.
Following the demise of Askari in Cape Town Wayne Harker was summoned to rejoin the band (with Ilne Hofmeyr) and record new material. He stayed with the band for for years in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s which included a 6 week German tour. Obtaining a work permit Harker met and married a German girl and settled in Cologne. He developed musically and apart from drums now plays bass guitar, and keyboards and in 2006 he finally released his debut solo album Culture Shock under the Sea Weed monicker and turning it into a live act.
Q. Do you still hear from Wayne and is he still recording and performing in Cologne?
A. No, we have no contact with Wayne. I messaged him on Facebook a few years ago and he never got back to me. But, speak of the devil because today (17 June) he commented for the first time on an eVOID post on Facebook. Someone put up a clip of Shadows at Concert in the Park and his comment was ‘oh ja…those brothers who dropped me like a piece of shit’.
Wayne created his own problems in SA and we were forced to use other drummers. So yes we had to dump him. We briefly joined up again in England but then he met a German girl and went with her to Germany. As Erik explains ‘he never said eVOID was his ultimate goal – he just drifted away’.
In 2008, after a long hiatus, the brothers Windrich and original drummer Georg Voros released another éVoid album, Graffiti Lounge. This is Under Blue skies with it’s message of hope..
Q. Your music on this album is more folkish if one can say that? Your new direction? I believe you and Erik lived a family life and then in 2014 you released your greatest hits album; éVoid – Classics. I know you did a small South African tour to promote that CD and that was to visit your parents who are in their 80’s…
A. No it’s not a new direction. The only folkish sounding song is Not in my Name although I agree some of the others are more mellow. We really wanted to do another album so Erik suggested we invite Georg Voros and YoYo on bass to join us. Georg flew over and stayed with Erik during the recording of the album in East London. I’d been wanting to record Under Blue Skies for some time and I was really pleased with the way it came out. It’s a nice album.
The tour in 2014 was to commemorate 30 years since the release of our first album. It was more a tour of the Barnyard Theatres, too short really. We only did about 7 dates in two weeks. Lots of people complained they didn’t even know we were touring. We did one other outdoor Marquee gig in East London organised by Des Buys (R.I.P) and Themi, old friends of ours since the early days of eVOID. That was great, more like the gigs we prefer doing.
And yes it was great spending time with our elderly parents who are now in their nineties and who, believe it or not, are about to emigrate back to the Netherlands in July 2020. What a thing to do at their age.
This is an event booklet from éVoid’s LIVE in East London 2014 show..
Q. Are you and Eric currently working on anything and when I contacted you, you mentioned something about a live video? Could you please share for all the Fadgets who still love your sounds in South Africa? Any plans to come back and tour here any time soon? Any last words for those that may not have read your tweets?
A. No we’re not working on anything at the moment but we still have unreleased material in storage that we need to go through. Easily an album’s worth of material.
We don’t have any immediate plans to tour. I’m not even sure if the Johnny Clegg tribute gig is still happening in July.
Any last words? For the brief period of eVoid’s success (1983 -85) there were many years of blood, sweat and tears up to that point. I know it sounds like a cliché but you have to stick at it. I’m talking about young bands who are starting out. Be prepared to take risks and trust your intuition. How you overcome adversity is also important. Always be willing to bounce back and continue the journey no matter what.
It’s a privilege to have our music being played even to this day. And that isn’t something you can plan. All you can do is live in the moment. If you want to make an impact on the world around you do it in a joyous and positive way. And never diss your audience.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the many musicians who have been involved in the making of Void – Aden Carter, Terry Andalis, Ozzie Theron and Danny de Wet without whom our inspirational start may never have got off the ground. There were other Void incarnations with line-ups including Neville Holmes (R.I.P.), Benji Mudie, Aggi de Aguiar, Ernie Parker and Kiki. And in the making of eVOID thanks to Ilne Hofmeyr (R.I.P.), Richard Devey, Georg Voros and Wayne Harker, and the session drummer who did Concert in the Park with us whose name I forget. I’ve probably missed out someone. Oh yes, Kevin Gibson the drummer who helped us out of a pickle in Durban when Wayne had to flee the club because the Military Police were after him. Thanks everyone for making it all happen. It would not have happened without your invaluable input and contributions.
Cheers Lucien, Ernesto Garcia Marques 24/06/2020