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Features |  26 Apr 2013 20:06 |  By RnMTeam

Gary Lawyer: In India, the system to support musicians and artists is still not in place

Gary Lawyer, a name synonymous with old- school rock, smoldering crooning, a never-say-die spirit and one of the country’s genuine rock stars who can do justice to the Stratocaster. Five albums and innumerable gigs- he’s still going strong. caught up with the iconic rocker to dig out his influences and views on music and the industry:

I grew up aware of music which was always playing in the house and the great artists- (Frank) Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat ‘King’ Cole etc. But one artist who stood out was a phenomenon called Elvis Presley, who I can say was my first and still my hero. Growing up and studying at St Mary’s in Mumbai I got into the Woodstock culture and the emergence of the Beatles (as a phenomenon). Later it was the Doors, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd.

A huge number of artists have influenced me- the new and the old, but if one were to ask me about who are part of the nucleus- I would include, Cole ( my mother was a big fan), Sinatra, Ray Charles, Presley (99 percent of singers would agree) and Jim Morrison.

Compositionally, Freddie Mercury (Queen) would be my favourite. I also admire the old R&B and Soul artist like Otis Redding. Among the newer breed of artists Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Jon Bon Jovi (Bon Jovi) are great, so is Billy Joel who is still going strong.

I am often asked which generation produced the ‘best’ or ‘better’ artists. That is a difficult question to answer: They were all products of their time- Sinatra was a product of his time, so is Michael Bubble-you can’t knock off any one. The audience and society were different with different influences, styles and trends. There are generational differences in what is considered apt and ‘good’ music.

But the new acts have the advantage of having the distribution infrastructure in place. Today’s artists also have producers, studios and songwriters to help them. What I believe is that beyond an artist’s talent and dedication, (pop) stars are usually a result of public demand created by the media. Personally, when I listen to a song or watch a performance, I try to look at an artist for what he is.

In India, the system to support musicians and artist is still not in place. Freddie Mercury would never have been who he was if he had stayed in India- he would have remained Farrokh Balsara- not a rock star. If he had stayed in a country like India, he would never have had the opportunity to utilize his talent as a singer/ songwriter and a performer. It was only in a different country like the UK could he find a system that supported and encouraged his talents. Outside, you have an environment that nurtures talent.

I don’t know how we can handle the issue of copyrights and plagiarism in the context of India. We have to look into it practically. If the infrastructure is there, by all means pay the copyright fees. But how are you going to control it (copyrights infringement and plagiarism)? There are copyright laws that must be adhered to by artists and labels, when they cover works of other artists, but India's lax and confused laws and regulations, often makes it difficult to shift through the legalities. Even if an artist is ready to pay for covering a song, the infrastructure is not in place.

In India, it’s only Bollywood that has things under control- only because the industry is controlled by 10-15 people.

I believe that we are paying homage to the original artists when we perform their songs. When I sing a song of an artist like Otis Redding, it is a homage I pay to the artist not because it’s popular. - I have to (often) introduce the song to audiences.

When we artists sing the songs of the greats, we rekindle their songs and their legacies. In that light, I say the singer brings back the song and the memories back to life. Forget Indian music, in Western music, Frank Sinatra and other greats are getting back their sense of importance thanks to exposure on the internet

I consider myself more of a singer than a songwriter. I don’t have any ritual that I follow or superstitions before I go live on stage.  I am exceedingly careful and make sure everything’s in place and sound check is carried out. The only ‘habit’ or ‘ritual’ that I have indulged in is wearing my favourite pair of (old) jeans. There is a sentimentality attached to them because they have been with me for a long time and know where it has taken me.

So my musical tastes, influences and playlist have a huge representation- from the oldest of artists to the latest. A typical Gary Lawyer show covers everything.