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Friday September 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday September 20, 2013 MYT 5:48:13 PM
by n. rama lohan
Felix’s still the lean mean rhythm machine he was all those years ago.
When Jerry Felix sits behind a drum kit, people take notice. How else did he earn the nickname ‘The Animal’?
A 50-year career in any given industry is nothing short of staggering, but Gerald Lawrence (or Jerry, as he’s known) Felix takes it all in his stride. And after half a century’s indulgence in the music business, it would be easy to assume that the top career highlight would either be an unforgettable gig or receiving a memorable accolade, but for Felix, it was simply about staying alive.
“I don’t know how we did it, but it’s still unbelievable that we went to Vietnam and played there during the war,” said the veteran drummer, still reeling from that seemingly impossible mission today. The Falcons, Felix’s revered club circuit band from the 1960s, flew to Saigon during the Vietnam war in 1969 and returned the following year when its six-month contract expired.
“A week after we left, the Da Nang airport was bombed,” he recalled. The Da Nang airport was a major military airbase for both the South Vietnamese and the United States Air Force during the war, making it then the busiest airport in the world. Bands and music artistes who plied their trade in Vietnam were advised to avoid travelling by land at all costs. “Many Filipino bands were massacred by the Viet Cong,” he revealed gravely.
Felix reminisces on his time there rather melancholically – the good always came with the bad and ugly sides of life. “We were treated like The Beatles. Girls were chasing us all over the place ... not because we were hunks or anything, but they wanted money to buy food. They were all starving.” He also remembers the tall tales the GIs would share with them. “One guy would tell me I was better than (legendary jazz drummer) Buddy Rich. Then another would insist that his sister was dating (rock guitarist) Ted Nugent. And there was this one guy who told me his brother was (former heavy weight champion boxer) Floyd Patterson.”
Today, at the ripe old age of 61, the drummer can barely fathom that he’s stuck to a craft he picked up at the tender age of 10. “My father would make me practise every day, which now, in hindsight, was what gave me that platform to excel,” he groaned, recalling how the sight of his father returning home from work invariably meant he had to hit the drums.
Felix was born into a musical family. His mother, Marjorie, played the guitar and sang while his dad, Patrick, was a multi-instrumentalist who was handy with the guitar (folk and Hawaiian), violin and trumpet, among others. Music was always part of the Felix household and is something that united him with his two brothers and sisters. Although he received guitar lessons from his dad when he was nine, his interest to bash the pots and pans in his mother’s kitchen was evidence of his singular interest.
“Back then, I wasn’t thinking about the future. All that mattered was the next day. I was only thinking about what drum kit my dad would buy me and where the band was going to play next. Everything else was just details,” he shared.
Given the music of his generation, he was obviously weaned on the best rock music of the time and credits Ian Paice of Deep Purple for having placed him behind a drum kit. “I was also into Clive Bunker (of British progressive rock band Jethro Tull).”
The KL-born musician, in the course of his career, has played with a stellar crop of domestic and foreign talent. He jammed with the late great guitarist Paul Ponnudorai (whom he played with in the revered Made-In-Malaysia), Amy (of Search), Rahim Maarof, Ziana Zain and more, and his international liaisons (while being based in West Germany with The Falcons) include having backed The Platters, The Coasters, The Shirells, Percy Sledge, Sister Sledge and many more. He’s also jammed with the likes of Singaporean guitarist Rex Goh (who was with Air Supply in the 1970s), Akira Jimbo (drummer with fusion act Casiopea) and Laurie Wisefield (who played with British band Wishbone Ash).
His illustrious career has seen him a part of a variety of bands: The Falcons, MIM (Made-In-Malaysia), Storm, Chilli Padi and The JJeds while his work travels have handed him the opportunity to perform in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and of course, Vietnam.
He continues to maintain a busy performance schedule, still playing with The Falcons, The Jjeds and MIM, and even travelling down to Johor Baru, but mainly around the Klang Valley.
In all his years in music, he insists that one decade stands out above all, in terms of the quality of music made and music culture in general. “That has to be the 1970s. People actually followed bands closely and went for live shows.” It was during this hedonistic period that The Falcons opened for The Hollies in Singapore and in Kuala Lumpur. This was also the time when Stadium Negara was a popular venue for live shows.
Felix’s career is a chequered one, but the highlights come hand in hand with some degree of comedy. He once fell off the stage while playing the drums during a wedding dinner in the early days. “The drums were placed at the edge of stage, and suddenly, I fell off with my drum stool. I was so embarrassed to get back on because there were so many young girls there.” Needless to say, he’s developed a phobia ever since.
His wife Blossom, daughter Geraldine and son Kevin (who wrote the song XXX on his one and only album, Jerry Felix) accept him the way he is – as rock drum legend and a man with a great sense of humour. It’s this sense of humour that got him off the hook more than once in school. When reprimanded by his teachers or headmaster for having long hair or any equally delinquent demeanour, Felix’s one and only request was to not be beaten on his most prized assets. “I would tell the teachers to not hit my hands, otherwise my father would sue them.”
Endurance and longevity are overlooked commodities in today’s music scene, so 50 years of toiling behind a drum set is highly enviable. In fact, when he hit his 45th year as a professional in 2008, The Malaysia Book Of Records proclaimed him the longest performing drummer in the country. And now that he’s past the 50th, he just can’t wait for the anniversaries to keep rolling in year after year.
Today, apart from tearing up club stages with The Falcons, Felix has dedicated his life to sharing the knowledge and experience he has gleaned over years of playing. He teaches at a Yamaha music school in Shah Alam and conducts private lessons at his home in Subang Jaya, Selangor. So, does a superstar drummer get the benefits of a superstar teacher? “Big bucks? Ha ha,” he laughed at the state of affairs.
And like the greats, he is musically illiterate and proud of it. He contends that legends like guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and, drummers Ian Paice and John Bonham never read music, so why should he? And he’s bang on the buck, too, because music is, first and foremost, about feel, and that’s not something books are able to easily convey. Theoretic knowledge didn’t turn any of those legends into what they became – playing did, and few do it quite like Felix.
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Lifestyle, Entertainment, Entertainment, Jerry Felix, The Falcons, The Jjeds
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