Richard Joseph’s love for the guitar keeps him young at heart.
IN the 1960s, there were no music schools or YouTube. Then, a schoolboy of 16, Richard Joseph was passionate about the guitar. He would watch local bands play and then get back home to experiment with his guitar.
“Some guitarists saw me watching them and turned their guitars away,” said Joseph, 69, at an interview in his home in Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur.
Other musicians were not so selfish. The nicer ones shared their skills and gave him tips on guitar playing.
“I would try to work on my guitar from observing the guitarists of a band, but mostly, I learnt to play the guitar on my own,” said Joseph, who was the lead guitarist and co-singer of Delta, a popular local band in the 1970s and 80s.
Joseph’s passion for music saw him juggling two jobs in the early days. After clocking out of his desk-bound day job, he would take a shower and rush off for his gigs. He enjoyed his gigs immensely for he loved the feel of music coursing through his veins.Christopher Anthony was the band leader and manager of Delta. In 1986, when he migrated to Auckland, New Zealand, I became the band leader,” reminisced Joseph, who took over for three years before Delta disbanded. “I suppose everyone wanted to do their own thing, so we disbanded amiably.
“I named the band Delta Detour when it was formed. A year later, it was changed to Delta because some people had difficulty pronouncing Detour,” he said with a laugh.
“Delta had about 20 musicians in total – over a span of 18 years – who came and went, but Chris and I were the mainstay. Chris played the keyboards, while I played the guitar and bass.”
In 1978 and 1979, Delta was the opening act for the Commodores and Lobo, and backed pop singers such as Johnny Tillotson, Brian Hyland and Lee Elvis (an Elvis impersonator from the United States).
In the late 1980s, Joseph backed American country singer Freddy Fender on lead guitar when he performed in Merlin Hotel (now Concorde Hotel) in Kuala Lumpur.
The band had played alongside then popular local bands like Blues Gang and Headwind. Delta was also the backing group for singers the likes of DJ Dave, the late Sudirman, ND Lala, Noorkumalasari and Khadijah Ibrahim. The band had a Malay album but it was not a big hit.
Delta was the house band on the cruise ship, Cruise Muhibah, in the late 1980s.
In the 1980s, Francissca Peter and Yasmin Yusuff were lead singers with Delta at different times.
After Delta disbanded, Joseph formed another band, Wishing Well, which played in the local circuit. He left his job as marketing manager to pursue his passion full-time.
He said: “We were active for five years before Wishing Well disbanded. Then I joined Pieces of April, Strollers and various other bands.
“Now I have a five-piece band called 3 Corner Stone, formed in 2008. The drummer is my son, Dylan Joseph. Our music is 70s and 80s rock. We play a fair bit, mainly in the Klang Valley. We do it for fun and pocket money.”
Joseph also performs with Gerald Lee as a two-piece known as Just The Two Of Us. Both play the acoustic guitar in pubs, small clubs and private functions.
“As usual, we play two to three sets. The money is better because less is more. We got together about a year ago,” he said.
Joseph has just formed a four-piece band, Country Gentlemen, to cater to fans of country and western music.
Three years ago, Joseph played with Christopher’s four-piece band, also called Delta, for three weeks when he went to Auckland for a holiday.
These days, Joseph performs gigs when there are requests. He also accepts session work as a replacement guitarist. He enjoys his role as a guitar teacher, and has been giving guitar lessons for the past two decades.
Joseph is not one to rest on his laurels. “I’m still working on improving myself,” he said.
His biggest influence is Hank Marvin from the British instrumental band, The Shadows. Then there were others such as Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), James Burton (Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist) and Eric Clapton. His current favourite guitarist is Braid Paisley.
Joseph has a collection of 18 guitars, including vintage ones.
“I’m trying to sell off a few guitars since I only have two hands,” he joked.
His three prized vintage possessions are a 1972 Fender Telecaster, a 1977 Stratocaster and a 1963 Vox Phantom.
”The one I played with the most is the one I’m holding now,” he said. “It’s a 1999 Mexican Fender Stratocaster with Kent Armstrong pick-ups. I love this guitar because of its light weight, especially for pub gigs where we sometimes have to play three to four sets of 45 minutes each. Such a gig can be tiring if your guitar is heavy.”
Joseph is sentimental about an autograph that cartoonist Lat signed on his guitar.
“I got him to sign on the guitar I was holding when our band, 3 Corner Stone, played at his 60th birthday two years ago,” he said.
Besides the guitar, Joseph also plays the keyboard. In the music studio where he works, he has access to various musical instruments. But he prefers the guitar, ukelele and bass.
Joseph the music-maker, wants to go on making music.
“As long as my fingers can grip the guitar neck and my mind is alert, I shall continue playing,” he said.
When he isn’t strumming his good o’ guitar, he reads “to keep the old mind alert and sharp.”
“I love Stephen King. I have all his books. I also read books on World War II, Hitler and cycling. I love cycling,” said Joseph, who exercises by cycling in the neighbourhood for two hours daily.
Raymond Chiew, 66, a close friend of Joseph, used to hire Delta.
He said: “Joseph is an extraordinary musician. He is an expert in the intricacies of the guitar, running his nimble fingers along the frets of his Fender Stratocaster, the guitar made popular by Hank Marvin. He really makes his guitar talk and he resembles the likes of Eric Clapton, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Carlos Santana.
“I particularly like the band’s rendition of The Shadows’ hits like Apache, Stars Fell On Stockholm and Kon Tiki. Anyway, these are hits of bygone years and you seldom hear them being played by the bands of today.”