GODFATHER OF SOUTH KOREAN ROCK Shin Joong Hyun

A new anthology from Light In The Attic puts a much-deserves
spotlight on the guitarist and pop auteur. Check out some choice videos, below.

 

BY CARL
HANNI

The saga
of South Korea’s
Shin Joong Hyun encapsulates both the ebbs and tides of global pop music
culture over several decades and the socio/political fates of his own SE Asian
country. From struggling and starving artist to true pop culture phenomenon (he
was South Korea’s
first home-grown rock star, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s) to political
pariah and cultural has-been to elder statesman of Korean music with fans
around the globe, Hyun’s tale is remarkable from start to present.

 

Pulling
himself out of true poverty and hardship in post war Korea by sheer force of
will and an early gift for playing guitar, Hyun was one of hundreds of
thousands of youngsters around the globe captivated first by Elvis Presley and
other first generation rock & rollers, and then the pop culture tsunami
ushered in by The Beatles. Frequently playing on U.S.
military bases around Seoul, and with access to
the music played and available on the bases, Hyun quickly picked up on Motown
and Memphis
soul, jazz, the current hits of the day and eventually the world-wide
psychedelic explosion. Something of a sponge, he soon developed knack for
combining traditional Korean music with American and British sounds. He was, in
fact, the first Korean playing much of this, fronting a series of combos and
building a reputation as an ace guitar player.

 

Hyun
eventually branched out into composing, arranging and producing other acts, and
became much sought after as a master collaborator responsible for crafting hits
for any number of S. Korean acts. When stardom came his way, it came quickly
and definitively: “Shin Joong Hyun fever” took off in 1968 and rolled into the ‘70s,
with Hyun being the biggest thing going. The downward spiral came just as
quickly; his lovely number “Beautiful
Rivers and Mountains”
rubbed the South Korean powers that be the wrong way, and Hyun was suddenly
persona non-grata in the music business. He was eventually busted on a pot
charge, jailed, tortured, sent to a mental hospital, and suffered other
degradations. Jeez, all from a song called “Beautiful Rivers
and Mountains.” Touchy despots, those Koreans of the time.

 

Hyun
eventually found his way back to some sort of normalcy, but never regained his
reputation or fame. But, as things have a tendency to come back around, eventually
Koreans started to remember the Ga-yo (pop-rock) period of the ‘60s and
early ‘70s that he spearheaded, and not surprisingly his records have become
high $$$ items among collectors and fans of psychedelic and period-pop music. Hyun
still lives in Korea, still
plays music and got to play his first gig in the U.S.
in 2008. He’s also been honored with a special edition of guitar in his own
name by Fender, putting him in company with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff
Beck, Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

 

 

 

 

So, Light In The Attic is doing
us all a tremendous service by finally bringing a career-spanning collection
into the outside world for all to enjoy. Starting with the mono “Moon Watching”
(recorded with a single mic for the whole band) in 1958, and working through
some of his mid-‘70s productions, it presents a full picture of Hyun’s career
as a musician, song-writer, producer and talent scout and collaborator. Hyun
the guitar hero is showcased on the blues rock work-out “‘J’Blues 72” and the
hard rocking “I’ve Got Nothing to Say,” and psychedelic Hyun weighs in on
“Please Don’t Bother Me Anymore” (credited to Golden Grapes) and the spooky,
classic “The Man Who Must Leave” by Kim Sun, which sounds like the soundtrack
to a bad acid trip in a Kenneth Anger film.

 

Quite a bit of this is
straight-up pop that Hyun wrote, recorded, arranged, A&R’d and/or played on
for other acts, like Kim Jung Mi, Lee Jung Hwa, Jang Hyun and Park In Soo. It’s
all good, and I’m happy to have it all, but I could wish for a bit more Shin
Joong Hyun the frontman here – he’s actually only listed as the artist on 5 of
these 15 tracks.

 

But still, most of what’s here
is pretty great. The eerily propulsive “Push Through The Fog” by Jang Hyun is
remarkable, and the spunky “Why That Person?” by Bunny Girls hits all the right
moves. And the pastoral epic “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains” (edited at 10
minutes), the one that got him in so much trouble, is a beautiful, graceful
unwinding that transports us to those rivers and mountains.

 

Beautiful Rivers and
Mountains
comes with a substantial 32-page booklet detailing Shin Joong
Hyun’s life and career, with liner noted from archivist, collector and
DJ Kevin “Sipreano” Howes, plus individual track notes penned by Hyun himself. Generous amounts of photos and album
cover art puts faces and images to his life story. All together, this is a very
classy compilation, and an essential piece of the global puzzle of 20th century
music. 

 

 

 

Below,
check out some video and audio clips of Hyun in various incarnations.

 

 

Shin Joong Hyun & Yup Juns (circa 1975)

 

 

Shin Joong Hyun (live, latter years)

 

 


 

 

“The Woman In The Rain”

 

 

“Spring Rain” (circa 1970)

 

 

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