Shin Joong Hyun – Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of South Korea’s Shin Joong Hyun, 1958-1974

January 01, 1970

(Light In The Attic)


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
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


DOWNLOAD: “The Man Who
Must Leave,” “Pushing Through the Fog,” “‘J’ Blues 72,” “I’ve Got Nothing to
Say,” “Why That Person?,” “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains.” CARL HANNI

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