Johnny Guitar

Many years ago I had an argument with an old  friend of mine, about the fact that there was now also punk in China. I thought it was great that Chinese punks were touring and releasing records in Europe. In contrast my  friend would argue that once again Western cultural imperialism had prevailed, not leaving China a chance to develop a separate identity. He said that even the most rebellious punk musik is still only  the by-product of  much larger Western industries, that are destroying traditional, authentic cultures around the world. Even though we are the same age and both grew up with the same pop- and rock music, in this case we couldn´t see eye to eye.

I remembered this conversation, when reading one of Stuarts posts on his always amazing Radiodiffusion Internasionaal site recently. Without putting a label on it, my friend had taken up a stance similar to the one taken by many ethnomusicologists, who are searching for music that has not been contaminated by Western influences. Stuart introduces his article with the polemic question: “What do ethnomusicologists and Cultural Revolutions have in common?”  Answer: “They both hate rock´n´roll.”

He further argues that “Music is, and has always been, the product of cross pollination from the begging of time – back to the begging of civilization.  (…) And it’s those collisions of cultures that produce some of the most amazing music – at least to my ears. Only in the most totalitarian states has Western influences been shut out.”

He then illustrates his point by posting a record from North-Korea.

In the summer of 1999 my girlfriend and went on vacation in Thailand. We spent three very enjoyable and relaxing weeks at the beach on a hippie island. In fact this was the best vacation I ever had: nice people who never bother you, great food that is so healthy that you can´t even get fat from it and of course great beaches. A couple of days before our departure we took the train to Bangkok and stayed in the city. One day my girlfriend went to see the huge golden lying Buddha. I didn´t want to go with her, because I was determined to find some vinyl records. The owner of our hotel had told me that there were thrift-stores and record-stores in Chinatown. Sweating and nervous I fought my way through Bangkok , a city of 12-million people. The first record shop didn´t want to sell me anything at all. The second pointed me to a corner of the shop with Western music. I respected that, because it seemed that, except maybe for their own Thai culture, everything was for sale in Bangkok.  In the third store however, I was welcomed in a friendly manner by a young man. I remember that I was surprised that the store seemed to have multiple copies of a lot of old records that had never been played. When I asked if  I could listen to some of the records the young man, who didn´t speak English, motioned me to wait. An old Chinese lady wearing full make-up, a pinned-up hair-do, a  Kimono and a cigarette holder then played and sold me these records. I swear, this is how I bought these records.

This music is a fine example of the said cultural collision,  of traditional Thai music connecting with rock´n´roll. When I played this record at home,  my friend really liked it.

Johnny Guitar is a band. It has been featured on the first Thai Beat A Go Go compilation released by Subliminal Sounds and the Shadow Music Of Thailand compilation released by Sublime Frequencies. Radiodiffusion Internasionaal has written about Johnny Guitar and posted two tracks from the Johnny Guitar LP. I saw that LP in the Bangkok record shop but didn´t buy it because I only buy 45s. What an idiot I am! I´ll never see it again.

I always shied away from posting these records because I don´t know anything about these groups, nor when they were released. I don´t know Thai and even if  I´d taken the time to transcribe the Thai letters, I wouldn´t know how to put them into this article. But this record is puzzling in many ways. So I´m a little ashamed to simply give these songs numbers. Who is this couple and what is the meaning of  the hand signs? What´s the story behind the painting of the natives in the background? Maybe somebody can help.

Johnny Guitar, 1.

Johnny Guitar, 2.

Johnny Guitar, 3.

Johnny Guitar, 4.

For those knowing Thai, here´s the lyric sheets to the songs  that came with the record:

3 Comments on “Johnny Guitar”

  1. peter says:

    thanks so much for sharing these.. i have never heard these songs before, and didn’t even know johnny guitar had vocal songs!

    & happily, i can help you out with some info!
    here is the tracklist:
    A1: รำวงปีใหม่ (ram wong pi mai)
    A2: รักล้นฝั่งใจ (rak lon fang chai)
    A3: พายเรือหาฝั่ง (phai ruea ha fang)
    A4: รำวงร่วมใจ (ram wong ruam chai)

    i think the store you describe, with the stacks of unplayed records, is cathay records, where many famous thai singers actually recorded!

    as for the couple & their hand signs, they lead single here, “ram wong pi mai” is a dance tune for the thai new year. the “ramwong” in the title is a dance craze in thailand that began in the 40’s, and is characterized by the hand movements you see on the cover!

    you can find more info on the shadow music movement at this post at my site:

  2. peter says:

    oh, and as for the natives in the background.. pretty meaningless! the record label, lucky bamboo, was interested in the sort of “tiki culture” that was big back then, and that’s probably why they chose that image.

  3. mischalke04 says:

    Dear Peter,

    thank you very much for finally solving a lot of questions I´ve had for a long time. I knew your site before I wrote these posts but didn´t contact you, so double thanks for making the effort. This record puzzled me in particular and I´m glad to know more about it.
    I´ll update this article with the new info as soon as possible.

    Best wishes from Berlin

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