by Dan King
I must confess Ravi Shankar and I had a rocky relationship. It had nothing to do with his undeniable talent and virtuosity on his chosen instrument, the sitar. Instead it had everything to do with the visions of sugar plums dancing 'round my head when I was first introduced to him.
Flash back to the mid-60's. I as a young lad of about 11 had already begun dabbling in what was to become my life's passion by starting to play the guitar. My inspiration for doing so, like so many other young boys at the time, was the phenomena known as The Beatles. There was a magic to their music and aura that bit me from the moment I first experienced it. I was in second grade when my mother had brought home a copy of "Meet The Beatles" as a gift for me, and I can remember the other kids in second grade teasing me for liking the mop tops.
I paid them no mind.
During that time, mom and dad had a subscription to Life Magazine. It would come to the house in all it's full color glory via the US Mail and it was always an exciting day when the new issue arrived. I got to learn, through graphic photography, the horrors of the Vietnam war and every assassination and attempted assassination of politician and civic leader that took place during that era. The riots were covered, and show biz folks were too.
One day, as I recall, Life Magazine arrived with The Beatles guitarist George Harrison featured on the cover, along with a man holding a weird looking instrument with a funny name. The instrument was called a sitar and the gentleman holding it and playing it was Ravi Shankar. The accompanying verbiage explained that Mr. Harrison was taking sitar lessons from Mr. Shankar. As I was studying this and trying to take it all in, my mother said, "See, that'll be the next big thing now. Everybody will be playing those things instead of guitars"
"No way," thought I. I had already worn out and memorized an entire Fender guitar and amplifier catalog by thumbing through it and dreaming of owning those instruments. I was showing promise as a guitarist. My instructor had said so. Rock and roll and long hair and love and peace and screaming fans and adrenaline were what I craved. Not a goofy looking, uncomfortable gourdy thing played by a guy in his pajamas that sounded to my young ears like a swarm of mosquitos hopped up on a sugar buzz. Besides, I would never be able to transport a sitar on my Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle.
Well, as we all know, the sitar did make inroads into not only The Beatles music, but also into pop and country music as well via the electric sitar. Session guitar great Reggie Young played the electric sitar on many hit recordings of the day including BJ Thomas' "Hooked On A Feeling." However, the feared total takeover of the music world by Shankar's sound never did come to fruition and rock and roll was here to stay.
Ravi Shankar passed away today at the age of 92. His professional music career spanned 56 years of touring, composing, teaching, and recording. He has been the recipient of critical acclaim, and public adulation the world over and he also fathered the highly regarded sitar player Anoushka Shankar, and the eclectic and hugely successful singer/composer Norah Jones. But he may well be remembered most prominently in America for his affiliation with George Harrison and the effect it had on The Beatles' music as well as western pop music.
Rest in peace Ravi Shankar. In your lifetime you earned the respect of millions of people, including a young apprentice guitarist who grew up to become an aging hippie with a deep appreciation for the spiritual, the influential, and the exceptional.
George Harrison was right. Ravi Shankar is worthy of "Beatledom."