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."

Dan King is admin. and lead writer for www.BoundForGlory.net.

Views: 4393

Tags: Beatles, George, Harrison, Jones, Norah, Ravi, Shankar

Comment by Easy Ed on December 12, 2012 at 6:37am

Thanks for writing this Dan and sharing your memories this morning. Given your references, I'm probably about three or four years older than you and can remember my first time hearing the sitar. It was as unworldly as if a flying saucer had just landed. And when I first saw the instrument, it might as well have been a flying saucer. I got to see Ravi first with George Harrison at the Concert from Bangladesh (it's in spellcheck, so let's hope it's right) and later in a smaller venue...at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I can still remember that I was as struck as to how he held himself...so peaceful and composed...as I was with his playing. To many from our generation, the introduction to his music through the Beatles was also the introduction to meditation, spirituality, Eastern religions, philosophy, macrobiotic and organic food and on and on. We probably can even give Ravi and George some credit for today's obsessions with yoga classes and gluten free diets. Not to mention Nora Jones. So thanks again for the post and I thought I'd share some things I found in the interwebs you might enjoy seeing again:

Comment by Daniel T on December 12, 2012 at 10:51am

Good column Dan. Ravi Shankar was a master musician that took the Sitar to a new level and gave  a new sound to rock n roll. Sorry to read of his passing. I'm guessing he lived a very fulfilling 92 years on the planet.  Looks like I'll be digging out a few Raga's to listen to this afternoon in his memory. As for your Beatles problem, when younger, I had the exact opposite. Everyone around me was praising the Beatles. I couldn't stand them. What could thousands of screaming girls know about real music, right? Did change my opinion as I matured.

Comment by Steve Ford on December 12, 2012 at 5:32pm

Good one, Dan. I agree absolutely with Easy Ed - the Harrison-Shankar connection was big for our generation, socially and musically. More here - Guardian Obituary

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on December 12, 2012 at 7:20pm

This is wonderful Dan. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Comment by Dan King on December 13, 2012 at 11:23pm

Thanks for taking the time to read my recollections of Ravi Shankar and comment on them Ed, Daniel, Steve, and Kyla.

Oh, and by the way Ed, nice work, but it's  not fair to write a better article in the comments section than the one you just read. LOL! 

 

Comment by Easy Ed on December 14, 2012 at 4:05am

Thanks, but I don't think so. And I did forget this photo:

Comment by Miss Holly on December 14, 2012 at 5:52am

I celebrate the life of Ravi Shankar with a very special memory:  I was a freshman in college in central Ohio when one of the university's most progressive professors (and a family friend) invited me and a few other chosen students to a concert at the ultra-liberal school just a few miles away, Antioch College.  She promised it would be like nothing we had ever heard before.  And Oh! was she right!  The small auditorium was packed (no doubt the Antioch students were well apprised of the genius they were about to hear.)  Ravi and his amazing tabla player, Ali Akbar Khan, mesmerized the audience - we collectively held our breaths for minutes on end.  It may have been Shankar's first tour of the United States...it was certainly well before he met the Beatles.  But for those of us privileged to be there on that magical night, it changed our ears forever.  Forty-eight years later, I can still close my eyes and return to one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Comment by Ressie Walker on December 14, 2012 at 6:23am

Seeing the Bangladesh concert flyer triggered my first memories of Ravi Shankar.  One of my best friends in high school was a huge George Harrison (and so I became one as a result).  Obviously, Ravi was next, but I couldn't make the leap to what I heard as meandering, melody-less, atonal ragas=boring to a 15 y.o. interested in rock and funk.  Now, maaaaaany years later, I revel in the spiritual, soothing, multiplicity of notes; the polyrhythms of mystical praise.  Funny how time and experience shapes your musical ears.  Thank you Ravi for living long enough for me to catch up to you. 

Comment by DrMikey on December 14, 2012 at 9:12am

"Life flows on within you and without you."  I join kd lang in wishing a quick and positive rebirth for the maestro.  Jai Shri Krishna.

Comment by David E. Eisner on December 14, 2012 at 9:54am

To Margaret Paul Edwards: Great recollection on your hearing Ravi. Just a slight tweek to the ol'memory machine. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was the sarod player. On tablas, Ravi toured at the time with Ala Rakha the perfect complimentary tabla player (i.e. view the amazing closing scene of The Monterey Pop Festival 1967)  So...who was the Antioch prof? I would stop there on my way to exhibiting at The Society of Ethnomusicology yearly meetings. There was a jazz prof there that had formed a school band called Zebra. (mix of white and black jazz students) Antioch was the intellectual oasis in Ohio back in the day. Ravi once titled a composition "West eats Meat" as a poke at the overused fusion term! Love him and Anoushka and Norah! 

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.