Penang Eurasian Musicians

Music, like the very air we breathe is an integral part of our lives and society. Whether we are actively pursuing a career in music or are simply music lovers it is unimaginable to live a life without music.

Penang has always boasted a long list of music greats from the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee, Ooi Eow Jin and the late Jimmy Boyle to the new breed of stars like the Alley Cats.

• maybe it’s the genes of the Penangite – it’s a known fact that if you are a good musician you would most probably have come from Penang
• maybe it’s the surrounding sea air that we breathe – islanders have always been known to be musically endowed
• maybe it’s the peace and tranquillity of the island that gives inspiration to our composers and musicians to write and play beautiful music
• maybe it’s the Nasi Kandar that enhances our vocal cords – check with David & Loga of the Alley Cats or Kathleen Rodrigues and Colleen Read on their diet. Unfortunately Zainal Alam is not   around to give his views on the “wonders” of Nasi Kandar

Whatever it may be, Penang has always had a reputation of producing many of the finest musicians, singers and composers in the country.

With all due respect to all the other musicians of Penang, this paper focuses and highlights the Eurasian musicians, singers and composers. – their roles, their achievements and their contribution to the music industry.

With this, nobody springs to mind first but one person – Jimmy Boyle, the late Jimmy Boyle.

James W Boyle AMN 1922 – 1971
Jimmy Boyle was born in Penang and educated at St. Xaviers Instituton where he returned as a teacher after graduating from the Raffles College in Singapore.

He was a well-known  Malaysian Jazz  musician  who  developed  his own style. He was  accepted as a Malaysian  Composer and  Arranger for the “Classical  Saxaphone  Quartet” of N.W. University USA and “Kansas City University Brass Ensemble”. His compositions and piano playing have been beamed throughout the world by the BBC and Voice Of America and commented favourably by top jazz critics like Jerry Muchigan. International jazz musicians like Charles Lloyd and Jack Teagarden (who played his songs) rated him highly.

For 25 of his 49 years Jimmy composed, arranged, played and recorded his music for National and State functions, for radio and television, for schools and associations and night-clubs. He was also a judge of Malaysian Tune Writing and Radio Singing Contests since 1958.

He composed the first Malaysian Jamboree song “Kemegahan Negara Ku” which was played at midnight on the birth of Malaysia in 1963. His proudest moment came on 31 August 1957 when Merdeka was proclaimed at Kuala Lumpur. The “Negara Ku” was not ready yet and when the first Malaysian flag was raised it was to one of Jimmy’s tunes. (Taken from New Straits Times – 11 May 71)

Among his notable compositions were: “Putera Puteri”, “Ingat Ingat”, “Jauh Jauh”, “Rayuan Mesra”, or “Melody Of Love”, “Api Dan Air”, “Bunga Negara”, “Megah Rasa”, “Chendering”, “Tepi Pantai”, “Berdendang Ria”, “Sang Bayu”, “Ke-Hulu Ke-Hilir”, “Pantun Melayu”, “Gemaran Bulan”, “Bertugas”, and “Sungai Pahang”.

Jimmy Boyle had always been proud of being a Malaysian and through his music he had hoped to perpetuate the soul and spirit of his country and it’s people.

A national song on the Rukunegara is one of several unpublished works left behind by Jimmy. A State anthem for Penang and scores of beautiful Malaysian melodies were among other legacies that his family had discovered in Jimmy’s treasure chest. One week before his fatal heart attack he had submitted his Rukunegara piece (his last composition) to Radio Malaysia in the hope that singing it would help bring together the various races in the country.

The late Jimmy Boyle whose work and devotion to music commanded high respect from many, among those Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie who at that time was Minister with Special Functions and Minister Of Information.

Quote:- “This country has certainly lost one of her talented sons in music, culture and sports and one who was dedicated to the programme of nation building. His contribution to the world of music in this country is phenomenal and now that Jimmy is no more with us I hope that young people in this country would be inspired by his work and devotion to nation building through music.” (Taken from Straits Echo – 13 May 1971)

Jimmy Boyle by far is the foremost jazz pianist/composer this country has produced. A man whose vision and music abilities were years ahead of his time should today be a source of inspiration for all our musicians. Unfortunately not many people are aware that this great man had written so much good music and yes, many have not even heard of him or his music. We, Kathleen Rodrigues, John Lim, Lee Chong Heen, Colleen Read and James Rozells and a host of other musicians at the Rozells Country & Western and Oldies Pub hope to promote Jimmy Boyle’s music to the public so that his beautiful music will live on forever.

The late Jimmy Boyle and his music had a tremendous influence and impact on many of his fellow musicians in Penang. Playing alongside this great musician always brought a sense of pride and honour to any musician. Any musician you talk to who had the opportunity to play or sing with Jimmy Boyle would always talk in awe of the man’s music and ability. The memory of this man and his music moves so many in so many different ways and it inspires many to go out of their way to preserve the legend of Jimmy Boyle and his music.

Larry Rodrigues
“Lead Guitarist for Jimmy Boyle”
Better known by many as Uncle Larry, he was by far one of the leading jazz guitarists in the country. Started playing with Jimmy Boyle in the 40’s at the Runnymede, Sandycroft and the Penang Club for more than 20 years. After the death of Jimmy Boyle, Larry led the band with Steve (Rozells) Ooi on piano, and continued performing at the Penang Club until he had a stroke while performing at the club in 1981. All through the years, Larry Rodrigues thrilled audiences in pubs, hotels and clubs with his style of playing and till today many guitarists still remember and marvel at the guitar playing style of Larry Rodrigues. Larry always had an eager following of budding guitarists and one of Larry’s many promising proteges was the very well known and talented lead guitarist, the late Teddy Beh. Uncle Larry also made numerous recordings with Radio Malaysia where he played many of Jimmy Boyle’s compositions. Larry’s proudest musical moment was when the great American jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd performed in Penang in the 70’s and invited Larry to jam with him.

Rudy Baum
“Penang’s Father Of Country Music”
Started singing and yodelling at age 14 after the war. Rudy sang for Redifussion and did several recordings for Radio Malaysia after winning a few singing talentimes. Rudy and his band “The Country Lads” comprising younger brother George Baum, Ralph & Bonnie Jeremiah were the top and most sought after Country & Western group at that time. Today, 57 years later, strains of Frankie Laine’s “Mule Train” can still be heard from Rudy, now age 71, who still sings and yodels at private functions and parties. Lest we forget the tradition of the Baum family and their yodelling prowess, we are inspired by the fact that daughter Michelle, who is similarly inclined, will continue to maintain the family skills at yodelling.

Joe Rozells : – The King Of The Hawaiian Guitar.
Joe Rozells and his Hawaiian Palm Beach Boys were the top Hawaiian band from the 50’s to the late 60’s. Patrons of The Green Parrot, Springtide, Chusan Nightclub and Shanghai Restaurant would fondly remember Joe Rozells and his Hawaiian music. They were the most sought after Hawaiian band then for dances, parties, and shows. Among the song birds that sang with Joe when he started was his lovely wife Stephanie and 17 year old daughter Priscilla. Over the years Joe Rozells did numerous Hawaiian recordings for Radio Malaysia in Penang and also T.V. shows for T.V. Malaysia in K.L. Joe Rozells was always the inspiration for many budding Hawaiian guitarists, for example Edwin Rajamoney, who picked up the instrument and carried on playing Hawaiian music in Penang for another two decades after his passing in 1970. Apart from leading the most popular Hawaiian band in those days, Joe Rozells is fondly remembered by many musicians today as the “father” who provided them a platform to launch their individual music careers.

Musicians Who Started Or Played With Joe Rozells & His Band

Drums: Spencer Rangel George D’Almeida
William Scully Douglas DeSouza
Guitar: Peter Rozells Leander Jeremiah
Patrick Daniel Jimmy (Rozells) Ooi
Vocals: Colleen Read Kathleen Rodrigues
Ruby Rozells Bertie Limuco
Stanley D’Almeida
Ukulele : George Baum Noel (Bull) Remedios
Bass : Ralph Jeremiah Horace Olivero
Leslie Scully
Piano: Bertie Limuco

Stanley D’Almeida :- Guitarist / Singer
Stanley was probably the finest singer of Hawaiian songs who performed at the renowned “City Lights” and “Green Parrot”. Not only a fine singer he also had a reputation as being one of the finest guitarists in the country.

Spencer Rangel : – Drummer / Guitarist
Started playing drums for Joe Rozells from 1955 to 1960. Joined Edwin Rajamoney & Island Rhythmics from 1960 to 1970. Performed at the Casuarina Beach Hotel in 1975, at the Ship in 1985 and from then on with D’Serenades with Edmond Prior and William Scully at the Park Royal Hotel till today. A music career spanning 47 years.

Max Fletcher : – Bass / Ukulele
Started playing for Jimmy Boyle in late 40’s. Not only did he play the bass in the band, Max was also a skilful ukulele, clarinet and saxophone player.

James Symons: – Drums
James was the original drummer for Jimmy Boyle in the late 40’s.

Andy Costello:- Singer
Andy who now resides in the USA sang in Jimmy Boyle’s band in the late 40’s.

William Scully:- Saxophone / Drums / Bass
Started playing drums at age 17 in Joe Rozells band. Played drums and saxophone with Edwin Rajamoney & Island Rhythmics from 1965. Played saxophone with In-Jazz Quartet and The Jazzocrats at a few top hotels for many years. William now in his late fifties plays bass for D’Serenades at the Penang Park Royal Hotel.

Douglas DeSouza:- Drums
A very competent drummer Dougie played drums for Joe Rozells and also for Malaysian trumpeter Syed Agil. Performed a few years in Bangkok before returning to Malaysia where he still now performs in K.L.

John (Scully) Lim
Arguably the most versatile, gifted and talented musician in Penang. John, a self taught musician excels in any musical instrument he chooses to play. John is known by far as one of the most accomplished jazz guitarist in the country. John also plays country & western pedal steel guitar which was also self taught. He now performs on the keyboards where he does gigs and private functions.

Leo Aeria
Popular saxophone player who performed at “City Lights”

The Songbirds Of Penang

Bonnie Jeremiah
Bonnie started playing bass in 1958 at age 12 with a band called “The Pinheads” comprising Ralph Reutens, Homer Jeremiah and George Baum. Learned his trade and by the time 1969 came, performed in Bangkok for 3 years before returning to Penang in 1972. In 1974 it was off to K.L. where he spent 16 years with various bands performing in most of the top hotels. In 1991 it was back to Penang where he joined country band the Color Phases and performed in the hotels for many years. A renowned bass guitarist of immense talent and an accomplished country singer, Bonnie Jeremiah is very highly respected in the Malaysian music circle.

Frankie Rozells
Frankie Rozells, the eldest son of Joe Rozells is surely one of the most proficient guitarists from Penang. Started playing in Penang in the 60’s with the well-known band, “The Equinox” he later moved to Thailand where he spent more than 20 years playing in top clubs and hotels in Pattaya and Bangkok. Returned to Malaysia in the 90’s where he performed in various top hotels and solo stints in the pubs and clubs in Penang. Frankie is now back in Thailand where he still performs in one of the top clubs in Bangkok.

George Baum
Dubbed the “Kenny Rogers” of Malaysia, George will always capture an audience with his fine brand of country & western music. Good country vocals and clean country guitar is George’s forte. He spent about 8 years in Thailand from 1969 playing with a host of other Malaysian musicians like Tony Perkins, Harold and Colin Capel, Ooi Eow Jin and Saloma, all from Penang. Came back to Malaysia in 1977 where he performed in K.L. for a while before returning to Penang where he performed with the Color Phases at the Rasa Sayang and Golden Sands Resort. George presently solo, sings country & western at the Liverpool Bar in Penang.

Colin & Harold Capel
Spent many years in Thailand playing music with famed Malaysian musicians in some of the top hotels in Bangkok. After over 40 years, still playing and performing in top nightspots in K.L.

Virgil Reutens
Penang born Virgil Reutens has put Penang on the country & western world map by winning the Country & Western Gum Leaf Championship 6 years running.

The Music Of Today

Edmond Prior
Started his singing career in 1977 in the Crazy Horse Saloon and the Welsh Dragon Pub. Recorded an album under WEA in 1984 after winning a local talent competition. Started performing in various top hotels in Penang in 1985 till today where he sings at the Penang Park Royal with William Scully and Spencer Rangel. Edmond is widely known as the Johnny Mathis of Penang.

Casey (D’Almeida) Subramaniam
Top recording artiste Casey, with already 2 hit albums that topped the charts in Malaysia is the son of Christina D’Almeida and grandson of famed guitarist Stanley D’Almeida. He played bass for many top Malaysian bands including “Asia Beat”, and is now presently with “The Big Band” performing in Kuching.

Rozells Country & Western And Oldies Pub
Situated in Tanjong Bungah, “Rozells” is probably the only pub in the country that specializes only in country & western music and the old songs. Idyllically set by the sea it brings back fond memories of places like Springtide and the Green Parrot. It is owned and managed by two enterprising Eurasians, Kathleen Rodrigues and James Rozells who incidentally also sing and perform there. It is the place to go for good music, where ambience is just about perfect and the patrons just about the most fun loving and friendly people around. The music and the songs and even the old photographs that are displayed there bring back fond memories and nostalgia to the Penangite. Many patrons and customers have dubbed “Rozells” and it’s owners as “The Living Music Heritage Of Penang”.

Clair Rozells
Probably the most promising Eurasian hope for the future. Clair, daughter of James Rozells started her singing career in 1999 at the Flying Club, Sheraton Hotel Penang with Ronny of the famed Sweet September Band. Experienced a short stint with a 7-piece show band in East Malaysia before returning to K.L. where she sang with Richard Hoon for functions. Back in Penang now Clair sings with Freddie Chin at the Flying Club. Being the most talented and sought after budding singer in Penang now, Clair Rozells carries the hope and future of the rich Eurasian music heritage of Penang.

In concluding this paper, may I suggest to the members of the community represented by the Penang Eurasian Association to make a commitment to revive the dwindling numbers of Eurasian musicians and singers in Penang through the establishment of music schools and programmes which will encourage young musicians to take on music as a professional career.

To the young Eurasians, for example Christopher (Rodrigues) Estrop, Darrin Rozells, and especially the descendants of the great musicians that we have mentioned in our paper who are embarking on their music careers now, we urge you to take advantage of your natural talent acquired from your family heritage, and partake in your personal musical growth and development, not only in current music trends but also in the good old oldies.

In addition, we would like to appeal to the State Government, relevant Government authorities, and the Penang Heritage Trust to encourage the music profession so that it will become a viable and profitable professional career for generations to come. One step in this direction would be to promote the employment of local Penang musicians in our rich Penang entertainment outlets rather than employ foreigners who would naturally not reflect the music heritage of Penang.

 James A Rozells & Kathleen Rodrigues