Can you play Hotel Carlifonia? (note distinct Mallu accent). I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been asked that question. But as a kid growing up in some obscure village (Ambalamugal to be precise) in God’s own Kerala, this song, unknown to me, had already entered my very soul.
My earliest memory of ‘HC’ is of playing air guitar to the lead: This was the late70’s. My dad had got my elder brother an electric guitar and the first song he had to learn was this mother. The entire neighborhood was infected with it as a result of that learning process.
Could The Eagles have ever imagined how far the song would go when they wrote it or how big an entity they were creating? One that would set musicians all over the world in search of that Holy Grail – to nail that solo! It took two of them to write that darn thing alone! And then there’s the song itself. What the heck is it about? (We even tried listening to it backwards on the old spool tape players we had back then!)
Strangely enough we got to play this very song at the Malayalee Thattukada gig last week. (What? TAAQ?? Playing the cover of all covers?)
Well, let me tell you that it was a revelation for me as well. It was a special request by a 15 year old called Mandara, who wanted to sing it. And her dad (an airline pilot btw), who’d seen us play at Zero G and the TULL gig and whose party it was, who’s dream it was to play the drums with a ‘real’ rock band.
So, there we were. On Stage. Playing the first notes of the opening chords…I looked back and there instead of Rajeev I see Captain Nagaraj at the drums, focusing straight ahead like he was doing some mental calculations about wind speed, distance and whatever else passes through a Pilots’ mind before take off.
Now this is not a song we’ve practiced often as a band to say the least, but all of us there had logged in our hours with the song. 15 to 40 being the age span. We played it with David helping Mandara on with the vocal bits and Captain really taking off into the groove. Off stage I could see Rajeev grinning widely and grooving with us. By the time we hit the solo, which Bruce totally nailed, I was flying! Therein, I realized, had come true, a forgotten childhood dream of mine as well – to play with a band that could get this song right!
Under the Covers…
On the way back David and I were talking about the gig and music in general. David’s probably played HC more than all of us with the experience he’s had with playing covers.
Why do we have this thing against playing covers?
One line of thought that nobody takes into account when playing covers is the whole copyrights issue – have you got permission of the rightful owners of the song before playing it for your own profit?!? Can we get sued for playing that song (even the way we did!)?
So, how does an Indian musician with ‘a rich cultural and musical heritage’, speaking and thinking in English play a rocking version of Hotel California (and get a visa to the US `;~)?!?
In Western and Indian Classical music, anything worth composing has already been done. Anyone wishing to prove a point has to first show mastery over what already exists and that it self takes a life time for most of the great performers to achieve. That’s playing covers, the way I see it.
So what can we gain by playing covers? I know Bruce has to get it just so or NO! So learning a song like HC is essential training then for any guitar player? IS there any guitar player out there who’s not heard HC or tried to learn it?
Personally, learning to play this song seems to have given me purpose in life! Playing it over and over, in all sorts of bands and circumstances, through the musical adventure that got me thru school and college. And then some 20 years later, to last week, to answer that question…
Can you play Hotel California?
Ps: There is an actual version of Hotel Keralafonia floating around somewhere. I got it as a fwd once. If anyone has it please to kindly oblige and put it up here. It’s super funny.