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Fusion Guitarist John Anthony of Karnatriix Dead at 62

The Kerala-based guitar ace, among the first to play Carnatic guitar, suffered a heart attack

Anurag Tagat Jan 20, 2019

Kerala guitarist John Anthony in a promo photo for rock band Lazie Bison. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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John Anthony, a veteran guitarist best known for his work in Kerala rock bands, the Malayalam and Tamil film music field and campaigner for socially conscious causes like eco preservation, died late on Saturday night. Band members of Anthony’s multinational rock project, Lazie Bison, confirmed that the guitarist-composer died of a heart attack.

A performer, teacher and mentor in the music circuit for over 30 years, the Pune-born guitarist set up base in Kochi and Chennai, spending most of his recent years in Thiruvananthapuram, where he not only became part of bands such as The Stone Age and Hijackers, but also worked with the likes of violinist L. Shankar, Sivamani and A.R. Rahman. With over 2,500 shows performed over the decades, the guitarist was part of many ensembles and projects that led him to perform around the globe.

Around 2004, the recently formed world/fusion band Karnatriix became Anthony’s focus. They released their first album Namaste via Virgin EMI India in 2008 and the guitarist’s collaboration-friendly collective went on to include everyone from Tamilian percussionist Darbuka Siva to sarangi artist Faiyaz Khan and tabla player Muthukumar.

Essentially known for a Carnatic style of playing on guitar ”“ one that influenced the region’s next generation of fusion axemen such as Baiju Dharmajan and Rex Vijayan ”“ Anthony said in interviews that he was never classically trained in Carnatic music, but was an ardent listener of work that ranged from the albums of guitar legend Carlos Santana as well as kritis by Saint Thyagaraja. He told Times of India in 2017, “I am not trained in Carnatic music and I don’t perform as a pure classical musician. What I use is my experience and musical harmony.”

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The guitarist wasn’t always playing for the music, but often for a cause. From his No More Bhopals campaign for environmental justice in the early 2000s to promoting cleanliness in Southern Railways and launching the Kadamma Music Outreach Program in 2016 for environmental awareness. “This is not a lecture on environmental protection but a celebration of our forests and rivers with music,” he told Rolling Stone India in an interview about the project.

Anthony’s most recent involvement in a rock project outside of his commercial work was Lazie Bison, which included members from Sweden, Canada and Kerala rock band Lazie Bison. The band’s guitarist Jay Pillai said in a statement recalling their most recent performance at live video performance show The Autumn Leaf Big Stage, “Devastated to say that legendary guitarist John Anthony who was Lazie J and Lazie Bison main axeman is no more [”¦] unbelievable! That I am conveying this news to our friends, hoping all in his family find courage and strength to stand this huge loss. He was a true pioneer with a huge legacy built with exceptional talent and relentless hard work. Standing by his memories, I just can say it was a huge honor to share a stage and co create few songs with him.”

Watch a 2015 retrospective interview with John Anthony below.

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