The Other Side of Gary
Classic rocker Gary Lawyer says he’s ready to begin a new rock crusade again
Gary Lawyer’s your man if you’re in the mood for an evening of well-delivered Morrison numbers (he bristles at the word ”˜cover.” “If a western classical pianist does a Beethoven piece is that a cover?” he rants). He’s also the man who will face hard-assed I-Rockers who chew and spit out anything or anybody that doesn’t taste like metal and belt out ”˜Another Brick in the Wall’ in his signature tenor vocals as if it were his own hit. Mumbai audiences love the man. Maybe because they all know that he’s paid his dues.
This month, EMI Virgin releases a compilation of Lawyer’s music. He has had five releases till date: This Cannot Wait (his debut), High Standards (straying into jazz with Louis Banks), his breakthrough album The Other Side Of Dawn, Arrow in the Dust and Unbelong. It was the third album TOSOD with hits such as ”˜Nights on Fire’ that turned the spotlight onto Lawyer. “Most of my music is introspective and philosophical in nature,” he says. Several pirated ”˜Best of Gary’ have hit the stands but this latest release is the only original, says Lawyer showing us some some bootlegs. The compilation includes tracks such as ”˜Island of Dreams,’ ”˜Nights On Fire,’ ”˜Indian Summer,’ ”˜The Other Side of Dawn’ and a new track called ”˜Save The Tiger.’ Lawyer who has been following the campaign against poaching tigers closely for a long time decided to do his bit with the song. “Saving the tiger seems like a losing battle. What we don’t seem to realise is that extinction is forever,” he says, when we meet him at his South Mumbai residence.
Lawyer’s career unravels like a film plot. “I’m not like some band, which went into the bedroom and recorded eight songs and put it on the net. I’m really proud of what I’ve done till date,” says the singer. He did the round of clubs and theatres in America in the Eighties, before returning to settle in India. A record label producer in Mumbai happened to be at an audience where Lawyer performed by accident. “It was a friend’s show at Birla Auditorium and I was just asked to sing some Doors numbers during the interval. It was just my luck an EMI representative was in the audience,” says Lawyer, who was signed on immediately to record This Cannot Wait.
“My debut had the ”˜who’s who’ of the industry on it ”“ Karl Peters, Zubin [Balaporia], Ehsaan [Noorani]”¦ everybody. Who was releasing albums then? So musicians were only too happy to be a part of it. It was released only on tape and I was told it sold out.” Says Noorani, “His first album had a lot of soft country rock sort of music. I had just begun freelancing as a guitarist at studios and got a chance to do a lot of solos on the album, so that was good fun.”
The highpoint of his life, he tells us, has been recording The Other Side of Dawn in New York with a tight line-up of American musicians – Shawn Pelton (drums), Jeff Kay (guitar), Mike Stanzilis (bass) and Chris Bertoletti (keys), who was also the producer on the album.
“Shawn has just returned after touring with Sheryl Crow,” says Lawyer, who first recorded a demo and shipped it over to his brother-in-law who owned the Wish Studios on Broadway where Lawyer eventually recorded the album. “When Chris heard ”˜Nights on Fire,’ he said, ”˜If there’s more music like this on the album, then I want to be on it.’ Shawn came into the studio with a 20-snare drum-kit. When we were all in the studio together it was as if every cell in the body was responding to music. I was learning every hour that I was with them. The virtuosity and professionalism that they brought into the studio was amazing,” he reminisces. The album, he tells us, was heavily pirated and was a hot seller even in the Middle East. Although the singer regrets not being prepared to rough it out in the West and promote the album aggressively. “Maybe I was insecure. Maybe I had an inferiority complex. I felt it was all happening too soon,” he says. When he returned to India after spending ten months on TOSOD, videos for two tracks from the album ”“ ”˜Nights on Fire’ and ”˜Riding’ ”“ were on rapid rotation on MTV.
Lawyer was flooded with offers to sing advertising jingles and perform at concerts across the country, but was also weighed down by the fate of his next release Arrow in the Dust. The album was recorded with the same line-up of musicians as TOSOD but was released five years later because the label it was released on was embroiled in legal issues.
For his next release Unbelong, Lawyer fought the battle on his own. When the label could offer little more than its name on the inlay and its distribution network, he performed 10 shows for beverage company, Diageo, that finally shelled out the money needed to put the album out. “I had to pay musicians who worked on the album as well. It was hard work that went in there,” says Lawyer. Ex-Indus Creed guitarist Mahesh Tinaikar, one of the musicians on Unbelong says, “Gary sounds good across genres, but I personally like his vocals on ballads like ”˜Stars Become You’.”
Along the line Bollywood came knocking. But Lawyer has lent his vocals only to one track till date ”“ ”˜Road Pe’ in Ram Gopal Varma’s Road (2002). Composer Sandesh Sandilya persisted for two months and maintained that he would give up on the track unless it was sung by Lawyer. But the singer would rather stay out of Bollywood. His reasons are simple. “I have nothing against Bollywood but rock & roll doesn’t sound right in any other language but English, just like an aria just wouldn’t make the cut unless it’s in Italian.”
Perhaps his biggest setback, he admits, is his unbending attitude. “I’ve never been ambitious enough to give up my family and my routine. I want to be around my family and animals. I want my morning swim and my evening walk. I wanted success my way,” he says. Lawyer’s show-closer, which has always been Frank Sinatra’s ”˜My Way’ (“I’ve lived a life that’s full/I’ve travelled each and every highway/And more, much more than this/I did it my way”) pretty much epitomises the journey so far. “If you ask me now what my dream is I’d like to get those musicians back here and do a tour,” says Lawyer. “I want to be able to sit in my own house in Bombay and make an international hit happen.”