In the late fifties, besides the Sri Maharani Ghazal, I can only remember one musical band that was in existence in Muar town. It was called Pemuda Jaya, consisting of a guitar player, a saxophonist, double bass player, drummer, bongo, accordion and the tambourine player. They were the most sought band for weddings and other social functions. However, the band performed mostly Malay songs and only a few English songs. The band had two famous female singers known as Dayang and Nandong. Whenever the Tanjung Club and the Padang Muar Club organized a dance party where western songs were preferred, they would invite bands from Malacca and sometime those from Kuala Lumpur. Most of the bands from Malacca were of the Portuguese and Filipino descents and the famous among them were the Solianos and Tres Bersaudara. The most famous Soliano was none other than Alfonso Soliano, a great musician and composer of the 50s and 60s. Once a week, they would be on air over Radio Malaya.
In the early fifties, Malay singers were a handful and the most famous were R. Azmi and Jasni Ahmad. Our legendary Tan Sri P. Ramlee was beginning to shine. We had quite a number of female singers like Aishah, Momok and Zaharah Agus. Somehow, these female singers had the same voice tone and whenever we heard them singing on the radio, we could not tell which was which. Later our female legendary Puan Sri Saloma joined the list. English singers too had their share of influence to our society and the most famous was Nat King Cole and Dean Martin. Most of my uncles would pretend to sing like Nat King Cole, singing with full emotion. Sometime while singing, they would close their eyes and they really thought they had their singing voices just like Nat King Cole. For the females singer, it was Doris Day but none of my aunties could sing well and I guess it would be better they had just kept quiet. When a new American singer named Elvis Presley with a new modern singing style came to the scene, it was about time Muar youth changed theirs too. They even emulate Elvis’ hair style and the sticky hair cream Yardley became a hit. This cream helped your bulging hair stayed put even when a hurricane passed by. When a British singer named Cliff Richard accompanied by a four piece band appeared in 1959 , many boys were excited and took no time to learn how to strum the guitar like The Shadows and sang like Cliff. With the appearance of Elvis and cliff, Muar town in the late fifties was beginning to experience a transformation, and one man was responsible.
Across the road of Jalan Majidee where my paternal grandmother lived, there lived a couple whose husband was an Assistant District Officer. They eventually became close to our family and the wife was a quiet young lady who hailed from the neighbouring district of Batu Pahat. She was so sweet and tender and we Malays termed it as ‘halus orangnya’. Because she was ‘halus orangnya’, all of us called her Cik Lus. Obviously the word ‘Lus’ is the short form for ‘Halus’. Very typical of Muarians of my time who would always create their own brand names of others to their convenience. Cik Lus had a nephew named Bakar Salim and during school holidays, he would cycle from Batu Pahat to stay with her aunt. It was from these frequent visits that Bakar became close to members of our family. Sometime in 1959, Bakar came to Muar town to study at the Day Training Center (DTC) situated not far away from my grandmother’s house. The DTC was a training center for would be teachers and it was quite near the Rest House within the Tanjung vicinity.
As Bakar Salim had no relatives in Muar town and her auntie Cik Lus had followed her husband who was then working in other district, we invited him to stay with us. The town of Batu Pahat during those days was thought to be more advance than Muar town as far as the entertainment scene was concerned. Muar town was sandwiched between Batu Pahat on the southern side while Malacca at the north. These two places offered the best entertainment outlets for night clubbing and many good musicians came from these two towns. For Muar town, we had only one outlet called The Grand Paradise. In spite of having just one entertainment outlet in town, the Grand Paradise however offered more than any other neighbouring outlets could. When the voluptuous strip teaser Rose Chan came to town, many men were suddenly showing their obedience and undivided loyalty to their wives during the day only to disappear at night for some very important meetings.
Being more advance than Muar town, Batu Pahat produced many talented youth who became good musicians and singers. The famous Batu Pahat musical band at that time was the Raunchy Boys who had a great lead guitarist named Buang. They had good singers too. I remember their famous singers were Sheikh Hassan and Sheikh Bakar, both could sing very well of songs of the Everly Brothers. They had a good female singer we all called Chik who had a husky voice.
Bakar Salim mixed with these group of talented youth of Batu Pahat and when he came to Muar town, there wasn’t any musical band except for Pemuda Jaya that was then thought to be out of trend. The western world was already swinging with the four piece The Shadows of Britain and The Ventures of America. It was now time that Muar boys produced their own four piece and it was Bakar Salim who mooted the idea. Together with three talented young boys, he formed a band called The Teenage Blues with him adopting the nom de plum of Bobby Cliff; His name Bakar became ‘Bobby’ and since he was very fond of Cliff Richard, the name ‘Cliff’ was added. The music scene of Muar town in the late 50s began to experience a musical transformation with Bobby Cliff and The Teenage Blues taking the lead.
Comprising Yem Cerut as the lead guitarist, Neng playing the bass, Arshad on the drums and Bobby Cliff himself as the rhythm guitarist as well as the group’s singer, they began practicing. As the bass guitar was still not available in Muar town, Neng played the bass with the huge double bass. Every time they had to practice, Neng had to carry the double bass onto his shoulder while cycling. They normally practiced at the garage of the government quarters across the road of my grandmother’s house. From then on, their group became the talk of the town and was now the most sought at most weddings and social functions. Whenever news of Bobby Cliff with his Teenage Blues were to perform in a musical show, tickets would be grabbed immediately. Young girls began to talk among themselves of a new singing sensation named Bobby Cliff. The band grew with new singers; Latif Frankie Avalon, Sahak Doktor and Bakar Nazaran became the manager of the band.
When Bobby Cliff sang Elvis’ Hound Dog and Jail House Rock, girls would scream to the top of their voices and Bobby returned with a cynical smile. Now he could get any girls he wanted for a steady because he had by now a long list of willing candidates. Everywhere he cycled, girls would stared and when he passed by some houses, heads would appear from every windows. At the DTC where he studied, female students would always ask him for some references on their subject matters rendering some male teachers envious of his popularity. Bobby Cliff could get any girls he wanted but there was one girl that made Bobby kneeled to his knees.
Not far away from the town mosque lived a beautiful young girl named Mariam (fictitious name). Of the long list of girls he had, Bobby was infatuated with her and she was definitely not in the list of “willing candidates”. Every time he asked Mariam for a date, she would reply with a cold shoulder. He made every effort to woo her but to no avail. One night at around 2am in the morning, Bobby brought his acoustic and cycled to Mariam’s house. Upon reaching the house, he sang a love song, serenading at the window where Mariam’s bedroom was. He kept singing to the top of his voice but the light in Mariam’s bedroom never seemed to light and the window too never seemed to move. Maybe Mariam was in bed covering her ears with the pillows. Well, I guess we cannot get the best of everything.
I called him Ayah Ko (Uncle Bakar) and it was from him that I became fascinated with the guitar. My cousin Ajis Mak Enggor was fortunate because Ayah Ko stayed in the house together with him and he could learn strumming the guitar faster. It was my cousin Ajis who then taught me playing the guitar and from then on, both of us would always play together and sang some duets. Later both of us would perform in some social functions. Ajis today is a well known guitarist in the country and respected by his contemporaries. I too had my share of popularity when the band I formed in later years became one of the famous bands in the country. Known as the Grim Preachers, we were the famous band that first introduced “underground music” in the local music industry of the early 70s. Thanks to Bobby Cliff.
Ayah Ko was a good man, of medium height and always neatly dressed. At home he would always be seen helping my auntie Pong with some of the house works. He would gladly go to the sundry shop to buy ingredients needed to cook for lunch. His good friend at home was my uncles Arshad and Fuad. Ayah Ko was a part of our family and was well liked by most of the family members.
It was the influence of Bobby Cliff and The Teenage Blues that musical bands mushroomed in Muar town. In the early 60s before the era of ‘Pop Yeh Yeh’, Muar town had already few bands that could match their western idols. We had names such as The Kool Kats, The White Devils, The Blue Jeans, The Dreamers and few others. When the ‘Pop Yeh Yeh’ arrived, we were ready and new groups too came into being. We then had the famous Les Flingers with Yahaya Kosai (arwah) as the lead guitarist. Yahaya was my second cousin and we often met during school hours at the Muar High School. After his secondary schooling, Yahaya joined the army but sadly he passed away at a very young age while undergoing a training. Another band that made it big was D’ Fictions with A. Halim as their lead singer.
There was one band that could never be erased from my memory bank. We called this band as The Pengs and The Gongs because the four of them were pendek (short) and gongak (all had their front teeth missing). How could I ever forget The Pengs and The Gongs. Only in Muar town we had them.