In December of 1980, a friend from Rawalpindi excitedly relayed to me extremely important news: “A foreigner is selling a Gibson Les Paul Custom guitar!"
In those days no worth mentioning music equipment store existed in this ‘Land of the Pure’. One could not walk into the kinds of stores they had in New York or London that sold shiny guitars and powerful amplifiers of all shapes and sizes. All we had here were dilapidated family workshops that manufactured eastern instruments. Hence, young musicians took very seriously all fair-skinned diplomats and sun-tanned hippies who even hinted they were selling their instruments to deprived brown buyers.
“How much is he asking for the Les Paul?” I enquired.
“Six thousand Rupees, but nobody is willing to pay that much!” he stressed.
Master of the universe
By then I was young and permanently employed, and whatever energy I was left with after work went straight into music. I had by then my first electric guitar, a German Höfner 173ii purchased from John and David Lewis of a band called ‘Just Purple’ who played at the Inter-continental Hotel Lahore in the middle 1970s.
A tall Yamaha TA-90 guitar amplifier graced the corner of my one-room residence in the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad. I purchased this great piece-of-history from Subuk Majeed of a Karachi-based band named ‘21st Century’. I then bought an American acoustic guitar, Guild D-40, in 1980 from Manny’s Music on W48th Street.
|21st Century (keyboardist Subak Majeed & Yamaha TA-90)|
On almost daily basis I penned English lyrics and produced even more English-sounding melodies on the guitar. Writing was like combing my hair; it came naturally and totally lice-free. Only the closest friends got to hear my pop-rock ‘stuff’. I imagined my songs would one day reach the coveted number one spot on the pop charts.
Martial days, civil nights
Those were the unhappy Martial Law years of MIL-DIC (military dictator) General Zeeah Owl-Hawk. He applied no eye makeup, was unfamiliar with how to trim moustaches and had dropped onto the political scene to make an elected Prime Minister drop dead.
|Reagan with the 'Mujahideen' (Oval Office 1983)|
War was in the air, peace had taken a backseat, Art was being looked down upon, and the Reagan-sponsored militant mullahs were flying high. Citizens who ‘did not listen’ were being publically flogged by the government. Artists contemplated committing mass suicide at the pearly gates of the PTV (Pakistan Television) and Radio Pakistan. I preferred being wild in private than ending up being officially sanitised for being un-Islamic or something close to my true nature. Discotheques had already closed down and the dancers were mere scattered moths. After Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979, I felt it was silly to dance to martial music played during Pakistan Day and Defence Day parades.
|We'll give you democracy. Here!|
After work when I returned home, two guitars and an amplifier waited to be played and loved, much like two dotting children and a good wife. They did not beg, “Daddy take me to the playground” or “Honey, take me out for shopping”. They just wished to be played, and play I did for hours.
Being pure man-kind, I was only beginning to discover woman-kind without understanding what the fairy-tale benefits of having a regular wife really were. Looking at men and their wives scared me; they neither seemed to be on speaking terms nor held each other’s hands in public. Because life was good to me, the thought of marrying had not yet gnawed at my brain despite mother’s persistent efforts. Looking at my father, I knew I could be a stronger freedom-fighter than him after marrying. Owning a house was still a few years away but thanks to a disciplinarian and supportive father, I became a proud owner of Pakistan’s favourite car: Toyota Corolla.
|The neck designed to turn heads|
Spell of the Black Beauty
Back to the story now: the news of ‘a foreigner selling a Gibson guitar’ took me to the bank the very next morning where I asked beautiful Miss Yasmin, “What’s my balance like?” She could not help but smile at the double entendre. I could not be distracted by fair damsels who were not in distress. It was decided that one more guitar, especially a Gibson Les Paul Custom, would not bring financial ruin but rather great joy to this account-holder.
Using a real pen and paper I sought details about the guitar from the seller, Charles David Welch, a Political Officer at the U.S Embassy.
“It’s a Gibson Les Paul from the mid-1970s, black in colour, comes with a hard case and will cost Rupees 6,000”, he replied.
A bit windy in Pindi
The job entitlement entitled me to a free return air-ticket within Pakistan. I called David from the airport. The house-keeper revealed, “Sahib has just left for the airport for a flight to Karachi”. Unbelievable bad luck, I thought.
Since time was of the essence, the airlines counter-staff very kindly obliged me by making an announcement, “Mr. David, please contact the staff”.
Within a few minutes a lean and puzzled American emerged, “Yes? Who's looking for me?”
When I introduced myself, he would not believe I had flown all the way from Karachi just for the guitar. This actually went against me for he knew I wanted the guitar at any cost.
“Tell you what; I’m going off for a day. We could meet tomorrow”, said David.
|Charles David Welch|
The next afternoon I called David sahib again. “Sure thing, come on over to my place”, he said giving directions to School Road.
Waiting at the main door, I could hear the man-servant inform sahib about my arrival. Stevie Wonder's song, He’s Misstra Know-It-All, spun over a turntable connected to a powerful amplifier feeding a pair of tall hi-fi speakers. Sipping a drink, I found David in the living room. He placed the guitar case before me. With trembling hands I opened the lid to find over plush-lining, a 1974 model Les Paul asleep like a true ‘Black Beauty’. I touched her, she winked; I smiled and said in my heart, “Baby, you’re mine!”
In 1980, one American dollar was equivalent to ten Pakistani Rupees, the F-ghan Jee-had was in full swing and the Taliban were being fully funded by President Ronald Reagan’s administration. I suspected David played Stevie’s song just to clarify that there would not be any Pakistani-style discount and that ‘$600’ did not mean $599.95. He surely seemed like a ‘man with a plan’ who respected my teetotaller status when I politely refused a ‘drink’.
With six years of guitar playing experience under the belt, I inspected the ‘axe’ like an expert; there appeared to be no visible defect except the price. At precisely 6:45 p.m. on 2nd of March 1981, after parting with money equivalent to two months’ salary, I shot out of the diplomat’s house with Lady Gibson by my side.
Envious little boys
By mid-1981 I was federally entrenched as a capitalist in Islamabad. Good guitarist friends thought my Les Paul Custom was a ‘big deal’ but then there were intensely jealous souls to contend with. When I jammed (played guitar) with the latter, they showed envy by playing louder and faster than I did.
|God, give ME a Les Paul|
Then there was this skinny young man called Rohail Hyatt who came over just to look at my 'Black Beauty'; his band, Vital Signs would take five more years to form. The band, for reasons best known to them, have never admitted that I gave a two-bar intro bass lick to bassist Shahzad Hassan while Dil Dil Pakistan (at 00:29) was being created at Rohail’s Lal Kurti residence in Rawalpindi.
1981 to Orwellian 1984
Living in Islamabad I initially formed a band. The drummer, Naveed, for whom I brought a Tama Royal Star drum-kit all the way from Manny’s of New York, had the dangerous habit of holding his breath while drumming until he turned red. A quick pat on his back usually released the tension. We played a few shows at Taxila.
|1974 Les Paul Custom Reissue|
Then I down-sized to an oddly named duo: ‘Terry Billy Hurt’. We performed at fine restaurants such as Heer Ranjha (Super Market), Black Beard’s (F-7 Market) and Mr Chips. Initially I had Ali, a Bengali guitarist, playing with me but later keyboardist Nusrat Hussein (later with Vital Signs) joined me. I played mostly rhythm guitar in order to sing easily as a frontman but occasionally switched to lead guitar.
By 31st December 1982, I was using Nady Pro-49 wireless guitar system that allowed me to wow the audience. The lack of a long cable attached to an amplifier reminded them of eastern movies whose non-guitarist heroes never physically plugged into amplifiers.
|1974 Les Paul Custom Reissue (black & red)|
Money for something and kicks for free
As my job made me move to other cities, the Les Paul moved with me and starred on several studio recordings at my home-studio: Sound on Sound. I actually had the best of both worlds: generous job promotions fattened my bank account and bits of fame gladdened me.
Thanks to the internet, I rediscovered Charles David Welch recently. He finally struck gold. From being Misstra Know-It-All, David became Misstra Do-It-All. After reaching a high office in the U.S State Department under Condoleezza Rice and enjoying postings at key capitals within the Middle East, he resigned his post to work as President of Bechtel's three divisions. In 2000, this company partially owned the water utility in Bolivia. To watch the story of the combined greed of Bechtel and the World Bank, click HERE.
Getting my baby fixed
In the next article I will tell you about the emotional problems my Les Paul Custom guitar later had, how I got her treated by a psychiatrist under a couch, and reveal other confidential details. Until then, keep playing.
Read part-II of this article: Re-Fretting Gibson Les Paul Custom
Read more music-related articles HERE
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2017