Extra! Korea

July 22, 2010

Who’s Shin Jung-hyun and why can he speak with authority about Korean music?

Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 2:47 pm

You might recall this post, which had this quote:

Veteran rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Shin Jung-hyun said in a recent interview, “There is no real music on Korea’s pop music scene these days. There is only greed.”

So who is this Shin Jung-hyun, and what gives him the right to talk about the Korean music scene like that?

Well, he’s one of only about a dozen guitarists to be honoured by guitar company Fender with his own guitar. This list includes all-time greats like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton, and he is the first Asian to be so honoured. If you’d like to hear his innovative songwriting and playing, listen to the video below. (Hat Tip to commenter milton, who was responding to an excellent article about Korean culture and creativity, by the way.)


Can you hear distinctive Korean flavours? I can. (I can’t describe or put my finger on it, but I can hear it.)

What was his era, and who were his contemporaries? The following snippet comes from a blog post about the reason that K-pop acts like Rain have so much trouble breaking into the American music scene is because there is nothing distinctively Korean about them save for their lyrics.

Korea had a great music scene in the 1970s, with performers such as Shin Jung-hyun, Sanulim and Yang Byun-jip, as well as all the folk singers.

OK, but let’s go further back in time, to the beginning of his story, courtesy of Mark Russell, author of the book “Pop Goes Korea” and of the “Korean Pop Wars” blog.

At night, in between, and any chance he got, he taught himself guitar.

Soon Shin was good enough at the guitar to find work teaching at a music institute in Jongno, the center of old Seoul. His reputation grew quickly, and someone suggested he audition to play for the U.S. Eighth Army.

In 1957, he started playing rock music for U.S. Army bases (under the name “Jackie Shin”), where he would continue for ten years. The American Army circuit was a godsend for musicians then, with plenty of clubs (jazz standards for the officers clubs, more country music for the NCOs, and rock for the enlisted men) and decent pay.
Asked to write a song glorifying then-president Park Chung Hee, Shin refused… Soon after, police officers and government agents began following and harassing him.

“The American bases are where Korean rock developed,” Shin says. “At the time, Korean clubs only played ‘trot,’ tango, music like that.” Shin still remembers the music he most liked to play then: “Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle,’ Duane Eddy’s ‘40 Miles of Bad Road.’” He was a big fan of Elvis, and after seeing the movie Love Me Tender, Shin bought a denim jacket and practiced shaking his legs and playing like the King. “But I could never get it right,” he says. “I was very disappointed in myself.”

Gradually, rock music spread from the army bases to the rest of Korea. In 1961, Shin formed Korea’s first rock band, Add 4, but Korea still was not ready to embrace the rock sound.

Mainstream success eluded him until 1968 when he produced an album for two high school girls who called themselves The Pearl Sisters. That album, Nima, was a huge hit, and soon made Shin a star, too. Over the next seven years, Shin and the singers he produced released many hit records, usually with his signature “fuzzy” guitar style, spacey organ sounds, and a healthy dose of the psychedelic.

In 1972, near the peak of his fame, however, he received “the phone call”—it was the president’s office on the line. Asked to write a song glorifying then-president Park Chung Hee, Shin refused.

And that was the beginning of the end. The government of Park Chung-hee harassed, arrested, and banned him from performing. By the time the ban was lifted, with the passing of President Park, the music scene was being taken over by government-approved disco, trot, pop music, and ballads.

It was all, ‘Let’s work hard,’ and ‘Let’s be happy’ kind of stuff,” Shin says, with a soft, matter-of-fact bitterness. “It was completely physical, with no spirit, no mentality, no humanity.”

Sounds familiar, huh? Replace “Let’s work hard,” and “Let’s be happy,” with “I love you,” “I miss you,” and “Yo yo yo, I hip-hop styyyle,” and the words would ring completely true today.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Korean Rock” Shin Joong-hyun Filed under: music — extrakorea @ 9:32 pm Remember Shin Jung-hyun (Shin Joong-hyun)? The Joongang Daily had an interview with him about the custom-made guitar that […]

    Pingback by Interview with “Godfather of Korean Rock” Shin Joong-hyun « Extra! Korea — August 2, 2010 @ 9:32 pm


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