For a young Bal Kishore,who was born into a conservative Marwari family in the sleepy Clement town on the outskirts of Dehradun,childhood was all about the tactile ritual of slipping his parents vinyl discs on the gramophone. He and his mother would begin by flipping through the stack of records that was mostly filled up with 72 rpms sent by his Nashville-based aunt,finding the special one mostly that of George Jones,Charlie Pride and Willie Nelson slipping the cover off,placing it on the gramophone and then moving away a little to wait for the tune to reel out.
His father,a businessman who called him Kishi,would sway with him to Prides Just between you and me,a few years before Kishi started calling himself Bobby Cash (he says it has nothing to do with Johnny Cash) and became the toast of Army dos in Dehradun and around. The music was simple raw,had a variety of moods and was so similar to the folk tunes that I was listening to in and around Dehradun. It just seeped into me, says Cash,who then moved to Delhi and worked at Rodeo a club in Connaught Place known as much for its Mexican cuisine as for some interesting American country tunes. It was during a gig at Delhis Oberoi hotel where he was spotted by an Australian producer with ESPN,who eventually asked him to perform at the prestigious Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Cash went ahead and was loved by the audiences there,who were surprised by his voice that seemed right-out-of-a-Texas-farm,and incorporated elements of rural gospel music,ragtime,hillbilly and dixieland jazz. After regaling the audience in Australia,the US and all over,and with a host of country music albums to his credit,Cash is back in Delhi to perform at Double Tree by Hilton in Mayur Vihar today.
When I left India in early 2003,not many people knew country music.
Also,platforms for something different were few. Things have changed and now I know that you do not need a record label anymore. It is all about online distribution, says Cash.
He started off in Australia with busking in the streets of Tamworth in New South Wales and stunned people with his baritone,his guitar-playing and songs they thought only their people could perform well. What followed were opportunities that could not have been scripted better even if Cash tried. Those who came to his busking sessions soon converted to his brand of country music. The area got so crowded that on the fourth day,festival organisers moved him to a stage inside.
An Indian boy from the foothills of the Himalayas was at one of the best country music festivals in the world. I was referred to as the Indian cowboy. I felt like one of them a country singer, says Cash,who later recorded albums such as Cowboy at Heart ( including duets with popular singers Smoky Dawson and Tania Kernaghan),Phoenix to El Paso and
State of My Heart.
Cash now shuttles between Australia and Dehradun and says that he has always felt a kinship between Indian folk music and country music,so much so that some tunes sound so similar. American idiom of blues and Indian music sound similar in many ways. Maybe,because of various settlers who came to India years ago, says Cash.
India,however,is still home. His wife and kids live in Dehradun and he is helping them run a small school there. He plans to be in Dehradun for another year before he leaves for another Australian and American tour with his fiddle and mahogany Fender.