IT IS WITH KEEN INTEREST that I have been following the
flurry created by teenage guitarists
Zoe McCulloch and
in the knowledge that the future and propagation of Shadows-style
instrumentals is guaranteed on both sides of the Channel.
While instro buffs Down Under bathe in the past international glories of
The Atlantics, gingerly claim the now Perth based Hank as ‘one of their
own’ and revel in the current success of heavyweights
Tommy Emmanuel and
Keith Urban, our guitar instrumental future may well be packaged in the
diminutive form of one VJ King Jr, a Shadows and Blues virtuoso… well
almost… at the tender age of eight!
My first encounter with young VJ was in late June 2001 at a Sunday
afternoon barbecue hosted by Rob Amos, former lead guitarist with The
Comets, a five nights a week working Cliff & The Shads inspired band,
hailing from Newcastle [Australia] during the early 60s.
Picking up the guitar after a thirty-five year hiatus, Rob was
rediscovering his chops with the assistance of tutor Peter Andrews when my
favourite Shadows influenced guitarist, Max Paton (the closest thing to
‘the man himself’ this side of Ronnie Gustaffson and Phil Kelly)
introduced me to the former Comet, who was on the lookout for a studio
where he could whip the ‘UB Hank Band’ into shape.
As a fifteen year old, my Saturday nights were spent at The Lindfield
Masonic Hall Stomp, home of The Telstars. To describe the influence this
group had on me would be next to impossible, so imagine my surprise at the
revelation that Peter, Rob’s guitar teacher, was a former member of the
Conversation eventually turned to one of Peter’s other students, Victor
James Hocking Jr (aka VJ King Jr), an amazing eight-year old guitarist who
had already recorded his first album, Shadow Of A Dream, won numerous
talent quests and made several extremely confident big-stage appearances.
Initially I was sceptical of the claims made regarding the youngster’s
talents. But any doubts were laid to rest on that Sunday afternoon. The
diminutive blonde, mop-topped Disneyesque character strapped on a
Stratocaster that absolutely dwarfed him, dialled in a rich tone on a
Fender Concert amp that literally towered over him, and proceeded to blaze
away over backing tracks from his album with the feel and touch of a
Stage fright and nerves are not a part of VJ’s psyche, with the podium
under his complete control for every moment of his engaging performances.
His mentor Peter accompanies him, continually encouraging his charge with
a smile and frequent acknowledging nods of “well done.” The addition of
his very sympathetic and tasteful rhythm guitar to proceedings
demonstrated that the fifteen years he spent in the British Isles working
with former pop idols, including Ben E King, Helen Shapiro and Craig
Douglas (Number 1 hit, ‘Time’) on the gruelling cabaret circuit had done
no harm to his enviable expertise.
As the pair casually whipped through several of Peter’s compositions
including the chromatically challenging “Howdy Hank”, a couple of Latin
influenced numbers, and a stirring "Rise & Fall Of Flingel Bunt”,
comparisons with Tommy Emmanuel’s style were not misplaced – Tommy, by the
way, has written to VJ, giving his wholehearted support and encouragement,
predicting an incredible future for the young performer. The additional
accolades bestowed upon him by this country’s Number 1 radio broadcaster
Alan Jones will also go a long way in assisting the future of this fast
I noticed the smile on the faces of our hosts Rob and his wife Gabrielle,
proud of the contribution they had made that afternoon in introducing the
young guitarist to an ever-growing circle of admirers, which on this
occasion included members of
The Atlantics. They, along with the rest of
us, were held spellbound by the virtuosity and confidence that VJ exuded.
On completing his set, he nonchalantly ran off to play with Oscar (the
family dog) around the backyard. Polite and respectful to a fault, not a
trace of ego and completely oblivious to the looks of shock and disbelief
left on the faces of the assembled congregation, many of them life-long
I was immediately taken back to an experience I had in 1974 when I was
fortunate enough to meet and jam with a very youthful Angus Young. While
their personalities are diametrically opposed, both the AC/DC lynchpin
(who absolutely loathed
Shadows and Surf inspired instrumental music) and VJ display that rare,
enviable combination of exuberance, confidence and unbridled talent,
essential ingredients for big success in any field.
Talking to VJ’s Mum and Dad during the course of the afternoon it was
obvious that they are not, and have no intention of becoming, overbearing
stage parents. Nevertheless, they do want to be able to give the correct
guidance and provide the opportunities that VJ’s unique talent deserves.
The plan is to augment the invaluable contributions already made by Peter
and introduce their offspring to as many potential role models as
possible, while carefully monitoring the number of public performances he
gives in any one year.
“It’s a two-edged sword” muses VJ Sr, “too many performances, and you
sacrifice essential lessons and practice time, for rehearsals. . . while
too few performances, and you sacrifice incentive and reward, for the
developmental grind of daily practice.”
VJ’s impish charm will undoubtedly make him a media magnet and, coupled
with his undeniable musical abilities, trying to keep the lid on this
potential juggernaut is going to be a full time job. Add to this mix,
managing the bubbling career of his 14-year old sister,
King (who is receiving similar accolades for her powerful ‘Broadway’-style
vocal abilities) and you realise this is one set of parents with their
work cut out for them!
In Australia, at least, there are going to be inevitable comparisons made
with Nathan Cavaleri who came to our attention during the early ‘90s at
age 11, with pentatonic prowess credentialed by none other than
So where to now? It’s almost a year since the flame was extinguished at
Rob and Gabbi’s Sunday barbecue; and, at the ripe old age of ten, four
years have elapsed since VJ first took an interest in the guitar. It was a
fascination generated after witnessing Aussie country music star,
Lee Kernaghan, in concert, and cemented with the gift of a Shadows Tablature
Book on his seventh birthday.
Plans are afoot for the youngster to do a showcase gig at Sydney’s
Basement, a Jazz, Blues and Funk club synonymous with the best
on offer and has in recent times given guitarists
Allan Holdsworth and
Frank Gambale. High powered company indeed!
Sunday, May 19th 2002. I am on my third coffee for the day, having arrived
home from Saturday night’s gig at 4.30am and anticipating the 2.00pm
arrival of the ‘centre of attention', his Dad and Peter Andrews. . .
they’ve booked me to record demos of new material everyone in the camp is
keen to include in the set of the impending Basement appearance, and
possibly on the next album. The virtue of punctuality is theirs!
There’s the ritual shuffling of guitars and cases, stools to re-position,
over-compensatory tuning and leads to plug in. Just as I am finally
starting to get my act together, Rob ‘The Comet’ Amos arrives, keen to sit
in and observe proceedings. The progress VJ has made in less than 12
months is remarkable. Warming up he displays decisive blues style bends
and vibrato, in part a legacy of attending a
Keb Mo concert several months
earlier, which he animatedly described as ‘wicked’. The visiting American
blues man would not have been aware that his every microscopic move was
being analysed by the ‘Sibling Strat Slinger’.
With all of ‘Mo’s moves’ added to the ever expanding arsenal of
B.B. King, Robben Ford, Luther Allison, Hank and Tommy influences, there could be no
better learning curve to pursue. A lot of the credit is surely due to the
guidance of VJ Sr, and Peter. I certainly wish some of my own students
shared an enthusiasm for these styles of music. Before we get under way I
am treated to more draw-dropping fretboard antics – a nifty fingering
exercise called the ‘crab walk’ or should I say ‘sprint’, which VJ handles
with consummate ease as he continues his warming up routine. I challenge
any guitarist (Steve Morse & Co excepted) to pull this off without
experiencing months of hair tearing frustration. VJ takes you step by step
through this rewarding brainteaser at the conclusion of this article.
VJ is in no way phased when the recording ‘red light’ comes on, capably
navigating each of the four pieces on every take. Any thoughts that I may
have been hearing nothing more than a precisely executed carbon copy of
the original arrangements were quashed by his introduction of subtle
phrasing changes on each, giving me the rare opportunity of a broad
palette to choose from when it comes to editing final tracks.
I am by no means implying that VJ landed on my doorstep in a body suit,
accessoried in red underwear. He doesn’t get it right every time, but
exhibits a rare quality for someone so young and inexperienced, constantly
striving for ‘perfection’. Some of my musical acquaintances, with
affectionate envy, refer to him as the ‘Little B’, connection to The
Shadows tune of the same name not even a remote possibility!
Peter again supplied the bed with some very stylish, warm acoustic finger
picked rhythm, delivered with impeccable timing and precision, conveyed
courtesy of his Cort single cutaway, which sounded awesome DI’d through a
Fishman Platinum pre amp. VJ coaxed dexterous, clean and tasteful lines
from his Kinman-loaded Strat, which, on this occasion was fed to the
studio centrepiece, a ROLAND 1680, via my well-worn POD and given a final
polish by an onboard tape saturation emulator.
The session was a breeze and a joy to work on, made all the easier by
thorough preparation of both student and teacher. Selections from David
Gates ‘folio’ were transformed into ideal instro material while the
phrasing in Dave Bridge’s The Preacher immediately reminded me of the
fretwork on two of my favourite slices of vinyl. Firstly, the stinging
tones of an uncredited James Burton on
The Everly Brothers’ Beat & Soul
and the other, a Tele wielding
Jerry Kennedy travelling the instrumental
back roads from Nashville To Soulville. Scary stuff! (Dave Bridges was
‘THE Australian Rock Guitarist’ of the late 50s and early 60s. Essential
member of any group assembled to back visiting American R & R acts, and
drew favourable comparisons with Yankee big guns Frank Beecher,
James Burton from
Little Richard, The Everlys and
He was a founding member of the ‘always charting’
Joy Boys (1957-1961) and
enjoyed success as a solo ‘surf instro’ performer fronting
The Dave Bridge
Quartet/Trio (1961-1964). Recorded for EMI/HMV. Latest word has him in the
Far East as a Roland clinician.)
Peter reiterates that his student has a very keen ear, and the ability to
absorb information and translate it to his own fret board amazingly
quickly. I can do nothing but unreservedly agree as I listen to the
playbacks, which indicates the tremendous leaps forward made since Shadow
Of A Dream was recorded 18 months earlier.
It’s a real privilege to have been brought on board for the new recording
project and I trust I can deliver what Heartbeat Entertainment (the
company set up to promote, market and manage VJ and his sister, Chantelle)
expect from me.
I was not the only one overwhelmed by ‘the young fella’s’ performance.
Rob, who had been a fly on the wall all afternoon was now mumbling about
getting up to speed on his ‘double-stop’ technique, while I negotiated
with Peter about trading some studio time in exchange for a few pointers
from the laid back and unassuming jazz aficionado.
On completion of the session the first priority was Dad’s approval.
Assurance given, a relieved VJ exhaled his trademark “I’m off the hook!”
phrase, and proceeded to tell me how his schoolmates razz him for not
playing Blink 182, Lincoln Park and System of Down riffs! We seem to have
common ground in appreciation of Green Day and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers,
but the youngster decidedly gives the latter’s MTV image the thumbs down.
Time for a coffee break before everyone heads home. Conversation quickly
turns from our just completed endeavours to
Steve Gibb’s efforts on UB
HANK 5, an instructional video by Aussie jazz guitar monster Jim Kelly
and, finally, the NGD feature on Matilda. VJ suddenly takes an interest in
Peter gently elbows his protégé and wickedly grins as he shows VJ
Matilda’s picture. The response from the soon-to-be eleven-year old? – a
sheepish grin and muffled utterances of “Stop embarrassing me… anyway…
she’s too old!”
Daylight had turned to dark, with the rapidly dropping autumn temperature
creating an evening mist that added an eerie frame to the parting vision
of VJ, rugged up in hooded tracksuit, awkwardly lumbering towards the car
and needing all the strength both chilled hands could muster to lift his
guitar case off the ground. It was a poignant reminder that the music that
afternoon was a gift from someone who will probably not realise for some
time to come that he has something very special to offer.
Footnote to the recording proceedings:
As these tracks were to be demos only, no backing or click tracks were
used. When it came to mixing I thought it a shame that such a productive
session was destined only for ‘demoville’. However, when checking the
tempos I found Peter’s rhythm accompaniment to be so accurate that it only
took a minimum amount of ‘midi mapping’ to enable band tracks to be added,
the final result surpassing all my expectations. ■
VJ’s ‘CRAB WALK’
1. Place all four fingers on consecutive frets of the
low E (6th) string.
2. Move only your 2nd finger to the adjacent fret on the A (5th) string
keeping all other fingers in place.
3. Lift your 3rd finger across to the A string.
4. Move your 1st finger across to the D (4th) string, followed by your 4th
point, your 2nd & 3rd fingers should still be parked on the ‘A’.
5. Start to repeat the move by placing your 2nd finger on the G (3rd)
6. Continue to repeat the cycle till your 2nd & 3rd fingers have reached
the high E (1st) string.
7. Now, come back down; and repeat, gradually increasing tempo.
“Good Luck!” – VJ King Jr