front cover "new" gandy dancer (uk) july 2002 editionVJ King Jr | "New" Gandy Dancer | Feature Article bannerfront cover "new" gandy dancer (uk) july 2002 edition

 
 

"Kim Humphreys Meets

VJ King Jr

Junior Flyweight Shadow Boxer . .

Serious Heavyweight Contender"

 
 

IT IS WITH KEEN INTEREST that I have been following the flurry created by teenage guitarists Zoe McCulloch and Matilda, gratified 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 group.
 
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 thirty-year veteran!
 
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 rising star.
 
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 professional musicians.
 
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, Chantelle Marie 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 Mark Knopfler.

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 prestigious Basement, a Jazz, Blues and Funk club synonymous with the best on offer and has in recent times given guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Morse, 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, Scotty Moore and James Burton from Little Richard, The Everlys and Gene Vincent. 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 the discussion!
 
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. ■

 

Kim Humphreys

July 2002

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 finger.

    At this 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) string.
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

 
 

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