Shin Joong Hyun: South Korea's psychedelic mimic turned masterhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/sep/15/shin-joong-hyun-korean-psychedelic
He learned American pop via a hand-built radio, became a psychedelic pop star in his own right, then was tortured by South Korea's dictatorship. Meet the remarkable Shin Joong Hyun
He'd developed his passion for western music via American Forces Korea Network. "I ended up building my own radio to listen to American music," he says. "It had poor reception and terrible static, but I was just happy that I was able to listen to music. I thought jazz was simply amazing. But, honestly, I enjoyed any music that was played on AFKN.
"During my first performance, the GIs were shouting, 'Hey shorty! Play guitar solo!'" remembers Shin, who duly asked his bandleader for permission. "He gave me this sheet music book and told me to practise … I played my first guitar solo during my next performance: the crowd went wild, and the bandleader raised my wage by 50%."
The following year, Shin cut his first records, covers of Korean pop. His own tastes remained attuned to the west, however. "I remember the first time I heard the Beatles. I was mesmerised by their sound: it was blissful. I tried to mimic them with my four-piece, ADD4."
Shin's pseudo-Merseybeat quartet failed to find success in the Korean market. His embrace of psychedelia would prove a turning point a couple of years later, however, when his new group, Club Date, performed Jefferson Airplane's Somebody to Love live on Korean television, to instant acclaim.
AFKN had clued Shin into the psychedelic sounds then emanating from the US. "I mimicked their music, visuals and sounds without fully understanding what it was," he admits. "Later, I was playing a 'psychedelic' song and some American hippies – antiwar protesters – came to listen. I became friends with them, and they taught me what psychedelic music really was. They also gave me LSD."
After hearing Somebody to Love, local singing duo the Pearl Sisters approached him for creative guidance. Their single Nimah subsequently topped the charts in Korea, and Shin recast himself as a successful performer, producer, songwriter and svengali.
This career is essayed by an excellent new compilation, Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of Shin Joong Hyun 1958-1974. It collects choice nuggets of Motown-styled pop (I Don't Like), deep soul (Spring Rain), melancholic folk-pop (The Sun) and Hendrixian acid-rock (J Blues 72).
"It was the most beautiful time of my life," says Shin. But it wasn't to last. In 1972, at the height of his career, the South Korean government requested Shin pen an ode to President Park Chung-Hee and his ruling Republican Party. Shin refused the dictatorship's request; soon, he was blacklisted within South Korea's music industry and his songs banned. Arrested for possession of marijuana in 1975, he was tortured in prison and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. "I was miserable. I had no motivation for anything," he says now, of those years of silence.
With Park's assassination in 1979, Shin's gloom began to lift. His music enjoyed a renaissance in South Korea in the 1990s, and in 2008, five decades after Shin first switched on to American pop via his home-built wireless, he finally performed in the US, at the Korean Music festival at the Hollywood Bowl.
"Words can't describe how I feel," he says with a smile, of the acclaim the new compilation has already enjoyed. "I still can't believe people listen to my music across the world."