Van Shipley was an Indian Guitarist and Violinist, widely known as the man who played for Raj Kapoor. Van Shipley was the first electric guitarist in India. He designed his own electric eight string steel guitar in the 1940's. Van Shipley not only played the guitar and the violin, but also composed music for films, and was one of the first musicians to release independent albums of instrumental renditions of Hindi film songs.
He is fondly remembered as The Man with the Golden Guitar.
1 Personal Background
1.1 Early Life and Training,
1.2 Designing His Own Guitar and Violin,
2.1 Association with HMV,
2.2 Association with Raj Kapoor,
2.3 Independent Records,
3 Worldwide Performances,
4 Personal life,
Early Life and Training:
Van Shipley was born on 30 August 1927 as Valentine Van Shipley in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. His parents were music lovers themselves. His mother was a known Sitarist, and a student of Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan), young Van Shipley learnt to play the tabla, the violin and the guitar. His first violin lessons were from Gagan Chatterjee, an Allahabad-based violinist. Ustad Vilayat Khan was his schoolmate and friend, and even at that age, Van Shipley gave sangat on the violin to both Ustad Bande Hasan Khan and his son Ustad Zinde Hasan Khan, who were noted khyal singers, from whom he would further his knowledge of the violin. He became friends with sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar in Lucknow in 1941, a friendship that was to last until his death.
Designing His Own Guitar and Violin:
He designed his own electric eight string steel guitar in the 1940's. It was a unique 8-string guitar that was designed to give him the drone sound that was common to Indian classical music. The reason he did this was that he'd studied Indian classical music under Ustad Allauddin Khan, the leading classical musician in India.
He also studied the violin with a German teacher. This Western style influence is what compelled Van Shipley to design his own electric violin as well, which he called his Gypsy Violin, that he would use on almost all his later records. One of his most cherished accomplishments was his record for Columbia where he played Raag Jogiya and Raag Yaman Kalyan on the guitar.
He also owned a Gibson E5, until his death, given to him as a gift over 50 years ago. That's why he wanted to play Indian classical music on guitar. He wanted to hear a particular the drone, so he made an eight string guitar, instead of a five string. His guitar was a solid guitar, designed to his style at the time, it was futuristic. He listened to all types of music and played Indian classic on Western instruments.
It was while studying at Aligarh University that Talat Mahmood, a classmate, invited him to join All India Radio, Lucknow. While there, he took lessons from Ustad Allaudin Khan on the violin and also from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. His film career took off with Chand (1959), where he assisted music directors Husnlal Bhagatram. While in Pune, he shared quarters with Dev Anand and Guru Dutt, and formed a close friendship with Rehman and Sapru. When Prabhat films split into two, he joined producer Baburao Pai in Bombay. His earliest films were
Anmol Ghadi (1946),
Mera Suhag (1947),
He was soon working with music directors like Khemchand Prakash, C. Ramchandra, Anil Biswas and Ghulam Haider. Soon, Van Shipley began making waves as a soloist, and was in great demand. The melodious strains of his guitar can be heard in S. D. Burman's composition for Geeta Dutt in Do Bhai (1947).
Association with HMV:
He was the first to record instrumental versions of film songs, beginning some time in the early 50s when the success of Barsaat brought him to the notice of recording company, HMV. They signed him up as an individual instrumentalist; his first record for them was the instrumental version of Tum bhi bhula do (Jugnu), rendered on the guitar.
Association with Raj Kapoor:
An adolescent Nutan, whose family was known to Van Shipley, asked him if he would perform in a show with her at St Xavier's College, Bombay. Producer-director-actor Raj Kapoor was the producer of the show. Performing at the show, he impressed Raj Kapoor, who had just released his film Aag, the year before. Raj Kapoor was ready to film his second film Barsaat, where his character played the violin. Van Shipley did the violin playback for the entire film. The hugely successful film skyrocketed not only the careers of Lata Mangeshkar and Shankar Jaikishen, but also ensured that Van Shipley became a name to be reckoned with.
He became an integral part of Raj Kapoor's team of musicians. In 1952's Awara, he added his electric guitar to the famous dream sequence. This one song is enough to forever enshrine his name in the pantheon of the greats.
1953 saw him play the guitar in Raj Kapoor's Aah. Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai (1961), the only film that Shankar-Jaikishen did for Nasir Hussain, would see Van Shipley play the guitar from the time the credits roll - the instrumental version of Jiya ho, jiya ho jiya kuch bol do.
He was a prolific musician and worked in more than 1500 films, and was one of the few individual musicians who was mentioned in film credits.
His first independent record was released in 1962. It was named The Man with the Golden Guitar, a description that would stick to him for the rest of his career. From then on, he would release an album every year until 1982. In 1955, Van Shipley teamed up with Enoch Daniels, the accordion player whom he met while at Prabhat Studios, Pune. It was a partnership that would last many, many years. In 1956, along with Talat Mahmood and CH Atma, Van Shipley and Enoch Daniels toured British East Africa - they pioneered live stage shows by Indian performers.
Van Shipley also acted in a few films, beginning with guest appearances in Fareb (1953), Dharampatni, and Cha Cha Cha. He directed the background music of the former and the entire score of both Dharampatni and Carnival Queen (1955), where he also appeared before the camera. He also acted as the hero in a couple of movies, which, according to his own notes, did not prove to be successful.
Van Shipley loved the travel, the opportunity to meet different people, the varied experiences that came with live shows. He continued to tour the world on live shows in Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean Islands, Suriname, Guyana and many cities in United States of America - New York, Washington D. C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit. This prompted Mr Bhaskar Menon, President and ex-CEO, Capitol Industries, EMI, Inv to call him 'The Restless Globetrotter'.
He performed for heads of state such as Zhou Enlai, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Alexei Kosygin, Indira Gandhi and V. V. Giri amongst others. His most cherished performances were those at the coronation of His Late Majesty of Iran, for the Aga Khan in Nairobi in 1957, and for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, late Indian prime minister. Pandit Nehru was so impressed with the performance that he presented Van Shipley with a red rose to show his appreciation.
On 18 March 1952 he got married to Olive. His son's name is Audrey Van Shipley, and eldest daughter's Ingrid. He also performed widely for charitable causes. He was always ready to put his talent at the government's command, performing for fundraisers for relief measures following various natural disasters such as flood, famine, drought, and for causes such as the Red Cross, Police Welfare, Poor Students and the Blind, Retired Army, Navy and Air force Personnel, Kashmir Floods, Prime Minister's Relief Fund, etc.
Van Shipley spoke impeccable Urdu, and had his own calligraphy set so he could write the language. He was also a fine painter, and a keen photographer. According to Ingrid (Shipley's daughter), every time her father was home, he would pull out his camera, and make them pose. Friends and family are in possession of his paintings, which he gave away almost as soon as he painted them.
Van Shipley died of a heart attack on 8 March 2008.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license