5 Forgotten Bands who Brought Rock’n’Roll to India – Score Short Reads
It may come as a surprise to some that Indian rock bands were performing as early as the 1960s. These groups brought the gift of rock and roll to India, and though they may not have enjoyed the popularity of newer bands, their contributions cannot go unacknowledged.
- The Combustibles – 1965-1972 (Bombay)
Originating in Bombay, The Combustibles were among the first artists in India to use distorted guitar tones and fast-paced drum grooves to produce a sound that by today’s standards may be tame, but was positively rebellious back in the day.
The Combustibles gained notoriety in the Bombay rock scene through the famous Simla Beat battle of bands competition and even went on a national tour from 1968-1969. The group would go on to record their original tracks with Polydor Records. Their 1971 seven inch record featuring the songs Watch Her and Some Peace of Mind was remastered and re-released in 2013 by UK-based Harkit Records.
2. The Mustangs – 1965-1968 (Madras)
The Mustangs were a sort of supergroup of student musicians from various colleges in the city of Madras (now Chennai). Their unique sound blended surf rock, ska, blues, and the Indian film music of the time. Their music captures the essence of the rock and roll scene of the 1960s, while also including a certain Indian flair.
Despite being active for only four years, The Mustangs gained quite a following in Madras, even going on to record an LP with HMV, featuring the songs Escape and Gonks Go Beat. In 2010, the core members reunited for a jam session, later going on to perform shows in both Bangalore and Chennai.
3. The Savages – 1965-1976 (Bombay)
The Savages was the passion project of drummer and bandleader Bashir Sheikh, who remained its only consistent member throughout the years. The Savages were the first Indian band playing Western rock music to record a full-length album. Their signature psychedelic sound with influences from blues and jazz landed them recording projects with both HMV as well as Polydor Records.
The band’s 1973 album Black Scorpio became somewhat of an obscure cult classic. Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, in an interview with Score Magazine, stated that he loved Black Scorpio and had been trying to get his hands on the record for his collection.
4. Great Bear/High 1969-1990 (Calcutta)
In 1969, Guitarist Dilip Balakrishnan and drummer Nondon Bagchi, who had been members of the pop group The Cavaliers formed a progressive rock quintet called Great Bear. In a 2016 interview with Redbull, Bagchi claimed that Great Bear was the first Indian rock group to write original songs.
In 1974, after Great Bear was disbanded, Balakrishnan and Bagchi went on to form High. High is perhaps best known for their dark and groovy original tracks. Their Magnum opus Winter Planet was a rock opera about the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
5. The Fentones – 1967-1997 (Shillong)
The Fentones were a pop-rock quintet hailing from Shillong. They won the Simla Beat competition in 1971, and are known to be the only group from Northeast India to do so. Their most notable originals Simla Beat Theme and Until the Dawn have been immortalised in the Simla Beat 71 LP.
The group was originally fronted by Lou Majaw, who is now a well-known figure in the Indian rock scene. The band went through several personnel changes in the years that followed until they disbanded in 1997. Their original tracks combine upbeat melodies with thoughtful lyrics, offering a very Beatles-esque sound.