By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: I was shocked to learn of Nandu Bhende’s untimely demise a couple of days ago at the very young age of 58 as I had just met him a few months ago in December where he was hale and hearty, joking around and reminiscing about the past and telling me stories of his son studying in Germany, who was about to go to Israel for a two-week stint.
Nandu was Mumbai’s Maharaja of rock giving all us young fans countless hours of music from the counter-culture ‘dum maro dum’ days, performing covers of several big bands including Jethro Tull, the Who, The Beatles, the Doors, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix and of course The Moody Blues.
He perfected The Moody Blues’ ‘Nights in white satin’ to the very last cut and note and then put in his own heart and soul and took it to incredible heights! That became his signature tune at every performance. Even The Moody Blues would’ve been proud of it. In recent years he had it as the ringtone on his cell phone.
Nandu was an extremely shy personality and many fans mistook it for aloofness in the early 70s. He played in several bands (Velvette Fogg, Atomic Forest, Savage Encounter) at happening avenues like Hell in Worli, Blow-Up at the Taj Intercontinental and the famous Slip Disc. When Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin hit Bombay (Mumbai now) at the height of their career in the 70s , the owner of Slip Disc called on no less than Nandu to do the arrangements for their short but unforgettable performance. It was a night to remember!
A year or so before that fateful night, Nandu and his band performed at India’s version of the legendary Woodstock festival about a two/three hour drive from Bombay. After doing a set at Blow-Up in Bombay, they all piled into the car and arrived at the venue in the wee hours of the morning where everybody was crashed out. All fired up from their superb act at the Blow-Up, they woke everybody up , got themselves TURNED ON, TUNED IN and then split the mighty heavens into two! Everybody who was there till date says it was India’s equivalent to The Who’s scorching early morning performance at Woodstock!
Nandu in those days won several citations and awards including the well known SIMLA (after ITC’s cigarette of the same name) Beat Contest.
Besides being a super rock head- Nandu was extremely versatile, also acting in plays. His portrayal of Judas in Alyque Padamsee’s adaptation of the famous international play ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ won him many accolades.
His versatility led him to do work for Bollywood and he received a gold disc for his contribution to Mithun Chakraborty’s super hit Disco Dancer. He was a true champion well-versed in all genres.
In the early 2000’s he also revived memories of classic rock in India by writing a series of articles for Pune Times on various super rock groups of the 60s and 70s. He even included an article of mine on rock Goddess Tina Turner. He later joked that he was too smashed to write an article so he decided to just bindaas throw in mine and credit it to my email id ‘thenetpreneur’. He would sign off every article with the famous ‘Rock On!’
Nandu went on to start a studio in Mumbai for voice training which would have celebrated its tenth anniversary later this year. His has worked with the likes of Bappi Lahiri, Irrfan Khan, Kailash Kher , Amol Palekar, Frieda Pinto and more. He has also interacted with globally known musicians Talat Mehmood and Jagjit Singh.
He is one of the few international musicians from anywhere in the world to have performed in North Korea. Read that well- NORTH Korea- not South Korea.
Even though he excelled at several genres, his heart and soul was fundamentally into classic rock and he read up extensively and memorized details about the life of The Beatles, his first love outside his family. He grooved on them so much so that he pre-empted the world to pay tribute to the Beatles 50th anniversary of their American invasion when they performed for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show in Feb 1964. In January earlier this year, before the Grammys and the rest of the world paid homage, he performed a memorable tribute to the unparalleled Beatles at D’Bell Lounge in Lower Parel, Mumbai.
As the saying goes, ‘They have rock and roll in HEAVEN, and they have one HELL of a band!’ Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, George Harrison, Keith Moon, John Entwhistle, John Bonham, Freddie Mercury and now Nandu Bhende!
A great big chapeau to you Nandu bhai for rocking Mumbai! May your soul forever rest in peace!