Every Thursday night at Razzberry Rhinoceros, young men could be seen either parting with a hundred rupees to get a stamp on their wrist or convincing the bouncer to let them in for free, unless they were in one of the bands-on-the-bill’s good books and on the guest list. Irrespective of how they managed to gain entry inside Juhu’s most popular nightclub at the time (J49 enjoyed that tagline later for a brief while, but not the credibility), the youths would then occupy the narrow lane next to Razz Rhino, loading chillums and mixing drinks and tanking up for the few hours of invigorating music that were to follow. Original songs being a taboo back then – everybody wanted to hear Metallica, Megadeth and Iron Maiden’s anthems being played live – many of those Thursday nights were graced by a cover band that played everything from Nirvana to Napalm Death, and System Of A Down to Slayer and Sepultura. Naked Earth was known for its ‘tightness’, its ability to flawlessly execute classics of great bands we never thought would make it to India (they all either did or are on their way), but all those who were present in those times will remember Irwie, the drummer of Naked Earth, who was also the face and driving force of Mumbai’s underground rock scene’s most popular metal band.
Born on August 9, 1952, in a family of five children – two boys and three girls – Irwin Vaz went to Saint Xavier’s School, Bombay. To say music was in the lad’s blood would be an understatement. Irwie’s father, Anthony Xavier Vaz, better known as Chic Chocolate (for his slick looks and his skin colour), was Asia’s best trumpeter. Irwie’s brother Philip Vaz was one of the most eminent bass players of Bombay, while the three sisters – Ursula Fernandes, Yvonne Gonsalves and Christine ‘Kittu’ Sequeira – all well-known jazz singers, were married to musical geniuses – Johnny Fernandes (piano), Braz Gonsalves (sax) and Steve Sequeira (drums/keys). Irwie’s brothers-in-law were baaps of their instruments, and even Ranjit Barot used to bow before Steve Sequeira. Irwie’s teacher was Leslie Goudinho, the excellent jazz drummer who could read music the way we read newspapers.
Irwie landed his first job in 1969 at Bombellies, Breach Candy as the drummer of the Shaukat Baig Trio, with Baig on keys and Manuel Araujo on bass. The Shaukat Baig Trio performed at Bombellies till the place closed down in 1973, and life started for Irwin Vaz in 1974 when he started performing at the Supper Club on the 33rd floor of Oberoi Sheraton (now Oberoi Towers). “It was like performing on a ship”, says Irwie, before disclosing how he got the job. Hannibal Castro (who still plays the trombone in Goa) showed up at Irwie’s house unannounced, packed the boy’s drum kit and took it with him, telling Irwie’s mother to send the fellow to meet him if he wanted his drums back. In 1976, Irwie left for Delhi to play in plush hotels as the drummer of Mike Fey’s band, and had the privilege of performing with reputed musicians like Steve Law (keys), Mozin Menezes (keys), Rudy Cotton (sax) and Benny Rozario (keys).
THE METAL YEARS
Irwie returned to Bombay and formed the bands Nirvana and Naked Earth, which featured Keith Kanga (a Jehovah’s Witness!), who had big bucks and knew a little bass. They covered bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cream and Deep Purple, and once won the second prize at Saint Mary’s Hall, Byculla. The prize money – 100 rupees – was divided among the three members, and Irwie proudly took home his 33 bucks. Irwie also played in other bands like Holy Smoke and Mayhem. Nirvana, by the way, was the name taken by Irwie for his band much before the Nirvana you and I know had even heard music.
Irwie met the others, who were much younger, and decided he wanted to them in the band as they’d bring a new energy to the music. They introduced him to new music (Irwie says he was blown away when he heard Nativity In Black), and says it was the change in the rest of the band’s attitude and their ego clashes that made him disband Naked Earth. The other members of Naked Earth formed Earthclan, while Irwie started Aftermath, but neither of the bands managed to create an impact, and both faded into oblivion soon enough.
While Irwie has fond memories of Naked Earth, and no hard feelings towards the other members, he absolutely hates some others from the scene and minces no words when talking about them. He claims Vishal Dadlani and Pentagram politicized the scene, and Amit Saigal and Brahma who were supposed to be friends, turned their backs on him. Brahma – the most ridiculed band in the history of Indian metal – practiced for a whole week in Irwie’s house, and later got Naked Earth thrown off the bill of a show they were headlining. Irwie narrates the incidents with amusement and a hint of sorrow, as he talks about what a pussy Cyrus Gorimar (drummer of Brahma) turned out to be. He also doesn’t have anything nice to say about Cusp.
Irwie vividly describes a show he played with Mayhem in Pune. It was a tribute to Juggie (Nitin Jagtap, the bassist of Agni, who had died in a car accident), and Irwie says the crowd was mesmerized by the band’s set, as ace guitarists Alok Saxena and Sachin Naik played Yngwie Malmsteen’s Far Beyond The Sun perfectly, and that there was no food left for any of the bands. The caterers then, floored by Irwie’s drumming style, took him to their quarters and gave him enough chicken lollipops to stuff a plastic bag with.
THE DEFINITION OF AN ERA
Smoking his chillum every five minutes, Irwie talks about how a fire in the house destroyed his Naked Earth memorabilia, and later launches into a one-way discussion about how cheap everything was back then. A hit of LSD, he says, was only 40 rupees, and 140 bucks could get you a tola of hash. If funds were low, you could acquire a pauva for 35 rupees. Cops could be bribed with one rupee or a glass of sugarcane juice, says the veteran who spends his days watching football matches, looking after his ailing 86-year-old mother, and giving lessons to budding drummers. After three hours of digging into memories and regaling me with hilarious stories about how the members of Fate would call him in the middle of the night and threaten to hang him upside down and beat the crap out of him, Irwin Vaz insists for coming to his building’s gate to see me off, but as befits a man of his stature, he should be left with a bow at the door of his house, to go back in and chuckle some more thinking of the times gone by.
Feel like saying hi to Irwie? Call him! 0-9821447576