Jon Lindsay, music legend

Saturday April 08, 2017 Written by Published in Weekend
Health difficulties have done nothing to diminish Jon Lindsay’s fluid vocal style and excellent guitar work. 17032212 Health difficulties have done nothing to diminish Jon Lindsay’s fluid vocal style and excellent guitar work. 17032212

When legendary Cook Islands musician John Lindsay performed at The Islander Hotel’s Hula Bar late in February, he attracted a good-sized audience of mostly older people, many of whom would have remembered the guitarist/vocalist from the days when he played at Trader Jacks.

Some of them might even have remembered him from even earlier, because Lindsay has been plying his trade around the Pacific since the ’60s.

Predictably, he and his latest band, Koko Jamaz, went down well with this crowd. But then the party bus stopped off at the hotel, a bunch of high-spirited youngsters stepped into the bar – and Lindsay quickly responded with an energetic set of rock classics that had soon saw the dance floor crowded.

It was an impressive performance from a man who is, to put it mildly, unwell. Major kidney problems mean Lindsay relies on dialysis treatment to keep him alive. And it’s why he could spend only one night on Rarotonga before jetting back to New Zealand – and more treatment.

There was no time for an interview with CI News, but Lindsay offered to reply to written questions so we could put a story together.

But no sooner had he arrived back in Auckland than he developed an eyesight problem which required an operation. Afterwards, he was unable to see well enough to read the questions, but he promised to get to them as soon as he could.

That turned out to be a couple of weeks ago, when the veteran musician took to Messenger to set out just some of the details of an extraordinarily long career which has taken him to Australia, New Zealand, and all around the South Pacific.

Lindsay’s musical life began in Rarotonga back in the mid-1960s when he joined a band called Bali Hai. He has fond memories of his fellow band members, some of whom have since passed away.

Arthur Hosking played lead guitar, Gabby Unuia was lead vocalist and the late Albert Nicholas played bass. Te Pou Nicholas was the guitarist, Dan Turua the drummer, and John the percussionist.

After Bali Hai split, Lindsay scored a gig behind the drum kit for a band called Vagabond who played at the Maruaiai, a popular dancing spot in Tupapa village. Some of the former members of Bali Hai were also in this band including the late Apiti Nicholas on lead vocals and guitar, the late Albert Nicholas Snr on bass, Takai Ngatipa and Alan Tuara on vocals and Kerekere Vakapora on lead guitar.

When that gig came to an end, Lindsay decided it was time to broaden his horizons and in 1969, he sailed from Rarotonga to New Zealand.

“I worked as a cook on a cargo boat Thallo. That was my free ticket to New Zealand and I signed off the boat when we arrived in Auckland.”

He also played at another Maruaiai, a dance venue started in the early ’70s by the late Mr Harry Napa in Symonds St, Auckland.

Lindsay recalls that in those days, alcohol wasn’t allowed and only soft drinks were served at the bar.

“But people just came to dance and they still enjoyed the night.”

“After Maruaiai closed, the Reefcomber Nite Club in Karangahape Rd was started in the mid-1970s by Roger Cross.

“He sponsored me on Television New Zealand’s “Oppertunity Knocks” talent programme.

“After the audition I was asked by the late Sonny and Pepe Teatuairo to travel with their band and sing at the opening of the Rarotongan Hotel (now the Rarotongan Resort and Spa) in 1976.”

Lindsay ended up staying here a few years, but was eventually called back to New Zealand.

“I was supposed to have more auditions, but they never happened.”

While he had been living back on Rarotonga, Lindsay had started writing his own songs and he was keen to do something with them.

“I met the Tahitian music legend John Gabilou and he asked if he could sing and record some of my songs.

“I was honoured, and of course I agreed. We became good friends and I ended up traveling with him around French Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia as his gutarist/bass player/drummer and I co-produced three of his albums. He wanted me to do all the musical arrangements.

“He built a studio at his house and asked me to do his recordings. I also did a recording for TAVT (Roland Teai), working with Tahitian music icons the late Joe Garbutt, Mala and Sir Charles Peni at Te Onu Studio owned by Tereapii Pita. I also worked with my two brothers, the late George Brown and the late George Moeka’a at the Black Bridge Tavern in Mangere, Auckland.”

In the late ’70s Lindsay recalls playing at the Banana Court in Avarua (still a popular music venue on Friday nights) with Rere Kaiaruna on guitar, Rave Pitomaki on bass, and Teina Kapi on guitar. Taupini Ama was vocalist and drummer, music legend Garth Young’s son was on keyboards, the late Apiti Nicholas was a vocalist and the versatile Lindsay was on guitar and vocals.

“Then I played at Trader Jacks for a while, before returning to New Zealand and playing at the Black Bridge Tavern,” Lindsay says.

“But then I received a call from the luxury Hayman Island resort in Australia. They wanted me to come over to the island for an audition. I did that, and ended up entertaining there for 12 years. Following my audition they gave me a six-month contract. After six months the general manager of the resort was so impressed with my entertaining, he said: ‘You can stay for as long as you like’.

“I was over the moon. And I ended up staying 12 years. I brought Danny Tetupu and my brother Tom Lindsay over to Hayman and we were The Poly Zoundz.

“After Poly Zounds, I joined up with a duo, Lou and Annie, and we became the Hayman Trio. Lou is Italian and Annie an Aussie. I spent two years with them and then they left Hayman and I went solo.

“While on Hayman I entertained in restaurants for movie stars including actor Kevin Costner, comedian and actor Robin Williams, rock singer Rod Stewart and Mariah Carey. Singer Barry White visited and so did legendary boxer Muhammed Ali, to name just a few. But unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to have our photos taken with the megastars.

“I also had a chat with US composer Burt Bacharach after I played one of his songs, That’s What Friends Are For.

“He asked if I had studied music in Australia. I said, ‘no, I play by ear and just learn the song’.

“He was surprised that I played by ear. ‘Well done!’ he said.

“Oh and here’s another story: The most beautiful woman dining in the restaurant one evening while I singing was Natalie Cole, the megastar soul legend and one of my favorite singers. It was a huge buzz for me.”

Lindsay eventually quit Hayman Island and moved back to Rarotonga. And then disaster struck: The musician’s kidneys failed.

“I saw a doctor and he recommend that I go on dialysis.

“Then he referred me back to New Zealand for treatment. So I was off the music scene for a few years. But that didn’t hold me back from entertaining.

“At times I was left out of breath from singing and playing. But I did a bit of studio work for Heimana Studio, owned by Noo Vaevae Pare. His son Jarome now entertains at the Hula Bar at the Islander Hotel and is our keyboard player when I play here.

“Sonny T is the other member in our band and there’s me on guitar. Sonny T is the brother of music legend Brother Love, who is also a well-known Cookie.”

“Our band is called Koko Jamaz (a bunch of ‘coconuts’ who love to jam!). We play around clubs in Auckland and places around New Zealand including Wellington and Tauranga.

“The music we play is mostly R ‘n’ B, reggae and pop, etc.”

Of the people on the Cook Islands music scene at present, Lindsay says he particularly admires the work of a certain guitarist.

“There’s a guitarist on Rarotonga that I heard - Bobbie Brown’s son Anania Brown.

“Wow! He’s fantastic! And not forgetting my bro Rere Kaiaruna, also a great guitarist who plays at Trader Jacks.”

As for his personal musical preferences, Lindsay says he still loves jazz.

“But I love other styles as well...and yes, our Cook Islands music is where it all started for me.”

As he looks back on his time in the limelight, he thinks about the some of the outstanding people he played with over the years and says he would very much like to pay tribute to the Cook Islands musicians he considers to be true legends.

“And they are all in one of the greatest places in the universe: Heaven. Well, hopefully,” says Lindsay, laughing.

“There’s Apiti Nicholas, Sonny and Pepe Teatuairo (The Rarotongans), Brother Albert Nicholas, Brother George Moeka’a, Brother Sonny Peyroux, Brother George Brown, Brother Takeu Samuel, Brother Mata Tairi and Brother Jean Peni.”

It’s time for a rest, and Lindsay, who clearly doesn’t let his age and his health affect his attitude - or his hope, finishes his email interview with a quote from the Bible.

It’s Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

            - Cameron Scott
             and Jon Lindsay

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