Passion For Nostalgia

 NST masthead               9 May 2004              Story by: HIMANSHU BHATT

New Straits Times Feature Write-Up On:-                 Kathleen Rodrigues       James Rozells       Penang Eurasian Musicians       Jimmy Boyle       Larry Rodrigues       Rudy Baum       Joe Rozells       Colleen Read              ROZELLS Country & Western & Oldies Pub !!          Passion For Nostalgia !!


Passion For Nostalgia
A musical duo has created
a charming, loyal following
among diehards of retro music in Penang.
But the Rozells are also the last torch-bearers
of an old lineage of Eurasian entertainers
on the island as HIMANSHU BHATT discovers.

Kathleen Rodrigues was only seven years old when she first played music, on a ukulele, way back
in the 1950's. By the time she was 18, she was already singing with local Hawaiian guitar maestro,
Joe Rozells, in her first professional stint.
Those who know Kathleen's background are not at all surprised that the singer, once called the "Connie Francis of Penang", began her career at such a tender age.
Kathleen's father was the legendary Larry Rodrigues, the celebrated guitarist, who rocked Penang's club circuit in the 50's and 60's. Today, Kathleen entertains scores of people every night in the only pub in the northern region dishing out songs of the old classics, as well as of Country  'n' Western.
By a strange twist of fate, her current professional partner is also a Rozells.


James Rozells (unrelated to the late older Joe) and Kathleen have been together for some 24 years now. Together, they simply call their act "The Rozells". The duo recently re-opened their popular ROZELLS Country & Western And Oldies Pub at a brand new sea-facing premise near Batu Ferringhi in Penang. That they operate the only establishment providing a wonderful treat of a very niche brand of music - the charming and joyously pensive songs of the 40's, 50's and the 60's - is not the only distinction they hold. James and Kathleen are the last active generation of native Eurasian musicians who had, till the 70's, almost totally dominated the club music scene in Penang.


Ask those who fancied the scene here in the few decades of yore, and you may well hear of the legendary names of Jimmy Boyle and Rudy Baum, with the likes of Larry Rodrigues and Joe Rozells. All four of them were famous as they also regularly played on the air on Radio Malaysia, said James. Most of the big names in the music scene that stood out at that time were Eurasians. Rudy Baum was the grandfather of C & W in Penang. In those days people turned on Redifussion to hear his voice. The biggest icon was Boyle, whose songs Putera Puteri, Chendering, Jauh Jauh and Rayuan Mesra are now being revisited by heritage activists and music historians as masterly creative pieces.
Kathleen is the last real Eurasian connection with the old legends. While she picked up her singing from her gifted father, she had in her youth also sung with Boyle and the rest on Radio Malaysia. "I had a good ear. I used to hear to hear my father when he was recording," she said. "When he played his guitar at home, he would sometimes call me from the kitchen to sing with him. My mother used to get so angry !!"
James and Kathleen will be accompanied by two other veteran players - keyboardist Lee Chong Heen and singer Colleen Read - at their new pub. Lee has fond memories playing with Kathleen's father some 40 years ago and particularly regards Boyle in high esteem. He was a musician ahead of his time. He made an impact on many others. His interpretations were very advanced for a Penang musician. Lee and partner Read also share a passion for the oldies as do the Rozells.
"This pub is a dream for us," said James. "I always believed this music has always been very popular. For me, C & W as well as the oldies are some of the simplest music to understand." he added. "The words, the melodies are so moving that you can sing along, tap along, you can relate to the songs. People come to us and hear the songs and it has so often actually sparked memories of forgotten incidents that happened in the old days, when the songs were popular. That's one of the reasons we are so into the oldies. They are in our heart and soul.  We are not selling drinks, we are selling nostalgia."   - 

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