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.
(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
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." -