The Vivid Van Shilpey

The Vivid – Van Shipley

  • Dinesh S Ghate |

When I say the word “Guitar”, the first thing that comes to most of our minds is Hollywood music or foreign guitarists, etc. But what if one tells you our Bollywood Music Industry gave us such amazing guitarists that added the extra shine to the evergreen songs. One of the prominent among them was “Van Shipley” popularly known as the first electric guitarist of India.

Around 2004, I got an opportunity to meet Mrs Van Shipley & received a gift of an article copy about Van & an Instrumental CD of the compilation of the songs played by Van. Later on, I read about Van in articles by Shri Rajkumar Kesvani & Prof Sureshchandra Nadkarni. With due credit to all content writers, this article has been compiled for all you Music enthusiasts. Looking forward to having your valuable comments about these legends & their contribution to Hindi Film Music.

FLASHBAFLASHBACK Van Shiplay 1CK Van Shiplay 1Originally named “Valentine Van Shipley”, was born in Lucknow, a state with historical richness. He was tuned to music from an early age because his parents were music enthusiasts. His mom played the Sitar too, a student of Padmashri Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan. His father was an Army man who served the country throughout. His siblings were also inclined towards music. When his father was posted at the Botanical Gardens, Saharanpur is the time Van explored his music interests with his mom. Initially, he learnt Tabla moving on to violin and then guitar.

Van was lucky to be accompanied by the great maestros like Ustad Vilayat Khan, Zinda Hasan and Bade Hasan Khan during school days. It was the best atmosphere a classical music student could experience. He learnt violin from a German teacher. Besides music, he was a sportsman and thus secured a place in Aligarh University while playing hockey for the same. But, Talat Mahmood (King of Ghazals) suggested Van come along and join All India Radio (Lucknow) and this was the turning point. He became the Star of AIR(Lucknow) with his violin and guitar performances. Later on, he took preaching’s from Ustad Alauddin Khan and Ustad Ali Akhbar Khan.

Then he wanted to elevate his learnings and step into the film industry. He came to Pune and met Husanlal-Bhagatram who appointed him as an assistant music director for the film, ‘Chand’. When Prabhat studios split, he came to Bombay and joined the producer, Baburao Pai. But he had a lifelong cherishing friendship with Dev Anand, Guru Dutt, Rehman and Sapru in Pune. In Bombay, he worked for films like Nargis, Mera Suhag and many more. Van achieved great success working with Music Directors like Khemchand Prakash, C Ramchandra, Anil Biswas, Gulam Haider, etc. He made a mark of himself as a solo instrumentalist. His melodious instruments could be heard in the famous songs like “Dil Jalta Hai Toh Jalne De”, “Aayega Aanewala” and also in a popular SD Burman’s composition “Mera Sundar Sapna Beet Gaya” by Geeta Dutt.

One fine day, Raj Kapoor heard him play and asked if he could play for his next film Barsaat. Kapoor was enacting a violinist in that movie and wanted Van to perform his violin parts. After Barsaat, it was showering fame for him. His violin solo was immensely loved that it became the logo of RK. The recording company HMV without a second thought signed up Van as an individual instrumentalist which led to his first recording with them being a super hit. After that, he made numerous records with them which gained him fans from abroad too. He was one of those first Indian music artists to travel abroad for shows. In 1959, with Talat Mehmood and others, he performed in a live stage show in British East Africa. Since then, Van has taken more than 48 tours around the globe.

FLASHBACK Van Shiplay 2One of his greatest achievements was that he built his own electric steel guitar in the 1940s with eight strings (a normal one has only five) and used it for all his recordings. This idea dawned upon him because he always loved classical and western music so he initiated this fusion. Further, he also made an electric violin named “Gypsy Violin”. Another milestone was his record at Columbia where he played Raag Jogiya and Raag Yaman Kalyan on the guitar. Being a handsome man, he also tried his hands on acting. Worked in films like Dharam Patni, Cha Cha Cha and Raat Andheri Thi. Van Shipley was a versatile man. He was a painter, a keen photographer and a well-versed conversationalist in Urdu. He also enjoyed designing his own outfits for stage performances.

After playing the dream sequence song in Awara, he performed for nearly 1500 films with various composers. Later on, he was fascinated by stage shows, travelling, meeting new people and knowing their music culture hence started conducting live shows across the map. Being the son of an army man, he felt immense empathy towards soldiers. Thus, he did lots of charity shows all over the country for causes like Natural disasters, Red Cross, Poor Students, Police welfares, the Retired Army, the Navy, Airforce & Prime Minister Relief Funds. He has contributed over 100 shows for N.D.F. during the War for the welfare of Jawans and their families. He also performed for the freedom fighters in Goa. Therefore, he tried to help maximum charitable association through his music.

Van had a charming personality. Jazz Maestro Norrie Paramor, the British composer Darryl Zanuck, Satyajit Ray and many renowned personalities were impressed by Van’s performance on the electric guitar. Van Shipley performed in Delhi during the visit of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He also performed for Premier of Afghanistan, King of Yemen, Premier of Mauritius and was specially invited to Iran as well where he recited in the honour of the coronation of Shahen Shah Aryamehr. One of the blazing memories from his career would be when he performed for our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and he appreciated the art by handing over a rose to Van. He has been honoured with many awards in India and abroad. In 1967, he was felicitated with an international award for Best Instrumentalist of the Year preserving this honour for the last 25 years. A report from the tour of Jamaica states that “Van Shipley- the Wizard of guitar with an enchanting smile plucked those strings with lots of styles.”

FLASHBACK Van Shiplay 418th March 1952 was a day full of awe when he married Olive Van Shipley. His first independent record was released in 1962 named “ The Man with the Golden Guitar”. Little did he know that this term would further become his recognition. He excelled in performing Indian Classical, Film Music, Western Classical, Pop Music and even Jazz on Guitar and Violin, at the tip of his hands. In today’s time, teenagers love the fusion genre of music. Hence, it becomes important to make them aware of Van who was a pioneer of fusion idealogy in India. The upcoming music artists should look at him as an inspiration. He taught us not only to have a vision while creating music but also to help needy souls through our art.

He left us on 8th March 2008 due to a heart attack at his house in Mumbai. His family still continues the music legacy. I was lucky enough to meet him during his last months. Let’s pay homage to this legendary man and keep his melodious tunes alive in each of our hearts.

If one thing I would want you all to take from this article is “How to be loyal to your craft for a lifetime”.

Share this post

Comments (3)

  • Ashok jagtap Reply

    I came in his close contact during last few years of his life when he started to regularly play violin with Laxmikabnt Pyrelal.
    I had never seen a vibrant personality like him.The way he talked, as if he has a power of mesmerising people
    When Pyarelal went to usa he accompanied him. Rest of the things you read in this post.
    We miss him even today.

    16 January 2022 at 11:29 am
  • S P Varma Reply

    Immensely Informative.
    Keep writing such valuable treasures for Music Lovers.

    22 January 2022 at 11:40 am
    • Swar Aalap Reply

      Thank You So Much Verma Jee for your kind words of appreciation

      26 May 2023 at 12:24 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *