“I even performed on TV1,” enthused Richard Lee, recalling that late 1960s engagement on black and white TV, performing with his band Skylarks.
Clearly, his interest in all things music-related began in his youthful days of that decade, when the sounds of the Shadows, Ventures, Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley reigned supreme.
Performing at functions, like birthday parties, wedding dos and house parties, was all common. And, as was the norm back then, he also performed at Stadium Negara on Saturday evenings with emerging rock giants like The Falcons, Teenage Hunters and more.
Even though his interest hit a lull in the late 80s, his son picking up the instrument fired Lee to tinker with the guitar again. And like he did back then, he was fixing and modifying guitars, a hobby which steadily grew into a trade.
The 69-year-old musician, who was born in Batu Gajah, Perak, has earned a reputation in the industry as a guitar surgeon, fixing instruments that would be dismissed by most repairers as lost causes. “People come to me for help with very serious repairs,” he said, elaborating that he finds himself doing “orthopaedic-type” fixes, like broken necks and headstocks.
Lee got into his craft as a means to an end: “There were no repairmen then, and we couldn’t get spare parts, either, so we had to DIY,” he said, beaming at his independent ways.
He rues having discarded so many classic pieces of equipment which went out of commission from way back when, a painful story including throwing away a coveted Gibson Les Paul amp.
However, from the early 90s, his renewed vigour has given him the opportunity to meet all manner of Malaysians, from professional musicians to dedicated hobbyists.
Naturally, he’s serviced some big names, including the likes of Wings’ bass player Eddie, Jimmy Loh of Alleycats, bassist extraordinaire Andy Peterson and the late jazz guitarist and gambus player, Farid Ali, whom he made a double neck instrument for.
Nothing pleases Lee more than seeing the smile of a content client: “The best thing about this job is completing a complex repair and earning the customer’s satisfaction.”
The Paper’s People is a weekly column which introduces Malaysia-based everyday folk, doing what they love. If you have any person to recommend, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.