I’ve always had an affinity for the movie MASH because of the opening line…
“And then there was Korea!”
Korea….what an adventure! In some respects it feels like yesterday, yet in reality it was a lifetime ago! I feel uniquely blessed to have spent the formative years of my childhood in the Land of the Morning Calm. I met life-long friends there, I met my wife Betty there and I got to be a Rock Star in the band Rush.
I joined Rush in 1970 and by 1971 we were performing all over Seoul at numerous entertainment events, clubs and charity fundraisers. The line-up at the time was Dean Brown on lead guitar, Rob Cass on bass, Jim Leaper on drums and I played rhythm guitar. Jim and Rob left in early 71 and Jeff Mehiel and Chris Lakas joined us, Jeff on drums and Chris playing bass. This was the core band that played in Myeongdong from 1971 to 1972, with the addition of Dean’s younger sister Robin, a talented vocalist at ten years old. She would perform a few songs every set even singing in Korean which the audiences loved!
Mrs. Hilda Brown, Dean’s mom was the manager for the band and she enlisted the assistance of a Korean agent, Jimmy Kim to launch us on our journey in Seoul.
Jimmy was a popular celebrity and MC in Seoul and with his connections we were propelled into a whirlwind of nonstop shows and events. Jimmy had us join the Korean Entertainment Union, he had custom wardrobes tailored for us and even had a choreographer teach us dance steps. He even paid a popular Korean songwriter to compose a Korean song for us. Ahn-nyeong-ha-sha-meka became our signature anthem which we usually played as the first song for shows. The audiences loved our attempt at Korean and it was a great ice-breaker. Jimmy even established a Rush Fan Club and we would make appearances in our own bus for meet-ups and performances around Seoul.
We signed a one year contract with the Las Vegas club in Myeongdong playing seven nights a week, holidays and all we didn’t miss a single night the entire year! Weekends were the best times at the club as many Americans and Foreigners would show up mixing with the locals. It was high energy, fun and an exciting time to be involved – diversity at its best! To this day, I still wonder how we accomplished this. Attending high school full time, band practice after school, (we were expected to perform two new songs every week) playing two sets a night and, barely getting home before curfew to finish homework before classes the next day!
I vividly remember when President Park Chung Hee declared martial law and the Military status of forces agreement (SOFA) was temporarily suspended. We had to comply with Korean law and wore wigs to perform, hiding our long hair. Our stage wardrobe was curtailed as well, no wide belts, no flared pants, no fringe. It was an interesting time in Seoul and in the history of the country.
During our time at the Las Vegas club, we also played occasional shows at Silver Town, OB Cabin, Lyons club and the Chosen Hotel all in Myeongdong. And while playing those gigs, we did a steady rotation of guest spots on radio and television. In the 70’s because of the DMZ, curfew was mandated and everyone had to be off the streets by midnight. I remember on weekends playing what we called the curfew gig. After finishing our last set at the Las Vegas club on Friday night, we would rush to beat curfew and head over to club Nirvana to play dance music. This involved being locked up in the club from midnight till four in the morning when curfew was officially over. The club owner wanted everyone on the dance floor working up a sweat and buying drinks so the music never stopped. We alternated sets with the other bands by switching instruments (members) one at a time until all members of the other band were on stage ready to begin their own set. The music never stopped. Four hours of loud nonstop music gave me a new found appreciation for silence!
The charity fundraisers were an event of their own. I remember a baseball game we played at Seoul stadium. Korean actors’ vrs musicians. We were given baseball uniforms signifying which team we played on. This wasn’t the traditional softball fundraiser, this was a real “hardball” game in the stadium and I remember the actors hired a professional ringer as their pitcher. He was wild and threw the most intimidating fast ball. Something I will never forget, and it still makes me anxious to this day!
And then there was the “Big” Show we always looked forward to. The yearly Battle of the Bands at Citizens Hall. An exciting venue to play, talented bands, great music and packed enthusiastic crowds of 3,000 plus. It was during these shows we became friends with many of the popular bands at the time, the He 6, Key Boys, Trippers and Last Chance. In Myeongdong where we all performed, we would visit each other’s clubs between sets enjoying the music and friendship.
In 1972 our Las Vegas contract ended and we were ready for a break from the seven nights a week gigs. We joined the USO circuit and performed at many military bases across Korea and of course played school proms and dances at the Teen club.
By this time, Chris Lakas went back to the states and James Che and Robert Mayotte joined the band. James on bass and Robert playing guitar and adding dynamic vocals to the mix. By the summer of 1972, Dean and Jeff left for the states signaling the final chapter for Rush. Many of us carried on playing in different bands, but Rush was special. I will always have fond memories of those great times in Seoul. I learned many valuable lessons that I carry with me today. I learned how to adapt, accept and grow. It was a dizzying blur, but what a fun memorable adventure!
By Bill Krause
Writing this was a Blast from the Past! You folks are doing a fantastic job with Yongsan Legacy, so much history to capture and so grateful somebody is doing this! Rush On!
Published on the Korea Times on 13th February 2019, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2019/02/177_263493.html