Thirty-seven years ago Kiwi guitar hero Doug Jerebine gave up rock 'n' roll to become a Krishna monk. But now he's back with axe in hand, writes Scott Kara
There were stories about Doug Jerebine and Jimi Hendrix being mates back in the heady days of the late 60s. Sorry, it's a myth, says Jerebine, who is back in New Zealand to play his first live show in more than 40 years tonight at Auckland's Bacco Room.
"I never met him. I met his drummer Mitch Mitchell at one point. But never Jim Hendrix, no."
Hendrix would have liked the laidback Kiwi. The two had similar guitar-playing styles (a masterful mix of natural ability, soul and confidence) and conjured up the same bracing rock 'n' roll sound with a combination of ruthless attack and eloquent finesse.
In London in 1969 Jerebine - under the alias Jesse Harper, a name given to him by his musical mate and collaborator Dave Hartstone - recorded the scorching psychedelic blues rock album Guitar Absolution In the Shade of a Midnight Sun. They don't make rock 'n' roll like the raw wailing fuzz of opener Jug-A-Jug Song any more.
The 66-year-old was born in Auckland but was brought up in Tangowahine - a small town on the road between Dargaville and Whangarei - and was taught guitar in his teens by a half-Greek, half-Maori bloke called Marsh Calkin.
"But", he says, "there was a lot of innate playing ability there, it seems. Somehow I have some blessing."
Before heading to London he was a session musician in New Zealand for the likes of Dinah Lee and Tommy Adderley throughout the 60s ("I just really read the dots on the paper"), formed the Brew, and his unique and more rebellious style developed after being influenced by Jimi Hendrix.
But even at that time, he says, he was more interested in Indian classical music.
"It wasn't really a final style for me because I was searching for the purity in the Indian music."
Guitar Absolution is a diverse record - taking in everything from squally blues to trippy melodic rock - and even though it's 40 years old it sounds fresh and potent. It was never released back then but in the mid-90s British record label Kissing Spell got hold of a copy and released it on vinyl in the late 90s without Jerebine's permission.
"They never paid me for it," he says, not sounding particularly concerned.
Even more remarkable is that Jerebine didn't hear the album again until the early 2000s. You see, back in the late 60s he was on the verge of great things in the rock 'n' roll business but he packed it in to become a Krishna monk.
"I rather had my arm twisted to make that by David Hartstone," admits Jerebine in his distinguished and polite lilt.
"I had never written songs before and then I came up with 12 songs and I considered it a bit of an oddity and we recorded them. That was [Hartstone's] inspiration more than mine. He pushed me if you like because I would never have done it otherwise.
"He wanted to make me into a rock star. I was daunted by that, I didn't like the idea at all."
Not that he was a prude, but Jerebine was playing with jazz musicians whose tipple was more than just alcohol and had also played bass in the Jeff Beck Group for a time and saw "the tragic state of the music business".
"I was quite disappointed in that and I was more interested in music rather than the dissipation that comes along with the trade. You see so many rock stars today and they are practically on crutches and I felt sad about it then and I feel sad about it now.
"But I was searching for something [higher] and I wasn't just being dissuaded by the [rock 'n' roll] lifestyle."
He joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness movement led by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swmai Prabhupada in 1970 and then in 1973 "got lost" in India for 20-or-so years.
"That stopped me playing [music] all together for a while because I became a monk."
Incidentally, while Jerebine was immersing himself in his faith his music was still being played. New Zealand's trippy psychedelic rockers Human Instinct, led by drummer and singer Maurice Greer, were inspired by Jerebine and took some of the guitarist's songs, including Jug-a-Jug Song, Midnight Sun and Blues News, which appeared on the band's classic 1970 albums Burning Up Years and Stoned Guitar.
For Jerebine, apart from playing the sitar, it wasn't until the early 2000s that "the music returned". He came across the Jesse Harper CD released by Kissing Spell and he played it to his wife, whom he married in 1999.
"She didn't know about that music part of me and I said, 'Well, you might disown me after you hear this'. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she said, 'This is the music I've always loved'."
They went out and bought a guitar and "all hell broke loose", he laughs.
Then, after 40 years of no contact with his old musical mate and singer Tommy Ferguson, who is in the band for tonight's gig, Jerebine received an email from him suggesting he come back to New Zealand to help produce an album.
"I remembered how he could sing. I'd never forgotten that. I just replied, 'Yes'."
Jerebine has been staying with Ferguson in the Hokianga and the pair have recorded seven new songs - and some of them are "quite tumultuous".
Jerebine believes music is a powerful tonic and he's excited to be back playing again.
"It's a beautiful therapeutic medicine. Remember the old Reader's Digest adage: laughter is the best medicine. Well, I think music is the best medicine. It's something that can be used to spread love, peace, joy and happiness. All the things that we aspire for. My return to having anything to do with playing is inspired by that."
Who: Doug Jerebine
What: 60s Kiwi guitar virtuoso is back
Where & when: Bacco Room, Auckland, tonight with singer Tommy Ferguson, bass player Chris Orange, and drummer Miles Gillett.
Album: Guitar Absolution In the Shade of a Midnight Sun (1969).