Guitarist John Anthony was also an activist

An inspiration to many generations of musicians who came after him, accomplished guitarist John Anthony recently passed away due to a cardiac arrest, at the age of 62. Actor Siddharth and musical wizards A R Rahman and Santhosh Narayanan were among some of the big names in the industry who condoned his death.

John was a trailblazer in Kerala’s independent music scene for his forays into rock music in the 1970s and jazz and Carnatic fusion music with the band ‘Karnatriix’ in recent years. He had also played the guitar for almost 2,000 Malayalam and Tamil film songs. 

Metrolife spoke to Bengaluru musicians, who say that the stalwart will live on through his music.                            

Karnatriix mixed jazz, Indian classical music
Around 2004, the world/fusion band Karnatriix became Anthony’s focus. They released their first album Namaste in 2008, and the collaboration-focused initiative saw performances from artistes like Tamilian percussionist Darbuka Sivan, sarangi artist Faiyaz Khan and tabla player Muthukumar. His last film project was ‘Vinnaithandi Varuvaya’ for which he associated with Rahman.

Environmental activist
He was a cartoonist and an active environmental activist who campaigned for causes like eco-preservation. From the ‘No More Bhopals’ campaign for environmental justice in the early 2000s to promoting cleanliness in Southern Railways and launching the Kadamma Music Outreach Program in 2016 for environmental awareness, John was determined to do his bit for the society.

A life steeped in music
Anthony picked up the guitar at a young age. It was a chance decision after he heard ‘Jingo’ by Carlos Santana on radio; a song which moved him so much he decided to become a guitarist then and there. He asked his parents to get him a guitar and started practising day and night. It was then that he became a part of influential Kochi-based bands like ‘Stoneage’ and ‘Hijackers’.

Almost four years after that, in 1976, he went to Trivandrum to playback singer K J Yesudas’s music school, Tharanganisari, to get formal Western classical music training. He wanted to train with pianist Roger D Jahnke, who was the principal there. However, Roger was so impressed with John’s playing he asked him to become a teacher in the school. So at the age of 18, John started instructing students, most of whom were older to him.

Later he shifted to Chennai, where he formed the fusion music band ‘Roots’ with A R Rahman and Sivamani, who later introduced him to films. In a span of a few years, he was collaborating with stalwarts like L Vaidyanathan, M Balamuralikrishna, T V Gopalakrishnan, Karaikudi Mani, Basvaraj brothers, Zakir Hussain, L Shankar, L Subramaniam etc.

By the late 1990s, he shifted back to independent music and to Kerala, forming the band ‘Karnatriix’.

“Our first experience with John was when there was a name clash of our band with his — ‘Karnatriix. Once we read up about him and his musical achievements, we were truly humbled. We were supposed to meet him in Trivandrum during our shoot for KappaTV but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. He was a great musician and a wonderful soul that we would have loved to meet personally. He lives now as an inspiration to us through his works.”
-Sumant Nemmani, Guitarist for ‘Project Mishram’.

“I personally did not know John Anthony but I have interacted with him twice. One was back in the day when I was doing the reality show ‘Ooh La La’, in which he was one of the mentors. I vividly remember speaking to him about the kind of music we wanted to write and he was very supportive of it. He also talked about how there was so much to explore in the style of music we were attempting to do at that time. We met again during a concerts where both our bands were playing. He was an inspiring human being and a great guitarist. I have always looked up to his music. His passing away is a huge loss to the music fraternity.
-Harish Sivaramakrishnan, lead singer for ‘Agam’

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