‘Johny uncle was mostly seen with a guitar’

John Anthony’s nephew recalls his uncle’s loving nature and his love for the guitar.

A file picture of Nevil with John Anthony.

For most of us, he was John Anthony, legendary guitarist and respected musician. For Nevil, he was Johny uncle, with whom he could talk about anything under the sun.

Nevil’s mother is John’s first cousin and for the past few years, they were all living in the same city — Thiruvananthapuram. From going for drives together to having a fun time at family functions, Nevil, now Kerala head for an appliance company, has many memories with his famous uncle. 

“I have always seen Johny uncle with a guitar, whether in a group or alone. It was an extension of him,” he recalls.

“I particularly remember a day when he was dropping me home (I lived at a distance of around 7 km from his house in Thiruvananthapuram). After he had driven for quite some time, I saw the guitar striker in his hand. When I pointed it out to him, he seemed surprised and exclaimed, ‘Oh, I didn’t notice that’. It seemed as if the guitar was a part of his body,” Nevil recalls.

No one in the family has taken to music professionally (John’s father was an ex-Airforce pilot who later became a college professor) but John’s passion was motivation enough for him, throughout his illustrious career.

“Sometimes, he will play random notes while we are talking. Many-a-time it has happened that we would all be listening to an old Malayalam song on the radio while driving and he would suddenly shout ‘Oh, this guitar piece was played by me’. We would be shocked because even after having heard the song many times, we wouldn’t have guessed this. I think he himself didn’t remember all the songs he had played,” Nevil says with a chuckle, adding that John’s favourite bands included Pink Floyd and Santana. 

Even with such an impressive itinerary, the older generation of Malayalis still remembers for the iconic guitar solo in the song ‘Ponveene’, from the movie ‘Thalavattom’. “They would still talk about it when they met him, while the younger audience would praise his later works. But Johny uncle shunned fame; he never boasted about knowing people like AR Rahman and Sivamani. He was fully focused on finding his space in the Carnatic music space,” says Nevil.

However, he says that Jonh was excited for the next two years. “His band was getting many shows abroad — in Australia, Thailand, Switzerland, Sweden, Paris and so on. When we were chatting, he told me that things were finally changing after so many years.

Had a revolutionary love marriage

John Anthony married Supreetha, when he was an instructor and she a student in Tharangini. It was a revolutionary love, as both of them were from different religions, one that endured till the very last. “He would frequently go for drives with Chuppy aunty (Supreetha was called Chuppy by everyone close to the couple, even Rahman and Sivamani). Once she had a bad fall from the first floor of their house and had to be admitted in the ICU for many days. I have never seen Johny uncle as devastated as he was then. Once, while we were sitting outside the ICU, he told me ‘My biggest dream is to leave the earth before Chuppy,” reminisces Nevil.

Supreetha is now a yoga teacher. They have one son Siddharth, an animation specialist in the US.

“Mine was also an inter-caste love marriage. I used to discuss my issues with uncle, who was very supportive. He was the first person to meet my wife in person; when he came for a show in Chennai, where we used to live then,” says Nevil.

Was never too busy for family

Though John would be quite busy with events and programmes throughout the year, he would take time to attend family functions whenever he was free. “I have videos of him dancing with other family members during one of my cousin’s wedding reception,” says Nevil.

The man behind the stage

Apart from music, his other passion was the environment. “He was against plastic. We have a practice of putting up flexes of a person after his death, as a mark of respect. Uncle was against this practice and repeatedly told me that when he died, there should be no such wasteful act,” says Nevil.

“He used to love prawns fry, especially my mother’s preparation. He would frequently call her and say that he wanted a container of it.”

“He disapproved of bands lip-syncing recorded songs during live shows.”

Comments (+)