musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Pongsit Kampee’

200 Reasons to be Happy!

There was a feature in Uncut magazine last month, listing the 200 Greatest Albums of All Time. Greatest, Best, Finest, Most Influential; no matter what how you want to define it, a selection like that is more than a bit subjective, isn’t it? Many of the Uncut selections were fairly predictable. Not that the albums themselves were boring —- most are pretty much classics that are guaranteed to please — it’s just that we’re all used to seeing familiar choices such as Pet Sounds, Blonde On Blonde, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, Ziggy Stardust, Kind of Blue, Tapestry, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, A Love Supreme, Exile On Main Street, What’s Going On, Are You Experienced?, and After the Goldrush on these sorts of lists, so there weren’t many true surprises.


But the Uncut list got me to thinking about my own Top 200. By no means would I dare to label my choices as a “Best” or “Greatest” list, rather these are simply my favorite albums, those proverbial Desert Island Discs that I’ve played endless times over the years and ones that I could never willingly part with. In the realm of list compilers, I suppose I cheated a bit, picking some hits/best of packages, various artist collections, live albums, and even a couple of boxed sets. But hey, they are my favorites, so I won’t apologize.


Like most listeners, my taste in music was heavily influenced by the music that I heard when growing up, mostly songs on the radio. In my case, the “formative” years were in the 1960s when I started listening to the radio and in the early 1970s when I started buying music. But I’ve maintained a very heavy listening and buying habit in the ensuing decades, so you’ll see a smattering of more recent recordings on this list too. What can I say; I’m a music addict!


I own thousands of albums and I agonized over whittling this list down to “only” 200. I’m sure that I’ll kick myself for missing a few, but looking over the choices, I’m pretty satisfied with them. But confining the list to 200 meant leaving off many great albums, including ones by some of my very favorite recording artists, such as the Temptations, Drive-By Truckers, George Jackson, Allen Toussaint, Otis Redding, Sly & the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Go-Betweens, Booker T & the MGs, Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, the Byrds, and so many others.


These albums are not ranked in order of most favorite, just alphabetically by album title. I’m certain that there are more than a few picks that will strike you as odd or perplexing. My choices could be as obscure as the great Tom Foolery album or the fantastic debut recording by Love Tractor, or something as mainstream as Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, or Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult, but these are the albums that remain the nearest and dearest to my heart.


The first pick on my list is a good example of my loose criteria: the first two albums by Big Star. I had both albums as a 2-LP import record back in the early 1980s, and now I own the 2-CD package, so in my mind these two albums are inseparable, just one complete blissful listening experience that can’t be divided.


Big Star #1 Record/Radio City
20/20 20/20
Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs
Jimmy Buffett A-1-A
Blue Oyster Cult Agents of Fortune
Richard Lloyd Alchemy




Crack the Sky                    Animal Notes

Marvin Gaye Anthology
Ramones Anthology
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Architecture and Morality
Squeeze Argy Bargy
Van Morrison Astral Weeks
Cheap Trick At Budokan
Allman Brothers Band At the Fillmore East

NRBQ           At Yankee Stadium




Daryl Hall & John Oates Atlantic Collection
B-52’s B-52’s, the
Warren Zevon Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School
Paul McCartney & Wings Band on the Run
Band, the Band, the
Bob Dylan & the Band Basement Tapes, the


Various Artists                     Beat the Retreat: Songs By Richard Thompson




Hollies Best of the Hollies
Kimberley Rew Bible of Bop
XTC Black Sea
Bob Dylan Blood On the Tracks
Michael Murphey Blue Sky Night Thunder


Swimming Pool Q’s       Blue Tomorrow




Ry Cooder Bop Till You Drop
Bruce Springsteen Born To Run
U2 Boy
John Hiatt Bring the Family


John Prine       Bruised Orange




Style Council Café Bleu
Lucinda Williams Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
David Byrne Catherine Wheel
Creedence Clearwater Revival Chronicle
Neil Diamond Classics: The Early Years
Jean-Michel Jarre Concerts in China


999      Concrete




Steely Dan Countdown To Ecstasy
Feelies Crazy Rhythms
Echo & the Bunnymen Crocodiles
Tom Petty Damn the Torpedoes
Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town
Dream Syndicate Days of Wine and Roses
R.E.M. Dead Letter Office
Neil Young Decade


Utopia       Deface the Music




Sade Diamond Life
King Crimson Discipline
Atlanta Rhythm Section Dog Days
Elton John Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player


Brother Jack McDuff        Down Home Style




Nektar Down To Earth
Waylon Jennings Dreaming My Dreams
Josh Rouse Dressed Up Like Nebraska
Bongos Drums Across the Hudson
Squeeze East Side Story
Wally Badarou Echoes


Glenn Phillips       Echoes: 1975-85




Everything But the Girl Eden
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland
Pete Townshend Empty Glass
Gang of Four Entertainment


Garland Jeffreys       Escape Artist




Isley Brothers Essential
Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story
Yo La Tengo Fakebook
Little Feat Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
Snow Patrol Final Straw


Heartsfield        Foolish Pleasures




Jackie Leven Forbidden Songs of the Dying West
Crosby Stills Nash & Young Four Way Street
Devo Freedom of Choice
New Musik From A to B
Nick Drake Fruit Tree (Boxed Set)


Elvis Costello       Get Happy




Gil Scott-Heron Glory: The Gil Scott-Heron Collection
Randy Newman Good Old Boys
World Party Goodbye Jumbo
Elton John Goodbye Yellowbrick Road
Gordon Lightfoot Gord’s Gold
Paul Simon Graceland
Green On Red Gravity Talks
Al Green Greatest Hits
Chi-Lites Greatest Hits


Wreckless Eric       Greatest Stiffs




Doll By Doll Gypsy Blood
Pylon Gyrate
Jimmy Cliff Harder They Come, the
Smiths Hatful of Hollow
Poco Head Over Heels


Fleetwood Mac       Heroes Are Hard To Find




Rolling Stones Hot Rocks
Stevie Wonder Hotter Than July
Richard & Linda Thompson I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight
Nada Surf If I Had a Hi-Fi
Eurythmics In the Garden
Velvet Crush In the Presence of Greatness
Van Morrison Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
Various Artists Indestructible Beat of Soweto, the
Stevie Wonder Innervisions


Ozark Mountain Daredevils

It’ll Shine When It Shines




Jonathan Richman Jonathan Goes Country
Steely Dan Katy Lied
Mink DeVille Le Chat Bleu
Wet Willie Left Coast Live
Replacements Let It Be
Elvin Bishop Let It Flow
Railway Children Listen On: The Best Of


Grover Washington, Jr.       Live At the Bijou




Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Live Bullet
Bob Marley & the Wailers Live!
Clash, the London Calling


Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen

Lost in the Ozone




Kitchens of Distinction Love is Hell
Love Tractor Love Tractor
Horslips Man Who Built America, the
Television Marquee Moon
James Taylor Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon
R.E.M. Murmur


Long Ryders          Native Sons




Red Rider Neruda
Rod Stewart Never A Dull Moment
Gin Blossoms New Miserable Experience
Charlie Daniels Band Nightrider
Nils Lofgren Nils Lofgren
Ronnie Wood Now Look


Guy Clark        Old #1/Texas Cookin’




Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (3rd Album)
Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti
Knitters, the Poor Little Critter on the Road
Emmylou Harris Portraits (Boxed Set)
New Order Power Corruption & Lies
Shoes Present Tense/Tongue Twister
Pretenders Pretenders
Who, the Quadrophenia


Jacobites (Nikki Sudden & Dave Kusworth)

Ragged School




Tom Waits Rain Dogs
Deacon Blue Raintown
Jayhawks, the Rainy Day Music
R.E.M. Reckoning
Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger
Mekons Rock ‘n Roll


Various Reggae Artists

Rockers: Original Soundtrack




Ben Folds Rockin’ the Suburbs
Tarney-Spencer Band Run For Your Life
Jackson Browne Running On Empty
Neil Young Rust Never Sleeps
Clash, the Sandinista!
David Bowie Scary Monsters
Marshall Tucker Band Searchin’ For a Rainbow


Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels




Lynyrd Skynyrd Second Helping
Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache
O’Jays Ship Ahoy
Ry Cooder Show Time
UB40 Signing Off


Linn Linn       Sin Za Ba




Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady
Records, the Smashes, Crashes, and Near Misses
Interview Snakes & Lovers
Robert Palmer Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley
Todd Rundgren Something Anything
Jam, the Sound Effects
Dan Fogelberg Souvenirs


Spinners       Spinners




Graham Parker Squeezing Out Sparks
Grant Green Steet Funk & Jazz Groove
Talking Heads Stop Making Sense
Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors
Curtis Mayfield Superfly Soundtrack
Camper Van Beethoven Telephone Free Landslide Victory


Atlanta Rhythm Section

Third Annual Pipe Dream




Moody Blues This is the Moody Blues
Replacements Tim
Tom Foolery Tom Foolery
Neil Young Tonight’s the Night


Amazing Rhythm Aces    Too Stuffed To Jump




Reivers, the Translate Slowly
Elvis Costello Trust
Fleetwood Mac Tusk
Pure Prairie League Two Lane Highway
U2 Unforgettable Fire


Pongsit Kampee & Lek Carabao

Unplugged (Plug Loot)




Fountains of Wayne Utopia Parkway
Durutti Column Valuable Passages
Ultravox Vienna
Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua
Joan Armatrading Walk Under Ladders


Joe Strummer       Walker Soundtrack




Guadalcanal Diary Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man
Ian Hunter Welcome To the Club
Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits


Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

Whipped Cream & Other Delights




X Wild Gift
Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball
Vulgar Boatmen You and Your Sister
Tom Petty You’re Gonna Get It


The Motorcycle Concerts


Some of the guys from the neighborhood motorcycle taxi stand continue to drop by my apartment once every week or so to listen to music, drink beer, and chat. About two weeks ago, one of the guys, Noy, was bemoaning the fact that his old acoustic guitar was now rendered all but unplayable, having been battered by termites and a cracked neck. If there is something I appreciate, it’s an aspiring musician, so, before he left that night I slipped him some money and told him to use it to buy a new guitar. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but enough to buy a decent secondhand acoustic guitar. He looked shocked when I handed him the money, but thanked me and told me that he’d bring the guitar by to show me after he purchased it. He had already been eyeing a model for sale in a nearby pawnshop and saving his wages, he said, so the extra money should seal the deal.


Over a week went by and I didn’t see or hear from him or any of the other drivers that usually come over. I thought that perhaps he had ended up using the money for something else and was perhaps ashamed to show up without a guitar. Hey, I understand, life interrupts and things happen. Then, last Friday night Noy called up and asked if I was free that night. Sure, I told him, come over anytime after nine. When I opened the door, Noy was standing there with guitar in his hand and a big smile on his face, and in his wake was another motorcycle guy, Nat, and he also was carrying an acoustic guitar!


The two guys sat down and proceeded to launch into a repertoire of pleng puea cheewit (“Music for Life”) standards, mostly songs by Pongsit Kampee. Okay, they’re my friends and I may be biased, but I was pretty impressed by their playing ability. Noy is quite adept at picking out some tricky chords and Nat showed that he could play well too, plus he has a very pleasant singing voice. At one point in the “concert” Noy asked if I could take a video of them with my camera. After I filmed them, I downloaded it onto my computer and Noy in turn posted it on his Facebook page. Ah, this brave new world!


Playing covers is one thing, of course, but now I’ll be curious to see if Noy and Nat are inspired to start writing their own material. I’ll be eager to hear the next installment in the motorcycle concerts!


Motorcycle Beer Night

If I looked a bit haggard in my bookshop today, there was a good reason for it. I was up until 3:30 in the morning drinking beer with a group of motorcycle taxi drivers — motosai — from my neighborhood. I can’t even remember the last time I stayed up that late (must have been back in the early 1990s!) or drank that much beer, but it was a lot of fun.

I’m usually in the sack by midnight, so staying up that late caused my normal morning routine — I wake up at 7:30 and am out the door about 45 minutes later to go and open my shop — to, shall we say, drag a bit more than usual. Man, I’m getting too old for these late night sessions. But all things considered, I don’t regret it. I don’t get guests that often, but these guys were a friendly and polite bunch and I enjoyed having them over.


One of the guys had phoned me earlier in the evening, around 9:30, and asked if I was free. I told him sure, come on over and bring your friends. He said that he’d come by after his shift ended, which was around 10:30 that night. But eleven came and went and I wondered if anybody was going to show up, so I called and he said that he was still working. Hey, if these guys have customers, they are going to keep working. Finally, a few minutes past midnight the crew arrived; four of the motorcycle taxi drivers from the stand near my apartment.


One of them heard the music playing inside my apartment and grinned: “Pongsit Kampee.” And he was correct; I had a Pongsit Kampee CD playing, just as a hunch that these guys would like Kampee’s Thai “music for life” folk songs, and they did. I tell you, Pongsit Kampee never fails. Something about his down-to-earth songs, and that lovely voice, always connects with Thai people like these young motorcycle taxi drivers.

This was the first time that this particular group had been to my place, so to help get the conversation going I passed around some photo albums of my trips to Myanmar and Cambodia and told them more about my travels and my job. And they told me about their lives too. One of the guys comes from Surin, which is near the border with Cambodia, and he could speak a bit of Khmer, so we had fun with that.


The cool thing was watching these guys start to relax and loosen after a few minutes. I was no longer their customer, but a friend. I think there is always some hesitation and uncertainty when these motorcycle guys come over for the first time to visit “the strange farang,” not knowing how well we will be able to communicate or how comfortable they’ll feel. But I can speak Thai reasonably well and enjoy the company of locals like these guys, so I think that helps to bridge the cultural divide and create some sort of common thread. So, between the good music, travel photos, and a steady flow of beer, we broke the ice and had conversations about a variety of subjects, ranging from sports and food to their work routine and the hazards of the job. These guys usually work from 8 am until late at night, such as the midnight shift they just finished. They’ve got to deal with traffic jams, careless car drivers, police shakedowns, and bad weather. They don’t get to work in an air-conditioned office or have days off. But they will get a break for the upcoming New Year holiday. They are all heading back to their home provinces this weekend to visit family and friends for a few days. Three of them are going to Nakhon Ratchasima and the other guy will return to Surin.

At one point — perhaps inspired by the Tiger Beer — someone got the idea to take photos, so they all pulled out their phones and took turns snapping shots of the group as we toasted one another. Good silly fun. It was after 2:00 and we had polished off the six large bottles of beer that I had in my fridge, along with a variety of crunchy chips and nuts. I figured at that point that they would call it a night and go home, but they were just getting started! One of them left to pick up some more beer at a nearby shop (obviously, they must know where they can get after-hours supplies) and returned with another four bottles. Good grief!


Pongsit Kampee later segued into some vintage Carabao and eventually they exhausted the rest of the beer and chips. But before leaving, they insisted on cleaning up after themselves; picking up empty bottles, sweeping the floor, and washing all the glasses. I just stood and watched, marveling at their industriousness and politeness. A good crew. I hope to have them back again when they return from their New Year break, but next time maybe I’ll suggest an earlier night. Right now, I need sleep!


The Motorcycle Dialogues

I ride motorcycles every day of the week. No, I don’t drive the darn things; I’ve never driven a motorcycle in my life and I don’t think the traffic-clogged streets of Bangkok are the ideal venue to initiate such an experience. For now, I’m content to be a passenger on the back of one, letting a motosai taxi driver takes me to my destination. The beauty of taking a motorcycle in Bangkok is that they are nimble enough to weave through the lanes of idling cars, stalled in traffic, getting you to your destination in a fraction of the time it would take by conventional auto options. The downside, of course, is that the distinct odor of exhaust fumes clings to your clothing long after you have reached the end of the journey.


Earlier this week, I took a motosai from Thonglor to the Foodland on New Petchburi Road. Virtually the whole way there, the driver engaged me in conversation. Taxi drivers can be very chatty, but I rarely get a motosai driver who strikes up quite such an extended conversation, and indeed, I felt like I was in the back of a regular taxi, the way this guy bombarded me with so many questions. All the way down the street, other motorcycles are whizzing by us, we’re passing buses and cars, the wind is blowing through my hair, and in general it’s pretty damn noisy, but I’m leaning closer, straining to hear the guy, and trying not to fall off the damn motorcycle. All in all, not exactly conducive to smooth conversation. But still, it was a memorable experience, and this guy was very polite and inquisitive. When he dropped me off at Foodland, I paid him the normal fare, smiled and waved goodbye, wishing him good luck. Who knows, I may run into him again next week.

I’ve become pretty good friends with a couple of motosai drivers from my neighborhood in the past year. I always go to the same motorcycle stand near my apartment, where about ten drivers (a lot fewer than the throng who work at the busy end of Thonglor) sit and wait for passengers. Two of the drivers, May and Team, will drop by my apartment, maybe two or three times each month, after they get off work. For an hour or two we’ll sit around drinking beer, chatting, watching videos on YouTube (football/soccer tricks and drag racing seem to be their favorites), and listening to music. Pongsit Kampee, a popular Thai folk singer-guitarist in the Pleng Puea Cheewit style, is always the music of choice. But I especially enjoy the conversations. It helps me practice my Thai, but I also learn more about the lives and work routine of these drivers. Most of them come from provinces in the north or northeast of the country; May and Team are both from Nakhon Ratchasima. They often work long days in the heat and sun, or nights in the driving rain; no air conditioned lounges or comfy sofas for these guys to sit and relax. If they stay fairly busy, and don’t have too many debts to pay (motorcycle payments, “taxes” to neighborhood “bosses” who regulate the taxi services, petrol costs, etc.), they might clear 10,000 baht per month (about $330). And of course they always have to worry about the possibility of accidents, or being stopped by the police and forced to pay fines for sometimes non-existent violations. It may be a nice, independent lifestyle, but these motosai drivers aren’t getting rich in the process.


May and his other friend, Ben, came by my apartment one night last week. I asked May if he was free the following day. I needed to leave work early, drop by my doctor to pick up a prescription, and then go to the Air Asia booth at the Tesco Lotus store on Onnut to change a ticket. Having a single motosai driver to take me to those places, and wait for me, would be much easier than having to arrange transport at each point. May was pretty sure that he could do it, but asked me to call him the following afternoon to make sure he was free, which is what I did. After calling him shortly after four o’clock, he was parked outside my bookshop and waiting less than ten minutes later. He took me on my appointed rounds and when it was all over, as I reached in my pocket to pay him, he waved off the money. “Not necessary,” he said. I tried again, but he still refused to take the money, leaving with a big smile on his face. Maybe that’s payment for all the beer that he and his buddies have been drinking, but I’d like to think it’s also because that he and the other Thai motosai drivers are simply nice people, kind folks just looking to survive the rat race in this crazy concrete jungle.

Kampee for Chai

Feeling a bit physically and emotionally drained after work last Sunday night, rather than walking most of the way home as I have been doing lately, I opted for the comfort of a taxi ride. Once I was seated inside, I told the driver where I wanted to go, speaking in Thai. I couldn’t help but notice the familiar music the driver was playing. “Is that Pongsit Kampee?” I asked, knowing the answer already, but wondering what sort of reaction that my recognition of the music would get from the driver.

He flashed a big smile. “Yes, that’s Kampee.”

I offered a grin of my own. “I like his music very much,” I said.

The driver turned up the volume, the grin still on his face. We were rolling.

Pongsit Kampee is one of the more popular practitioners of a Thai music style known as Pleng Puea Cheewit, or “Songs for Life,” and it’s pretty common to hear his music played, especially in taxis, here in Thailand. Pleng Puea Cheewit is a type of folk music, sometimes acoustic and sometimes electric, but almost always with political or socially conscious lyrical content. I love all of Pongsit Kampee’s albums, but my absolute favorite — and one of my most treasured in any genre — is Plug Loot (literally “Unplugged”), an acoustic set of songs that he recorded with Lek Carabao (yes, from the band of the same name, but don’t get him confused with band leader Ad Carabao) back in the early 1990s. That album was a masterpiece of acoustic perfection, the two guitarists performing some of their strongest songs, all garnished with Pongsit’s sweet vocals. Even if you can’t understand everything — or anything — that Pongsit is singing in Thai, you can’t help but fall under the spell of that beautiful, soothing voice. And if you ARE able to understand the lyrics, you will agree with my friend Chai, who once told me: “His songs have very good meaning.”

And that brings me around to the topic of Chai, who is one of the reasons for my recent fatigue. For the past three weeks I have been visiting Chai in the hospital ward where he is currently bedridden. He’s been there for over a month now, the result of head injuries he suffered in a motorcycle accident. For the first week he was in a coma in ICU, and things were touch and go. He is now awake but doesn’t appear to recognize anyone. Because of a lung infection he still has to use a breathing tube and is being fed intravenously.

I’ve been going to the hospital twice a week. I leave work each Monday and Thursday afternoon, taking the Skytrain to the Saphan Taksin station and then walking the rest of the way to the public hospital on Silom Road. I take the elevator up the 15th floor, say hello to the cleaning lady (she seems to be the friendliest and most attentive person on the whole floor) and walk over to Chai’s bed, situated in a huge ward along with dozens of other patients. His mother is there at his bedside every day during visiting hours, from noon till nine at night, massaging Chai’s legs and arms, and speaking to him encouragingly. To see Chai in such a condition must be agonizing for her, but it’s clear she loves her oldest son and will do anything she can to help his recovery. I make my own unskilled attempts at massage and speak to Chai, telling him how much that I and his other friends have missed him, and urging him to get better soon. I tease him not to be lazy, not to give the nurses a hard time, and to obey his mother. But I have no idea if he understands any of my babbling or not. Chai stares at me with his one undamaged eye, but there are no obvious signs of recognition, and he doesn’t speak.

You always hear that listening to music can be productive therapy for people with head injuries, so I went out and bought an MP4 player for Chai, and then loaded it up with lots of tunes that I know that he likes; music from Thai artists such as Pongsit Kampee, Carabao, and Body Slam, along with some upcountry Morlam and Luk Thung songs. In addition to that, I added a bunch of instrumental music, ranging from Ennio Morricone and Jean Michel Jarre, to Grant Green and Love Tractor. Now, whenever I drop by to visit, unless he is sleeping or has just woken, the ear buds are in place and Chai is listening to music. Or at least the device is playing. I’m not sure if his mother is humoring me or if she believes in the power of song too. I asked her the other day what Chai was listening to, and she replied with a smile: “Kampee.”

Even if this music does nothing to assist in Chai’s rehabilitation, at least it may help to relieve any boredom he feels from being confined to bed all day. Hell, maybe he’ll end up becoming a big fan of Morricone’s film scores. At this point, though, I’ll just settle for a normal conversation with him. But that day is still a long way off, or I fear, may never happen again. I have to be realistic. We’re not talking about broken bones and bruises. Head injuries are very serious, unpredictable things, and one can’t make accurate predictions about the prognosis for a person who has suffered such severe trauma. In most cases like this, there is no such thing as a complete recovery. But can we at least hope for some slight return to normal? Will Chai be able to walk again? Will he talk again? Will he laugh and sing songs again? Will he even be able to feed himself or use the toilet unassisted? His mother tells me that he’s getting better, that he understands what’s going on, but honestly, except for the swelling around eyes dissipating, I don’t see much improvement yet.

All I can do for now is to wait patiently for any incremental signs of progress, visit him often, keep chatting and smiling, and hope he’ll get better. And let the music play.

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