Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The phenomenal Alex Peters (Malaysia's Rock Machine) is still absolutely awesome after all these years!

Alex Lesley Peters was born in Sentul where his father worked with Malayan Railways (“like all dads in Sentul”), but grew up in the Cochrane Road area. By then, his father had moved to the Orang Asli Affairs Department.

At 12, Peters wanted to become a Catholic priest. At 14, after the household had engaged in tense debate, he began a two-year stay at the Gethsemane Friary in Cheras, from where he bused it to the Jalan Cochrane Secondary School in the neighborhood his family lived. During those two years, music filled the Peters home in a big way. Three older brothers, each on a musical journey of his own, shared a made-in-China Kapok brand acoustic guitar with Lion brand steel strings.

Then there was Alex, home only for holidays, the youngest and clamoring for his turn on the guitar because the music was surging inside him.

“There were four young men in the house, each into Santana, Hendrix, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, Iron Butterfly, King Crimson. The strings popped a lot. Then my first public performance came along.”

It was a penalty thing: if you did not play a sport or join a school club, you had to do something for the annual concert. Alex Peters played the guitar, his head hung down, his eyes fixed on the stage floor throughout the performance. His teammate, equally petrified, sang John Denver’s 'Country Road.'

“We barely heard the words of the song. We were so scared. I was seized with fright."

By 17, Peters was seized with rock‘n’roll. Music had taken over his life. Priestly plans were cancelled. Staying at home, he joined his brother Matthew's band Mainstream, doing mostly soft rock at private events.

Then came the big moves. He told his mother he was going to fail his MCE, that he had decided to be a singer and needed a RM173 loan to invest in a real guitar. She had something of a fit.

“She gave me the money eventually. I was focused. I think she saw that. That was the turning point. I had decided what I wanted to do with my life. There was a definite plan, a clear path.”

A path from which Peters has not veered despite occasional, sometimes long, breaks from singing. From 1978 to 1982, he was part of a group – three separate line-ups of Stratosphere – as bandmates came and went. They played hard rock, soft rock, jazz rock, disco, country & western and reggae.

In 1983, he went solo and slowly purged country & western from his repertoire, turned up the sound and acquired a rock and reggae reputation.

It repelled the older regulars at Bangsar’s Moonraker pub who came in for 'Your Cheating Heart' and couldn’t fathom the pulse of a rocker.

Peters brought in a new generation, set a new trend and attracted a bona fide cult following. One group of diehard loyalists was there every night. They called themselves the Gravediggers – they were young, full of machismo and at an age when men like to give themselves mean-sounding names.

Late in 1984, the voice went away. Alex Peters, diagnosed with voice abuse (gross loss of larynx muscle elasticity) retreated for two years and used that time to learn the workings of new generation sound machines. Then he was back with a vengeance, bringing with him that big sound he is now famous for. He created a serious following at Treffpunkt in Petaling Jaya.

In 1988, he won the first Top of the Pubs contest, sweeping the crowd with a frenzied rendition (which people still talk about) of Herbie Hancock’s 'Rockit.' The contest, now an annual event, made Alex Peters a household name.

[Source: Sunday Style, 1 November 1998]

Sentul Soul-Brother
Alex Peters @
It's virtually impossible to write about Alex Peters - and do the man justice. Simply because his interests span a broad spectrum beyond his public persona as the most popular pub musician Malaysia has ever seen. 

As a musician, his mastery of virtually all musical modalities leaves one breathless with admiration. Ever the perfectionist, he has been known to work 16-hour days just getting his backing tracks right, constantly aiming for that magical blend of polished precision and raw passion.

Somewhat of a recluse and an introvert offstage, Alex Peters possesses a deep, mystical nature that lends him the aura of a scientist monk or medieval alchemist. As long as I've known him, he has walked a taut tightrope between priest and shaman, closet scholar and magus, saint and cynic (he also happens to pay avid attention to geopolitical shenanigans and NWO conspiracies)

I am astounded by his ability to deconstruct complex compositions and lovingly reconstruct them as minus-two backing tracks, adding his own personal flourishes with impeccable guitarwork and sinewy vocals. When I first witnessed Alex Peters the Rock Machine in action during the late 1980s - that was when he pioneered the art of accompanying himself on guitar with richly orchestrated, consummately produced pre-recorded bass & synth tracks - I realized that this guy had achieved my childhood dream of becoming a musical prodigy with an encyclopedic grasp of all music.

In my adolescent fantasies I would imagine myself as leader of a band so versatile that it could play just about anything on earth - whether the classics, popular hits, ethnic-fusion, avant-garde, progressive jazz or pure funk.  Well, Alex Peters had picked up my childhood dream and run off with it - as essentially the world's most versatile one-man band (although he occasionally enjoyed collaborating with other ace musicians like Allan Perera, Simon Justin Leo and Viji).

Whether he's simulating the DJ scratch effect on Herbie Hancock's 'Rockit' with his guitar on overdrive, or creating his own raga-style Indian-flavored anthem ('Higher') with an Open D tuning that approximates the sound of a sitar & tamboura being played together, Alex's instinct for the crowd-pleasing wow factor has always been unerring. He can even out-Santana Carlos on an electronically reconstituted samba... that's how masterful the man is as a musician.

His pitch-perfect voice (which he almost lost to acute laryngitis in 1984) covers a truly remarkable range which allows him to attempt anything from the tenderest ballads and the most soulful R&B to the toughest roughest metal numbers. To my mind Alex Peters has created a musical signature that's a miraculous blend of Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Jesus Christ Superstar.

As we approach yet another Merdeka (Independence Day) with mixed and murky feelings about the abysmal state of affairs precipitated by what Wilhelm Reich aptly called the Higs - Hoodlums in government - my thoughts turn to all the things that make me proud of and optimistic about Malaysia, despite the shabby treatment some of our greatest talents have been shown. 

The way P. Ramlee was left in the lurch and ignored until long after his death (when his monumental talent was seized upon by officialdom, celebrated and canonized as a Malaysian icon)... the cold-blooded manner in which Sudirman was shunned when it became apparent that he was dying of AIDs... the indifference of our cultural bureaucrats to world-class musicians like the late great Paul Ponnudurai, who spent his last years performing in a Singapore pub... well, suddenly reconnecting (thanks to facebook) with a musical supergenius like Alex Peters - who has still so much more to offer - is verily a brilliant sunbeam breaking forth from behind an ominous dark cloud. So glad we made it to this point, my illustrious Sentul Soul-Brother!

[Fisrt posted 30 August 2013]