Blues Shelter []
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Blues Shelter []

Band Blues Funk


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"Gugun and The Bluesbug: Bitten by the blues"

The third floor of BBs blues bar in Menteng, Central Jakarta was packed. All the seats were taken, with some people standing in front of the bar.

The dimly lit bar had people bobbing their heads up and down. Some had smiles on their faces, some had their eyes closed, and some had their eyes transfixed to the stage, their mouths slightly open.

In front of them stood a bespectacled man tearing away his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Strays of his messy, shoulder-length hair dropped in front of his face, while he looked lost in his guitar playing. Next to him was a calm bass player, whose unanimated face could not deceive even the tone-deaf listener of his genius playing. Behind them, a young energetic drummer let out powerful beats while his body bounced up and down with every strike.

One of the audience members commented in awe, "This man is unreal".

The band that took the stage by storm was Gugun and The Bluesbug, a phenomenal blues band that has been under the radar in Indonesia's music scene. The band, which started as a solo project of guitarist and vocalist Mohammad "Gugun" Gunawan, is receiving more attention outside Indonesia, with repeated tours of the United Kingdom.

The band is slated for another UK tour in January and will be part of the Skegness Rock and Blues Festival, an annual blues festival there. They will be the only band from Asia among the 30 performers at the festival.

Band manager Tagor Siagian said it was tough to get local audience to accept The Bluesbug's music. "But I tell them (the band) not to lose hope. We'll enter international festivals first and tour outside the country, once we get international recognition, things will be easier," he said.

An example of their struggles within the country, Tagor said that at the JakJazz festival in November, Gugun and The Bluesbug shared the staged with long-time musician Abadi Soesman.

"The organizers were still hesitant to schedule Gugun and The Bluesband on their own. They thought of Gugun and The Bluesbug was a new name. Hopefully at the next festival we can have the stage to ourselves," he said.

Tagor also said that sponsors tend to shy away from blues gigs as they are equated with old people's music.

The band has been around for four years, releasing two albums under the indie record label Sinjitos. Gugun estimated the album sales for both the albums to be above 1,000 copies.

Gugun, who blues aficionados say remind them of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar playing, has fingers that dance the guitar frets so fast that it seems they have a mind of their own.

At BBs, the band played around 20 songs, a mix from their own singles and hits from blues legend Jimmy Hendrix and Ray Charles. Gugun, wearing a T-shirt with "Music Saves My Life" written in bold letters, sang "Woman", a song from the band's second album Turn It On (2007), in which the refrain goes: "You know just how to take my breath away/ You're amazing/ You change my life until tomorrow come/I ain't complaining".

No doubt that at one point in the song the audience thought "Right back at you".

That night, Gugun played with 24-year-old drummer prodigy Aditya "Bowie" Wibowo and the ever-so-calm Tri "Enti" Widodo on the bass.

As the band is a solo project of Gugun, the members of The Bluesbug have changed a couple of times. In 2004, when Gugun first started the project and released debut album Get The Bug, he recorded it with English national John Armstrong (bass) and Iskandar (drums). He recorded Turn It On with Arditya on the bass and Agung on drums.

For the UK tour, Gugun will be playing with Armstrong and Bowie, who will later be permanent band members. The band will change their name to Gugun and the Blues Shelter.

A Greek band apparently has taken The Bluesbug as their name. "Our agent in England thinks that it's better for us to change the band's name, with our plans to go international," Gugun said before the performance at BBs.

Learning to play the guitar after his dad gave him his first one when he was six, Gugun quickly mastered the instrument. At the raw age of 9, in Riau province where he grew up, he won a regional competition and became the best guitar player in Riau.

He automatically became attracted to blues music when he was very young. Listening to the Beatles and blues musicians such as BB King, he was amazed how blues music could trigger a range of emotions such as excitement, happiness and sadness.

"Also with blues, the music is very aesthetic," he said.

He said he used a Fender Stratocaster so his guitar playing could sound like the legend. Hendrix used the same type of guitar.

With the new lineup and name, Gugun will release another album, which has not been be named yet, in 2009. He said that while the previous albums were dark, the new album would be lighter.

He said it would be funkier and in the style of Lenny Kravits. "It will have more soul, more rhythm and blues and also ballads," Gugun said.

He said he had tried a lighter version of blues for the soundtrack of the hit movie Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors), which was well received.

Bowie said they wanted to change the perception of blues music as old people's music. "It can be funky and youthful as well," he said.

"As a blues musician, we also need to get with the times and follow the sound development," Gugun said. "We have to progress with music."

- The Jakarta Post


Get the Bug - 2004 (Independent)
Turn it on - 2006 (Sinjitos Records, Indonesia) {available to download via i-tunes}



Formed in 2004 in the humid, smokey downtown Blues bars of Jakarta, Indonesia, The Blues Shelter are at the cutting edge of modern Blues music.
Their voodoo concoction of sound draws from Blues, funk, soul and rock to create a sound that is set to take the World by storm.
Their explosive live performances have gained a cult following and a reputation for leaving the crowd screaming for encores from Bali to Burnley and charismatic lead guitarist Gugun has been hailed as “Indonesia’s answer to Hendrix.”
Whilst living in the Far East, bass-playing Jon sought new avenues for his musical ambitions and in his quest to push the boundaries of Blues music, met local like-minded lead guitarist Gugun. The (then named) ‘Blues Bug’ Band was born.
Having played the circuit of Jazz clubs and festivals in the Indonesian capital for some time, Gugun had already developed quite a following of his own but, with their combined playing prowess, they created a sound unique in its own right.
As a trio with former drummer Isman (the boss man), their performances were soon recognized by Billabong who had them representing the surfing brand as their home band in backpacker’s paradise Bali.
The band were invited on four separate occasions to the world-famous wave-seeking yacht Indies Trader to play private gigs for the likes of seven-times World surfing Champion Kelly Slater and were present during the filming of audacious surfing video ‘Young Guns II’.
Their success was soon appreciated by the music market and at the end of 2004 they released their first independent album ‘Get The Bug.’
MTV Indonesia soon got the Bug and had two videos in circulation on their music channels as the band’s reputation began to flourish.
With the dawn of 2007 came the band’s most auspicious year to date.
Alongside new drummer Bowie – a highly acclaimed session musician – the Blues Bug released their second album ‘Turn It On’ on Sinjitos Records in 2007.
‘Turn it on’ was soon voted the voted #1 blues album of the year while lead guitarist Gugun was voted #1 blues guitarist in the whole of south east Asia in 2007 by MTV Trax magazine.
At this point the band realized the advantages of allowing their online fanbase to access their music and the 12 – track album was also made available to downloaders via has been a great success.
The Band were forced to change their name from the Blues Bug to Blues Shelter Because of an already established Greek band called the blues bug.
Their website, developed and maintained by Jon, has attracted online visitors from around the world and works to showcase videos of their live performances via video clips, inform fans of band developments and allows listeners to download their tracks.
But the group’s true love is playing live music and their burgeoning on-stage relationship drove crowds to hysteria at various Indonesian beach festivals including the annual Java Jazz festival where they whipped up such a storm they were immediately invited back and are due to appear again in 2009.
With Gugun and Bowie flying halfway across the globe to join Jon, the trio is embarking on another 12 – stop UK tour at the beginning of the year (2009).