Born and raised in Singapore, Rex Goh is a true journeyman musician.
By 1980, with multi-platinum albums and a string of Billboard hits, Air Supply had become a pop supergroup who were touring the world.
Today, Rex is an in-demand guitarist in Sydney, dividing his time between recording sessions and Australian tours.
The Guitar Column: Thanks for taking time out to do this interview Rex!
Rex Goh: It’s my pleasure.
TGC: When did you start playing and who were your earliest influences?
RG: I suppose growing up in Singapore in the 60’s, it would have been The Shadows, The Ventures and also early local bands like The Quests and The Checkmates who were my early influences. Then came The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals.
My taste changed when I heard the John Mayall and The Blues Breakers album with Eric Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and also Terry Kath, the guitarist with Chicago. All this time I learned how to play by ear..
TGC: We actually have a lot of mutual friends and many of them describe your playing back in the days of the RAF bases as simply stunning! How old were you when you started playing at the bases?
RG: I had just finished high school when I joined the band called Group 123. We had a manager, Jimmy Loh, who very kindly helped me acquire my black 1969 Gibson Les Paul which I still own.
TGC: How did you get your playing together at such an early age?
RG: When I was 10 years old, I was fortunate to live two doors away from Benny Chan, the guitarist with The Checkmates. My mum had just given me a ukulele and lucky for me, the ukulele was quite a good one and it played in tune. About twice a week, I would go to Benny's place and he would teach me simple Elvis tunes to start with.and then later jazz standards like 'All Of Me' and 'It's A Sin To Lie'.
I suppose I would have spent about 3 or 4 years learning chords and playing rhythm for Benny on the uke. Later on I graduated to playing the guitar and I started to form band with kids from school or from the Aljunied estate where I was living.
TGC: Do you have any memorable gig stories from this time?
RG: Although I started out as a lead guitarist, I became a bass player when I joined a band called Tani's Titans. We were kids and were also lucky enough to appear on Singapore TV's variety show playing country music. When I first joined Group 123, I was the bass guitarist but switched to lead fairly soon when the lead guitarist Dave Tam left.
TGC: You migrated from Singapore to Australia in 1972. What made you decide to take this huge step?
RG: When I was working in clubs in Singapore I used to admire quite a few overseas bands like 'Tenderness' from Perth, 'Pieces Of Peace' from Chicago who were an incredible soul and funk band, and also 'Peter Nelson and The Renaissance' from New Zealand. Their arrangements of Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago songs were stunning. I wanted to play in bands like these.
TGC: What gigs did you take on when you first arrived in Australia? Was it difficult breaking into the music scene?
RG: I was living in Adelaide when I first arrived and one day I answered an ad in the local paper for a lead guitarist. Soon I graduated to a Yes cover band that played about half Yes songs and half originals. We had quite a following and also had a residency at The Tivoli Hotel in the city on Tuesday night. I then moved to Melbourne before going to Sydney in about 1976.
TGC: Air Supply was positively huge in the late 70's and early 80's. How did you come to hook up with one of the biggest pop groups of that era?
RG: A few months after I had arrived in Sydney, I heard that Air Supply needed a guitarist so I went for an audition. They had just released their first hit in Australia called 'Love and Other Bruises'. They were a new band on the scene and I was fortunate to join them.
TGC: Was The One That You Love album your first record with Air Supply?
RG: No, my first album with them was The Whole Thing's Started. There were no hit singles on the album but it was the start of my recording career.
TGC: You're credited with co-writing 'I Want To Give It All' with Graham Russell.
RG: Yes, I wrote the music during an early tour of the US and played it to Graham. He liked it, so he wrote the lyrics to the song. We also wrote 'She Never Heard Me Call', 'What Kind Of Girl' and 'Late Again'.
TGC: Air Supply must have been an amazing experience. Care to share a few memorable gigs or road stories from your time with Air Supply?
RG: Those were days that I will cherish forever. I remember when we were opening for Rod Stewart on big stages like Madison Square Garden which holds around 80,000 people and all we saw was about the first 50 rows. But you could hear the roar all around you which was just thundering.
I got the chance to meet many famous people like Aretha Franklin, Gino Vannelli and played with Glenn Campbell in his show. Once I had a police escort for my boots from the hotel to The Greek Theater where we were performing so they would arrive in time for my performance!
TGC: Did you turn exclusively to session work after Air Supply?
RG: No, I formed a band with singer Jenny Morris called Q.E.D. We made it to the charts in Australia with a song 'Everywhere I Go'. We also made an album titled Animal Magic.
TGC: You're credited with recordings and performances with Savage Garden, Randy Crawford, Tom Jones, The Supremes and The Temptations amongst many others.
RG: I played on Savage Garden's first album that included 'To The Moon And Back' and 'Truly Madly Deeply', two of their biggest hits, but did not tour with them. I was fortunate enough to work with Randy Crawford and Tom Jones on The Midday Show, a live TV show in Australia on which I was part of the orchestra performing with local and international artistes five days a week.
I also toured and recorded with Tommy Emmanuel and I was in his band for about three years when he played mostly electric. Another big international album I played on was with a Canadian group called Soul Decision that went platinum in many countries.
TGC: Who have you been recording and touring with most recently?
RG: Lately I've been touring and recording with Graeme Connors, a well-known country artist in Australia and Glenn Cardier who is more a blues and roots artist. Glenn has just released a new album titled Stranger Than Fiction. My latest project was recording an album with Darren Percival who came second in the TV show The Voice Australia.
TGC: This interview wouldn't be complete without the typical guitar and gear questions. You're credited with being one of Australia's most heard guitarists, having played on numerous sessions. What guitars, effects and amps would you bring with you to a recording session?
RG: Typical gear I would bring to a recording session would be two amps, my 1965 Fender Deluxe and my 50-watt 1970 Marshall JMP with two 12" Celestion Greenbacks.
For guitars, I would always bring my favorite Fender Telecaster - a late 80's issue of the '52 Tele. I used this guitar on many of the Savage Garden tracks. My brown Warmoth Strat which was given to me by a good friend in Adelaide and my black 1969 Gibson Les Paul which I bought at Swee Lee in Singapore back in the Group 123 days. The Les Paul was featured on many of the Air Supply and Savage Garden tracks.
Lately, I've been using a 1997 PRS which I purchased on eBay. It has quite a different sound from the Les Paul. I would also throw in a Rickenbacker electric 12-string just in case.
I use mostly stompboxes in the studio like TC Electronics delay and chorus pedals, and the AC booster and the RC Booster by Xotic. I have been experimenting with the old Germanium transistor fuzz box which Hendrix and The Rolling Stones used in the old days. For tours when I have to program sounds for certain songs, I would use my Boss GT6 and a Mesa/Boogie V-Twin for my distortion. My days of effects racks that stood about 4 foot high and running in stereo are well gone.
TGC: What is your favorite acoustic steel-string for session work?
RG: For acoustics I'm fond of my Gibson J45 and Maton Tommy Emmanuel model. I would also bring my Maton 12-string acoustic.
TGC: You were also endorsed by Ibanez guitars for awhile. I've seen videos of you playing a nice blonde Ibanez 335-style guitar.
RG: Yes, that guitar was especially built for me by Ibanez. It has a smaller body than the regular ES33 and told Ibanez that would prefer a smaller body 335 so they came up with the one you saw. David Moyse (Ed. note: Rex's co-guitarist in Air Supply) also had one but his was sunburst I think. David and I were given many guitars by Ibanez but we left them in the States and I don’t know where they are now. I love my blonde Ibanez -- it’s getting better with age. I have not modified anything.
TGC: Correct me if I'm wrong but I do believe I've also seen you playing an early Roland GR guitar synth on a few of your appearances with Air Supply. Were you into guitar synthesizers at the time?
RG: I don’t remember playing a Roland guitar synth but I used Casio guitar synth model PG 380 which had the sound built into the guitar. That was way past Air Supply days but was fun for awhile. The guitar was great by itself and was my main guitar for quite a few years during the late 80’s and early 90’s.
TGC: The Classic Albums Live tour is an interesting concept where audiences get to hear their favorite albums performed live. You were the musical director for the Brothers In Arms tour. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?
RG: I was approached by the promoter Phil Bathols whom I met during a tour called The Beatles White Album Tour on which I was the guitarist. He told me that Brothers In Arms was one of his all time favourite albums and would I like to put band together to do national tour as a concept show. For the first half we would play the whole album exactly from start to finish and the second half would be the best of Dire Straits. I was lucky enough to use drummer Chris Whitten who actually toured with Dire Straits during the 90’s. He now lives near Sydney. I have since done Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road albums
TGC: I, for one,would love to hear a Rex Goh solo album. Can we look forward to one in the forseeable future?
RG: I love playing in a band situation and never regard myself as a virtuoso guitarist since I always like to play with singers. It might happen someday maybe with lots of guest singers.
TGC: Do you have any parting words of advice for young guitar players looking to get in to the music industry?
RG: My advice is that you need the desire and the passion for whatever you do. To hang in there when times are tough and never lose sight of your goal. Success does not come overnight. You might get lucky but more often it’s hard work. The industry is very different now than in the old days when usually the focus for kids growing up was music whatever kind it may be.
When I was growing up in Singapore, it was either marbles or playing the guitar, thankfully I chose the latter.
TGC: Thanks so much for doing this interview with us, Rex-- here's wishing you All the Best in your future endeavours!
RG: It’s my pleasure to be of any help to you, all the best. Cheers!
(Pic Source: www.classicalbumslive.com.au)