This article first appeared in the Phuket News 15 January 2022.
Moody Paul is well known in Phuket as a gifted Burmese Blues and Rock guitarist and singer, particularly in Patong where he played in the Moody Café for many years before COVID. However, Moody had to return to his home when the pandemic started. Happily, he has now returned and is playing here again, all made possible financially by an online crowd-funding appeal run by his fans. Andy Tong Dee met him to ask him about his life and about why he seems so particularly fond of playing the Blues.
I can well recall watching Moody perform in Patong pre-COVID. I was spell-bound by the passion of his performances, particularly when he was playing Blues, a musical genre he clearly loved so dearly.
The Blues developed at the end of the 19th Century in the Mississippi Delta in the USA. It grew out of the working songs Afro-American slaves sang in the cotton fields and the gospel songs they sang in church. This early “Delta” Blues was strongly influenced by the hardship, injustice and alienation that they suffered. I wanted to find out if religion and life’s misfortunes had influenced Moody in a similar way.
So Moody, tell me about your childhood in Myanmar.
I was born in 1974 in Hpa-An, the capital of the Karen tribe region of Myanmar. I grew up there in a Christian community where my father is still a pastor, I sang in the church when a child, but I was also interested in instruments like guitar and piano. My mother taught me how to play a three chord song on guitar when just five years old and soon I learned to transpose songs naturally into different keys. When my grandfather saw how much I loved to play guitar, he bought me my own acoustic guitar to practice with. Soon I was playing gospel songs in the church weekly.
How did you get the name Moody?
It was given to me by my grandfather when I was born. He wanted me to become as famous a preacher or pastor as the great American evangelist Dwight L.Moody.
When did you first hear western music?
I used to listen when a child to my grandfather’s imported records by Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Jim Breve, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. I developed a great love of Soul, Blues and Rock and Roll music early on that has stayed with me all my life.
When did you first start playing the Blues?
I first started playing the Blues when I was just 12 years old. I loved to improvise and I soon learned to compose my own Blues songs. It was all so exciting and so much fun.
So how did you end up playing here in Phuket?
I first started in Thailand in 1992 playing in Bangkok. After that, I got a contract to play at the Saxophone Pub in Phuket in 2005 after the tsunami. Then I started playing in Moody’s Café in Patong until I had to return to Myanmar. I hadn’t seen my family for so long and I was with them again for nearly two years. Sadly, there is a political crisis there and a civil war has started. It’s a difficult situation.
Eric Clapton once said, “The Blues are what I’ve always turned to for relief and inspiration in all the trials of my life. “ You have had a difficult life, Moody. Has playing the Blues helped you?
As you know, a musician’s career here is not an easy one and my life in Myanmar has been very difficult. When my life has too many problems and too much hardship, playing the Blues makes me happy and I can forget my problems for a while. It’s truly therapy for me. Every time I play the Blues, I feel it so deeply inside of me and that means so much to me.
Early blues singers like Son House, Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters also grew up in Christian communities, preaching and singing gospel songs, before they chose to sing the Blues in bars. They were often rejected by their families and felt separated from God because church pastors saw the Blues as “the Devil’s music.” Has your relationship with your family and God changed since you chose to leave Burma and come to Thailand?
I wanted to grow up to be a pastor like my father, and so I learned to preach and bring people to know the living God. I also used to sing gospel songs in church. But one day, for good reasons and because of the difficult situation I was in, I left Burma to follow my dreams. I too became a black sheep of the family just like those early Blues singers. I’ve been away from my family now for 20 years, and yes I’ve got the blues about that. I may have been tested by God, but I still believe that God is great.
So now you are back here again, how does it feel?
Wonderful! I kept walking by trust and faith. I believe in music. Music leads me everywhere. I had to get back so I could play the Blues again and it was so hard to do so, but finally with the help of my wife and friends, I’m here. My life is Blues, and the Blues is my life.
Apart from Gospel music, I can’t think of any musical genre which is almost seen as a religion. What do the Blues mean to you?
Music leads me to know people.
Music helps me to understand Life.
But Blues is the very sound of my soul.
Well, Moody my friend, I’ll end by just saying thank you and “amen’ to that!
© Andy Tong Dee