Julien at the Shisha Cafe in Pune in 2017. (SANJAY MUKHERJEE/HT)
Julien at the Shisha Cafe in Pune in 2017. (SANJAY MUKHERJEE/HT)

God’s “incognito son” who made “every jam a masterclass” bids farewell to earthly stage

Derek Julien, India’s finest guitar player, died of post-Covid pneumonia at Jehangir Hospital in Pune on Sunday morning
By Sanjay Mukherjee
UPDATED ON APR 26, 2021 05:09 PM IST

PUNE The music fraternity across India set social media abuzz on Sunday as they paid rich tributes to India’s finest guitar player, Derek Julien, who died of post-Covid pneumonia at Jehangir Hospital in Pune on Sunday morning. Derek was 70 and is survived by his wife Maria and daughter Danielle.

Julien was diagnosed with Covid-19 in early April and had been in the ICCU at Jehangir Hospital. The music fraternity across India rallied to support Julien and after a stoic battle, he overcame Covid and was moved to the regular ICU on April 17.

His condition took a turn for the worse on April 19 and subsequent tests showed significant lung damage. Julien battled till the end, conveying his gratitude to everyone for the overwhelming support. He passed away at 1 am on April 25.

Born in Mumbai on August 19, 1950, Derek Julien was instrumental in elevating jazz and blues-rock guitar playing an ethereal form of the art, holding audiences mesmerised every time he took stage.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Julien was associated with bands such as Mystiks, the legendary Waterfront, Azure Hades, Airwave, and the Dragonette Project, among others.

Julien’s long-time friend, collaborator and brother-in-law, bass maestro Roger Dragonette is devastated. “The grief is so much I can’t think straight. Derek was one of God’s incognito sons. It’s been like 50 years of playing together as musicians, friends, brothers, right from Waterfront days - it’s heartbreaking. Something in me has died. I am totally lost now,” Dragonette said.

Music composer, producer and guitar player Koco of Agnee, expressed dismay over Derek’s passing. “It’s truly, truly sad that we had to lose him to Covid. I have worked with him, jammed with him at events. Derek was a musician and guitar player that everyone across generations respected. We were always in awe of his playing, his skillset, personality - everything. If you look at the social media tributes, he’s earned bigger riches than anyone else,” said Koco.

Pune guitar genius and composer, Sanjay Joseph, currently based in Goa, was distraught at the news. “It’s a sad day bro. You think guys like Derek will live forever. Giants like Derek have done the work for all who came after. I have never heard Derek repeat himself as a musician. Every guitar player has a bag of licks they fall back on when uninspired. I have heard Derek play many, many times, and he never repeated himself. Muscle memory didn’t come into play with him - he was always in the moment. That is huge,” said Joseph.

Pune-based guitarist singer and composer, Christopher Fonseca, who was in close touch with the family through Julien’s illness, told us, “I’m heartbroken and dumbfounded and still cannot accept that our dear Derek has gone. I recall his gentleness, humility and constant encouragement to us younger musicians. He never failed to compliment, advise, and even ask about your musical wellbeing… just by his presence he would make you stand up to the occasion for the fact that he enjoyed playing with you ...just makes him a bigger legend to me - every jam, rehearsal or gig with him was a masterclass.”

Sanjay Mukherjee (HT)
Sanjay Mukherjee (HT)

Mukherjee is a writer, blogger and former journalist, covered the music scene in Pune, and India, extensively from 1996 till 2007.

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