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The father of Turkish rock music, Erkin Koray is a legend by any measure. Possessing a great voice, he is also a unique and accomplished guitarist, an inventor, a leader, a true intellectual, and a rebel at all costs. He has blended classic oriental Turkish tunes and ethnic and Middle Eastern themes into his psych-driven rock and has stood the test of time, and has weathered political crises as well as military coups. Although his first records are nearly impossible to find and they are sold for impressive prices online (as much as $1,000 for an LP), Koray is one of the most influential Turkish rock musicians even into the 21st century. Along with artists of his era like Cem Karaca, Mogollar, Baris Manco, and Uc Hurel, Koray helped introduce Turkish lyrics into rock music while most of the intellectual Turkish music listeners had gone crazy with American rock & roll. First despised for using Turkish and some oriental themes, he later became known as "the King of Rock."
Erkin Koray was born on July 24, 1941, in Istanbul to a mother who was a piano instructor. He started playing piano when he was five and discovered rock & roll when he was around 15 years old. He started playing the guitar, formed a small band with his friends, and tried to play as much as possible. His first concert was on December 29, 1957, with a set list consisting of famous rock & roll songs. With this very first gig, he became a focal point for attention, and his band Ritimciler became the most popular band in the country. He was cited as a "crazy rocker" in most of the newspapers and magazines even before releasing any music on vinyl. After his first release, the single "Bir Eylul Aksami"/"It's So Long," he went on to fulfill his mandatory military service. He returned in 1965 and then left for Germany, just in time to experience the spirit in Hamburg, where the Beatles and many other British bands were regularly playing. Upon returning to Turkey, he became more than just a musician — he became an icon with his long hair and rock & roll lifestyle. He also released some popular singles like "Kizlari da Alin Askere," "Ask Oyunu," and "Kendim Ettim Kendim Buldum."
In 1969, he formed his major band, namely Yeralti Dörtlüsü (Underground Foursome). Although he was not involved with any long-lasting groups, with Yeralti Dörtlüsü he helped establish the foundation for the future of Turkish rock. All the members of the band —Ataman Hakman (guitar), Aydin Sencan (bass), Sedat Avci (drums), and subsequently Cahit Kukul (guitars) — helped shape the Turkish rock scene with their future bands and releases. In the '70s, he released famous LPs like Elektronik Turkuler and Tutkusu, the first now regarded as a masterpiece. These LPs also included a number of landmark singles such as "Saskin," "Fesupanallah," "Estarabim," "Arap Saci," "Yalnizlar Rihtimi," and "Cemalim," to name a few. Koray's singles not only became number one hits on the Turkish charts but also became timeless classics: one can hear these songs being covered by local bands in the 21st century — in bars, clubs, and even wedding parties. Although it was not his intention (he said "If everyone in this country is listening to my music, there's either something wrong with me or the country itself"), he somehow connected to almost everyone in Turkey, from every cultural background, social status, and class.
Koray traveled abroad occasionally to work and share his musical ideas with foreign colleagues. He's been to Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and was in Germany making music when the Turkish military took power in 1980. Later, in 1982 he went to Canada for a gig. He fell in love, got married, and stayed in Canada until the birth of his daughter, Damla. He then returned to Turkey to raise his daughter in his homeland, and refused to send her to a governmental school, preferring home schooling as an alternative. In the meantime, he released Ceylan, which was poorly received except for the single "Copculer." His other important LPs in the '80s were Gaddar and Hay Yam Yam. As with all the Turkish rock musicians in '80s, however, he had serious economic shortcomings, so he even played the piano in a pizza house to earn money for his recording sessions. Koray generally laid low in the '90s, except for accomplishments such as a 1991 Gülhane Park concert: alone with his keyboard and guitar, he delivered an strong performance that was later released as the album Tek Basina Konser. That gig was a reference point for most of the young Turkish rockers who later arrived on the scene with their own bands. A second pinnacle was the 1996 album Gun Ola Harman Ola, which features the epic "Akrebin Gozleri" (Eyes of the Scorpion). The album presented more modern Koray material, with classic melodies and lyrics. His latest effort, Devlerin Nefesi, was released in 1999. Since then Koray has remained active and performed live in clubs and festivals. He released a half-documentary/half-fiction book Mezarlik Gulleri (Cemetery Roses) in 2006.
Apart from writing, playing, and singing, Koray is also the inventor of the "electro baglama" (saz), which basically involves adding a pickup to a traditional Turkish baglama. After he used this instrument on-stage in concert, it became a popular instrument for other artists in Turkey and the Middle East. He was the first person to open a rock club in Istanbul, although he modestly commented that "someone would do it anyway, it doesn't matter that I do it first." Throughout his career, new generations have first criticized his works and later discovered the treasures within the deep textures of his music and his philosophical lyrics. He has had shortcomings, occasionally recording albums quickly mainly due to economical difficulties. But with his 1961 custom white Gibson Les Paul, Erkin Koray, Turkey's King of Rock, will always be known as one of the most innovative and influential musicians in the country's history.