Shin Jung-hyeon (born 1938 in Seoul) is a South Korean rock guitarist, producer and singer-songwriter. Known as Korea’s “Godfather of Rock”, he led Korean psychedelic pop/rock culture during the 1960s and 1970s. His sons Shin Dae-cheol (Sinawe) and Shin Yun-cheol are also respected guitarists in Korean rock.
Shin Jung-hyeon was born in 1938, and his mother died when he was still a child. His father remarried to a Japanese woman, and Shin spent his youth with them in Manchuria and Japan. They were living in Chungcheong Province, Korea when Shin’s father died in 1952 and his stepmother the next year. Shin moved to Seoul on his own, working in a pharmacy and going to night school. He taught himself to play the guitar, and began giving lessons at a music institute in Jongno. In 1957 he began playing for the U.S. army in Korea, using the stage name “Jackie Shin”. He continued performing for the U.S. troops for the next decade. Shin claims that the U.S. Army bases are where Korean rock was born. “At that time, Korean clubs only played ‘trot,’ tango, music like that,” he remembers.
His psychedelic style of music fascinated the U.S. soldiers, and some record companies asked him to make LPs. His first recording in 1959 was covers of traditional Korean music. He managed his own band, Add 4, in 1961. Add 4 was the first rock band in Korea, and their music style was similar to the Ventures.
Shin did not gain mainstream success in Korea until 1968. In 1968 he produced the hit album Nima for the high school group The Pearl Sisters. For the next seven years he wrote many songs and produced several more hit records for singing groups. Many of these recordings featured Shin’s “fuzzy” guitar and psychedelic musical style. His melodies were simple and fascinating, like “Coffee HanJan” (커피 한잔) or “GeoJitMalIYa” (거짓말이야).
In 1972 South Korean president Park Chung Hee asked Shin to write a song in praise of the president. Shin refused and instead wrote a song about the beauty of Korea, called “AhReumDaUn GangSan” (아름다운강산). After this his music career began to suffer from police harassment and governmental interference. Some of his songs were banned as “vulgar” or “noisy”, and in August 1975, he was arrested for “involvement” with marijuana.
After his release, he was banned from public performance for years. With the death of Park Chung Hee, he was free to perform, but public tastes in music had changed by then. “It was all, ‘Let’s work hard,’ and ‘Let’s be happy’ kind of stuff. It was completely physical, with no spirit, no mentality, no humanity. That trend has carried over all the way to today…” according to Shin.
During the 1980s, Shin ran a music club in Itaewon, a Seoul neighborhood popular with foreign visitors and U.S. Army personnel. He opened “Woodstock”, another music club, in southeast Seoul in 1986, and ran it for the next two decades. Among Shin’s 1990–2000 works, MuWiJaYeon (無爲自然, 1994) is his finest album. His electric guitar sanjo proved he still does musical experiments. His legendary albums were reissued as LP miniature CDs in 2002–03.
In 2004, Shin provided the musical score for director Im Kwon-taek‘s film Low Life. After announcing his retirement in 2006, Shin returned on 17 May 2008 for a public performance with three of his sons at the sixth annual Korean Music Festival held at the Hollywood Bowl.
His first US press record “Beautiful Rivers And Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound Of South Korea’s Shin Joong Hyun 1958-74” released in 2011, from Light in the Attic Records.