Flipping Jimi

Joey Ng Wai photographed at his Maraval Road rehearsal studio.  - Mark Lyndersay
Joey Ng Wai photographed at his Maraval Road rehearsal studio. - Mark Lyndersay

My name is Joey Ng Wai and I have a new band called Jimi Flipp.

I’ve been in a total of about eight bands. Second Imij. Frantic. Russia. Atlantik. About four or five Imij and Companies. And Joey and Friends.

I have a 16-year-old daughter, Mia. Her mother Janelle and I are separated but we are good friends.

I grew up in Woodbrook surrounded by music in many ways, my father George being the first. After him, you had (guitarist, singer, composer) Andre Tanker, who was like family. And then the area had Phase II, Starlift, Invaders.
I live in Maraval now. My Woodbrook life was from two-ten years old but it definitely shaped everything that I am today, from my love of music to my love of snacks.
I come from Woodbrook.

My first home was at 5 Pole Carew Street. Maria’s Bakery is there now.
I left school after O-Levels at St Anthony’s College. As stupid as it sounds now, I didn’t have time for homework. I was in Frantic, one of the top four bands in the country.

I was very good at art but I failed my art O-Level. Because I played at Genesis the night before. I got home at 3.30am. At the exam, I was hungover bad. I chose to paint a person, a priest, kneeling at an altar. I got the outline done and fell asleep.
My principal, Paul Borely, told me, “I really hope music works out all right for you!”

I never regretted leaving school. I think I felt so comforted in my thoughts and movements because of my father. My dad was my manager basically from age 14 until he died. We shared a room when we travelled. He was a real buddy.

My whole life, I dabbled with music, more playful, not serious, until I was 12, when I got a guitar from my older brother and that was that!
I got into my first band with Michael Saloum, Zoom and the Band, and started gigging. We started big. Our first gig was in Chinese Association, with Taxi and Touchdown. We opened the whole show, probably 5K people packed into Chinese. We got two bookings for big shows that same night. I was 13.

Zoom got an invite to talk to Johnny Gonsalves, who was looking for a guitarist and a singer.
Zoom said, “If you’re talking to me, you have to talk to Joey, ‘cause we move together.” Johnny’s new band, Frantic, went from 1985-1989. We were definitely a love band and played a little bit of everything but not soca.
We moved to soca when Dad joined the band and made that mandatory.

Between Johnny Gonsalves and my dad, they put together Second Imij. Dad said we needed four months of rehearsal, everybody, every day, Monday to Friday and we would be the most popular band in Trinidad. T
he name Second Imij actually came from a shirt I borrowed from Johnny. I looked at the brand name and it was Second Imij. And that was how the band name was born.

Second Imij spent six-eight months a year out of Trinidad. St Bart’s, St Maarten, Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica, probably 200 times in four years. Of course Miami and New York.
By the end of 1994, with the song Jump on the Count of Four, we had won 27 Road Marches around the world – all the major ones, with the exception of Trinidad! That song was one of Russell Cadogan’s little gems.

I came home from St Anthony’s College and said to Mum and Dad, “I’m going to do music full time.”
They said, “You need to finish school!”
I’ve never done anything else but play music. I’m now 53 and I’ve never worked for anyone. My entire life was music.

Joey Ng Wai has been in as many as eight bands. - Mark Lyndersay

I started asking Uncle Andre to show me stuff. I’d get by Andre at, like, 1pm.
He’d hook me up to one of his amps in the living room and I’d just start playing.
Two hours would pass. Nearly every day, Andre never talked to me. He would cook, water plants, wipe down his xylophone. He’d go inside, come back out.
After the second week, I told my dad I was feeling frustrated.

I said, “Uncle Andre, I feel like you’re not showing me enough.”
He said, “Joel, for the past two weeks, whenever I walked into the room, you would try to flourish as much notes and skills as you possibly could.”
My pores are raising telling this story!
“I don’t have to tell you anything for you to play better,” Andre said. “You know it already! You just need to get it on to those frets!”
I went home and said, “Dad, Andre is a f---ing genius!”
And that’s how Andre taught me.

To this day, Andre Tanker is in my studio. I have his main black guitar, his Fender Strat, and his amp. I have Andre’s foot pedals from his last show, everything set from his last show.
I haven’t touched it. Nobody can touch it!

Imij and Company rehearsed with them so Andre and 3canal could perform with us at any fete we played.
The Friday night in question, I don’t know how to explain how bad it was.
We got home from soundcheck at Queen’s Hall. I think it was One Fete. I was just farting around in my room and my dad came to my room with bad news. He said Uncle Ken Braithwaite just died. I literally collapsed backwards on to my bed. He was part of the band that went to London with Dad. Ken died at 6 o’clock.
Dad said, “Take it easy. I’ll get you some dinner and then we’ll head to the gig.”
I chilled in my bed, really depressed.
And Dad pushed the door open about 8 o’clock,:“I have some f---ed up news for you, son! Andre gone, boy!”
That was the worst day of my life. Except for his funeral.

There was no stopping Andre Tanker.
The only thing that ever stopped him was Trinidad. If he was anywhere else, New York, or Boston, or any of the other islands, it would have been a different scene for Andre.

Jimi Hendrix was left-handed and guitars are right-handed and Jimi Hendrix never changed the string setup (to suit a left-hander). He just turned the guitar upside down and played it!
There’re a lot more stories about his playing, about things that happened in the studio, that blew my mind! He had such control and understanding of things like feedback, he literally used feedback to play songs!
There’s a natural ability about Jimi and that same thing lived in Andre.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to play guitar like Andre Tanker.

Jimi Flipp is a group of very cool, very calm musicians I’ve had a lot of respect for for a long time. Peter Shim on guitars; John Otway on drums,;Phil Hill on keyboards,; a fantastic bass man, Pedro Casafranca; Rochelle Chaves; and Stuart Silver on vocals.

I needed this band really badly. I wanted to play rock, I wanted to play guitar stuff.
Imij and Co started back, and from 2001 until 2019, I was just playing soca.
I kept saying to Peter, we need to start back a band that plays mainly rock.

It’s a really cool thing with the band name, Jimi Flipp.
People say, “Well, it’s not Imij!”
And I reply, “It really is Imij. Just flip it!”
Sometimes you get the phone call right away, sometimes you get it half-past two in the morning! I just kept looking at the name Imij and it came to me. Most people see the connection to Jimi Hendrix but not to Imij.

We play a strong blend of 80s, 70s and 60s rock. We do 90s and current stuff as well, but we love the earlier stuff.

Sometimes I do wish I’d learned guitar properly.
But my body never got it. I never allowed myself to sit down and read. I just played.

I love everything about the guitar. I love the tone. I love how it rips you apart

Playing guitar is like going into an elevator. The doors open, I go in, I press a floor. The elevator goes up. I get to the floor and I get out.
Don’t ask me what happened inside the elevator. That’s all I could tell you.
People say, “Joey, explain to us what you just played.”
And I say, “I had a guitar and a pick and I played. I have no clue how it happened.”

A Trini is resilient to everything. We are truly different and that’s what makes us beautiful. We are a great people.

Trinidad and Tobago is way beyond home to me. I could never see myself moving out of here.
Trinidad is the place that gives me the calm and warmth that I portray from me. Trinidad helps you become the person you want to be.
There are those who become Trinidadians and there are those who become idiots. The idiots are the ones doing the crime and lying in public office.
But the Trinidadians are the ones who make the difference, and there are many of us.

Read the full version of this feature on Friday evening at www.BCPires.com


"Flipping Jimi"

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