Co-op Jive has been based in Moscow, Russia since 2004. Have a look at the items on the community board below, to see some of the exciting things happening in Russian rock'n'roll!
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE GREATEST EVER ROCK’N’ROLL SONG – TAKE TWO !
This month we continue the debate we began last month in this column. What is the greatest ever rock’n’roll song ? As I mentioned last month, it all depends on who you ask. Here is a selection of views below, from some of the biggest names in Russian rock’n’roll. Here are the excellent choices they came up with, along with some great reasons for their selections.
Pavel Stolypin: leader and lead guitarist of the Russian band “Elvis and Borodachi”:
I’ve mulled over this for a long time. I have many favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs and it’s hard for me to choose a specific one. I racked my brains and suffered over this. But this evening it suddenly dawned on me that my favorite song is Twenty Flight Rock ! I’ve been playing it and singing it for over 20 years now in all of my bands. And I love Eddie Cochran in general.
Vladimir Khoruzhiy Bezen, leader and vocalist of the Russian Rockabilly Group “The Sparks Boys”:
I think the most favourite song for me is – “Drinkin' Wine Spodee O Dee”, but not the original 1947 Stick McGhee version. I prefer more the version by Johnny Burnette. I love this song because it reminds me of my teens. Me and my friends also drank wine, buzzed all night long and sometimes fought with other guys. Also I like this Johnny Burnette version ‘cause my favourite guitar player Grady Martin played on this record.
Dmitriy Bhikov, bassist for the Russian group “The Magnetix”:
My favourite number is the first song from the first LP that I ever bought. In 1987 I ordered it by mail through the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” Russian newspaper. Prior to that time I lived in a god-forsaken village. Up until the age of 14 I played percussion in the local band. I played soviet patriotic songs, but one day I fixed an antenna to my radio and started getting the BBC world service. The host was Seva Novgorodtsev. I realised that this was my kind of music. I could tell you much more about rock music in the USSR and how they banned it - I wasn’t accepted into the Komsomol because of that. And the song in question ? - “Nervous Breakdown” by Eddie Cochran.
Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”. However, I first heard it performed by Elvis. Its simplicity and energy astonished me, my feet were dancing of their own accord. The year was 1990, I was still in high school. My older friends were playing Rockabilly in the “Cherdachnye Negodiai” (“Roof Rascals”) band: They turned us on to it and supplied us with recordings by other performers in the same style. Eventually three friends (myself included) decided to play psychobilly music and created our own band called “The Bamboozie”, comprising myself, Andrey Sheshero (vocals, guitar), and Sergey Martynov (bass). The first song of our first performance was of course Blue Suede Shoes ! Sergey’s Mum worked in a shoe factory and since we weren’t able to buy brand-name shoes, three pairs of shoes were made for us, “shoes on semolina” (brothel creepers) ! Now that was real Class. We wore them day and night. This is one example of what a great mark the simple blue suede shoes song has left in history !
Andy Lougovoy, lead guitarist and vocalist with the Russian group “The Beat Devils.”
Batmobile – “Ice Rock”. I came across the video "Batmobile in Japan" and liked the song at once, though it was only number 4 in the concert video playlist. Later I got Batmobile's album "Amazons From Outer Space" and "Ice Rock" is the opening song for it. I can say that it gives a strong kick for the whole album, which immediately became my top psychobilly record ever. Everything starts from "Amazons" for me in psychobilly and "Amazons" starts from "Ice Rock". It has got a strong introduction guitar riff; once you’ve heard it, you won't get rid of it. As a guitarist myself, I consider that the solo guitar in the middle of the song is perfect - rockin' and easy to remember ! That's what everybody should aim for ! Brilliance and at the same time funny lyrics are the real house speciality of these Dutch chefs of world psychobilly cuisine. I'm also a big fan of Mr. Jeroen Haamers' guitar sound and guitar technique and it is no secret that "Ice Rock” and the whole album helped me a lot in finding my sound for the Beat Devils' music. If you are a fan of real rock’n’roll music, you should know that this song is what psychobilly must be - crazy and wild with rockabilly roots in it. I’ve listened to it several times while writing these words and my advice to you is spin "Ice Rock" while reading this !
Andrey Rubliov, leader and vocalist of the Russian band “Stressor”:
Nowadays people who’re fascinated by this music or just listening to it, or collecting recordings or even performing this type of music on stage, appear somewhat crazy to the average person. We’re not like everyone else, many of us reject contemporary music and believe that real, sincere music was created in the distant 1950s; which is correct ! I believe my rockabilly fever began when I listened to an Elvis Presley LP which Mum had given me for my birthday in 1987. This was a compilation of songs published by the “Melodia” studio in the USSR. Jailhouse Rock especially stands out in my memory – realising that this real rock was recorded in the distant 1957 felt strange. Everything in it sounded smooth and compact as if it was performed by a single entity; completely unparalleled energy! No matter how much the modern bands and performers shriek and roar, this song emanated much more incredible power ! Naturally later on I started learning about, listening to and analysing other performers and bands as well, but Jailhouse Rock in particular made a lasting impression on me. This song charted the path on which all music develops !
And how about the author of this article, yours truly ? Well, periodically my opinion on this changes. Right now, my all-time favourite song is “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight” by Earl Vince and the Valiants. One of the many reasons I LOVE this number is the story behind it, which is as follows. Those of my generation will remember the pop group Fleetwood Mac, who were very popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were definitely NOT a rock'n'roll group. They released the track on the B side of one of their hit singles in 1969. They did it as a joke, they even made up a vintage rock’n’roll-like name for themselves for this track, "Earl Vince and the Valiants". The words of the song were meant to be part of the joke.
But it became an anthem for the Teddy Boys and a rock'n'roll classic for many Rockers ! Including me. It’s an amazing number. Somehow a non-rockin’ group like Fleetwood Mac managed to capture the raw energy and on-the-edge quality of the best of rock’n’roll. The over-the-top aggressiveness of the lyrics only add to the magic of the track.
So Thankyou to Fleetwood Mac. For us rock’n’rollers you only did one good thing for Music; and “Somebody’s Gonna get their Head kicked tonight” was It.
And finally Dear Readers, as I did in my article last month, let me hand over the question to You. What is YOUR favourite all-time r’n’r song – and more importantly, Why ?
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Greatest Ever Rock’n’Roll Song of all Time
This month it’s time to consider the eternal question for us rock’n’rollers. What is the greatest ever rock’n’roll song ? It’s kind of not only an eternal question, but also one that defies a definitive answer. That’s because of course it depends on who you ask. Nearly all of us have got our views on the best ever song, so the correct answer for you is the one that matches your own opinion.
I asked some of the leading figures in Russian Rock’n’Roll to answer this question and here are the great choices they came up with. More importantly, the reasons for their choices are varied, interesting and often inspiring.
Sergey Kuteynikov, leader and vocalist of the Russian rockabilly group “The Great Pretenders”: My favourite song is “Red Blue Jeans and A Pony Tail” by Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps. It’s because it has the perfect feel to it, the one that could be described as the real feel of 1956 rockabilly / rock’n’roll. It’s got the fabulous style of Cliff Gallup’s guitar and Gene Vincent's vocal gymnastics put together.
Elena Kotofeevna, Russian rock’n’roller and dancer: Here is my song, the one that drives me crazy. So crazy that I lose the power of speech and can only repeat, “Woo-hoo, hoo- hoo –hoo !” It’s “Woo-Hoo” by the The Rock-a-Teens. The Rock-A-Teens were an American rockabilly group from Richmond, Virginia, active in the late 1950s. I think the song is amazing. The rhythm drives me wild. I want to dance, dance, dance when I hear it ! The lyrics are kind of meaningless, just “Woo-hoo” !
Sergey Rodionov, Bassist with the Russian band “The Beatleggers”: Johnny Burnette and his Rock’n’Roll Trio – “Rockabilly Boogie”. This is my favorite song, because only and exactly this song has all of rockabilly’s rebel spirit. I like almost every song of Johnny Burnette, but this one has some special sound. When I hear it I can always see the pictures of true 50s’ rockabilly with its best cultural and traditional stuff. I visualise stylish and beautiful girls and cool cats united by one music, one faith and one era that will never die.
Oleg Ivanin, lead guitarist of “The Great Pretenders”: I used to say that the best song is 'These Boots Are Made For Walking", but I would like to change my mind this time. One rock'n'roll number in my opinion is really special and is standing like a musical Everest, looking condescendingly down from its great height at the mountains and hills ofother rock'n'roll songs, most of them barely visible through the clouds. Only a few can match its significance - Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. And what makes me think so? I'm sure that this song contains some secret energy. First of all it was recorded by very good musicians. The arrangement is really great, even the bass line played alone makes people move. The guitar solo is a masterpiece (sadly, guitarist Danny Cederone died just ten days after the recording). I still love this song very much, even though I've listened to and performed it hundreds of times ! If you playthis recordingat a partyeveryonewilljumpfrom their seats andbegin todance,even after listening indifferently to the hits of the 1980s, 1990s, etc. The song was released in 1954 - isn’t that Amazing ?! All the above makes me regard this song as the best rock'n'roll number ever recorded and also my favourite one!
Juli Chu, leader and vocalist of the Russian rock’n’roll group “The Marshmallows”: So, my group the Marshmallows has chosen “Mr. Sandman” ! Our number one version is the one by the Сhordettes. This is probably the most recognisable song of the 1950s, all of it is light, tender and warm and it is the song most frequently used in movie soundtracks to portray the spirit of that time. As for us, we chose it because of the lovely female voices and because we are always asked to sing it, which means this song has passed the test of time.
Konstantin Napastnikov, long time veteran rock’n’roller and rockabilly devotee. Konstantin has cheated a bit by choosing a list of songs instead of one, but as he’s written such a good piece I’ve let it pass !
Before writing about my favourite song, I will describe the environment in which I first got acquainted with rock ‘n’ roll. In the Soviet Union where I was born, rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t welcomed by the Censors. Everything related to rock ‘n’ roll took place “underground”. However, this doesn’t mean that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist at all. Even in the 50s, rock ‘n’ roll somehow managed to find its way into the Soviet Union (I have no idea how that happened as the borders were closed). In those days, rock ‘n’ roll admirers were called “fashion plates” because of their colourful appearance. This was the soviet permutation of the Teddy Boy clothing style.
Rock ‘n’ roll records were pretty much not available in the Soviet Union. A sole exception to this was a record published in Poland in 1977 and sold in the “Melodia” (“Melody”) stores in Russia. The majority of the recordings were disseminated as homemade copies made on x-ray films. Such recordings were nicknamed “recordings on bones”. After 1991, gaining access to foreign music and culture in general became much easier. I owe my introduction to rock ‘n’ roll to the movie “Cry Baby”. I watched that movie on my video player non-stop every day. One beautiful day, I happened to hear about an event coming up on April 12 dedicated to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. This day is celebrated in Russia to this day. In the “Svalka” (”Trash”) club where the event took place, I got to know the already existing Rockabilly crowd, through which a huge number of foreign as well as Russian and Ukrainian recordings flowed my way.
My favorite songs and performers kept changing with the passage of time. At one point, it was Johnny Burnette with Sweet Love On My Mind, then Johnny Carroll with Crazy Crazy Lovin’. I recently compiled a new selection which I consider a concentrated expression of my favourite style. Here it is:
Wayne Walker – All I Can Do Is Cry; Andy Starr - Rockin' Rollin' Stone; Jimmy & Johnny - I Can't Find The Doorknob; Johnny Jano - Havin' a Whole Lot of Fun; Jimmy Lloyd – 3 songs - Where The Rio De Rosa Flows, I’ve got a Rocket in My Pocket and You're Gone Baby; Johnny Powers - Long Blonde Hair.
Next month Dear Readers, you will read the second part of this fascinating subject, which will include my own personal choice for the title of best rock’n’roll record of all-time. In the meantime have a real good think and ask yourself – what is YOUR Favourite Song and Why ?
On 10th June at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow, we celebrated the life and music of one of the forgotten heroes of rockabilly music. Our tribute concert to her was a recognition of her crucial role as one of the forerunners and inspirations for the birth of rockabilly music, particularly for female artists. I booked the Great Pretenders to perform for us at the concert on 10th June. I have written about them before in this column, the last time being at the end of last year. They are a brilliant band, playing an excellent authentic brand of rockabilly and rock’n’roll. They put on, as ever, a superb show and were a fitting choice to celebrate the woman who was certainly one of the wild women of the 1950s’ music scene and who had an influence on the history of rockabilly. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert.
Rose Maddox was a very successful country music star, who performed from the 1930s as a child star, right up to the 1990s. Her most successful years were in the 1950s and early 1960s, particularly the period when she was recording on the Capitol Record label. Her great contribution to rock’n’roll was in her influence on what was to become rockabilly. Her country music style of singing and performing made a huge impression and lasting legacy, which significantly influenced the birth and growth of the rockabilly movement.
Rose could hardly have been born into a poorer family. In Depression Era America in the 1930s, her family, comprising her Mum, Dad and 4 brothers, hitch-hiked from their home in Alabama all the way to California. It was her mother’s decision to make the move, as a way out of their poverty. At that time Rose, the youngest child in the family, was seven years old. Her story is another example of the many rock’n’roll and rockabilly stars of the future who were born into dirt poor families and really tasted first hand what poverty meant. Some other examples that spring to mind include Elvis, Charlie Feathers and Carl Perkins. Contrast this with the middle class self-styled “trendies” from the sixties era. For example, mega stars such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones never knew what it was like to go hungry, despite their attempts to portray themselves as anti-establishment. But I digress.
Rose’s family’s journey to California was an epic story in itself. Strangers along the route gave them lifts, food, etc. When they finally arrived in California, the Salvation Army initially gave them food and accommodation. Eventually Rose’s Dad found work and the next big step was the creation of the family band, “The Maddox Brothers and Rose”. Singing basically country music, the child performers achieved some local success and did lots of performances in saloons, clubs, etc. They also had regular slots on the local KTRB music radio station.
When America entered World War Two at the end of 1941 her four brothers joined up for the army, so the band was in abeyance for the duration of the war. It was during the War that Rose, at the age of sixteen, got married. The marriage didn’t last that long, but Rose did have a child by it, her son Donnie. After the war, the “Maddox Brothers and Rose” re-started their musical career and by the end of the 1940s achieved national success. It was at this time that they moved to Hollywood, another sign that they had “made it.” In 1957, as a result probably of exhaustion after 20 years of extensive touring and performing around the country, the act split up and Rose went solo. She continued to be very successful.
By all accounts, her stage performances were something to behold. The music journalist Jonny Whiteside saw her a few times in the 1950s and describes her impact this way; “Rose, standing centre stage as ever, knew through and through – from the pointed toes of her custom-made boots to the snow-white Stetson tilted back upon her head – that every single audience member had come for one reason: to hear her sing, to watch her keeping time to every song with a kinetic shaking, to marvel at the sheer , natural power with which she filled the entire dance hall.”
In my record collection, I have a box set of all Rose Maddox’s songs recorded on the Capitol label from 1959 to 1965. My favourite tracks are those where you can clearly hear how much she influenced rockabilly music. Numbers like “My Little Baby”, “Move it on Over”, “Sally Let your Bangs Hang Down” and “Why Don’t you Haul Off and Love Me” demonstrate this superbly.
In the 1950s she married again, to Jimmy Brogdon. But the marriage was not a success. There were persistent stories of Brogdon beating her up, as well as rumours of Rose’s infidelity. By the early 1960s the marriage was about to collapse and Rose by then was not in good shape generally, using drugs (especially benzedrine) as a form of release and comfort.
In 1981 she suffered two serious heart attacks. In the same year, another tragedy occurred – her son Donnie died of a stroke. Mercifully Rose recovered from the heart attacks, but it took a long time. But eventually she started performing again, albeit at a much slower pace than before. But she was able to overcome her problems and recorded right up until 1996. She died of kidney failure, in 1999.
Someone once described her as “the sound of Rockabilly to come.” In her prime, she dressed very suggestively for that time and her style and energy was definitely “on the wild side” for that period. The rockabilly promoter Billy Poore said “she had three of the best examples of primitive rockabilly,” describing her songs “’Hey Little Dreamboat’, ‘Wild Wild Young Men’ and ‘My Little Baby’ as the three great examples of a country female artist who was able to sing early rockabilly with ease.” The writer Andy McNutt said she was “one of the wildest pre-rockers” and “her style was cut right from the rockabilly cloth.” Rose described herself this way, “Back then, women were expected to get married and have children. That’s ALL. Well, I just wasn’t made that way.” In the late 1980s, she put it like this, “I was always a different kind of singer. Nowadays, all the girl singers sound alike. I sounded like nobody else, and I guess that’s why I was so distinctive.”
Thankyou to Rose Maddox, for her great contribution to Rockabilly. She was a Wild Rose indeed !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Rockin’ on Film, Rockin’ on Stage !
This month will focus on a Russian rock’n’roll hero. He’s achieved something no-one else has: He’s produced and directed the only film dedicated purely to Russian rock’n’roll. Those of you with a good memory will recall I wrote a previous column about this important event and its contribution to our Great Culture over here.
The film is called “Behind the Curtain” and tells the story of the history of Russian rock’n’roll. The director in question is Aleksey Fetisov and my column this month covers him for a different reason. Aleksey has spent his life in rock’n’roll and worked his way up from being a backing musician, studying our great music and then on to becoming a film director. But he has moved on another step: He now fronts his own rock’n’roll band, the Aleksey Fetisov Rock’n’Roll Trio. The band is a culmination of Aleksey’s growing and developing musically and the group is something special. They play authentic rock’n’roll, the result of the years Aleksey spent studying and working on the music.
On 13th May I booked the band to appear for their premiere performance at the Esse Jazz Café. Predictably it was a fantastic concert and those seeing the group perform for the first time were even more thrilled to see them. The photos you can see were taken at the concert on 13/05/17.
Aleksey is rightfully proud of his achievements in Rock’n’Roll. The details below will show that he “served his rock’n’roll apprenticeship” in the past over a long period and is now rightfully enjoying and emphasising the success he has achieved. So here is his story, in his own words.
Richard, here's my story:
Twenty years ago, as a schoolboy, I saw a movie on TV, Great Balls Of Fire, about the pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. From then on, the question of what I should do with my life was answered. Of course, I studied a "proper" specialisation at college and later at the university, but rock’n’roll occupied my thoughts and so I spent my scholarship money on cassettes of Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and many, many other cassettes of the "forefathers” of rock’n’roll – the legislators of our Great Culture.
And now playing in my own rock’n’roll trio, I like to perform those songs and versions that gripped me in my youth; even today, “Twenty Flight Rock" by Eddie Cochran is still a favourite. Over time a person processes a lot of music (Rock’n’Roll, of course !) and later on I discovered the Stray Cats, Robert Gordon, Creedence, Mike Sanchez, Georgie Fame; but the first impression is the most powerful.
I did not have any musical instruments, but listening to Rock’n’Roll LPs and cassettes inspired me to do something about this. But there was another problem - all of the songs were in English ! And so I ended up with two challenging and interesting occupations (which will never end for me – lessons on a musical instrument and English classes. I don’t think I would have attempted this (as it was difficult, time consuming and expensive and it took time to see the results), if the record put out by Pete Anderson and his group "Archive” hadn't fallen into my hands. It was the first Rock’n’Roll record released in the USSR (the timing was near to the demise of this strange empire, famed as well for its "iron curtain”). It was a revelation ! For me, the message was "We can do it here, too!" I became interested in Rock’n’Roll artists on our Russian stage and I can say that they inspired me to take up an instrument and later to form a group. In this regard, I call further attention to my film "Rock’n’Roll Behind the Curtain," featuring such artists as Valery Lysenko, Sergei Voronov, Denis Mazhukov, Robert Lentz and Dmitry Kazantsev. These are the very artists that I admire for their contribution to the appearance and the "maturation" of Rock’n’Roll (in the broadest sense of the word) in our country.
In the year 2001, I and my like-minded friends at my school – the Rostov College of Radio-Electronic Instrumentation - formed the Rock’n’Roll band Jack Knife. This was a quintet. Our first concert took place on 12th April of the same year at the Club Lila in Rostov, at a festival on the occasion of the International Day of Celebration of the Birth of Rock’n’Roll (which I am proud of to this day) [Richard’s note – every year in April, in Russia we celebrate the date of Bill Haley’s release of the record “Rock Around the Clock”, back in 1954, as being the Birthday of Rock’n’Roll. Continue, Aleksey]. The group Mister Twister, well-known rockers in our region, were the headliners that night. And then we sang a few songs – I'm Walkin', Lucille, All Shook Up. Then our quintet became a trio (the bass-guitar became a contrabass), and we were called the Jack Knife Rockabilly Trio. As we progressed in our playing, the concerts became more frequent and in the end we were able to give up our day jobs altogether, and devote ourselves entirely to Rock’n’Roll. We traveled all over the south of Russia, performing at festivals and in clubs, introducing audiences to this wonderful form of Culture; Rostov, Krasnodar, Sochi, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik, Stavropol, Astrakhan, Volgograd, and then on to St. Petersburg and Moscow, of course.
In early 2008, a local blues singer, Professor Blue, invited us to be his backup band. Together we performed the most famous songs of artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willy Dixon, Pinetop Perkins. And at the end of that year, the pianist Denis Mazhukov [Richard’ note – Mazhukhov, a Russian Rock’n’Roll Legend, the King of Russian Rock’n’Roll] invited our trio to work as his band. So we made it to Moscow. To back-up an artist is a very good learning experience for any musician, and we took advantage of this opportunity. Moscow is rich with talented musicians and artists and over the course of our time here we were able to meet with, play at concerts and jam with so many of them. These includes Olga Oleynikova, Aleksey Lex Blokhin, Vadim Ivashchenko and so many others.
In 2016, I decided to put together a trio again, as I knew then exactly what sound I wanted to achieve. I was aiming for Classic American Rock’n’Roll. I invited the guitarist George Yashagashvilli, as he is a true master with a fine sense of musical style and all the fine points of performance; and on drums – Vladimir Voevodin, because the drums in Rock’n’Roll should be loud, confident, and stylish with the right delivery and attack. This was no longer a student band. Since the group was created to realise my idea, we named it to reflect this: the Rock’n’Roll Trio of Aleksey Fetisov. As I wrote above, our programme is made up of songs that evoked in me the thrill of my school years. And the grateful audiences appreciate this ! Eternally green songs performed live by professional musicians who are fans of the style, send shivers and chills down the spines of audiences.
Right now as you read this, we are preparing our first album for release. I hope everyone will enjoy it ! I am very optimistic about the future of Rock’n’Roll culture here in Russia. After all, this is feel-good music, able to break through even tightly closed borders, revealing the diversity of the world around us. It's very beautiful – the women are feminine, the men are masculine and the metal bumpers on the cars are shiny and bright. Rock’n’Roll is music and dancing ! Rock’n’Roll is a sense of humor! Rock’n’Roll is Freedom!
Thanks, Aleksey. A great sentence on which to end your story ! For so many us growing up experiencing our Great Rockin’ Culture, Rock’n’Roll more than anything else was and is Freedom !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Travelin’ Man
This month the spotlight is on a real legend of rock’n’roll, from its golden era. The man wrote and performed some of the greatest songs in rock’n’roll history. But what makes this story even more significant is that it has two sides. One is the greatness and rock’n’roll legacy of the man, the other is the dark and tragic side to his life.
On 15th April we organised a tribute concert to celebrate this legend. I booked the band Rock’n’Lora to perform for us at the Esse Café. The event began as usual with my free rock’n’roll dance class, followed by Rock’n’Lora putting on a fantastic show for us. My column in this magazine last month focused on Lara Markeeva, the group’s leader and vocalist. Suffice to say that on 15/04/17 she was the real star of the whole show and once more performed some brilliant rock’n’roll for us. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the event.
And the legend we were celebrating ? Ricky Nelson. We have to thank him for unforgettable rockin’ songs. Just look at this list of just a few of his mega-hits: Hello Mary Lou, Travelin’ Man, It’s Late, Poor Little Fool, Stood Up, Believe What You Say, Never Be Anyone Else But You and Lonesome Town. If most of these songs are not familiar to you, you must be new to rock’n’roll ! Of the above songs, for me his two all-time classics are “Stood Up” and “Believe What You Say”. There aren’t many better songs than those two in the history of rock’n’roll. In the two years 1958 to 1959, he notched up twelve big song hits on the charts, only one less than the great Elvis himself. In fact it’s true to say that with the exception of Elvis, at that time he was the biggest rock’n’roll teen idol of them all.
To understand Nelson and find out why he became such a star, a lot of the answers relate to his upbringing and his family. It is true to say he was, to use the old expression, “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”, in terms of becoming a rock’n’roll star. His Mum and Dad were already big national stars in the radio sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett”, where his parents played themselves in the comedy series. When eight years old, Ricky joined the series, playing himself. So from a very early age he was a big national star. This radio show developed into a hugely successful TV series from the early 1950s, further consolidating his fame and fortune. By the age of sixteen he had a personal fortune of $500 000: In the 1950s that was Huge. In other words, unlike performers like Elvis and Carl Perkins his was the exact opposite of a poor background and upbringing.
The TV series was tailor-made for turning him into a rock star. He performed his first songs on the TV show, ensuring a large audience for his records. But Nelson really was a genuine rock’n’roll star. His songs were brilliant and he had good looks and charisma to go with it. Allied to this the fact that he was already a big star in the States, due to his appearances on the TV series, meant his rock’n’roll stardom was more or less inevitable.
But the story wasn’t quite that simple. Born into privilege and wealth, as detailed above, Nelson in fact as a boy was described by those who knew him as shy and reserved. He grew to hate having to perform in the Ozzie and Harriett TV shows. As he was not emotionally strong enough to complain to his dominant father about this, his rebellion took the form of Rock’n’Roll.
The writer Joel Selvin described it this way; “For Rick, rock’n’roll offered an escape. Like so many other youths of the 1950s, he heard its clarion call and instinctively understood its message.” But here’s the irony. His father, recognising the commercial potential of Ricky as a rock star, ensured his image was that of a clean-cut young boy, to increase his popularity to a wider audience. So even Ricky’s rebellion became “sanitised” by his over-powering father. Again, here is how Selvin explains it; “His father swarmed all over that, prodding his son from singing in the bathroom directly to a recording studio and onto nationwide TV. In the process Rick gave this budding music, at the time widely identified with juvenile delinquency and other social ills of the nation’s young, a credibility it could never get from some greasy-haired Memphis truck driver shaking his hips. This was ‘Little Ricky’ after all, the adored scion of the country’s model middle class family. It has been said Ricky smuggled rock’n’roll into America’s living room.”
Selvin’s quote above underlines how important Nelson was to the history of rock’n’roll. Whilst people like me relate much more to the “greasy-haired Memphis truck driver” and youth rebellion, it was as a result of the part Nelson played in 1950’s rock’n’roll that much of middle-class mainstream America accepted and enjoyed it too.
And there is further irony to the Nelson story. As already mentioned, Nelson’s songs were iconic and brilliant. But his father and the other promoters controlling his career, made sure the focus was on his good looks and TV star image to ensure he became the ultimate teen idol. Ricky always felt he did not get enough recognition for the quality of his music and in fact did not like the image created for him at all. As a result of all this, it’s true to say he did not enjoy the fame and the stardom.
Nelson achieved his first number one hit in 1958, at the age of eighteen. The song “Poor Little Fool”, was written for him by Sharon Sheeley. If you have a good memory, you will remember I wrote a column about Sharon, a really under-recognised hero of rock’n’roll. The words of the song reflected Sharon’s own unfortunate relationship with Don Everly from the Everly Brothers. After that, the number ones just kept on coming for Ricky. In the golden years of rock’n’roll, the latter 1950s, only Elvis sold more records than Nelson.
Nelson’s teen idol image made it kind of inevitable that, as with Elvis, he would be propelled into the movie business. His most famous movie was “Rio Bravo” made in 1959, which starred the great John Wayne as well as Dean Martin. The director Howard Hawks estimated that having the teenage star in his movie attracted at least another million dollars at the box office (again, a huge figure for the 1950s). I’m delighted now to be able to include one of my heroes, John Wayne, in this rock’n’roll article ! It turns out Wayne got on well with Nelson while making the movie. Here’s one example of this, again quoting from Joel Selvin: “Rick Nelson turned eighteen in Tucson, Arizona, on the set of ‘Rio Bravo’. For his birthday, co-star John Wayne gave him a three hundred pound bag of cow manure. The contents were dumped unceremoniously on the ground and Wayne and Dean Martin grabbed hold of the birthday boy and tossed him on top.”
Nelson’s social life was not a bed of roses. He had a reputation for being cold in his female relationships. In 1961 he married Kristin Harmon, like Nelson already a national celebrity as she was the daughter of the football legend Tom Harmon and the actress Elyse Knox. But the marriage was not a happy one. The terms of the divorce were financially devastating for Nelson, especially as there were four children by the marriage to support. This was one of the reasons he kept on touring and performing, right up to his death in 1985.
In his later performances, he moved away from the rock’n’roll style and was still trying to gain the musical recognition he felt he deserved. But by the time of his death, he was no longer a star and it seemed that the sparkle had gone out of his music. On a tour of the Southern States in 1985 to a gig in Texas, the plane he was flying in crash landed killing all seven passengers, including Nelson. Only the two pilots survived, by climbing through the cockpit windows. It was a sad end, to what had been at the beginning a brilliant rock’n’roll career.
But his place in rock’n’roll history is assured, thanks to those great years he had in the late 1950s; and above all those legendary songs of his, some of the very best in rock’n’roll history. So thanks, Ricky. As a Travelin’ Man, you travelled a long, difficult road, despite your privileged upbringing. And you left us with a great rock’n’roll legacy.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL ROCK ON, LARA !
My column this month focuses on a real and important star on the Russian rock’n’roll scene. Over the past year, she has established herself as one of the brightest stars in Russia. She has shades of swing, traditional Russian songs in her repertoire, but it’s the rock’n’roll element in her performances that is really something very special.
Her name is Lara Markeeva. She has two qualities in particular that make her special – a great singing voice and charisma on stage. From my own experience of living in Russia since 2004, a typical Russian woman is not only beautiful but independent, interesting and forceful. Lara fits that description perfectly. You will see from the details below that she is not shy in coming forward. For me, these are always the most interesting and exciting kind of Women !
I booked her and her band, Rock’n’Lora, to perform for us at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow on 11th March. It was her premiere performance at the Esse Café and she went down a storm. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert on 11.03.17.
Afterwards I sat down with Lara and talked to her about her rock’n’roll life. Below are the results of this conversation, told in her own words. Over to you, Lara.
first of all here are some of my favourite songs that I perform from
Bad Handsome Man –
May; Blue Suede Shoes - Elvis Presley; Can’t
Buy Me Love –
Beatles; Let's Twist Again – Chubby Checker; Something's got a hold
on me –
James; Stand By Me –
E King; Tainted Love –
Jones; What'd I Say –
also play cover versions of modern songs arranged for the retro style
Houston, Nirvana, Adele, etc.)
and Russian songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
started performing when I was a kid. I found myself onstage as soon
as I learned how to walk. My Mum says that I started singing even
before I could speak. I began performing professionally at the age of
23. During my first solo concert, I sang jazz in an intimate, almost
home-like atmosphere for my friends and relatives, but it was at a
real concert club!
I started performing, I had absolutely no interest in rock'n'roll; I
really liked jazz. But later I realised that my energy was too much
for this style of music; it was just too small for me. At that point,
rock'n'roll entered my life. Of course, my familiarisation with this
style began with Elvis Presley. He was and still is my idol; I
absolutely adore his ballads!
I started singing rock'n'roll, I was not well versed in this style
and I was certainly not familiar with the Russian rock'n'roll scene.
But one day, a few guys came to my show and demonstrated some amazing
dance moves while I was singing. They were dancing rockabilly jive.
It was real love. I enrolled at the Jiving Rockets dance school and
in just a couple of months I started appearing on the dance floor.
Later on, I began dancing at my own concerts! Since then I couldn't
live without rock 'n' roll! I started listening to it a lot, watching
video of foreign concerts and getting acquainted with the Moscow
love the retro style and my clothes and my image are always very
thought through and bright. As my musicians say, “Lara
looks chic when she comes to the concert, but she looks even more
chic when she goes on stage!”
one day I came to the concert having forgotten my concert dress in a
cab. But no one even noticed that because my casual clothes were as
always gorgeous that day. My friends joke that even when I sleep I am
in the character of a Pin-up Diva.
success of Rock'n'Lora is my infinite energy, which attracts amazing
people; musicians, spectators, photographers and retro fans. I love
being a leader and it's easy for me to assume the responsibility,
which is why people believe in me and help me. Just recently I found
a concert director and now I am pretty much a grown-up established
artist with her personal manager and favourite band.
the two years of its existence Rock'n'Lora has changed many of its
musicians. I can't say it's bad because I am the main driving force
behind my band. I am Rock'n'Lora and my musicians are here to help
and support me. We don't really have disagreements in our band
because I am the boss here. They all know that you don't argue with
your boss !
favourite Russian band that has made an enormous contribution to the
development of rock'n'roll in our country is “Bravo”.
It has existed for over 25 years, and everyone knows it. Bravo
songs in Russian; it's sort of a rock‘n’roll adapted for
Russians, taking into account our own music culture and history.
Their music is a mix of American rock'n'roll with the Russian
composers’ school added. I have just recently begun writing my own
songs and I really want to become as successful as “Bravo”.
now the greatest influence on me is Imelda May, the singer. She is a
stunning beauty and a great musician. I can feel her influence in
every song of mine. And I also love the Soviet retro from the ‘50s
and ‘60s - I have a lot of favourite musicians but the English
readers probably don't know them.
I already mentioned, I love Elvis and I can listen to his slow songs
forever. Brian Setzer is another hero of mine. He was the leader of a
small band, achieved great success and then his band grew to become
an orchestra! Now that's power! That’s what I want.
favourite song of all time is “You were Always on My Mind” by
Elvis. I believe that rock ‘n’ roll will continue growing in
Russia. There are so many opportunities nowadays: music lovers can
listen to any music freely on the Internet and go to concerts of
foreign stars that come to Russia. After all, in the last 20 years
the Russians have been freely travelling to Europe and the US, which
also allows our culture to be filled with new colours. I’m very
optimistic. I want to create and perform rock'n'roll, at the same
time looking for new facets. I’m ready!
style is a mix of rock'n'roll and Russian music, along with playful
performance and dancing.
most important event for Russian rock'n’roll was the opening of the
Iron Curtain that existed during the USSR. Our culture was
closed-off, and you could only listen to foreign music secretly,
without telling anyone. But twenty years ago everything changed and
these changes were for the better!
addition to working as a singer and the leader of Rock'n'Lora, I
teach vocal signing to children and adults and work at a school. I
love my job and I would never trade it for anything because the music
has filled my whole life. As for non-musical events, I'm getting
married this year and plan to start a family. My fiancé is not a
musician but he supports me in everything. We love being active. We
ride scooters in summer, travel, and often go to museums and
so much Lara, for a great rock’n’roll story. To see just how
special she is as a Russian rock’n’roll star, you can visit her
web-site at www.rocknlora.com
of you who go back as far as I do, will remember the comedian Bobby
Ball and his famous catch-phrase: So to paraphrase – “Rock on,
finally, could not let the opportunity go without saying something
about the passing of Chuck Berry. I wrote a column about the Great
Man in this magazine quite a while ago. The gist of it was that he
was not a particularly nice man personally but was a Rock’n’Roll
Genius. He was the Poet Laureate of Rock’n’Roll, with his
memorable and brilliant song lyrics. Stuff Shakespeare and
Wordsworth, it was Chuck’s wonderful lyrics that did it for me.
Some of his concerts in London in the 1970s that I went to see are
ones I still remember well. Probably the greatest of these was his
headlining the London Rock’n’Roll Show in 1972 – an
unforgettable performance from the man from St Louis. Thanks for the
wonderful memories, Chuck. He passed away last month at the age of 90
– Gone, but never ever forgotten.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE BERMONDSEY BOY
Dear Readers, this month we focus on a very important individual in the history of British Rock’n’Roll. He was the first UK rock’n’roll star and the most significant in the 1950s on the domestic scene. He is the Boy from Bermondsey, London - Tommy Steele.
On 28th January we organised a tribute concert at the Esse Café in Moscow, to celebrate the man and his achievements. I booked the Great Pretenders, a brilliant rockabilly band that I’ve written about in this column more than once. The Pretenders put on a great show and some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert on 28/01/17.
The writer Dave McAleer described Tommy Steele as not only the first British rock’n’roll star but also “the most successful home-grown rock’n’roller of the 1950s – outpacing legends like Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury. Steele also had a hand in writing many of his own biggest hits – a real rarity for any UK artist in that decade.”
He was born into a working class family in South London. He left school at fifteen to join the Merchant Navy. There he got his first chance to entertain, to fellow ship mates and also when on shore leave. It wasn’t long before his talents and charisma caught the attention of people in the music business. John Kennedy, who was to become his agent and manager during Tommy’s 1950s’ rock’n’roll years, described the impact he made when he saw him perform for the first time, before he became famous. It was at the legendary 2.Is Coffee Bar in London in 1956. From this description, it is not difficult to see why he became such a mega-star:
“He got on the stage, had a bit of a bust up with the lads and started singing a few songs. He was dressed in a bright blue jersey and a pair of jeans that had seen better days. His thick blond hair was unruly and kept tumbling across his eyes, but in those days that was the fashion. His voice bounced off the walls and hit you like a tidal wave as the teenagers dressed in every kind of crazy get up let the music carry them away. At the end of his songs there was complete silence. But then the applause started and it went on and on.”
Tommy Steele wrote and performed some of the first UK rock’n’roll hits that were to become all-time classics. For example, “Rock with the Caveman” (probably his most famous r’n’r number), “Rock around the Town”, “Doomsday Rock” and “Elevator Rock”. It is true to say that in those early years of 1950s’ rock’n’roll, the only UK artists who could in any way conceivably come close to the top American stars in terms of popularity, were Tommy Steele and to a lesser extent Cliff Richard. This is another indication of the importance of Tommy in the history of rock’n’roll. The music producer and DJ Stuart Colman, who himself played an important role in later years in the history of British rock’n’roll as a DJ, organiser and writer, gives an idea of what Tommy’s shows were like; “his early stage shows with his group the Steelemen were wild affairs and he delivered a maximum energy performance stimulated by nothing more than enthusiasm and a dressing room full of Coca-Cola”. Coca-Cola ! It was a far cry indeed from the following generation’s stronger and sometimes darker forms of stimulation. Initially practically none of his UK audiences had seen an American rock’n’roll show, so in this sense he was introducing this revolutionary music to a whole generation.
John Howard, the rock’n’roll writer, told me a great story about an early Tommy Steele concert he attended. The young women in the audience were going crazy, screaming and in a state of hysteria while watching their hero on stage. They were so loud, Tommy couldn’t even hear his own voice and was becoming a bit annoyed. So through the microphone he told the young women that if they didn’t settle down, he would personally come down and sort them out. On hearing this, the screaming and hysteria thereupon intensified to almost double, as the young women contemplated the thought of Tommy coming down to them in person !
And there is a Russian connection to this Tommy Steele story. He performed at the 1957 Moscow Youth and Student Festival: I wrote in this column quite some time ago about this iconic event in the history of Russian rock’n’roll. Then in 1959 he did a 3 day concert visit to Moscow. These two events were remarkable, given that this was at the height of the Cold War and certainly no other big rock’n’roll icon from the West performed in the Soviet Union. Plus the Soviet authorities were propagandising to their people about the immorality of rock’n’roll as an example of decadent Western Culture. The biographical film about his rock’n’roll life, in which he played himself, was also released in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Once again, it was amazing that the Soviet government allowed this, as it went against their policy with regard to other Western performers. Clearly someone high up in the Communist government must have really rated Tommy ! It would have been Great to find some Russians who saw Tommy perform in 1957 and 1959 or who saw his film in the 1950s, to hear what the reaction was amongst the Russian public. I did ask around my Russian rockin’ friends to try and track some witnesses down. But sadly the length of time since those events was the reason I was unsuccessful. I just couldn’t personally find any Russian rockers who went back quite that far. Remember this was forbidden music in the Soviet Union at that time, so given that historical period perhaps it’s not surprising I was unsuccessful. But here’s another Russian link to Tommy – three of his LP recordings were released in the Soviet Union around this time, again a very unusual happening for a “decadent Western” rock’n’roll performer.
It wasn’t only Russia, Tommy toured extensively during the late 1950s. For example, he undertook tours in the Scandinavian countries and also interestingly one to South Africa. Of course this was the period of the height of Apartheid in that country. This is how he described his visit to the country: “We boarded the ship for the voyage down to Cape Town. This was long before touring South Africa was a political issue, but I told my managers that for every white concert I do I’ll also do one black one too.” He went on to detail the impact this decision had on his South African shows, of which he did twelve, “The white ones were boycotted because I was doing black ones and they also had the impression that I was bringing over decadence.”
And here’s the story of another more local tour, which literally nearly killed him. It was in Dundee of all places. At the concert, as usual the young women were screaming with hysteria at their idol, but this time their frenzy got out of control. Derek Mathews takes up the story, “The teenagers in the front rows of the stalls began screeching for another song. They came out of their seats and onto the stage. They rushed at him for all the world like tigers out of a cage. Their long nails dug through his thin suit. Their stiletto heeled shoes nailed his feet. He tried to get away, but they were all round him. The two stagehands came to his rescue. They fought their way through the crowd, caught hold of an arm and pulled. At the same time some of the fans grabbed his other arm and tugged even more fiercely.” Tommy described what happened next, “I was conscious of a searing, stabbing pain in my shoulder and a second later everything went dark. I don’t remember anything else until I came round on the dressing room floor, I was in terrible pain.” He was rushed to hospital and all his concerts had to be cancelled for the following few weeks, to allow him time to recover. Overall, Tommy had had a lucky escape from the abyss.
And about that autobiographical film mentioned above, “The Tommy Steele Story” released in 1957, I bought a copy of the film earlier this year. One needs to assess the quality of the film in terms of the period in history when it was released. Once you look at it in that context, it’s a great movie. It’s a “50s’ period piece”, conveying the mood and culture of Britain at the time of the birth of Rock’n’Roll. Although some of the dialogue appears a bit dated by today’s standards, the movie details a period, life and culture in our history that has gone forever. And although Tommy does sing some rather bland “pop-py” songs in it, there are also some real rock’n’roll gems that he performs too, like “Elevator Rock” and “Doomsday Rock.”
Tommy Steele’s private life has been a happy one. He married Ann Donoghue in 1960 and is still happily married. They have one daughter. The universal consensus amongst those that know or have known him, is that he has not forgotten his working class roots and that fame has not spoiled him. All speak of him as basically a really nice bloke.
Of course many of you know that the famous story of Tommy Steele did not end with his rock’n’roll years in the late 1950s and that he went on to achieve more world-wide fame and fortune as an all-round entertainer and actor. But this story has been about his rockin’ career, so I’ve concluded it at the beginning of the 1960s. So here’s to Tommy Steele, the Bermondsey Boy Made Good !
And finally, a Big Thankyou to my Rockin’ Friends who supported and helped me with their messages of concern after I fractured my shoulder late last year. Although the recovery process has inevitably been slow, it has progressed well and I am Rockin’ again ! Once again, Spasibo (Russian for “Thanks”) !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL DO YOU WANNA DANCE ?
This month it’s time to focus on a Russian rockin’ legend who’s never performed in a band. Rather, his contribution to Russian rock’n’roll over many years has comprised his organising of rockin’ concerts and running dance master classes. His work and presence in Russian rock’n’roll has been immense for more than twenty years.
His name is Max Makarov. It’s nice to be able to report that although his status is high, there are no airs and graces about him. As someone who also runs and organises (in my case Free) dance classes, I found out very quickly he‘s a guy who never looks on us as being in “competition” with each other as dance teachers. His philosophy is live and let live. This is in marked contrast to some of my other experiences, for example in the UK, where often dance teachers were about as friendly towards each other as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
He also has a good sense of humour. Here’s one example. Quite a few years ago, I was with a group of friends, including Max, at a rock’n’roll hangout in one of the seven huge “Seven Sisters” buildings in Moscow. As I’m not now a drinker, everyone in our group except me was getting steadily more and more drunk as the evening developed. And throughout the evening, Max publicly kept proclaiming to everyone that I was “a bad example”, because of my sobriety. He expected Englishmen to perform much better than that !
So here is Max’s rock’n’roll story, told in his own words. Reading it provides an insight, not just into Max’s own personal story, but into the history of Russian rock’n’roll over the past 20 years. Over to you, Max:
In Soviet times there had been never ending talks about the Western cultural influence, including that of rock’n’roll and it was generally negative. I didn’t agree, music was the only thing for me in all that, since it was a breeding of emotions, which were so understandable for a young man. When I was a child, my father listened with pleasure to the Beatles and Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley. Surely, in Soviet times this really was listening to “forbidden radio” !
During one of their work trips, my parents had been experimenting with the TV set and watching the western channels secretly at night. Everyone was curious to know how the people were living over there. That’s how I got to see one of the Killer’s (Jerry Lee Lewis’s) concerts on TV. It gave me a huge gamma of emotions, mostly positive ones. Although I was a Soviet kid and at that time still had some of that Soviet anti-Western propaganda stuck inside of me, that rock’n’roll rhythm and energy stuck in my heart for a long time. In 1994 I got to know my friends from a new side and found out that we also had the same tastes in music, in bands and even who we thought the coolest guys were. So I plunged into this culture. The big Russian rockin’ bands at that time were the “Skyrockets”, “Jailbreakers”, “Mister Twister”, later “Off Beat”, “Crazy Men Crazy”, “The Rattlesnakes”, “The Cadillacs” and “Big Livers”. There were many more; it was a Great time.
Also in 1994, my friends brought and introduced me to a clubbish set that was really into popular music, including rock’n’roll. Although in fact I’d been a fan of this music for quite a long time by then, starting with the influence of my parents. For me this set of people was a springboard, that really brought me deeper into the world of rock’n’roll. Other bands appeared on the scene, like “The Secret”, “Bravo” and Mike Naumenko, which really lit up the rockin’ world over here.
In the 1990s, the rock’n’roll world in Russia was really buzzing. There were some memorable events, for example the visit of Jerry Lee Lewis to Russia. After that our world changed forever. Lewis performed here in Moscow in 1996. For us this could only be compared to a real-life visit from Santa Claus. The visit of a legendary guest was always a most wonderful present for us. We felt as if we were part of history and seeing how relaxed and easy these celebrities like Lewis were when communicating with us, put us in seventh heaven.
I think concerts like Lewis’ stayed on in our memory also because they managed to open the “heavy door”. I mean the historic ending of the “Iron Curtain” between the East and the West and the opening up of our country to influences like rock’n’roll. I suppose the Killer Jerry Lee became the true image of a rebel for me, both in real life and on stage. Even though I listen less to Lewis these days, in my head he is still pounding those keys !
The visit of Lee Rocker to Moscow also gave a strong impulse to our Movement. By that time I’d been working as a DJ in several Moscow clubs and hosted various programmes from the stage as a compere. I was involved in the project that brought the Space Cadets to Moscow and then later on another concert that we organised, featuring the legendary Robert Gordon.
And for sure, our rock’n’roll world cannot be imagined without Dance. I danced all the time and everywhere ! Whilst in my younger years there had just been solo dances, with time I learned to dance with a partner – that’s when my dancing really took off. It was the time of my life. My shoes would get torn with the tension and movement and female legs in stockings and skirts would be flying in the air; wonderful ! Nowadays, the dance floors are fully packed, but in earlier times the dancers were the focus of attention and we could get to perform the most unbelievable tricks.
And then one day, I was approached by a group of guys. I thought it was going to be some scuffle, but they asked me to teach them how to dance. That’s how I became a dance teacher. And now there's my dance school named the “Moscow Dancing Rebels”, which brings together a big number of fans. Nowadays, thanks to the dancing aspect a new wave of enthusiasm in rock 'n' roll has arisen in Russia, which will keep my interest and love for this culture going for a long time ahead.
I will always remember the following true story from a few years back. With my fellow biker friends, we took a holiday to the Isle of Man. My friends like me were into sailing in a big way and there was a big sailing regatta taking place on the island. One day on the island, we were sitting in a seaside pub, drinking beer, having fun, making noise and singing songs. At that moment, a vintage Cadillac stopped with the screeching sound of car brakes, right in front of our tables outside the pub. Out of the Cadillac jumped a group of Teddy Boys. Well, we sailors are cheerful people, so we started welcoming them, but what happened next is now for me a wonderful memory. The Teds emptied the tools from their car boot and were then able to take out a music sound system powered from the car engine. They then switched it on and it blasted out wild, crazy rock’n’roll music. It was real rockin’, boppin stuff. And for sure, I started dancing ! It was only then the guys asked where I was from. I told them, “I’m from Russia”. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Russian,” said one of the Teds. Another said, “you are real Cool to be dancing like that on the Isle of Man. Thanks, Man !” It proved to me there are no boundaries or borders for guys and gals like us, just rock 'n' roll ! And one more thing about those Teddy Boys. Those guys even sang for us and impressed us as being more than just good and lively. They were very far from the negative stereo-type that has sometimes been written or said about them. They were good, open-hearted guys who were just like us i.e. crazy about rock’n’roll.
Regarding individuals who I regard as the heroes of Russian rock’n’roll, it’s hard for me to single out a specific one. I’m grateful to the whole party scene of the 1990s, because it is thanks to it that young people nowadays listen to this kind of music. But I will mention one name: Oleg Berezin Kletchaty has done and is still doing so much for rock’n’roll in Russia. Looking back now, I joyfully thank my friends, who gave me this Culture. And I stay with it, ‘cos I still got "Blue Suede Shoes" ringing in my head.
Thankyou Max and carry on with your great contribution to Russian rock’n’roll. Dance On !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
The rockin’ legend this column will focus on this month, is a story full of mega success in music history, laced with huge tragedy. On 10th December we organised a tribute concert at the Esse Café in Moscow, to the legend in question. I booked the Beat Devils to perform for us on this date. I have written about the Beat Devils more than once in this column. They are a fantastic group, whose musical style is on the wild side of rock’n’roll. They put on a superb performance and all present agreed the concert was a memorable one, a fitting tribute to this month’s legend. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Event.
And the legend in question ? Del Shannon. His stardom would have been hard to predict, when he first started performing in the 1950s. He performed in local clubs, honky tonk bars and after-hours clubs in his local area of Michigan, USA. His life style was described as consisting mainly of “drinking, partying and fighting.” He had a band which didn’t really play in the rock’n’roll style, it was more country. But a fortunate series of events propelled him to the top. One was the addition of another local Michigan boy, a keyboard player called Max Crook, to his group. Like Shannon he would prove to be a genius at writing songs. Shannon had persuaded a local disc jockey to send some of his tapes to a recording company. The company liked what they heard and they signed up both Shannon and Crook to write and records songs. Shannon’s real name was Charles Westover and the record company recommended he alter it to a more exciting one for a recording artist. Hence the change to Del Shannon. Other changes to the Shannon image were first that he lied about his age publicly – he was born in 1934 and pretended he was 5 years younger, in order to try and appeal even more to the teenage generation of music fans. And second he wore a wig to hide his partial baldness.
Despite these changes, initially Shannon and Crook weren’t very successful, but then they released a song they wrote and recorded together, “Runaway”. This was the turning point. In early 1961 the record got to number one in the hit parade. It was a smash hit and is still one of the most iconic rockin’ records of all-time.
Del’s co-operation with Crook did not last long, but it proved monumental for his career, because of the success of “Runaway”. Crook went on to be a pioneer of electronic music in the pop industry. You can hear his electronic keyboard instrument the Musitron, which he invented himself, playing a prominent role in “Runaway”. Shannon went on to record more of his own compositions in the early 1960s, which like “Runaway” became huge hits. Numbers like “Hey! Little Girl”, “Hats off to Larry”, Little Town Flirt”, “Keep Searchin’ “ and “Stranger in Town”, still rank today as legendary songs. One of his great gifts was his ability to write a story-song. All the songs quoted above contain a very clever story written into them.
Although by the mid-1960s his mega-stardom had waned, he still continued to perform up until his death in 1990. One interesting UK connection to his story is that from this time on in his career, his popularity waned more in the USA than in Britain. His UK fans remained remarkably loyal to him and he conducted quite a few UK tours over the following years. The music producer Harry Balk had a strong influence on Shannon and it was he who persuaded him to concentrate more on the UK market, rather than the States. It was a good move: The UK concert tours were a success, with Shannon performing at various clubs throughout the country.
But the story of Del Shannon is not a bed of roses. For most of his life he was an alcoholic, as well as having problems with drugs, especially prozac. This was another significant reason for the decline in his success from the mid-1960s onwards, not just the change in musical styles which made him appear a bit old-fashioned to the younger generation by this time.
During his lifetime, he did make various attempts to try and overcome his alcohol and drug dependence, but these addictions continued to haunt him to varying degrees throughout his life. His close friends, even from his early days in Michigan, described him as “suicidal”, with a manic streak to his character. Throughout his life he suffered from severe depression, hence the prozac.
The writer Howard de Witt, who wrote a biography about him, described him thus, “Shannon had trouble coping with stardom and he always felt like he had abandoned his wife. Shirley stuck with him for three decades and then she divorced him. Del quickly re-married and was in a state of turmoil from forces that no-one understood. There were personal demons known only to Del and these forces killed him.” De Witt went on to say, “the signs of prosperity and career success obscured a sickness dwelling deep inside Shannon. He was mentally and physically ill and no one could help him.”
In 1990 Shannon committed suicide, by shooting himself with his rifle at his home in California.
But he left behind a musical legacy, which was not confined to those early huge hits that started with “Runaway”. For example, he had a major influence on the Beatles and their style of music. In an interview in 1969 John Lennon acknowledged this; “We would sit around and use some of Del Shannon’s chords and his sound, to achieve our own musical direction. ‘Runaway’ and ‘Little Town Flirt’ helped us to create the Mersey sound.” This was echoed by Pete Best, the original Beatles’ drummer; “Without Del Shannon, the Merseyside sound would have been much less distinct.”
As an acknowledgement to his musical achievements, in 1999 he was inducted into the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame. So here’s to Del Shannon. He left us some great rockin’ songs, the most famous of which will always be “Runaway”.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL LOW ON COST, HIGH ON QUALITY
This month it’s time to introduce UK readers to another great Russian rock’n’roll band, based here in Moscow. They are the Lowcosters and in this column you will read the group’s story, as told by their leader Dmitriy Kukhlevskiy. The story will also give you insights into the rock’n’roll scene here in Russia.
Some of the photos you can see were taken at their concert at the Esse Café in Moscow on 12th November. The Event, which I organised, was the group’s premiere performance at the Café. Before they came on stage, as usual I ran a jive dance class at the start of the concert. The Lowcosters went down a storm, from the time they came on stage until the end. For those seeing them for the first time, they were thoroughly delighted to see this exciting band.
So here is the story of the Lowcosters, told by Dmitriy:
About our playlist of the songs that we perform the most, well we play rock’n’roll a lot, so songs like “Lucille”, “Great Balls of Fire” and “Jailhouse Rock” are always on our set list; plus some of the early Beatles songs like “Twist and Shout”. Since we often play for boogie dancers, we also do a selection of swing and jive songs.
We also like to play some blues, so we may include a couple of Stevie Ray Vaughan songs as well.
We started the band in 2012. It was three of us at the time and the idea was to create a band for dancers’ events. There were a lot of bands playing strict rock’n’roll, but most of those songs were too fast to dance to. Our goal was to provide a balanced play-list that would include slow and middle tempo songs, as well as classic rock’n’roll hits.
Frankly we didn’t know the Russian rock’n’roll scene very well when we started. So we were mostly influenced by old time American rock’n’roll stars. But there were some local rockabilly bands, so we went to their concerts when possible.
About the reasons for our success, the most important thing is we play as a team. Most of us aren’t professional musicians, so this may be our main strength. We rehearse a lot, we play shows a lot, so that we play in sync, we inter-act with each other on stage as well as with the listeners. We may not produce mind-blowing solos, but our overall sound is solid. Another reason is that most of us are dancers, so we always dance to our music on stage, we never just stand and play. It doesn’t matter how many people attend the shows, we dance and look happy on stage, even if it had to be in front of an empty floor ! Another factor is that we really love playing live. This means that we’re okay with playing for free if we like the place and the people. Usually we play at least once a week, which is pretty good for a rock’n’roll band in Russia.
There hasn’t been any significant personal differences within the current group. At this moment we can say that we have a solid team, more like a family. The band is a huge part of our lives. We love to hang out with each other, have drinks, etc. If we get to play in another city, this always makes for an unforgettable journey. It is really a great thing when the band members are happy with each other.
But it was not always like this. We had some disagreements in the past, some people even had to leave the band. We’re still friends though. The thing that led to most conflicts was probably being too emotional, concerning the level of our playing. As I mentioned before, most of us are not professionals. So it’s your choice – you play as good as you can, or you constantly moan that none of us is Jimi Hendrix.
Some musicians often say they don't really like rehearsals. There's no drive and feedback when you are just rehearsing with the band in a cubicle. Although that is generally true, we tend to disagree. Rehearsing together is a big part of the deal for us. But when things become a bit boring for some reason, we have a recipe for that. Our guitarist Dmitry has a pot still at home and is a big fan of distilling alcohol. So every now and again he will bring some of his finest produce to the rehearsal, to spice it up. We particularly love these kind of sessions, just having some fun and playing some AC/DC songs to let some steam off. Of course we never head straight home after such a productive rehearsal. We rather go and stray around the city till early morning. So yes, we love rehearsals almost as much as playing live.
Regarding biggest musical influences, out of the classic rock’n’roll icons our favourites are Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. Of the contemporary musicians we are big fans of the band “Ray Collins Hot Club”. They play the stuff that is particularly fun to dance to and sounds awesome live. If they ever happen to play in Moscow, that’s the show we’ll never miss.
And my all-time favourite rock’n’roll song ? That’s really hard to say. I guess each of us could name a different song. If you ask me, it would definitely be one of Little Richard’s tracks, like Long Tall Sally or Lucille.
I am sort of optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Frankly we don’t expect rock’n’roll to become widely popular as it once was. But whenever we play a show there are people saying “Wow, I didn’t think Russian bands still play rock’n’roll, but it is SO much fun!” I guess as long as people like to dance, rock’n’roll will live and thrive.
We don’t have a strict style of music, we just play the music for people to dance to. And by dance we mean mainly social dance. Styles that happen to be the best for this are blues, swing and of course rock’n’roll!
Of course we also have lives outside of the music. Dancing has already been mentioned. So that leaves travel (especially together to a concert somewhere), listening to music and - last but not least – we really enjoy hitting a bar together after a rehearsal or a show. Sometimes these friendly meetings last till early morning. Some of us are even starting to have marital problems because of that, but hey, it’s rock’n’roll!
Thank you Dmitriy, for sharing the Lowcosters’ story. As he mentioned above, Rock’n’Roll is a minority Culture and it’s never going to be as popular again as it was in the 1950s. But it’s the greatest Culture of all and it’s up to us to keep it going, wherever we live in the World !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL STUPID CUPID
This month the focus is on the woman who, after she hit the big time in 1958, became the most popular female singer during the golden years of rock’n’roll. She is the best-selling female singer of all time, in terms of records sold. Her story is an epic one, which includes mega stardom as well as enormous personal tragedies.
Her name is Connie Francis and on 15th October we celebrated her contribution to rock’n’roll with a concert at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow. I organised the Event and booked the Marshmallows to perform for us. Regular readers of this column will know about them; they are a terrific group whose style of music is authentic 1950s’ rock’n’roll. They comprise 3 female singers, Juli, Masha and Viktoria, all beautiful and all great performers on stage. There was therefore no better choice for us to celebrate the great Connie Francis. It was a great concert and included a free jive dance class, run by yours truly.
Connie Francis was born into a poor Italian-American family in New Jersey. Her father George was a working class labourer, who instilled his love of music into her. In fact that is a bit of an understatement. From the time she was a little girl, her father pushed her really hard to perform at music events and had a huge impact on her musical career. He was a forceful individual, who would later also have a significant influence on her social life. The family was a very close-knit one and she was especially close to her brother George. And her early musical performances were basically the result of her father’s forcefulness in pushing her into a musical career. In 1955 he raised enough money to get some songs recorded in her name, hoping to interest a big record company. And it worked. The famous MGM company signed her to record some singles. But the songs were not a commercial success and in 1958 MGM officially advised her that after the last single (there was only one left to be recorded and released) they would discontinue her contract.
But guess what, that last single was the iconic “Who’s Sorry Now ?” It sold over a million copies, made number one in the UK hit parade (as well as number four in America) and catapulted her to stardom. Later she co-operated with the famous Neil Sedaka on some more recordings, one of which, like “Who’s Sorry Now?” would become a legendary song in pop history. It was “Stupid Cupid” and as well as being a huge hit in the States, made it to number one in the UK. More mega hits followed and dear Readers, I’m sure their titles will be familiar to many of you; numbers such as “Lipstick on your Collar”, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”, “Among my Souvenirs” and “My Happiness”. Seeing clips of her performing, it’s not difficult to see why she became such a huge star. She had everything – she was young, beautiful and charismatic. She was a great performer on stage, along with her great singing voice.
She was now a super star. But life was rarely smooth for Connie Francis. Before mega-stardom arrived in 1958, she had met and become romantically involved with Bobby Darin. He of course was, like Connie, soon to become a huge singing star too. But during the time of their romance, fame had still to arrive for either of them. They had been brought together to co-operate on writing and performing songs and the two initially disliked each other. This wasn’t helped by Francis’ reputation for being impatient and bad tempered. And Darin’s own reputation was one of being known for brashness, insensitivity and egotism. But over time they both fell deeply in love with each other. Unfortunately for Francis, her overbearing Dad hated Darin and on one occasion chased him away at gunpoint, when he realised his daughter was considering running away from home with Darin.
The affair culminated one night when Connie and Bobby returned to her family house after an evening out together. Her furious Dad, on discovering she had gone out with Darin, had packed all her bags with her belongings and left them outside the house on their return from their date. Darin used this as the pretext to propose to Connie that the two take the bags and run away and elope together. Connie was genuinely scared of what her father might think or do, if she was to elope. Darin asked her to marry him, saying it had to be either that evening or the next day. She cried her eyes out and in fear of what her Dad might do, instead of running away with Darin, ran into the house. Before she did so, Bobby told her it was now or never – if she wouldn’t run away with him that evening, the affair was over. And so it was to be. Apart from two chance encounters later on in their musical careers, they never saw or contacted each other again. Connie Francis always believed and openly admitted, that not marrying Bobby was the worst decision of her life; Stupid Cupid indeed. For a long time afterwards, she still harboured hopes that they would be re-united. But driving home in a car in December 1960, the radio news announced that Bobby Darin and the actress Sandra Dee had just got married. Connie describes that as one of the worst moments in her life.
Inevitably as the golden years of rock’n’roll waned, Francis’ huge stardom waned with it. But she continued to perform during the 1960s and could still command huge crowds at her concerts. After so many years of performing and touring, she took a break for three years starting in 1970 and only performed at an occasional events. She began recording and doing concerts in earnest again from 1973.
A year later came a horrific event, which she barely recovered from. She was appearing in a New York music festival and booked into a local motel during the event. It was there in November 1974 that an intruder broke into her motel room in the early hours and raped her. She was raped at knife point, the perpetrator telling her he would kill her if she screamed. It was particularly violent, involving repeated hitting by the assailant. At the end she was almost suffocated to death by having two large mattresses pressed on top of her. Before he left, the man collected and stole all her valuables. Her black rapist was never caught.
A further crisis occurred in 1977, when following nasal surgery she lost her voice. Fortunately her singing career resumed a year later and she recorded several albums. Then in 1981, a tragedy occurred within the close knit family she had grown up with. Her brother George had become a lawyer. Unfortunately he had used some of these talents for work with some rather shady clients within the Underworld. As an Italian-American lawyer, his legal work got him involved with members of organised crime families. His activities for one Mafia Family had clearly made him enemies with another and in 1981 he was murdered by Mafia hitmen. Connie took this very badly, since as already mentioned she had been very, very close to her brother. Shortly after this, things got even worse for her. She was diagnosed with “manic depression” and her musical career came to a stop again. She was admitted to many hospitals and said later she was close to committing suicide at this time. But by the end of the 1980s she had bounced back, recording, performing and even writing her autobiography.
So despite her huge success, especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s, her life was certainly not a bed of roses. She had four marriages, the longest of which lasted only five years. She has one child, a son named Joey (this after a few miscarriages during her life). Overall, it’s a story of a woman who was born into a poor family who nonetheless fought her way to the top, but discovered that at the top there were still mountains to climb. Despite this, she proved herself a real survivor. Thankyou Connie, for all those great records !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL WALK ON THE WILD SIDE TAKE THREE !
This month we continue the fascinating stories of a legendary Russian group. They are the Beat Devils and regular readers of my column will know how iconic they are here in Russia. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the group’s concert at the Esse Café on 13th August. As I reported last month, this concert was once again another huge Beat Devils’ success, with the band playing an excellent rock’n’roll set.
Last month you read the rockin’ story of the group’s leader, Andy Loug. This month it’s the turn of Fedor Nikolaev the drummer and bass player Mike Bogdanov. They are both fascinating stories, which give a real insight into Russian rock’n’roll over the past twenty years. First, here’s Fedor:
About our playlist of songs that we perform, we have no constant playlist which we always use. There are a few hundred songs in our baggage, so our list has its natural rotation. Songs we choose for any exact gig depends on many factors, such as audience mood, sound comfort, etc. My first experience as a musician was at middle school when I was around 13 years old, I think. It was as a bass guitarist and it was a rock band with a wide range of genres from blues to punk. Our first live gig happened after a few months of rehearsals, at one of the school parties. I started drumming a bit later at the age of 15 at one of the summer children camps, where I usually spent my summer holidays. The reason for changing my instrument was that there were many guitar and bass players around and not many who could play drums.
To be honest, I never thought to play mainly only rock’n’roll or something like that and my main landmark at that time was alternative music. Over time, I was moving from one band to another for several years, till I finally became a part of the Beat Devils at the end of 2000. It was my friend's idea to focus on rock'n'roll so we started to try. That’s how the story really began.
A couple of compilations of rockabilly and psychobilly music from Russia and the former Soviet Union were my first ever sources of information and musical inspiration and there were a few bands which I liked most of all at that time - The Skyrockets (undoubtedly number one for me), Mad Heads, The Rattlesnakes and Mister Twister. Basically, thanks to them I have such a strong friendship with rockabilly music nowadays.
The main significant event in my musical life was the birth of the Beat Devils of course. Another important event was my visit to Graceland and Sun Studios two years ago. As for the Beat Devils, I believe our best gig and best record are waiting for us in the nearest future. Concerning the Beat Devils longevity, the secret is that all three of us are not colleagues – we are friends. And music is not our job – it is our love and our hobby. We are free to do music in the way we like it, not depending on money or whatever else.
There have been a few changes to the group during the history of the band. We had 5 members at the start. Our squad was not stable for almost 2 years, when finally three guys left the band and one joined it at the beginning of 2004. So the same three constant persons play in the group from that time till now. I do not remember any significant personal differences between us three. But of course sometimes we have disputes, different views and opinions and it is normal. I mean it is normal life for a team consisting of more than one person to have differences. But the thing is, we’ve been friends a long time, we all really like each other, so we always work things out together.
If I had to choose two bands in history who contributed the most to Russian rock’n’roll, in my point of view it is “Mister Twister” and “Bravo”.
My biggest musical influence has been Elvis; but also a lot of different psychobilly and rockabilly bands from all over the world, such as Batmobile, the Stray Cats, Living End, the Hormonauts, Smell of Kat, Tiger Army, Stressor, etc. But there is not only rock'n’roll music in my playlist. Today in my Ipod you can find Sade, Maroon 5, Bullet For My Valentine, Amy McDonald, Metallica and many, many more.
My all-time rock’n’roll hero is Elvis, because all his life was an example of how a real king of rock’n'roll should live. Similarly, my favourite rock’n’roll songs are almost all Elvis songs: I can listen always to them without interruption. I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. I can say this confidently, because the Russian rockabilly scene survived in the ‘90s of the last century during a 100% domination by an awful bad quality pop music in the country. That’s why I believe it will live and evolve in the future. I would describe the Beat Devils’ musical style as a mix of rockabilly, psychobilly, punk and alternative rock music.
My main interests outside of rock’n’roll are to do with sports; from chess to rugby, no matter whether I’m a player or watching others play. I also very much like to travel and am very glad to have had the opportunity to go on tour with the Band.
And now here’s Mike, with his rock’n’roll story for you:
Regarding the Beat Devils’ playlist at concerts, we don`t have a constant playlist, we always make and agree one before a show. It depends on the situation.
How did I first get into rock’n’roll ? Here’s my story. I heard rockabilly music for the first time when I was 13 years old. At that time the compact discs had become part of everyday life and I with my father were going at weekends to the famous Gorbushka market in Moscow, where we were buying the music. My father preferred jazz and classical music but I asked him to buy me a collection of rock’n’roll music. I didn't know the word “rockabilly" then, so I called all that music just rock’n’roll. I completed a double bass course at a public music school when I was 16 years old and of course my first intention was to play not classical music, but rock’n’roll. Nevertheless I didn't want to play it on the double bass but on the bass guitar. My first music group was called "Old Ladies Band" - we played with Valery Setkin, who is now playing in the Raw Cats band. We rehearsed in an apartment, we had our first concerts; in general we just had a good time.
In 2003 I saw accidentally an advertisement which said that the Beat Devils band needed a double bass player. When I met the guys from this group, I told them honestly I hadn't played the double bass for a long time and that I had never played the slap, but I really wanted to try. Soon I stopped playing bass guitar and started playing the contrabass for the Beat Devils, where I’ve been doing it for almost 13 years now.
When I first started playing, the Russian groups that influenced me the most were Mister Twister, the Sky Rockets, the Rattlesnakes, the Swindlers and many more. The 2 most significant events in my own rock’n’roll history have to be the following: 1) My first gig with the Old Ladies Band and 2) The moment when I joined the Beat Devils.
I think two of the main reasons for the Beat Devils’ success and longevity on the rock’n’roll scene has been the personal friendships between us and the fact that music is not our full-time work. Each of us has our own job and profession and our music is just our hobby, our passion and our culture.
If I had to name individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia, I’d say Mister Twister and Bravo. My biggest musical influences? Well, many bands and styles. Every day I try to listen to new music and it helps me to find new ideas and inspiration. My all-time rock’n’roll heroes are Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, ‘cause they are the best. My all-time favourite rock’n’roll song is “Women & Cadillacs”. My main interests outside of rock’n’roll are fishing, mushroom hunting, history and cooking.
Thankyou, Fedor and Mike. And as I advised last month, you can catch some of the Beat Devils’ magic yourself – go to youtube and type in “Beat Devils - Night Falls Down” in the search engine box. You’ll then see what I mean about “Hot, smokin’ stuff !”
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL WALK ON THE WILD SIDE TAKE TWO !
Those of you with a good memory will remember that quite some time ago I wrote a piece in this column about a legendary Russian rockabilly / psychobilly band, the Beat Devils. That article, “Walk on the Wild Side”, touched on the history of the group. This month and next, we’re gonna focus on each of the members of the band and their fascinating rock’n’roll stories. These stories will tell you something about the three individuals, as well being another great example of Russian rock’n’roll history over the past twenty years. It’s a great history, full of heroes and sometimes (although not in the case of this group despite their name) villains !
Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Beat Devils latest concert at the Esse Café in Moscow on 13th August, which I organised. Suffice to say the band once again put on a brilliant show, which was hugely enjoyed and appreciated by those present. They called their show on 13/08/16 “Back to the Roots”, the theme being that the numbers they performed were going back to the roots of 1950s’ rock’n’roll. And it worked – it was real, authentic 50s’ style rockin’ !
Let’s start with the leader of the Beat Devils, lead vocal and guitarist Andy Loug, telling you his story: It all started for me, when I was exploring the credits of one of my favorite punk rock bands, the Sex Pistols i.e. songs that they said influenced them musically. And two of these songs “Somethin’ Else” and “C’mon Everybody” contained the name “E. Cochran”. I went on with my searchings and found a great treasury – the inheritance of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins. Later it worked itself out in my head – the understanding that the rebel roots of the first punk bands were influenced by the rebel spirit of the iconic musicians of the 1950s.
At that time, I was playing in a student band at my university, a band which was on the edge of its breakup, as nobody in it put in big efforts. So I was open also to new projects and challenges. On 3rd March 2001 I was recruited as a lead guitarist for a band and two weeks later we did our first gig under the name “The Beat Devils Band”. Time passed and the word “Band” was eliminated from the group’s name. But there were many events in our lives before the Beat Devils became what they are today.
In the beginning we were a 5-piece band. We included a bass guitarist and toyed around with different genres, including rockabilly, psychobilly, surf, blues, even hard rock. We mostly fooled around and were popular mostly amongst our close friends. Nobody took us seriously, but that early time was really great, crazy and much fun! But what we had also, beside parties and joints, was a strong desire to develop the group and we had a big passion for making music.
We always hung out together, listening to rockabilly and psychobilly records. Once at a home party at our ex-vocalist’s (Isek) house, I heard The Meteors & The Quakes for the first time – that sounded really great, and I guess it was the first injection of “rockabilly psychosis” in my brain!
I also remember our first journeys together to see shows of the local bands, in different venues like “Svalka”, “Polnolunie” – those were legendary Moscow clubs that don’t exist any more. In one of such shows, our rhythm guitarist at that time, Misha, who was nicknamed “the Healer”, handled our demo tapes and took one to the Moscow promoter Misha Palitskiy. As a result of this, we were then lucky enough to play at some festivals and as an opening act for some bigger bands.
At that time the internet was not so global, there were no social medias like there are today. But people were thirsty for music, going to every rockabilly or psycho show in the city, with many people coming from other cities. We were exchanging CDs, making compilations for each other and really digging that kind of stuff, searching for rare records & interesting new bands.
Once, me and our drummer Fedor went to Gorbushka market in Moscow and we spent all the money we had to buy a CD of Living End’s “Self Titled” album and a video cassete of the famous Batmobile Japanese show in 1991. Plus after our band rehearsals we often took a bottle and listened to the live records of the Stray Cats all night long.
We were really impressed by the concert of the Ukrainian band “Mad Heads” in Club Vermel in Moscow in March 2003 - and I can say that their “neo-rockabilly & psychobilly” period was one of the main inspirations for us, while we were searching for our own sound and band concept. We started to write our own songs and trying to use more than three rock’n’roll chords.
When Mike “Grem” Bogdanov became a member of the band and we became a trio – as we are now – we really moved to more complicated arrangements and more powerful sounds, that are now the fundamental basis of the making of our own music and of producing it on records.
Our main all-time influences were Batmobile, The Blue Cats, The Long Tall Texans, Hillbilly Hellcats, The Hormonauts, The Sharks and many more. We really loved the wildness and the sincerity of the bands from 80s and that was something we always try to put into our music and live shows as well.
Our friends from Moscow Maniacs (also known as the Moscow Psychobilly Crew), who were and are a group of real psychobilly enthusiasts, invited us to play as the opening act for the German band Tony Montanos. We put on a good show and that was a crucial moment for the band, as we then became known to the Moscow rockabilly and psychobilly community and got more concert offers.
In May 2005 Fedor, Mike & me went to the Batmobile concert in St. Petersburg and in November 2005 the Space Cadets toured in Moscow. I still recall those wild emotions and the feelings, when a top band is playing live in your country. I can say that from the year of 2005 till now the Russian “Billy” scene made a bigger progress than ever before in its history and that year means a lot for me as well, ‘cause we released our first album then. Since then we’ve had three more, but I’m sure the best will be our next one.
I realise now that being in a band with the same people for a long period of time is like living in a small family. All the happy moments that you’re living through with your close friends make your life and your music worth it and all the tense moments and difficulties to overcome make you even stronger.
So now, looking back on these 15 years of rockin’, partyin’, tourin’ & recordin’, we are still able to find a new motivation and a new challenge for the three of us and our music. And that helps us a lot to carry on !
A great rock’n’roll story, Thankyou Andy !
Next month the story continues, with reminiscences and anecdotes from Fedor Nikolaev and Mike Bogdanov, the other members of the Beat Devils. Stay tuned for more great personal histories – Russian style ! In the meantime, catch some of the Beat Devils’ magic yourself – go to youtube and type in “Beat Devils - Night Falls Down” in the search engine box – it’s smokin’ stuff!
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL WHO IS YOUR ROCK'N ROLL HERO ? TAKE TWO !
And now Folks, we are going to continue covering one of the most pressing questions in Rock’n’Roll. It’s a question I also invited you to answer last month.
I continued spending time asking the top rockin’ performers in Russia who their all-time Rock’n’Roll Hero was. The answers were again varied, but you can probably work out now which name still comes up the most. So this month is the second episode of sharing their responses with you.
So here again are more big names from Russian Rock’n’Roll, sharing their own number one rockin’ heroes with you !
Taras Savchenko, leader of the Russian neo-rockabilly / psychobilly group “The Magnetix”:
"I have been listening to rock 'n' roll since I was 18, that is, for more than 20 years now. And my taste hasn't changed since. In the mid-1990s in Russia, it was hard to get the music you wanted, especially if it was more unique and not massively popular. We copied tapes from each other many times. So then one day, I got a hold of Gene Vincent recordings on tape. Of course, I was already familiar with such performers as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry and was interested in the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc. However, my fascination with rockabilly started with that tape. Vincent turned around my perception and my understanding of this music. Before him, I couldn't fully feel the idea, the thought, if you will. And suddenly it came to me! Like an orgasm! I couldn't believe I was listening to this. I went crazy! I was almost 18. And that's when I understood that I won't ever be able to listen in the same way to any other kind of music. Since then, I've been searching and absorbing everything related to rockabilly and psychobilly and playing that style of music myself."
Juli Chu, Leader of the Moscow rock’n’roll group “The Marshmallows”:
Here is my rock’n’roll hero!
I don’t want to sound cliché, but for me the number one rockin’ hero was, is and will always be Elvis Presley. Not just because I admire his music, even though I do. No. Here’s the reason: He became the idol of millions when he was still alive and now, if asked about the 1950s and rock’n’roll, even a person who isn’t interested in music and this particular style would name him and most likely him only, as The First One. And this is the main indicator of his talent and his backing band’s talent. It’s necessary to acknowledge that those who believed in him and worked for him played a significant role in his popularity. Elvis is a star who has withstood the test of time !
My own group’s repertoire includes his popular songs, as well as some which have been undeservedly forgotten. His repertoire is so huge that even if you know a lot about it, you can sometimes make a delightful discovery.
Andy Loug (guitar and vocalist of the Russian neo-rockabilly / psychobilly group “The Beat Devils”):
Although my musical personality was brought up with the help of such heroes as Cochran, Vincent, Burnette, Perkins, etc., in fact the real impact was given to me by the non-standard style and crazy musical manner of Hasil Adkins. I came across his legacy while already a member of a band and that psychological “meeting” with Adkins formed a lot of my vision of psychobilly music and understanding of its real roots.
Hasil Adkins was the true symbol to the highest degree of that Rockabilly Wilderness, with his under-estimated lyrics and mad music. He didn’t realise at the beginning of his career that he had conceived the style of music that would be named later “psychobilly” and that since the beginning of 1980s has given to the world hundreds of bands world-wide !
He was “true” in what he was doing, being not one of those “glossy rock stars”. He followed his three main passions – girls, guitars and cars – till the end of his life. That is very admirable and respectable to me, ‘cause the modern community of “weekend rebels” lack those qualities by quite a bit ! Many people think nowadays more of their “fashionable” looks, than about the wild spirit in their souls, while Hasil laughs with his branded voice at them.
His raw and honest guitar sounds and often unpredictable riffs are a true rock’n’roll power, without pop compromises. Besides the famous “She Said”, “Chicken Walk” and “No More Hotdogs”, my Adkins’ favourite tracks are “I Need A Date” (aka “We Got A Date” and which is real psychosis !), “Get Out Of My Car” (a crazy mix of rockabilly, country and garage), “Connie Lou” (a pre-history of the psychobilly guitar style of playin’) and many more.
According to the rumors, he was mentally ill in different life aspects of his life and was said to suffer from manic depression. But I always asked myself, what if he was the one and only really normal one and his talent was a reason for that “illness” ? I hope the personality of the one they called “The Haze” will be given some day the acknowledgement he truly deserves, in the pantheon of rock’n’roll heroes.
Andrey Artyomov, leader and bassist of the Russian band “Avocado”:
I became fascinated with rock’n’roll at an early age, in the mid-1980’s, when I saw a video clip of one of the local bands on TV. I was amazed by the vigour and tempo of the piece they were performing and tried finding similar music and people who were interested in it. It was impossible to buy records with this kind of music in the USSR. However, there were recording studios where you could record the desired music on a compact tape. The recordings were pretty pricey for that time – 9 rubles for 90 minutes. There was a studio like this at the entrance to Gorky Park in Moscow. That’s where I was able to find the first recordings of rock’n’roll.
Later on, that same Gorky Park was the place of my first encounter with a member of the local hipsters crowd, by the nickname of Kirpich (“Brick” in Russian). He told me about a big group gathering on Wednesdays in the Prospekt Resonance Café at the Prospekt Mira metro station in Moscow. There was a big disco club for dancing there and a band named Briolinovaya Mechta (“Grease Dream” in Russian) was performing live. Their programme started with selections of early Elvis songs. The café was a place for general socialising and exchanging information and records. At approximately the same time, the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow offered a series of lectures on rock music given by Nadezhda Sevnitskaya, a big admirer of Elvis and of the musical trends of the 1950s. This also played a role in my interest in Elvis. Then an Elvis fan club was established in the museum and I actually joined it. This fan club was a branch of an Elvis fan club in London. Nowadays, I listen to a wide variety of music, mainly 1950s jazz and country and rockabilly, but in my spare time, I still find time to listen to some early Elvis.
Mikhail Deryabin, keyboard player and songwriter for the Russian band “The Coral Reefs”:
My love for rock’n’roll is to the merit of my father. Like my father, I became a big fan of the music of the 50s, which has a clockwork rhythm and drive. As a composer / melodist, I prefer in the song and the instrumental composition a harmonious blend of melodies and the arrangement. And this is all rock’n’roll for me. The most significant performer for me is the creativity of Bill Haley with his Comets. I admire his musical taste. Also I can’t fail to mention the great Louis Jordan. Rock'n'roll almost can’t be met in his repertoire. He sang with his orchestra boogie-woogie and jazz rhythms and harmonies, which were absorbed into rock'n'roll. Elvis Presley is certainly the acknowledged king of rock’n'roll, but as for me, I like best his ballads. These for me are the three greatest men – my ideological teachers of this great music. And for 47 years I have never doubted them !
And as for this Russia’n’Roll columnist, yours truly, well over the years I’ve had a few heroes in my rock’n’roll life. I remember in the 1970s Gene Vincent became very special to many of us rockers following his death in the early 1970s, after which he became a sort of “martyr” figure. Elvis has always gotta be up there, as of course he is the King. But the Elvis image for me became very slightly tarnished watching him perform in his later years, especially in the 1970s before his death, when his physical deterioration and waning talent was not something to celebrate. But Elvis, for your contribution to our Great Culture, we love you and we always will. Elvis in the 1950s was on a different level to everyone else – Awesome !
But over the years I guess overall my biggest r’n’r hero has been Little Richard. I love my rock’n’roll on the wild side and no one was as wild and crazy in the golden era of rock’n’roll than Richard. I saw him live at the London Rock’n’Roll Show in the early 1970s and I thought he was fabulous; crazy as ever and bringing the audience to their feet. So my vote goes to Little Richard; with lots and lots of other rockin’ legends as runners up!
And now again my question to you, Dear Readers–who is YOUR Rock’n’Roll Hero–and Why?
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL WHO IS YOUR ROCK'N ROLL HERO ?
And now Folks, we are going to cover one of the most pressing questions in Rock’n’Roll. It’s a question that YOU are also invited to answer.
I spent time asking the top rock’n’roll performers in Russia who their all-time Rock’n’Roll Hero was. Next month I will continue sharing with you the responses of more Russian rockin’ stars. Their answers were varied, albeit you can probably work out now which name came up the most.
So here are the big names in Russian Rock’n’Roll, sharing their number one rockin’ heroes with you !
Vladimir Katulskiy, Leader of the Smolensk neo-rockabilly band “Route 67”:
Possibly someone would call my answer obvious, but for me the answer is unambiguous and clear, immediate and without hesitation – Elvis ! Probably everyone has a favourite artist and his own rock’n’roll hero. Tastes are different, each can have his own feel on this question. For some it’s very difficult to choose the best. There were a lot of great, cool musicians, artists, heroes of rock'n'roll, from the very rare, to the most recognisable for all. I love them all infinitely, appreciate them, collect their records etc. But if it is one globally, for all time it’s Elvis ! When talking about Hank Williams, Mouse Zinn said, "before him, there was nothing". Well, before Elvis there was nothing ! Yes, there were local successes: For example, Bill Haley and his Comets started playing rock’n’roll a little before. And what many will say is the rockabilly record number 1 of all-time is by Johnny Burnette and his Rock’n’Roll Trio ( I have 3 copies ), etc. But it’s Elvis - a man who made himself; 1954, the pioneer, Elvis - the reference/standard/model/gauge of what rock’n’roll is all about. Elvis - the first one on the scene who really blew it up, making rock’n’roll music and as a consequence, brought the sub-culture with it, brought this underground Movement to the masses. He allowed it to get out of the sheds and garages; Elvis - a catalyst for the emergence of hundreds of great followers; and he is still having that impact, even so long after his death. For Elvis, it was a long and always high quality musical career; another stunning example was his work in the sixties. Elvis - probably was marked by a gift from God. One word - ELVIS! One word - KING!
Aleksey Schukin, leader of the Moscow rockabilly group “The Hi-Tones”:
The first Rock'n'Roll song I heard was “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison. For sure it was more pop music, but it woke up my interest to Rock'n'Roll. I began to look for different info about this music and of course I got Elvis' records. Later I listened to records by Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. But the main Rock'n'Roll hero of mine became Johnny Burnette and his Rock'n'Roll trio. It was his music that mostly influenced my manner of singing.
Oleg Ivanin, lead guitarist of the Moscow rockabilly group “The Great Pretenders”:
I would like to tell you how I discovered Elvis Presley.
I began to play rockabilly in the late 1980s (before that I played as a guitarist in progressive or pop rock bands) and I was very surprised to hear how one of the participants at a gig praised Elvis. It’s difficult to imagine now that the perception of this unbelievably successful artist in the West was in the Soviet Union was rather negative! In general people knew almost nothing about him. I tried to find an article about him in the Soviet Encyclopaedic Dictionary (a huge book by the way) and there wasn’t any!
Shortly after that a friend of mine gave me a tape with 90 minutes of Elvis’ hits: Most of them were released in the 1950s. Naturally I listened to it many times. All of the songs were great: Elvis’ voice was sometimes mild and pleasant, sometimes sharp and impressive. The musicians who recorded the arrangement were high class professionals. As far as I know, at the time when it was recorded better quality could be achieved only by multiple repetition of the tracks, played by all musicians as at the concerts. The best versions of the records were used then for radio, singles, LPs, etc. Nevertheless it didn’t help much sometimes and many rock’n’roll recordings of the ‘50s sound amateur, by modern standards. In Elvis’ case everything was very tasty and almost perfect. I learned later how great he was on stage, particularly in the early years of his career and I have to admit that my respect for this artist is still growing. When we play gigs, even now, around 40 years after his death, people are still asking us to play “something from Elvis Presley”.
Evgeny Kudryashov, leader of the Russian group “The Honky Tonk Trio”:
In my opinion, rock’n’roll is first of all Jerry Lee Lewis, because the energy of this guy really rolls. Sometimes it seems that he's just going crazy, while performing songs like High School Confidential or Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin’ On. He is a bomb with a very short fuse, each moment threatening to become a big fireball !
As a guitarist, I am especially interested in how to transmit that explosive piano energy and to incarnate this spirit of intoxicating rock 'n' roll into my Honky Tonk Trio band!
Sergey Kuteynikov, leader of the Russian rockabilly group “The Great Pretenders”:
Here is my favorite 1950s rock`n`roll hero !
It is Elvis Presley. Why? Because it is obvious that he had the best voice of them all and moved around the stage in the 1950s better than anyone else on the scene. In fact I copy a few of his moves on stage myself. He was a happy go lucky guy - a real cool cat ! He’s one of the inventors of my favourite style of music, Rockabilly.
I dig most of his 1950s’ stuff, from “Mystery Train” to “I Got Stung” and I liked his gold lame jacket style of dress on his 1957 USA-Canada tour -to my mind it was the epitome of the rock`n`roll 1950s’ singer-look. His 1968 comeback special black leather image is marvelous, too. Rock on, Elvis !
Thank you, Guys ! As advised, next month we will continue looking at the best Russian rockin’ performers sharing their number one choices with you.
testing 234And now my question to you, Dear Readers –U who is YOUR Rock’n’Roll Hero – and Why ?
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL SIBLING RIVALRY BIG TIME
This month I’m gonna cover the most famous family act in rock’n’roll history. And as sometimes happens in real life, it’s a story of the family members splitting up in acrimony and recrimination. It’s a true and great story, with some of the greatest rock’n’roll songs in history thrown in along the way.
Our tribute concert on 14th May was dedicated to the Everly Brothers. I booked the Marshmallows to perform for us, after my customary free rock’n’roll dance class kicked off the Event. Most of you know from my previous articles how good I think this band is. Marshmallows are quite simply fantastic. As their name implies, on stage they are sweet and hot ! Some of the photos you can see were taken at this great concert on 14/05/16.
The Everly Brothers had the classic beginning to their musical careers. Their Dad and Mum were already a performing act. Small time for sure, but they had their own music show on a local Kentucky radio station playing country-oriented music. After the family moved to Iowa, while still very young the brothers Don and Phil joined the family act, under the names “Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil.” In the early 1950s the family then moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. After the 2 boys had graduated from High School, their own musical careers really started to move fast. Chet Atkins, the famous country singer, was a friend of the family and it was he who got some recording companies interested in them. Success wasn’t long in coming and their first monster hit was “Bye Bye Love”, which was number 2 in the charts in 1957.
“Bye Bye Love” was the first of many smash hits for the brothers. Here’s just a sample of their hits which have become legendary r’n’r tracks; “Wake up Little Susie”, “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog”, “Problems” and “(Till) I Kissed You,” “Walk Right Back”, “Cathy’s Clown” and “When Will I be Loved”.
Their huge success lasted up to the very early 1960s. By then of course the golden era of rock’n’roll was over and their popularity waned in like measure, although they still commanded big crowds at their concerts. They continued to record throughout the 1960s.
And here’s where the story gets less than dream-like. This was a case of sibling rivalry big-time. They never really liked each other from early on and as their successful career developed, the conflicts between them increased. Ultimately it led to their splitting up at the beginning of the 1970s and pursuing separate careers, neither of which produced anything like the success they had achieved together. Attempts were made at re-unions for commercial reasons, but they never lasted. In fact for 10 years they never spoke one word to each other, except at their father’s funeral.
Prior to the split, they’d also had different problems. Both became addicted to the drug Speed during the 1960s. Survivors from the 1960s will remember this was a popular illegal drug during this period, especially amongst the Mods. The brothers took some time to recover from it. This included concerts having to be cancelled and periods of hospitalisation. Don was the worst affected by this addiction.
They both loved performing and continued to do this, separately, for the rest of their lives. Of course the heady days of stardom were far behind them by then. Phil died in 2014 of lung disease, at which time the estrangement between the brothers had still not ended.
The song writer Sharon Sheeley, who knew them both very well and in fact dated Don in the 1950s, gave an insight into the kind of people the two were. Regular readers of this column will know Sharon was the focus of my “Russia’n’Roll” article last month. Here’s how she described them: “Phil and Don had strikingly different personalities. Don the eldest, seemed self-centred and very spoiled. Phil’s personality was a polar opposite of his brother. They clashed, argued, fought with each other all the time.” Don had dated Sharon without telling her he was married. It was Phil who broke this news to her, adding, “You’re too nice a girl to be involved with my brother Donald, Sharon.”
The advent of the period of the Beatles in the 1960s and the new style of music of they brought with them, inevitably impacted negatively on the brothers’ popularity with the public. This added to the feuds between Don and Phil, as this competition from the “British invasion” made them argue even more about what sort of material to record and what direction they should take musically.
And here’s another British link to the story of the brothers. In 1961 a pop duo, “The Allisons”, represented the UK in the Eurovision song contest. They came second, with their song “Are You Sure ?”. And the link ? The Allisons were basically a rip-off of the Everlys, although of course they would have denied it. Their sound and looks made them today what we’d call an Everly Brothers tribute/copy band. In their publicity they even tried to give the impression they were brothers, despite the fact that they weren’t. I’m not suggesting their act comprised Everly numbers hits, but the style and persona they adopted and performed was definitely a-la-Don and Phil. And the Allisons made good money out of it all. Not only did they come second in the Eurovision that year, but they went on to become a successful pop act in the UK. “Are You Sure ?” made it to number one in the UK charts, selling over a million records. I’m just old enough to remember seeing them on the telly performing in that 1961 Eurovision contest. I was very young but can still remember thinking at the time, “they’re just like the Everly Brothers”.
It is very fortunate for rock’n’roll that despite their personal differences, the Everly Brothers stayed together long enough to create some of the greatest songs in rockin’ history. And they were together at the time it mattered most i.e. the 1950s, the golden era of rock’n’roll. They were truly two of the Greats; the brothers who worked through their conflicts to become musical legends.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL CHERISHED MEMORIES
This month our monthly Moscow rock’n’roll tribute concert at the Esse Café, focused on a female with one of the most amazing stories in rock’n’roll.
I arranged for the Marshmallows to perform at the concert, on 16th April. Regular readers of this column will know about them. They are a fabulous and beautiful female trio, who with their backing group perform brilliant and authentic 1950s style rock’n’roll. The concert was a great success and some of the photos you can see show the Marshmallows in action on 16/04/16.
It’s curious that the icon we were celebrating is not as well known as some of the other rockin’ legends from the 1950s. So here is the story of Sharon Sheeley. It’s a very exciting and very eventful tale, involving many of the greatest names in rock’n’roll history.
First of all here’s a brief resume of her achievements in rock’n’roll.
After beginning work as a model, she moved to Hollywood while still a teenager, with the aim of writing songs. Her first song "Poor Little Fool" became a huge number one hit for Ricky Nelson in 1958. Sheila was still only 18 and thus became the youngest woman ever to write an American number-one hit.
With the help of her agent Jerry Capehart, who was also Eddie Cochran’s manager, she followed up with another string of song-writing hits. She wrote "Love Again", “Cherished Memories" and "Somethin' Else" for Cochran. Richie Valens hit “Hurry Up” was also written by her around this time.
Later, in collaboration with musician/songwriter, Jackie DeShannon, she wrote many songs which went on to become big hits; for example, Brenda Lee's "Dum Dum" and "Heart in Hand", The Fleetwoods' "He's The Great Imposter", and Irma Thomas's "Breakaway".
In 1964 with her then husband Jimmy O'Neill, she created the famous ABC-TV “Shindig” music show series, which was hugely popular for the 2 years it was aired.
The above gives some idea of her contribution to rock’n’roll. But her personal rock’n’life during these years was even more fascinating. Photos of her show that she was a very attractive young woman and it is absolutely clear she was very much sought after by the young men. At the age of 16 she drove to Hollywood where Elvis Presley was performing at a concert (her home was not far from Hollywood). She found out which hotel Elvis was staying at, hung out there and was able to contrive to catch his attention. She ended up spending time with him. This resulted in him meeting up with her whenever he was performing in the local area. This was to be the first of many attachments of Sharon’s to the big rock’n’roll stars. And you don’t get any bigger than Elvis. She later wrote about an incident with Elvis at that time, which gave an insight into his brooding unhappiness with the price he had to pay for his fame. He told her “Oh Sharon, it seemed so great, so wonderful at first. But now, I can do nothing. I can’t go with you any more when you invite me, not to the amusement park, I can’t go to the movies with you. I can’t go anywhere. Oh Sharon, my God, what have I done to myself.”
Her next entanglement to a star was with Ricky Nelson. She made contact with him a similar kind of way that she had with Elvis. And Ricky and Sharon spent some time together. Her next teenage involvement was with Don Everly from the Everly Brothers. This relationship was more serious than the others and they dated regularly. The other Everly brother, Phil, had tried to persuade Sharon not to pursue this affair, as Don was already married. Don eventually ended the relationship, leaving Sharon very, very upset.
She had always been interested in writing songs and it was just after the end of her time together with Don Everly that she sent her song “Poor Little Fool” to Ricky Nelson, for his consideration. It was inspired by her own feelings after Don had left her. The rest, as they say, is history – it became an all-time rock’n’roll classic.
She had already met Eddie Cochran during her time with Don Everly. Subsequently Jerry Capehart arranged a meeting between Cochran and Sheeley, to discuss her writing some songs for him. The business side of the meeting went well and she went on to write some of the most famous songs he recorded. On a personal level, the 2 of them fell in love and began a relationship that was to last right up to Eddie’s death. They were engaged to be married. During Cochran’s and Gene Vincent’s fateful tour of the UK, Sharon flew over to join them in April 1960.
She later revealed a fascinating story about something that occurred after her arrival in the UK to join Eddie, which tells a lot about the emotional trials and tribulations of the great Gene Vincent. On the tour Eddie had been very protective of Vincent, due to Gene’s permanently damaged leg as well as his hell-raising destructive life-style. Of course when Sharon arrived Eddie devoted more time to his fiancée and Gene became very resentful about this. One evening as Eddie and Sharon were about to leave their hotel room for a night on the town in London, the hotel phone rang. Eddie answered it and was informed that Gene had just cut his wrists in his room. Sharon continued the story: “Yes, Gene indeed slit his wrists, oh, not so deep or long that it would have killed him, oh no, just enough to prevent us [i.e. Sharon and Eddie] from spending any alone time together. My feelings ran the gamut of shock and horror, to outrage when I realised that Gene was in no danger; then on to genuine sorrow for him. How sad that he felt so desperate that he would fake suicide to prevent Eddie from leaving for an evening with me.”
It was towards the end of the tour that tragedy struck. Driving back in a taxi from a concert both Cochran and Vincent had been performing in, the taxi was involved in a collision. The speeding car blew a tyre and crashed into a lamp post. Cochran, seated in the back, threw himself over Sharon to protect her. He was then thrown from the car when the door flew open. He died the following day of severe head injuries. Vincent survived the crash, but his already permanently damaged leg from an earlier accident became even worse as a result of his injuries. The taxi driver was convicted of dangerous driving but got off with a small fine. As for Sharon, she suffered a broken pelvis.
The loss of Eddie was devastating to her. He was the love of her life. The lyrics of some of the songs she had written for Cochran, such as “Cherished Memories”, “Somethin’ Else” and “Love Again”, had been inspired by their feelings for each other. After she recovered enough physically from the crash, she returned to America and continued to write a huge number of songs, many of which also became big hits.
She married a DJ from Los Angeles, Jimmy O’Neill. Although the marriage didn’t last, during the time they were together they created the American TV music show “Shindig”. This show was an iconic one in the mid-1960s. All the top rockin’ acts appeared on it, for example the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys, as well as of course the legendary rock’n’rollers from the 1950s. She got to know all these stars personally.
After her divorce, she moved away from the music scene, apart from public appearances at Eddie Cochran remembrance conventions; this was further testimony to the impact Eddie had had on her. She died in 2002 of a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving behind a son from her marriage.
Sharon Sheeley used her talent, personality and good looks to break into what was especially then a male-dominated world of rock’n’roll. As a result of her success, she wrote some of the greatest songs in rockin’ history; Thanks Sharon, for those “cherished memories”.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Fat Man
Here in Moscow we celebrated one of the most enduring legends in rock’n’roll history. Our monthly tribute concert was dedicated to the one they still call the Fat Man.
I booked the Great Pretenders to perform at the concert on 12th March. Regular readers of this column will remember my articles about them and the key members of the group. For example my column last month focused on the band’s leader, Sergey Kuteynikov. Suffice to say they put on a storm of a concert and did justice to the Man we were celebrating. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the event. As always at the Esse rock’n’roll concerts we organise, the show included a rock’n’roll dance class run by yours truly.
Fats Domino was born and raised in New Orleans. His family was relatively poor, but his father was a well known musician in the local neighbourhood (he played the violin). Despite all the fame and fortune he subsequently achieved, Fats still lives in the same neighbourhood in New Orleans, albeit his abode is, ahem, rather more palatial than that of his humble beginnings.
There’s an amazing but true story of an event that happened to him in one of his first jobs as a teenager. He was working in a factory and while there he had an industrial accident which severely damaged one of his hands. He almost lost several of his fingers and it was some time before he could utilise the hand at all. But it was his sheer determination not to want to spend the rest of his life working in a factory or doing similar manual work, which inspired him to conquer this physical “mountain” which was in the way of his future musical career. As one of Rock’n’Roll’s greatest ever pianists, the rest as they say, is history.
He began his music career in 1947 when a local bandleader Billy Diamond hired him to play piano in his band. Domino’s first name was Antoine, but Diamond gave him the nickname “Fats” which stayed with him for the rest of his life. It was an obvious choice, given his physique. Diamond said the other reason was that Domino’s style of playing reminded him of 2 earlier piano Greats, Fats Waller and Fats Pichon.
A crucial event occurred early on in his career. While working for Diamond, his talent caught the eye of another local bandleader named Dave Bartholomew. Bartholomew persuaded a friend who worked for a record company to arrange Domino to cut some studio recordings. The record company was Imperial Records, soon to become a household name in rock’n’roll. Bartholomew co-wrote the songs with Domino, as well as acting as his record producer. The partnership with the hugely talented Bartholomew was to last most of Domino’s career and certainly throughout his most successful period. Without this partnership there is no doubt Fats would never have become the mega-star we all know about today. The duo’s first big hit was “The Fat Man” in 1950. It was an iconic record. Some still claim it to be the first ever rock’n’roll record, which would make it iconic indeed. Have a listen for yourself on youtube and see what you think. Remember we’re talking 1950, 5 years before the dawn of rock’n’roll. For me and most other devotees, Bill Haley’s 1955 “Rock around the Clock” is truly the first ever number which was undeniably r’n’r. As an aside, here in Moscow we celebrate every year the Birthday of Rock’n’Roll. And sure enough, we hold a big concert every April to commemorate it, April being the month that “Rock around the Clock” was released all those years ago.
Interestingly, after such a big hit with “The Fat Man” in 1950, things went quiet for Fats for a while after that and he had to wait some time
before he really hit the big time. It finally came at the genesis of the rock’n’roll revolution in 1955. His first mega-hit was “Ain’t that a Shame” and classics followed such as “I’m in love Again”, “Blueberry Hill”, “I’m Walkin” and “Blue Monday”. Again it was Bartholomew that was instrumental in this success. He ensured that the material Domino used was the type that would sell well in the mainstream market. Before 1955 Domino already had a big following in the Black rhythm’n’blues market. Bartholomew recognised the huge potential and fame that was to be had if that success could be transferred to the much bigger white mainstream audiences. And the material Bartholomew crafted for Fats was indeed tailor-made for this. Domino’s music quickly gained tremendous popularity nation-wide. It was accepted by all sections of society, since there was nothing threatening or rebellious about it. Where Jerry Lee and Little Richard were wild and crazy, while Chuck Berry was the opposite of a clean cut innocent and Elvis shocked the older generation with his on-stage gyrations, Fats Domino’s style was the kind that not only young people but all generations could safely adopt. For example, “Ain’t that a Shame” and “Blueberry Hill”, whilst classic rock’n’roll numbers, were hardly likely to offend anybody. During this period of youth rebelliousness which was a key element in rock’n’roll’s popularity amongst many of the teenagers, Domino was the last person who could be seen as a “social threat” or to be encouraging juvenile delinquency. Similarly he was one of the most sought after Black performers on American TV at that time, for the same reasons i.e. he was unthreatening to all social groups and all generations.
Of course it also meant that Domino was never going to receive the same kind of adulation and loyalty from the young rock’n’roll generation of the 1950s, such as they gave to Elvis, Jerry Lee, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, etc. But Domino and Bartholomew were more than happy with the sales of their records, which compared well with any of the other rockin’ icons.
The personal relationship between Domino and Bartholomew was a fascinating one. Without Bartholomew’s influence, as already advised, Domino would never have been such a huge success. But there was tension between them throughout Domino’s career. Bartholomew was constantly aggrieved, as he felt he never got the recognition he deserved for Domino’s stardom. As the years rolled on after the golden era of the 1950s, they often still teamed up for musical ventures. It seems clear they recognised the crucial role of each other in their successes, even if it was marked periodically with acrimony and conflict. Bartholomew was later to claim that “Fats didn’t do any of the music. All of the music – the arranging and everything – was done by me.” Domino disputes this, “Dave mostly did the arrangement to the music, but I wrote most of the things.” Fortunately for Rock’n’Roll, the huge egos of both of these men did not prevent them working together and coming up with some of the greatest songs in rockin’ history.
Those of my generation will remember the important role of Radio Luxembourg in pop music, before the advent of the likes of Radio One and later on subsequent private radio stations. Until the mid-1960s,
Luxembourg was a crucial factor in determining the popularity of individual pop artists in the UK. And they consistently supported Domino’s music, which helped to consolidate his following in the UK. Curiously he didn’t tour the UK until 1967, by which time his super-stardom was waning somewhat, but he still managed to pull in good crowds to these UK concerts. Of course the fifties had been his golden period and it was from that time on that his records became known the World over. He continued to perform for many more years and attract crowds, but inevitably as the 50s rock’n’roll era became more distant, in like measure so his mega-stardom was never to be as it was during that magic time.
Of course when you think of legendary rock’n’roll piano players, 2 immediately spring to mind, Fats and Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact they were good friends and over the years there was some musical collaboration between them, plus they would hang out together. They had a common social interest, in that they were both very heavy drinkers, so hanging out together invariably meant getting totally drunk. Unlike Lewis however, Domino was more of a professional and his drinking impacted less on his performances. Jerry Lee was the wild crazy banana of rock’n’roll, whilst Domino was more of a professional. That said, Domino was not perfect: His drinking caused him to be late for some shows. On the odd occasion he didn’t turn up at all, for the same reason.
It was not only alcohol, Domino was also a womaniser. By 1960 his wife Rosemary had had enough of it, in addition to her being fed up with his drinking. She also cited cruelty as being another cause for the split. She filed for divorce and a legal agreement was drawn up with the terms of the separation. It became big news, especially as the financial details of the agreement quoted figures which were unheard of in a case involving a Black family at that time. This was another indication of just how successful and famous Domino had become. But despite his errant lifestyle, there clearly was real affection between Rosemary and Fats, because shortly afterwards she withdrew the separation legal suit. And fair play, the two are still living together after all these years in their palatial New Orleans mansion, along with some of their children and grand-children.
The Fat Man is now not far off being 90 years old, which means that unlike other rock’n’roll icons such as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, etc., he’s a survivor. And the evidence from those who’ve known him personally is that he’s a genuinely nice guy. So here’s to the Fat Man, a real rockin’ legend !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE SHARK BITES
This month I going to tell you about one of the Hard men of Russian
Rock’n’Roll. He’s been famous on the Russian rockin’ circuit since the
1990s and is more than comfortable with his “tough guy” image.
His name is Sergey Kuteynikov and he’s the leader of the famous Russian
rockabilly group the Great Pretenders. I’ve written before about this
band. This month I’ll focus on the man himself.
Sergey will tell you his story below. But first, here’s an introduction.
Perhaps the crucial moment in Sergey’s rockin’ history was his founding
and establishment of the Sharks. The Sharks were a street gang which
followed the rock’n’roll style of music. This was really the genesis of the
tough guy image that has stuck with Sergey throughout his rockin’ career.
Sergey some time ago told me a true story of the feuds between the
different gangs in Russia in the 1990s. He told me that in true youth
culture tradition, various gangs who followed different styles of music
and dress had serious fights between each other. This included many
criminal arrests mainly in St Petersburg. Sergey told me the violence was
inspired mainly by what the groups had learned about British rock history
e.g. 50s Teddy Boys’ aggression, Mods vs. Rockers, Teds / Rockabillies vs.
Punks / Skinheads, etc. In other words they felt this was what they were
expected to do. So this was another famous British export !
Some of the photos you can see are taken from the different periods of
Sergey’s rock’n’roll life in Moscow, including some of his fellow Sharks.
Here is his story, in his own words:
Well, first of all about the Great Pretenders, we play in the rockabilly
style. To give you an idea, here’s an example of some of the songs we
perform the most: Teddy Boy Boogie by Crazy Cavan, Pink Thunderbird,
Cruisin`, Double Talkin` Baby, Crazy Legs by Gene Vincent and Let`s Beat
The Mods – a self-penned track.
When I was a boy from 1976 till 1980 I lived in San Francisco, California.
My Dad was a Soviet diplomat and was based there as an attache for the
Soviet government. While watching TV there, I had my first glimpse of
1950s style rock’n’roll including the music and dress code. There were a
few TV series related to the 1950s like Happy Days and a few others, as
well as some of the early Elvis movies. I didn`t became a fan at the time,
but the Look of a Duck tail, white t-shirt and black leather jacket
somehow stuck in my mind.
I returned to Moscow with no interest in any particular type of music. But
when I was 12 in 1982 all of a sudden I remembered 1950s rock’n‘roll
music. At home my parents had only 1 vinyl Elvis Presley record; a
Canadian tribute recording, of which only 2 songs were really to my liking
– Jailhouse Rock and Little Darlin‘. When I asked around, it appeared that
nobody including my friends and relatives had any rock’n‘roll records.
They told me I was a fool and that I had to listen to stuff like Al Bano
And Romina Power – Italian pop music was going strong in the Soviet Union
at the time. Finally after half a year of searching, I was lucky enough to
record some rock’n‘roll from a classmate’s collection, whose older brother
was into different types of music and had vinyl records brought from the
West. And among those records were the Stray Cats‘ first album,
Ravenna & The Magnetics‘ Rockabilly Fools, It`s only Rock`n`Roll (a BBC
radio programme compilation with Freddie Fingers Lee, Flying Saucers,
Shakin Stevens & The Sunsets and Matchbox) and Carl Perkins Ol‘ Blue
Suedes is Back. I have been rock and rolling ever since then – non stop. I
started by dancing to it, listening to it and then adopting it as a life style.
There were no real rockabillies in Moscow till the end of the eighties. Up
until then there would’ve been in Russia some people like me listening to
the records at home. At the end of the 80s I was searching desperately
for a rockabilly hang-out in Moscow and finally I found it as follows:
The Moscow band “Mister Twister” was very popular at that time and had
recently adopted the rockabilly look. So I was able to go to rockabilly
concerts for nearly a year; then followed my two years of military service
in the Russian Navy. I returned to Moscow in 1991 and continued to have a
In 1996 I set up my own band, “the Great Pretenders” where I played an
acoustic guitar and sang. The Great Pretenders are still going and have
been for a long time one of the top Russian rockabilly bands. When I first
started playing, the Russian group I was most influenced by was mostly
“That’s Alright Mama“. This band played 50s‘ rock’n‘roll and rockabilly in
Moscow from 1988 till 1991. My guitar player is directly from this outfit.
One of the most significant events in my rock’n’roll history was buying my
first authentic 1950s style black leather jacket in 1991.
In the beginning of the 1990s one of my friends was performing regularly
on the famous Arbat Street in Moscow with a band that later became
known as the Jailbreakers. He had been fascinated with the film “Gone
with the Wind” and came up with the idea to create a club by the name of
Richmond. Some new rockabilly cats joined it and some heavy metal lovin`
guys too. As time went on, we hep cats decided to quit our association
with the heavy metal guys at the Richmond club. We left and set up the
“Sharks” - a club strictly for rockabillies. We didn`t accept anything in
music except 1950`s rock`n`roll and rockabilly. Psychobilly wasn`t for us
either nor any other music outside of 1950s’ rock’n’roll. We went to
Rockabilly concerts together, watching each other’s backs.
The idea was simple - it always bothered me that Rockabillies in Moscow,
the ones that went to concerts, were not supporting each other in the
case of facing bullies and other people trying to get advantage of you
with aggression. I wanted something different. I was able to find friends
who shared the same views and attitude to life as myself. So I organised
the rockabilly club “Sharks“. The club was founded in 1993 in Moscow. It
comprised many people. We were engaged in organising rockabilly
concerts and on a few occasions the security of rock music clubs and
concerts, as well as simply going to concerts together drinking vodka and
Here’s one example of the kinds of things we got up to. In 1995 we
attended the Moscow rockabilly festival at Tabula Rasa club. There were
5 bands playing: Mad Fish (Saint Petersburg), Steam Engine, the
Jailbreakers, Sky Rockets and Crazy Man Crazy – the latter 4 all from
Moscow. Crowds of over three hundred and more “rebels” were having a
ball. Our representative approached each band participating and asked
them to dedicate a song to the Sharks during their part of the
performing. All agreed and did so and only Steam Engine put us down
somehow with a psycho-styled song dedication to Sharks. So we wanted
revenge, in the form of kicking the ass of their front man. But we were
suddenly drawn away by the ugly situation that was happening with our
friend. One guy approached me and said that Mike our friend was outside
the club fighting with four bikers – not a fair fight, right? As it turned
out he had invited a girl for a dance but she was with one of the bikers,
so they took Mike out to beat him up. But Mike was a brave guy and went
alone - didn’t ask anybody for help. Anyway this situation outside was
noticed by Little Alex (one of our guys) who alerted us right away. So we
rushed out of the club and what we saw were four people beating up our
friend. When we reached them, firstly I tried to calm the bikers down by
asking them to stop, but to no avail. So we had to interfere. There were a
few of us who went out of the club and the funny thing was that two of
our guys were smoking joints round the corner at the same time. When I
saw them standing there, I kindly invited them to take part in a small
beating punishment of four bikers. During the skirmish even Mike was
kicked once by mistake by one of us. After about half a minute of the
beating the four bikers, err, “thanked“ us for the lesson we had given
them. We were back at the club to continue partying and rockin‘ & rollin‘.
As time went by, several Shark club members became interested in using
drugs. That was definitely not mine nor some of the other guys‘ cup of
tea. So we kinda disbanded at the time because we didn’t want to hang
around with junkies. But even today sometimes you can see guys wearing
our colours at rockabilly shows and festivals.
The main reasons for the Great Pretenders’ success and longevity on the
rock’n’roll scene are as follows; first of all our wish to carry on playing
1950s rock’n’roll and secondly the high quality of musicians that have
joined The Great Pretenders Project.
There have been quite a few changes to the personnel of the group during
the history of the band. Sure. We have being playing rockabilly for 19
years. I am alone now from the original line-up. But I am satisfied with
the professionalism of the musicians that keep the Great Pretenders
going nowadays. There have been some personal differences within the
group now and again over the years, but not that big to ever cause us to
Here are some individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I
particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in
Russia; Pete Anderson (from Latvia), Mister Twister, That’s Alright Mama
and the Jailbreakers.
My biggest musical influences ? - Elvis Presley 1950s’ stuff and his 1968
comeback special, Gene Vincent with the Blue Caps, Eddie Cochran,
Johnny Burnette & his rock’n’roll trio and Shakin`Stevens music from the
1970s and early 1980s. My all-time rock’n’roll hero is Jackie Lee Cochran,
because he kept on playing our music even in the 1960s. My all-time
favourite rock’n’roll song is Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley.
About the future of Russin rock’n’roll, the peak of the Movement in
Moscow and Saint Petersburg was during 1990s. It’s up to us to keep it
going. Loads and loads of fascinating rockabilly events in Russian
rock`n`roll history come to mind. Here’s one; Jerry Lee Lewis’
performance in Moscow in 1997 - Awesome.
Cheers Sergey, Thanks for a great story as well as your noble part in the
history of Russian rock’n’roll. Keep on Rockin’, Man !
On 16th January at the Esse Café in Moscow, our monthly tribute concert focused this time on a legend known not just within the rock’n’roll community but world-wide. His legend was magnified all the more by his untimely tragic death in 1959.
The group I booked to perform for us on 16/01/16 were Lex and Team. They’re a great Russian rock’n’roll band. I’ve written about them in a previous article, in particular their leader the great Lex Blokhin. Suffice to say they put a brilliant show for us, as well as a fitting tribute to the legend in question. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert.
The legend in question was Buddy Holly. He wrote and composed some of the greatest songs in rock’n’roll history, which is remarkable considering his early death at the age of 22. His own compositions represent a huge number in terms of quantity. Here are just a few of some of the greatest numbers of all time, all written and performed by Holly: Rave On, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Maybe Baby, That’ll Be the Day, I’m Looking For Someone To Love. Tracks such as these are not just great, they are iconic.
Am sure there must be some of you out there, who went to see the West End musical “Buddy” a few years ago. I did, more than once. It was a very idealised account of Holly’s life. The music accompanying the play was terrific, with plenty of opportunity to jive dance in the aisles !
Holly was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas. The direction of his life was changed forever in 1954, when Elvis Presley came to perform at a concert in Lubbock. Holly was blown away by the King’s performance and resolved then and there what he wanted to be in life. He was always a very ambitious man and believed that if Elvis could do it, so could he. He helped to form a band, the Crickets, who were also local Texas boys and it was not long before he caught the attention of major record companies. His first contract was with Decca. Now for those of you of my generation, that name will resonate: I bet there’s a good chance that like me, the first vinyl records you ever bought as a young teenager were those released on Decca. It was possibly the most famous label at that time for pop music in general. As it turned out, Buddy felt that Decca wasn’t giving him enough freedom to produce the kind of records he wanted to do and he moved on to other labels. The move was a good one for him, as his mega-hits came after he left Decca.
In 1958 he made a big career change. Recently married, he moved permanently to New York City. The Crickets did not go with him and their partnership ended. Holly’s version is that there was no acrimonious split and that he tried to persuade two of the band members to move to New York with him, but that they had been touring with the band for so long they were homesick for Texas. Whatever the truth was, Buddy continued to be hugely successful.
And then the tragedy. His final USA tour was in 1959. Holly’s backing band included the future legendary country singer Waylon Jennings. After a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were due to travel the next day to the next town on the tour. Instead of taking their coach, Holly chartered a small plane to arrive there quicker, in order to catch up on some much needed sleep and provide time to do some personal laundry. He arranged for a small number of the team to travel with him, including Jennings. But one of the other performers on the tour, the legendary Big Bopper J. P. Richardson, had contracted pneumonia so Jennings agreed to let him take his seat on the plane, rather than Richardson having to travel on the long and less comfortable coach journey. Shortly after take-off the plane crashed in the poor snowy weather, killing all on board, including not only Holly and the Big Bopper, but another famous rock’n’roll artist Richie Valens.
It was the biggest tragedy in rock history and the impact was immense, especially in the music world. Given his incredible achievements in the world of music and being only 22 years old, his fame only magnified in death. Future music stars, for example John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Elton John, all acknowledged Holly’s influence on their musical careers. Buddy’s great friend, the legendary Eddie Cochran, wrote a song commemorating the tragedy, “Three Stars”, referring to the deaths of Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper. It became a very famous number.
And what of Holly the man ? Well, I’ve chosen 2 celebrities who have both written about their contacts with him or with people who were close to him. One most of you should know and the other is a great character in the world of rock’n’roll. Their anecdotes about him give an idea of the kind of person Buddy was.
The first is the very well-known entertainer, especially from a generation ago, Des O’Connor. O’Connor got to know him, as he was the resident comic act on the tour of the UK that Holly and the Crickets made in 1958. Buddy wanted to buy a new acoustic guitar while on the tour, so Des took him to Soho in London: “When we walked around Soho, he went into a music shop and tried about 17 guitars. They all sounded the same to me but he picked up a Gibson, said it had a good tone and bought it. He’d play it on the bus and he showed me how to play guitar. He taught me C, F and G but I wasn’t meant to be a guitar player. When he left, he gave it to me. He said, ‘You use this, Des, I’ve got too many of them anyway.’ There are in-built memories with that guitar but as I’m still on C, F and G, I don’t think he’d be too thrilled with his pupil.” And here’s another from O’Connor: “Someone published a letter that Buddy wrote home in which he said his jokes were going down better than mine, the little stinker ! What he didn’t say was that I was giving him the jokes. He had a real Southern drawl and I helped him to modify it so that the English would understand him. The audiences loved his accent and jokes that I wouldn’t get laughs with would be downright funny when he delivered them.”
The second celebrity is Charles (Chas) White, known as Dr Rock. For those of you that don’t recognise the name, he’s one of the greatest characters in UK rock’n’roll; a radio and sometime TV presenter whose lifelong passion has been rock’n’roll. I remember first hearing him on London radio quite a few years ago, when he used to guest on Stuart Colman’s rock’n’roll mid-day programme on Sundays. I still remember him from those shows – he was absolutely hilarious. Here is his evidence about Holly, based on interviewing and doing research from witnesses that knew Buddy personally: “I can relate to Buddy Holly’s music and it is like a good wine as it gets better with age. Songs like ‘Reminiscing’ have a great quality and simplicity about them and they are just marvellous. It’s hard to believe that Owen Bradley thought that ‘That’ll Be The Day’ was the worst song he’d ever heard, but maybe he’d just had a bad day.” And here’s another from Charles White: “As Little Richard’s biographer, I asked him a lot about Buddy Holly. He mentioned an incident in the Paramount Theatre in New York where Buddy got involved with Larry Williams and a girl called Angel in a naughty orgy. It was shock therapy to me because Buddy Holly had this bank clerk image, Mr Nice Guy with the glasses and he didn’t seem the sort who would be getting involved with wild women and wild orgies. My job as an author was to find out the facts and I checked it out with Angel and it turned out to be true. Buddy Holly’s image as the nice, shy Texan with the glasses went out of the window – he was as wild as a coot.”
For those of you who saw the famous film “American Graffiti” (as I did several times) which was released in the 1970s, there is a great quote from one of the teenage characters in the movie describing the state of pop music in the early 1960s, which is the period that the film is set in. The character John Milner says, “music’s been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died”. It’s another indication of the huge legacy he left with us.
Here’s to Buddy Holly: To quote the title words from one of his iconic numbers, will we ever forget his music and his legend ? “That’ll be the day !”
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL MOVIE PREMIERE !
An exciting happening took place last month in Russia. The first film devoted exclusively to Russian rock’n’roll was released here in Moscow. It’s an important in the history of Russian rock’n’roll and I’m glad to report the movie lived up to expectations.
The movie is titled, “Rock’n’Roll Behind the Curtain”, referring to the old metaphor of the Iron Curtain in the time of the Cold War. The
Director is Aleksey Fetisov, a long time and active member of the
rockin’ community over here. His film tells the story of Russian rock’n’roll from the 1990s to the present day. I’ll let Aleksey tell you his story below. But before that, as Russian rockin’ history dates back to the 1950s, I’ll briefly tell the story from the 50s to the 90s, then let Aleksey take over.
During the 1950s in the USSR some people were playing rock’n’roll
records, but mainly at home. Then in 1957 the Soviet authorities
organised a huge youth and student festival in Moscow. They invited musicians from the USA to come and play, comprising mainly rockabilly, rock’n’roll and jazz bands. The influence of this festival on some young Russians was immense. It kick-started a significant youth culture movement in Russia, centred on St Petersburg and Moscow. I have written in a previous article in some detail about this iconic festival.
But some young Russians paid a price for this festival. Some of the young Muscovite women tried to get to know more about this exciting culture by chatting to the American musicians during the festival and the American men and the Russian women exchanged their experiences in their respective countries. Later the authorities singled out these women and the Militzia (Russian police) arrested them. Their hair was cut and their dresses torn. In other words they were publicly humiliated. It was a clear signal from the Communists that while they were happy to allow a one-off festival, fraternising with the “class enemy” was still forbidden.
After this festival some of the youth refused to be intimidated and began a youth culture of their own. Foremost in this Movement from the early 60s was the Stelyagi (based on the Russian word for “style”). They were more or less the first real rock’n’rollers in Russia. Their style was not 100% rock’n’roll - they also listened to and followed other brands of music such as jazz – and this was also reflected in their style of clothing. But it was close enough to establish them as the original Russian youth rebels.
Then in the early 1960s Russian Leader Nikita Krushchev, even though the "Cold War" against the West was in full flow (this was the time of the Cuban missile crisis), allowed greater relaxation in cultural activities at home, including rock'n'roll. But later on in the 1960s the new Russian Leader Leonid Brezhnev, while not banning it completely, clamped down more on this "Western decadence".
But a section of the youth from the early 60s onwards refused to give up and continued to rebel by staying with and adapting their own culture. This culture displayed shades of mod, rockabilly, rock’n’roll and other influences. Again it was the Stelyagi, certainly in the 60s, who were in the forefront. This rebellion continued up to and into the period of Perestroika which began in the mid-80s (Perestroika being part of the momentous changes in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev).
During the 1980s, both before and during Perestroika, the violence between these youth groups escalated. There had been trouble before dating from the 1960s. But by the beginning of the 80s gangs of Stelyagi, Teds, punks and bikers became more organised and the aggro between them developed into real gang warfare. While not wishing to idealise violence, there is one interesting aspect to this “warfare”. It was a code of honour amongst the gangs that no weaponry such as guns, knives, etc., was permitted. And this code was adhered to ! This was deeply rooted in Russian culture, something along the lines of “you defend yourself by yourself alone” with no unfair advantage. That’s not to say there were no deaths; there were, from beatings and the like.
From the above one can see the importance of the Stelyagi in the history of Russian youth culture. In the 1980s their numbers markedly increased (as did the numbers generally in this youth “rebellion”). Many movements sprang from them, for example Teddy Boys in the early 1980s. The Stelyagi had some rockabilly influences - later in the 80s and even more so in the 90s another group established itself, decidedly more hep cat in style. They were more clearly identifiable than other Stelyagi as being rockabilly, with regard to their clothes and the music they followed.
OK, that’s a brief resume of the history up to the beginning of the 1990s. Now Aleksey will take over, as his movie covers the history from that time.
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Aleksey Fetisov, a rock’n’roll
enthusiast. First off, I’m not a journalist nor a film-maker in the professional sense. The film that I’m sharing with the public today is my first try, and so I’m asking for viewers to look at it as an amateur movie.
I’ve been captivated by this music since childhood (I loved listening to it) and at 14 I saw the film “Great Balls of Fire,” about the great pianist Jerry Lee Lewis. This changed my life a lot. Rock’n’roll captivated me and occupied all of my thoughts. It forced me to take up a musical instrument and then to create the rockabilly trio “Jack-knife” with like-minded friends. During this time we eagerly absorbed any information on our favorite genre. We listened to any recordings we could get. We watched rare films and TV interviews and we listened to radio broadcasts about rock’n’roll. The internet as we know it today didn’t exist then. I then turned my attention to those musicians and music groups in our country who performed the same kind of music that appeared in the US in the middle of the last century, but on a very high professional level. It was entirely natural for us, as young musicians, to look to those with more experience and who had already reached a certain amount of success in their music (after all, they had to put up with the same conditions as we did; in contrast to, let’s say, American and British performers). It turned out that there wasn’t much information about the r’n’r scene in Russia. It was fragmentary and largely mythologised. And so came the idea of organising a story about how a particular musical culture, that was born on a different continent, overcame (many believe broke) the “Iron Curtain” and then appeared in our country.
If you decide to devote your life to succeeding in something, then you know that your fate is driven by like-minded people with similar interests. And we, after getting some stage experience, started to meet artists who served as an example for us at the beginning of our own career. This inter-action helped us to compile a more coherent history of the appearance of English language music within the former Soviet Empire, since our interlocutors were often witnesses and participants in this process. I want to share some of their memories with you.
When the idea to make a film finally took hold, I ran into a problem. The topic seemed to be extensive. Embracing the immensity of it all was a really difficult task for just one rock’n’roll fan ! I invited the charming Marina Shakleyna into my team as an operator (I love her photo work and she loves anything to do with music) and then a decision was made to show what, in our view, was most important and
Today it’s known that the first major green shoots of American r’n’r started appearing in various parts of the former USSR as early as the 60s, but documentary evidence (photos, movies, audio) that could have been presented in a movie were very rare. Firstly, the technical means for recording at that time in the USSR were less available, and secondly the KGB regularly directed “wayward” citizens towards the “right” direction of development. It seemed to me that the best person to talk about this would be someone who many rightly call a pioneer of rock’n’roll in the USSR. His name is Pete Anderson (Riga, Latvia). Unfortunately we have yet to talk with him personally and his story certainly deserves its own film. Many participants in my film mention him as a hero, as one of the first rock’n’roll artists in the USSR. I’ll only add that the vinyl recording by Pete Anderson and his group “Archive” was released by the record label “Melody” in 1989 and it was the first American-style rock’n’roll album in the USSR. And today Pete and his group perform American r’n’r in various parts of the world. His record “Rock’n’Roll behind the Curtain” has lyrics which talk about the 1980s, at the dawn of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika, when rock’n’roll groups started appearing in the capital of our country like mushrooms after the rain. There were really a lot of them !
We spoke with those who are the most well-known participants on our rockin’ scene and who’ve received recognition. There’s Valeriy Lysenko, who’s an unchallenged leader, and he shares his own memories. There’s the drummer of the rockabilly group “Mister Twister” Robert Lents. Also we feature the singer of the groups “Quiet Hour” and “Mess Age” and currently the lead singer of the very popular band “Bravo.” Sergey Voronov also appears, who’s been the leader of the “Crossroadz” rhythm’n’blues team that for the past 25 years and has been a constant presence on the music scene over here. And there’s the virtuoso pianist Dennis Mazhukov, the Russian King of Rock’n’Roll. The well-known UK rock’n’roll Teddy Boy, based in Moscow, Richard Hume appears: He’s an expert – as well as organising rock’n’roll events and jive dance classes, he’s also a journalist, who writes for the UK’s top rock’n’roll magazine every month, about the life of rock’n’roll in Russia. Then there’s Dmitriy Kazantsev, who’s a musician (the leader of the Moscow group Dr. Nick), musicologist and owner of a huge vinyl record collection. I should say that all of those whom we requested to take part in the film immediately agreed, sharing in our boundless enthusiasm. I can say the same about the owners and art directors of the clubs and studios, who provided us with conditions for shooting. Such a relationship compels us to believe in ourselves and creates a sense of a team working toward one common goal, for which I’m entirely grateful to all who helped in making this film. The photos you can see show some of the stars in the movie, as well as Marina and myself.
Funny things happened during shooting. Me and Marina are getting
invaluable experience in cinematography, although her camera doesn’t want to shoot more than 5 minutes of video ! We apologised often to the people we were interviewing because of this. After re-loading, the common question then was, “where did we leave off ?” As a result,
during the editing process I had an opportunity to pick scenes, to delete bits where our interviewees used the same phrase - invaluable
The interview with Richard Hume was done in English - he speaks Russian but I felt he could be more expressive in his native language. It also gave me the opportunity to “bone up” on my English.
After I told him I was using the magnificent Moscow musician-guitarist and translator by trade Yuriy Novgorodskiy (Russia is rich in talent) to dub his voice in Russian, he joked by asking me to make his “Russian” voice more sexy. I transmitted the request from Richard to Yuriy who appreciated the joke, but I think he pulled it off. Should Yuriy play the role of a radio personality or an artist on the scene ? I don’t know. But I take exceptional pride in the image of Richard Hume - a real “Teddy Boy” from England - speaking in the sexy voice of Yuriy Novgorodskiy !
I really love movies about music - feature films and documentaries. I really appreciate the works of Martin Scorsese, Bob Smith, Bill Waymon, Hugh Lori and many other directors who carefully preserved the history of this music. I hope that our amateur film is just the first step and that after the next step there will be an even wider
audience screen version of the history of rock’n’roll in Russia, that the majority of the Russian population will get to see. It will involve the setting up of a team of professional cinematographers. After all the topic, as I wrote earlier, is quite extensive and very interesting. Today it’s possible to say that this is part of our musical culture. Just visit one of the rock clubs in Moscow and you’ll see for yourself. And don't forget, to quote from a song popular here in Russia, “Rock’n’Roll in English is the same in Russian too.”
Thankyou Aleksey, for your words above and above all for your terrific unique film about Russian rock’n’roll. And as he mentioned above, the film would also not have been possible without the involvement of the hugely talented film operator Marina Shakleyna. So, Thankyou both !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL MR BLUE SUEDE SHOES
My column this month will focus on a real legend. The one and only Carl Perkins during his lifetime ensured his place as a rock’n’roll pioneer and super star. Some of my piece below will look at and question just how great he was.
We held a tribute concert at the Esse Café in Moscow to celebrate his rock’n’roll life. The band I booked were the Marshmallows. I’ve written about them before in this column. 3 beautiful women, performing beautiful 1950s style rock’n’roll. They gave us a great performance, as they always do. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert.
Perkins’ childhood and upbringing could not have been more “poor Southern”. He was born into a dirt poor family from Tennessee. His first jobs were picking cotton and working as a labourer, including a spell as an apprentice baker. From early on in his life he developed a taste for music, the most notable influence naturally reflecting his roots i.e. country music.
After forming a band with his brothers, he began playing local bars and clubs in Tennessee from the age of 14. There’s a really good story of his first regular bookings, which were at the Cotton Boll Tavern in Tennessee. It was a very rough and ready venue, where fights breaking out were the norm, especially later in the evening when the alcohol consumption increased. Carl and his brothers it turned out were often the participants in these fights and were not averse to mixing “punch-ups” with their performing !
Carl subsequently sent lots of demo tapes to many recording studios, trying to get their attention. But his crucial break came in the mid-1950s, when Sam Phillips from Sun Studios took an interest. It was indeed a defining moment. Phillips had also signed up Elvis Presley. When Elvis moved on to bigger things in terms of larger money making studios, Phillips pinned his hopes on Perkins becoming the next Elvis. And Carl certainly wrote and cut some wonderful songs at that time, numbers which were to go down in rock’n’roll history; for example “Boppin’ the Blues”, “Dixie Fried”, “Your True Love”, “Matchbox” and above all “Blue Suede Shoes”. Perkins got the idea for the latter number when, at a local concert one night, he observed a young man getting annoyed with his girlfriend who kept stepping on his new shoes. The song of course became one of the greatest in rockin’ history. Phillips gave Perkins total freedom to write and record the music Perkins loved and which he played a key part in developing in the 1950s i.e. rockabilly.
Now at around this time an accident befell Perkins, which gave birth to a subsequent myth about his career, which some people still believe in. Here’s what happened. Perkins and his band, on a long car trip to New York City for a TV appearance, were involved in a horrendous accident. Their car collided with a pickup truck and Perkins was thrown from the car. He broke several bones and had lacerations all over his body, injuries he never totally recovered from. He was unconscious for a whole day following the collision. One of his brothers was killed as a result of the crash, as well as the driver of the pickup truck.
Carl spent half a year recovering from his injuries. It was a critical time to be out of the music business and other artists took over the spotlight in his absence. The myth circulated was that Perkins’ accident prevented him being as big as Elvis and by the time he recovered, it was too late. Some even perpetuate this myth to this day. It is, frankly, baloney. Errr, Carl Perkins on a par with Elvis ? Elvis was unique, he moved and performed the way no-else could. He had charisma in buckets. I hasten to add I’m talking about 1950s Elvis, not the declining star of later years. Carl on the other hand performed in a very conservative way, looking rather awkward on stage. His sticking out ears didn’t help. No gyrating hips or wild movements for him. In other words, Carl was never going to be another Elvis – don’t even think about it ! Elvis was explosive, dynamic and suggestive on stage, Carl was restrained and controlled.
But what Perkins did have was a superb, wonderful sound in his recordings, especially the ones he cut on Sun Records. This is what makes him a legend for us rockers. After his recovery from the crash, he kept on going musically. He also started to drink very heavily and this affected his health. It was only later on the late 1960s when he finally kicked his drinking habit. During this period he also tried to re-define himself as a more “country” artist, no doubt in an attempt to earn more money.
It was also in the late 1960s that he teamed up with the great Johnny Cash. Cash had recently lost his long-standing lead guitarist Luther Perkins (no relation) who had died in a fire. Carl moved in to replace him and stayed with Cash for 7 years. This was the period of Cash’s greatest success, including his legendary prison show performances at Folsom Prison and San Quentin: Who can forget “A Boy named Sue” and it was Carl’s guitar you could hear on that song. And Cash’s famous hit “Daddy Sang Bass” was written by Perkins.
More or less everyone who knew him personally, testify to the fact he was a real nice guy. He befriended many in the business, for example he struck up friendships with former members of the Beatles, who performed with him on a few occasions. Not only the Beatles, but bands like the Rolling Stones, performers like Eric Clapton, all acknowledged Perkin’s huge influence on their music. For those of you like me who are not Beatles or Rolling Stones fans, one could say they could have done with much, much more of the Perkins influence !
Now I wanna get personal. Regular readers of this column will know I have been fortunate to have lived during a period which enabled me to see nearly all the legendary rock’n’rollers who came to the UK. As for Carl Perkins, here’s how I missed out. The first Perkins concert I was meant to see was at the Empire Pool in Wembley many years ago. I remember it was early Spring and I was dating a (non-rock’n’roller) young woman at the time. Well the night before the gig she had an accident and her hand was fractured. She phoned me to tell me about it and I spent the next 2 days looking after her, as a good partner should. I also remember splitting up with her very shortly afterwards and my main regret about the split was that I had missed the Perkins concert needlessly, including the fact that I had pre-paid for the ticket to see him. Not very romantic of me I know, but true !
The next occasion was in 1997. His last ever concert was in London for a charity event at the Royal Albert Hall, to raise money for an island in the Caribbean which had suffered the effects of a volcanic eruption. I planned to go, just to see Perkins. But the list of the other performers (Perkins was only one of many) put me off and I changed my mind. For example Phil Collins, Midge Ure, Paul McCartney, Sting, Elton John and Eric Clapton were on the bill: They may be your cup of tea but they’re not mine. And I wasn’t going to pay a wodgeful of money and wait ages, just to see the only one performer I was interesting in seeing i.e. Perkins. I was also put off a bit by his advancing years, which meant I would not be seeing him at his vintage best. Needless to say, if I’d known this was going to be his last concert (he died 4 months later, at the age of 65) I would’ve made a different decision.
The label that attached itself to him during his life and subsequently (which he encouraged), was “the king of rockabilly”. In my opinion, No. As I’ve written in a previous article, for me the real rockabilly king was Charlie Feathers. But Perkins was a genuine legend and super star and our great music has been enhanced by his contribution to it. So here’s to Carl Perkins, a true rock’n’roll Great.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Mr Rock’n’Roll
On 12th September, as part of my regular programme here in Moscow of organising rock’n’roll tribute concerts, I held an event to commemorate a very special man. He wasn’t a performer, a singer or a musician, but as a 1950’s icon it can be argued with conviction that he did more for Rock’n’Roll than anyone else in history.
His name was Alan Freed. One indication of the huge importance of this man in rockin’ history, is the number of times I’ve mentioned him in this column when writing about other r’n’r icons. He was pivotal in the careers of many super stars, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, etc., to name but a few. The band I booked on 12th September to celebrate the great man, were the Raw Cats. Regular readers will know I’ve written about them in this column previously, as well as a special article 2 months ago about their group leader, Valery Setkin. They’re a brilliant rock’n’roll band with an illustrious pedigree here in Russia. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert.
It was Alan Freed more than anyone else who promoted and brought the attention of the World to the revolutionary music of rock’n’roll in the 1950s. And it was revolutionary. It was in the 1950s that the first youth culture developed which was recognisably that of young people themselves, and not just an imitation and modification of those of their parents. It was the birth of teenage and young people’s social rebellion and the music which accompanied and was an integral part of it, was rock’n’roll. As a disc jockey it was Freed who brought this music to the attention of America via mainstream radio. He coined the nickname “Moondog” and this title stayed with him throughout his career. Later he would be involved in rock’n’roll films and television in the 1950s. As mentioned above he was instrumental in the success and fame of many rockin’ 1950s’ stars.
Although his over-riding aim in the music business was to make money and become famous, one positive result of his work was the advancement of many black performers. The 1950s were the infancy of the modern civil rights movement and there were still many obstacles to black performers becoming really big stars. But Freed recognised the crucial influence of black music on the style of rock’n’roll music, for example the addition of rhythm’n’blues to the cocktail of music that eventually became rock’n’roll. So it’s true to say the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Frankie Lymon, etc., owe a lot to his pioneering work in this area. Freed always made a point of opposing any attempt to put on all-white shows, or to “tone down” the musical style to appease more conservative white audiences. And it paid off for him: Despite the opposition he encountered, rock’n’roll took off exponentially and Freed reaped the fame and financial rewards from it in like measure.
It’s worth recording something right here, so there is no misunderstanding when describing Freed’s monumental contribution to rock’n’roll. For example, he is maybe more important in rock’n’roll history than any of the performers, including Elvis; maybe. But it has to be acknowledged Freed was not a nice man, despite the Mr Nice Guy image he portrayed in the rock’n’roll films he appeared in. The majority who came into contact with him in the business describe him as egotistical and a ruthless businessman, who was usually obnoxious and scathing towards those who did not agree with him. He had a self-destructive streak, for example he drank and smoked to excess. This streak was to prove his undoing, but more of that later.
The name and title itself “rock’n’roll” owes its importance to Freed. He didn’t invent the phrase, but it was his use and exposure of it on radio and film that gave our great music its name. Early on in his DJ career, he got lots of criticism from black DJs on black music stations, who at that time were playing the nearest thing to what was to become rock’n’roll. It was Freed who took this music and brought it to mainstream America, still containing many of its black influences. By popularising it in this way, it was claimed he put lots of black DJs out of work. But there is no doubt that without his work, rock’n’roll would never have hit the mainstream American audiences in the way it did; neither would huge numbers of black artists have hit the big-time, as they did thanks to his influence and efforts.
As Freed’s and the music’s popularity ballooned in the mid-1950s, he expanded from his DJ radio work and brought live shows to major venues throughout America. The music had truly arrived, to the accompaniment of big name performers, wild dancing in the aisles and ecstatic young audiences.
But the publicity for him wasn’t all good. Similar to the teenage hooliganism that the Teddy Boys in the UK were very soon to demonstrate, some youths in America made similar behavior part of their youth culture. For example after one of Freed’s shows at the prestigious Paramount Ballroom in New York City, later that night some young attenders at the concert started a mass fight on a subway train in Brooklyn. Some Americans began to blame rock’n’roll and in particular Freed as being responsible for all this teenage social rebellion. It only served to add to the list of enemies he acquired during his successful career years. This was all rather unfair to him, although Freed was the first to acknowledge that the music was “a form of rebellion against authority”.
The music industry was quick to capitalise on this culture of teenage rebellion, in some of the performers and music it promoted, with the aim, like Freed, of making more money. Hollywood too jumped on the bandwagon, with films like “The Blackboard Jungle” made in 1955, which focused on life for young teenagers in an inner-city school, with its accompanying social problems and juvenile delinquency. Instances of teenage street violence, directly following the showing of this film in cinemas throughout the country, further excited some teenagers and enraged the older generation. It further added to Freed’s iconic status in American society at this time, either as a hero or villain.
Another influence Freed had on America was the greater integration of music shows, not just amongst the performers as mentioned already, but also the audiences. Even in the Southern States, both blacks and whites came to attend his r’n’r concerts (even though at first in the South the venue owners separated them within the concert halls i.e. blacks on one side, whites on the other). This all added to the social changes coming to America at that time.
Freed did not escape criticism for these changes. Remember this was America in the 1950s. In the South in particular White Citizens’
Councils began to appear, denouncing rock’n’roll and calling it “obviously negro music” and “a means by which the white man and his children can be driven to the level of the negro”. In the North, although the racism was a bit more subtle than this, it still existed against this new music. Freed was seen by these bigots as the man most responsible for these changes. His social activity added to this stereotype. For example, he openly socialised with the black performers, sharing drinks and cigarettes with them. And a large number of the performers at his shows were black. Freed is therefore to be commended for his progressive attitude during this period of history. Although to be frank, his prime motivation was not social progress. He recognised the money-making potential of advancing the cause of black performers, in view of their talent and crucial contribution to rock’n’roll. Plus he was a hard-headed businessman: He knew that the mainstream white audience for rock’n’roll was infinitely bigger than the black one and made sure his very biggest stars, like Jerry Lee Lewis, were those that came from this social group.
His downfall came with the infamous “payola” scandal in 1959. It was proved that he had accepted payola i.e. received payments from record companies to play specific records as a DJ on radio and at his shows. This was a highly controversial practice at the time. But it was generally known in the business that this practice was not uncommon at that time. Unfortunately for him, the enemies he had made along the way made sure he took the brunt of the blame for it. As a result of the scandal he was fired from the radio station he worked for and shortly afterwards was sacked from his television show. In 1960, payola was officially made illegal and 2 years later he was found guilty of commercial bribery. He was fined and received a suspended sentence.
Although he subsequently found employment on much smaller local radio stations as a DJ, it was effectively the end of his iconic career. He died in 1965 at the age of 43, of symptoms associated with alcoholism. He left behind a wife (his third) and 3 children from his previous marriages.
His legacy was huge and it is difficult to over-exaggerate his contribution to the history of rock’n’roll. Without him, our great music would not have been the same and there is an argument for saying that perhaps it would not even have come into being in the form it did. He was that important. More than any other individual, he deserves the title “Mr Rock’n’Roll”.
And before I sign off for this month, my thanks to Slim Reed for his kind comments, in the August issue of this magazine, about my article on Charlie Feathers in the July issue. Sounds like you agree with me Slim, that Charlie, whilst he received recognition from so many rock’n’rollers, deserved even more acclaim. Feathers was a musical genius. As rock’n’rollers we should all be grateful to him for his music and his legacy. RIP Charlie: Or better still, hopefully somewhere up there you are still rockin’ up a storm !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL RED AND ROCKIN’
This month I can report on an exciting new development in Russian Rock’n’Roll. The scene has become enhanced with the arrival of relatively new kids on the block. Although the personnel of the group in question have been on the music scene for a while, it is only fairly recently they’ve set up a great new rock’n’roll band. The band is Red Rox and on 12th September I booked them to perform at the Esse Café in Moscow.
The concert was a blast. Many of those present who hadn’t seen them perform before were blown away by their high energy performance. It was their first gig at the Esse Café and it sure won’t be the last. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert. Plus, you can see the concert on youtube: Go to youtube and type in the search engine “Red Rox - Jazz Club Esse”.
The line-up of the band usually comprises 5 or 6 performers, including a saxophonist, drummer and trumpeter. But the regular unchanging members are Evgeny Sheyko (lead guitar), Roman Lukinykh (vocals) and Alex Nikitin (upright bass). The group uses session musicians to cover the other instruments.
I sat down with Evgeny, the leader of the band, shortly after the concert and we talked Red Rox. Here is the group’s story, told by Evgeny:
Well Richard, first of all to give your readers an idea of our style of music, here are some examples of the songs we perform the most: Elvis Presley - All shook up, Carl Perkins - Blue suede shoes, Johnny Cash - Folsom prison blues, Jerry Lee Lewis - Great balls of fire, Hank Williams - Hey, Good Lookin', Chuck Berry - Johnny B Goode, Bill Haley - Rock around the clock, Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen tons. I think you get the picture ! We also compose and perform our own rock’n’roll songs. Here are 3 of them, “Coming home”, “Definitely wild” and “Dirty song”. I would describe the musical style of Red Rox as rock’n’roll, rockabilly, rhythm’n’blues and swing.
How did we first get into rock’n’roll and what is the story of how Red Rox got together ? Well, that’s a long story. Together with Roman we formed our first group in 2005. He suggested we call it “Red Rox”, but we finally decided on “Lucky Seven”. We played country, rock'n'roll and hard rock. Unluckily, for various reasons the group ended up not performing at all and both of us got involved in different musical projects. We then met at a Blues Jam at the Roadhouse Bar in Moscow in December 2009 and decided to try again. Roma called me on the phone on Elvis’s birthday (8th January) and recommended we form a rock’n’roll band. We got musicians from our past groups. I brought the bass player and Roman brought the piano man. Together we found a drummer and started to perform blues covers, some rock’n’roll covers and Russian rock covers. Roman insisted we call our group “Red Rox”. He explained the meaning of “Rox” as some kind of “rockin’ fox”.
As to our musical influences, interestingly my first inspiration was Jimi Hendrix. Roman was influenced by classic country and Elvis Presley, the bass player and the drummer more by Russian rock groups. The piano player liked jazz and Ray Charles. However, Red Rox passed through plenty of time, so our influences also were changing. For example, when we started to play rockabilly, we enjoyed the Wise Guys, Hi Tones, Rawcats 88, etc, (Russian rock’n’roll bands); now we are fond of JD McPherson, Hillbilly Moon Explosion, the Baseballs and High Noon.
Many things, significant and otherwise, have occurred in Red Rox’s history. Here are 2 significant ones. The first event changed my musical world. Our first bass player (Slava), Roman and me went to a new rock’n’roll bar called “Grease” in Moscow, where we first saw people who looked like they were from the fifties. That’s where I first saw you, Richard. [Evgeny is right. The Grease Club was a favourite hang out for rock’n’rollers like myself in Moscow. A truly great club. We sorely miss the fact it is no longer a rock’n’roll club. Continue, Evgeny]. The groups were playing like in the fifties and everybody was dancing jive. Me and Slava had long hair before that event. But after that, we decided to play only rockabilly and change our images. We cut our hair, bought the grease for our hair and some fancy clothes. Slava bought an upright bass.
The second event was when I met Alex Nikitin, our current upright bass player. We were playing at a Marshmallows concert (the Marshmallows, another terrific Russian rock’n’roll group). I met him at the rehearsal. I’ve never seen a better upright player, and I swore to myself that he will play in my band. Gladly some years after, I achieved this goal. I founded a new hillbilly trio and invited him to join it. You know, today Red Rox still perform only because of “Twenty Fifty”. [I need to explain here. Twenty Fifty is the name of the 3 piece hillbilly group. Evgeny, Roman and Alexey run and perform in both groups i.e. Red Rox and Twenty Fifty. Continue, Evgeny]. In most of the concerts, we perform as a trio. I can explain it only by the economic situation: A lot of the venues in Russia have substituted live music for such things as karaoke, a cheaper alternative. So today some of the places for us to perform are pubs and bars that cannot pay for such big groups as Red Rox. [Another explanation here from Richard: This economic situation is partly the result of the unfair and totally unnecessary sanctions imposed on Russian by Western countries including the UK. So these stupid Western sanctions on Russia are even hitting Rock’n’Roll !]
There are many interesting / amusing stories connected with the band. Here’s one.
Once we went to play at a private party on the Selegare Lake (a long distance from Moscow). I rented a trailer / caravan and a driver to minimise the risks, because of the state of the Russian roads and the cold, snowy weather. We were asleep most of the time on the journey, although it was very cold inside the trailer. One of us asked the driver to turn on the heater. “No problem”, said the driver and turned on the air conditioner. All of us started to shiver with cold, and shouted “turn the goddamn heater higher !”. He then proceeded to turn the air conditioner up even higher and we froze even more. He eventually discovered his mistake. But the funniest thing (although not at the time) was, he continued to make the same mistake 5 /6 times more during the journey. I was sleeping when one of the trailer’s wheels got stuck in a hole in the road and the vehicle jolted sharply. I woke up because of intense pain and a loud cracking noise, followed by laughter from my companions. My body was lying underneath most of the musical instruments which had fallen on top of me. However, it’s not the end of the story. Our customer’s villa was in the forest and the road was rather wet. Anyway, we made it there and performed a great concert, getting plenty of money. We finished late at night and began the journey home. It became very cold, so the road through the forest got totally frozen. Now in Russia all vehicle owners change their tyres into winter ones, with small bits of metal in them, to enable the vehicles to operate in the cold Russian winters. But our driver said “my Mum told me changing summer tyres to winter ones was a silly idea.” In retrospect it must have been funny (although not at the time for us) to see five musicians pushing the trailer over a long distance through the deep forest just to get back home.
I believe the 2 main reasons for our success on the rock’n’roll scene are hard rehearsals and great musicians. In the band’s history there’s been quite a few personnel changes. We changed 9 drummers, 4 bass players, 5 saxophonists, and a piano player left us to get a job in Munich. It was always a huge problem when somebody left the group, we had to learn all the songs again and refuse concerts till we got it sorted. So we’ve changed our policy. Today Red Rox comprises the 3 of us - myself, Roman and Alex - and the rest are session players. The group has also had its share of personal differences. For example, our first bass player Slava always refused to learn modern songs and always lost his mind if there were only a few people at our concerts, or if the concert was not really successful. Four times he physically kicked our drummers when we were performing. Eventually he left to join the Russian group Diamond Hand.
Here are our biggest musical influences: Roman – Elvis, Alex – Johnny Burnette, Me – Johnny Bach and the Moonshine Boozers. All-time rock’n’roll heroes ? Roman - Elvis (he is the King), Johnny Cash (texts and rhythm), Jerry Lee Lewis (burning piano): Me - Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead. I bought their album “Overkill” once and it completely turned my mind. I used to listen to heavy metal mostly, but after Overkill I realised that I love rock’n’roll. I began to study this musical direction, began to discover new artists and finally I found rockabilly music. So if you ask - Why Lemmy? I’ll answer that because of him, I am what I am today. And Alex – “Johnny Burnette ‘cause he was far ahead of his time and today he is still relevant.”
As to our all-time favourite songs, well mine is Johnny B Goode. In Russia we all love this song and everyone is happy to hear it again and again. So as trivial as it may sound, if we're playing rock’n’roll, we just have do Johnny B.
Roman - Johnny B Goode, for sure ! We finalise every concert with this song.
Alex - Johnny Horton’s “I'm coming home”.
There are some individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia. A great upright bass player Timur Popovkin is kind of a legend, he played highly professionally in the best rockabilly bands in Russia. Alex “The Fat one” Nikitin knows personally every rockabilly bass player in the World [by the way, about that nickname – Alex is especially tall and especially skinny !]. And every one of them plays only on Alex’s upright bass while staying and performing in Moscow. Vladimir Khoruzhiy from the Hi Tones is really a rock’n’roll legend, everybody here knows him. He is a super authentic guitar player! Roman likes Denis Majhukov for his real rockin’ piano; Denis performed with Chuck Berry twice. However, we respect all the rock’n’roll, rockabilly, hillbilly groups, ‘cause while they playing it – rock’n’roll lives.
I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Why not ! I’ve seen a few young groups over the last few months. They did pretty good. Rock’n’Roll will always be, ‘cause nothing is more danceable and energetic. Everybody in every little town somehow heard songs such as Rock around the Clock, Never can tell, or Tutti-Frutti. Today Rock’n’Roll is classic. We all know that Classics never die !
Thankyou Evgeny, for a great story. And Thanks to Red Rox, for enriching our rockin’ scene over here in the East !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL RUSSIA’S WILDEST CAT
Here in Russia, we have many top quality rock’n’roll bands. This month I’m gonna focus on the leader of the one of the very best. He can truly be described as one of the most charismatic, larger than life and in rock’n’roll terms a real Wild Cat.
His group is the Raw Cats, about whom I’ve written before in this column. The Wild Cat in question is Valery Setkin, a man with a long and famous history on the rockin’ scene. I have booked him myself to perform at the Esse Café in Moscow on many occasions. Every time he went down a storm. In Russian rock’n’roll he is a real legend. The stories about him are also legion. They tend to be raunchy and rather more than (to use a cinema term) “PG”-rated. You will hear some of them below, with some of the more adult-oriented stories included, albeit the really hard-core ones have had to be deleted ! I sat down with Valery to hear his fascinating rockin’ story. Here it is, in his own words:
I felt the rock’n’roll spirit when I was a child. My father brought me the vinyl records of Elvis and Jerry Lee and I was dancing in my playpen, listening to them. About the Raw Cats, it was in the middle of 2004. I was drinking, because my girlfriend decided to leave me and my double bass player went to a rival band named the Beat Devils. But then I said “Sod the lot of ‘em” - I’m rock’n’roll and as long as I live, I will be playing this music. I took my drummer from my early project named the Old Ladies Band. I put out an advert and found a double bass player; the funniest thing was that he was the Beat Devils’ original bass player. And the guitarist was a friend of my drummer. So the Raw Cats were formed, to the glory of Rock’n’Roll !
I wasn’t really influenced musically by other Russian rock’n’roll groups, my only influences were Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Burnette, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash and of course Brian Setzer !
There have been many significant events in the history of the Raw Cats. I think the biggest ones have been our birthday party events. I thank all our fans that are listening and coming to our concerts.
But I remember some special shows. The first one was when we were performing as a support act at a Red Elvises’ Concert in 2006 (I don’t remember which month) at the Orange Club in Moscow [at this point I need to explain – the Red Elvises were a hugely popular band in Russia at that time. Continue, Valery]. And we outdid them. That was a brilliant concert, I was singin’ like the real Elvis, my band was playing awesomely and the crowd was crazy and furious. And the next day I saw the reviews on social media; all the people who’d been present at the concert said that the “first band was much better than the megastar Red Elvises.”
One more great show was in 2009 (I think that was the year). It was the day of Elvis Presley’s birthday. And we were performing at the prestigious B1 Club in Moscow, to celebrate the legend’s birthday. The headliner of the event was Jack Baymoore and his Bandits (the Swedish rockabilly icons of “AV8 Boogie” fame). When he heard our band playing, he went to the sound engineer, kicked him out of his place and started to run our sound system, because he wanted all the people to hear the correct sound of our music !
Richard, you asked me for some interesting or amusing stories connected with the band. Some I’ve already given you [regular readers of this column will remember my previous article some time ago about the Raw Cats and the wild, crazy stories linked to Valery. One in particular concerned a beautiful young Russian woman by the name of Polina, performing an unforgettable striptease at a Raw Cats’ gig. Continue, Valery] Well this next story is connected with one I’ve already provided you. It was a couple of years ago. We were performing at the Rhythm’n’Blues Café. So, your favourite Raw Cats’ fan Polina (who was the “official stripper” the Raw Cats) and her friend Katya went under the stage and turned their backs to the crowd. They then took off their blue jeans and showed everybody the logo of the Raw Cats, tattooed on their bare bums; both of them had one on their left bum cheek and one on their right !
And Richard, you asked me for some tasty stories outside of the Raw Cats, during my time in Russian rock’n’Roll. I think I can tell one [Valery has very many of them; unfortunately as advised above most of them are unrepeatable in a magazine !]. My friend Benny Blues called me to play with his band in 2010 in Sevastopol (in Crimea) at the Bike show, that was organised by the Night Wolves Bike Club of Russia. So, we played there and next morning I asked him to go with me to a students’ camp near Alushta, that I was visiting every year, from 2005 to 2010. It’s a helluva place, with port wine, lots of beautiful female students, near the sea, you get the picture ! So we traveled there for the day. I really wanted to get there and so we arrived. I met there several of my friends, at the famous bar named “The Mole”. And we were drinkin’ and dancin’. Benny fell asleep and I met the dawn in with champagne with everybody, but not Benny. And then I decided to walk up to the mountain, where I usually set my tent. I went there and fell sleep in the bushes. Benny woke up and didn’t find me. He tried without success to find me, then went away by taxi to Sevastopol. I woke up, finding myself with an awful hangover, without any money, without my passport, without a shirt, only in shorts and 300 kilometers away from Sevastopol. I had about 8 hours to get to our flat and to go to our train to Moscow. And I did it. I traveled to Alushta, there found a man, who decided to drive me to Sevastopol. I didn’t even know the address of the street where Benny was. I navigated on my memory. But I damn well did it. And we got on that train to Moscow five minutes before it was due to leave.
What were the main reasons for the Raw Cats’ big success over the last 11 years ? I think it’s only because of my singing and performing from the deepest depths of my soul, that is fuelled with love, women I’ve loved and of course Whisky. And hard, hard, hard work.
Changes to the personnel of the group during the history of the band ? Well, to play in the Raw Cats band is really hard work, so some guys said that was enough rock’n’roll for them and left. And some left for health reasons. About significant personal differences amongst the group’s members over the years, well I can advise the following. I had several problems in my group with double bass players. But I don’t want to speak about it. I’m grateful to all who were playing with me during these 11 years.
As to my own personal musical history, outside of the Raw Cats, I started playing piano when I was a kid. I graduated from one school, then went to a Jazz college in Russia, where I grew up as a real musician. Best wishes to my teacher Odyssey Bogusevich, who taught me not to think about what I’m playing the next second ! In 1999 I was at the concert of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I had a lot of vodka that evening, had a fight with a skinhead and with a bruise under my right eye I met a beautiful girl named Sveta. We had a romance and she arranged for me to join the band of her friends, who were playing something like Oasis. So after several rehearsals I performed in my first concert. It was at the Wild West Club and it’s true to say the Club had never seen such a show. I was sort of a “great balls of fire” on the stage and was NOT playing in the Oasis style. After two months predictably I was kicked out the band, because I was too rock’n’roll for them. Then I met a friend of mine, who was the leader of the blues band Moby Dick. I had studied in jazz college with the band’s bass player, Volodya. I did a few jam sessions with them and kept in contact. After a while the group Moby Dick collapsed and they said to me “OK, you’re a cool guy, let’s work together”. With them I formed the “Old Ladies Band” and after that the Raw Cats. Life’s a funny thing.
Richard, you asked me to name any individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia. Well, here’s one. I admire Muslim Magomaev. He was an honorable member of the Elvis Presley fan club in Russia. He was the Russian Elvis I think. He was a great Russian singer and he had a great voice, he was also an awesome musician. I was listening to his songs in cartoon films when I was a kid. I grew up on his music.
My all-time rock’n’roll heroes are Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash and the Stray Cats. Why ? Because they brought me to rock’n’roll, which is the style of my life and everything that I love. My all-time favourite rock’n’roll song is I think Jailhouse Rock: if my choice had to be a ballad then “I can’t help falling in Love”.
I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Of course I’m optimistic: “As long as I live, I wanna give you all of my heart, can’t be apart. As long as I live, I wanna give you the stars above that shine. Give just me a little more time and I’ll make this whole World yours and mine.”
Thankyou, Valery. A nice touch to end on some lyrics from a great
song ! To catch some of the Setkin magic, you can go to the Raw Cats’ web-site at http://www.rawcats.ru/ As long as Valery is around, Russian rock’n’roll will never die !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE ORIGINAL REBEL
On 18th July here in Moscow we organised a Tribute Concert to a real Legend. It was to an American icon who was not even a rock’n’roll performer, but whose legacy and image were perhaps more important to 1950s rock’n’roll youth culture than anyone else.
His name was James Dean. He appeared in a few Hollywood films in the early 1950s, but he hit mega-stardom with his performances in his last 3 movies, “East of Eden”, “Rebel without a Cause” and “Giant”. It was above all Rebel without a Cause, released in 1955, which really established him as the quintessential teenage rebel.
We booked the famous Russian rock’n’roll band the Great Pretenders to perform for us on 18th July at the Esse Café in Moscow. Readers of this column will know how big they are in Russian rock’n’roll. We had a great concert and a fitting tribute to the original Rebel. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Event.
Those of us who grew up with rock’n’roll can testify to the personal impact of Dean and not just on those who were teenagers in the 1950s. My teenage years came later, but I can still remember the Dean image that we all tried, in our different ways, to cultivate. John Lennon once famously said, “without Jimmy Dean the Beatles would never have existed”. Martin Sheen described his legacy for young people, “Marlon Brando changed the way actors acted. James Dean changed the way people lived”.
Above all it was Dean’s persona as the ultimate rebel, for example in terms of the generation gap between parents and teenagers, that transformed him into a legend. This theme was in evidence in the movie East of Eden but it was Rebel without a Cause that was the defining moment of his acting career. In viewing the film, one always needs to judge it according to the time it was made. By today’s standards, the dialogue and story line might seem tame, but not in 1955. It was revolutionary, in that it covered themes hitherto not dealt with in films. It’s coverage of the generational conflict between teenagers and parents was ground breaking for its time and it turned Dean into a hero and role model for young people in America and the Western World generally. It dealt with the need to prove oneself to one’s peers (in this case a teenage gang) and Dean’s character in the movie went through a “test” to prove he was no coward. The romantic angle is covered of course, with the famous Natalie Wood playing the female role opposite Dean.
I won’t go into any more detail about the plot of the movie itself, since many of you have seen it already. Those that haven’t can view it on youtube. Dean’s charisma and personality shine throughout the film, in a way that make it hard to think of any other actor with such a powerful on-screen presence. From the time of its release, teenagers started to identify with Dean. Add to this the explosive mix of rock’n’roll music, which came onto the scene at about the same time and you can imagine the tremendous effect it had on American and Western society.
The genesis of the idea for the film came from the director Nicholas Ray. He wanted to make a movie about the teenage social rebellion taking place at that time and to show it was not just a small minority of under-privileged youth involved. His movie demonstrated that this rebellious permeated all classes of society, including within middle class families. Ray recognised that an authentic film on this subject would need to have lots of input from teenagers themselves. He therefore gave a lot free rein to the teenage actors in the movie, to come up with ideas, concepts, etc., that could be used in the picture. Above all he used Dean in this way, someone who really was an authentic youth rebel. Dean, although only 24 years old at the time, was encouraged by Ray to take on the role of an unofficial co-director of the movie and this factor was one of the key elements that made it such an exponential success.
Plus there were lots of spicy details happening off-screen as well as on. Natalie Wood, then only 16, was having an affair with the 44 year old Ray. Wood and Dean were both definitely attracted to each other, but Wood’s affair with the director prevented it going too far. Dean’s most important romantic relationship had occurred earlier, in the early 1950s, when he dated the Italian actress Pier Angeli. She was the love of his life and Dean wanted to marry her. But the movie studio MGM brought heavy pressure to bear on him not to do so, on the grounds that it would have a negative effect on his film star image. After he advised Pier of this, Dean then went to New York for some acting work and it was there he read in the newspapers that she had announced she was going to marry the famous singer Vic Damone. The whole affair had a big negative impact on Dean. And Angeli’s story is not a happy one: She had another failed marriage after the one with Damone ended and she committed suicide, by taking a drug overdose in 1971 at the age of 39. Three years before she died, she made public that the main reason for her unhappiness was the ending of her relationship with Dean: “He is the only man I ever loved deeply as a woman should love a man. I never loved either of my husbands the way I loved Jimmy.”
Dean lived a socially wild life off-screen. His behaviour was erratic, he loved fast cars and generally lived life on the edge. This of course only endeared him even more to his young fans. The actor Paul Lucas who worked with him, at the time said “this son of a bitch is absolutely crazy”. Another who knew him in the 1950s, Dennis Stock, described him thus, “he lived like a stray animal. Come to think of it he was a stray animal.”
One of his favourite quotes was “to me the only success, the only greatness, is immortality”. And, already a legend, his final act secured his immortality in the memory of future generations of fans. He was a huge car racing enthusiast and had a reputation for driving “on the edge”. He accepted the risks of driving in this way and when discussing the possibility of a fatal crash, responded with “what better way to
die ? It’s fast and clean and you go out in a blaze of glory.” He also had a premonition that he would die before he was 30. His credo was “live fast, die young.”
In September 1955, driving to a car racing event in California, Dean was again speeding and ignored a red light. He crashed into another vehicle and was killed almost instantly. He was only 24 years old. The manner of his death only added to his iconic status amongst his young fans. He achieved a kind of “martyrdom” in death: He lived and died in the life style that so many of the youth at that time and in later generations aspired to.
Many films and records were made about him over the years after his death and his legend still lives on. As time passed, some stories stated about his personal life were the opposite of his sexual image, but regardless of whether some of them were true or not, it is unquestioned that his legacy to the rock’n’roll generation was huge. As Andy Warhol famously described him, “it might be innocence struggling with experience, youth with age, or man with his image. But in every aspect his struggle was a mirror to a generation of rebels without a cause.”
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A RUSSIAN ROCK’N’ROLL LEGEND
This month let me introduce you to another Russian rock’n’roll legend. His story is an important one, not just because of his status in Russia but because his story is an excellent example of someone living the rock’n’roll life to the full.
Alexey “Lex” Blokhin is a larger than life rockin’ icon who is loud, brash, with a chequered past and is not ashamed of it. His colourful life includes a term of imprisonment in a United States prison. He has, as the saying goes, ruffled a few feathers along the way and has acquired many friends and a few enemies; his story below will show examples of this. He has certainly mellowed since his wild and crazy days in the 1990s, but one of the great things about Lex is – he still brings an element of the “wild and crazy” into his performances on stage. Regular readers of this column will know that I like my music on the wilder side and Alexey certainly comes into this category. He’s a great character who has contributed so much to Russian rock’n’roll. His status as a performer is unquestioned; he’s been a rock’n’roll star in Russia over a long period of time. His story tells us not only about him, but about the history of Russian rock’n’roll music over the last generation, as well as being a fascinating insight into Russia generally during this period of time.
On 13th June I booked him to perform for us at the premier Moscow venue of the Esse Café in Moscow. As usual he gave a larger than life, rockin’ performance. He is a rock’n’roll star and is not backwards in letting everyone know it. His performance at the Café was terrific. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Café. His speciality is vocals and keyboards.
I spent some time with Lex, discussing his rock’n’roll life and below are the results. He didn’t tell me much about his life in prison whilst serving a sentence in the USA, except to say that the experience improved his English language skills ! I’ll let him tell you his story.
“Thankyou for your interest in my rock’n’roll story, Richard ! My musical story begins when I was a young boy in the old Soviet Union (I was born in 1973). My parents had good musical tastes. Back then in the USSR “Western” music was frowned upon so LP’s were rare. But my family had tapes of jazz and pop music of that time. In my early childhood I heard Abba, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Cliff Richard and many others. My Mom, who’s 82 now, still prefers Cliff Richard over Elvis.
I started studying piano from the age of 4 years old. In 1980 I entered a children’s music school and began singing in the children’s choir. The music classes took place in the evenings, in the same school building where I was studying in the daytime. At the school I attended as a boy, they had pianos in every classroom (this was not all that unusual in Russia at that time). Every break between classes I played those pianos. So my schoolmates became my first audience. I got lots of practise and besides the girls were really diggin’ me! I also started composing my own songs in the Russian language.
I discovered real rock-n-roll at the age of 13. Or was it 14? I don’t remember the exact wheres or whens, but it must have been a good day ‘cause I haven’t been tired of this music yet !
At the age 15 I visited the USA for the first time in my life. For a boy who’d grown up in USSR that was quite a shock. Big cars, big buildings, bright lights and friendly people, as opposed to the way that the Soviet mass media portrayed them. And music! All kinds of it: traditional and modern, rock, jazz, country, blues – loads and loads of delicious food for the soul. When I came back I brought with me dozens of tapes.
At 15 I joined my first rock’n’roll band. They needed an accordion player to be able to re-create the sound without using electricity. I promised that I would buy an accordion later and meanwhile we started rehearsals with me on piano. Eventually I stayed on piano. The band was called “Gavayskie Ostrova” (Hawaii Islands). We were wearing bright-colored shirts, mostly handmade by our Mums. Back in those days one couldn’t get a decent Hawaian shirt in the Soviet Union. The band played mainstream rock-n-roll, with some twist music thrown in.
By that time many things in the USSR started to change. The Cold War was rolling to an end. So loudly dressed school kids who played “capitalist” music attracted the attention of Soviet TV and radio. I shouldn’t say that we became popular, but we sure got known. Despite this, “Hawaian Islands” never made a decent record.
I have to point out that we didn’t play music for a living. All of us lived with our parents and prepared to go to colleges. In Russia military service is compulsory for all males who turn 18 and lasts for two years. One of the ways to avoid getting into the army was to go to college. That’s how the Government encouraged more people to get higher education. Such stimulation is now lost in modern day Russia, but that’s a whole other story.
So “Hawaian Islands” went on hiatus, as we were getting ready for our colleges. The band never got together again, and of all it’s members only I continued playing music. God knows whether that was a wise decision or not.
It was the last year of Soviet Union. Of course we didn’t know that, but there was that spirit in the air. Everybody just became sharper, edgier, more emotional, more aggressive. I also was an “angry young man” by that time. And I wanted a new band which would play faster, more energetic music. And that band was formed in April. We called it “Crazy Man Crazy” after Bill Haley’s song. Later the spelling was changed to “Krazy Men Krazy”. Of course that sounded incorrect, but who cares? We were all rebels, weren’t we? The band started playing traditional rockabilly with a lot of “pumping” piano. Later on we inclined towards a more neo-rockabilly sound and even used some elements of psychobilly. We composed our own songs. That’s when I started writing songs in English.
“Krazymen” started making money big time, as I thought in those days. Contrary to Hollywood movies we don’t have snowy winters all year round. In the Spring of 1991 we started playing on Moscow streets. That’s how the band got cash and a following amongst Moscow youngsters. Electricity was not used so I just sang. Sometimes I played rhythm guitar, occasionally bass or drums when anybody in the rhythm-section was absent at the time. Besides this, “Krazymen” played regular “electric” gigs with me on the piano. We played whenever and wherever we could, for any audience who would care to listen. Pretty soon it paid off. We were chosen as a backing band for the English rock’n’roll singer and piano player Dave Taylor during his visit to the USSR. Later on we went to Finland. The very first abroad tour in my life was not a big success, but hey, that was not too bad for a band that was less than a year old.
By the end of the summer, the Soviet Union collapsed and things started getting more crazy day by day. Suddenly everybody was obsessed with making money. I was no exception. I got an evening job, at one of the Moscow restaurants where I played requests. I worked in turns with Denis Mazhukov, who is now the Russian King of Rock’n’Roll, as he calls himself.
At the college I was among the worst scholars but it didn’t bother me much. I played music every night either on the job or with my band. Krazy Men Krazy became quite popular and gathered a considerable following. Crowds gathered at the shows, even though back then there was no such thing as the Internet.
From 1992 to 1995 “Krazy Men Krazy” recorded five albums, three of them exclusively in English. All of them were issued on tape and still are in circulations among fans. In 1994 the compilation of English-language material was issued on CD and to this day this is the only record left.
In 1995 I finally graduated. Needless to say, I never thought about an accounting career and wanted to keep on playing music. By that time I got tired of my band’s neo-rockabilly sound. It was the year when I heard the record of Louis Prima. I tried to change the band’s course towards jumpin’ jive, but my bandmates were not very enthusiastic about it. So at the end of the year I quit the band and started forming my own jumpin’ jive and neo-swing outfit. After several name changes the project was called “Ruby Stars”. The band existed for a year and a half. It was very hard to keep the line-up steady. The general economic situation in Russia was worsening and it influenced showbiz. Sometimes there were ten people on stage and other times I had to play the bass line on the synth with my left hand and beside me there was only a drummer and a sax player. “Ruby Stars” started recording an album but never completed it.
In 1997 I got a proposal to go to the USA as an interpreter for a group of businessmen. I planned to make some money for my music recording process from the trip and also to see the country. After my two week duties were done, I spontaneously decided not to come back.
In the States I spent almost five years. Those were crazy but eventful years. I was in jail for cheque fraud. I played bass in an Uzbekistan restaurant, I learned Spanish and Italian. I built houses, washed cars, made jewelry, moved and assembled furniture. I did a lot of things. The only thing I didn’t do in the USA – I didn’t play rock’n’roll. Although eventually I ended up playing keyboards and sometimes bass for electronic, ethnic, hard rock and even punk bands, but none of them was a real rock’n’roll band.
By the beginning of the century 21, I was quite tired of being an immigrant. I didn’t have a steady job nor my own home. And my friends in Moscow wrote to me how good the life was over there. For some time I was uncertain, should I return to Russia ? But then it happened, the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001. As I watched the fire from my roof in New York City, I made my decision. On November 4, 2001 my voyage came to an end.
Upon my return I formed a new band by the old name “Ruby Stars”. We played mostly rock’n’roll hits along with some songs of our own. All in all the second incarnation of Ruby Stars wasn’t very successful, although we once played at a private party for the Russian government (yes, I saw Pres. Putin quite close-up). I sensed that the band lacked some kinda “punch” about it, something that people could remember.
In 2003 my old friends and colleagues decided to form a neo-swing band and invited me to be a front man. I gladly agreed. This band got the name “Lexicon Orchestra”. Initially the spelling was supposed to be “Lex’ Icon Orchestra” but my bandmates dropped the idea. I sang and played keys with “Lexicon Orchestra” for three years. Those years left mixed impressions for me. On the positive side, the band played good music, the kind that I liked. We were playing gigs, going on tours over Russia and abroad, a lot of private parties. The management was good, and we got paid well. We played some songs in Spanish and Italian and for Russia it was a new style.
At the same time there was a certain tension between me and some band members. They thought that I was acting like a star and showed off. But isn’t a front man supposed to show off? A candid, bland singer won’t attract any audience. There also was an issue of creativity. I wrote some songs especially for the band, and at first we played them at our gigs. But later all my songs were dumped in favor of more and more covers and jazz-standards. And to make things worse, very frequent gigs and rehearsals caused problems with my vocal chords.
Things got worse and worse until in the beginning of 2006 I quit the band and got a day job that had nothing to do with music. I started working on TV, translating English and Spanish-language films and series into Russian. But I didn’t plan to give up my music career. My day job gave me the necessary time to start a new band. I called it “Lex & Team”, sometimes it’s referred to as “Lex E Komanda” in Russian.
What can I say? Finally my dreams came true. I write songs and play them, still I haven’t forgotten good ol’ rock’n’roll hits. In my songs I used elements of different styles from salsa to folk songs but the base of them all is traditional swinging rhythm.
My band plays quite often all over Russia and abroad, but not too often so we don’t get weary. Besides I play a lot as a session–man with many Russian musicians or with foreign performers when they come to Russia. Right now I’m working on an album where my best songs for the last 25 years will be presented in a new sound.
My favorite rock’n’rollers: Gene Vincent (only early records), Johnny Burnette, Freddy “Fingers” Lee, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis (only early records), Elvis (not seventies), Bill Haley (only early records), Brian Setzer, Mark Harman, Steve Whitehouse
Favorite swingers: Louis Prima, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Dean Martin
Favorite rockers: Slade, Asia, Deep Purple, ELP, Beatles & Sir Paul McCartney, Mick Green.
Rock’n’Roll is still the way of life for me. If someday you’re in the vicinity and have nothing to do, come see my show on a Saturday night. I promise you won’t ever regret it!
Thankyou for your story, Alexey ! Catch some of the Lex Magic yourself, at www.lexmusic.su
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The True King of Rockabilly
Who is the Rockabilly all-time King ? Some claim the title for Elvis Presley, based on his early years. Carl Perkins actually gave himself that title back in the 1960s. But as far as I’m concerned, the King was the one who stayed truer to the authentic style and who cut the greatest rockabilly records of all time. And many, many rockabilly hep cats share my view.
His name was Charlie Feathers and on 16th May I organised a tribute concert here in Moscow at the prestigious Esse Jazz Cafe, to commemorate the rockabilly legend. I arranged for the Raw Cats to perform for us. I began the event with my rock’n’roll dance class. The Raw Cats gave us a tremendous performance. I’ve written about them in an earlier column of “Russia’n’Roll”, in particular their leader and vocalist / keyboard player, the Russian rockin’ icon Valery Setkin: They really are a brilliant rock’n’roll band. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert.
Feathers was a real “Southern Boy”. He was born in Mississippi in 1932 and as a rockabilly artist his greatest periods were during the times he recorded for the Sun and then the King Record labels. Those of you who really know your rock’n’roll history will recall the legendary status and contribution to rock’n’roll of the man who ran the Sun record label, Sam Phillips. Phillips played a key role in the early careers of the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, to name but a few. But although he signed up Feathers to his record label, he didn’t rate him much. He was happy to see him move to another label. Phillips claimed afterwards that Feathers should have stuck to pure Country music and would have been a big star. But Phillips misjudgement in this case has gotta rank as one of the few glaring errors in his otherwise uncanny and unique ability to find and nurture rock’n’roll genius !
Amazingly, when he began his musical career Feathers was almost illiterate and could hardly read or write. But his performances on stage and above all the quality of his music, were sensational. His style, especially his singing voice, can best be described as theatrical, hiccup-styled, energetic and charismatic. Have a listen for example on youtube to numbers like “Bottle to the Baby”, “One Hand Loose” and “Everybody’s Loving My Baby” and you’ll see what I mean. These 3 songs of Feathers, along with others, rank as some of the greatest in rock’n’roll history. They’re awesome.
He won acclaim amongst devotees of rockabilly, both during his greatest period of performing in the 1950s and then subsequently. But here’s the thing. Unlike Elvis and others like Carl Perkins, Charlie stayed true to the pure, unadulterated rockabilly style. So while these others earned greater fortune and fame by going more “mainstream”, his sticking to his “roots” meant he didn’t get the popularity and success he always felt he deserved. And indeed he did deserve it.
In fact to say that he believed he should have had more recognition is putting it mildly. He deeply resented the fact that stars like Presley and Perkins were getting the acclaim he felt he had earned. He knew Elvis well during their days together at Sun Records. As far as Charlie was concerned, Elvis’ only great days musically were his early ones singing and performing rockabilly style numbers while at Sun Records.
It is also an understatement to say that Charlie was a difficult man to get along with. The stories are legion of him arguing and making enemies with music writers, booking agents, promoters, producers, music and record company executives, you name it ! In addition, he was no saint: He had a string of convictions for illegal gambling activities.
Feathers was born into a poor Southern family. As a result his education suffered, hence the reason for his illiteracy. As a very young man, he had to work long hours at hard labour jobs, such as picking cotton or laying oil pipes. He was typical of many of the truly great rock’n’rollers of the 1950s, such as Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, in that they too came from poor backgrounds. There really is a class element to this: Contrast their upbringings with those of the 1960s pop superstars. The likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came from middle class families. Despite the “anti-establishment” image they tried to portray, these 60s groups were basically a bunch of middle class trendy lefties. Of course not every 50s rock’n’roll megastar had poor origins and not every 60s pop icon came from a well-to-do background, but certainly the majority did; which basically means there was generally something more honest and less hypocritical about the 50s rockers than those that came later.
And here’s where it gets personal for me. In 1977 I saw the Great Man live in concert in London ! It was an unforgettable event for me and also a revelation. The concert was at the Rainbow Theatre in London and the main reason I decided to go was to see Crazy Cavan, who were also on the bill. I remember being disappointed that the only ticket I could get was for a cheap seat right at the back in the upper tier, not only because of the inferior location but also because I’d been hoping maybe I could’ve got to do some jive dancing during the event in the lower tier ! But my lasting impression from that concert, which included other rockin’ icons such as Jack Scott, was Feathers. He was fantastic and still had that rockabilly magic touch. He also had a bit to say for himself in between songs and his comments were immensely interesting; predictably they were also laced with resentment that he hadn’t been given more acknowledgement during his career and he again expressed disappointment at the way Elvis’ career developed after his Sun Records days.
Charlie has become a hero to devotees of rockabilly music, not only because of the brilliance of his music but also because unlike so many others he stayed true to the original authentic rockabilly sound. By the late 1980s his health had rapidly deteriorated. He developed a very severe form of diabetes and for the last decade of his life, although he continued to perform and make records, didn’t fully recover. He died in 1998 of a stroke-induced coma. And despite his difficult personality which made him constantly complain about his being “under-valued” as a rockin’ icon, he was indeed right in thinking he deserved even more acclaim and legendary status than he got. Here’s to you, Charlie; the King of Rockabilly !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Hottest Rockin’ Chick of them all !
This month I’m going pay tribute to a rockin’ 1950s icon, who in opinion was the greatest female rocker of them all. Many would disagree with my choice. For example I haven’t chosen Wanda Jackson or Brenda Lee. In fact I suspect the name is one which will be new to a certain percentage of you.
On 18th April we organised a concert in Moscow at the prestigious Esse Cafe, in memory of this great singer (I hasten to add she is still with us, albeit in retirement for many a long year). She was Jo Ann Campbell and in the late 1950s sang and performed some of the greatest songs by any female rocker. “You’re driving me mad”, “Wassa matter with you” “Wait a minute”, “Boogie woogie country girl” and “Motorcycle Michael” in my opinion are some of the greatest numbers ever recorded by any female singer in the history of rock’n’roll. Plus she really knew how to perform on stage.
As we were celebrating a female singer, my choice of performers just had to be the female icons of Russian rock’n’roll, the Marshmallows. Regular readers of my column in this magazine will know quite a bit about them. They’re 3 beautiful and charismatic young women who sing and perform 1950s style r’n’r, with the support of 3 backing musicians. As they have done already quite a few times at the Esse Café, once more they wowed us with a great concert. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the event.
Like I said, Jo Ann Campbell was a great performer. Here is how Billy Poore, a writer and music promoter who lived through those times in the 1950s, describes his impressions the first time he saw her in action: “It wasn’t just that outfit and them great looks. It was also what she was doin’. The way she rocked, shook, bumped and moved while playin’ and slingin’ her guitar around, as well as turnin’ sideways and pointin’ it atcha with a pout on her face while she was growlin’ out this rockabilly tune I’d never heard, was just a killer memory that’s lasted a whole lifetime for me. That was my first introduction to the wildest live stage female performer ever to belt out a rockabilly tune.”
The rock’n’roll story of Jo Ann Campbell really begins in her early teens, when rock’n’roll was in its infancy. Living in Jacksonville, Florida, she would tune in to one of the very few radio stations that were playing rock’n’roll at that time. Like many of her peers during that early period, the listening had to be done secretly when her parents were not around, as the music had a real bad reputation amongst that generation’s parents. This is just another example of how revolutionary rock’n’roll was back then. It was the first really recognisable youth culture, which shocked and worried their parents.
Having got hooked on rock’n’roll, Jo Ann then began her career as a professional dancer. She had been learning dancing throughout her childhood and it was always the intention of her and her family that she should take it up professionally. She went to Europe on a big tour of the United States Army bases, performing as a dancer for the American troops stationed there. On her return, she joined a dancing group, “the Johnny Conrad Dancers”, and appeared regularly on US TV shows. She was still officially in High School at this time (she was 17) and the number of dance bookings she was getting made her leave school in 1955 to concentrate on her dancing career.
But in November 1955 an event occurred which changed her life. She happened to attend an Alan Freed rock’n’roll show at the New York Paramount Theatre. In previous articles I’ve written in this column covering the history of rock’n’roll, inevitably the name Alan Freed has kept popping up. He was a crucial figure in the early days of rock’n’roll, as a promoter and disc jockey. And sure enough he was about to play a crucial role in the career of Jo Ann Campbell. Here’s how she described what happened at the show: “As that show went on and Alan Freed kept bringin’ on acts like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Moonglows, The Cadillacs, Bill Haley and His Comets, Chuck Berry and all the rest, it made me jump up and down and scream till I was dizzy. I mean kids were all out in the aisles and in front of the stage dancin’ and just goin’ crazy. Well, when I first came out of that first Alan Freed rock’n’roll show, I knew my days as a dancer were over, even though at the time I was up for parts in Broadway plays then. I was just determined I was gonna sing rock’n’roll and be on Alan Freed’s stage one day. The next morning, I went into my manager’s office and told him I wasn’t gonna dance anymore and that I wanted to make a rock’n’roll record.”
Fortunately for Jo Ann, her manager, although astonished at her decision, had a few contacts in the music business and used them to try and get her started on a rock’n’roll career. She started performing, cut some records and her fame started to grow. Sure enough, Alan Freed got to hear about her, saw her in action and from then on signed her to all his rock’n’roll shows. This really was Jo Ann’s golden period, when she was singing and performing at her rock’n’roll best.
Then in 1960 she made a decision which in hindsight even she regretted. She was signed to the ABC Paramount record label, one of the biggest recording companies in the World. She figured it was a big step towards super-stardom and for sure it did bring her some chart success for her records. But Paramount were not interested in real rock’n’roll and had her performing and recording much blander pop songs. She had been known as “Alan Freed’s wild, rockin’ gal” as a result of her tremendous performances on his shows, but now her style was much less rockin’ and much more poppy. She continued performing until 1967, at which time she quit the business to concentrate on her family life.
Why not check out some of those earlier recordings by her. She was a female who could rock with the best, at a time when only a tiny percentage of rock’n’roll artists were women. For sure, there were other brilliant women rockers, like Wanda Jackson and Brenda Lee. But Wanda carried on way too long after her best days were over and Brenda wasn’t rockin’ enough for me. Don’t get me wrong, both were very special, but I preferred Jo Ann. So here’s to a unique female rocker - Jo Ann Campbell. As the title of one of her best albums named her, she was indeed “That Real Gone Gal” !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Somethin’ Else
In Moscow on 14th March I was pleased to host another tribute concert, to a great rockin’ icon. The artist in question this time can well and truly be said to have conformed to the culture of “live hard, die young.” His name was Eddie Cochran and he was one of the greatest rock’n’rollers of all time, despite the fact he died at the age of only 21.
Regular readers of this column will know I organise rock’n’roll concerts on a regular basis in Russia. On 14th March I held a concert at the Esse Café in Moscow, to remember the great man. The Café is an iconic venue for rock’n’roll in Moscow. I booked the Great Pretenders to perform at the event. Readers of this column will remember my piece on them; they are a superb rockabilly band with a great rock’n’roll history in Russia. They were a fitting choice to celebrate the legend of Eddie Cochran. A great night was had by all. You can see here some of the photos taken on 14th.
Cochran composed and performed some of the most famous rockin’ songs of all time. For example just look at this list of numbers – “C’mon everybody”, “Teenage heaven”, “Three steps to heaven”, “Twenty flight rock”, “Somethin’ Else” and the immortal “Summertime Blues”. A while back, I compiled a “Top Ten rock’n’roll tracks” for this magazine. I put Summertime Blues as my all-time number one and I haven’t changed my mind. The only amendment I’d make to that Top Ten today, would be to add Eddie’s “Somethin’ Else” to it.
Another very special quality about him was the dynamism of his stage performances. In 1960 he came over from the States with Gene Vincent to tour the country. His sound and stage persona took the country by storm; as did Vincent’s, about which I wrote in a previous Russia’n’Roll column. I need to cover more of that 1960 tour later, for tragic reasons.
The first time I ever saw a film clip of Cochran was in the movie “The Girl Can’t Help It.” One could say a lot about that film. For example I could write a whole column about the effect of seeing Jayne Mansfield had on me and I’m sure I’m not the only guy ! It was a brilliant rock’n’roll film and in it there is a magical clip of Eddie Cochran singing one of his own compositions, “Twenty flight rock.” It’s an unforgettable clip of a rockin’ genius in action.
Although he was before my time in terms of when he was performing, as a young rock’n’roller he was the perfect role model to relate to. His image was that of a smartly dressed young social rebel. This was a persona many young working class boys like myself aspired to. And he certainly lived that life-style. Although not quite as wild as his close friend Gene Vincent he nonetheless lived it up, in the short time he was a star up to his premature death. And unlike many other rockin’ icons, the consensus amongst those who knew him personally is that he was a real nice guy. Glen Glenn, who was a friend of his, described him as follows: “Eddie was a fun guy to be around. We liked the same things. He liked to drink beer and chase women – although the women chased him when he had all his hit records. He had a lot of friends. Elvis was just the opposite, he was a lonely guy.”
Now back to that 1960 UK tour. The previous year, 2 good friends of Eddie’s and legends of rock’n’roll, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, had been killed in a plane crash while on tour. The Big Bopper had also died in that tragedy. This affected Eddie greatly and family and friends say he developed a psychological premonition that he too would die young. He released a very famous song to commemorate his friends’ deaths, “Three Stars”. He decided he wanted to give up life on the road touring and instead spend his time recording music in the studio, thus reducing the chances of suffering a similar fate to his 2 friends. But he had to continue touring and performing, because basically he needed the money. So he agreed to tour Britain in 1960, along with his friend Gene Vincent.
The tour was a great success with the British audiences and one of the most memorable in rock’n’roll history. It certainly resurrected Gene Vincent’s career as a super star, albeit relatively briefly due to Gene’s ongoing problems with his critically injured leg and his alcoholism. But it wasn’t a good experience for Eddie and Gene on a personal level. Jim Sullivan, who was part of the project, recalls the problems: “Eddie and Gene both seemed like very lost human beings. I don’t think that Eddie wanted to be here for one minute. They both drank heavily. At one stage, Eddie was getting through a bottle of bourbon a day, if not two. At one point in the tour, he ended up with these great big blotches in his eyes caused by alcohol. Another time we had to prop him up at the Liverpool Empire where the microphone stand came up through a flap in the stage. We had to put his guitar over the microphone as it came up so he wouldn’t fall over !”
It was towards the end of the tour that tragedy struck. Driving back in a taxi from a concert both he and Vincent had been performing in, the taxi was involved in a collision. The speeding car blew a tyre and crashed into a lamp post. Cochran, seated in the back, threw himself over his fiancée Sharon Sheeley to protect her. He was then thrown from the car when the door flew open. He died the following day of severe head injuries. Vincent survived the crash, but his already permanently damaged leg from an earlier accident became even worse as a result of his injuries. The taxi driver was convicted of dangerous driving but got off with a small fine.
In death Cochran became a sort of rock’n’roll martyr, especially to his fans in Britain. As a young rocker in the 1970s I can remember being caught up in this feeling. There is a memorial stone commemorating his death in Rowden Hill, Chippenham (not far from Bath), where the accident happened. I went to visit it some years ago, during a period in my life when I didn’t live all that far from the site. It was sort of a mark of respect to a rockin’ legend. The stone is still there; it’s not extravagant, but it’s a real nice touch.
Eddie Cochran was sure special. He wrote and sang some of the greatest r’n’r songs of all time and the film clips of the time testify he was a great performer on stage, possessing charisma and raw energy. In the short time he was with us, he made his mark as one of the all-time rock’n’roll greats. He was “Somethin’ Else !”
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL A Rock’n’Roll Life
Rock’n’Roll is not just about the super star performers and the legends. Of course they’re important to us. But many of us have a rock’n’roll story of our own, of how we first got into the culture and how it has influenced our lives. For example, how did you first get into rock’n’roll, dear Reader ? Bits of my own story you’ve read about in passing, in some of the articles I’ve written in this column for nearly 3 years now.
This month you’re going to hear about one of those stories, not mine but it is also someone who has well and truly lived the rock’n’roll life. Dmitry Vinogradov is a well established icon on the scene here in Russia. His r’n’r history goes back a long way. He knows all the rockin’ stars in Russia and they know him. When I first came to Russia in 2004, it became clear to me early on how high his reputation is on the rockin’ scene here. Here is his story below, in his own words. It will tell you not just about him, but also about Russian r’n’r history. The photos you can see go back to the 1990s and are snapshots of Dmitry’s rock’n’roll life.
“Hi, Richard ! I’m going to start trying to reply to the questions you’ve asked me. I’ve been listening to rock’n’roll for as long as I can remember. My father was a great admirer of Elvis, Chubby Checker, and Bill Haley, so I started listening to this music when I was still a child growing up in Moscow, although not entirely consciously. I wasn’t interested in music at all until I was 13 or 14. It somehow fell outside of my range of interests at the time. But then, things started happening. Firstly, Bravo with Zhanna Aguzarova.” At this point in Dmitry’s story I need to step in and explain about Bravo. They had a huge influence on Russian rock’n’roll. They were founded in 1983 and their style was primarily 1950s r’n’r. In the 1980s they were real super stars in Russia, which had a lot to do with their lead singer Zhanna Aguzarova. She had everything, looks, charisma and a great voice. But she left the group in 1988 and as a result the group’s enormous following waned. They were still popular and attracted big crowds, but not on the same scale as before. Here’s Dmitry continuing the story of Bravo:
“Incidentally, I was 14 when I first saw and heard them. For 2 more years, I wasn’t particularly interested in them – I liked them, but that was all. And then I began to understand – this is my thing ! I started dressing like them and listening to their songs. I had just seen Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke and had become a big fan of the 1950s style. Around the same time I saw Mister Twister on TV” (this was another famous rockin’ band of the time in Moscow. They are still going strong, albeit nowhere near as popular as they were in the 1980s). “In the 1980s I began going to rock’n’roll concerts – I saw Bravo first and then Mister Twister. And here I am, I have been partying ever since ! Things just happened like that.
Regarding the best Russian bands of the 1990s, well my opinion is biased – whoever I’ve seen live are the best for me. In the early 1990s I saw Bravo, then Off Beat, the Alligators, Mister Twister, the Jailbreakers, Crazy Man Crazy and Steam Engine. Many of the bands appeared, then disappeared, then resurfaced again. The groups from St. Petersburg always impressed me. About the very best ones, well most often we went to see Denis Mazhukov and his group Off Beat”. (Again, dear readers, if you have a good memory you will know from my articles in this magazine of the iconic status of Denis Mazhukov, ‘the King of Russian Rock’n’Roll’. Carry on, Dmitry) “Denis is the Russian Jerry Lee Lewis ! This was around 1994-96. There were many bands. To be honest, I don’t remember all of them now. The most important thing for me has always been to be able to dance to the music. This is how I judge the best bands.
Who’s the most prominent rock’n’roll musician in Russia ? It’s very hard to talk about one particular person, the rest might just get offended ! After all, I’m friends with all of them. Like I said, if I feel like dancing to a given band’s music, that one is the best for me. But I guess if I had to choose one group from the above it would be Denis Mazhukov and his group Off Beat. Why did I always go to watch them and considered them to be the best? The answer is all about dancing ! Denis clearly understood rhythm and to move to him was very easy and simple ! In general they were excellent - they played professionally and cheerfully and they put on a great show.
If I had to choose the most prominent rock’n’roll musician in the world, for me it would be Bill Haley. Of course I started with Elvis, but to me Bill is closer with regard to the music, because he’s always been easy and pleasant to dance to. In 1992 I started dancing jive, and with my first training tutorial there was a video with a clip from the film ‘Rock around the Clock’. The whole video was 40 minutes long, no more, just musical numbers and dance scenes. For those wishing to learn how to dance in Russia at that time, this was a must. I probably watched this tape 500 times ! Since then, for me Haley is No. 1 in Rock’n’Roll !
The times were fun. The 1990s in Russia were crazy ! In the good sense. It was the time of our rock’n’roll revival, a time of hope. And overall, those who say they remember all those times in the 90s didn’t live in the 90s, because alcohol was a very important part of all our shindigs and as a result none of us remembered everything !
As for appearance i.e. the clothes we wore, well in the 80s (and the early 90s) we wore clothes that we could buy at Tishinsky Market - a well-known Moscow flea market, torn down in the late 90s. There it was possible to buy practically any sort of clothing and footwear from the 1940s up to the 1980s. We nicknamed this apparel ‘Tishka’ or ‘Tishinka’ in reference to the name of the market. For the most part, these were products of the USSR, but there were also foreign items. Everything was in varying degrees of preservation, but it was possible to find good stuff if you really wanted to. But then in 92-93, I wanted something more; I wanted to wear things specially tailored for me. In Moscow there were several tailors where it was possible to get something made for you ‘a la Teddy Boy’, especially drape jackets. You just had to explain to the tailor what you wanted from him beforehand - and this wasn’t easy in those days ! Well in Moscow there then opened a shop called ‘Marley of London’. They were supposed to cater for the mod style, but in fact the bulk of their stuff was black leather jackets and cowboy boots. The young women dressed more simply - pin-ups were practically unseen; in general they wore either jeans and black leather jackets or old dresses from ‘Tishka’.”
Thankyou to Dmitry for a great insight into his r’n’r story and above all about Russian rock’n’roll history. It’s a great history, filled with many rockin’ heroes like Dmitry !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Sweet and Hot – Take Two !
Quite some time ago, I did a piece in this column on a fantastic group here in Moscow. The column was entitled “Sweet and Hot !” Well, here we are second time around:
The group are the Marshmallows, 3 beautiful young Russian female singers, who perform excellent 50’s style rock’n’roll. They’re brilliant. They’re a real phenomenon on the rockin’ scene here. They are supported by 3 musicians, guitar, bassist and drummer.
Since my last article on them, the band have gone from strength to strength. There has recently been a small change to the line-up - Masha Nosova and Yulia Chugueva remain but Nadezhda Kunareva has been replaced by Olya Korovina.
The photos you can see were all taken at their concert at the Esse Café in Moscow on 10th January. I decided in view of their success and progress following my last article on them, it was time to talk again. So after the concert, which I organised along with a rock’n’roll dance class I ran to start the event, I sat down with the 3 beautiful women, to ask them about all things Marshmallows. Here is the result – the story of the group and more, as told by the band themselves. As a very recent newcomer to the trio, Olya left the talking to Yulia and Masha.
They began by telling me how they got into rock’n’roll. Julia said she grew up with the music: “At the movies and on the radio I was captivated by it and as I grew up I got ‘married’ to rock’n’roll and my whole life was consumed by it.” Masha said before she first met Yulia and started singing with her, “I listened to everything rock’n’roll – this is the music of carefree youth and so you meet a lot of ’positively charged’ people, because they’ll always be young.”
And how did the Marshmallows come about ? Yulia provided the initial spark for the genesis; “the idea came to me when I sang in a choir (this studio catered to girls). At first I was thinking about a solo program, but while I was in the choir I started thinking about polyphony (a trio), the kind of thing that was popular in the 1950s”. Masha said that fitted her profile too, “before singing in the same choir as Yulia, I sang in a quartet where we did our own arrangements.” It snowballed from there. Yulia said her choir teacher supported the idea and worked with them on the programme. They didn’t expect the first Marshmallows shows just a few months later to be so compelling. Yulia said they generated a lot of interest, “things really took off, surpassing our expectations.”
Musical influences ? Yulia first of all drew attention to the impact the Raw Cats had on them. I’ve written already in this column about the iconic status of this group in Russian rock’n’roll, especially their leader vocalist/keyboard player Valery Setkin. Yulia said their first ever show happened because of the Raw Cats. “They helped us to believe in ourselves, overcome our stage fright and to take the lead role. We just sang for their friends, gradually getting used to the stage, microphones and audiences, while continuing to work on our own programme. After 6 months we did a show for the Raw Cats’ birthday.”
Masha says the American groups of the 1950s were their point of reference; “they had a style that was somehow unique, since for the most part women’s vocal trios in Russia sing jazz, that’s what they know more about. Our project says things no one else is saying.”
About the important events in the history of the Marshmallows, they say every one of their concerts is an event and it’s hard to say which of them is more important, “there are always new people and loyal fans, and every time we do a show we create the mood and atmosphere of the 50s era, or at least we try.” Masha remembers their first open air concert at Kuznetsky Bridge in Moscow, “performing on the street in front of a big crowd of people just walking by – this was new and very, very exciting!”
Yulia says the public in Moscow tend to respond to things generally in a way that is “very cold, because of the climate apparently, and it’s pretty difficult waiting for them to respond to the words and music, since for them this is something new and unusual in today’s musical milieu.” I’ve been here in Russia for over 10 years and that’s not my impression: If Russians like something, they are very open in expressing it. And at all the many Marshmallows concerts I’ve been to, the audience has been to say the least very very appreciative and responsive.
I asked them about changes on the rockin’ scene here in Russia. Yulia said there were less clubs than there used to be, “a lot of clubs have closed, including the ones we first began performing in. There aren’t many public squares where large groups like ours can play, since there are six of us (including the musicians), and our style isn’t suitable for many venues. We hope that by now (we’ve been performing for 3 years) the audience has learned more about this music and about that point in time when the whole world experienced a music revolution.” You said it, Yulia - the 1950s, unlike all the stuff that came after, really was a social revolution. For the first time, the youth adopted their own music, culture and lifestyle, unlike previous generations. All the movements that came afterwards, mods, rockers, punks, skinheads, glam rock, etc., were just a continuation of this.
Masha pointed out the rising popularity of Rockabilly and Psychobilly in Russia, “although perhaps only in certain areas. We don’t limit ourselves to the ‘party scene’ and we try to perform for anyone who likes what we do, and there are many.”
Reasons for their great success here in Russia ? Masha says it’s down first of all to good old-fashioned “constant hard work. We understand that the audience appreciates more than a pretty picture – they also want a quality performance, so we are constantly rehearsing, both together and on our own.” For Yulia, “what’s important is that the picture be complete, so we pay a lot of attention to details, from creating the image of ‘the girls from the pictures,’ to the sound of the instruments and voices, because the audience isn’t fooled; they can see and hear what is fake.”
Apart from Olya replacing Nadezhda, as advised above, the line-up of the singers hasn’t changed since their foundation. But there has been a big turnover of backing musicians. “Many times we’ve changed musicians”, they advised me, “also, it’s hard to find a good guitarist for this genre and even more so on a regular basis. Our main problem has always been the rhythm section and only a year ago we found some fellows who played our sound almost perfectly. We‘re glad we found them! They are Vladimir Kondrashov (bass) and Sergey Arnautov (drummer). We hope for long and fruitful work with them.”
I asked them for some funny or particularly interesting stories about the group. Here’s the result:
Yulia – “Once we were invited to play one of the largest video game exhibitions in Russia. It was funny because there was a large stage and an auditorium with everything. We and the organisers put a lot of work into it. But we didn’t perform, the explanation being that we were too loud!”
Masha – “Yes. And it can happen that we end up performing only as models for photo shoots. For example, one time there was this festival for vintage cars. A year later, in one of the magazines, in an announcement for the same festival there was our photo from a year earlier. That was nice. And once there was this guy who jumped onto the stage with us during the song and asked us to stand next to him, saying ‘what you have here is such fun and beautiful’.”
Masha and Yulia quoted the names of individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that they particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia; “The Raw Cats (especially Valery Setkin), the Hi-Tones, Aleksey Lex Blokhin, Denis Mazhukov, Yevgeniy Kudryashov, too many to remember, but all of them are important in their own way and they did a lot for rock’n’roll in Russia.”
They count their biggest musical influences as being the Boswell Sisters and the Andrew Sisters. Now, most of you know about the Andrews Sisters, but if you haven’t heard of the Boswell Sisters, check ‘em out on youtube: They’re an amazing slice of twentieth century music history.
All-time favorite rock’n’roll performers ? Yulia – “for me, Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin.” Masha – “for me, of all the rock’n’rollers, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Louis will always be in first place.” And in answer to my serious question, “if someone put a gun to your head and told you to say your all-time favourite track ? ……. Yulia – “Bang Bang by Janis Martin !” …… Masha – “Bang Bang by Nance Sinatra !”
Regarding the future, “our group is doing all it can to ensure that rock’n’roll will have a future in Russia.” Masha - “I see us on a large stage with an orchestra, everything is glittering and sparkling, it’s filled with people and everyone is there to see us !” Julia – “Of course, sooner or later we’ll conquer the word. But seriously, we will continue to celebrate rock’n’roll in our Marshmallow Universe.”
Catch some of the Marshmallows’ magic yourself. You can see them on Facebook – type “Marshmallows” in the facebook search engine box. Like I said, “Sweet and Hot” !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE MOVIE THAT ROCKED BRITAIN
This month I wanna take time out from telling you about the great things going on in the rockin’ World here in Russia, to take you back to an iconic event in rock’n’roll history. Here in Moscow we organised a special concert to commemorate its anniversary.
In 1956 the first ever rock’n’roll film was made. “Rock around the Clock” was a Columbia Pictures production which was released in the UK later that same year. On 6th December at the Esse Cafe in Moscow I organised, along with the venue owners, a concert to celebrate the film’s UK release all those years ago. Our Moscow event included showing some clips from the movie. The real stars of the concert were the Raw Cats, performing live on stage. Regular readers of this column will remember them, from my glowing comments about them in previous issues. In particular, their leader, keyboards and vocalist, is a Russian rockin’ legend. They are a fantastic group specialising in 1950s’ style rock’n’roll, so there was no better choice to help us pay tribute to the great film. We had a great 1950s’ style night in Moscow ! You can see here some of the photos we took at the concert.
Why celebrate a film in this way ? The following is the story of why the movie was so significant in r’n’r history, especially in Britain.
In the mid-fifties there was a real social (not political) revolution going on. For the first time, an independent youth culture had sprung up in the West. Central to this was the music, Rock’n’Roll. And the movie was one the youth were able to totally identify with. The most significant content in the film were the songs performed. There were many and here are some of the most notable - “Rock around the Clock”, “See you later Alligator” and “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley and the Comets; "Teach You to Rock" and “Giddy up a Ding Dong” by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys; “Only You" by the Platters. These were historic rock’n’roll numbers and for the audiences, seeing these groups perform them in the movie, it made a huge impact.
And this impact was a surprise to nearly everyone. It was only released as a “B’ movie on a small budget. But it was the timing of the movie that made all the difference, right at the start of this “social revolution” I mentioned above. Teenagers at the time went crazy over it. Suffice to say it caused a tremendous response. Most youngsters loved it, whilst many older people saw it as symptomatic of all that was wrong with the new generation.
I first saw the film in the 1970s as a young Teddy Boy. I thought it was brilliant. When watching it, one needs to always keep in mind the time it was made. Some of the dialogue now might seem a bit dated, old fashioned and even tame by today’s standards. But back in the 1950s it was, well, revolutionary in it’s challenging of the established Music Order. Although some of the script in the movie was decidedly “middle class American”, the working class youth in the UK really related to the new musical culture and style on show in the film. This was especially true for the Teddy Boys and Girls.
Following the release of the film in 1956 in the UK, the mayhem and disorder it caused made headlines in the national media. Above all it was the Teddy Boys and Girls causing all the trouble. Newspapers, local and national, reported on the riots throughout the country, especially inside the cinemas where the movie was being shown. Cinema seats were slashed, there were fights between Teddy Boy gangs and the police, you name it ! These are some of the headlines from the newspapers at the time:
“Rock’n’Roll mayhem: 400 riot in cinema”, “Wild mob rock’n’roll into street after cinema riot”, “Raving youths fined after rock’n’roll film”, “Rock’n’roll film has police standing by for riots”, “1,000 rock’n’roll rioters take city by storm” and “Rock’n’roll frenzy brings out police”. To give you an idea how serious these riots were, here’s the beginning of a headline article from the Daily Herald, a national newspaper at the time;
“Teddy Boy ‘Rock” Riot Again – Usherettes trampled – Rock’n’roll crazed rioting – the worst yet – broke out again this afternoon at the Caiety Cinema, in Peter Street, Manchester, where the film ‘Rock around the Clock’ is being shown. A gang of 100 youths stormed down from the balcony to the stalls, seized hosepipes and sprayed the audience. Lighted cigarette butts were thrown from the balcony. A stool also went over. Armed with broken pieces of the stool, youths struggled with police. Light bulbs were snatched down and thrown into the fray. Usherettes were thrust aside and trampled. One was struck on the leg by an exploding bulb.”
This violence was of course indefensible. But it gives an indication of the intensity of this “social revolution” I spoke about above. Britain had seen nothing like this before amongst their younger generation.
Remarkably, if you watch the film you’ll see there is no real violence in it to speak of. The film had a “U” rating i.e. anyone including children can view it. It tells the story of how rock’n’roll was discovered. It is a very fictionalised account, but very entertaining nonetheless. Some of the highlights are the performances of Bill Haley and the Comets, plus some great jive dance sequences. There is even an appearance by Alan Freed, playing himself. Many of you will know Freed’s huge contribution to the birth of rock’n’roll as a promoter, albeit he ended up being disgraced for taking payments for illegally publicising certain records: But that’s another story. In 1956 the film was also ahead of its time in the USA in terms of social progress, in that it showed white musicians performing in the same venues as Black performers.
So this is a story of a low budget B movie that rocked the World. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s a wonderful slice of rock’n’roll history.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE UK ROCKABILLY RAVE – RUSSIAN STYLE !
This month wanna cover a real big event in the UK this year, with a Russian flavour. At this year’s Rockabilly Rave in June, at Camber Sands, one of Russia’s finest all-time bands, the Hi Tones, came over from Moscow to perform.
All the feedback received indicates they went down a storm. It certainly didn’t surprise me, since I’ve been seeing them perform since the inception of the band in 2010. Regular readers of this column will know I did an article about them last year, in addition to doing a review of their CD “I’m gonna leave you” on Sam Records, for this magazine. They’re simply excellent, real raw rockabilly played and performed in the authentic 1950’s style.
They comprise a lead guitar, acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums. They've become hugely popular on the rock'n'roll scene in Russia, particularly amongst the followers of rockabilly. Their leader is vocalist and acoustic guitarist Alexey Schukin. He founded the group in 2010 with the aim of playing authentic 50's music. Alexey says their musical inspiration comes from the likes of Johnny Burnett, the Delta Bombers, Eddy and the Backfires and the Rhythm Shakers.
They were not the first Russian group to appear at the Rave. A few years back, the Neva River Rockets from St Petersburg performed there. And in more recent times, the Moscow band Diamond Hand also performed at the event. But the Hi Tones rank much higher in terms of quality and status in Russian rock’n’roll. The Rockets, to use a football metaphor, were strictly second division. Diamond Hand do qualify as a premier league group, albeit a bit conservative in their style.
The photos of the Hi Tones you can see comprise one taken at the Rockabilly Rave and some at their concert in Moscow at the Esse Café on 15th November.
I arranged to interview band leader Alexey Schukin, to ask him his impressions of the Rave and about the UK. I should add here Alexey is a man of few words who is not given to interviews. He is also blunt and to the point with some of his answers to questions. He kindly agreed to my interview and here’s the result:
I asked him why they went down a storm at the Rave and his response was classic Alexey: “The main reason for this is that we are a really cool band. That’s why.” He saves his best performances for the stage, not for interviews ! I asked him what things he liked best about the Rave, expecting a long list of great performances, but his answer was unusual; “Huge feathered birds, that were walking all over the festival grounds.” How many of you attending the Rave can remember these birds ? I hope someone at the festival performed “Bird is the Word” just for these extra customers. But Alex did tell me which performer impressed him the most; “John Luis. He is our friend and he’s the Best.”
He was complimentary about the UK rock’n’roll scene, based on the band’s brief visit: “I was really impressed that r’n’r life in the UK is very rich and varied. There are lots of people who like this music, plenty of olds cars and motorcycles; and young women – good looking, nice and stylishly dressed.” I’ve lived and worked in the UK, the USA as well as Russia and in my opinion there is no question Russian women are the best looking in the World. So as a Russian Alex’s observation of the young female British women at the Rave is praise indeed ! As for me, my vote still goes to the Russian women !
He found the Brits to be very friendly during the visit, but said there was no curiosity amongst them about Russia. I asked him if anyone asked them about the current happenings in the Ukraine and he replied that he doubted that many of them knew anything about it at all. Now that’s encouraging, it means all the anti-Russian propaganda presently being gurged out in the mainstream Western media is clearly not having a great effect on a large number of people.
Alex singled out Jerry Chatabox, the festival organizer, to say a big Thankyou to him for the way they were treated and looked after during their stay: “We were really impressed by his hospitality and warm welcome.”
He said the most surprising thing about the whole adventure happened at the end: “All the festival was exciting, but the most surprising was that our drummer had to go to the hospital when he got back to Moscow, because of the amount of alcohol he had drunk at the Rave.”
The Hi Tones continue to go from strength to strength. They have a new album shortly to be released on Wild Records in Los Angeles. In April next year they will take part in the Viva Las Vegas festival; “somewhere in the Nevada desert” as described by Alexey.
My final question was to ask him what he thought of our rock’n’roll scene here in Russia right now. He gave me an answer which I cannot repeat in a family magazine like this one ! Aleksey’s opinion of the r’n’r scene differs markedly from my own and from the great majority of Russian rock’n’rollers. Like I said, he is generally a man of few words, which are usually blunt and to the point !
If you weren’t at the Rave, you can have a look for yourself on youtube to see how great the Hi Tones were at the Festival. In the search engine box, type in “Hi Tones rockabilly rave 2014”. For those who were at the Rave, it was an excellent opportunity to see an example of just how good the rockin’ bands are over here in Moscow. And the Rave organisers made a great choice in selecting the Hi Tones to represent Russia !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL DANCE TO THE GUITAR MAN
This month wanna introduce you to a real Russian rock’n’roll icon. He’s one of the most famous guitarists in Russia and has been on the r’n’r scene for nearly 30 years.
He’s Oleg Ivanin and is most famous for his role as lead guitarist for the one and only Great Pretenders, one of the greatest Rockabilly bands in Russian history. He’s played in other groups too and still does. I interviewed him recently to find out more about his illustrious career as well more about the history of Russian rock’n’roll through his own personal experiences.
I believe my summary of the interview (below) will help give you more of an insight, not only about Oleg, but into the history of Russian rock’n’roll.
I began by asking him when and why he first got into rock’n’roll. He advised he’d always enjoyed this style of music and began his career as a guitarist in 1987 playing in an independent rock band named ‘Meeting On The Elbe’. The Band was successful, he joined the ‘Moscow Rock Laboratory’ (an organisation which united the best rock bands of that time), planned to release their first album, etc. They had one number called ‘Meeting On The Elbe’ – it was the first rock’n’roll song he ever performed. He realised in hindsight that he played the song too “jazzily” ! In 1988 due to disagreements with the leader of the group (who wanted to play more pop music) he left the band and was invited to join another group called ‘That’s All Right, Mama’. This band played rockabilly and their vocalist, Oleg claims, had a voice similar to Elvis Presley and looked almost like Mick Jagger ! The bass guitar player was an old friend of his whom he hadn’t seen for 9 years, so that was a nice surprise for him.
I asked Oleg who were the big names in Russian rock’n’roll when he began his rock’n’roll career. He recalled a few performers; Pete Anderson, ‘Mister Twister’ and Denis Mazhukov’s ‘Off Beat’.
I already knew about Anderson’s legendary status in Soviet rock’n’roll. For sure, the name Pete Anderson does not sound very “Soviet” – it’s the name he adopted for himself. Under Communism, Western radio broadcasts were often “jammed” and Western rock music was discouraged through varying degrees of censorship, as well as being criticised in the communist controlled media. Music records and books brought in by travellers from the West were often confiscated at the borders. But through all this, pioneers like Anderson continued to perform and play rock’n’roll.
Here’s a true story about him, with a UK link:
In a previous Russia’n’Roll article, I did a piece on the London Rock’nRoll Show in 1972. It was an iconic event in British r’n’r. All the big names performed at the Show, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bill Haley, you name it they were all there. So was I ! Well, full credit to the organisers of the event, they also invited Pete Anderson to perform at the Event. It would have been a momentous happening. As I mentioned, in 1972 in the Soviet Union examples of western culture like rock’n’roll were officially discouraged and cracked down on. So the fact that Anderson had had the guts to openly adopt and play rock’n’roll was commendable. Plus he was a really good performer. But here’s what happened. On hearing of this official invitation to Pete to perform in London in 1972 at such a prestigious and public event, the Communist authorities banned him from leaving the country to attend it, so the momentous happening never happened. Anderson still has the official invitation letter from the show organisers, framed and displayed in his house ! Anyway, well done Pete, you were one of the pioneers who kept the flag flying for rock’n’roll behind the Iron Curtain in those early days.
Of the other 2 names Oleg mentioned above, Mister Twister and Denis Mazhukov, both are still performing after all these years. Mister Twister are not quite the power-house they were in those early days, but Mazhukov sure is. I’ve already written about him in “Russia’n’Roll” – he’s the king of Russian rock’n’roll !
I asked Oleg what he thought were some of the most important events in Russian r’n’r history. He referred again to the importance of the Moscow Rock Laboratory that organised concerts in the late 1980s, which enabled bands to become popular in Russia. The Laboratory played a key part in developing and popularising the music.
Oleg is a good friend of mine and, not during this particular interview but a few years back, told me something about the early 1990s in Russia after the fall of Communism. At that time the antics of what can only be described as real gangsters were much more prevalent than they were before or since. Here are some facts:
Some members of bands were killed by gangsters in shoot-outs, one was even killed on stage. This lawlessness was not confined to the music business but was part of society generally for that brief period. Things settled down and now such outrages are a thing of the past (with very very few exceptions). But those who lived through those times understandably haven’t forgotten. My response when Oleg told me this was - Thank goodness for Vladimir Putin and law and order !
About the changes in Russian rock’n’roll over the years, Oleg’s analysis is that the repertoire hasn’t changed much, but the quality of the performances has, drastically, due to better commands of the instruments (some Russian rock’n’roll guitarists of the 1980s and early 90s made too many mistakes during the gigs, irritating the audiences). The quality of the sound is much better now, due to good musical instruments being available nowadays in Russia. There are good reasons for this: It was very difficult to buy a professional guitar in the 1980s in the Soviet Union and was extremely expensive – prices for American guitars were comparable to the prices of new cars back then. And it was difficult enough to buy a car in the Soviet Union even if you did have enough money. So Oleg’s conclusion is that the advent of Capitalism has been good for Russian rock’n’roll !
I was particularly interested in Oleg’s role in the Great Pretenders. I’m a big fan of the group and have been following them during the 10 plus years plus I’ve been in Moscow. I asked him what were the reasons for their success and their longevity. Oleg’s assessment is that their repertoire is good – they cover only one version of each song, sorting through dozens of options, plus they play their own stuff, trying to be diverse. He said they’ve been performing for such a long time because they “like to play this wonderful and positive music and just cannot stop doing it !”
I was hoping to get some juicy anecdotes from him about personal differences between members of the Pretenders over the years, so asked him if there had been any difficult periods for the band in this area. Alas, he replied they’d been lucky so far, all members of the group have always been nice guys. What a shame ! But he was able to provide me some amusing anecdotes about his history of working with double bass players with the Pretenders. Here they are, as told by Oleg:
“We had difficulties obtaining double bass players, due to the general shortage of such musicians on the rock’n’roll scene. So we asked one guy to play with us at the gig. He played well but the stand under the strings of the instrument jumped out so he had to stop to fix it, then he calmly tuned the bass and continued to play very confidently but .… played the wrong part of the song. After several minutes all this was repeated, then it happened again and again. I was in shock but the audience was excited, thinking that it was part of the show !
Shortly after that we found another bassist and invited him to the rehearsal before a gig. And he disappeared ! It was minus 27 Celsius in Moscow and we were very nervous for him. He arrived almost at midnight with a double bass split into parts. We had to perform the next day ! Everybody was in shock. But he managed to glue the instrument together and played quite well. Richard, it was Vadim, you remember him maybe ? [yup, I do!] So the Great Pretenders have always had great adventures with their bassists.”
And here’s another one from Oleg worth a listen. It doesn’t involve the Great Pretenders, but does include another bass player:
“In the mid-1990s I had my own project where we played instrumental numbers composed by me, plus pop, rock and rock’n’roll covers. Our drummer was a very famous musician but on one occasion he got fed up waiting for the beginning of the gig. So he entertained himself along with the bassist for an hour or so with two large bottles of vodka and two apples. We performed a very fast song ‘Wild Little Willie’ and couldn’t stop because the drummer continued to play, though he used to tell me that he was too old to play fast numbers ! After five unsuccessful attempts we finally stopped. Our vocalist said to me afterwards that it was a shame and he had never been so upset at a gig before. However my friends came to me after the concert and told me excitedly that the best part of the show was the number where we couldn’t stop ! Nobody was aware that this part of the show had been directed by alcohol !”
Of his rock’n’roll heroes, Oleg again referred back to Pete Anderson. Oleg’s biggest musical inluences ? “Chuck Berry, Shakin’ Stevens, Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Brian Setzer”. All time favourite rock’n’roll performers ? “Elvis Presley, Brian Setzer”. All time favourite song ? - “These Boots Are Made For Walking”.
Oleg is optimistic about the future of rock’n’roll in Russia, because he says so many people in Russia don’t know the music yet. Many friends of his often tell him after the concerts that they couldn’t even imagine beforehand how great rock’n’roll is ! He says “the music is easy to perceive, energetic, very positive – almost everybody likes it.”
The photos you can see comprise the interviewee and the interviewer, plus Oleg performing with the Great Pretenders.
Thankyou to Oleg for a quality interview. Keep playin’ the Great Music, mate !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Comedy King of Rock'n'Roll
At the time of writing this month’s column, Russia is still getting a real bad press over there in the UK. And it’s all Baloney. We rock’n’rollers living in Russia know the truth, which is that the people in Eastern Ukraine are fighting for their freedom. And we are with them 100%. OK, that’s enough of the preaching; just wanted to let you hear the truth that you’re not hearing over there in the West. Let’s move on to the rock’n’roll !
Recently here in Moscow we celebrated the one and only Clown Prince of Rock’n’Roll, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. In September we organised a tribute concert at the Esse Café, to remember and enjoy the wonderful music and talent of the Great Man.
The star performer at the concert was the Russian King of Rock’n’Roll himself, Denis Mazhukov. Regular readers of this column will remember my reviews of him and some of his concerts. He is recognised over here as the country’s biggest rock’n’roll star. His crazy piano style has earned him the same nickname as that of his greatest musical inspiration, the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis – Denis is known as the Russian “Killer.” We had a great night celebrating Hawkins and his music. The photo you can see of Denis was taken at the event (Denis is on the left, yours truly is in the red drapes !).
My last 2 “Russia’n’Roll” columns in this magazine told the story of Screaming Lord Sutch. Sutch’s biggest musical inspiration was Hawkins and some of the greatness of Sutch can be put down to the way he performed in the style of Hawkins.
Regular readers will also probably have worked out by now that I like my rock’n’roll on the wild side. The loudness and on-the-edge nature of the best rockin’ music is one of the many reasons I love rock’n’roll so much. It’s another reason why it’s been my chosen culture for my whole life. And they didn’t come any crazier or wilder than Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Hawkins had an interesting history even before he hit the big time musically. As a young American boxer he won the famous Golden Gloves competition, before joining the special services division of the US army, to perform his brand of entertainment at service clubs throughout the World.
On leaving the army in the early 1950s, he continued his musical career and very soon became known for his eccentric and over-the-top behaviour on stage. He would also wear exotic costumes, such as leopard-skin suits or shining gold cloaks. One of his favourite tricks was to have a coffin on stage at the start of his act. As the music started playing, he would then slowly emerge from the coffin with all the stage lights shining on him. He would also often carry a skull, which seen was smoking a cigarette, in his hand on stage; the skull even had a name, Henry !
Interestingly, the legendary rock’n’roll promoter Alan Freed was involved in helping Hawkins become famous, beginning with making sure his single “She put theWhammy on me” got lots of air play on the radio. Freed was a pioneer in promoting black artists like Hawkins, during a period when there was still lots of segregation in America. He also helped Hawkins by booking him on some of his package tours, as well as giving him parts in the rock’n’roll films he was involved in.
Jay’s big break came with the release of the iconic single “I put a spell on you.” The story of how this legendary record came to be cut is a famous one. Those of you who know this song will especially appreciate this story. Those that don’t, check it out on youtube. It was released in 1956 and became one of the most famous rock’n’roll songs of the 1950s. The original intention was for it to be a ballad. But things changed as the entire band of musicians, as well as Hawkins, got well and truly drunk at the recording session, with liberal quantities of alcohol being consumed at the studio. According to a music journal article written a short time afterwards, “Hawkins screamed, grunted and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon.” It was a fantastic studio recording, but Hawkins passed out after they’d finished it, completely “plastered”. Afterwards he could not remember anything about the session. He had to re-learn the song from the recorded version ! This off-the-wall record was unlike anything else ever recorded and sold over a million copies.
He acquired his stage nickname during the 1950s. His crazy act on stage led one young female in the audience to shout out to him, “Scream, Jay, Scream !”. The “Screamin’ “ tag stayed with him to the end. His greatest period musically was undoubtedly in the 1950s, but he continued performing right into the 1990s and was still able to impress audiences with his outlandlish act. He died in 2000 at the age of 70.
I have a great and comprehensive collection of Hawkins’ records and CDs. Probably my favourite of the bunch is “Cow fingers and mosquito pie”: It’s a wonderful assortment of some of his finest compositions. In addition to the incomparable “I put a spell on you”, the following are tracks I can also play over and over and still enjoy - “There’s something wrong with you”, “Yellow coat”, “Little demon” and “Darling, please forgive me.”
And here’s a special mention of a particular Hawkins’ favourite of mine; “Constipation Blues”, in my opinion one of the funniest songs of all time. If you have time, check it out on youtube and see for yourself !
Like most famous musicians and performers, Hawkins lived an imperfect life. He was a notorious womaniser. All his marriages ended in divorce and when he died it was believed he had fathered around 55 illegitimate children. As time passed, it became clear the figure was closer to 75.
But on stage he was magnificent. He became known as the “Clown Prince of Rock’n’Roll”: There are no ifs and buts about that - he was rock’n’roll’s King of Comedy !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Monster Raving Loony of Rock’n’Roll – Take 2 !
Great things are happening here in Russia, especially in the rock’n’roll world. If you believed the rubbish being said in the Western media about Russia at the moment, you probably wouldn’t realise it. But take it from me, this is a great country and a great place for
rock’n’roll ! What a shame you are not learning the true story about Russia in the Western media, especially regarding the Ukraine.
This month am gonna continue the amazing story of Screaming Lord Sutch. You remember I began it in last month’s issue and this will be the second and concluding episode about his Lordship.
In the last issue, I described a hugely successful tribute concert here in Moscow, in the great man’s honour. It included some of his most famous songs and also a live performance from the legendary Russian group the Raw Cats. This month will concentrate some more on the man’s life both inside and outside of rock’n’roll, as well as detailing some of the darker sides to his character. Remember, this was a real British rock’n’roll legend to whom we should be forever grateful, especially those of us who were privileged to see him perform, in my case in the 1970s.
Sutch was a real pioneer. Already at the beginning of the 1960s he was wearing outrageously long hair before the advent of the Beatles. His garish costumes pre-dated the glam rock style over 10 years later. And his act then had shades of the psychobilly which was to emerge in the 1980s. But throughout his career he stayed loyal to rock’n’roll and made a significant contribution to our great music, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.
Some of the most enjoyable things about his Lordship are the stories about him. There were many and were usually hilarious. Here are just a couple:
In 1969 a friend of his who was a local newspaper reporter got a phone call from him, “It’s Sutch here. Grab a photographer and get yourself down here. My house is on fire – it’ll make a great story !” “Well, OK, David, but by the time I can get round to you the fire will be out.” “No, it won’t.” Why not ?” “I haven’t rung the Fire Brigade yet. I’ve got a bucket of water here – I’ll wait till you arrive so you can take a shot of me pouring it over the flames.” His friend got to the house 20 minutes later and to Sutch’s delight, the story made the front page of the paper. Thankfully the house did not all go up in flames !
In the early 1970s, his friend the music agent Paul Barrett booked him to appear in a barn at a luxury farm in Cambridgeshire, along with Shakin’ Stevens. Here’s how Barrett described what happened;
“All went well until Sutch decided to do ‘Great Balls of Fire’, featuring fire in a bucket which inevitably caught the hay in the barn alight. We saved the house, largely due to a chain of buckets – the fire brigade took ages to get there. There was much distress and many people looking for Sutch (not with the kindest of intentions). As dawn broke we were preparing to leave and I spotted a big old car parked on the edge of a field. There was a figure huddled inside, wearing a Superman T-shirt. It was Sutch. He wound down the window and enquired, “is everything alright, man ?”
His Lordship made a big impact on British rock’n’roll history, but in the UK he is much more famous for something else. In the early 1960s he set up his own political party. It stood candidates at general elections and made him a household name both at home and worldwide for a generation. The party was founded in 1963, when Sutch stood in a bye-election for the seat vacated by the former cabinet minister John Profumo. Those old enough will know of the huge scandal caused when it was revealed that Profumo was having an affair with the prostitute Christine Keeler while he was defence minister, at the same time that she was also having an affair with a Soviet agent in London. All this guaranteed tremendous publicity for Sutch when he campaigned for Profumo’s vacated seat in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Of course his political campaigns were pure comedy and theatre. He christened his new party “the Monster Raving Loony Party”. His campaign slogans comprised things like “I’d rather have one thousand laughs than one thousand votes,” “I stand for the four Rs, reading, writing and rock’n’roll” and “vote for the ghoul, he’s no fool.” He said the Party’s first act if it came to power, would be to build a marble statue of Tommy Steele in Bermondsey High Street. For Sutch this approach worked: Whilst always getting only a derisory number of votes, the publicity he got was huge and he became a sort of political institution. His general attitude towards politicians and politics of “sod ‘em all” resonated with the public, even if his party was too zany and ridiculous for them to vote for. In fact “Sod ‘em All” was the original name of his Party !
Another event which gained him lots of publicity was his association with Cynthia Payne. For younger readers I need to quickly explain; Cynthia Payne became notorious and famous in the 1970 for running probably the most famous brothel in London, whose clientele included some of the upper class echelons of British society. She was jailed for running such an establishment. A few years after her release, she decided she too would stand as a candidate in parliamentary elections. In her case the motive was to give publicity to the campaign to change the sex laws in Britain. Anyway here’s the Sutch connection – he lived for some time in Payne’s house, where all these illegal shenanigans had been going on ! Payne and Sutch struck up a friendship, founded originally on their common link of both being fringe parliamentary candidates.
He provided so much fun and entertainment to so many, but there was a dark side to his character. Even Payne testified to his meanness when it came to giving, especially anything involving money. Nearly all his female relationships ended unhappily. One of his most famous songs, “Jack the Ripper”, had lyrics of humour and levity when describing the evil murderer. In the 1970s, those who lived through that time like myself will remember the appalling serial murders of young women, by a man who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper. During the period of the murders and before the perpetrator was caught, Sutch continued to tour the country singing his Ripper song, thinking of the extra publicity that the murders would give him. It was to put it mildly in extremely bad taste and he suffered the consequences. At some gigs, especially in the area of the country where the murders were occurring, bottles and glasses were thrown at him and he often had to make quick exits for his personal safety. It was another example of Sutch’s insensitivity.
Throughout his life he suffered extreme mood swings, which included bouts of severe depression. It was while he was in such a condition that he committed suicide in 1999. But those of us who saw him perform and listened to his music have a huge amount to be thankful for. Rock’n’Roll, and in particular British r’n’r, would certainly have been the poorer without him. So here’s to his Lordship, the 3rd Earl of Harrow – there’ll never be another like him !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Monster Raving Loony of Rock’n’Roll
This month’s column is dedicated to the wildest British rocker of
them all. He never had a hit record, he didn’t hit the real big time
like Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard. But as those of us who saw him
perform and remember him at his best can testify, his contribution
to rock’n’roll was immense. He was the most outrageous British rocker
we’ve ever had.
July this year we organised here in Moscow a Tribute Concert
to the great man himself, Screaming Lord Sutch. Regular readers of
my column will know that tribute events to great rockin’ icons are a
tradition here in Russia. I myself have been involved in organising them
and was glad to be able to do this one, dedicated to the memory of
In choosing a performer and a group that would be the most
appropriate for such a tribute, that was easy. Valery Setkin from the
Russian group the Raw Cats is the guy who in Russia gets closest to the
Sutch persona. Regular readers of my column will remember my article
on the Raw Cats, which included a description of Valery’s colourful
history and personality. So I booked his band for the concert in July.
It was a wise choice. The event, at the Esse Café in Moscow, was a
huge success. It began with me running my usual jive dance class,
followed by the Raw Cats on stage; there was a great crowd and
wonderful music ! You can see here some of the photos taken at this
His Lordship’s real name was David Sutch and his greatest period
musically was during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the secrets of his
success was the high quality of his backing musicians, something he was
careful to ensure throughout his career. And he certainly got through
a lot of them. The personnel was continually changing. I mentioned in
a previous article about a good friend of mine in the mid-1970s who
was in his band. He waited one evening for Sutch to collect him in his
car outside Sudbury station in north west London, to take him to a gig
they were performing at. After waiting fruitlessly for over 2 hours
my friend gave up and went home. He subsequently found out through
another friend that Sutch had replaced him in the band without telling
him. This was typical of his Lordship !
Another main reason for his success was his outrageous stage shows.
His trademarks were outlandish costumes and themes of blood and
horror. I already reported in a previous article about my seeing him
at the London Rock’n’Roll Show in 1972 at Wembley Stadium. Again
there was the over-the-top costume and the fake blood, coffin,
knife stabbing scene, etc. He was truly excellent at that Show, a real
showman. His set included an incredible female stripper, which I also
described in erotic detail in that article and will not repeat here, but
will never forget !
I saw him a few times during the 1970s when he performed in London.
Coming from London himself, most of his concerts took place in
the capital. At least that’s when he was in Britain; he spent a lot
of time in the USA during this period. Every time I saw him, I was
very impressed. On each occasion, he’d dress up in one of his garish
costumes and perform in an outrageous style. I remember in particular
one gig at the Marquee Club in London I attended – he was just
sensational: Everything was “over the top’ !
One of my favourites of his many costumes, was to see him dressed up
as a crazed Indian Chief with hair down to his waist, with a toilet seat
worn round his neck. Another was his coming on stage inside a black
coffin, pretending he was locked up inside it. Other props included
knives and daggers, skulls and fake dead bodies. The thing was, he
couldn’t really sing that well ! It was his character, personality and
outrageousness that made him special, in addition to the high quality of
the musicians he chose to back him on stage.
He was born in Harrow and adopted the stage name “Screaming Lord
Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow”. Predictably this was shortened in time to
just the first 3 words. Of course he had no aristocratic connections
at all. He came from a north London working class family. I remember
a Russian friend of mine earlier this year telling me how surprised he
was, to find out that Sutch did not come from a titled family ! One of
the ideas for the stage name came from his main musical inspiration,
the legendary Screaming Jay Hawkins. Those of you into rock’n’roll will
know what a genius Hawkins was – a great American entertainer who
could also sing brilliant rockin’ numbers. The influence of Hawkins on
Sutch’s stage persona and style was clear for all to see.
Like I said, he never really came to close to having a hit record. But he
recorded some memorable numbers. If you’ve never heard his version
of “Jack the Ripper”, check it out – it’s an iconic track. Plus another
favourite of mine is “London Rocker” – a crackin’ number, this should
be an anthem for those rockers like me from the capital. 2 others he’s
famous for are “Murder in the Graveyard” and “All Black and Hairy”.
Sutch later became even more famous, as the founder and leader of
the Monster Raving Loony Party. They stood candidates at general
elections and generally enlivened and brought large doses of humour to
politics in the UK. Sadly David committed suicide in 1999. Both these
extra-curricular activities outside of rock’n’roll and the darker side of
his private life, leading up to his committing suicide, are the two areas
I’ll focus more on next month in this column. One thing I can promise
– the second instalment of this piece about his Lordship will be very
juicy and very scandalous !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The First Rock’n’Roll Superstar
Who was the first rock’n’roll star ? No, it wasn’t Elvis, he
came a little bit later. It was none other than the Daddy of
R’n’R – Bill Haley.
On 14th June here in Moscow, we organised a tribute concert to the Great Man. To help make it extra special we booked the Russian King of Rock’n’Roll, Denis Mazhukov. Regular readers of my Russia’n’Roll
articles will know about Denis. He’s acknowledged as the one and only here in Russia.
He’s played with the best, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis for example. If you want some proof of just how good he is, go to youtube and type in “Denis Mazhukov - The Russian King of Rock N Roll -
We're Gonna Move". It’s Smokin’ !
The concert was a special by-invitation-only event, limited to the dancers on my Co-op Jive dance mailing list. I’ve already written in this great magazine about the Co-op Jive free dance co-operative,
but you can find more details at www.coopjive.co.uk. As usual, at the start of the concert I ran a dance class.
Denis Mazhukov has a deep knowledge of the history of the rock’n’roll. Turns out I was glad my speech at the start of the event was brief, as Denis gave a great talk on the history of r’n’r and
Bill Haley’s role in it. He then proceeded to launch, with his great band, into some iconic Haley classics: “Rock around the Clock”, “Mambo Rock”, “See you later, Alligator”, “Crazy Man Crazy”
and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” – they were all there !
Overall it was a wonderful event and a fitting tribute to the the Father of Rock’n’ Roll.
Bill Haley hit the big time even earlier than Elvis. It was in 1954 that he recorded, with his band the Comets, “Rock around the Clock”.
It can be argued this was the song that really kick-started the teenage rock’n’roll revolution. Although not the first r’n’r record ever made,
it was the number that really brought rock’n’roll into the mainstream in America and then around the World. It was adopted especially by rebellious 1950s teenagers, for example the
Teddy Boys in the UK, and became a sort of anthem for them.
The importance of “Rock around the Clock” can be witnessed here in Russia too. Every year in April a big concert is organised in Moscow, inviting the best r’n’r bands in Russia.
The event is always advertised as Rock’n’Roll’s Birthday Party i.e. celebrating the release of Haley’s version of “Rock around the Clock” in April 1954. Like I said, it wasn’t the first
ever rock’n’roll record and the song had even been released by another artist earlier. But it was Haley’s track that heralded the real birth and explosion onto the world stage of our great music.
The decision by the film company MGM to use Haley’s record as the opening and closing music to the film “The Blackboard Jungle” in 1955, made it even more iconic. Many teenagers at that time closely
identified with the teenage characters in the film; not least the British Teddy Boys.
When Haley and the Comets toured the UK in early 1957, they took the country by storm. Most of the public were shocked by the violence witnessed at their UK concerts. Teddy Boys
throughout the country, towards the end of his performances, took to ripping up cinema / theatre seats and throwing them towards the front; in other words, mayhem and rioting. One of my
favourite stories is something Haley did at all his British concerts in 1957. His standard phrase at that time was, “Thankyou for being such a great audience”. Well, he said it at the end of
all those performances in the UK, after the Teds had ripped up the seats, thrown them and generally caused fear and shock amongst the rest of the audience - “Thankyou for being such a great audience”
! To the Teds, Haley represented Rock’n’Roll and the culture they had adopted.
Haley was an unlikely figure to be the first rockin’ superstar. He was already over 30 when he really hit the big time, a bit old to be the first teenage music idol. His background was country music
and until he converted to rock’n’roll, his music was markedly different to his later classic rockin’ numbers.
A crucial element in his success was his band, the Comets. Although they hardly conveyed the image of rebels, unlike for example Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, they were superb musicians and the
quality of their music was clear for all to witness, even for those not into r’n’r. And hats off to the Comets: I’ve seen them live a few times, when they came to the UK in later years. They were
quite old by then, but their sound was still superb and they have to rank as one of the best bands musically in rock’n’roll history.
I also did get to see Bill Haley himself live – once. It was at the 1972 London Rock’n’Roll Show. If you’ve got a good memory, you’ll know I reviewed this show and Haley’s performance in it, in a previous
Russia’n’Roll article. He was definitely past his best by then and showing his age a bit. But the musicianship of the Comets was still excellent and it’s great to be able to say I saw the legend live !
Haley had his demons. His married life was rocky and ended in divorce. He was a heavy drinker and this was reflected in his health and appearance as he got older, as well as probably being the reason
for his premature death in 1981.
But he recorded some of the greatest songs in history. Even after all these years, numbers like “Rock around the Clock”, “See you later, Alligator”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Rip it up”
are a delight to hear. If you don’t believe me, spend a little time on youtube – search out those Haley classics and tell me if they still don’t give the listener a real buzz. They’re the epitome
of rock’n’roll at it’s very, very best.
Those songs, plus the vital role Bill Haley played in music history, should make us forever grateful to the man who “Razzle Dazzled” us, as much as any other rockin’ icon !
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL A Rock’N’Roll Home – In Russia !
This month, wanna take time out from advising you about the great
Russian bands here, to tell you about an iconic venue here in Moscow:
There is a history here in Moscow of attempts to set up regular,
permanent rock’n’roll venues. One of the greatest of these was the
Rock’n’Roll Pub in south east Moscow. Founded by Mikhail Palitskiy, it
was started shortly after I moved to Moscow in 2004, to live and work
here. What a venue ! At weekends it sort of became my second home,
a real outpost of rock’n’roll culture here in Russia. The best Russian
bands used to come and play. As I mentioned in a previous article, in
my opinion the greatest of these was Stressor. They used to come up
from their home town of Tula, south of Moscow, to perform there on
a regular basis: Those were nights to remember ! The décor of the
place was also pure rock’n’roll. For example, all the framed photos and
graphics on the walls were of icons like Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley,
Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Burnette, etc. There were even some Teddy
Boy graphics on the walls, thanks to material I had given to Mikhail !
Unfortunately it didn’t last. The venue owners, believing they could
make more money by adopting different musical styles, changed the
culture and ethos of the place and the Rock’n’Roll pub was no more.
Mikhail tried again at another venue, the Grease Club in central
Moscow – “grease” referring to our rock’n’roll hair styles ! It had a
good 2 years of life with a rockin’ culture, similar to the Rock’n’Roll pub.
But again the owners decided to switch to another style of club and
Grease, like the Pub, after a gallant life died a sorely lamented death.
But a big Thankyou to all those Russian rock’n’rollers who supported
these clubs, which gave us such wonderful times; above all to Mikhail,
without whom it would never have happened.
This leads us on to the main topic of this article: the Rock’n’Roll
events at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow. The café is one of the most
famous in the city for live jazz music. Both local and international jazz
performers appear nightly at the venue. But now the café has also
become a real home for regular rock’n’roll events, especially live music.
In many of my previous articles for this magazine, I’ve reported
on concerts held at the Café and the venue has established itself
as one of the premier locations for r’n’r in the city. I talked to the
owner, Grant Khandzhyan, and asked him how the establishment and
development of rock’n’roll at the club came about. I also tried to find
(even with the assistance of his wife, Tamara !) some juicy stories
about Grant, that I could share with you in this article. Alas, Grant is
the original “Mr Straight Arrow”, squeaky clean with no skeletons in his
cupboard. What a shame !
Q: What was the date of the first rock’n’roll concert at New Esse ?
A: The first rock’n’roll concert took place at the Esse Café in central
Moscow, shortly after it opened its doors to the public in August 2011.
While the first dance classes at our other Esse Café in east Moscow,
if I am not mistaken, celebrated their 6th anniversary at Esse in
February of this year. As I remember, the first rockin’ bands to play
at the Cafe were Vladimir Pankratov and Real Hot BBQ, followed by
The Raw Cats.
Q: What was yours and Grant’s inspiration for setting up this rock’n’roll
A: Richard Hume !
Q: How long have you been into rock’n’roll ? What were the main
reasons for your getting into it ?
A: Always loved the music. And the short answer would be- to
prove that rock’n’roll is alive over here ! The longer one is, many
circumstances coincided: I met Richard several years ago and realised
that there is a community in Moscow that adores this music. All these
things inspired me to start this Project at our venue.
Q: Who are your favourite rock’n’roll legends (thinking here about
people like Elvis, etc.) ?
A: Apart from the great Elvis, I would name Jerry Lee Lewis and Little
Q: Who are your favourite Russian rock’n’roll groups ?
A: "The Secret" - a beat quartet, "Bravo" and " Neschastny Sluchai"
were my favourite bands in 80's. I still enjoy listening to them every
now and then.
Q: Why is the Café such a great venue for rock’n’roll concerts ?
A: Convenient location, close to the metro, a cosy, yet professional
scene. A hall that can be fully transformed into a dance floor (we
usually remove the chairs and tables for the period of these concerts).
And also the audiences, comprising all the age ranges, find it more
attractive to visit such places, different from the noisy, down-market
and packed pubs. Although we've often had noisy and packed parties,
Thankyou Grant, for actively helping and supporting our great
rock’n’roll Culture ! A Big Thanks also to his wife Tamara, who has also
been active in her powerful support of Rock’n’Roll in Russia. To find out
more, you can visit the Café’s web-site at www.jazzesse.ru
And finally, Grant and Tamara’s support of rock’n’roll is one of genuine
sacrifice. As the owner of the Café, Grant makes much more money
from his jazz concerts. But he runs rock’n’roll events, for considerably
less money, all in the cause of supporting rock’n’roll in Russia. Nice one,
All the photos were taken at the rock’n’roll events at the café.
The sixth photo is one of all the staff who work at the café –
Grant is the one behind the piano in the light coloured shirt on
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Wildest Cat
Here in Moscow we rock’n’rollers revere our legends. And there are fewer more iconic than one of the wildest r’n’r cats of them all – Gene Vincent. And so on 30th March we held a tribute concert to celebrate the great man.
To complement the genius that was Vincent, we arranged for one of Russia’s greatest bands, the Coral Reefs, to perform at the concert. Regular readers of this column will remember them from my articles. They’re a truly brilliant band, playing great dance music with a heavy dose of rock’n’roll. The evening included video clips of Vincent at his best, plus the DJ for the evening (Dan) played many of his greatest songs. It was a wonderful night, a fitting tribute to Gene.
The story of Gene Vincent is one of the most epic in rock’n’roll history. It rises to the level of a Greek Tragedy. A performer so blessed with talent who shone like a unique bright star, who refused to look after himself (or those around him) and ended up at the end as a sad parody of his former greatness. But there were 2 years in particular, from 1956 to 1958, when he had arguably a greater period than any other rock’n’roller. Both the film clips of that time plus the music confirm this.
He was one of the artists who defined the rock’n’roll era. Along with his legendary group, the Blue Caps, he recorded some of the greatest records of the Fifties. No words written here can convey the loyalty and passion which this imperfect man stirred up in people who became lifelong devotees of his music.
In terms of his rock’n’roll career, the first pivotal moment occurred while he was still in the US Navy. He was a despatch rider and in July 1955 was involved in a collision, when another vehicle jumped a red light. He was thrown from his motor bike and sustained a severe injury to his left leg. His leg was almost severed, from just above his shin. Subsequently he didn’t look after the leg properly and it developed into an even more serious disability, which was to affect the rest of his life.
The doctors treating him after the accident recommended amputation, but Vincent refused this solution. It turned out to be a bad decision and he was to live with severe pain for the rest of his life. Twice more during his life he was on the verge of agreeing to amputation of the leg, but again walked out of the hospital just prior to the planned operations. Maybe the major reason for bottling out of these subsequent operations was his belief that it would mean the end of his rock’n’roll career.
One consequence of this physical pain was his resort to alcohol and pills for relief. This only exacerbated his problems and led to rapidly declining health which killed him prematurely in 1971, at the age of 36.
Gene really hit the big time in 1956. Aided by the huge success of hit singles like “Be Bop a Lula” and “Blue Jean Bop”, the legend was born. Crucial to this success during the 2 years from 1956 to 1958 was his backing group, the Blue Caps. They superbly complemented Gene’s manic style on stage, with their own wild performances. Alongside the brilliant music and concerts, came the wild life style off-stage, mainly alcohol-fuelled, with wrecked hotel rooms, scandalous parties involving desirable young women, wrecked automobiles, being par for the course for Vincent and his band. During this 2 year spell, there was a big turnover of personnel in the band: Partly this was due to some of the musicians deciding they’d had enough of this physically exhausting decadent life-style. Although personally I wouldn’t have minded 2 years of it !
All this high (or should I say low) life took its toll. The record company Gene was signed to (Capitol) decided to give more of its time to the likes of Sinatra, Peggy Lee, etc., as being much safer bets. The Blue Caps disbanded after Gene refused to pay them and the American Federation of Musicians revoked his license to perform. At the end of all this, it seemed his career was kinda washed up in terms of any more stardom.
But in 1959 he was invited to perform in the UK. The instigator of this was the legendary Jack Good, and he was mainly responsible for the resurrection of Gene’s career. And what a resurrection. Carefully coached by Good, Gene adopted the all-black leather look and the bad guy image on stage, to great effect. He appeared regularly on TV and headlined rock’n’roll package tours in the UK. He was once again a mega-star.
But perhaps inevitably, again things started to sour for him fairly quickly. Another pivotal event occurred in 1960, which was the car crash he was involved in. He was travelling in a cab with Eddie Cochran from a gig in Bristol to London. Tragically the great Eddie, a real rock’n’roll hero, was killed and Gene’s leg was damaged still further. The loss of Cochran also personally affected him very badly. Although a bit of a wild liver himself, Eddie had been somewhat of a stable influence on Gene and had deterred him from some (not all !) of the wilder excesses from earlier days. Witnesses at the time say Cochran was more or less the only person Vincent would really listen to and take advice from.
To try and alleviate the additional searing pain he now suffered from the leg, he increased his intake of alcohol and pills. The shows he had put on in the UK up to this point had been truly memorable, but from now on they would be disappointing and a shadow of his former greatness. He also became much more cynical generally, took to carrying a gun around with him. He was involved in a number of female relationships, all of which ended in failure.
In 1968 in a hotel in Germany, Gene Vincent tried to shoot Gary Glitter. All his shots missed and the petrified Glitter fled Germany the following day. I guess in view of what we learned later about Glitter and his appalling moral behaviour, very few people will have any sympathy for Gene’s target that day.
From the mid-60s until his death in 1971, Gene continued to perform but he was no longer great and these performances were testimony to the level of his decline. The cause of his death – sudden liver failure – was a further indication of how heavily he had been drinking for so long. In the period leading up to his death, he was over-weight and in very poor health, looking much older than his age. All his marriages and female relationships had failed and he died alone with little money to his name.
Those that got to know him personally during his life give mixed opinions about him as a person. Some describe him as a kind, polite individual, others give an opposite analysis of him. The consensus is that it all depended on the mood he was in and how much he’d been drinking at the time.
Interestingly, after his death he became a sort of rock’n’roll “martyr” to many rockers and is still revered by devoted fans. I can remember personally being caught up in this Gene Vincent “martyr” syndrome in the 1970s and revering him as the one and only. One can understand why – in his heyday he was truly magnificent. If ever the term “flawed genius” could be applied to a performer, it would be Gene Vincent.
So here’s to the man who truly was and is still to so many a legend. As the title to one of his most famous songs bears witness, he was the ultimate “Wild Cat”.
Re-printed from Maggie's Blue Suede News
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Quasar of Rock’n’Roll !
Who is the King of Rock’n’Roll ? The answer to this question amongst rock’n’rollers is not universal, but of course most will come up with the name of the boy from Tupelo, Elvis Presley.
But not according to one of the wildest icons in r’n’r history. Little Richard claimed he was the brightest star of them all. But more of that later. On 23rd February we organised a tribute concert here in Moscow, to celebrate the legend that is Little Richard and his great music.
I began the evening with a rock’n’roll dance class. During the evening we played Richard’s most famous songs. And before the band came on stage, I gave a brief speech celebrating the legend. We all gave him a big cheer and round of applause in his absence !
Then on stage, legends from Russia; the one and only Coral Reefs (“Korallovie Reefiy” in Russian), one of the most famous music bands in Russia. Regular readers of this column will know something about them from my previous articles; their style is rock’n’roll with a dose of swing. They predictably put on a superb show, rocking the joint from their first number to their last. Overall, a great evening !
Now back to the Man himself. I confess to a bias here. Little Richard was my first ever rock’n’roll hero. I thought (and still think) he was magnificent. There was also something different about Little Richard, compared to the other top iconic legends of rock’n’roll. I’m talking about Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. In previous “Russia’n’Roll” columns in this magazine, I’ve documented how in their different ways these 3 legends had a dark side; in addition to detailing more importantly why they were truly Great. But Richard, in addition to being in my opinion at least equally as great, was also essentially a nice guy. And also to say eccentric would be putting it mildly; he was a real crazy banana ! But the history shows he did not have the skeletons the others had.
I saw him live more than once in my youth. My biggest memory of him was at the London Rock’n’Roll Show in 1972 (again, I wrote about this fantastic event in a previous column). For me, he should have been top of the bill that night – he was brilliant, performing “with all the brakes off” !
Film clips from the 1950s indicate he was even greater then, when he was in his prime. At that time he always seemed to be wearing suits 2 sizes too big for him with an outrageously huge pompadour on top – fantastic ! I mentioned in a previous article the role of Little Richard and Chuck Berry in the 1950s, in helping to bridge the racial divide socially with their rock’n’roll successes. Although neither were overtly political, they are to be congratulated for their contribution in this area.
And it was in the 1950s, in 1957 at the height of his fame and popularity, that Richard took the most fateful decision of his life:
He quit rock’n’roll. Legend has it that while travelling on a plane in Australia during his concert tour there, the aircraft was hit by lightning. The pilot had to make a forced landing. Richard believed this was a message from God. His next step was to stand on the Sydney Harbour bridge and throw all his expensive rings (which have always been a trademark of his) away. For him this was an act of ridding himself of the devil.
Yes folks, he got religion big time. And let’s face it, there are many, many worse things one can choose to do. He dedicated his life to Christianity, not only preaching but also making many gospel albums.
But he did make a comeback a few years later, albeit the music continued to take a back seat to his religion. His music became mixed with other influences, not just rock’n’roll and these were the kind of concerts I saw him perform live in. But as we say where I come from, he was still the business.
Oh yeah, one more thing about that 1972 concert …………
I’ve heard more than one rock’n’roll purist from that time being very critical of his performance at Wembley stadium. I totally disagree. He was a bit different from the Richard of old for sure, but the outrageousness on stage only added to the act for me. But that’s one other great thing about our great r’n’r culture – we can have different opinions !
Elvis is frequently referred to as “the King”. During his comeback years, Richard labeled himself the “Quasar”. Quasars are the brightest objects in the Universe, so the implication was that HE was the real King of Rock’n’Roll. Many would disagree with this – but I’m not so sure.
And surely all of us can give him credit for being the original singer of the most memorable line of lyrics in r’n’r history – “A WOP-BOP-A-LOO-BOP, A-LOP-BAM-BOOM” !
Finally, all you guys and gals have been seeing and hearing a lot about Russia in the media lately. Well, here’s a message from we rock’n’rollers here in Russia: We support our rockin’ brothers and sisters in the Crimea and in Eastern Ukraine. We support rock’n’roll and not pro-fascist governments like the one in Kiev, Ukraine !
This month let me take you for a walk on the wild side of rock’n’roll in Moscow. Let me introduce you to the Beat Devils.
The Devils are a 3 piece band and their style of rock’n’roll is what we’d call neo-rockabilly, somewhere between rockabilly and psychobilly. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know, but I love it and there is no doubt they are exceptional at what they do. On stage, one of their distinguishing features is their sheer energy and commitment. This, combined with fine musicianship, has made them extremely popular in Russia for a long time now. They command a regular following whenever they perform in Russia. Beat Devils’ concerts are a real event. Their regular crowd of followers really get into the spirit and vitality of the music and the whole thing generates a huge amount of noise and excitement.
Since the foundation of the group in 2001, their composition has changed little. And in 2004 the line-up became the same as it is now; which is Mike Bogdanov - double bass, Andy Loug – guitar and Teo Nikolaev – drums.
Although not a household name in the UK, on the continent they are well known and have toured extensively in Europe since their beginnings in 2001. They’ve been on many European tours both in Eastern and Western Europe. This year they have 2 more European dates still to come on their list of gigs – one in Finland, then a month later in Holland.
Loug has told me many stories about their adventures on their European visits. Here is one of my favourites:
On one of their Euro tours in 2011, in Amsterdam, when they were leaving the hotel after a show the backdoor of the car opened suddenly, and Loug’s guitar slid from the car. They didn’t notice it until they were almost outside the city. So they drove all the way back, and ended up being devastated as they were unable to find it. But then a local homeless man (a genuine beggar) turned up and gave them back the guitar. He’d picked it up from the floor and was keeping it for them, for when they returned ! So Loug asked the poor, homeless man what he would like for this kind deed. The beggar replied by telling Loug that if he could give him 10 Euros to buy a decent beer, that would be just great ! When re-telling the story, Loug always says, “my guitar is worth 10 Euros more now.”
By the way, based on the band’s extensive experience playing in Europe, some of you holidaying on the continent might find this information useful: Loug says, “we’ve played a few times in Belgium. And in the town of Mons they have the best local beer we’ve ever tasted !”
Most of the songs they perform are their own compositions. In addition to their high octane energy, another distinguishing feature of their songs is the quality of their lyrics - they generally have a message in them and the quality of the writing is excellent. The creation of the songs is a real, co-operative effort between all 3 group members, although the lyrics are written by Loug. As the names of their own songs would mean little to UK readers, here’s some of the cover versions they perform:
Feel So Lonely (Boppin Kids cover), Long Black Shiny Car (Mike Page, Restless cover), Whole Lotta Rosie (ACDC billy-remake), Mad at You (Batmobile cover) and Tainted Love (all-time cover). Plus they’ve made a few CDs. The last one was “Another dream” on Jet Noise records.
On the subject of neo-rockabilly, it’s a never ending argument within rock’n’roll as to whether the genres like psycho, neo-rockabilly, etc., are part of the rock’n’roll family. Well I am not a “purist”. As far as I’m concerned we’re a broad church and (as long as you keep out Showaddywaddy !) we should embrace these different styles. Our Rock’n’Roll is a living, growing culture.
Have a look at the Beat Devils yourself and see what you think. Go to youtube and type in “Beat Devils @ Radio City”. Or go to their web-site at www.beatdevils.ru
One final thing about the band; although you couldn’t tell from the manic, frenetic style they adopt on stage, all 3 are real nice guys. There’s no airs and graces about them at all, just down to earth regular blokes. So here’s to the Beat Devils - satanically superb !
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE GREATEST MARCH IN ROCK'N'ROLL HISTORY
This month, wanna take you back to a time before I moved to live and work in Moscow. The year is 1976 and an event took place in London which has not been equaled before or since in rock'n'roll history. I know – I was there.
Despite the great rock'n'roll Revival of the 1970s, there wasn't one radio show on the BBC dedicated to rock'n'roll at that time. It was a real scandal as far as we rock'n'rollers were concerned. Especially as the BBC dominated pop music on the radio at that time – all the pirate stations had long since been banned and only a small number of independent stations, like Capitol Radio, were allowed to operate. Credit to Stuart Coleman, who was the main instigator of the campaign to get a rock'n'roll radio show on the air. As a result of the hard work by him and others, the word went round the country amongst the rock'n'roll community that there was to be a march in London, to try and persuade the BBC to give us what we wanted. This preparatory work went on for nearly 2 years prior to the March, and it paid off – on the day the organising of the event was really excellent.
The proposed march was very much in keeping with the spirit of the times. There were many political demonstrations during that period and so the concept of a rock'n'roll demo really caught the public's imagination. A petition was also organised, which eventually garnered around 50, 000 signatures.
So the great day arrived. On 15th May 1976 thousands of rockers, mainly Teddy Boys and Girls, descended on London from all over the UK, meeting at Hyde Park for a march to BBC Broadcasting House in White City, London. What surprised many of us present, was the sheer size of the crowd. Estimates vary, but it's probably fair to say around 6,000 turned up. Amazing ! A lot of us present didn't realise there were that many Teds in the country !
Unlike many of the political demonstrations of that time, the atmosphere at this event was brilliant; good natured, plenty of banter and a real sense of camaraderie. Here are just a few of my favourite memories from that day:
A really old woman wearing a Confederate uniform and carrying a Confederate flag – bizarre ! The Flying Saucers on a lorry, providing us with musical accompaniment on the march – well done, guys ! And that master showman, Screaming Lord Sutch, wearing a leopard skin leotard and gold coloured top hat – brilliant ! Turns out, to help publicise the event Sutch had planned to sail a piano down the Thames. But when he pushed it in, it
sank ! Sutch was a real one-off. What a character ! I remember when I worked in north west London many years ago, I had a good friend who played in his band. One night my friend had to wait at an agreed location in Sudbury, for Sutch to pick him up to take him to a gig. My friend waited 2 hours, then gave up and went home. He found out afterwards Sutch had sacked him from the band and replaced him with someone else, but hadn't bothered to tell him. My friend only found out he'd been sacked through a third party !
In the evening, a huge concert was organised at Pickett's Lock. The stars were the Flying Saucers and Crazy Cavan, in addition to the Hell Raisers. Now here's the thing:
Having done my duty and attended the march, I missed the best fun of the day, which was the concert. At that time in my life I was very political, a real leftie. Later that day there was a big anarchist (as I remember) event and once again I felt duty called, so at the end of the march I very reluctantly left my fellow rockers and headed off for it. By all accounts the Pickett's Lock concert was excellent. One of my favourite CDs in my personal collection is “Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers at the Pickett's Lock” – a great record of a gig I wasn't at !
And the end result of all this ? Yes, the BBC gave us a rock'n'roll radio programme. Appropriately it was hosted by Stuart Coleman. But it didn't last forever. If memory serves, I think it went on for 3 years before the Beeb cut it from it's schedules. But it was worth it. This was a pivotal event in the rock'n'roll Revival of the 1970s. It got great coverage in the mass media at the time.
Fast forward to 2014 and how many real rock'n'roll national music programmes have we got now on the BBC ? You know the answer to that, folks. Having paid the Beeb license fee all my life, up until I moved to live and work in Russia 10 years ago, after all these years it's stills frustrating, albeit less so now that I live in another country. Why has significant rock'n'roll coverage been shunned by the BBC for so many years ? If you have your own ideas about this, why not write to the MBSN editor about it. One of my views is that rock'n'roll is a bit too working class for the Beeb and not “trendy” enough for them.
To be fair to the Corporation, they haven't always got it wrong when it came to pop music. My generation still remembers with nostalgia the iconic “Top of the Pops” on the TV, during the period from the 60s to the 70s. That show even included a little bit of rock'n'roll now and again - for example, Matchbox and also Shakin' Stevens' “poppy” brand of r'n'r, in the 1970s. My generation will also remember the impressive “Saturday Club” on the radio at the weekends, during the same 60s / 70s period. But the lack of significant rock'n'roll on the airwaves has to rank as a blemish on the Beeb's musical history. All we were marching for back then was just one weekly radio programme playing real rock'n'roll; we weren't asking for the World !
Above all, Well Done to all those who turned up to march on 15th May 1976 – I hope some of you are, like me, still Rockin' !
This month let me tell you about who I think is the greatest rock'n'roll group in Russian history – in my opinion.
The group was Stressor, from the city of Tula, south of Moscow. I say was, even though the band still exists. But the one I'm talking about lasted up to 2010. Let me tell you about how great they were and then explain what happened in 2010.
The band formed in 1993 and I started going to see them after I came to live and work in Moscow in 2004. They used to come regularly to Moscow from Tula to perform. They were sensational. Their set usually comprised 2 different styles: The first half would be rock'n'roll and then after a break they'd perform a set closer to psychobilly. They'd wear different outfits for each set: The first would see them sporting sharp drape jackets, then the second they would be wearing things like prison uniforms and the like.
When I brought over Furious, the Teddy Boy group from Liverpool, to perform in Moscow in 2010, I booked Stressor to appear on the same bill. This was one of the very last ever concerts by Stressor, before the split which occurred very soon after. The photos you can see were taken at this event.
All 4 members of the band were special. The line up was Andrey Rubliov (vocals), Taras Savchenko (guitar), Dima Bikov (contra bass), Max Kiriushkin (drums). Their performances on stage could take your breath away. The music was generally 100 miles an hour, with all 4 displaying showmanship and charisma. I have never seen a better group in any country, including the UK, in that particular style of rock'n'roll.
As I mentioned above they'd come up to Moscow from Tula on a regular basis. Their Moscow gigs were usually at the Rock'n'Roll Pub – a venue which sadly is no more. I'd make a point of trying to keep those dates free on my calendar, so I could go and watch them.
They made 3 CDs. Of the 3, my favourite was and is “”Russia'n'Roll” and yes, the name was the inspiration for the name of this humble monthly column in this great magazine ! There are some tremendous tracks on this CD, most of which have Russian lyrics. It was released in 2007 on TCY Records.
The band's own prolific compositons sometimes had English lyrics, sometimes Russian: The great majority of the tracks on their CDs were their own songs. The last CD (by the original Stressor that is) was “Burn Out” released in 2008 by Crazy Love Records – another smokin' piece of work. Some of the tracks on these CDs are quite simply awesome. For example, “Surfin' Bird” on Burn Out – best version of this number ever. And “Wolfman” on the same CD, is one that can be played over and over and still give you a buzz. “Sinty Shoes” on Russia'n'Roll is similar in its impact.
They toured extensively on the continent of Europe and had a big following wherever they went. Then in the summer of 2010 came the end of the original Stressor. The group split into 2. The rift was not an amicable one. Taras Savchenko (guitar) and Dima Bikov (contra bass) left the band and formed a new group, The Magnetix. Andrey Rubliov (vocals) and Max Kiriushkin (drums) got replacements for Taras and Dima and still perform under the band's original name. Their differences leading up to the split came to a head during recording sessions in the studio, for what was meant to be their next CD. There were serious arguments between the band members during these sessions. It culminated in the break up of the group. Some of the material recorded in those sessions became the basis of the first CD released by the Magnetix, Taras' and Dima's new group.
Rock'n'Roll history teaches us that the reason for most groups breaking up is, unlike the propaganda they put out about, for example, “artistic differences”, “we went as far as we could go musically”, etc., etc., the real pretext was personal i.e. they couldn't stand each other any longer ! However all the evidence in the Stressor split points to this one bucking this trend. The conflicts were artistic ones, to do with the way they wanted to go musically and the role of each member in the band. For example, Taras had felt frustrated at not being given more opportunities to use his vocal skills.
What is not in contention is that the 2 groups formed out of one, the new Stressor and the Magnetix, both turned out to be top quality bands. They both still perform both inside Russia and in Europe. They are in great demand and both command big followings. They even appear on the same bills at some music festivals throughout Europe.
But nothing could be quite as great as the original Stressor. I consider myself very fortunate to have seen them in their prime. In the same way that in the 1970s I was real glad to have been able to see groups like Crazy Cavan as well as the Flying Saucers in their heyday, so it is with Stressor. And I'm talking about the 1970s Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers, not the very pale imitation of their former selves that they are today on stage. You cannot say that about Sandy Ford from the Flying Saucers today – that man still has star quality in buckets: I tried hard without success to bring him to Moscow to perform. But I am digressing from my story !
The differences between the 4 original members have healed over time. There is no animosity between them, although they don't like to talk about the details surrounding the split. I got the chance to talk to them a bit at the Moscow gigs when they were the original Stressor and all 4 impressed me as nice blokes; good characters with a sense of humour.
Catch some of the old Stressor magic yourself. Go to youtube and type in “STRESSOR - I'm Mad at You” (the Stressor official version) or “STRESSOR – Planet Zero”. So I guess my column this month is a tribute and a Thankyou to a group who gave so many Russian rock'n'rollers so many great memories. In my humble opinion guys, you were “simply the best”.
Towards the end of 2013, on 30th November, one of the biggest musical events of the year took place in Moscow. It was the return of an iconic Russian group.
The Coral Reefs (in Russian it's Korallovie Reefiy) are Russia's and Eastern Europe's greatest swing and neo-swing band. Their repertoire includes a large dose of rock'n'roll. On 17th November 2012 they performed a farewell concert in Moscow. I was at that concert and ran a dance class at the start of the show. The reason for the farewell was that the main stars of the band decided to form a new group “Via Gagry”, in a new musical style. This style was very different to that of the Reefs. The best way to describe the “Gagry” sound to UK readers, is to say it's more traditionally Russian. The name Gagry is derived from the name of a popular tourist resort in the south during the years of the Soviet Union – it was a symbol of vacationing, fun and retro romance !
This past year has been a successful one for Via Gagry. Their concerts in Russia have been well attended and this new musical venture has been a big success. However, in October this year we heard the good news ………. The Coral Reefs were returning !
Those with good memories may remember the article I wrote in my “Russia'n'Roll” column back in the October 2012. That article described how big the Reefs were in Russia. Since then the line-up of the band has undergone change, but the essential elements are still there. Kir Sukhomlinov, the band's leader and vocalist, is still the main driving force on stage. Mikhail Deryabin, the only original member of the Reefs when the group began in 1998, remains the creator of their own compositions. After 6 years, in 2004 the musical style of the band changed, to what we in Russia recognise as the Coral Reefs' sound today. Their line-up features keyboards, lead guitar, bass guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone and drums.
I have one qualm. The fabulously beautiful Eleanora Ayrapetyan, their former bass guitarist, is no longer in the line-up. What a shame - with her stunning looks (as well as her instrumental skills), she added an important element to the group. But I guess you can't have everything. The rise and increase of more female personnel in rock'n'roll groups is an issue maybe for a future discussion. But long may it continue to grow I say, especially if they are anywhere near as gorgeous to look at as Eleanora !
The concert took place at the Radio City Club, one of the most well known in Moscow. Once again I ran a dance class at the start of the show. Then to a packed house (and I mean packed) on stage, it was the return of the Reefs ! Better than ever, they rocked the joint from start to finish. Plus, a pleasant surprise was a change in their style; even more rock'n'roll oriented than before - “that'll do for me, Tommy”, as Bobby Ball used to say ! The vast majority of their set comprised their own compositions.
Overall it was a night to be remembered. To give you an idea of just how good the Reefs are, you can go to their web-site at www.rify.ru and click on the video link.
Welcome back to the Coral Reefs – keep on rockin' the joint, guys ! Richard Hume
RUSSIA'N'ROLL The Greatest (rock'n'roll) Show on Earth !
This month, wanna take you back to a time before I moved to Russia. The year is 1972.
On 5th August, at the old Wembley stadium, the London Rock'n'Roll show took place. It was an epochal event, not just for those who were Teds, but for all UK fans of our great music. In my opinion, it helped towards kick-starting the 1970's rock'n'roll Revival. In other words, it was a huge event in UK rock'n'roll history.
When I arrived at the stadium, attired in my drapes and creepers, what surprised me (and many others who told me the same afterwards) was the sheer size of the crowd. We realised it wasn't just us who were crazy about our wonderful music ! A magic moment early on was when we were all given the “green light” to leave the stands and go onto the pitch area of the stadium. Like Scottish football fans of bygone years, we invaded the pitch en masse, getting ourselves a birds' eye view near the stage !
The billing was a who's who of rockin' icons. But the proceedings began inauspiciously, with Heinz performing on stage. Heinz, a protégé of Joe Meek, was one of those early 1960s “pretty boy” types, who used to sing bland, poppy numbers. On stage he murdered Cochran's great hit, “C'mon everybody”. Still, it was good to get him out of the way early.
Then something to behold and savour; Screaming Lord Sutch. Before he appeared, gorgeous females in bikinis carried a coffin onto the stage to the sound of raucous music. Hundreds of pigeons were released out of cages near the stage. Then Sutch appeared out of the coffin, dressed up like a werewolf, complete with knife, hat, fake blood and make-up; brilliant ! But more was to come. Between excellent rock'n'roll numbers and more outrageous antics on stage, including great dancing from the bikini clad females, the Stripper appeared. With an introduction from Sutch, she proceeded to take everyone's mind off the music (or at least for all the males present) with one of the most erotic stripteases I've ever witnessed. Errrr, not that I'm a connoisseur in these matters, you understand. Sutch's whole set was sensational and he got a thoroughly deserved standing ovation from us. And there was still Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry to come !
Up next was Bo Diddley. I've always liked Diddley, but never raved over his live performances. To me they were a bit one dimensional. But fair play, the guitar sound was as good as ever.
Then the Killer. Dressed all in red, Jerry Lee Lewis was high octane from first song to last. Plenty of movement, including the signature feet on the keyboards. Smokin' !
Next up, Bill Haley and the Comets; the Comets never failed to impress with the quality of their musicianship. I saw them a few times many years after 1972 and they still had it. But gotta be honest, Bill looked a little bit past his best by 1972; but still, a quality set, great to see the legends.
Then one of the biggest highlights of the show for me - Little Richard. Crazy and wild as he ever was, terrific ! The culmination was his final number, “Jenny, Jenny”: He ended it by jumping up onto his piano and stripping to the waist, throwing his garments to the crowd. Then he leaped into the audience, to the delight of all of us present. He'd have got my vote for being top of the bill.
But the actual top of the bill was the Chuck Berry. A fine choice. He banged out his most famous numbers, with his customary energy and movements, duck walk and all. That concert was the first time I personally heard his rude lyrics version of “reelin' and a rockin”; certainly took me by surprise ! Then half way through this particular number, the electricity serving the sound system conked out ! The Great Man didn't blink an eye. As soon as the power was restored he was off again, 100 rockin' miles an hour.
After Chuck, that was it - the end of a legendary concert. For me it was a privilege to have been there. My Russian rock'n'roll friends here in Moscow can only get to see such legends when they're well past their heyday, when they come to perform in Russia. The Communist Party in charge in the Soviet Union in the 1970s would never have allowed such decadent Western culture to “corrupt” their youth !!
For those of us who were young in the 1970s and part of the rock'n'roll Revival, that concert was something very special. For some of us, it was indeed “The Greatest Show on Earth !”
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Chuck Berry – still Motorvatin' – in Moscow !
In the world of rock'n'roll, probably no performer has made a bigger contribution to the cause than Chuck Berry. The stories about him are legion. And here's where the Moscow connection comes in ………
In 1997 Berry made his first appearance in Moscow. There was a huge crowd to see him. Playing the keyboards and supporting him on stage that evening was Denis Mazhukov. Regular readers of this column will remember my article on Denis earlier this year; he's a real rock'n'roll icon here in Russia. And he will freely tell you the 2 biggest musical influences on him have been Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. You can see that 1997 concert on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBTLfxVoesA
And on 23rd November we organised a Chuck Berry tribute concert, which included Denis Mazhukov performing on stage. The 23/11/13 show took place at the Esse Jazz Café in Moscow. After a few words from yours truly introducing the event, it began with a film of Chuck followed by some of his music. As usual at such events, I ran a jive dance class and all the music tracks I used were Chuck Berry classics. Then Denis Mazhukov came on stage, with his band. In my previous article on Denis, I focused on his keyboard skills. But he is also an accomplished guitarist and played many Berry songs with his guitar that night; here's just a few he did –
Sweet little rock'n'roller, Roll over Beethoven, Promised Land, Johnny B Goode, Sweet little sixteen and Schooldays.
A great night ! And it was a privilege to have Denis playing for us in addition to him being the link to Berry, as the one who played with him at that 1997 concert.
Since his first Moscow concert 16 years ago, Berry has returned to Moscow more than once. His second last concert in Moscow was in February of this year. But gotta be honest, Chuck is really showing his age now and it was clear at the February event he's a shadow of his former self. For someone born in 1926, some would say he's to be congratulated for still being able to do what he does; but more of that later.
My own personal memories of Berry centre on the 1970s, when I saw him perform. The London rock'n'roll show in 1972, where he topped the bill, was unforgettable. I still remember the electrical power to the sound system conking out half way through his act. He didn't blink an eye. When the power was restored, he continued to wow us all with his rock'n'roll classics. I also remember a great concert at Hammersmith Odeon in London in the mid-70s that I hugely enjoyed: Wearing a flowery shirt, he once again gave full value for money !
Berry was a pioneer in the 1950s, along with Little Richard, in helping to bridge the racial divide with his rock'n'roll success. Although he wasn't overtly political, he is to be congratulated for his contribution in this area.
And for me, the lyrics in some of the songs he wrote rise to the level of great and wonderful poetry. For example, take time to have a look at the words to “Promised land” or “Roll over Beethoven” – you can keep your Wordsworth or Coleridge, for me Berry's poetry is the business !
As many people know, Chuck does have a mean side. His obsession with making money and arguing over the terms of concert contracts is legendary. Knowing this, it was very funny to see the February 2013 concert begin in Moscow with him arguing on stage about a written contract with the promoter, in front of a huge audience, before a song had been sung ! It's on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWhXhh9tdDk
He returned to Moscow again to play a concert on 20th October this year. But I took a conscious decision not to go. I had no wish to see a frail 87 year old man showing his age and clouding my truly wonderful memories, of when I saw him many years ago when he was still a sight and sound to behold. But the man's insatiable desire for dosh will no doubt keep him performing, I guess for as long as he is still able to stand up unaided. This is a shame, because at 87 he cannot “do it” any more. For example at the February 2013 concert in Moscow his performance was just embarrassing to watch.
And there's a side to him that is downright unsavoury. The most infamous case was his conviction in 1962 for transporting an under-age girl across state lines for immoral purposes. In 1979 he was again imprisoned, predictably to do with money - tax fraud. These 2 cases were not the only times he went to prison; his first period behind bars was while he was still a high school student in the 1940s (on this occasion it was for armed robbery).
But like some other rock'n'roll icons who lived a less than perfect life, Chuck should be remembered with real affection by all of us to whom he has given so much musical pleasure and great memories. As a performer and songwriter he is unique. So here's to the “Motorvator” – there'll never be another like him !
RUSSIA'N'ROLL THE KILLER, THE ONE AND ONLY, REMEMBERED IN RUSSIA
Jerry Lee Lewis, known throughout the rock'n'roll world as “the killer”, has achieved a rockin' legacy that is rivaled only by that of Elvis. Some would even argue it exceeds that of the man from Tupelo, Mississippi. Thankfully Jerry Lee is still with us, albeit in rather frail health and at an advanced age.
And on 17th August we organised a special tribute evening, dedicated to Jerry Lee Lewis. The venue was the Esse Jazz Café, possibly Moscow's premier club for rock'n'roll events. The evening began with music and films of the great man, with an introductory speech on Lewis by yours truly. And then, on stage, Russia's very own “killer”, Denis Mazhukov, put on a storming performance in the style of the Jerry Lee.
Regular readers of this column will know that last month I did a piece on Denis. The article detailed the inspiration Lewis had on him and about how big a name Mazhukov is in Russian rock'n'roll. Denis is known as the Russian “killer” and there was no one more appropriate to perform at this concert in honour of Jerry Lee.
Denis' performance on stage displayed many of the characteristics of the original Killer: Standing up playing the piano, the hair on his head all over the place, the occasional foot on the piano keyboard, etc. As I mentioned in last month's article, Mazhukov has his own unique style, but is heavily influenced by Lewis.
So it was a great night on 17th. And hopefully those members of the audience that night who did not know too much before about JLL, became encouraged to find out more about the legend and about rock'n'roll in general.
And to finish, what about the Great Man? From the evidence of the vast majority of people who met Lewis, 2 clear messages come out:
He is a rock'n'roll genius. He is unique, charismatic, colourful and untameable.
He is not a nice man (and that's without getting into his third marriage to his 13 year old cousin).
In a famous interview he gave in 1993, Freddie “Fingers” Lee, who met Lewis, was asked what he thought of him. His first answer was comprehensive, “a genius, an inspiration, the one and only, etc.” He was then asked what he thought of him as a person. Freddie's answer was just 2 words, “a s**t”.
Lewis is described as mean, selfish and arrogant by so many who knew or met him. But let's look at the other side of the coin ………….
The Great Man has given us so much joy and pleasure, both listening to his music and watching him perform. One of my favourite personal memories is going to see him at the London rock'n'roll show in 1972, at the old Wembley stadium. Leading up to the concert, there was talk of his heavy drinking and could he still cut it, etc. Well, dressed all in red he was just terrific on the night, proving to everyone present at the event that the Killer was still the one and only.
So here's to Jerry Lee Lewis. There will never be another like him. Thanks for the memories Mr Lewis and for the unforgettable music.
This month let me introduce you to an icon of Russian rock'n'roll. They call him the Russian Killer. Those of you steeped in rock'n'roll historical knowledge will know the 1950s super star that the word “killer” conjures up in your mind. It's no coincidence …………
Denis Mazhukov is a genuine legend on the music scene over here. Let me take you back to the early days ………
In 1997 Jerry Lee Lewis made his debut performance in Russia, performing in Moscow. And the support act at that concert, performing before JLL came on stage, was Denis Mazhukov. Denis' style has always been hugely inspired by the Great Man, which was why he was chosen as the warm up act on this night. In a post-concert interview, Jerry Lee said, “Denis, you played just like I did when I was young.”
Since then, Denis has steadily increased his big following in Russia. Not only Russia – over the years he's performed many times in the USA. Most of his USA gigs have been in New York, Memphis and Denver. And the label of the Russian Killer, inspired by the “Killer” nickname for Jerry Lee, has stayed with him. Denis' repertoire includes inspiration from other sources too. He plays many numbers in the “boogie woogie” style: He's performed at many boogie woogie music festivals in Europe over the years.
Plus he has other musical influences. One is Chuck Berry. In 1997, Denis played with Chuck Berry at the International Film Festival in Moscow. And when Berry returned to Russia a few years later, he again got Denis to play with him.
He has his own group, “Off Beat”, who have been with him since he began performing in 1994. With his band he started his career playing the Moscow clubs and as time went on the crowds got bigger and the venues more prestigious. His repertoire of songs is huge (predictably Jerry Lee songs play a large part in his play lists). Here's some of my personal favourites that he does:
Great balls of fire, whole lotta shakin', high school confidential, roll over Beethoven, blue suede shoes and don't be cruel.
He began playing piano from the age of 6. I should add that in Russia, piano playing is much more a part of Russian culture than in the UK. More homes have pianos over here than in the West. Or at least that certainly was true at the time Denis was growing up. Interestingly his background learning as a boy was playing in the classical style. It was later as a teenager that he got the rock'n'roll bug, which then became the musical passion of his life.
Mazhukov concerts include the wildness reminiscent of the early days of Jerry Lee. Standing up, playing with the hair on his head all over the place and the occasional leg hitting the keyboards; yeah, it's the spirit of the Killer inside Mazhukov !
Take a look at this Spirit yourself: Go to youtube and type “Denis Mazhukov – the Russian King of Rock N Roll” in the search engine box. The killer is alive and kickin' – in America AND Russia !
In my article next month, I'll be covering a very special concert in Moscow dedicated to the great man himself, Jerry Lee Lewis. Stay tuned …………
Elvis Presley – the King. And in Moscow on 15th June we organised a special tribute evening, to celebrate the great man.
The event was held at the Esse Jazz Café, one of the city's premier music venues. The evening kicked-off with a short introductory speech about Elvis and his life (from yours truly). This was followed by film clips of Elvis, from a year when he was in his prime – 1956.
Then, on stage, in deference to Elvis' rockabilly roots, the Hi Tones performed a great set as the climax to the evening's entertainment. I've previously reviewed the group in this magazine; they're one of the greatest rockabilly groups in Russia. Their set included Elvis numbers.
Some of those attending knew all about Elvis and came just to experience an evening dedicated to the King. But there were regular patrons of the café who didn't know all about him and it was interesting to see their reactions and responses to what was presented. Hopefully the event turned on and awakened an interest for some of these people, to Elvis and rock'n'roll in general.
Overall, it was a brilliant night. Thanks to all those who came to the support the event, especially the Hi Tones.
It's a safe bet to say that for many in our rock'n'roll community, they got turned on to rock'n'roll partly thanks to seeing and listening to Elvis. I'm talking about early Elvis; that memorable period in the 1950s when he was in his prime. In my view, the decline kicked in even before the later period of prescription drug dependence and physical deterioration. After he came out of the army, he seemed to lose a lot of that dynamic edge; still special of course, but not quite the same.
So, to conclude this article, what about the King ? The story of Elvis tastes like a very mixed cocktail, there are so many stories putting so many different slants on the man. So let's get some of the negative ones out of the way first ………..
The “Shine slur” was one he was never able to fully shake off. This was the allegation that in the late 1950s, when asked about the growing civil rights movement in the USA, as a white Southerner he replied, “the only good things black people are good for, are shining my shoes and buying my records”. In fairness it must be said Elvis always denied the allegation.
And of course there was the much more indisputable fact of his addiction to prescription drugs, which sadly was the main reason he never toured the UK, because of the potential consequences.
One could go on ……….. his serial unfaithfulness to his wife while he was married, the appalling deterioration in his health and physical appearance towards the end of his life, etc. But all the above misses the central point ……….
Once you listen to those 1950s recordings and see the film clips of the time, they just blow you away. They are rock-solid proof he was, at his best, quite simply the greatest rocker (not just rock'n'roller) and youth icon of all time, bar none. He had everything in buckets; style, talent, looks, charisma, you name it. The word “unique” was never so appropriate as it was and is in the case of Elvis.
So here's to the King. As long as we all keep playing his music, rock'n'roll will never die.
1957 – THE BIRTH OF RUSSIAN ROCK'N'ROLL
This month let me take you on a journey into rock'n'roll history. The year is 1957. Something happened that year which changed rock'n'roll forever …… in Russia !
First the background:
During the 1950s in the USSR some people were playing early rock'n'roll records but nearly always at home. Fearful of what the communist authorities would do when confronted with this “decadent” western culture (remember this was the height of the Cold War), no-one dared to do any more than that.
But then it happened. In 1957 the Soviet authorities organised a huge youth and student festival in Moscow. They invited musicians from the USA, comprising mainly rock'n'roll and jazz bands, to come and play at the festival.
Of course this was a propaganda event by the Soviets. It was seen by them as a way to present themselves as open-minded and open to the world, at the same time ensuring they closely controlled the event and got maximum propaganda value out of it. And also the bands quoted above who were invited to the event were only a small part of it. Most of the active participants were card carrying young Russian communists happy to help further the “socialist” cause, who at the festival engaged in marching in parades or watching and listening to traditional folk music. And most of the young foreigners invited to the festival (around 34,000 came in total) were generally communist party members or communist sympathisers. The United States government at the time declared the Festival was part of a publicity campaign, to try and offset the losses in the "propaganda war" incurred by the Soviet Union during its suppression of the Hungarian uprising the previous year.
But ……… the script didn't go according to plan. Many young Russians, men and women, became enthused as they watched the bands performing. And guess who came over from the UK to perform; none other than Tommy Steele ! It would be very interesting to know what Tommy's impressions were of it all and if he got the chance to inter-act with some of the young Russians attending the concert.
Some Russians paid a price: Some of the young Muscovite women tried to get to know more about this exciting culture by chatting to the American musicians during the festival and the American men and the Russian women exchanged their experiences in their respective countries. Later the authorities singled out these women and the Militsia (Russian police) arrested them. Their hair was cut and their dresses torn. In other words they were publicly humiliated. It was a clear signal from the government that while they were happy to allow a one-off festival, fraternising with the “class enemy” was still forbidden.
The influence of this festival on some young Russians was immense. It kick-started a significant movement in Russia, centred on Leningrad (since re-named St Petersburg) and Moscow. Most of these rebels centred themselves around a movement they called “Stilyagi”, derived from the Russian word for “style”. After the festival they refused to be intimidated and began a youth culture of their own.
Foremost in this history as it developed from the 1950s onwards, was again the Stilyagi. They were more or less the first real rock'n'rollers in Russia. Their style was not 100% rock'n'roll - they also listened to and followed other brands of music such as jazz – and this was also reflected in their style of clothing. But it was close enough to establish them as the original Russian youth rebels. Their rebellion was social, not political.
These young Russians deserve praise. They were risking persecution by the authorities for continuing to follow this culture, after they had seen something at the festival in 1957 that they didn't want to lose. I came to live and work in Russia in 2004 and I can remember being shown propaganda films made in the 1950s and 1960s by the Russian authorities, depicting these young rebels as hooligans and layabouts. These same clips also showed well dressed and well behaved young Russian communist men and women, as wonderful examples of what young people should be like ! I enjoyed watching the films hugely – really funny !
With the momentous changes in Russia in the 1980s, things started to “loosen up” for the Stilyagi and the collapse of the Soviet Union by the beginning of the 1990s made things much easier for them to follow their chosen life style.
So it was that a festival organised by the communist government in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, inadvertently kick-started a rock'n'roll revolution.
Today in Moscow you can visit a famous café / restaurant, located right next to Red Square. It's called “Stalovaya 57” (Stalovaya in Russian means eating place) and is dedicated to that 1957 festival. All the décor, right down to a 1950s juke box, is an authentic re-creation of 1957. Stalovaya 57 is a well known landmark in Moscow and is further evidence of the importance of that 1957 Festival on the history of Russian youth culture. When I brought the UK rock'n'roll group Furious to Moscow to perform on 2 occasions, I made a point of taking them to the restaurant, to give them a taste of Russian rock'n'roll history.
So here's to those early Russian rock'n'roll pioneers back in the 1950s, who certainly had it tougher than their counterparts in the West, in their efforts to grow and preserve their rock'n'roll culture.
The first photo above was taken at the opening ceremony of the 1957 festival. The other photos are of young Stilyagi, taken during the times covered in the article.
This month, am gonna introduce you to an iconic group in Russian rock'n'roll.
Raw Cats 88 are a four piece outfit based in Moscow, formed in 2004. At the present time they are amongst the most famous groups in Russia, with a huge following.
There are 2 original members of the band going back to 2004; Keyboards and lead vocal Valery Setkin and drummer Stas Mikosho. Dimitriy Smagin on guitar / vocal and Denis Ovchinnikov on double bass complete the line-up.
Any discussion of the band needs to start with Setkin. He is to say the least a larger than life figure and the real star. The best way to describe his style as a performer is, a mixture of Elvis and Jerry Lee. He not only has a great voice and keyboard excellence, but also displays charisma and character on stage.
At times he's slamming down on the keyboards in the manner of Jerry Lee. Then he's singing in the style of Elvis. It's not a copy act, but an authentic rock'n'roll style that is heavily influenced by those 2 icons.
There are quite a few stories about him, linked to the history of the band. Most of the best ones relate to alcohol, women and strippers ! Many of these I could not relate to you in a family magazine like this one ! But here is one I can ……….
One of the band's biggest fans is a gorgeous looking young Russian woman, who goes to see them perform not only in Moscow but other cities in Russia. On one occasion the group were performing in Tver (a city about 200 miles from the capital) and once again the young lady was there to see them. But the excitement of the occasion must have got to her and half way through the band's set she proceeded to do a full blown strip tease act, while the group were playing “you can leave your hat on” (which is all she did keep on). Apparently it was an unforgettable performance ! The group kept on playing during this strip (I admire their professionalism), but 2 of the club's security guards after the song collected all her clothes and threw her and her attire out of the club. By the way the saddest part of this story is that I was not at the concert to see this exotic cabaret !
But the tale has a happy ending. During the intermission Setkin, who was feeling very sorry for the young fan, discovered that their changing room backed onto the street. So he was able to smuggle the girl back into the club. She was eternally grateful and (although I have not been lucky enough to be at the right concerts to see one yet !) occasionally she repeats her raunchy stage act at Raw Cats' gigs.
As their own compositions would mean little to Western ears, here are some of the standards they often cover on stage;
Viva Las Vegas, Runaway, Sweet Home Alabama, Burning Love, Ring of fire, A little less conversation, You got it, Great balls of fire and Rock this town. Their version of Viva Las Vegas is particularly impressive on stage – best one I've heard, except for the King's of course.
What is personally rewarding (I'm sure other veteran rockers can relate to this) is to witness over the years how a band develops and advances. I moved to Moscow the same year the Raw Cats were formed. Over the last 9 years, going to their gigs, I've seen their progression from a good group into a great one.
Why the name “Raw Cats 88” ? Valeri advised me it derives from the classic song “Rocket 88”, which was one of the first rock'n'roll numbers he ever heard and helped to get him hooked on the great music as a young boy.
You can check out the band yourself. Go to youtube and type “Raw Cats 88” in the search engine box. Hail the Raw Cats - as their name implies, the music is raw with a hard edge !
This month let me take you to the wilder side of Russian rock'n'roll. This story is based not in the capital Moscow, where I live and work, but in Smolensk, a city near the country's western border.
The band is Route 67. For those of you who know your American musical history, nope they haven't got the number wrong. Russia is divided numerically into different regions and Smolensk is in region 67, just one digit away from that famous highway. But of course Route 66 is the inspiration for their name.
Their style is what we'd call neo-rockabilly, somewhere between rockabilly and psychobilly. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's no doubt this band is real good at what they do. Hard drivin' rock'n'roll which takes no prisoners; that kind of sums up the style and attitude of the group.
In the October issue of the magazine, I reviewed their first CD which had just been issued, “Sinful Way” on Crazy Love records. It's a smokin' CD, hard drivin' neo-rockabilly from the start to the finish, comprising their own compositions - on the CD only one track is a cover version.
As the names of their own songs would mean little to western audiences, here's a flavor of the kind of cover versions they perform on stage:
Twenty flight rock, Rockabilly boogie, Oh boy, Blue jean bop, Matchbox, Summertime blues, I'm ready; all performed in the neo-rockabilly style.
The band have been going since 2007 and the 2 main elements have not changed since then; Vladimir Katulsky, lead guitar / vocal and Andrey Sheshero, upright bass and support vocalist, the core of the band, are still there. Only the drummers have changed – they're now with their third drummer, Andrey Moiseenkov. Vladimir composes the group's songs, with a bit of help from Andrey.
Vladimir is a good friend of mine and told me something that took place at one of their concerts in west Russia. The gig was at Voronezh, not too far from Smolensk and I wasn't at the event myself, but here's what happened:
During their concerts the group do different kinds of visual effects on stage. For example, often Vladimir plays the guitar while standing on the upright bass. At this concert in Voronezh, as usual during one of the songs (it was Jack the Ripper) he played the guitar while standing on the bass, then slipped and suddenly ........ fell right into the face of the instrument ! The bass was completely smashed and destroyed. It was awful for Vlad and of course the bass player. Vlad fell to the floor, but kept the guitar in his hands. Fortunately it was the last song of the concert and they finished the number with just the drummer playing.
But …. the crowd was ecstatic ! They really went wild with the excitement of what had happened !
Rock'n'roll fans from other cities in Russia learned very quickly about what had occurred. Soon after, at another concert, as the band did their sound check at the beginning, a guy came up to the stage and asked them, “we heard about your fantastic show in Voronezh. Please can you destroy your upright bass today for us ?” This guy seriously thought, as did others, that this destruction was part of the act ! Maybe they'd been watching too many videos of “the Who”. The band now call this event “the story of the upright bass destroyers” !
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can have a look at the group yourself and see what you think. Go to youtube and type “Route 67 Russia” in the search engine.
So here's to Route 67. Moscow is the cultural capital of Russian rock'n'roll, but this band from Smolensk are livin' proof that although the capital for sure is the leader, there are other competitors in the race !
This month I'd like to introduce you to another excellent Russian band, whose style and sound is very much a cocktail.
Avocado are a 4-piece band, comprising a vocalist, violinist, guitar and contrabass / bass guitar. This itself suggests a group which, although strong in rock'n'roll influences, has a more mixed sound to it. The best way to describe them is a mix of swing and rock'n'roll.
The biggest star of Avocado is unquestionably the singer Alexandra Esakova. She looks real good on stage, but above all her voice is beautiful and special and she has real charisma.
Another feature of the group which makes it unusual is the prominence of the violinist Elizabeth Smirnova. Guitarist Pavel Vlasov and bass guitar Andrey Artiomov complete the regular line-up. In addition, Yaroslav Andreev is their usual drummer for their gigs.
Andrey is the acknowledged leader of the group and handles most of the bookings, publicity, and business side of things. From my experience I can confirm he's very efficient in this area; nothing is forgotten in his preparation for gigs !
The band's history goes back to 2006, when they started performing at some of the premier concert venues in Moscow. Artiomov founded the group and he's the only remaining survivor from the original line-up. The sound and style of Avocado has undergone significant changes over time. I remember seeing them in their early days; their singer then was another real good lookin' star with a wonderful voice and personality on stage, Maria Homenko. Her departure, along with other personnel, changed the band's style to one with more swing and less rock'n'roll. But the rock'n'roll is still there and the sound, although different, is still something special.
The group's play list comprises a mixture of their own compositions and musical standards. Again, it is Artiomov who does the composing, creating the tunes as well as the lyrics. As the titles of their own compositions would mean little to UK ears, here's some of the standards they like to play live:
That's alright Mama, Stupid Cupid, Fever, Route 66, Kansas City and My Boy Elvis. Of these, I guess my favourite when seeing them perform is “My Boy Elvis” – smokin' !
Check the band out on youtube – type in “Avocado Band Russia” in the search engine and have a look and listen.
So here's to Avocado, a nice of bunch of individuals with a great sound and an impressive stage performance; one more example of the hot, rockin' quality of Russian music !
And to round off this article, just to say I'm pleased that the articles in the magazine covering what's happening on the rock'n'roll scene outside the UK, prompted some readers to write to the editor about them. Of course some were not exactly positive on the subject, but it was good that some readers felt strongly enough about it to write. Long live Rock'n'Roll throughout the planet – let's take over the World !
This month I'm gonna take time out from telling you about the excellent rock'n'roll bands here in Russia, to focus on the dancing side of things. In particular, wanna tell you about something unique in rock'n'roll dancing. And it's happening right here in Russia.
For any group to describe itself as unique is a dangerous claim to make – there's usually someone who comes forward to say they're doing the same thing. But Moscow-based Co-op Jive can justly claim to be the only free co-operative that exists to “link, help and support rock'n'roll jive dancers.”
I set up the co-operative in the 1980s when I lived and worked in the UK, as an antidote to the commercialism of dance schools. I don't blame dance schools for being commercial – people have to make a living. But it seemed to me that dancers were being pushed in a direction where they didn't want to go.
Dance schools seemed to be coming up with new steps, in order to run more and more classes, to make more money from people without really considering what most dancers really wanted – the opportunity to learn the basic skills needed to dance socially.
Setting up the co-operative enabled me to combine something I really believe in with something I really enjoy. Co-operatives exist to make a positive contribution to people's lives and we want to give people the freedom to really dance with feeling and enjoy the music. In other words, there is less emphasis on more and more dance steps. We want to give dancers the skills to be able to get out on the dance floor and enjoy themselves, rather than getting them to pay for more and more classes to learn more and more steps.
The co-operative has been based in Moscow since 2004 when I moved to Russia to live and work. Prior to that I ran the co-operative for many years in the UK. We organise rock'n'roll dance and music events on a weekly basis (I've got a full-time job, so once a week is the maximum I can do), including free dance classes: They are bi-lingual i.e. taught in English and Russian. All the events we are involved in are non-profit making. Also anyone anywhere in the world can contact the co-operative, for details about where to dance in their area of the world. More details about all this are available on my web-site at www.coopjive.co.uk
The first dance class I ever attended was many years ago. I still remember it. I went along to a dance class at Covent Garden in London. It turned out to be a jitterbug class which was not exactly what I was looking for. I'd had a tough day at work, arrived late, felt really out of place and was about to get up and leave.
A young woman then came across and encouraged me to have a go (she had obviously noticed the unhappy look on my face !). I haven't stopped dancing since. I only saw that young woman once more, at the next class and didn't get a chance to talk to her. I never saw her again, but I still quietly thank her for getting me started. You can't always return a favour but you can pass it on and that's what I hope the dance co-operative has been able to do.
This month let me introduce to you from Moscow, something sweet and delicious ...
The Marshmallows are a hugely exciting group on the Russian rock'n'roll scene. The musicians comprise a guitar, bassist and drummer, but it is the other 3 members of the 6-piece who are the real stars:
They are 3 beautiful young Russian female singers, who perform excellent 50's style rock'n'roll. They're brilliant. They're a real phenomenon on the rockin' scene here.
This month I'm gonna present the bulk of my article in a different way ...
Nadya Kunareva, who is one of these 3 fabulous singers, wrote a piece for me for this article, describing the style and the history of the band. I could never have written it so well. All I had to do was translate it for you from her Russian text ! So here is Nadya's presentation of the band, written in a way only a beautiful, intelligent young Russian woman can ...
“Marshmallows – the immodest charm of a rock'n'roll:
Allow me to present, on the Moscow scene, a rock'n'roll collective in the authentic 50s style.
Fronting the band are a trio of bright vocalists, delightful to the naked eye - Masha Nosova, Julia Chuguev and myself Nadya Kunareva. We are backed by the strong shoulders of 3 young men, our musicians: Dmitriy Smagin (guitar), Andrey Laptev (drums) and Vladimir Manturov (contrabass).
If you aren't indifferent to model pin-up posters and your heart warms to the sound of a needle rustling on an old vinyl playing rockabilly, swing, rock'n'roll, country, boogie and a heap of other incendiary rhythms … If such icons as Imelda May, Brenda Lee, Wanda Jackson or Janis Martin are not just names to you … And if you not against spending an evening in the company of charming young women who prefer scarlet lipstick and high heels as their style of fashion – then Welcome to Party Marshmallows !
The Marshmallows began in 2011 and made an immediate impact on the Russian scene. For those “who like it hot”, this band is for you – we express music, power, mood and pleasure. We play the biggest rock'n'roll venues in Russia, particularly at our home base in Moscow. We are regular performers at such venues as Radio City, Bilingua, Café Blues, Chicago, Glastonberry, the Double Bourbon and the Esse Jazz Café.
Why the name “Marshmallows” ? Because we are like small air pillows with a rich taste. And above all because we believe all marshmallows should be heated up and served hot. We like it hot !”
Thankyou, Nadya. All three of the vocalists are thankfully free of the egotism that accompanies some female singers –
“How many female vocalists does it take to change a light bulb ?
One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.”
Esse Jazz Café, Moscow – Saturday 17th November
My article this month confirms the strength of Russian rockabilly. Here's a band that knows how to hit the high notes (or tones) ……
The HiTones are a relatively new four-piece outfit, comprising a lead guitar, acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums. They hail from Moscow. They've become hugely popular on the rock'n'roll scene in Russia, particularly amongst the followers of rockabilly. Their leader is vocalist and acoustic guitar Alexey Schukin. He founded the group in 2010 with the aim to play authentic 50's music. Alexey says their musical inspiration comes from the likes of Johnny Burnett, the Delta Bombers, Eddy and the Backfires and the Rhythm Shakers.
On 17th November the band played the Esse Café, one of the premier rock'n'roll venues in Moscow. A full crowd comprised rock'n'rollers, dancers and regular café patrons – none were disappointed ! It was a great evening of hard drivin' 50's rockabilly.
A key element of the group is lead guitar Vladimir Khoruzhiy, one of the best guitarists in Russia. He also does the odd harmonica number. The bassist Alexey Nikitin and the drummer Vladimir Malashonok provide the solid rockabilly beat that helps give them that authentic sound. Malashonok is a veteran of many Russian bands: He's a fine musician, despite what they say about drummers …………
What's the difference between a drummer and a Podiatrist?
A. The Podiatrist bucks up your feet, whereas the drummer...
What's the similarity between a drummer and a philosopher?
A: They both perceive time as an abstract concept.
But Schukin is the real leader, not least with his presence on stage. He puts on a real performance. It's clear he's done a lot of studying to get that raw, authentic rockabilly feel.
The band started off covering versions of popular hits, but in 2011 The Hitones started composing their own original songs. This was followed in March 2012 with the release of a single, "I'm gonna leave you". The release of a full length CD is planned for early next year.
On the night, my favourite cover versions that the band played included “Everybody's movin”, “Long blonde hair” and “Let's go boppin' tonight”. Of their own compositions, I liked especially “I'm gonna leave you”, “Baby please come back” and “Electric dreamer”. Their set is more or less a 50 / 50 balance between original and cover versions.
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Rockabilly Rules OK – in Moscow !
Tramplin Club, Moscow, 20th October
Rockabilly music, since its birth in the 1950s in the Southern States of the USA, has found its way to many places around the world. Nowhere more so than here in the land of the Old Curtain and in particular in Moscow.
One of the greatest exponents of this brand of rock'n'roll in Russia played the Tramplin Club in Moscow on 20th October. The Great Pretenders are a 4-piece outfit with a long pedigree. Formed in 1995, they're icons on the rockabilly scene here. Their basic style i.e. pure, authentic rockabilly, hasn't changed, but as a group they have developed and progressed over the years.
Only one original remains from the starting up of 1995: Sergey Kuteynikov founded the group and is still the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. He got the rockabilly bug back in the 1980s when as a small boy his family lived in San Francisco for 3 years – his Dad was a diplomat for the Soviet mission there. It enabled Sergey to listen to rockabilly much more freely than he would have been able to in the old USSR. This experience stayed with him all his life. As a teenager he set up a rockabilly club in Moscow, calling it the Sharks Club and out of this sprang the beginnings of the Great Pretenders.
Sergey is a friend of mine and told me a story from the early days of the Pretenders:
One of their earliest gigs back then was at a jazz club called the Blue Bird. The club had a reputation as a relaxed laid back jazz venue. So the promoter advertised the gig as the opportunity for a “relaxed, laid back evening”, not quite realising rockabilly Pretenders-style is not your average easy on the ear jazz. Not only the raucous music that night gave some of the club patrons rather a shock ………………
A group of young skinheads turned up unexpectedly at the club and a huge fight ensued between them and the rockabilly crew from the Sharks Club (the pretext for the fight was over the favours of a young woman). The gig ended in mayhem, including the promoter running off without paying the band. In Russian rockabilly folklore, they still remember that “relaxed, laid back evening” back in the 1990s ! Russian rockabilly had arrived with a bang.
At the Tramplin club on 20th October 2012, a large audience of rock'n'rollers were not disappointed. The band's set included some of their favourites. Teddy Boy Boogie is one of mine: The Pretenders' version is the nearest you'll ever get to Crazy Cavan's, this side of the Severn Bridge ! “Let's beat the Mods” is the group's own composition and yes it harks back to the old 60's warfare between mods and rockers. It's a great number, predictably being a big favourite amongst the bikers over here “descended” from the old rockers. Two other numbers they have especially made their own and which they played on the night, were “Cruisin'” and “Dance to the bop”. Re. the latter, anything with a Gene Vincent connection is alright by me !
Those readers with a good memory will remember that my article in the magazine 2 months ago featured the group Real Hot BBQ. As I mentioned in that article, Oleg Ivanin is the lead guitarist for that band too as well as the Pretenders. He's a guitarist in demand ! He plays great rockabilly and is free of the egotism that accompanies some lead guitarists ...
“How many guitar players does it take to change a light bulb?
Twelve. One to change the bulb and eleven to say they could do it better.”
So it was another Great night of rockabilly on 20th from the band with no airs or Pretences. Here's to the Great Pretenders – great rockabilly, from a country that knows how to Rock !
RUSSIA'N'ROLL Grand Bourbon Street, Moscow; 18th August 2012
HITTING THE REEFS !
Who is the best jive and swing band in the World ? That could be the focus of a very interesting debate; as far as the UK is concerned my vote would go to the Jive Aces. But here's a much, much easier question – who are the best jive and swing band in Russian and Eastern Europe ? The simple answer is – the Coral Reefs. Or in Russian, that translates into “Coralaviye Reefiy.
The location for their concert on 18th August, “Grand Bourbon Street”, is one of the best music and rock'n'roll venues in Moscow. And as you can guess from the name one of their specialities is a huge choice of whiskies at the bar, at low prices !
The Reefs are an 8 piece outfit. The line-up features keyboards, lead guitar, bass guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone and drums. Their leader is the singer Kirill Sukhomlikov. Kirill has huge presence on stage; not only his voice, but he generates a lot of charisma. He studied acting at University and this is reflected in his stage performance; he puts on a real show. Plus it's always a pleasure to jive dance with his wife at their concerts ! She's a dance graduate from University and her dancing reflects it.
Like the Jive Aces they are not 100% pure rock'n'roll, but have very strong rock'n'roll influences in their music. The band composes many of it's own songs. The main composer of their tunes is the keyboard player Mikhail Deryabin. The inspiration for coming up with most of the lyrics is Kirill. Mikhail assures everyone he hears the new tunes in his sleep and then writes down the music for them when he wakes up ! In any event the end result really works – their musical compositions are of exceptional quality. Their set mixes their own material with their interpretation of existing musical standards.
They perform both in English and Russian, depending on what it is their singing. Their own compositions are also either in Russian or English. My favourites from their own songs at the gig on the night were “Simply Winter”, “Midnight fate”, “That day” and “Eyes of night lamps”, a mixture of fast and slow numbers. Of the existing standards, I think I was most impressed with their versions of “Speedy Gonzales”, “Whole Lotta Shakin' “ and “Americano”: all done in the Reefs' inimitable rockin' style. Smokin' !
And here's a special attraction the Reefs possess: Their bassist Eleanora Hayrapetyan, a relatively recent acquisition to the band, not only plays exceptionally well but she's absolutely stunning to look at ! Makes me wish I was 30 years younger :)) And that's saying something in Russia: From my own experience working in other countries like the USA, Russian women are definitely the most beautiful in the world. Sorry all you British ladies but it's true !
The band are friends of mine and it's always a pleasure to co-operate with them at their gigs. I usually start their concerts with a dance master class and the band comes on stage immediately following the class. As they are friends, I hope they won't mind me including the following musician jokes ……..
What's the first thing a musician says at work?
"Would you like fries with that?"
Why do musicians have to be awake by six o'clock?
Because most shops close by six thirty.
RUSSIA'N'ROLL REAL HOT ROCKIN' IN RUSSIA Esse Jazz Café, Moscow; 21st July 2012
In my article on Russian rock'n'roll in the last issue of the magazine, I reported on the very high quality of the bands here. Here's an excellent example:
Vladimir Pankratov and Real Hot BBQ are a 4 piece, playing hot, smokin' r'n'r. Their style is authentic 50s', not just their sound but their look too. They're relatively new, the band formed in 2010, but they've become rock'n'roll icons in Moscow and Russia.
Vladimir is the leader and vocalist, plus plays rhythm guitar and piano. He has real charisma on stage. It's clear from his stage performance that he's spent a lot of time studying the 50s style and the results are impressive. He is an actor and has also directed films. His father Alexander Pankratov is a very famous Russian actor and film director.
The band have regular gigs at many of the high prestige clubs in Moscow. One of the most notable of these is the Esse Jazz Café in the centre of Moscow, a premier venue for jazz and rock'n'roll events. I run many of my rock'n'roll jive dance classes there and on 21st July my class at the Café preceded the band coming on stage. One benefit of these classes is teaching non-dancers the basics, giving them the opportunity to try out what they've learned later on in the evening (instead of sitting and watching and wishing they could get out on the dance floor and jive !). And to be sure, the dance floor was fully occupied all evening.
On the night, my favourite tracks from the band were “Nervous Breakdown”, “Do what you did”, “Too much loving” and “Life begins at 4 O'Clock”, all served up in the authentic 50s style. Plus they can slow it down too while maintaining that rock'n'roll feel, witness “It's only make believe” and “The treasure of love”. And maybe my number one favourite from their set is “Straight skirt”, a track the group have really sort of made their own – I love it !
Thankfully the band are not content to stick to the same song list and are continually adding to it with new material. One of the first questions I ever asked the group was, why not “Red Hot BBQ”? They advised it was because another group somewhere in the world has already taken that name, and the guys wanna be original and unique !
The audience, which mainly comprised followers of the band, dancers, plus regular customers of the Café some of whom hadn't seen the group before, enjoyed the whole event hugely. If Russian people like something they're very open with their feelings. So to coin a phrase, "the joint was jumpin'".
In addition to Vladimir, their line-up comprises Oleg Ivanin on lead guitar, Michael Averyanov on double bass and Andrey Laptev on drums. Oleg has a distinguished history in Russian rock'n'roll, chiefly as lead guitarist for many years now for the Moscow rockabilly band the Great Pretenders. Andrey is a more recent musician on the scene, he's rockabilly to his bones as well as being a bit of a dancer. Plus their friends of mine; so I hope Andrey won't mind if I throw in a couple of drummer jokes:
“What do you call someone who hangs out with musicians?
“Did you hear about the time the bass player locked his keys in the car?
It took two hours to get the drummer out.”
As we're over a thousand miles away from the UK, here's one way you can check out the group. Go to youtube and in the search box type “Vladimir Pankratov and Real Hot BBQ” and see what you think. For example, type in “Richard Hume and Real Hot BBQ” and you'll see a video of a concert they did in June this year at the same venue.
So a great evening's entertainment was had by all on 21/07/12. Real hot r'n'r, grilled on a roasting rock'n'roll barbeque. Smokin' !
Rock'n'roll is alive and kickin' in Russia ! Russia and especially Moscow is one of the fastest growing rock 'n' roll scenes in the world.
The clientele are predominantly young people. Russia has much fewer older rockers going back to the 50s or our UK Revival period of the 70s: The Communist Party and the history of the Soviet Union didn't encourage such capitalist culture. I left the UK to live and work in Russia in August 2004. The contrast that immediately struck me most between the rock'n'roll in the 2 countries was the different generations who follow the great music. Here in Russia young people are joining and staying with it. How Russian rock'n'roll got to this healthy position is linked to Russia's recent history.
During the 1950s in the USSR some people were playing rock'n'roll records but mainly at home. Then in 1957 the Soviet authorities organised a huge youth and student festival in Moscow. They invited musicians from the USA and the UK to come and play, comprising mainly rock'n'roll and jazz bands. One notable performer was none other than Tommy Steele! The influence of this festival on some young Russians was immense. It kick-started a significant youth culture movement in Russia, centred on St Petersburg and Moscow.
But the communist authorities made it clear that whilst they were happy to allow a one-off festival, fraternising with the “class enemy” and engaging in “decadent” capitalist culture was still forbidden. However after this festival some of the youth refused to be intimidated and began a youth culture of their own. Foremost in this Movement from the early 60s was the Stilyagi (based on the Russian word for “style”). They were more or less the first real rock'n'rollers in Russia. Their style was not 100% rock'n'roll - they also listened to and followed other brands of music such as jazz – and this was also reflected in their style of clothing. But it was close enough to establish them as the original Russian youth rebels.
This rebellion continued up to and into the period of Glasnost and Perestroika which began in the mid-80s (These were the terms used for the momentous changes in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev).
And from 1979 a new phenomenon – a group openly calling themselves Teddy Boys ! Based in St Petersburg they were formed from out of the Stilyagi movement. In 1982 they formed their own club “the Leningrad Teddy Boys Club”, based in the centre of the city. Their unofficial “leader” was Anton “Teddy”. He was an icon amongst the youth at that time and a well known figure in cultural circles during the 80s. The Teddy Boys' Club was very knowledgeable on western youth culture and were instrumental in giving information and advice to the rockabilly rebels of that period, on such things as the correct style of dress, authentic sound of music, etc.
The Teddy Boy Club lasted up to 1984. Unlike in the UK, the youth identities were much more fluid: By the mid-80s these Teds who were still very much part of the Stilyagi culture had adopted other styles such as punk, biker, rockabilly or new wave, etc.
In the 90s in true youth culture tradition the Stilyagi and the Rockabillies had serious feuds and fights against each other ! This included many criminal arrests, mainly in St Petersburg. Russian friends who lived through those times tell me this violence was inspired mainly by what the 2 groups had learned about British rock history e.g. 50s Teddy Boys' aggression, Mods vs. Rockers, Teds / Rockabillies vs. Punks / Skinheads, etc. In other words they felt this was what they were expected to do. So this was another famous British export !
These Russian pioneers of youth culture deserve praise. Supporting rock'n'roll (and even more so in the period before Glasnost and Perestroika) at that time carried dangers with the authorities so they were real rock'n'roll revolutionaries. Their rebellion was social, not political.
The history of the old Soviet Union meant that most members of the bands never grew up with the authentic r'n'r sound like we did in the UK i.e. listening to it on the radio, TV, or other mass media outlets. So what they did was play and re-play vinyls of the original r'n'r recordings when they became more available from the 1980s onwards. After countless hours of such "homework" the musicians finally acquired the authentic sound, adding on their own individual styles. And the results were impressive.
ROCK'N'ROLL IN RUSSIA NOW
The best bands here in Russia are not just cheap imitations of the Western sound - they have their own style and stand up in comparison with all but the elite bands in the West. The quality of the best groups here is excellent. See what I mean by checking out the following great Russian Bands on www.youtube.com (in the youtube search engine box add "Moscow" after each band's name):
STRESSOR - GREAT PRETENDERS - BEAT DEVILS - ALLIGATORS - CORAL REEFS – RAW CATS 88 – LEX AND TEAM
So hail Russian rock'n'roll, an important member of the World's rock'n'roll family !
Finally, a totally unrelated rock'n'roll joke, dedicated to a band that allegedly did rock'n'roll no favours –
Q: What were the worst words ever said in rock and roll?
A: “How about we let Ringo sing one.”
The culture of the British Teddy Boy is not one that is associated with works of art. But in Moscow another first has been achieved.
Ever since the 1950s, when many working class teenagers in the UK became Teddy Boys and thus helped to invent the first ever culture devoted to Youth, the cult of the Teddy Boy has been associated generally with loud clothes, loud music, and rebellious behaviour. In the 1950s in particular Teds were branded in the media as public enemy number one, responsible (it was claimed) for gang fights, violence and anti-social behaviour generally. In the 1970s, during the Teddy Boy Revival, they were known in addition for their rivalry and antipathy to Punks and the punk movement. Aah, takes me back to my Ted days in the 70s ……… what's the difference between a punk and the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz ? The scarecrow is better dressed ……. the great thing about a punk festival is that after a nuclear attack it looks exactly the same as before.
As a lifelong Ted myself, I can testify the above stereotype does not quite do justice to the Ted culture. For one thing, Teds have always had their codes of honour, even when it came to physical aggression.
And for sheer style you cannot beat that Ted look: long Edwardian style colourful drape jackets, drainpipe trousers, bolo ties, brothel creeper shoes – majic !
Which leads into what is happening right now in Moscow:
The Russian artist Alexander Chalovsky became fascinated with the British Teddy Boy culture after we met for the first time 3 years ago in Moscow. Since then he has produced works of art depicting the Ted as a latter day Knight of old, with his fighting codes of honour and colourful dress code. Rather than put on these exhibitions at art galleries, he has chosen to exhibit his Teddy Boy works at rock'n'roll concerts in Moscow. He feels this gives his works a more authentic appeal, instead of in the more sedate confines of an art studio.
This is not only a first for Moscow, but a world first. Never before has an art exhibition been devoted solely to Teds and their culture. In addition, Alexander is very much a modern artist. He is the foremost exponent of the “new romantic” style. Rather than re-create just what he sees, his works are very much an interpretation of what he sees and observes, enlarging and emphasizing the things he considers most important. Have a look at the photos and you'll see what I mean.
And it's refreshing to see a well known and renowned artist focus on an aspect of working class culture, as opposed to the so-called “high brow” middle and upper-class ones. Alexander is no stranger to controversy. Over the years he has ruffled some features in the artistic world – in particular with his female nudes and even stronger erotic works !
In December of last year, the World's number one Teddy Boy band, Furious (from Liverpool, UK) came to Moscow to perform. I was the concert promoter. Alexander was there to exhibit his works and talk to the band: It was a big moment for both the members of the group and for him to meet each other and exchange information on the Ted culture.
So, Thankyou to Alexander for giving us Teds what we've deserved all along – recognition that we're not just a bunch of juvenile delinquents (or in the case of some of us, aging delinquents !). And hail the Teds – along with other 1950s trailblazers, we were the first real youth culture in history:
Dear Mods, Rockers, Punks, Glam Rockers, Skinheads, Heavy Metal freaks, Rappers, Hip Hoppers, etc., if it wasn't for us you'd never have happened !
Re-printed from UK Rock Magazine FURIOUS TAKE MOSCOW BY STORM !
In December Furious, the Teddy Boy band from Liverpool, returned to Moscow following their memorable first gig in Russia in May 2009.
In 2009 they left behind many newly acquired fans, who were waiting for their return. I sponsored the whole project again this year and with help from Russian friends (and special thanks to Sergey), we organised a weekend to remember. On a personal note, it was a night to remember for me – I planned the event to coincide with my 60th birthday. Rock'n'Roll will never die, but not sure if this applies to aging Teds ! A huge Thanks to all those Friends who made the night so special for me, with their words, presents, etc. – Majic !
Furious arrived the day before the concert and we made sure they had a good time, not just at the concert. They had a tour of Moscow, hosted by 2 beautiful Russian female rock'n'roll friends of mine, Polina and Natasha (lucky Scousers !).
There were just 2 of the band who came to Moscow this time. The brothers Mark (singer, bassist) and Andy (guitar) were not accompanied by Dave their new drummer. Dave's Dad was rather unwell, so he was not able to make the trip. We got a very able Russian drummer to replace him, which meant a late afternoon rehearsal before the concert. The drummer performed admirably – well done Ivan !
The venue was Club Jimi in central Moscow. The crowd was even bigger than the audience who came to see them back in 2009. The 2 support bands on the bill were the Coral Reefs (that's the nearest name they have in English – in Russian it's Koralovie Reefi) and the Great Pretenders. The Reefi are the best swing band in Russia and it was a privilege to have them at the event. The Pretenders are one of the best rockabilly groups in Russia. So there was a nice variation of music during the evening – neo-swing, rockabilly and Teddy Boy rock'n'roll. Plus both support groups are good friends of mine so it was a pleasure to have them perform on my birthday.
As usual we organised a dance class during the evening. It was beginners' rock'n'roll jive: One benefit of these classes is teaching non-dancers the basics, giving them the opportunity to try out what they've learned later in the evening (instead of sitting and watching and wishing they could get out on the dance floor and jive !). Plus as usual we organised a dance competition. The winner is nearly always a beautiful Russian woman, so on this special night we made an exception, awarding it to a young Russian bloke in full Ted regalia, from his elephant trunk hair style, his drapes, right down to his one inch rubber sole creepers !
Also on display during the evening was a fantastic art exhibition, on the theme of “The Teddy Boy”. The paintings were the work of Alexander Chalovsky, the famous Russian artist, who spoke at the concert about his project. He also presented Furious with an art collage titled “the Teds”, in recognition of their status as the World's number one Teddy Boy band. To find out more about this art project, go to www.linearts.ru/exhibitions/#a7 or email the art studio director (Guzel) at email@example.com
Furious came on stage around 10:30. For an hour and half they gave us what we'd been waiting for; wild, raucous brilliant Teddy Boy rock'n'roll !
A lot of the numbers they played were from their latest CD “Wreck the Hoose Juice”. My 2 favourites were “We are the Teds” (a great anthem for all Teds, with great lyrics) and “Punk Bashin' Boogie”: Aaah, takes me back to my youth in the 70s ! …… what's the difference between a punk, and the scarecrow in “the Wizard of Oz” ? – the scarecrow is better dressed.
Two cannibals are eating a punk. One says to the other: "Don't you find this distasteful ?"
Comparing their performance with their last gig in Moscow, my observations are that the band thankfully is not becoming more settled and polished as they get a little bit older. On the contrary, they sounded more raucous and on the wild side of rock'n'roll than ever. Long may it continue.
We organised an “after-party” for Furious, for after the concert, where they could let their hair down and get to spend more social time with Russian rock'n'rollers. They left the party after I did, which meant it was daylight and the milkmen were on their rounds by then ! After a night of lots of fizzy drinks and lemonades……………..
The venue for the after-party was the Grease Club – an appropriate place: This is the premier rock'n'roll club in Moscow, so we wanted Furious to come and see it while they were over here. The name of the club comes from the rock'n'roll hair style.
Like their last tour in Moscow, Mark and Andy made friends wherever they went. Whilst enjoying the rock'n'roll life-style to the full, they still behave respectfully and courteously with people they meet. For more info about the band go to www.rockfurious.com.
For more details about Russian rock'n'roll go to my web-site at www.coopjive.co.uk and head for the feedback page. I receive many requests from bands wanting to come to Moscow to perform – if you're one of these wannabes, contact me via the web-site. Can't promise I'll book you, but I will check you out first before replying !
Thanks Mark and Andy for a memorable concert. Here's to Furious – the future of Rock'n'Roll - lookin' forward to your next Moscow gig !
GERMANS INVADE RUSSIA; BUT THIS TIME IT'S A FRIENDLY INVASION .........
In February this year Black Raven, Germany's top Teddy Boy band, played in Russia for the first time.
The event took place in Moscow. If you have not seen them perform, check them out next time they come to the UK. This is one hot, smokin' band !
The gig was sponsored by Bop Street (www.bopstreet.ru) and Co-op Jive (www.coopjive.co.uk) so I was involved in the organisation of the concert. It was a pleasure to meet the 3 members of the band (Julien, Fritz and Torsti), who came over as nice (albeit extrovert !) guys. They clearly enjoyed living the rock'n'roll life style, which included plenty of German beer !
The venue was the XO Club and the support band was Al and the Hi-jackers. The High-jackers are a very new, young Moscow rockabilly band; and a group with a future. They are energetic, unpolished with plenty of rough edges - excellent ! Their rockabilly sound was authentic and impressive.
We also had a short rock'n'roll beginners' dance class between bands, which I recommend to other concert organisers. As long as the dance class is not too long then not just the participators enjoy - the rest of the audience find it interesting to watch. At the end of the concert there was a prize for the best dancer for the whole evening: The winner we chose was a beautiful Russian brunette in a fetching black and red dress - worth the ticket price alone !
For those present, the performance of Black Raven is one we will not easily forget. For one thing, they played on and on, going well over time and finishing their set late. Talk about value for money !
Their style is Teddy Boy, but they mix it with other genres too. For example there were country songs, smoochy slowys plus some Shadows' instrumentals, to name a few. But my favourites were their Gene Vincent numbers, like Be Bop a Lula, Blue Jean Bop, Bird Doggin' and Poor Man's Prison - smokin ! Another crackin' version they did was Matchbox's Buzz Buzz a Diddle it. These were just a few of the excellent numbers they performed with gusto and enthusiasm.
Their style is certainly extrovert. Their set is raucous, energetic and by the end of the concert definitely alcohol-fueled ! (many of us would love to be able to live such a rock'n'roll life-style; unfortunately these days I have the will but not the time !)
In conversation with them after the gig, they agreed with me about how beautiful Russian women are; in my opinion the most beautiful in the world, one more reason for me to live, work and remain in Moscow ! Another reason is the excellent rock'n'roll scene here: For more details on this you can go to my web-site at www.coopjive.co.uk and head for the feedback page. The band told me they thoroughly enjoyed Moscow and the friendly Russian people.
A big thanks to my friend Lev Gorbunov, who did the lion's share of the work involved in organising the whole event. No thanks to the DJ who never turned up (who shall be nameless and we will not book again), but who we got by well without. And Thanks to Black Raven for a great gig: Welcome back any time guys.
(for more info on the band go to www.blackraven.de)
And there's more ...... In December, Furious, the world's top Teddy Boy band, will return to Moscow. Rock'n'roll is alive and kickin' here in the East !
Re-printed from UK Rock Magazine ACES COME UP TRUMPS IN MOSCOW !
In October the Jive Aces performed for the first time in Russia. A historic event, especially for the rock'n'roll and swing crowd out here in the East. The venue was the B2 Club, one of Moscow's biggest music venues.
The gig was co-organised by Co-op Jive (www.coopjive.co.uk) and as a result I was involved in the arrangements. The Moscow support bands, the Great Pretenders (rockabilly style) and the Gagarin Brothers (sorta swing / jazz ) put in 2 impressive performances. The DJ played rockabilly in between sets, not exactly gel-ing with the Jive Aces brand of music, but rockabilly is fine by me!
In a previous UK Rock, there was a debate "Are the Jive Aces rock'n'roll" ? Well they're not pure rock'n'roll that's for sure: Too many other influences in there for that to be true. But there is a dose of the great music in there to make them part of the rock'n'roll family. Sure they probably have a bigger following amongst the swing dance crowd, but to hell with being a purist in these matters. Great music is great music and if it's got a dash of rock'n'roll in there even better - and that's what the Aces have got, a dash (not a bucketful) of r'n'r.
In their early days there was more of the r'n'r style. Check out their first ever CD "Our Kinda Jive" and you'll see what I mean. It's my favourite Jive Aces CD.
A dance competition was also ongoing throughout the evening. We chose Yulia and Sergey as the winners, not for any steps or flashy techniques but for the spirit in which they danced - the most important element of jive dancing. Great dancing is from the heart not the feet (if you see what I mean): That's a message for a few swing dancers (!) - "it's not what you do but the way that you do it" …………
There was some apprehension (by the Jive Aces and myself) of how big the turnout would be, as the gig was booked for a Sunday, starting at 9:00 p.m. Would this affect the crowd and those of us who had to be at work early on Monday morning? But no worries, a big crowd turned up and the atmosphere was terrific.
From the Jive Aces first (instrumental) number, the crowd were ecstatic. If Russian people like something, they're very open with their feelings. To coin a phrase, "the joint was jumpin'". The band went through some of their traditional numbers, "Caldonia", "I ain't got nobody", "Bona Sera", "Accentuate the positive", etc., plus those I hadn't heard during my time following them in the UK. I moved to Moscow from London over 5 years ago to live and work here. It was interesting to see after 5 years how their act has developed and changed. Even their traditional numbers they delivered in an even fresher, vibrant style. I didn't think when I left the UK they could possibly improve significantly on their live performances. But they are better: This is one band that is not going to get smoother nor stay in a comfortable groove. After 5 years they're even more vibrant, lively and unpredictable. As bands get older they're not supposed to do this, but this one does !
A Jive Aces set involves lots of inter-action with the audience, including coming off stage to play their instruments amongst the audience, jiving with some of the dancers, singing to selected young women, etc. ! Plus in the traditional Jive Aces style of giving more than value for money, their set in Moscow was a long one, including a lot of encores.
And another feature of their concerts:
After the gig, just as they always do in the UK, they spent time with the audience, posing for photographs, signing autographs, or just talking to people. A nice touch; being willing to give time to those who've paid to see them.
Overall a superb evening. The plan is for them to return to Moscow next year. When I spoke to the band about their time here, they were all positive about the place and the people. Moscow is a great city and Muscovites, like Russians generally, are genuinely friendly and welcoming. And let's not get into talking about Russian Women - the most beautiful in the world ! Plus it was a bit annoying to see that after 5 years the band don't look 5 years older. Why can't they age like the rest of us ?!
Their advertising blurb describes them as "the UK's number 1 jive and swing band". Having seen the best bands of that style over the years, to me they're "the world's number 1" in that particular field of music.
I've written quite a bit about Russian rock'n'roll for UK Rock over the past 2 years, so won't repeat what has already been penned. Suffice to say the scene here, especially in Moscow, is vibrant, growing and rockin'. The rockers here are generally younger than in the UK, also very enthusiastic about the great music. For more info on Russian rock'n'roll, go to my web-site at www.coopjive.co.uk and head for the feedback page.
There's more to come soon in Moscow. Early next year we're bringing back the Liverpool band Furious to the city - now here we ARE talkin' pure rock'n'roll ……………………
Teddy Boys succeed where Hitler failed ... FURIOUS TAKE MOSCOW BY STORM
On 30th May a historic event took place in Russian rock'n'roll history: A Teddy Boy Band performed live in Russia for the first time. Furious from Liverpool were at the XO Club in Moscow.
As the official Flyer indicated, the concert was sponsored by UK Rock magazine and Co-op Jive. There was great expectation amongst the Russian crowd present on the night. Some of them had worn their drapes at various times during periods spanning the nineties and over the last 10 years. When Furious came on, the reception was Great. And ………. they didn't disappoint. They were brilliant. The Russian audience did not realise just how wild their stage performance was until they experienced it live.
From the first number "Bop a Lena" they had the audience with them (as well as the dancers). My particular favourites on the night were "ASBO Shuffle", "Teddy Boy Boogie", "My Bonnie" and "Please don't touch". When they did "Old Black Joe" the Russian rockers showed the group they knew exactly the English ritual to follow, including the obligatory handful of singers on stage !
Russian support bands the Coral Reefs (swing jump jive style), the Great Pretenders (rockabilly) and Stressor (best neo-rockabilly band on the planet) completed a memorable evening at the XO Club.
After the gig we took Furious back to our Moscow rock'n'roll "mecca", the Rock'n'Roll Pub near Proletarskaya. There we organised an after-gig party for them. Again they performed on stage for us, along with the support band the Alligators that we'd booked for the party. The result - more unforgettable Furious rock'n'roll.
Near the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow there's a terrific café / restaurant named after an important youth culture festival which took place in Moscow in the fifties. It's called Stalovaya 57 after the year of the festival. We took Furious there a couple of times to eat during their stay here. It's like walking into the 1950s !
On a personal level, all of us who came into contact with Furious (Andy, Mark, and Yann) in Moscow were impressed with them. Genuinely nice blokes who went out of their way to make the whole event a success. We tried hard to organise everything for them to a high standard e.g. accommodation in Moscow, sight-seeing, etc. At every step they were appreciative, understanding and helpful. We look forward to hearing their new CD soon, currently being recorded at Nervous Records.
Teddy Boys have played a part in Russian rock'n'roll history, which made the coming of Furious especially significant. Thankyou Furious, for becoming a part of this history by your coming to Moscow ! Furious, with their youth and wild rockin' music - the FUTURE of Rock'n'Roll !
And Hail the Teds - working class, politically incorrect and baaadd !!
Moscow is one of the fastest growing rock 'n' roll scenes in the world. Like China and India in the global economy it's one of the biggest growth "economies" in world r'n'r ! To find out more about one of the hottest spots on the planet go to:
which has fascinating info on how the East is rockin' (head for the "feedback" page and look at the community board).
Check out the following great Moscow Bands on www.youtube.com (in the youtube search engine box add "Moscow" after each band's name):
DENIS MAZHUKOV AND OFFBEAT - DIAMOND HAND - STRESSOR - GREAT PRETENDERS - BEAT DEVILS - ALLIGATORS - CORAL REEFS
For more information about any of the above bands ask Coop Jive
Plus check out www.relaxclub.ru (then click on "rock'n'pub") to see some of the great r'n'r events happening in Moscow.
***** Co-op Jive is a free Dance Co-operative *****
April this year was the 53rd Birthday of Rock'n'Roll. So here in Moscow we celebrated with a rockin' Party; April 1954 being the birth of Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock". Moscow's best rockabilly bands performed at the B-2 Club; AND to make the Event very very special, flying in from the U.K. and topping the Bill ……….. the Jets !
Celebrating this Birthday is an annual Moscow tradition. How about doing something similar in the UK all you guys and gals back home ?
The Jets were preceded on stage by 4 of the best Rockabilly Bands in Moscow: The Prayers, Diamond Hand, the Alligators and the Great Pretenders. They're all quality groups and did the business on the night. My 2 favourites were Diamond Hand and the Pretenders: Both play hard drivin' authentic rockabilly and both have an impressive stage presence. If ya wanna see what I mean go to the following web-site page and hear Diamond Hand rock !
The whole event was largely organised by Sergei Kuteynikov, lead singer of the Great Pretenders who played the 4th set. Sergei has introduced more physical movement into his performances and it works - real authentic Elvis-style gyrations ! The Pretenders style is authentic rockabilly but they include traditional rock'n'roll hits in their repertoire (including my favourite "Teddy Boy Boogie", naturally !). They've been playing since 1996.
The Alligators played the 3rd set and gave another solid performance. I always enjoy hearing them play.
By the way those of you who went to the Rockabilly Rave last year back in the UK, don't be fooled re. the quality of Russian rockabilly by the Russian band that performed there, the Neva River Rockets from St Petersburg. Nothing personal, I spoke to them at a gig when they were last in Moscow and they're nice guys. But compared to the best Russian bands they're strictly non-league. I could quote you over half a dozen Russian bands who are premier league material who were NOT invited to the Rave.
Russian rockabilly grew largely out of the change in the scene here in the past few years. In the 1990s rock'n'roll bands attracted huge crowds especially in Moscow and St Petersburg. Unfortunately the quality of the Russian bands then was not particularly good (with some fine exceptions). But then something strange happened. By the turn of the millennium the rock'n'roll crowds had got smaller but the quality of the bands had drastically improved ! The huge crowds had partly been a reflection of Perestroika and Glasnost and the "opening up" culturally of the country after decades of Communism. After a while many simply gravitated to other things as more and more choices became available. And the crowd that stayed with the music tended to gravitate towards rockabilly rather than standard rock'n'roll. A more recent phenomenon is the strong support also for psychobilly here in Russia; but that's another story. For more info about Russian rock'n'roll go to my web-site at www.coopjive.co.uk and head for the Feedback page.
After the 4 Moscow bands had all given full value for money, then it was the turn of the Jets. They completed the evening's line-up and the old cliché "they brought the house down" pretty much approximates to the truth. They began their set with their traditional opener "Turn up the Guitar" followed by their classic "Rockabilly Baby". After all these years their rendition of the latter is still a highlight for me; a great number performed superbly with a hard edge. That was enough to get the large audience going and the place rocked ! Standards like "Josephine", "Somethin' Else" and "Runaround Sue" kept the momentum going.
The Jets still have that ability to vary the content of their performance. For example they threw in the odd Doo Wop number plus one or two distinctly non r'n'r songs like "Hobo". But it worked; they never stay far away from the next hard drivin' rock'n'roll song so the variations are not a distraction for the audience.
Speaking to Friends during and after the gig, it was clear the Jets willingness to travel all the way to Moscow for a one-off performance was much appreciated (UK Bands out there please note !). Following the Restless gig in Moscow last year falling through (the details of which are messy) the Jets presence was especially savoured by the Rockers here.
Although I'd seen them quite a few times when I lived in the UK I hadn't known them personally, so it was nice to have a chance to chat with the Band during the evening. They came across as nice, quiet and genuine blokes off-stage. After all their years together, it was clear they still got along well with each other (being brothers probably helps !). They told me they didn't miss the big fame they'd had following their hit records all that time ago - they were still happy and glad to be playing the kind of music they loved and being able to do it for a living. In other words they lived the opposite of the stereo-type wild, crazy, destructive rock'n'roll life ! (speaking personally, my only regret is that I no longer have the energy to live the wild, crazy, destructive rock'n'roll life …….. ). I also asked them their views on Russian rock'n'roll from what they were hearing that evening: They were hugely impressed.
So from all of us back in the big city in the East, a big Thankyou to the Jets. Welcome back any time.