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 !