Moscow Calling again ! This month we’re gonna continue the story of one of the most important figures in rock’n’roll history. As I mentioned in the last issue he was probably the greatest rock’n’roll music producer there’s ever been. Some even claim he was the man who invented rock’n’roll. 

Sam Phillips was the man who discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins. The epi-centre of all this was his recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee and his Sun Records label. Last month we focused on Sam’s discovery and huge influence on the career of Elvis Presley, which was his greatest contribution to rock’n’roll history. This month let’s hear the story of how he discovered other historic legends of our great culture.

As I advised last month, Phillips eventually had to part ways with Elvis. As he had become so big and famous, Elvis needed a bigger record company to accommodate his newly acquired fame. In 1955 Sam agreed a sum of  $40 000 from the RCA record company to sell Elvis’ contract to them. This was a huge sum for those times and he now at last had the money to properly promote some of his other artists. 

And what artists ! First, Carl Perkins:

Here’s how Phillips described his relationship with Perkins: “I worked with Carl Perkins similarly to the way I worked with Elvis and I always thought that Carl could have been a great, sustained country artist. I cut ‘Turn Around’ with him before I cut ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and it was one of the finest country records you ever heard. Carl had a great ability, especially in terms of his guitar playing; it had rock written all over it, and when I heard ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ I thought he really ought to go into the rock vein. He had written this song and he had the line ‘Go, man, go’. Well, that was a common term used in the vernacular of country people and I said, ‘Carl, why don’t you just say, ‘Go, cat, go’?’ Aside from getting the sound that I wanted, that’s all I did, but it was one of the things that kept it from being mainly a country record.”

Carl had previously 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 and his Sun Studios took an interest. It was indeed a defining moment for Perkins. 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 that by the time he recovered, it was too late. Some even perpetuate this myth to this day. It was something that Phillips also believed. And 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 so much 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 also 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. 

Next, Johnny Cash. Here’s how Phillips remembered his times with Cash:

“Johnny Cash could have gone by the wayside if I had tried to make a rocker out of him. Johnny Cash had folk all over him. When he came in for his audition, Johnny basically apologised for not having more musicians. He said, ‘Mr. Phillips, the next time we come in I’ll have a steel player and probably a fiddle player,’ but after we got through with the audition and I’d heard the ‘band’ that he did have, I said, ‘Johnny, let’s just play around here a few more sessions before we think about adding anything to the ‘instrumentation’ of your ‘band’ !”

“I mean, (guitarist) Luther Perkins could literally play one string at a time, and I loved that ! It blew me away. Johnny would get disgusted with Luther — he’d get in and have a great feel on a cut with a good vamp going and Luther would take a break and hit the wrong note and Johnny would get so upset, because Johnny had done a good job in his mind. Luther’s hair looked like it would stand on its end when he’d make a mistake, because he was scared to death, but I loved Luther and I loved all three of those guys, including (bass player) Marshall Grant and Johnny.”

“Man, you’re talking about a classic sound ! There’s not another one like it. I mean, there’s vamps and there’s vamps, but there isn’t that sound. Really, Johnny was disappointed when I told him there was just really no way I could sell these darned good Southern gospel songs that he had written, but I knew that I had enough on my plate to try to sell him. He wasn’t country, he wasn’t rock, and so I thank God that I didn’t try to make something out of him but what he was.”

Sam Phillips had mixed success with Roy Orbison, who, like Elvis Presley, had the desire and ability to sing big ballads and who was likewise steered by Phillips towards more upbeat numbers – this time without success. 

Nevertheless, Sam the Man was about to enjoy one of his greatest commercial triumphs, which would blow into Memphis and then around the world like a hurricane; and this hurricane came out of Ferriday, Louisiana. The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, would help define rock’n’roll at its most aggressive and suggestive with barnstorming vocal and piano renditions of numbers such as ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’, ‘Great Balls Of Fire’, ‘Breathless’ and ‘High School Confidential’.

Sam takes up the story of Jerry Lee: “In late 1956, I took possibly the first vacation that I’d ever had in my life, when I, my wife and our two young sons took off and went to Daytona, Florida, for a week. Jerry Lee Lewis had been trying to see me and while I was away he and his father had apparently sold eggs to buy gasoline to come up here to Memphis from Ferriday. You might think, ‘Man, was anybody that poor in the ’50s?’ Well, they were. Anyway, he had missed me, so one day he came in to Sun and Jack Clement — who I had hired by that time to take a little bit of the load off me on auditions and so on — recorded a demo of him doing ‘Crazy Arms’. When I got back, Jack told me about this guy who had been looking for me. He told me that he’d put him down on tape and that he was a piano player, and I said, ‘That’s what I’m looking for ! ‘ “

“I really was looking for an artist who could be a lead piano player and hopefully a vocalist too, and damn if Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t like that. I really do think that the guitar is the greatest instrument on the planet, but there were so many guitarists by that time that I wanted a piano. So, when I heard this demo of Jerry Lee Lewis I said, ‘Where is that cat ? Get ahold of him and get him in here ! I want to talk to him !’ And we were doing a session with Jerry Lee Lewis within a matter of two to three days. I was just blown away. The guy was different. You know, Jerry still sings a little bit nasal, but the expression, the way he played that piano and how you could just feel that evangelical thing about him – Man, was I looking for that and there it was!”

Speaking personally, I myself saw Jerry Lee live on more than one occasion. For example, I was at the iconic Rock’n’Roll Festival at Wembley stadium in the early 1970s, where he was one of the performers. To be honest, he wasn’t at his best that day. But there was another occasion at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, again in the 1970s, where he just blew the audience and me away with his brilliance. I remember prior to the Hammersmith concert there had been talk of him drinking heavily (surprise, surprise !) and not being in the best of health. Well, that night he was sensational and silenced all the doubters. I remember one item from that night in particular. While the band was pumping out the music, he walked away from his piano. Then from the edge of the stage he charged at the piano, sliding feet first from the floor. When he reached the piano he jumped up and continued to play, right on the beat with the band. A wonderful moment to remember !

So getting back to Sam, you see can see folks that Phillips really was a crucial part of the history of rock’n’roll. Can you imagine rock’n’roll without Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis or Carl Perkins ?!

In the early 1960s he moved his Sun Records recording studio to a new location. This new studio was much more modern but failed to re-capture the original raw Sun sound. Sam explained the success of the old days compared to his newer studio this way:

“I absolutely think that the technical limitations of the time contributed towards making more successful, heartfelt records. It made us mic things more carefully, and it made sure I didn’t convey to the artists, ‘Well, Lord, you do it, and if you miss, then that’s the only chance you’re gonna have !’ No, I think that having the sparseness and the lack of ability to overdub absolutely contributed to how well things turned out. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time; it just made things a little more difficult to set up and that sort of thing, but I was always a mic nut anyway — I would experiment with positioning, and I knew which microphone worked best with each instrument — and I really think it was a blessing in disguise. It had the duality of getting more of a natural sound as well as the fact that nobody laid back and said, ‘Gosh, I can come in tomorrow and overdub.’ There just was no such animal. I mean, hell, you just cut another damned track, y’all !”

In the 1960s the new fads of music culture were passing Sam by and he was not able to re-ignite and produce the magic of his 1950s music. He sold Sun Records in 1969. But Sam was a very shrewd businessman. He invested his money expertly, particularly in the new Holiday Inn hotel franchise that opened in the 1950s. As a result he became a very wealthy man.

Sam married Rebecca Burns in 1943 and they had 2 children. The marriage ended in 1960. He died of emphysema in 2003. His legacy to Rock’n’Roll was immense. 

Join me next month Dear Readers, for another great rock’n’roll story !

Hello again from good ole Russia, where Rock’n’Roll LIVES !. This month I’m gonna tell you the story of one of the most important figures in rock’n’roll history. And he wasn’t even a performer. He was probably the greatest rock’n’roll music producer there’s ever been. Some even claim he was the man who invented rock’n’roll. 

On 9th March I organised a tribute concert at the Duma Club in Moscow to celebrate the life and achievement of Sam Phillips. I booked the most appropriate band possible in Russia, given Phillips’ role in the career of Elvis Presley. The group “Elvis on Tour” are quite simply the best Elvis-style band in Russia. They are brilliant. They put on a great show for us on 9th. Coming very soon in this column, you will find out much more about this iconic group. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the event. 

And now, to the story of Sam Phillips:

To give you some idea of Sam Phillips’ importance to rock’n’roll, consider this: He was the man who discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny  Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins. Get the picture ? The epi-centre of all this was his recording studio in Memphis, Tennesse and his Sun Records label. Here’s how his story began:

He was born into a large family on a farm in Alabama. As a child, he picked cotton in the fields with his parents alongside black labourers. The experience of hearing black labourers singing in the fields left a big impression on the young Phillips and was an influence on his future career. I have my own positive experiences of Alabama. I lived and worked there in the early 1990s, incidentally also doing heavy manual work in the fields. It wasn’t picking cotton, but believe me the labour was just as hard. I was there on a student exchange scheme. Plus most of the time I was working alongside real Rednecks ! But that’s maybe a story for another time; but a very interesting experience indeed –   good times, friendly people.

Sam attended school up to the age of 18, but then in 1941 had to leave behind schooling forever. The reason was that his father died that year and as the family had been bankrupted by the Great Depression, he had to leave his education to support his mother and aunt. He worked in a grocery store and then a funeral parlour.

In the 1940s he worked as a radio engineer and Disc Jockey for a local radio station in Alabama. Then in 1945 he worked for a radio station in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1950 he opened the Memphis Recording Service. It was here in the early days that the then unknown performers like B.B King, Junior Parker, and Howlin’ Wolf made their first recordings. Phillips would then sell these recordings to larger labels. If you know your music history, you will know how big these three figures were to become. 

Here is the where the story gets really really interesting. The Memphis Recording Service also served as the studio for Phillips’ own label, Sun Record Company, which he launched in 1952. And here is where the real legend and impact of Sun Records on music history began. In the course of the next few years, artists hitherto unknown would cut records at Sun and go on to become music legends. Here are some examples – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. 

Most rock’n’rollers who know the story of Sam Phillips would agree that his greatest individual achievement for our great music was discovering Elvis Presley. So let’s focus now on the history of Elvis, Sam and Sun Records: 

In August 1953 an event occurred which seemed insignificant at the time, but was to change rock’n’roll and music history. A young and shy teenage Elvis Presley went to the Sun Record Company offices in Memphis. Marian Keisker, who was on the reception desk, noticed a nervous young boy at the front of the offices pacing back and forth. She went out to ask him if he was OK. After a while Elvis plucked up the courage to enter the building and asked Marian how much it would cost him to cut a record. She told him the cost and then asked, “Who do you sound like ?”. He replied, “I don’t sound like nobody else.” Truer words had never been spoken !

Phillips’ musical philosophy was a revolutionary one for that time. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to quote one of his famous remarks, “If I could find a white man who had the negro sound and the negro feel, I could make a billion dollars !” That statement in a way is an over-simplification of what he was trying to do, but you get the idea. And of course the “white man” in question would turn out to be Elvis. Although Phillips didn’t end up making quite that amount of money !

Not that Phillips was completely sold on Elvis straightaway. The first recordings he did with him were unsuccessful and even Elvis was unhappy with the way things were going. But Phillips identified that there was something a bit different about this performer and decided to keep him as a recording artist. Then in July 1954, Elvis cut “That’s Alright Mama” in the studio, with the help of backing musicians which included Scotty Moore and Bill Black. It was the turning point. Phillips at last realised he had the sound he wanted and that his faith and patience with Elvis had been well worth it. When he heard them performing in the studio, Phillips exclaimed, “Good God, they’ll run us out of town for this !”

Early on Presley teamed up with Tom Parker, a man who promised to make him a star if he allowed him to manage his affairs. Phillips sent Elvis, along with the band who had been backing him in the studio, out on tour. He was advertised in those early days as the “Hillbilly Cat”. The impact of those early concerts can hardly be over-estimated. They were witnesses to Elvis performing at his youngest and his wildest. If you look back at film clips of those times, you will see the evidence that there really never was anyone like Elvis, either before or since. He was rock’n’roll at its very very best. The legend had now truly arrived. 

What followed was the greatest period in his life, in terms of his performance and achievement. It was the King at his Greatest. For example, his very first gig after he signed to Sun was in July 1954, at an open-air theatre in Memphis. Whilst waiting to go on stage, Elvis was terrified and told Sam, “Man, I’m so glad to see you, Mr Phillips. I-I-I-I just didn’t know what I was going to do.” Re-assured by Phillips, Elvis got on stage and proceeded to sing, shake those hips and do all the things that were to become legendary. The audience reaction was explosive. They went wild, especially the young women. Even Presley and his backing band were taken aback and at first didn’t understand why the audience were so wild. Later Elvis said, “I was scared stiff. Everyone was hollering and I didn’t know what they were hollering at.” When Elvis came offstage he asked his manager, “What did I do ?” His manager explained it was the way he was “wiggling” his legs that caused all the excitement !

This period was Elvis at his greatest. He truly took the World by storm. No other pop or rock star could come close to him at that time, in terms of impact and popularity. It is also true to say he made the most of this success and his life style was rather the opposite of the public image he portrayed outside of his concert performances. He was highly active sexually and took full advantage of his new found fame. Here’s Scotty Moore, a key member of his backing group, describing it, “Elvis was like a young stud at a rodeo. They could have named him Man o’War”. As part of his new image, Elvis took to wearing eye make-up and mascara in his performances. This led to some rubbish rumours about him being bi-sexual. Scotty Moore pointed out the nonsense behind these rumours, “He’d have been the first to lay someone out if a man made an advance on him, I can tell you that. If he was prejudiced about something, that was it.” Interestingly, despite his excessive sexual appetite, in other ways he was a model young man, a non-smoking tee-totaler. It was only a bit later that his excessive use of pills really kicked in. And it was primarily the pills that ultimately killed him.

It is hard to over-exaggerate the impact rock’n’roll made in the mid-fifties in its early days in America and the Western World. And it was Elvis who was in the forefront. He was at the front of a new youth culture that for the first time really did belong to young people and was not just a modification of what had gone before. The reaction was extreme on both sides. For example here is what Frank Sinatra, as someone whose massive fame was kind of side-lined as a result of the rock’n’roll revolution taking place, had to say, “Rock’n’Roll is played and written for goons, for the most part by goons. Rock’n’Roll is the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression – sly, lewd, in fact, dirty – a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac and the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the Earth.”

Elvis’ days with Sam at Sun Records inevitably came to an end. Basically Sun could not cope or handle the huge demand for Elvis’ records and Sam Phillips agreed a deal with RCA in 1955 to release Elvis, as well as sell recordings that he had cut at Sun and had still not been released. As a result of this, Elvis had many number one hits in the music charts during his time in the army, which included his five Sun singles and other early Elvis songs that were unreleased Sun material. The price was an unprecedented one for that time, $35 000 with a $5,000 bonus for Elvis.

It is fair to say Phillips and Elvis opened a new form of music. Phillips said of Presley: “Elvis cut a ballad, which was just excellent. I could tell you, both Elvis and Roy Orbison could tear a ballad to pieces. But I said to myself, ‘You can’t do that, Sam.’ If I had released a ballad I don’t think you would have heard of Elvis Presley.” Of course his later career would confirm Elvis’ tremendous ability with ballads. 

One interesting side story during Elvis’ time at Sun was the so-called famous “million dollar quartet” jam session in December 1956 in the Sun studios. It comprised Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis. Lewis was playing piano for a Carl Perkins recording session. When Elvis Presley walked in unexpectedly, Johnny Cash was called into the studio by Phillips, leading to an impromptu session featuring the four musicians. Phillips challenged the four to achieve gold record sales, offering a free Cadillac to the first (which Carl Perkins won !)

Now Phillips huge impact on rock’n’roll history didn’t end with Elvis. Next month I will tell you about Sam’s discovering and bringing to the music world legends like Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s an incredible story. Stay tuned !

Hi Folks, Hello again from Russia. As some regular readers of my column will already have worked out, some of my favourite stories don’t always include the squeaky clean, goody two shoes of rock’n’roll. This month is no exception. It’s a tale of a very British story of someone from the golden age of rock’n’roll who could have been a big super star, but who through self-destruction never made it to those heights. This story will tell you why:

The man in question is Terry Dene. In the late 1950s, nearly everyone in British rock’n’roll expected that his would be a story of one of the giants of our great culture. On 10th February I organised a tribute concert  to Terry Dene at the Mellow Yellow Club in Moscow. I booked the Great Pretenders to perform for us: Regular readers of this column will know about them. They are legends in the world of Russian rockabilly, going back many years. As ever, they put on a brilliant show for us. You can see some of the photos taken at the concert. And now, let’s turn to the story of Terry Dene:

Terry Dene was born and bred in South London. His first serious performances of rock’n’roll were at the legendary 2is (as in “two eyes”) coffee bar in London. Some of you will know about the iconic status of this rock’n’roll venue in the 1950s. It’s the location where the likes of Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Cliff Richard launched their careers. From there, his career sky rocketed. The legendary music producer Jack Good saw him perform at the 2is and helped him obtain a recording contract with the famous Decca record company. At that time he was regarded as a British Elvis and recognised as one of the best voices of the rock’n’roll era. 

In 1957, his first single, “A White Sport Coat”, sold in excess of 350,000 copies in the first seven weeks (a huge number for that time) and together with his own version of “Start Movin'” at number 14, put his records in the Top 20 of the UK Singles Chart twice in the same year.His recording of “Stairway of Love” in 1958 remained in the chart for eight weeks. He toured Britain, was one of the first to appear on the BBC Television’s first pop show “Six-Five Special” in April 1957 and appeared in a film “The Golden Disc (1958)”. By the way, how many of you are old enough to remember “Six-Five Special” ? I was very very young at the time, some way from being a teenager, but for sure I remember it. It was iconic for its time, showcasing all the big names in British rock’n’roll. For young (and very young people like myself at the time) it was very exciting seeing such a programme on TV. The six-five special referred to a mythical train arriving at 18.05 (the time the programme began at the weekend). Each episode of the programme opened with a camera on a train filming the journey at high speed, to the background of the “six five special” song. I even remember the lyrics – “Over the points, Over the points !”

Dene achieved his biggest fame with pop numbers like “White Sports Coat”, but he much preferred singing hard rock’n’roll songs. Unfortunately for him his management kept pressuring him to turn out the more poppy, commercial stuff. Terry proved that he could belt out the rockin’ numbers with real skill, but had to compromise. This was especially so with regards to his fan base, the majority of whom were young women who preferred his more mellow tunes.

Unfortunately we now come to the point where Dene’s career took a drastic downward slide. He had been battling alcohol and mental health issues for a while. These came to a head in 1958 when he was arrested for public drunkenness, breaking a shop window and ripping out a public telephone box from the wall. Given the tendency of much of the mainstream media at that time to denigrate this new rock’n’roll culture as being a bad influence on the nation’s youth, Dene was inevitably branded as a ‘bad apple’ and the exemplifier of the ‘evil of rock’n’roll’ by the press. 

Then came his conscription into the Army for national service (national service was not ended until 1960 in the UK). He was originally expected to report to Winchester Barracks, where he was due to join the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on 7th July 1958, but his call-up was initially deferred until his contractual commitments as a performer had been completed. When he finally did go in, after his drunken escapades had made it into the national newspapers, the press continued to give him a hard time, questioning the authenticity of why his call-up had been deferred. They filmed and publicised his arrival at the barracks in a negative way. 

Dene’s emotional state had made him unsuitable material for the call-up in the first place, but the press decided that his initial deferment was his apparent keenness to avoid it and that it was further evidence that the singer was a thoroughly bad lot. Here’s how the writer Nik Cohn describes it, “As Rifleman 23604106 he smiled for the cameras, waved for weeping fans. A few hours later, though, having realised exactly what he was taking on, he burst into tears and collapsed. ‘It was grim, man, just grim,’ he said”.

Only two months later, Dene had to be discharged on psychological grounds, as his mental health had deteriorated considerably. By that time the press had almost ruined his career and the Army offered him a pension as a form of compensation, which Dene refused. It needs to be remembered this was the late 1950s, not today and the culture was different in terms of public attitudes to things like national service. Despite the real reasons for his discharge, the press gave the discharge negative coverage. Most of the public at that time were old-school in their beliefs. The country was well into the process of ending its colonial empire, but people generally still believed in the traditional values. I remember as a very young boy, these were what were referred to as traditional working class values. Alas, how times have changed since then ! But I digress. In any event, Dene’s early discharge did nothing to dispel the image the media had created of him.

Amazingly, there were even questions about him raised in the House of Commons, given his celebrity. This, along with the attacks in the press, became a stigma that poor Dene could not cast off and his chart career effectively ceased at that point. After finally recovering from the nervous breakdown that followed the demise of his stardom in his professional music career, Terry was still keen to carry on singing and he later joined the Larry Parnes’ stable of stars and toured with them around Britain. But his mega stardom was well and truly over. 

Disheartened by the bad publicity, in 1964 Dene turned his back on the British pop scene and became a Christian evangelist, crossing over to singing and writing spiritual and gospel music and recording three gospel albums. He travelled abroad as an itinerant preacher, playing in churches, prisons and other venues and preached in the Scandinavian Lutheran Church for five years in Sweden. So for Dene of course, he considers what he lost was compensated much more by what he gained, with this change in his life. He did make a few cameo appearances over the years and very occasionally on TV as a pop performer.

One item that caught my eye was that Dene also performed on 29 February 2008 at Borough Green Rock ‘n’ Roll Club in Kent, backed by Dave Briggs’ New Ravens. By 2008 I was already living and working in Russia. But I do remember fondly some great Friday nights at the Borough Green club during the time I was a regular attender there, run by a really nice couple who I got to know reasonably well. Maybe readers in that neck of the woods can advise me if the club is still going ?

In fact despite the adverse publicity of his early career, the artist eventually became accepted by fans as one of Britain’s significant rock’n’roll pioneers and he managed to carve out a career at rock’n’roll revival concerts

Dene married fellow pop singer Edna Savage in 1958. They later divorced. He married and divorced another three times and is now settled with an Italian countess, Lucia Liberati, whom he met in London in 2000.

One of the best summaries I’ve read about Terry Dene was by Stuart Colman in his book “They kept on Rockin’ ”. He begins his piece by describing him as “Once a King”” and goes on to write, “Terry Dene could well have become the prime mover amongst the ever growing flock of British rock’n’roll singers.” Indeed. Terry was the classic “Mister Might Have Been.” Stay tuned Dear Readers for another rock’n’roll story, next month !

This month dear Readers I will conclude my series of articles covering the King of Rock’n’Roll, Elvis Presley. Whew ! Regular readers of this column will know that periodically I have done a piece on the history the King, with the main title in each one being “The King – The Whole Story”. Believe it or not, my first one, covering his early years, was back in June 2019. So it’s taken me over 4 years to complete the story ! So this month marks the conclusion of my Elvis story. I hope you have enjoyed it. The last column in which I focused on Elvis covered the Comeback Special in 1968 and Elvis’ failed marriage. The story now takes a sad turn in the tale, as we look at his final years. It’s a story of decline, both in the level of his talent and his physical condition. 

I again organised a tribute concert to Elvis, to coincide with my articles on him in this column. I booked the group MosVegas to perform for us in Moscow. They are a relatively new band and play in the style of Elvis. The name itself “MosVegas” comprises “Mos” from Moscow and “Vegas” from the Elvis film “Viva Las Vegas”. They really are a brilliant band and truly capture the spirit of Elvis in their sound and performances. They put on a great show for us and you can see some of the photos taken at the event. And now – Elvis – the
Epilogue:

Following the big success of Elvis’ TV “Comeback Special at the end of 1968, he performed extensively to huge audiences. But by 1971 his heavy use of amphetamines and other prescription drugs were beginning to take their toll. He was gaining weight and was in poor physical shape. His extensive womanising continued and to the end of his life his enormous sexual appetite did not let up. All these factors contributed to his decline. The way he was spending his money did not help. The writer Joel Williamson described it this way, “Elvis began spending money like water. He bought jewelry for everyone, expensive cars for several of his guys. He had come dangerously close to bankruptcy.” 

And then, in 1971, a historic meeting took place. It was a meeting at the White House between Elvis and the then President of United States, Richard Nixon. Here’s how it came about. Despite his drug addictions, Elvis was hostile to the new Hippie drug culture and anti-Americanism of so many of the Youth in American and Western society generally at that time. He initiated a meeting with the President by writing him a letter. In it he wrote things like, “The Drug Culture, the Hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc., do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out.”  His letter continued advising that he had done “an in depth study of Drug Abuse and Communist Brainwashing techniques” and he added “ I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not too busy.”

Nixon agreed to the meeting. In the very early 1970s he certainly had an image problem with many of the young people in America, especially with the Vietman War raging and thousands of young men being drafted into the army to serve there. He figured maybe Elvis could help him with this image problem, considering the following Elvis had amongst many of the Youth. And so the classic encounter between the two took place. It was later to become known as the meeting of the President and the King. During their discussion, Elvis launched into an attack on the Beatles. He accused the Beatles of being a centre of anti-Americanism, having come to America to make a lot of money, then going back to England and slandering America. Both agreed that Elvis could be helpful in getting the support of some young people for Nixon and Elvis agreed to do everything he could in this regard. He promised to fight hard against the drug culture prevalent in American amongst the young, which was rather ironic given his own addictions. But Elvis did not have commitment to go public on either this meeting with Nixon or on what he promised to do for the President during that meeting. He told the President it was best if he did not do this publicly. The details of this famous get together between the President and the King only came out after his death.

Given the chaos in Elvis’ life at that time, already outlined above, it is doubtful he achieved anything that he promised during that presidential meeting. And much later, when the details of their discussions came out, Paul McCartney said he felt betrayed by the things that Elvis had said about the Beatles, given his public statements of friendliness towards them.

As the 1970s rolled on, Elvis continued to work relentlessly, filling huge arenas with adoring fans. And some of that unique Elvis magic and charisma was still there. But the quality of his performances was declining. And his physical appearance was likewise deteriorating. In addition to his drug dependency and general life-style, his additional addiction to over-eating of junk food made his physical condition worse. Here’s one example of just how bad things were: Williamson described a tour Elvis did in early 1977, “Elvis was in such bad shape that Dr. Nick had to put him on an intra-veinus and one of his entourage had to load him onto a plane like some cumbersome bundle of cargo. His attire onstage during the tour was limited to the only two jumpsuits that he could squeeze into. His weight had swelled to well over two hundred pounds.”

Finally in 1977, at the age of 42, the inevitable happened. He was found one night in his bathroom at Gracelands, lying dead on the floor. The official cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia, primarily due to a combination of a poor diet and drug misuse. His ex-wife Priscilla kind of summed up the inevitability of it all, “It is better that he died now. If he continued at the pace he was going, I’m sure he would have ended up being nothing more than a vegetable.”

Although I’m not a huge fan of the Beatles, I liked John Lennon’s quote when he was asked what he felt when he heard the news of the death, “Elvis died when he joined the army.” Of course Elvis’s willingly joined his country’s army when called up and not trying to avoid the draft was admirable (unlike subsequent high profile draft dodgers). But Lennon’s point underlined that the King’s greatest period was in those early days in the mid-fifties. He was quite simply unique and incomparable at that time. No other performer will ever match that golden Elvis period. Although Lennon is too harsh, in the sense that some of the Elvis magic did continue right up to his death. Even near the end of his life, there were still sparks of his genius.

Why did it all end so tragically ? Over the years since his death, many people have tried to point the finger of guilt. One target has been Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The argument is that he pushed Elvis to perform at so many concerts, appear in so many films, etc., putting him under so much pressure, in order to make lots of money. I don’t buy it. The Colonel gave Elvis what he wanted, fame and fortune. And Elvis loved performing and appearing in films and he didn’t need pushing in that direction. Plus a few times in his career, Parker did speak strongly to Elvis when he saw him getting out of condition due to over-eating, etc.

One person who could have been his saviour was his wife for a few years, Priscilla. Her later life proved that she was a strong woman who could have exerted the right influence on Elvis, to curb his destructive life style. But she was never given the chance. Elvis’ serial adultery during their marriage made it impossible for their union to survive. 

If the finger of guilt could be pointed at anyone in Elvis’s life, in my opinion it was the “Memphis Mafia”. This was the group of guys Elvis employed to look after his affairs and look after him. They hung out at Gracelands, giving Elvis whatever he asked for. Not one of them had the guts to go to Elvis and point out the uncomfortable truth that if he didn’t curb his life style, he was on a road to ruin. They were all worried that if any of them had, Elvis, with his “short fuse” temper, would have dismissed the person concerned and he’d have lost his lucrative job with the King. 

But ultimately I believe the responsibility lies with Elvis himself. He was born and raised a poor boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, who just couldn’t handle the fame and fortune which was thrust upon him. They were pressures which were to a degree that no other performer up to that time had experienced. The destructive life-style was a form of escapism from the pressures of being not just a super star but a unique mega star. Elvis was a good guy who just couldn’t handle it.

But we love you, Elvis. You gave us some of the greatest music in rock’n’roll history. And at your best you stood out in a league of your own. More than anyone else in rock’n’roll, you were truly the one and only, the King.

So here’s to the King. And join me next month Dear Readers, for another rock’n’roll story !

Hi, Folks. My story for you this month is written as usual from Russia, but the subject is very British. First, an introduction to the performer in question:

In the first wave of rock’n’roll in the 1950s, it is fair to say that in Britain we generally came up with, let’s say, Elvis imitations or old crooners masquerading as pop singers. This is a generalisation of course: The likes of Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard deserve a better description than that. But it was on the whole a fair description of the British scene at that time compared to the USA; this is not demeaning this scene at all of course. It was life changing and socially revolutionary for those involved in it. The observation above is just comparing it to the birthplace of rock’n’roll i.e. America, in terms of the American vis-à-vis the British performers. And we’re not focusing this month about who were our greatest British 1950s rock’n’roll performers, but who had the most in originality. One of the huge exceptions to the rule of British “imitations” was Wee Willie Harris.

On 9th December we organised a tribute concert at the Duma Club in Moscow, to celebrate this British rock’n’roll innovator. I booked the Great Pretenders to perform for us at this concert on 02/12/23. Regular readers of my column will remember them. They are a brilliant and legendary Russian rockabilly band with a great history. This whole pre-Christmas concert was a huge success and you can see some of the photos taken at the event.

Introductions over, now to the story of Wee Willie Harris:

Well, let’s say he was err, a bit different from his fellow rock’n’roll performers at that time. For example, he dyed his hair all manner of colours and wore larger-than-life stage jackets that looked like the coat hanger was still inside, tight drainpipe trousers and a huge polka-dot bow tie. He’d been a regular act at the legendary 2is (as in “Two Eyes”) coffee house in Soho (an iconic venue in the history of British rock’n’roll). He loved hard American rock’n’roll and had the ability to perform it with unrelenting energy, from the mid-1950s onwards. His stage show was humorous and dynamic. The pinnacle of his rock’n’roll career was in the late 1950s when he was one of Britain’s hottest homegrown performers in a still-evolving rock ‘n’ roll scene.

He was born to a working class family in Bermondsey and left school at the age of 14 (yes folks, you were allowed to do that back then !). He quit his job at a Peek Freans bakery in London in order to have a go at making a career in music. Those of you of a certain age may not know that Peek Freans, the famous world wide brand of food makers, actually began as just one biscuit making company in Bermondsey. But I digress ! Prior to starting out on a music career, Willie served his standard two years in the army on national service. I guess more or less all of us reading this now were too young to be conscripted into national service in the UK (albeit speaking personally I myself did serve as a volunteer reservist, long after national service was ended). National service was ended in 1960. Willie’s two years were served in Aldershot in the early 1950s. He and his fellow squaddies considered themselves lucky that they didn’t have to go and fight in the Korean Civil War, which Britain was involved in at that time. In his book “I Go Ape”, a biography of Harris, Rob Finnis describes that Willie took this service in his stride, apart from some minor incidents: “He was ‘banged up’ in the guardhouse on three occasions, once for thumping the staff barber ‘because he hurt my ear’ and a couple of times for going AWOL with some buddies down in the town.”

Willie’s first major gigs were at the 2is coffee bar in Soho, London, where he was the resident piano player, performing with Tommy SteeleAdam FaithScreaming Lord Sutch and others. The legendary music producer Jack Good described his first impression of Willie, when he saw him in action at the 2is in early 1957:

“When the band had to take a break, a frighteningly pale young man would sit down to the piano with a microphone and bash the daylights out of a string of rock’n’roll favourites. At other times, he would appear with a pick-up skiffle group. Nobody took much notice of him. Some time later this boy was destined to dye his hair red and become the No. 1 topic of conversation: Wee Willie Harris.” 

The nickname “Wee Willie” (his full real name was Charles William Harris) was an obvious one – his full height was 5′ 2″. A big break came in November 1957, when Jack Good chose him to appear in the BBC show “Six-Five Special”. For those that don’t know, Six Five Special was a truly iconic 1950s rock’n’roll TV show, similar in status to the BBC’s later “Top of the Pops” from the 1960s onwards. Great to report that his appearances on the show led to concerns being expressed in the media at that time about the BBC’s role in “promoting teenage decadence” – wonderful ! His debut single, his own composition “Rockin’ At the 2 i’s”, was released on the Decca label in December 1957 and was followed by several others.

He became a popular performer on TV shows and in live performances. His trademarks were his unrelenting energy, multi-coloured dyed hair (often green, orange or pink) and his clothes which were very outlandlish for that time. Here’s a quote from a music critic at that time, “He gyrates like an exploding Catherine wheel, emitting growls, squeals and what sounds like severe hiccupping”. One small sign of his popularity was the fact that Paul McCartney and John Lennon reportedly queued for his autograph when he played in Liverpool in 1958. According to Harris, the idea of dyeing his hair pink originally came from his manager, professional wrestler and wrestling promoter Paul Lincoln, who was inspired by American wrestler Gorgeous George. Again Dear Readers, if you are not of a mature age, the name Gorgeous George probably means nothing to you. For those of us who are old enough to have seen him in action, we remember he was a very entertaining professional wrestler on the UK circuit. I personally remember extremely funny and lively bouts he had against another wrestling icon of the period, Les Kellett. Like the WWF and Impact Wrestling of today, these were pure entertainment and not to be taken seriously !

In May 1960, Willie joined a UK tour featuring Conway TwittyFreddy Cannon and Johnny Preston. He continued to record in the 1960s, for HMVPolydor and Parlophone, and continued to perform in the UK as well as in Israel, Spain and elsewhere and on cruise ships. Of course by then his big hey days back in the late 1950s were over. But his career continued. For example, in the late 1970s he toured with a “nostalgia” act. In 2002 he released an album “Rag Moppin”, using the band the Alabama Slammers as his backing group.

I have a personal memory in particular I remember about him in his later years. In the late 1990s he put on a show at the 100 Club in London. Since I had been much too young to see him in his heyday, it was going to be interesting for me to see him in action. While I was watching a support band and leaning against the wall of the club, a short stocky man of mature years came and stood next to me, also to watch the band performing. Since my only visual image of Willie up to that time were photos of him from the 1950s, I didn’t recognise him. Anyway I started up a bit of a conversation, about the support band on stage and it developed briefly into talking about music generally (as I remember). It was not a long conversation at all, but I remember my surprise after I asked him something about if he was a regular at the club (I think it was something like that) and he explained he was Wee Willie Harris, about the come on stage next ! He ended our conversation when it was time for him to walk up on stage to start his act. A small episode perhaps, but it showed me there were no “airs and graces” about Willie; basically a nice, down-to-earth chap.

Here’s another example highlighting the dichotomy between his on and off stage character:

At the height of his fame, he got huge coverage in the national tabloid newspapers. For example, in a piece the Sunday Mirror did on him, Willie told the reporter, “I ain’t big-headed or anything like that but it’s a great thing to be appreciated by the kids. Does something for you, I mean.” The reporter then wrote as follows, “It is correct that Mr Harris is no big-head. In fact off the stage his manner suggests that of a nervous waiter about to be interviewed about a mistake in his figures. This makes the contrast, when you see him in action, practically unbelievable. For Mr Harris is what is known in the business as a screamer, which is a way of saying he is the most completely uninhibited rocker of the lot.”

He was married to Sheila Harris in 1982 and they were together until his death in April 2023. He died peacefully at his home at the age of 90. An interesting life and for sure he made a significant contribution to the history of UK rock’n’roll. Stay tuned Dear Readers, for another rock’n’roll story next month !

Hello again from Russia ! This month we are gonna continue the exciting story of a legendary Russian rock’n’roll band. Over the last three years, they have established themselves as one of the greatest bands in Russia. We began their story last month and this month Katya Romanova, lead singer and keyboards with the group, will continue to tell us more, along with fellow band members Natalya (lead guitar), Sergey (bass guitar and second lead vocals) and Alexander (drums). You can see some photos of the group in action, at some of the concerts I booked them for.  

The guys continue their story by telling us to what extent they were influenced by other Russian rock’n’roll groups, when they first started playing:

Natalya: The record “The Bremen Town Musicians” was very impressive and had a big impact on me.

Sergey: My influencer is the band Grazhdanskaya Oborona, if you mean Russian music.

Katerina: Oddly enough, I never liked the music of Russian rock’n’roll bands. For some reason, it has never touched me to the heart. If any Russian music really influenced me, it is Russian folklore. It is real, authentic. I studied many such expedition records; I myself went to collect old songs of old villagers. I enjoyed learning these songs and performing them. This music touched my heart, influenced me and I really liked it.

The band members also discussed the most significant events in their personal rock’n’roll histories:

Natalya: My 50th birthday, July 7, 2017. They didn’t bring me a birthday cake in the form of a huge guitar, because the manufacturer couldn’t make it and had eaten all the blooper variants needed for it ! But I was presented with more than 50 bouquets of flowers. And then exactly at 22:00 all the numerous guests and musicians were kicked out of the venue !

Sergey: My most memorable concert was in the Square in the city of Saratov – more than 20 thousand people.

Alexander: I hope I have not played my best concert yet, so it is still to come !

And now Katerina will continue the story of Old Time Rock’n’Roll. Over to you, Katya: 

My most special gig was at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. It was like a little miracle ! After all, this is an incredibly iconic place; this is where The Beatles started and then many world-famous rock musicians performed there. Myself, Akim Vedenin had gone to the UK as tourists, not to perform as a band or anything. We came to see the country, museums, architectural landmarks, London and Liverpool; normal tourists, nothing more. But we met a local Liverpool musician in the city, Tony Coburn and so suddenly we got a concert at the Cavern Club with Tony. He gave us instruments because we hadn’t even a bass and keyboards with us. Tony was already down to play at the Cavern. Suddenly he suggested, don’t we want to assemble a band with him for one evening and play this concert at the Cavern Club together ? It was strange to ask – of course we wanted to ! So, the miracle happened: We were on the stage of that same Cavern Club. The evening was unforgettable; the audience acclaimed us very well.

Old Time Rock’n’Roll often play at Richard Hume’s wonderful dance events; one day, one of these concerts turned out to be a kind of “comedy apocalypse”. That evening our drummer Alexander couldn’t come and was replaced by our friend Nikolay Denisov. At concerts I play the synthesizer while singing – I usually dance a little behind the keys. But this time, something went wrong: When I threw up a dancing leg with a habitual movement, a shoe suddenly jumped off it and flew across the entire hall over the heads of the dancing audience. Moreover, the shoe had a heavy and sharp heel. So, I’m standing on the stage, I can’t catch up with the shoe and helplessly observe its long and picturesque flight. I continued to sing, simultaneously trying to teleport the shoe away from the dancing heads. I think that the shoe obeyed me: it flew amazingly filigree between all the dancers and landed at the opposite wall of the hall. It did not meet with a single head and we did not have to call an ambulance to the party. While I, unexpectedly finding myself in the role of Cinderella who had lost her shoe, remained standing on one high heel. I had to finish the song in the pose of a heron !

However, it was just the beginning of that crazy evening. When we were playing “Twist and Shout” I suddenly found out that no one was singing backing vocals. I started screaming lead vocals even more insistently, trying to wake up the “sleeping backing vocalists”. However, it did not help. Finally, I turned away from the microphone to look behind me. I saw something there that I never expected to see. The cymbals had fallen on drummer Kolya along with heavy iron racks from the drum set. And he, trying to get out from under the rubble, continued to regularly hit the drum barrel and hit from where he could reach it from such a position. At this time, Natalya, as a lifeguard, tried to free Kolya, but the cymbals fell back on him again and again. And while we were all confused, trying to figure out what to do, we forgpt how we were able to play the song to the end !

When the drums were restored, the “crash” concert seemed to go according to plan. We were sure that nothing more unusual would happen. But, as soon as we played the last note of the last song, the final chord of the concert was the epic fall of Sergey’s music stand from the stage into the hall. By that moment, the audience was already ready for something like this and  someone even enthusiastically caught the music stand in the hall. It was the logical crash final of the crash concert!

If I had to name an individual in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia, I would probably name the female singer Zemfira. The greatest musical influence on me ? Of course without a doubt the music of the Beatles. And yet, when I was very young, I was very impressed with the early works of Suzi Quatro, probably I even took her as an example to follow in those days. One of my all-time rock’n’roll heroes is Little Richard. My all-time favourite song is “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.

One of the most significant events in recent Russian music history took place on May 24, 2003: Paul McCartney’s legendary concert took place in Red Square in Moscow. This was Paul’s first visit to Russia and the first concert by a Western musician in Red Square. McCartney was welcomed at the highest level, as heads of state are welcomed. Tickets for the concert were sold out in a moment. The Red Square was as crowded as it can be (it is still not clear exactly how many people squeezed into the Square, estimates vary from 20 to 50 thousand people). Some of those who were not able to get in to watch the concert telephoned friends who were in the Red Square audience. These friends kept their mobiles on for the entire concert, so their absent friends could listen to the show. The event was covered in the media far beyond Russia, and the recording of the concert was watched in a huge number of countries. Some local politicians very strongly opposed the event, considering such audacity on Red Square unacceptable. In general, it was something very special and it was perceived as a great breakthrough culturally in Russia.

But it was also a big breakthrough for me personally – after all, it was the very first big concert that I got to in my life. Moreover, it was not easy to get in: At the age of 14, I had no job or my own money and my parents were not at all eager to buy me an expensive ticket and or let me go in the crowd at a rock concert. There were family quarrels, tears, a feeling of impotence that I would not be able to attend the concert of my dreams. Crazy plans were even born in my 14-year-old head; like secretly sneaking onto the roof of GUM and hiding [Richard’s note – the GUM is a tall building close to Red Square], then watching the concert from there. Finally, my parents agreed to buy me the cheapest tickets, on the condition that I go with my Dad. And so for me the miracle happened ! McCartney, despite his mature age, really let his heart out, rocking for 3 hours. He performed 37 songs, including the Beatles’ incorruptible “Back in USSR” – twice, for an encore. It was obvious he had long been waiting for the moment to perform it in Moscow. The crowd was raging and a general enthusiasm was in the air.

Here’s what’s amazing to realise: I didn’t even suspect then that my future close friends, my future beloved men, future fellow musicians, future friends were standing around me on the square. I didn’t know any of them and they were just strangers in the crowd for me that day. But then, years later, they gradually came into my life and we remembered how each of us was at that concert. In general, for many of them it was something special. And I will never forget that feeling of universal happiness and boundless childish delight that filled every cell of my body !

Outside of rock’n’roll, my other main passions and hobbies are popular science lectures, folklore and rats (i.e. as pets). Well yes, this is my hobby set ! 

Thankyou so much Katya and to your fellow band members. Next month, I’ll have another rock’n’roll story for you from Russia. Don’t touch that dial.

Hi once more from good old Russia ! This month we are gonna tell the story of one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands in Russia. It’s a group that has a three year history, although the history of its individual stars goes back much much further.

The band in question is “Old Time Rock’n’Roll”. I have booked them many times for the concerts I organise in Moscow. Every time they have gone down a storm with the audience. Some of the photos you can see were taken at them. Quite simply, they are a brilliant band with a real rock’n’roll feel. Plus, they’re stage performance also significantly adds to their great sound. They have a huge following in Russia.

Regular readers of this column with a real good memory will remember 3 great articles that were written and published during 2018 and 2019 by Natalya Terekhova, the lead guitarist with the band and a legendary figure in Russian rock’n’roll. In them Natalya gave a history of her famous rock’n’roll life. In this article, the lead singer Katerina Romanova will tell us her own rock’n’roll story as well as the history of Old Time Rock’n’Roll, with the help of her fellow band members. Over to you, Katerina: 

I remember very well the first time I saw Natalya. I was very young then, I didn’t perform myself, but I already loved rock’n’roll and went to concerts. It happened in 2004: I came to a small concert in a small hall of a small club in Moscow. That evening several bands performed in turn in that tiny club. All the musicians were simply dressed, very casual. But – Natalya wasn’t ! She suddenly went on stage with her band Magic and shocked everyone. She wore an incredibly bright stage costume, decorated with lots of sequins, fringe, with some large chains, bright makeup, spectacular cleavage and mini. “Damn, who the hell is this?!” I thought. She was so out of the crowd that it seemed as if she was cut out from another fragment of reality, as in a photo collage and pasted here. I should say that the rest of the women from her band were dressed quite simply. I wasn’t acquainted with Natasha then, but I remembered her well, it was hard to forget !

The second time I met Natalya was in 2012, at the Lady Rock festival in Moscow. There were cover bands performing rock classics and the festival’s selection criterion was that of Girl Bands. Natalya performed there with the same Magic band and I performed with the Rocking Sun group, where I was the only Girl in fact. This meeting with Natalya got off to a rocky start. I mean that I seemed to her to be arrogant or something (in fact I was terribly insecure), and she seemed to me too drunk to go on stage (although she was very probably sober !) One way or another, it never occurred to us then that we would communicate later. It was a great surprise when, after another two years, a woman I didn’t know well wrote to me: “Katya, Hello! Natalya Terekhova advised me to contact you. The fact is that we are assembling a female cover band, and we need a cool keyboard player. Natalya says you’d be Great !”

That group was not successful for us, but almost immediately afterwards Natalya called me to her group Magic. A great shock for me was that Magic rehearsed in the attic of a children’s school building and had been doing so for years ! I joined them first as a keyboardist and then as a vocalist. We played mostly classic rock from the 1970s and 1980s. We had several years of fun, concerts and tours. However, in 2018, Natalya and I had creative differences and I left the band.

She continued to perform with Magic and I joined “All My Secrets”, whose leader is Sergey Etzel. All My Secrets mainly performed Russian-language music (but not exclusively); our programme also included Sergey’s own compositions.

In 2020 I got the idea to “go back to the roots” and assemble a new band; I wanted to play my favourite rock’n’roll classics. I realised that I definitely wanted Natalya in the line-up. It was not easy for me to call her, because we had parted with conflict. However, I called her. And that call became the beginning of Old Time Rock’n’Roll. Our first drummer was Oleg Bankovsky and I called up Sergey Etzel from All My Secrets as the second vocalist and bass player. A year later, a wonderful drummer Alexander Popov, also from All My Secrets, joined us. Then the puzzle came together perfectly !

Our repertoire contains many Little Richard songs, like Long Tall Sally, Lucille, Tutti Frutti, Rip it Up, etc. We also play many Elvis Presley songs such as That’s Alright Mama, All Shook Up and Hound Dog. We add other rock’n’roll “standards” to the program, for example Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis), Maybelline (Chuck Berry), C’mon Everybody (Eddie Cochran)

La Bamba (Ritchie Valens) and many, many more. Sometimes we play a programme that is broader in the musical genre sense, composing it from songs of completely different eras and styles. These songs are the blow-offs from such mixed programmes, such as “I Feel Good” (James Brown), I will Survive (Gloria Gaynor), Highway to Hell (AC/DC), Runaway (Del Shannon) and Imagine (John Lennon). These are just a small number of examples.

Thankyou, Katya ! Old Time Rock’n’Roll is a 4-piece, comprised as follows:

Katerina Romanova – lead singer and keyboards, Natalya Terekhova – lead guitar, Sergey Etzel – bass guitar and support vocals and Alexander Popov – Drummer. Here are their stories of how music entered their lives:

Sergey: I didn’t start with classic rock’n’roll. In the late 1980s, I listened to Skid Row, Ozzy and Bon Jovi. Most of all, I liked Cinderella and their front man Tom Keifer. But one day, in 1990, I saw a clip from Guns N Roses on MTV. I liked everything in it. I remember especially the bass player Duff McKagan. That’s when I decided to continue my musical activity in a different way. I now ask myself why on earth did I continue, from the age of 7 right up to 15, attending piano classes at music school ! I didn’t show up for the final exam. I didn’t like it all. I just bunked off that damn exam, that’s all. I thought – to hell with that music.

As soon as I fell for Guns N Roses, I decided to continue my music activities. But in a different way. The first group was assembled in college. I started performing in 1993. But it was not bass guitar at once. Singing and playing the bass guitar then did not work well for me. I picked up the bass again in the early 2000s.

Alexander: At the age of 12, I heard Nirvana and all hell broke loose in my mind ! We assembled a band at school, and then at college, I also performed with other different guys. Then, from about 2000 until now, rock’n’roll !

Katerina: When I was 3, my Dad brought home a video cassette of the Beatles’ music videos. These included “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night”. But firstly, Dad himself was not a Beatles fan (he just bought a lot of different cassettes then), and secondly, he did not plan to show the Beatles to a three-year-old child at all.

And the little me rushed about with a new doll and did not pay attention to anything else. But when I ran into the room where the film “A Hard Day’s Night” was on the screen, absolutely everything changed for me at that moment. This was the episode where McCartney sings “And I Love Her”. A three-year-old child threw aside her favourite doll, sat down in front of the screen and as if spellbound watched the film to the end without a single movement. Then I asked my Dad to play this tape for me again and again, then asked him to buy something else by the Beatles. And so, at the age of three, my conscious love for music began !

I also made my older sister help me to play songs “by ear” on the piano. Then there was a music school and a music college.

Therefore, when I was 16 years old, I found out that there is a Beatles.ru website, where older fans communicate. I didn’t have the internet then and I didn’t even know which way to approach the computer and how to turn it on. But still, in some internet cafe, with great difficulty I went to the site and the first thing I saw was an announcement that they were looking for a singing keyboard player in a Wings tribute band – a Girl to perform the parts of Linda McCartney. Well, of course I couldn’t not help myself and wrote to them. That’s how I got into my first band. Then I performed in many different rockin’ projects where we played music ranging from Elvis to AC/DC. The Doors and Led Zeppelin tribute bands can probably be called the brightest and most unusual of these bands for me.

Natalya: I have always been attracted to the sound of an over-driven guitar and music where you can hear such a sound. Therefore, I became interested in heavy music from a very school age. Basically, it was heavy metal. Nevertheless, I listened to different genres of music. I was interested in playing in other styles. I had a kind of leisure interest to play “A Spruce Was Born in the Forest” and “Hello Dolly” with jazz chords. As soon as I succeeded, I abandoned all that jazz. I then came to believe that all good music is rock’n’roll. As even Lemmy from Motorhead said, “It’s all rock’n’roll. So let’s get back to rock’n’roll !” For many years, I performed in bands with original material. I didn’t sincerely understand then, “why play some other person’s song if it has already been played?” When I was 32 years old (in 1999) – I formed one of the very first Russian Girls’ bands, Magic, with non-proprietary rock’n’roll material and other good people’s songs in English. Bands like Magic are commonly referred to as cover bands. However, the concept of “cover” means that we remake the song, changing something. And Magic tried to copy the best original musicians as accurately as possible, even if it was a whole symphony orchestra and three guitars ! But we nevertheless agreed to be called a cover band. In our programme, there were not many real rock’n’rollers. We didn’t have a thematic goal. We learned songs exclusively that we personally liked – from The Beatles, Lulu, Linda Ronstadt to ZZ Top, Status Quo and the Scorpions. Then one day Richard Hume showed up at our concert and things changed !

Thankyou Natalya ! And Thanks Guys for your great stories. Next month the story of Old Time Rock’n’Roll will continue. Stay tuned !

Hi again from Moscow, Russia ! This month we’re gonna provide you the third of a triology, telling you all about a very rare rock’n’roll event – and it’s taking place in Russia. Let me once again briefly give you the background to this story, before I hand over, as I did last month, to Vadim Shapovalov, for him to tell you more about this exciting Teddy Boy Project.

Vadim is a professional sculptor and has created an Art Project dedicated to the culture of the Teddy Boy. With the aid of his friend Sergey Shakhov he has created an exhibition of Teddy Boy mini-scuptures. You can see some of them here in the photos. Vadim is also the lead singer with the famous Russian band “Stone Faces”. Last month Vadim also told us about his own personal rock’n’roll story and we got up to point where he founded the group “Severe Silent Scoundrels” in the early 1990s. This rock’n’roll band was a wild and frenzied one. Vadim will tell you more – over to you, Sergey:

Musically, the Severe Silent Scoundrels were rock’n’roll, although we had our own term for our style – “electro-boogie-woogie”. The artistic journey of the Severe Silent Scoundrels went close to alcohol and drugs and the performances were absolutely wild. For example at one of our concerts, before we started playing, we were pushed off the stage because of our behaviour. At a festival in Bryansk, during our performance the audience went into such a frenzy that they began to smash up things in the concert hall. The first three rows of seats were completely broken ! As a result, the organisers of the concert, instead of paying the musicians who had performed their promised fee, deducted an amount to pay for the repair of the premises and only paid the musicians what was left over. 

In the mid-1990s, our rock’n’roll lifestyle landed two of the four Scoundrels straight to jail. As a result, we two survivors, me and my buddy Ignat, reformed the line-up and I had to sing and play the double bass. I can’t say that I succeeded in playing the double bass very well ! However, we played until the end of the 1990s and even recorded an EP. 

Then for about a year I gave up music, but in the end I realised I couldn’t live without it. Since I had been fond of psychobilly for a long time, I began to look for musicians to realise my aspirations. And I found them. On 1st April 2000 a new band called Stone Faces gave their first concert at a party of the “Orel Butchers football firm” (a football supporters’ club who supported the local Orel team) and from that moment, with some interruptions, we have been making our own brand of rock’n’roll. I have performed both with Russian psycho-bands and with foreign style masters; Surf Rats, Long Tall Texans, Milwaukee Wildmen, Sir Psycho And His Monsters. In 2015, my family and I moved to Moscow from Orel and so a new line-up was assembled. We continue to perform and write new songs. In April, we started a recording session and will shortly be releasing either a EP, CD or vinyl.

I have had many funny stories related to music in my life. I can recall the performance of my first punk band at a student festival in 1990, at the Institute where I studied. The second number of our programme was a song called “I don’t give a f***”, with a similar refrain repeated many times. After the performance of this song, they cut off the sound and kicked us off the stage. I remember the reaction of the audience: half of the audience shouted “get off the stage!” whilst the other half – “shut up, let the guys play!” It was a real antagonism within the audience; in terms of intensity, I had not seen anything like it ! Since it was still in the time of the USSR, this performance backfired on me, by the fact that I was expelled from the Komsomol organisation (the majority of young people were its members in those days and it was a very important communist party organisation for the youth to belong to). And that wasn’t enough for the Komsomol members, so they began to demand my expulsion from the Institute. I was saved by my fellow  students who were on the same course as myself. There were 5 groups on my faculty course, each of about 10-12 people. They sent a collective letter to the Dean’s office of our faculty, in which they asked the Dean not to expel me from the institute, promising to take me “on bail” i.e. keep an eye on me ! 

Another funny episode is the trip of the Severe Silent Scoundrels on tour to Lithuania in 1992. So many adventures there which would be enough for a whole book. In short, here is one story: We did not arrive in time to perform – the festival ended just before our arrival. We were lodged and settled in the basement under a menagerie (in our country the word menagerie means something like a small zoo where the animals are not in enclosures but in cages. I remember a peacock yelled a lot in a bad voice !) The organisers said that they would still arrange a concert for us. A couple of days later we had a conflict with them and we were pushed out of lodgings. Since they didn’t pay us any money as we didn’t perform, we had to get from Vilnius to our native Orel – about 900 km – by commuter trains. If you could avoid the train controllers, you didn’t have to pay. We got home in this way on a journey which lasted for more than three days, getting food by shoplifting. I must say, we did not starve ! 

And another story is connected to our classic rock’n’roll style, which was our main genre at that time. I think it was 1989. My friend Slava, nicknamed Plokhish (Baddie – the name is taken from a famous character in Soviet literature) and I looked into a thrift store window (a Soviet version of a second hand shop) and saw there real creepers [Richard’s note – Teddy Boys will know these shoes of course, which we used to call “brothel creepers”] or, as we called them, “semolina shoes” ! They were clearly made and customised by some crafty Russian shoemaker. They differed in design from the classic creepers, but the main element – a thick corrugated sole – made a strong impression on us. They cost 6 roubles, not so expensive in those days and Slava quickly bought them. I should have been happy for him, but I snapped my cap (Russian expression), because those shoes were too small for me, otherwise I would have bought them from Plokhish for a larger sum. Then it was Slava’s turn to snap his cap – having changed into his new shoes, he walked a couple of kilometers in these creepers and the soles crumbled into dust ! Whether it was some kind of faux rubber, or simply they were too old, the soles fell apart and Slava was not able to restore the shoes in any shoe workshop. He was so sad ! Now Slava is an Orthodox priest; a bit of a change from his earlier days, when he used to wear a worn leather jacket with an inscription in white paint on the back – “God save the KGB” !

Of the Russian performers, I respect the Mean Traitors the most – I believe that they influenced not only Russian, but also the entire world of rock’n’roll and psychobilly in particular. Prior to the release of their “From Psychobilly Land” CD, psychobilly had neither such crazy speed nor such original rhythm structure. Even the sound production of their guitarist and leader Stas Bogorad had its own specific features. Piercing hysterical vocals are another original feature of theirs. As for the Russian-speaking rock’n’roll music writers, here I want to pay tribute to Mike Naumenko and Zoopark – their influence on Russian rock’n’roll is unconditional. Mike’s lyrics are simple, witty and vital – what more do you need for a rock lyric? Richard, do you remember our discussion about Sham 69 via email? [Richard’s note – I do ! Sham 69 were a brilliant band especially in the 1970s – wild, raucous and authentic] Why did I remember this? Here is Jimmy Pursey’s (Sham 69’s lead singer) text: “Is this me or is this you ? Look in the mirror, Who do you see ? Do you see you ? Or do you see me ?” And here is the text of Mike Naumenko: “I’m an ordinary guy, I’m simple as can be. I’m just like him. I’m just like you. I don’t see the point in talking to me, It’s exactly the same as talking to you.” Different languages, but the meaning is the same ! This means that in different countries sub-cultural people think alike ! 

One of my first strongest musical influences was Jerry Lee Lewis, whom I have already mentioned. I should say that in the second half of the 1980s, when I first saw Jerry Lee on TV, the attitude towards rock’n’roll among the Soviet authorities became more condescending, perhaps as if they were some kind of retro. At that time, the Soviet zealots of culture had more serious enemies, punk and heavy metal and perhaps in contrast to them, the Soviet media tried to mould rock’n’roll into some impotent entertainment. There was a cliché – “oldie but goodie rock’n’roll”, that gave birth to some hack music, stylised as rock’n’roll. So Jerry Lee appearing on Soviet TV made it clear that rock’n’roll is not so goodie and not so oldie and that it is able to out-do fashionable but half-dead trends. It was amazing for me how blood-pumping an ordinary piano can sound when someone knocks the c**p out of it ! Before that, the piano seemed such a boring instrument to me ! 

If we talk about the heroes of rock’n’roll, then of course the 1950s are the best period. There is a whole alley of heroes and they had not only their music, but also amazing lives ! Nevertheless, my favourite is of course Jerry Lee Lewis – the living manifestation of musical rebellion, which is rock’n’roll. My all time favourite record is his Great Balls of Fire. Lemmy Kilmister, Iggy Pop – these people, like Jerry Lee, personified the music they played; they were always honest with the listeners. At the same time they remained bright individuals in music; they were innovators. We still say – “this is Iggy style” or “this is Lemmy style”. In addition, I consider the Cramps to be the last rock heroes. Maybe someone will be scared off by their appearance, but listen to their music more closely and it will become clear that this is real rock’n’roll, rooted straight into the 50s and maybe even deeper. And this couple – Lux Interior and Poison Ivy – just lived rock’n’roll.

I confess, I have never thought about such things as the future of Russian rock’n’roll. I think that as soon as we start to gather in a circle, frown our foreheads and reflect on the fate of rock’n’roll – this is where rock’n’roll will end ! For me, it is a great way to have fun, perhaps the best way. That’s what I do – have fun in varying degrees of activity. And if I manage to leave some kind of memory about myself, whether it will be musical recordings or sculptures – that’s Great.

I consider the collapse of the USSR to be the most significant event in the history of Russian rock’n’roll. After that, the authorities ceased to control creativity, and it became possible to “see and be seen” abroad. 

My main interests outside of rock’n’roll are my work and my Family. I also have a 1964 Moskvich car (an iconic classic car from the Soviet era), which I customised into a style from the late 1940s / early 1950s (similar to the Fords and Mercurys from that time) with the help of friends. I invested a lot of time and money in it and now, this Spring, I drove it out of the garage for the first time ! 

Excellent Stuff ! Thankyou, Vadim. Stay tuned for more great rock’n’roll stories – from Russia – next month ! 

Hello again from Moscow ! This month we’re gonna continue the story of a very rare rock’n’roll project. Last month I told you about an Art Project dedicated to the culture of the Teddy Boy. Let me remind you briefly the background:

Vadim Shapovalov and Sergey Shakhov are part of the famous Russian psychobilly band “Stone Faces”. Vadim is lead singer and songwriter with the band. Sergey is not a band member of the Stone Faces, but is involved in the promoting of the group, especially logos and artwork for their music albums. But their musical passions extend beyond psychobilly. Together they have produced an art collection of Teddy Boy miniature sculptures. Last month you saw some of the photos from this display and this month you can see some more. It really is a fantastic collection of rock’n’roll mini-sculptures. As I advised last month, it came to pass as the result of the collaboration between Vadim and Sergey and their specialisms. Vadim is a professional sculptor and one of Sergey’s main hobbies outside of his work is painting war historical miniatures. 

Last month Sergey told you about his role in the project and also his own personal rock’n’roll story. This month it’s the turn of Vadim. Over to you, Vadim:

I have been modeling sculptures all my life – this is my profession. For 30 years of work in this field, I have mastered different styles, but I didn’t have to deal with sculptural miniatures, although I had always got a crush on this type of sculpture and wanted to try myself in it. This style requires some specific skills and some experience with relevant materials. Therefore, before starting work, I needed expert advice. My old friend Sergei Shakhov was that expert. He has extensive experience in creating and painting sculptural miniatures. Sergei answered all my questions, and gave me some links to a useful video in this sphere. 

As for the composition theme, I had no doubt that it would be Teddy Boys from the very beginning. As a rule, military themes dominate at the miniature exhibitions. But I have long been interested in the history of civilian costume; in particular the sub-culture costumes, among which the Teddy Boys occupy a special place for me, since their culture is the most unbending and untainted by any “collaborations” and “experiments”, which some celebrities call “development”. In general, I think the original Edwardian Teddy Boy costume is perfect. It still does not seem archaic, like one from the dressing room of some film studio. At the same time, with all its conservatism, this costume does not look boring. It has many details – the ties, vests, socks, shoes, let alone such things as tie pins, watch chains, cufflinks, by the changing of which the owner will always look fresh and elegant, but not flashy. I decided to reflect all these undoubted advantages of the Teddy Boys’ costume in sculptural miniatures. 

In addition, I tried to focus on the wearers of these costumes themselves, reflecting on those “thugs terrorising the city” from the articles of English newspapers of the 1950s in their images. It is clear of course that not all Teds were thugs, but public opinion affected them. So I set to work and it took quite a long time, due to production of sketches and my lack of experience in working with miniatures. That’s why I asked you so many questions, Richard, regarding the details of the Teddy Boy costume. I concerned all these details during modeling – collars, the number of buttons, the length of the jacket tails and the flaps of the pockets. The website www.edwardianteddyboy.com has also been of great help to me, both with information and photographs. After the polymer clay figurines were ready and baked in the oven, I started to think about painting them. I had some experience gained while working in a mock-up workshop. However, my experience in painting figurines is nothing compared to the experience of Sergey, who is a real master in this matter. That’s why I asked him to paint my miniatures. Since Sergey was well aware of who the Teddy Boys were, I was sure that he would do everything as it should be and would pay due attention to details. And he did !

My interest in the Teddy Boys culture goes back to the Stilyagi sub-culture. Your readers, Richard, should know who Stilyagi are, since you have mentioned them more than once in your articles [Richard’s note: the Stilyagi was a youth movement in Russia that originated in the 1950s. They played an iconic role in the history of the youth culture of the country].Though in the USSR they never mentioned Stilyagi in a positive context and I saw their images only in the form of caricatures, I still had some kind of subconscious sympathy for them and the very silhouette of their costume – a spacious jacket, tight trousers and shoes on a thick sole – I really liked it. I remember drawing such characters in school notebooks. When I found out that in Britain, there were Stilyagi called Teddy Boys, I had a strong interest in this culture. However, there was no way to satisfy this interest. The information was very sketchy; so was my knowledge of the Teddy Boys in those days (early 1990s). The situation changed only with the introduction of the internet, when I was able to fill in all my knowledge gaps. Here I mention the site www.edwardianteddyboy.com again, where gorgeous photos are combined with excellent articles. Richard, I will especially highlight an article by your friend Brian Rushgrove, called ‘Birth of the Edwardians’. We call such articles “fundamental”; I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the culture of the Teddy Boys.

I don’t remember exactly where and when I first saw a photo of Teddy Boys. I think it was some kind of book by a foreign author about sub-cultures, but I remember very well the effect of this photo. The famous Anthony Burgess, in his novel “The Doctor Is Sick”, described the Teds as “youths, simian-browed with horror-waxwork faces, but their clothes and coiffures by contrast most civilised”. I didn’t read these lines at that time, but it was the combination of chic costumes and completely hooligan faces that made a strong impression on me. In general the image resembled our Stilyagi, who were appealing to me, although at that time (early 1990s) I was a front man of a punk band and looked appropriately different !

I got acquainted with the right music for the first time in my childhood, although it was not rock’n’roll at first, but the Twist ! We had a huge tube radio phonograph at home, and when my parents played a record of Muslim Magomayev (a Soviet singer who gained world fame as a performer of opera parts and who in the early 1960s sang Twist songs with his powerful voice), I, as they told me later, sat under the phonograph and pounded on the switching bands, as if it was a piano; a kind of small Jerry Lee ! By the way, when I first saw Jerry Lee Lewis on Soviet TV, I was simply shocked. It was powerful ! I was already studying in high school, it was the late 1980s. And my introduction, so to speak, to Rock was when I was about 13: It was AC/DC, just like for Sergey, but the song was different for me – “Hell’s Bells”. In general, AC/DC was very popular in the Soviet Union at that time – everybody listened to them.

Both in the past and now, I have the same favourite Russian rock’n’roll bands – Mean Traitors and Crazy Men Crazy. However, the former now play completely different from their early works and the latter now only gather once a year. In the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Russian rock’n’roll band Mister Twister had great authority: Though they are still performing now, they have not released anything new for a long time.

In 1989, in my native city of Orel, I organised my first band. It was a punk group. I think even if we had wanted to play something else at that time, it would still have had to be punk, because none of us really knew how to play ! Except for the guitarist that is, who knew a couple of dozen thieves’ songs (called blatnyak in Russian). For the two years of our existence, we managed to perform three times in public (concerts were a rarity in our dullsville city) and even recorded a few songs. In 1991, I became a member of the band called the Severe Silent Scoundrels (Surovye Mrachnye Negodyai in Russian). 

Thankyou, Vadim ! The story of the rock’n’roll band the Severe Silent Scoundrels is a wild and frenzied one. Vadim will tell you all about it, plus even more about his rock’n’roll journey, next month !

Welcome to another rock’n’roll story from Russia. This month I’m gonna tell you about something very rare in rock’n’roll history. It’s about an Art Project dedicated to the culture of the Teddy Boy. Here’s the story:

Vadim Shapovalov and Sergey Shakhov are part of the famous Russian psychobilly band “Stonefaces”. Vadim is lead singer and songwriter with the band. Sergey is not a band member but is closely involved in the promoting of the group, especially logos and artwork for their music albums. But their musical passions extend beyond psychobilly. Together they have produced an art collection of Teddy Boy sculptures. How’s that for a first ! Some of the photos you can see display some of these miniature sculptures. It’s a wonderful collection here in Moscow. It came about as a result of some of Vadim and Sergey’s professions and passions. Vadim is a professional sculptor and one of Sergey’s main hobbies outside of his work is painting war historical miniatures. So given their great interest in rock’n’roll and the culture of the Teddy Boy, perhaps it was inevitable this project would come to fruition.

In this article, Sergey will tell you about the project and also his own personal rock’n’roll story. Next month in this column you’ll hear from Vadim. Over to you, Sergey:

In my case, the history of the Teddy Boys’ project is quite simple. The idea belongs to Vadim entirely. We are both interested in small figurines and sculptures, so Vadim offered to me to make some figurines of Teddy Boys. He created and embodied the figurines’ images and characters. I undertook to paint them; we thought that it would look like a complete solution. Probably you can call it a project, though we did not have such long term ideas originally. It was interesting for us to make everything neat.

My interest in the culture of Teddy Boys was an integral part of my interests in British sub-cultures in general; it became a part of the overall picture, a kind of chronological addition. I learned about the Teddy Boys’ culture from Vadim. Once we were sitting in a cafe and discussing the Edwardians and everything connected with them. I found this aesthetic to be very interesting and British.

Like most rock fans, I got interested in rock music when I was a school boy. I was about 14 years old. One guy from our class managed to get recordings of unofficial Soviet bands. Back then they were called underground bands. These recordings of Soviet bands in the first half of the 1980s were re-recorded many times from cassette to cassette and sounded bad. Today, many of them seem naïve and I listen to them with a kind of irony. But back then it was very unusual and creative, against the background of boring official pop music pouring out from TV at that time. In addition, its forbidden status made it even more interesting [Richard’s note – the 1980s was the historical period of “Perestroika” in the old Soviet Union, when the country was beginning to “open up” socially to Western culture]. But the real turning point in my perception of music came when an old friend brought me a cassette of AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock” to listen to. It was a real explosion; I had no idea that it could be so powerful, forthright and cool. Since then, my interest in rock music remained unshaken.

About Russian bands, I cannot single out any individual favourite bands; and I mean not only Russian bands, but rock bands in general. There were for sure bands that were real interesting. In those years of the 1980s, musical information on genres like rock’n’roll was very scarce compared to today, you had to look for it somewhere, so many things just passed us by. If we talk about that music in general, looking from today’s perspective, I would mention Mike Naumenko and Zoopark, experimental band DK and Durnoe Vliyanie (“Bad Influence” in English).

When I was young everything was a significant event, from an unknown band’s cassette to a cool poster that fell into your hands. However, perhaps the most significant or at least the most memorable event for me was the Monsters of Rock 1991 festival held in Moscow at the Tushino airfield. It was really cool !

It’s hard to pick out just one individual event that was funny or interesting in my rock’n’roll life, there’s so much to choose from. Perhaps I can tell this, although the band concerned was not classic rock’n’roll: It was at the turn of the 1980s-90s, most likely the beginning of the 90s, when Nazareth performed in Moscow. My friends and I went to the concert, not caring about buying tickets in advance and hoping to buy them right before the concert. When we drove up to the sports complex where the band was to play and saw a huge crowd arriving from the subway, we realised our failure. There were no tickets left. And then one guy in our group fell on his knees, raised his hands to the sky and began shouting out prayers loudly, calling on the heavens to help us. In less than five minutes, a minibus with additional tickets arrived at the entrance to the sports complex. This guy knew exactly who he should pray to; it was some kind of divine rock’n’roll !

Russian rock music, due to the specific conditions of its existence, developed in a special way, different from its Western colleagues. It happened that the lyrics often prevailed over the musical component; the emphasis was put on texts. If we talk a lot about this feature of Russian rock music, I should probably mention Mike Naumenko. His lyrics became real rock’n’roll. They were straightforward, unpretentious and frank; they went against the common style of abstract and imaginative storytelling that was popular among Russian bands of that period. Alcohol, infidelity, parties, he called it like it was. It was a description of his real life and the life of his colleagues and it was an unusual musical style for that time.

My musical influences extend not just to classic rock’n’roll. It’s hard to say for sure who influenced me the most. My musical interests go far beyond rock’n’roll itself, such as punk to jazz, so it’s hard for me to single out someone special. Well, let’s say if we turn to my youth and remember the most vivid impressions that influenced my tastes then, I would probably name AC/DC. Yes, perhaps they were the brightest phenomenon for me then.

For me, there are many rock’n’roll heroes and like I said above, not just from classic rock’n’roll. Well, the first person that comes to mind is Lemmy, from Motorhead. He is an iconic figure for many rock fans in Russia, so in that sense is a Russian rock hero and I agree with that. I can also mention Hendrix, Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Iggy Pop, Sex Pistols. There are many in fact. These are musicians that helped me to discover new musical spaces and therefore I consider them significant for me.

Nowadays Russian rock’n’roll is mainly developing within the framework of global traditions, if we are talking about the bands that have emerged recently, let’s say from the 1990s to the present day. It’s hard to tell whether or not it is innovative. However, it has a style, certain aesthetics, the right energy. We began to catch up to some global standards, so to speak. Frankly, I’m not too optimistic about the state of rock music in the world today, feeling some kind of stagnation. The last Big Bang was a powerful cultural impulse given to rock at the turn of the 1970s and 80s with the advent of a new aesthetic of punk and everything connected with it and all the music generated or inspired by punk. Today I see nothing of the kind, although perhaps something escapes my attention. This also applies to Russian rock’n’roll in many ways. I would like to hope that having thoroughly digested the world rock heritage, having mastered it well and getting rid of the provinciality of which some our bands still sin, we will be able to come out with something of our own, interesting and fresh; at least within the framework of Russian rock’n’roll music.

Let’s look at the conditions in which rock’n’roll originated and developed in Russia, or better to say in the Soviet Union. It was a rather niche culture, a very closed environment, that lived in its own world apart from world rock music, without any direct contact with it, away from the rapidly developing Western rock’n’roll. It is not even worth mentioning that releasing an official album for a rock’n’roll band of those years was an absolutely impossible dream. I should also add that in the first half of the 1980s, rock music was driven into the underground thoroughly. Of course, there were groups assigned to the philharmonic societies and they had the opportunity to appear in public somehow. But the underground remained, well, underground and reached the listeners only in the form of illegal magnetic recordings. No one saw the musicians in the flesh and sometimes there were some ridiculous rumours about them. The situation began to change during the decline of the Soviet Union and this process was rather quick. This became obvious when records from bands that had previously been in the shadows, appeared on the shelves of record stores. It was the time for Russian bands to reach a wide audience. The entire related industry began to develop – concerts, clubs, studios and merchandise. I would call this period an important stage in the history of Russian rock’n’roll, though the social events of that period weren’t connected with music.

My main and long-standing interest is directly related to music, it is audio equipment for playing music. Another hobby of mine is painting war historical miniatures; this is the hobby that I was able to utilise in our Teddy Boys’ Project with Vadim.

Thankyou so much Sergey, for your rock’n’roll story. Next month, as advised above, it will be the turn of Vadim to continue the story of this Teddy Boy Project. Stay tuned !