This month it’s time to focus on a Russian rockin’ legend who’s never performed in a band. Rather, his contribution to Russian rock’n’roll over many years has comprised his organising of rockin’ concerts and running dance master classes. His work and presence in Russian rock’n’roll has been immense for more than twenty years.
His name is Max Makarov. It’s nice to be able to report that although his status is high, there are no airs and graces about him. As someone who also runs and organises (in my case Free) dance classes, I found out very quickly he‘s a guy who never looks on us as being in “competition” with each other as dance teachers. His philosophy is live and let live. This is in marked contrast to some of my other experiences, for example in the UK, where often dance teachers were about as friendly towards each other as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
He also has a good sense of humour. Here’s one example. Quite a few years ago, I was with a group of friends, including Max, at a rock’n’roll hangout in one of the seven huge “Seven Sisters” buildings in Moscow. As I’m not now a drinker, everyone in our group except me was getting steadily more and more drunk as the evening developed. And throughout the evening, Max publicly kept proclaiming to everyone that I was “a bad example”, because of my sobriety. He expected Englishmen to perform much better than that !
So here is Max’s rock’n’roll story, told in his own words. Reading it provides an insight, not just into Max’s own personal story, but into the history of Russian rock’n’roll over the past 20 years. Over to you, Max:
In Soviet times there had been never ending talks about the Western cultural influence, including that of rock’n’roll and it was generally negative. I didn’t agree, music was the only thing for me in all that, since it was a breeding of emotions, which were so understandable for a young man. When I was a child, my father listened with pleasure to the Beatles and Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley. Surely, in Soviet times this really was listening to “forbidden radio” !
During one of their work trips, my parents had been experimenting with the TV set and watching the western channels secretly at night. Everyone was curious to know how the people were living over there. That’s how I got to see one of the Killer’s (Jerry Lee Lewis’s) concerts on TV. It gave me a huge gamma of emotions, mostly positive ones. Although I was a Soviet kid and at that time still had some of that Soviet anti-Western propaganda stuck inside of me, that rock’n’roll rhythm and energy stuck in my heart for a long time. In 1994 I got to know my friends from a new side and found out that we also had the same tastes in music, in bands and even who we thought the coolest guys were. So I plunged into this culture. The big Russian rockin’ bands at that time were the “Skyrockets”, “Jailbreakers”, “Mister Twister”, later “Off Beat”, “Crazy Men Crazy”, “The Rattlesnakes”, “The Cadillacs” and “Big Livers”. There were many more; it was a Great time.
Also in 1994, my friends brought and introduced me to a clubbish set that was really into popular music, including rock’n’roll. Although in fact I’d been a fan of this music for quite a long time by then, starting with the influence of my parents. For me this set of people was a springboard, that really brought me deeper into the world of rock’n’roll. Other bands appeared on the scene, like “The Secret”, “Bravo” and Mike Naumenko, which really lit up the rockin’ world over here.
In the 1990s, the rock’n’roll world in Russia was really buzzing. There were some memorable events, for example the visit of Jerry Lee Lewis to Russia. After that our world changed forever. Lewis performed here in Moscow in 1996. For us this could only be compared to a real-life visit from Santa Claus. The visit of a legendary guest was always a most wonderful present for us. We felt as if we were part of history and seeing how relaxed and easy these celebrities like Lewis were when communicating with us, put us in seventh heaven.
I think concerts like Lewis’ stayed on in our memory also because they managed to open the “heavy door”. I mean the historic ending of the “Iron Curtain” between the East and the West and the opening up of our country to influences like rock’n’roll. I suppose the Killer Jerry Lee became the true image of a rebel for me, both in real life and on stage. Even though I listen less to Lewis these days, in my head he is still pounding those keys !
The visit of Lee Rocker to Moscow also gave a strong impulse to our Movement. By that time I’d been working as a DJ in several Moscow clubs and hosted various programmes from the stage as a compere. I was involved in the project that brought the Space Cadets to Moscow and then later on another concert that we organised, featuring the legendary Robert Gordon.
And for sure, our rock’n’roll world cannot be imagined without Dance. I danced all the time and everywhere ! Whilst in my younger years there had just been solo dances, with time I learned to dance with a partner – that’s when my dancing really took off. It was the time of my life. My shoes would get torn with the tension and movement and female legs in stockings and skirts would be flying in the air; wonderful ! Nowadays, the dance floors are fully packed, but in earlier times the dancers were the focus of attention and we could get to perform the most unbelievable tricks.
And then one day, I was approached by a group of guys. I thought it was going to be some scuffle, but they asked me to teach them how to dance. That’s how I became a dance teacher. And now there’s my dance school named the “Moscow Dancing Rebels”, which brings together a big number of fans. Nowadays, thanks to the dancing aspect a new wave of enthusiasm in rock ‘n’ roll has arisen in Russia, which will keep my interest and love for this culture going for a long time ahead.
I will always remember the following true story from a few years back. With my fellow biker friends, we took a holiday to the Isle of Man. My friends like me were into sailing in a big way and there was a big sailing regatta taking place on the island. One day on the island, we were sitting in a seaside pub, drinking beer, having fun, making noise and singing songs. At that moment, a vintage Cadillac stopped with the screeching sound of car brakes, right in front of our tables outside the pub. Out of the Cadillac jumped a group of Teddy Boys. Well, we sailors are cheerful people, so we started welcoming them, but what happened next is now for me a wonderful memory. The Teds emptied the tools from their car boot and were then able to take out a music sound system powered from the car engine. They then switched it on and it blasted out wild, crazy rock’n’roll music. It was real rockin’, boppin stuff. And for sure, I started dancing ! It was only then the guys asked where I was from. I told them, “I’m from Russia”. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Russian,” said one of the Teds. Another said, “you are real Cool to be dancing like that on the Isle of Man. Thanks, Man !” It proved to me there are no boundaries or borders for guys and gals like us, just rock ‘n’ roll ! And one more thing about those Teddy Boys. Those guys even sang for us and impressed us as being more than just good and lively. They were very far from the negative stereo-type that has sometimes been written or said about them. They were good, open-hearted guys who were just like us i.e. crazy about rock’n’roll.
Regarding individuals who I regard as the heroes of Russian rock’n’roll, it’s hard for me to single out a specific one. I’m grateful to the whole party scene of the 1990s, because it is thanks to it that young people nowadays listen to this kind of music. But I will mention one name: Oleg Berezin Kletchaty has done and is still doing so much for rock’n’roll in Russia. Looking back now, I joyfully thank my friends, who gave me this Culture. And I stay with it, ‘cos I still got “Blue Suede Shoes” ringing in my head.
Thankyou Max and carry on with your great contribution to Russian rock’n’roll. Dance On !