This month I can report on an exciting new development in Russian Rock’n’Roll. The scene has become enhanced with the arrival of relatively new kids on the block. Although the personnel of the group in question have been on the music scene for a while, it is only fairly recently they’ve set up a great new rock’n’roll band. The band is Red Rox and on 12th September I booked them to perform at the Esse Café in Moscow.

The concert was a blast. Many of those present who hadn’t seen them perform before were blown away by their high energy performance. It was their first gig at the Esse Café and it sure won’t be the last. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the concert. Plus, you can see the concert on youtube: Go to youtube and type in the search engine “Red Rox – Jazz Club Esse”.

The line-up of the band usually comprises 5 or 6 performers, including a saxophonist, drummer and trumpeter. But the regular unchanging members are Evgeny Sheyko (lead guitar), Roman Lukinykh (vocals) and Alex Nikitin (upright bass). The group uses session musicians to cover the other instruments.

I sat down with Evgeny, the leader of the band, shortly after the concert and we talked Red Rox. Here is the group’s story, told by Evgeny:

Well Richard, first of all to give your readers an idea of our style of music, here are some examples of the songs we perform the most: Elvis Presley – All shook up, Carl Perkins – Blue suede shoes, Johnny Cash – Folsom prison blues, Jerry Lee Lewis – Great balls of fire, Hank Williams – Hey, Good Lookin’, Chuck Berry – Johnny B Goode, Bill Haley – Rock around the clock, Tennessee Ernie Ford – Sixteen tons. I think you get the picture ! We also compose and perform our own rock’n’roll songs. Here are 3 of them, “Coming home”, “Definitely wild” and “Dirty song”. I would describe the musical style of Red Rox as rock’n’roll, rockabilly, rhythm’n’blues and swing.

How did we first get into rock’n’roll and what is the story of how Red Rox got together ? Well, that’s a long story. Together with Roman we formed our first group in 2005. He suggested we call it “Red Rox”, but we finally decided on “Lucky Seven”. We played country, rock’n’roll and hard rock. Unluckily, for various reasons the group ended up not performing at all and both of us got involved in different musical projects. We then met at a Blues Jam at the Roadhouse Bar in Moscow in December 2009 and decided to try again. Roma called me on the phone on Elvis’s birthday (8th January) and recommended we form a rock’n’roll band. We got musicians from our past groups. I brought the bass player and Roman brought the piano man. Together we found a drummer and started to perform blues covers, some rock’n’roll covers and Russian rock covers. Roman insisted we call our group “Red Rox”. He explained the meaning of “Rox” as some kind of “rockin’ fox”.

As to our musical influences, interestingly my first inspiration was Jimi Hendrix. Roman was influenced by classic country and Elvis Presley, the bass player and the drummer more by Russian rock groups. The piano player liked jazz and Ray Charles. However, Red Rox passed through plenty of time, so our influences also were changing. For example, when we started to play rockabilly, we enjoyed the Wise Guys, Hi Tones, Rawcats 88, etc, (Russian rock’n’roll bands); now we are fond of JD McPherson, Hillbilly Moon Explosion, the Baseballs and High Noon.

Many things, significant and otherwise, have occurred in Red Rox’s history. Here are 2 significant ones. The first event changed my musical world. Our first bass player (Slava), Roman and me went to a new rock’n’roll bar called “Grease” in Moscow, where we first saw people who looked like they were from the fifties. That’s where I first saw you, Richard. [Evgeny is right. The Grease Club was a favourite hang out for rock’n’rollers like myself in Moscow. A truly great club. We sorely miss the fact it is no longer a rock’n’roll club. Continue, Evgeny]. The groups were playing like in the fifties and everybody was dancing jive. Me and Slava had long hair before that event. But after that, we decided to play only rockabilly and change our images. We cut our hair, bought the grease for our hair and some fancy clothes. Slava bought an upright bass.
The second event was when I met Alex Nikitin, our current upright bass player. We were playing at a Marshmallows concert (the Marshmallows, another terrific Russian rock’n’roll group). I met him at the rehearsal. I’ve never seen a better upright player, and I swore to myself that he will play in my band. Gladly some years after, I achieved this goal. I founded a new hillbilly trio and invited him to join it. You know, today Red Rox still perform only because of “Twenty Fifty”. [I need to explain here. Twenty Fifty is the name of the 3 piece hillbilly group. Evgeny, Roman and Alexey run and perform in both groups i.e. Red Rox and Twenty Fifty. Continue, Evgeny]. In most of the concerts, we perform as a trio. I can explain it only by the economic situation: A lot of the venues in Russia have substituted live music for such things as karaoke, a cheaper alternative. So today some of the places for us to perform are pubs and bars that cannot pay for such big groups as Red Rox. [Another explanation here from Richard: This economic situation is partly the result of the unfair and totally unnecessary sanctions imposed on Russian by Western countries including the UK. So these stupid Western sanctions on Russia are even hitting Rock’n’Roll !]

There are many interesting / amusing stories connected with the band. Here’s one.

Once we went to play at a private party on the Selegare Lake (a long distance from Moscow). I rented a trailer / caravan and a driver to minimise the risks, because of the state of the Russian roads and the cold, snowy weather. We were asleep most of the time on the journey, although it was very cold inside the trailer. One of us asked the driver to turn on the heater. “No problem”, said the driver and turned on the air conditioner. All of us started to shiver with cold, and shouted “turn the goddamn heater higher !”. He then proceeded to turn the air conditioner up even higher and we froze even more. He eventually discovered his mistake. But the funniest thing (although not at the time) was, he continued to make the same mistake 5 /6 times more during the journey. I was sleeping when one of the trailer’s wheels got stuck in a hole in the road and the vehicle jolted sharply. I woke up because of intense pain and a loud cracking noise, followed by laughter from my companions. My body was lying underneath most of the musical instruments which had fallen on top of me. However, it’s not the end of the story. Our customer’s villa was in the forest and the road was rather wet. Anyway, we made it there and performed a great concert, getting plenty of money. We finished late at night and began the journey home. It became very cold, so the road through the forest got totally frozen. Now in Russia all vehicle owners change their tyres into winter ones, with small bits of metal in them, to enable the vehicles to operate in the cold Russian winters. But our driver said “my Mum told me changing summer tyres to winter ones was a silly idea.” In retrospect it must have been funny (although not at the time for us) to see five musicians pushing the trailer over a long distance through the deep forest just to get back home.

I believe the 2 main reasons for our success on the rock’n’roll scene are hard rehearsals and great musicians. In the band’s history there’s been quite a few personnel changes. We changed 9 drummers, 4 bass players, 5 saxophonists, and a piano player left us to get a job in Munich. It was always a huge problem when somebody left the group, we had to learn all the songs again and refuse concerts till we got it sorted. So we’ve changed our policy. Today Red Rox comprises the 3 of us – myself, Roman and Alex – and the rest are session players. The group has also had its share of personal differences. For example, our first bass player Slava always refused to learn modern songs and always lost his mind if there were only a few people at our concerts, or if the concert was not really successful. Four times he physically kicked our drummers when we were performing. Eventually he left to join the Russian group Diamond Hand.

Here are our biggest musical influences: Roman – Elvis, Alex – Johnny Burnette, Me – Johnny Bach and the Moonshine Boozers. All-time rock’n’roll heroes ? Roman – Elvis (he is the King), Johnny Cash (texts and rhythm), Jerry Lee Lewis (burning piano): Me – Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead. I bought their album “Overkill” once and it completely turned my mind. I used to listen to heavy metal mostly, but after Overkill I realised that I love rock’n’roll. I began to study this musical direction, began to discover new artists and finally I found rockabilly music. So if you ask – Why Lemmy? I’ll answer that because of him, I am what I am today. And Alex – “Johnny Burnette ‘cause he was far ahead of his time and today he is still relevant.”

As to our all-time favourite songs, well mine is Johnny B Goode. In Russia we all love this song and everyone is happy to hear it again and again. So as trivial as it may sound, if we’re playing rock’n’roll, we just have do Johnny B. Roman – Johnny B Goode, for sure ! We finalise every concert with this song.
Alex – Johnny Horton’s “I’m coming home”.

There are some individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia. A great upright bass player Timur Popovkin is kind of a legend, he played highly professionally in the best rockabilly bands in Russia. Alex “The Fat one” Nikitin knows personally every rockabilly bass player in the World [by the way, about that nickname – Alex is especially tall and especially skinny !]. And every one of them plays only on Alex’s upright bass while staying and performing in Moscow. Vladimir Khoruzhiy from the Hi Tones is really a rock’n’roll legend, everybody here knows him. He is a super authentic guitar player! Roman likes Denis Majhukov for his real rockin’ piano; Denis performed with Chuck Berry twice. However, we respect all the rock’n’roll, rockabilly, hillbilly groups, ‘cause while they playing it – rock’n’roll lives.

I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Why not ! I’ve seen a few young groups over the last few months. They did pretty good. Rock’n’Roll will always be, ‘cause nothing is more danceable and energetic. Everybody in every little town somehow heard songs such as Rock around the Clock, Never can tell, or Tutti-Frutti. Today Rock’n’Roll is classic. We all know that Classics never die !

Thankyou Evgeny, for a great story. And Thanks to Red Rox, for enriching our rockin’ scene over here in the East !

Richard Hume