Rockabilly Rules OK – in Moscow !

Rockabilly music, since its birth in the 1950s in the Southern States of the USA, has found its way to many places around the world. Nowhere more so than here in the land of the Old Curtain and in particular in Moscow.

One of the greatest exponents of this brand of rock’n’roll in Russia played the Tramplin Club in Moscow on 20th October. The Great Pretenders are a 4-piece outfit with a long pedigree. Formed in 1995, they’re icons on the rockabilly scene here. Their basic style i.e. pure, authentic rockabilly, hasn’t changed, but as a group they have developed and progressed over the years.

Only one original remains from the starting up of 1995: Sergey Kuteynikov founded the group and is still the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. He got the rockabilly bug back in the 1980s when as a small boy his family lived in San Francisco for 3 years – his Dad was a diplomat for the Soviet mission there. It enabled Sergey to listen to rockabilly much more freely than he would have been able to in the old USSR. This experience stayed with him all his life. As a teenager he set up a rockabilly club in Moscow, calling it the Sharks Club and out of this sprang the beginnings of the Great Pretenders.

Sergey is a friend of mine and told me a story from the early days of the Pretenders:

One of their earliest gigs back then was at a jazz club called the Blue Bird. The club had a reputation as a relaxed laid back jazz venue. So the promoter advertised the gig as the opportunity for a “relaxed, laid back evening”, not quite realising rockabilly Pretenders-style is not your average easy on the ear jazz. Not only the raucous music that night gave some of the club patrons rather a shock ………………

A group of young skinheads turned up unexpectedly at the club and a huge fight ensued between them and the rockabilly crew from the Sharks Club (the pretext for the fight was over the favours of a young woman). The gig ended in mayhem, including the promoter running off without paying the band. In Russian rockabilly folklore, they still remember that “relaxed, laid back evening” back in the 1990s ! Russian rockabilly had arrived with a bang.

At the Tramplin club on 20th October 2012, a large audience of rock’n’rollers were not disappointed. The band’s set included some of their favourites. Teddy Boy Boogie is one of mine: The Pretenders’ version is the nearest you’ll ever get to Crazy Cavan’s, this side of the Severn Bridge ! “Let’s beat the Mods” is the group’s own composition and yes it harks back to the old 60’s warfare between mods and rockers. It’s a great number, predictably being a big favourite amongst the bikers over here “descended” from the old rockers. Two other numbers they have especially made their own and which they played on the night, were “Cruisin’” and “Dance to the bop”. Re. the latter, anything with a Gene Vincent connection is alright by me !

Those readers with a good memory will remember that my article in the magazine 2 months ago featured the group Real Hot BBQ. As I mentioned in that article, Oleg Ivanin is the lead guitarist for that band too as well as the Pretenders. He’s a guitarist in demand ! He plays great rockabilly and is free of the egotism that accompanies some lead guitarists …

“How many guitar players does it take to change a light bulb?
Twelve. One to change the bulb and eleven to say they could do it better.”

So it was another Great night of rockabilly on 20th from the band with no airs or Pretences. Here’s to the Great Pretenders – great rockabilly, from a country that knows how to Rock !

Richard Hume