Russia’s Moondog

Welcome again from Russia ! This month we are gonna focus on the profession of the rock’n’roll promoter. Way back in 2015 I wrote in this column about probably the most famous r’n’r promoter of them all, the legendary Alan Freed. Freed back in the 1950s in the USA played an instrumental role in ensuring that rock’n’roll became the biggest thing in music at that time. 

One indication of the huge importance of Alan Freed in rockin’ history is the number of times I’ve mentioned him in this column when writing about other r’n’r icons. He was pivotal in the careers of many super stars, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, etc., to name but a few. 

It was Alan Freed more than anyone else who promoted and brought the attention of the World to the revolutionary music of rock’n’roll in the 1950s. And it was revolutionary. It was in the 1950s that the first youth culture developed which was recognisably that of young people themselves, and not just an imitation and modification of those of their parents. It was the birth of teenage and young people’s social rebellion and the music which accompanied and was an integral part of it was rock’n’roll.  As a disc jockey it was Freed who brought this music to the attention of America via mainstream radio. He coined his nickname “Moondog” and this title stayed with him throughout his career. Later he would be involved in rock’n’roll films and television in the 1950s. As mentioned above he was instrumental in the success and fame of many rockin’ 1950s’ stars. Unfortunately for Freed, he was brought down by the Payola scandal in 1959, but that’s a story for another time.

Now for a story about a famous Russian rock’n’roll promoter. Not quite on the scale of Alan Freed, but in the world of Russian rock’n’roll this man played, and still plays, a very significant role. His name is Alexander Golubev. I will let him tell you his own story. Over to you, Alexander:

Since 1988, I was a Stilyagi living in the Baltic States and then in  Smolensk (a city in western Russia) [Richard’s note – The Stilyagi dated from the early 60s – based on the Russian word for “style”. They were more or less the first real rock’n’rollers in Russia. Their style was not 100% rock’n’roll – they also listened to and followed other brands of music such as jazz – and this was also reflected in their style of clothing. But it was close enough to establish them as the original Russian youth rebels].
We danced rock ‘n’ roll on the streets or on dance floors where it was allowed, during those times. One of my specialities at this time was sewing and making clothes. So I used to make trousers in the rock’n’roll style and sell them at cost to fellow rockers.

Some of the famous rockin’ musicians at that time where I lived were the Jolly Rogers and the Country Bandits in Smolensk. Plus I already knew other musicians from different parts of Russia and also the Baltic states, such as Pete Andersen, Bravo and Mister Twister [Richard’s note – Bravo were probably the most famous band in Russian rock’n’roll history]. 

Then I finished school, completed my course at an academy and then they drafted me into the army. My military service was in Moscow, so as I already knew the Moscow bands I came to their concerts during military leave passes. I joined the army when it was still the USSR and returned when it became a new country, the Russian Federation. As a result the scene changed and for example in the 1990s everyone freely listened to Western rockabilly music. More Russian groups appeared in many cities.

It was a hard time for me personally: I worked for the Russian postal service and it involved a lot of travelling from Smolensk to Moscow. Every week I brought back from Moscow boxes of CDs containing brand new rockabilly, surf and psychobilly. My next job was working for a truck parking lot company. There are the borders of four foreign countries around Smolensk, on the western border of Russia. At that time, several new bands from these countries, such as Garret Rebels, Subway, Bamboozye, Grelley Lepard, Rabids plus some blues and rock bands appeared and performed in Smolensk.

I started to promote concerts. There were very few clubs in the city of Smolensk in those days. I organised events in the Central Park of Culture, where more or less everyone performed. Then I began to work at the Centre for Folk Art of the Smolensk Department of Culture and it was there we formed a neo-rockabilly group called Wanted. I became their manager and we began to go on tours around the cities of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus; we performed in clubs and at festivals. At that time I was working at several jobs – I was a director of a fashion theatre, worked with slot machines and casinos, was a merchandiser in a grocery store and an art director of a nightclub. Looking back, where did I get the energy to do all this ?! Then we began to bring bands from Russia and Belarus to Smolensk – Skyrockets, Crashers, Mister Twister, Meantraitors, Steam Engine, and Meteoriy, to name a few.

In 1998 I left for Moscow to arrange concerts and have been doing it up to the present day. I haven’t worked anywhere else now for almost 25 years. In Moscow I was the manager of several bands, such as the Rattlesnakes, Hula Hoop, Gagarin Brothers and the Moscow Beatballs. Plus I collaborated with many known and unknown bands with different styles to rock’n’roll – for example I worked with Phantom 409, Nekromantix, Number Nine and Stringbeans, 

For 17 years I have been the Russian manager of the Red Elvises and annually promote their tours in Russia and concerts in Europe. Now I have four bands in Moscow – the Great Pretenders, Radionyanya, Amigos de Corazon and the cabaret band Champs-Élysées. 

I also release many CD collections of Russian and Western artists.

One of the most memorable moments of my promoter career was my acquaintance with Mark Miller, the former concert director of Bob Marley. He is still alive and promotes concerts; he lives in Switzerland. Before our first meeting, he learned a bit of Russian to help him with our conversations !

Some of the most memorable tours were in Europe and Siberia. In Italy, Eddie Nicholson, the front man of the Royal Crown Review, came to the concert to get acquainted with Russian musicians and it was good to talk to him.

The rock’n’roll English language scene in Russia is a sub-culture; that is to say, the rock’n’roll bands who perform in the English language. Such performers are popular in venues like pubs and restaurants, culminating now and then in special big festivals. The Russian rock and pop scene has some similarities and some differences compared to the rest of the World.

Among the modern western bands over the years, I like and have liked Bryan Adams, Brian Setzer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Restless, Blue Cats, Foggy Mountain Rockers, Stray Cats and ZZ-Top. And the old ones of course: Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Johnny Burnette.  My favourite rock’n’roll song is Elvis Presley’s “Night Rider”. My main interests outside of rock’n’roll are other genres of music, poetry, travel and women.

I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Everything will work out and it is all in our hands to do this !

I have had many amusing experiences over the years in my rock’n’roll life. Here are just a few:

Once in Poland on a rock’n’roll tour, we stopped by a music store and left one of our car doors open. We had an accordion on the seat. When we returned, there was an additional accordion and two bottles of wine on the seat ! We looked around and an old man from the balcony from a neighboring house waved his hands, indicating it was for us. He was a real rock’n’roll fan !

Once we were going to a concert by train and the female conductor sang songs with us; it was great fun. When we drew up at one station, as she was marking the tickets we asked where we could buy a bottle of vodka. As she knew the town of the station where we had stopped, she went looking for a bottle for us. It took a while and in the meantime the train left the station. She missed the train ! 

Once, when I was in the company of my band members, an old woman came up to us and asked one of the group, “What is your profession ?”  I am a musician,” he answered.  “I understand that,” she said, “But what is your profession ?”

In the 1990s in Moscow there were not many clubs for bands to perform at. So I organised an adult dating club at the venue where my  musicians played. Here’s how I did it: A lot of women came to our concerts and I came up with a great idea on how to attract more men to come. I thought for a long time and eventually went to the hostel of the local military academy and hung a poster of the next event there. The poster advertised the venue as a place for dating and music. So we ended up increasing the audiences at our events by about a hundred !

Thankyou Alexander, for your personal rock’n’roll story. Stay tuned next month dear Readers, for some more Russian rock’n’roll stories !