Here in Russia, we have many top quality rock’n’roll bands. This month I’m gonna focus on the leader of the one of the very best. He can truly be described as one of the most charismatic, larger than life and in rock’n’roll terms a real Wild Cat.
His group is the Raw Cats, about whom I’ve written before in this column. The Wild Cat in question is Valery Setkin, a man with a long and famous history on the rockin’ scene. I have booked him myself to perform at the Esse Café in Moscow on many occasions. Every time he went down a storm. In Russian rock’n’roll he is a real legend. The stories about him are also legion. They tend to be raunchy and rather more than (to use a cinema term) “PG”-rated. You will hear some of them below, with some of the more adult-oriented stories included, albeit the really hard-core ones have had to be deleted ! I sat down with Valery to hear his fascinating rockin’ story. Here it is, in his own words:
I felt the rock’n’roll spirit when I was a child. My father brought me the vinyl records of Elvis and Jerry Lee and I was dancing in my playpen, listening to them. About the Raw Cats, it was in the middle of 2004. I was drinking, because my girlfriend decided to leave me and my double bass player went to a rival band named the Beat Devils. But then I said “Sod the lot of ‘em” – I’m rock’n’roll and as long as I live, I will be playing this music. I took my drummer from my early project named the Old Ladies Band. I put out an advert and found a double bass player; the funniest thing was that he was the Beat Devils’ original bass player. And the guitarist was a friend of my drummer. So the Raw Cats were formed, to the glory of Rock’n’Roll !
I wasn’t really influenced musically by other Russian rock’n’roll groups, my only influences were Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Burnette, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash and of course Brian Setzer !
There have been many significant events in the history of the Raw Cats. I think the biggest ones have been our birthday party events. I thank all our fans that are listening and coming to our concerts.
But I remember some special shows. The first one was when we were performing as a support act at a Red Elvises’ Concert in 2006 (I don’t remember which month) at the Orange Club in Moscow [at this point I need to explain – the Red Elvises were a hugely popular band in Russia at that time. Continue, Valery]. And we outdid them. That was a brilliant concert, I was singin’ like the real Elvis, my band was playing awesomely and the crowd was crazy and furious. And the next day I saw the reviews on social media; all the people who’d been present at the concert said that the “first band was much better than the megastar Red Elvises.”
One more great show was in 2009 (I think that was the year). It was the day of Elvis Presley’s birthday. And we were performing at the prestigious B1 Club in Moscow, to celebrate the legend’s birthday. The headliner of the event was Jack Baymoore and his Bandits (the Swedish rockabilly icons of “AV8 Boogie” fame). When he heard our band playing, he went to the sound engineer, kicked him out of his place and started to run our sound system, because he wanted all the people to hear the correct sound of our music !
Richard, you asked me for some interesting or amusing stories connected with the band. Some I’ve already given you [regular readers of this column will remember my previous article some time ago about the Raw Cats and the wild, crazy stories linked to Valery. One in particular concerned a beautiful young Russian woman by the name of Polina, performing an unforgettable striptease at a Raw Cats’ gig. Continue, Valery] Well this next story is connected with one I’ve already provided you. It was a couple of years ago. We were performing at the Rhythm’n’Blues Café. So, your favourite Raw Cats’ fan Polina (who was the “official stripper” the Raw Cats) and her friend Katya went under the stage and turned their backs to the crowd. They then took off their blue jeans and showed everybody the logo of the Raw Cats, tattooed on their bare bums; both of them had one on their left bum cheek and one on their right !
And Richard, you asked me for some tasty stories outside of the Raw Cats, during my time in Russian rock’n’Roll. I think I can tell one [Valery has very many of them; unfortunately as advised above most of them are unrepeatable in a magazine !]. My friend Benny Blues called me to play with his band in 2010 in Sevastopol (in Crimea) at the Bike show, that was organised by the Night Wolves Bike Club of Russia. So, we played there and next morning I asked him to go with me to a students’ camp near Alushta, that I was visiting every year, from 2005 to 2010. It’s a helluva place, with port wine, lots of beautiful female students, near the sea, you get the picture ! So we traveled there for the day. I really wanted to get there and so we arrived. I met there several of my friends, at the famous bar named “The Mole”. And we were drinkin’ and dancin’. Benny fell asleep and I met the dawn in with champagne with everybody, but not Benny. And then I decided to walk up to the mountain, where I usually set my tent. I went there and fell sleep in the bushes. Benny woke up and didn’t find me. He tried without success to find me, then went away by taxi to Sevastopol. I woke up, finding myself with an awful hangover, without any money, without my passport, without a shirt, only in shorts and 300 kilometers away from Sevastopol. I had about 8 hours to get to our flat and to go to our train to Moscow. And I did it. I traveled to Alushta, there found a man, who decided to drive me to Sevastopol. I didn’t even know the address of the street where Benny was. I navigated on my memory. But I damn well did it. And we got on that train to Moscow five minutes before it was due to leave.
What were the main reasons for the Raw Cats’ big success over the last 11 years ? I think it’s only because of my singing and performing from the deepest depths of my soul, that is fuelled with love, women I’ve loved and of course Whisky. And hard, hard, hard work.
Changes to the personnel of the group during the history of the band ? Well, to play in the Raw Cats band is really hard work, so some guys said that was enough rock’n’roll for them and left. And some left for health reasons. About significant personal differences amongst the group’s members over the years, well I can advise the following. I had several problems in my group with double bass players. But I don’t want to speak about it. I’m grateful to all who were playing with me during these 11 years.
As to my own personal musical history, outside of the Raw Cats, I started playing piano when I was a kid. I graduated from one school, then went to a Jazz college in Russia, where I grew up as a real musician. Best wishes to my teacher Odyssey Bogusevich, who taught me not to think about what I’m playing the next second ! In 1999 I was at the concert of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I had a lot of vodka that evening, had a fight with a skinhead and with a bruise under my right eye I met a beautiful girl named Sveta. We had a romance and she arranged for me to join the band of her friends, who were playing something like Oasis. So after several rehearsals I performed in my first concert. It was at the Wild West Club and it’s true to say the Club had never seen such a show. I was sort of a “great balls of fire” on the stage and was NOT playing in the Oasis style. After two months predictably I was kicked out the band, because I was too rock’n’roll for them. Then I met a friend of mine, who was the leader of the blues band Moby Dick. I had studied in jazz college with the band’s bass player, Volodya. I did a few jam sessions with them and kept in contact. After a while the group Moby Dick collapsed and they said to me “OK, you’re a cool guy, let’s work together”. With them I formed the “Old Ladies Band” and after that the Raw Cats. Life’s a funny thing.
Richard, you asked me to name any individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia. Well, here’s one. I admire Muslim Magomaev. He was an honorable member of the Elvis Presley fan club in Russia. He was the Russian Elvis I think. He was a great Russian singer and he had a great voice, he was also an awesome musician. I was listening to his songs in cartoon films when I was a kid. I grew up on his music.
My all-time rock’n’roll heroes are Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash and the Stray Cats. Why ? Because they brought me to rock’n’roll, which is the style of my life and everything that I love. My all-time favourite rock’n’roll song is I think Jailhouse Rock: if my choice had to be a ballad then “I can’t help falling in Love”.
I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll. Of course I’m optimistic: “As long as I live, I wanna give you all of my heart, can’t be apart. As long as I live, I wanna give you the stars above that shine. Give just me a little more time and I’ll make this whole World yours and mine.”
Thankyou, Valery. A nice touch to end on some lyrics from a great song ! To catch some of the Setkin magic, you can go to the Raw Cats’ web-site at http://www.rawcats.ru/ As long as Valery is around, Russian rock’n’roll will never die !