Welcome, Folks ! This month I wanna share with you a real important anniversary in the history of Russian rockn’roll. This year is the 25th anniversary of the history of the Great Pretenders, one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands in Russian history. 

I came to Russia over 17 years ago to live and work, so I have been able to see the band perform many times. Over the years their performances have not diminished, but rather moved and developed. It’s been a great story of a great group. 

A special anniversary concert took place on 23rd October this year to commemorate those 25 years. The photos you can see were taken at the concert. The venue was the famous Hard Rock Café in Moscow.

Regular readers of this column will know that over the years I have made reference to this exceptional band. I can do no better than hand over to Sergey Kuteynikov, the leader of the group, to tell you the story of the Great Pretenders’ 25 years. Over to you, Sergey:

Thanks, Richard. The Great Pretenders started in 1996. The first concert took place at the Magnifique club in Moscow on 12th April, the Birthday of Rock’n’Roll [Richard’s note – 12th April 1954 was the date Bill Haley’s “Rock around the Clock” was recorded in New York City, so for most of us this represents the birth of our great music]. Before that, for nearly one year we had been rehearsing. At first we were a 4-piece band with two of us singing. I played upright bass at the time and sang a few songs, one of which was a Crazy Cavan track, “Teddy Boy Boogie”. Another guy by the name of Mikhail Sherbakov had a very good voice and sang most of the songs. Alexey Slinkin played lead guitar and Sergey Putiy the drums. This line-up existed for around two years, then Mikhail Sherbakov emigrated to Canada and I had to sing the whole programme. I switched to acoustic guitar and became a front man. Now I am the only one left from original line-up in the band. 

Here’s a sample of some of the many songs we perform the most, to give you an idea of our music and style:

Waitin’ in school (Johnny Burnette – Dorsey Burnette), These boots are made for walking (Lee Hazlewood), The South’s gonna rise again (Lee and Jim Denson), Bird Dog (Woody – Simmons), Razor alley (Cotton), Matchbox (C.L.Perkins), Teddy Boy Boogie (Cavan Grogan), Steady Job (The Rockin’ Fools), Best Lookin’ girl in town (Cotton), I told you so (Barrett), Big River (J.R.Cash) and Let`s beat the Mods (Kuteynikov – Ivanin, our own original composition).

I was born in 1971 and in 1976 went to California, San Francisco with my Mother and Father. My Dad was a Soviet diplomat. On the TV I watched some popular shows at the time like Happy Days, Sha Na Na and some Elvis movies. I’ve loved 50’s rock’n’roll ever since.  

I started to rehearse in 1995 and the Russian group I was most influenced by then was Vse v poryadke Mama (in English it’s “That’s alright Mama”).

Some of the most significant events in my personal rock’n’roll history were forming the Great Pretenders and founding the Sharks. [Again, Richard’s note – the Sharks were one of the most famous rockabilly street gangs in Russia, especially during the 1990s].

There are many interesting and amusing stories connected with the Great Pretenders. Here’s just one: 

The first main singer of the Great Pretenders that played with us for two years was a pretty wild guy, Mikhail Sherbakov, especially when he got drunk. I would say he had no fear. So stuff like eating a glass at his birthday parties as the girls watched, or sitting drunk on the ledge of his third floor window smoking, was normal for him at the time. For example after eating a glass at one birthday that we celebrated at some club, he completely lost it and we had to take him home. So we carried him to the outside of the club, laid him on the grass and started to look for a taxi. At that moment one guy we knew from the rockabilly scene approached us and started to give advice on how to treat Mikhail, as he lay drunk on the grass. This guy worked as a nurse at some ward and he started to say things like “I know  what to do, let me take care of him,” so he sat on Misha’s chest and started to slap him in the face with words like, “Who are you, what are you doin’ ?” Then suddenly Misha opened his eyes and shouted something like “you d**k head” and hit the nurse with his leg, right into a very tender part of his anatomy. As a result the nurse flew from Mikhail’s chest to the ground. As he did so, Mikhail immediately calmed down and went back to sleep again and this nurse guy kept on telling us, “You see, he is a mad man !” We kinda smiled back, still trying to get a taxi.

I would say one of the main reasons for the success of the group on the rock’n’roll scene over here is our dedication to 50’s rock’n’roll. I am pleased to report there have been no significant personal differences within the band over the years. My all time biggest musical influences and rock’n’roll heroes are Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, because they mostly created the style we all love. My all-time favourite rock’n’roll song is “Red blue jeans and a pony tail”.

I’m not sure if I’m optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll, as I find it difficult nowadays time-wise to see all the young bands. One of the most significant events in Russian rock’n’roll history was the Space Cadets concert in 2005 – it started the arrival of more rockabilly bands from the West to Russia later on. Outside of rock’n’roll one of my main interests is Cooking.

Thankyou, Sergey. And there’s more ! Alexey Slinkin was part of the original line-up of the band and was referred to above by Sergey. Here Alexey’s Great Pretenders’ story:

I joined the rock’n’roll scene thanks to my good friend Evgeniy Kikhtenko. I hung around at his home where his friends Mikhail Sherbakov and Sergey Kuteynikov, huge admirers of rock’n’roll and rockabilly, were often spending time. I can say that all of those guys were my conductors into 1950s’ American rock’n’roll, rockabilly, gospel and doo wop culture.  

I had been fond of rock music from my childhood and tried to learn playing guitar. At the age of 18-19 years old I started to play together with Mikhail Sherbakov, mostly accompanying him on lead guitar. He had a great voice and was a real original, a very musical person. He had a real good feel for different musical nuances and tried to sing any familiar song in his own way. When I became 21 years old my first performance with the Great Pretenders took place in a small club in Moscow in 1996.     

I was not much influenced in particular by other Russian rock’n’roll groups. 

We tried to play in our own way without copying others.  

The most significant events in my rock’n’roll history were hearing the songs of such great rockabilly and rock’n’roll performers like Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and the Stray Cats.

Being a person that dropped out from the rock’n’roll scene at some point, it is very gratifying to know that some of the musicians, which I was lucky to know and play with, continue to perform to this day, playing great music for fans and all the people out there that dig such music. Undoubtedly, one of these I’m talking about is about Sergey Kuteynikov.  

Regarding my biggest musical influences, me as well as all the other Guys that started to play rockabilly then, were influenced by such stars as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Elvis of course. Also I liked the Stray Cats very much; that band was very popular amongst us then. My all-time rock’n’roll heroes ? – Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins. As to my all-time favourite rock’n’roll song, I remember what a strong impression I had over Gene Vincent’s “Race with the Devil” when I heard it for the first time. That song is my favourite to this day.

I am optimistic about the future of Russian rock’n’roll; yes, of course. I am sure that such music will always be in demand in Russia, the same as in the other countries. There are no borders for good music.

Outside of rock’n’roll, well, when I quit performing I became fond of filming. I write scenarios, do editing and shoot films as a director.

Cheers, Alexey. And last but not least, here is Oleg Ivanin, lead guitarist with the group, to round off this 25 year story of the Great Pretenders:

I’ve always liked Rock’n’Roll. The first experience I had in the late ‘80s was with the band ‘Vstrecha na Elbe’ (“Meeting on the Elbe River” in Russian). We used to play a song with the same title (with Mikhail Gorbachev / Perestroika-style lyrics about Russian –American friendship during World War 2) which was my first Rock’n’Roll song performance. I was about 20 years old then and it took me a lot of time to compose my guitar solo arrangement for that song. I didn’t know how to play Rock’n’Roll then and felt myself a little bit frustrated, but at last I produced a jazz style solo for it, decorated with several gypsy music elements. I think my solo was good, as the other members of the band (my peers) thought that I had copied it from somewhere ! After a while I was invited to join a Rock’n’Roll band named ‘That’s Alright, Mama’ where I really developed my rock’n’roll style. The leader / vocalist of that group later organised the founding of the ‘The Great Pretenders’ and the rest, as they say, is history !

Many Thanks Guys, for your personal stories of your life in the Great Pretenders. Here’s to the next 25 years – if you have the longevity of the Rolling Stones, for sure you’ll make it 25 + 25 years ! But thankfully your music is much more pleasing on the ear to me than those over-rated Stones posers !