This month it’s time to focus on rock’n’roll in a Russian city that this time isn’t Moscow. Moscow is not only the capital city of Russia, it’s also the capital of Russian rock’n’roll. No other city in this great country can compare to the r’n’r culture here in the capital. But our Great Culture is still alive and kickin’ in many of the great Russian cities, for example in a city in the west of the country that we are going to focus on in this article. And we are going to zero in on one particular rocker who’s done more than anyone to put this city on the map rock’n’roll-wise.

Back in May 2013 I wrote in this column about the Smolensk band Route 67, an iconic and famous Russian group. Its leader is Vladimir Katulsky. Vladimir’s rock’n’roll story is an exciting and fascinating one. You will see from his text below that he is also a modest man, under-stating his own success. His story enables us to learn more about the great history of Russian Rock’n’Roll.

On 16th December I booked Route 67 to appear for their premier performance at the prestigious Esse Jazz Café in Moscow. They travelled from Smolensk of course and for those present it was a journey they were grateful for. The group put on a fantastic show and made more converts to their fan base in Moscow. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Concert on 16th. Now I’ll hand over to Vladimir, to tell you his rockin’ story and history.

The history of Route 67 began ten years ago. After one of our friendly get-togethers with Andrey Sheshero (we would get together from time to time, listen to music and play some music for ourselves) we decided to try playing on a more serious level i.e. perform on stage. We created the Route 67 band. The name was invented and suggested to us by our friend Alexander Golubev.

These days and for a very long time now, we’ve been playing mostly our own original songs from our albums as well as some brand new, not yet recorded songs – Bring the Bottle, Mummy’s Curse, Last Night-Train, It Hurts To Be In Love, Fresh Blood, Sharp Knife, She Has Let Me Down, and I Kill My Love.

Unfortunately over the past year and a half, the rock ‘n’ roll life in Smolensk has faded away somewhat. When we (Route 67) don’t arrange a rockabilly event (either solo or with friends we invite for a joint gig or fest), there is nothing happening in our city. This is sad. Sometime ago (in the late 1980s – the early 1990s), the rockabilly movement in Smolensk used to be highly active. But unfortunately it has died down in the 21st century.

I got into rock ‘n’ roll a long time ago. I was about 15, going to school and I used to mix with the Smolensk rockabilly crowd. I first heard rock ‘n’ roll recordings when I was even younger than that and I fell in love with them. They were my father’s old reel-to-reel tapes and LPs. I started seriously performing on stage late; in Route 67 I was already 32, even though I learned to play the guitar much earlier than that and had gotten invitations to perform. And I was never influenced by other Russian bands.

I hope the most significant events in my rock ‘n’ roll life are yet to come. Having said that, I consider my greatest achievement Lance Bakemeyer’s request to perform three of my songs in his solo project. Those were Bring the bottle, Man in Black, and She Hates to be Blue. Lance Bakemeyer is an upright-bass player, vocalist and author of many songs for my favourite American band the Hillbilly Hellcats.

Richard, I have told you already the funny story about how I fell over while performing and accidentally broke the upright bass. This happened in Voronezh. The story went around immediately and when we went to Minsk several months later, a guy came to me and completely seriously asked, “We know about your cool show with the upright bass, will you be breaking any instruments today?”

I wouldn’t talk about Route 67’s success, but nevertheless for us and for me, it’s a success that our LPs were released by Crazy Love Records and that it’s all essentially 100% original material. We won’t “climb up” by using other people’s songs.

In our band, only the drummers have changed over the years, 5 times ! And that was very hard. There are practically no creative differences in the band. We sometimes have some small, insignificant arguments and discussions, but they’re all within the framework of our normal working environment.

I was never influenced by my compatriots. Rockabilly or rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t matter. I listened to both, loved both and collected both, without their influence. Some Russian rock’n’rollers name the groups Mister Twister or Meantraitors, many people considered them a catalyst of sorts in the 1980s, But they had absolutely no influence on my love for rock ‘n’ roll.

There have been many truly great rock’n’roll songs, hundreds of names and groups, a great number of styles from various periods. It would take me more than a day to list all the names and titles. Music is emotion, love, moods, it’s different every day. Today, I might for the 1001st time admire Eddie Cochran or Richie Valens. Tomorrow, it’s Bo, Chuck, Elvis or Carl Perkins. Next week, I will once again find myself under the wave of instrumental music, surf rock – the Ventures, Chantays, Johnny and The Hurricanes, Champs and Link Wray. Then I might “dive” into blues – Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Howlin and Muddy. And then throw everything aside and start admiring and analysing the guitar nuances of the great Grady Martin, Cliff Gallup, Franny Beecher, Hank Garland and George Barnes again and again; and much much else besides !

I’m optimistic and hopeful about the future of rock ‘n’ roll in Russia. Unfortunately there aren’t as many new decent bands as I’d like to see and the rock ‘n’ roll crowd isn’t growing the way I’d like it to. But nevertheless I believe rock ‘n’ roll in Russia will never die !

It’s hard for me to give a single definition of Route 67’s style. It’s probably some mix of rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, psychobilly and R&B. Regarding rock ‘n’ roll events in Russia, for me this was perhaps the performance of Chuck Berry, still at his best at the time of the concert I’m referring to. In addition to music, I’m also an avid fisherman and spin fishing aficionado. I love various sports and still play soccer.
Thankyou, Vladimir; a great story from a really good guy. Keep Rockin’, Mate !

Richard Hume