Rock’n’Roll heroes can come in many forms. The ones that come immediately to mind of course are some of the performers. Plus in this column in the past I’ve drawn attention to some of the promoters, like Al Freed, whose contributions matched those of many of the performers. Plus song writers like Sharon Sheeley have been covered in this column, individuals who made a big impact on the history of Rock’n’Roll.
Well, here’s to someone who doesn’t perform rock’n’roll on stage or write songs, but who has made a significant contribution to Russian rock’n’roll. He’s been supporting our rockin’ culture for many years. Just as the army relies on its rank and file infantry as well as its big artillery, generals and field marshals, so this guy has been in the forefront of actively supporting and publicising rock’n’roll over a long period. His name is Konstantin Napastnikov and this is his rock’n’roll story. Take over, Konstantin.
My first ever rock ‘n’ roll hero was Jerry Lee Lewis. I still consider him one of the Sun Records’ greatest. My discovering Jerry Lee I think happened in 1996. I had probably listened to rock ‘n’ roll before then, but when I turned 15 it became a truly essential part of my life. I belong to that specific wave which came to the Rockabilly community highly impressed by the well known movie starring Johnnie Depp. I more or less had my video player on auto-replay. As time went on, I bought out all of the rock ‘n’ roll tapes and CDs I could find in Gorbushka, a famous street market in Moscow and all the tents in the area. In most cases, it was a mix of the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks to the movie, a lot of the Youth then demonstrated that outward appearance; blue jeans, white t-shirt and leather jacket. I need to note that by then the Lyubery Movement had pretty much completely disappeared but there were a great many “Gopotniks” [Richard’s note – the Lyubery Movement were young people helped by the State to keep an eye on and try and counter foreign youth cultural influences that were developing in the country. The Gopotniks were the most numerous youth community that existed in the 1990s, whose members were aggressive, poorly educated and kind of related with criminals]. So that’s why, as I dressed to look like Wade Walker, when people saw me they always said, “Look, Elvis Presley!” In those days I myself was pretty hotheaded and such statements often led to street clashes.
I happened across a guy who told me in 1998 that on 12th April, there was going to be a festival dedicated to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll music. And 12th April is still celebrated in Russia as the birthday of rock’n’roll, with an annual rockin’ concert. [Richard’s note – why has this date been chosen as the birthday of rock’n’roll in Russia ? Answer – it was the date in 1955 when Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” record was released] What a pleasure that was for me! My favourite music was played all night long. Plus, I found out that I’m not the only fan of rock ‘n’ roll in Moscow – there are a lot of us.
In just a short time, I joined the rock ‘n’ roll community, listened to all the rock ‘n ‘ roll and “almost” rock ‘n ‘ roll bands and got miles of recorded tape of all the right music. At that time, the Moscow scene was regularly visited by bands from St. Petersburg and Ukraine. The Ukrainians leaned more towards psychobilly.
As for St. Petersburg… I considered it the rockabilly capital of Russia. They even had special rock ‘n’ roll clubs. Money Honey is still there but Rio has sadly closed down. There were others, too. By the way, there was something else nice about St. Petersburg – the bands played 3 sets unlike Moscow where they played only one. Money Honey featured two groups, one in the morning and one at night. So all in all, when you went to St. Petersburg you could enjoy yourself as much as you would at one of the international weekenders today. The bands themselves sounded much better than the Moscow ones.
I’ll name only three of the St. Petersburg bands; The Cadillacs which later re-invented themselves as The Sputniks, The Rattlesnakes and The Big Livers. The latter two came to Moscow only once or twice which meant you could hear them really only in St. Petersburg. Incidentally, all three exist up to this day. I haven’t seen The Big Livers in a long time and I saw the other two recently with completely new lineups. The Sputniks were the very first Russian band invited to an international festival. At that time, Jerry Chatabox used to come listen to them in the Moscow club Texman.
Even though Texman wasn’t exactly a rock ‘n’ roll club, it was our favourite. They had rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly concerts pretty much every weekend. In Moscow, I loved going to the concerts of The Great Pretenders and Off Beat. Later on the band Steel Rats moved to Moscow. I did my best not to miss any of the concerts of The Great Pretenders and the Steel Rats. The Steel Rats don’t exist anymore and their frontman has passed away. May he rest in peace. However, their bass player is now part of The Great Pretenders who still give concerts, even though rarely. They deserve thanks for their longevity ! Since then, various bands have appeared and disappeared , but I would like to mention one in particular – The Hi-Tones from Moscow.
I can’t say I played some significant role in Russian rock’n’roll [Richard’s note – Konstantin is being too modest !]. I like music. I have compiled a pretty large collection, and I periodically get invited to play it at evening events. At one point I worked as a DJ, playing my favourite melodies. I enjoyed dancing so I did that while trying to get some ideas from the dancing couples.
At that time, the “old-timers” showed me most of the dance moves. Around 1998-99, before I even had my driver’s license, I bought a car – a Russian GAS M20 Pobeda. My friends and I hung out in it after, and sometimes instead of, attending our university classes: We did this and that with it, listened to music, just had a good time. After concerts, we would go in that same car with a couple of cases of beer to continue the evening. Sometimes the musicians rehearsed at my place and sometimes some St. Petersburg bands stayed with me.
As time went by, our community matured and got older. It’s hard to explain. I don’t want to offend anyone. It just so happened that when many people got the chance to see how everything related to rock ‘n’ roll gets cultivated in the West, they more and more developed their own taste in clothing, music and dancing and less of them took on the culture of rock’n’roll.
The Moscow and St. Petersburg communities started gradually dwindling down. To ensure the needed audience numbers at the concerts, the organisers began inviting people from other communities which happened to have nationalist leanings. Overall, by 2005, almost nothing was left from the atmosphere in 1998. Probably along with that process, starting in 2001, the dance movement started gathering strength in Moscow. This is a topic for another article.
Here I must mention the purely phenomenal effect of Maxim Makarov’s efforts to perfect dancing and its style. For a period of 17 years, the school was a gathering place for a young, creative community. I need to definitely mention Richard Hume, thanks to whom I’m writing this material. Later on, he created his own community with its own dance vision and enriched Moscow with the diversity of jive.
So nowadays, the skinheads giving Nazi salutes from previous years have been replaced on the dance floor by coiffed young men and women in gorgeous dresses.
I’m sure that the Moscow dance community now has an impact on the dance tendencies in the rockabilly communities all over the world. Not too long ago, yours truly and my life partner had the pleasure to give a master class in rockabilly jive in Las Vegas after the Viva Las Vegas Festival. We were touched by the realisation that this American dance style, revived in Russia, is highly popular in America.
There’s a cliché “The good old rock ‘n’ roll”. I once heard a Russian DJ say that rock ‘n’ roll is actually young and angry. I can’t fully agree with him on that. I heard Barney and the Rhythm All Stars and he made me think “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Young and Wild”. Now that sounds right. In general, right now I’m hugely inspired by what Wild Records do in terms of music and what the Moscow Dancing Rebels school does in terms of dancing. By the way, the abovementioned DJ impressed me greatly with his 45s collection.
About the future, I’ll tell you right away I’m very optimistic about Russian rock ‘n’ roll. The dance schools are cultivating favourable conditions. There are people supporting either most of or all of the rockabilly lifestyle; music, appearance, knowledge, dancing, cars and motorcycles. Overall, there are
decent musicians. With a little bit of luck, we will be able to see the light of the Russian rockabilly star as well. Ukraine has the Wise Guys after all [Richard’s note – the Wise Guys are a famous Ukrainian rockabilly band].
Thankyou Konstantin, for a great rock’n’roll story. Konstantin is like many of us, for whom the following phrase applies regarding our rock’n’roll culture; “We grew up with it, we stayed with it and we’ll die with it.”