This month I going to tell you about one of the Hard men of Russian Rock’n’Roll. He’s been famous on the Russian rockin’ circuit since the 1990s and is more than comfortable with his “tough guy” image.
His name is Sergey Kuteynikov and he’s the leader of the famous Russian rockabilly group the Great Pretenders. I’ve written before about this band. This month I’ll focus on the man himself.
Sergey will tell you his story below. But first, here’s an introduction. Perhaps the crucial moment in Sergey’s rockin’ history was his founding and establishment of the Sharks. The Sharks were a street gang which followed the rock’n’roll style of music. This was really the genesis of the tough guy image that has stuck with Sergey throughout his rockin’ career.
Sergey some time ago told me a true story of the feuds between the different gangs in Russia in the 1990s. He told me that in true youth culture tradition, various gangs who followed different styles of music and dress had serious fights between each other. This included many criminal arrests mainly in St Petersburg. Sergey told me the violence was inspired mainly by what the groups had learned about British rock history e.g. 50s Teddy Boys’ aggression, Mods vs. Rockers, Teds / Rockabillies vs. Punks / Skinheads, etc. In other words they felt this was what they were expected to do. So this was another famous British export !
Some of the photos you can see are taken from the different periods of Sergey’s rock’n’roll life in Moscow, including some of his fellow Sharks. Here is his story, in his own words:
Well, first of all about the Great Pretenders, we play in the rockabilly style. To give you an idea, here’s an example of some of the songs we perform the most: Teddy Boy Boogie by Crazy Cavan, Pink Thunderbird, Cruisin`, Double Talkin` Baby, Crazy Legs by Gene Vincent and Let`s Beat The Mods – a self-penned track.
When I was a boy from 1976 till 1980 I lived in San Francisco, California. My Dad was a Soviet diplomat and was based there as an attache for the Soviet government. While watching TV there, I had my first glimpse of 1950s style rock’n’roll including the music and dress code. There were a few TV series related to the 1950s like Happy Days and a few others, as well as some of the early Elvis movies. I didn`t became a fan at the time, but the Look of a Duck tail, white t-shirt and black leather jacket somehow stuck in my mind.
I returned to Moscow with no interest in any particular type of music. But when I was 12 in 1982 all of a sudden I remembered 1950s rock’n‘roll music. At home my parents had only 1 vinyl Elvis Presley record; a Canadian tribute recording, of which only 2 songs were really to my liking – Jailhouse Rock and Little Darlin‘. When I asked around, it appeared that nobody including my friends and relatives had any rock’n‘roll records. They told me I was a fool and that I had to listen to stuff like Al Bano And Romina Power – Italian pop music was going strong in the Soviet Union at the time. Finally after half a year of searching, I was lucky enough to record some rock’n‘roll from a classmate’s collection, whose older brother was into different types of music and had vinyl records brought from the West. And among those records were the Stray Cats‘ first album, Ravenna & The Magnetics‘ Rockabilly Fools, It`s only Rock`n`Roll (a BBC radio programme compilation with Freddie Fingers Lee, Flying Saucers, Shakin Stevens & The Sunsets and Matchbox) and Carl Perkins Ol‘ Blue Suedes is Back. I have been rock and rolling ever since then – non stop. I started by dancing to it, listening to it and then adopting it as a life style. There were no real rockabillies in Moscow till the end of the eighties. Up until then there would’ve been in Russia some people like me listening to the records at home. At the end of the 80s I was searching desperately for a rockabilly hang-out in Moscow and finally I found it as follows:
The Moscow band “Mister Twister” was very popular at that time and had recently adopted the rockabilly look. So I was able to go to rockabilly concerts for nearly a year; then followed my two years of military service in the Russian Navy. I returned to Moscow in 1991 and continued to have a ball.
In 1996 I set up my own band, “the Great Pretenders” where I played an acoustic guitar and sang. The Great Pretenders are still going and have been for a long time one of the top Russian rockabilly bands. When I first started playing, the Russian group I was most influenced by was mostly “That’s Alright Mama“. This band played 50s‘ rock’n‘roll and rockabilly in Moscow from 1988 till 1991. My guitar player is directly from this outfit.
One of the most significant events in my rock’n’roll history was buying my first authentic 1950s style black leather jacket in 1991.
In the beginning of the 1990s one of my friends was performing regularly on the famous Arbat Street in Moscow with a band that later became known as the Jailbreakers. He had been fascinated with the film “Gone with the Wind” and came up with the idea to create a club by the name of Richmond. Some new rockabilly cats joined it and some heavy metal lovin` guys too. As time went on, we hep cats decided to quit our association with the heavy metal guys at the Richmond club. We left and set up the “Sharks” – a club strictly for rockabillies. We didn`t accept anything in music except 1950`s rock`n`roll and rockabilly. Psychobilly wasn`t for us either nor any other music outside of 1950s’ rock’n’roll. We went to Rockabilly concerts together, watching each other’s backs.
The idea was simple – it always bothered me that Rockabillies in Moscow, the ones that went to concerts, were not supporting each other in the case of facing bullies and other people trying to get advantage of you with aggression. I wanted something different. I was able to find friends who shared the same views and attitude to life as myself. So I organised the rockabilly club “Sharks“. The club was founded in 1993 in Moscow. It comprised many people. We were engaged in organising rockabilly concerts and on a few occasions the security of rock music clubs and concerts, as well as simply going to concerts together drinking vodka and beer mostly.
Here’s one example of the kinds of things we got up to. In 1995 we attended the Moscow rockabilly festival at Tabula Rasa club. There were 5 bands playing: Mad Fish (Saint Petersburg), Steam Engine, the Jailbreakers, Sky Rockets and Crazy Man Crazy – the latter 4 all from Moscow. Crowds of over three hundred and more “rebels” were having a ball. Our representative approached each band participating and asked them to dedicate a song to the Sharks during their part of the performing. All agreed and did so and only Steam Engine put us down somehow with a psycho-styled song dedication to Sharks. So we wanted revenge, in the form of kicking the ass of their front man. But we were suddenly drawn away by the ugly situation that was happening with our friend. One guy approached me and said that Mike our friend was outside the club fighting with four bikers – not a fair fight, right? As it turned out he had invited a girl for a dance but she was with one of the bikers, so they took Mike out to beat him up. But Mike was a brave guy and went alone – didn’t ask anybody for help. Anyway this situation outside was noticed by Little Alex (one of our guys) who alerted us right away. So we rushed out of the club and what we saw were four people beating up our friend. When we reached them, firstly I tried to calm the bikers down by asking them to stop, but to no avail. So we had to interfere. There were a few of us who went out of the club and the funny thing was that two of our guys were smoking joints round the corner at the same time. When I saw them standing there, I kindly invited them to take part in a small beating punishment of four bikers. During the skirmish even Mike was kicked once by mistake by one of us. After about half a minute of the beating the four bikers, err, “thanked“ us for the lesson we had given them. We were back at the club to continue partying and rockin‘ & rollin‘.
As time went by, several Shark club members became interested in using drugs. That was definitely not mine nor some of the other guys‘ cup of tea. So we kinda disbanded at the time because we didn’t want to hang around with junkies. But even today sometimes you can see guys wearing our colours at rockabilly shows and festivals.
The main reasons for the Great Pretenders’ success and longevity on the rock’n’roll scene are as follows; first of all our wish to carry on playing 1950s rock’n’roll and secondly the high quality of musicians that have joined The Great Pretenders Project.
There have been quite a few changes to the personnel of the group during the history of the band. Sure. We have being playing rockabilly for 19 years. I am alone now from the original line-up. But I am satisfied with the professionalism of the musicians that keep the Great Pretenders going nowadays. There have been some personal differences within the group now and again over the years, but not that big to ever cause us to disband.
Here are some individuals in the history of Russian rock’n’roll that I particularly admire, for their contribution to the rockin’ scene here in Russia; Pete Anderson (from Latvia), Mister Twister, That’s Alright Mama and the Jailbreakers.
My biggest musical influences ? – Elvis Presley 1950s’ stuff and his 1968 comeback special, Gene Vincent with the Blue Caps, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Burnette & his rock’n’roll trio and Shakin`Stevens music from the 1970s and early 1980s. My all-time rock’n’roll hero is Jackie Lee Cochran, because he kept on playing our music even in the 1960s. My all-time favourite rock’n’roll song is Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley.
About the future of Russin rock’n’roll, the peak of the Movement in Moscow and Saint Petersburg was during 1990s. It’s up to us to keep it going. Loads and loads of fascinating rockabilly events in Russian rock`n`roll history come to mind. Here’s one; Jerry Lee Lewis’ performance in Moscow in 1997 – Awesome.
Cheers Sergey, Thanks for a great story as well as your noble part in the history of Russian rock’n’roll. Keep on Rockin’, Man !