November 24, 2008
Years ago, when I was completely green when it came to collecting 78s, I sought out arcane knowledge* wherever I could find it. And since I was broke most of the time, I had nothing but time to spend listening to more experienced collectors talk and talk (and play records). During that period, I was getting into early American jazz, blues, and country, but really had no idea where to begin. These collectors were equally irascible and incredibly generous. There was, however, one piece of dubious information that was drilled into me: red Columbias are a waste of your time, son. The mere mention of a “red Columbia” would make older collector’s eyes roll. I’d hear things like, “I drove all the way down to Philly for that estate sale – and all they had were red Columbias!” or “The guy wanted $5 each for all his red Columbias!” They were the most plentiful 78rpm record around (and probably still are), and the vast majority of what you’d find would be Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, big band…top sellers. It wasn’t until a few years down the road that I realized that the red label Columbia 78 wasn’t to be ignored whatsoever – that everything I’d heard up to that point was an elitist myth.
The American Columbia imprint was ravaged by the Depression like many other labels, and it vanished by the early 1930s (after beginning around the turn of the century). By 1939, it had been resurrected with a new red label. And yes, while it is true that it quickly became a profitable bastion of mid-20th century popular music, the red label Columbia, at least in some ways, continued where the old-school Columbia label left off when it came to international folk music. They resurrected Syrian and Egyptian recordings from the 1920s Columbia “X” (for “export”) series, and brought them back to life. They reissued fado records from Portugal, tough to find and out of print for years. And with Greek music – forget about it. The red Columbia label issued loads of amazing rebetika and Greek folk – recordings originally made in Greece and pressed on the European Columbia imprint (by then run by HMV) in the 30s, as well as more current, and often no less rootsy, recordings made in the United States by Greek immigrants.
Which leads me to today’s offering, another continuation of our 4-week exploration into aerophones. Clarinet master Kostas Gadinis was born sometime between 1885 and 1890 in the town of Siátista, in West Macedonia. He immigrated to the United States ca. 1915, and began recording as soon as the early 1920s. Legend has it that Benny Goodman and Dave Tarras saw Gadinis play live, and were suitably blown away, with Goodman referring to him as the “Benny Goodman of Greece.” This terrific instrumental rebetika track, in the sabah dromo (or maqam), was recorded October 22, 1940 in New York, with John K. Ginaros on accordion, and unknown accompanists on oud and drum. The title “Aebali” is better translated as “Aïvali” in Greek or “Ayvalık” in Turkish, and is the name of a town located on the northwest coast of Turkey which had a large Greek population until the end of the Ottoman Empire. This song was apparently also released under the title “Remembrance of Aebali Village.” Gadinis died in 1987.
Issue Number: 7209-F
Matrix Number: CO 28951
Thanks to Tony K. for info, as always – and thanks to Dave M. for turning me on to Gadinis’ work to begin with. For more Gadinis on CD, there are a couple of tracks on Topic’s Blowers From the Balkans CD. There is also an entire CD of Gadinis’ work on the Greek Falireas label, but it appears they are not yet equipped to take credit card orders.
*”I wanna keep my place in this old world – keep my place in the arcane knowledge” – Jonathan Richman, “Old World”
July 13, 2008
I’m really happy to announce that we have two phenomenal guest posts over the next two weeks – get ready! Today’s post is from musician David Murray, who not only has a fascinating collection of Chinese opera 78s which he offers to the public over at Haji Maji, but he’s also an expert in Greek rebetika. His post today is very special – an extremely rare Parlophon issue of a more well-known Greek tune, with his copy in the best known condition. Enjoy! – JW
I threw on a CD of old rebetika 78s while cooking dinner one night. I’d listened to the CD a couple of times over the years, but never really paid much attention. Somewhere around the fourth song, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t believe how amazing this bouzouki player sounded. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I listened a few more times. And the next day and the next day, until I eventually resolved to figure out what this was all about (the CD was printed only in Greek). The bouzouki player turned out to be Spyros Peristeris.
Peristeris was born in Smyrna in 1900 and was musically trained in Istanbul, playing mandolin, guitar, piano, bouzouki, and other stringed instruments. By the early 1920s, he was living in Greece and working as a musical director for the Odeon/Parlophon labels, supervising recording sessions and often playing various supporting instruments for singers like Andonis Dalgas, Rita Abadzi, Roza Eskenazi, and others.
Bouzoukis and rebetika were becoming increasingly popular, and in 1932-1933, Peristeris played on and directed the first recordings of this new genre with the great Markos Vamvakaris. Markos was a self-taught bouzouki player (“My only school was the hashish den.”) who had been playing for only a few years. His playing and singing were rough, and he had a strong rhythmic style that captured the essence of the rebetis character: smoking hashish, fighting, etc. Markos went on to record hundreds of songs and was very popular throughout the 30s and 40s.
Peristeris stayed in the background, scouting talent, directing recording sessions, writing and arranging. He, too, played on hundreds of records, sometimes playing under the pseudonym “Georgiades,” sometimes anonymously (including playing the bouzouki on some of Vamvakaris’ own records!). His material covered many styles of rebetika, folk, cabaret, popular, and more, but most of his sought-after recordings come from a run of 50 or so rebetika songs he recorded from about 1934-1940. On these, Peristeris played bouzouki or guitar (in a bouzouki style) with a trio or quartet.
His technical grace really stands out with these small, well-recorded groups. The playing is syncopated, fast, highly ornamented and full of twists and turns. A very different sound than Vamvakaris’ strident, pulsing rhythm.
The singing on these records were by some of the best Greek vocalists ever recorded: Kostas Roukounas, Zacharias Kazimatis, or Jiorgos Kavouras. All three singers sang in an old school style that was replaced by a simpler rebetika sound.
The majority of these records also feature guitarist Kostas Skarvelis and many are his own compositions. Not only was he one of the great songwriters of the rebetika era, he also, along with Kostas Karipis and a few others, played on the vast majority of rebetika recordings.
Occasionally a baglama was included and some feature a great, but uncredited, accordion player. Regardless of the exact makeup of the group, these recordings stand out as one of the major strands of influence in rebetika, and popular Greek music in general.
Here’s one of my favorites from these sessions. A Skarvelis zeibekiko sung by Kavouras and played in the key of G minor.
Pono, De Me Lypasai (I’m in Pain, Don’t You Feel Pity For Me?)
(1937, Kostas Skarvelis gtr., Jiorgos Kavouras vcl., Spyros Peristeris bzk.)
My eyes cry for you day after day,
My heart aches and breaks into pieces
I’m sighing but you don’t pay attention, you’re heartless, you don’t feel pity,
You’re having fun with somebody else
and you forget what you had promised
You faded me away, you hurt me,
May you not escape from suffering, too -
May you experience the same pain in your heart and be ruined.
(Thanks to Nikos Politis and Kostas Ladopoulos for the translation.)
Issue Number: B.21921
Matrix Number: Go 2761
July 8, 2007
Dimotika refers to folk songs traditionally from the Greek countryside, as opposed to rebetika, which is an urban song type that I’m sure most listeners/viewers out there are doubtlessly familiar. This dimotika track is a syrto, a folkdance and song generally in 2/4 time, usually danced in a circle. The title roughly translates to “Up on the Ridge at Kriovrisi.” The transliterated name “Kriovrisi” is actually a reference to the municipality of Kria Vrisi, located in the Macedonia region of Greece.
Alas, I could find scant information on the vocalist, Ms. Atraidou. However, the clarinetist, also credited on the record, is Yiorgo Anestopoulos, a master player and an accompanist on hundreds of classic recordings. A collection of his recordings can be found here. The “L. Rouvas” listed as composer is most likely Lazaros Rouvas, who was also a lute player.
The Orthophonic label was a Victor subsidiary, run out of the United States by Tetos Demetriades. Throughout the 1930s, they released countless fine examples of Greek and Turkish music (much of which was originally recorded in those countries).
A big thanks to Dave at Spectacular Opticals for help with translation, as well as musical info and insight.
Issue Number: S-737
Matrix Number: n/a