Elias Zaikos of Blues Wire talks about Blues Gang, Sotiris Zisis, Champion Jack Dupree & his experience from European festivals

"We're all under the same sky, fighting hard...brothers."

Blues Wire: Greek Blues Brothers

According to everybody who has ever witnessed a Blues Wire gig this band is one of Europe's best kept blues secrets and they should finally get the chance to be known to blues lovers around the world.

The Blues Wire story began in 1983 when Sotiris Zisis (bass) and Elias Zaikos formed Blues Gang (who renamed themselves as Blues Wire in 1985), the very first blues band in Greece that tried to capture the original sounds of blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and T-Bone Walker. They recorded the first blues album ever to be made by Greek musicians, at a time when it was really difficult to play music without obvious roots in Greek culture, let alone get a record deal for it. Back then, playing the blues not only could make someone almost an outcast, but it also meant dealing with shady characters and going through hard times. The only ways for a blues band to go through these times was to be tough, determined and stay true to the spirit that moved them in the first place.

Elias Zaikos was born in 1960 in Thessaloniki , Greece , where he is permanently based. During his early teen years, he showed relatively little interest in music and listened mainly to Greek traditional and popular songs. Sometime around 1976, he was introduced to soul and to rock and roll music. Little by little he got so involved with music that being a listener just wasn't enough. A friend of local rock musicians, he followed them on to their gigs and got a first hand knowledge of the pleasures - but also the difficulties - that are all part of a musician's lifestyle. He soon found out what it really means to express oneself through an instrument.

In the early eighties, Elias Zaikos founded Blues Wire (or Blues Gang, as they were initially named). In 1983 the band recorded the first blues album in Greece , which paved the way for a long series of successful albums that followed. Performing an average of two hundred nights every year in a small country like Greece is an achievement indeed, but Blues Wire have done just that, confirming thus the band's hard work and also its enduring popularity. All these years, Blues Wire have been constantly active in countless jam sessions, backing and supporting famed bluespeople, like Katie Webster, John Hammond, Albert King, Otis Rush, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Larry Garner, Carey Bell and many others: They were all amazed by the authority and style of these Greek blues players. Europe was the obvious next step for E.Z. and Blues Wire.



Blues Wire has provided the foundation of the Greek blues scene and the main inspiration for many younger musicians. For five years they were the house band at Pararlama, the first and most famous blues club in Greece .

After a career spanning more than twenty years, Blues Wire are now busier than ever. Spanning yet another mark in their long career, their last studio album showcases a more varied, elaborate and eclectic sound. Blues Wire may have moved on to another level but their essence remains intact. Alias Zaikos talks about the band, Greek blues scene, and his experience on the Blues road...

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues music?
As soon as I got caught by the sounds and atmosphere of the genre. Somehow I knew I had to play this music as well as write my own songs.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?   

Well, many good ones, very few that felt somehow bitter...I guess the chance to meet some very important figures of the genre stands out.


You must have met a lot of the famous bluesmen. Which one impressed you most and why?
Almost everybody. Blues people are nice and interesting in general, some exceptions just confirm this rule. Blues artists have their own ways, sound and manners; each one has something unique and useful to offer.


Which of the people you have worked with had a positive impact on you?
Again, almost all of them. I feel blessed to have played with such great artists. There's always something good even at times you feel down or upset.


What are the similarities and the differences between the blues music and the Rembetiko one (also known as the “Greek Blues”)?
These are true folk music forms, all of them around the globe share some characteristics such as simplicity, raw power, humor, humanism, communicability and many more.


You have helped many young artists who wanted to play the blues. Some of them consider you as their mentor.  In what ways have they expressed their gratitude to you?
By keep on playing the blues, thank you all!

How was your relationship with the other blues bands in Greece?
We're all under the same sky, fighting hard...brothers.

Do you have a message for your Greek fans?
Fans know, that's why they love the blues, I just wanna thank 'em for supporting local bands.


Which musician has influenced you most?
Far too many loved ones to pick just one...sorry!
 

What does your first band “the Blues Gang” mean to you?

The intro of the song of my career, and as you know, every part of a song must be important.

 

Do you think that the younger generations are interested in the blues?
I think they have always been , cos sooner or later they wanna know the roots of music they listen to, and, when you're digging deeper, you will find the blues.

Tell me a little bit about your acoustic project.
In the beginning, I was haunted by the magic of the old country blues players, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Son House, you know, all them mythical figures...I never forget this passion, the acoustic project is my chance to try to taste some of the old blues school greatness and to let my listeners know about another sonic landscape of the idiom, somehow away from loudness and electricity.

Do the blues songs that you play come from your personal life experiences?
Some do, some don't. I fish in a lot of different places for inspiration, either inside or out there. But at any rate, I need to feel the song, that's very important for me.
 

Which has the most interesting period in your life been and why?
Now, I'm in a constant search, so, every new minute, hour, day is what gives me strength, howling: you're still here man, do something! Everything has some kind of logic, you can't always be creative or significant, you have to love and respect every part of you, same for all periods of your existence.

How do you wish to be remembered?
I don't really care, those who would like to know about me, listening to my music will be enough.

What mistake of the Greek blues scene, would you wish to correct?
Man, mistakes are something that i like! Why in the world I would like to correct something I can't even name or analyze?

You have been traveling all around Greece. What is the impression that you get regarding the popularity of the blues as a music genre in this country?
Simple people feel and love simple music. They don't have to understand the lyrics or be familiar with the history of the songs, they just understand that this music is true, and comes straight from the heart. In general they like it, but media people are snobs so sales and gigs suffer from this. Oh well...

Have you toured Europe a lot? What is your experience from the European Blues Festivals?
We used to travel a lot, later years not so much...I believe we have to put a new album out and start again in a more regular basis. I have to say that audiences in EU always treated the band so nice, it's breathtaking man...I feel proud and honored indeed.

 

What made you fall in love with the blues music?

You can't explain love with terms of logic. Emotions and reasoning are two different things. It simply happened. You know, the blues grabs you like Godzilla got the blond girl!

Which historical personalities of the blues would you wish to have met?
Almost everybody...but I love to meet people who love the blues anyhow, have a beer or something with them and talk about it, that feels nice.

What do you miss most from the Blues Gang years?
Enthusiasm, ignorance of any risk. When you're 20, you feel like being on top of the world, you feel immortal.

What do you miss most from the Parlarama years?
Well, suppose the company feeling...everybody had an important part in the story, bartenders, the band, guys at the door, we were a bunch of friends living a hard but pleasant life, sharing most things, loving and respecting each other...and the blues was there, anytime, anyhow, no matter what, covering all souls with a positive and creative spirit.

To which person would you wish to dedicate a song of yours?
Allow me to pick an old Percy Mayfield song, this goes to politicians around the globe, title is: "You're in for a big surprise"!

Do you have a favorite blues song?
Not really, from time to time maybe a lil' something stays in my mind and sooths me until a new one shows up. Ain't life a good'un?

Tell me about the beginning of Blues Wire. How did you get together and where did it start?
Sotiris and I shared the same passion for music, at one time we thought we needed to express our hearts’ emotions through an instrument. Started playing together simple blues songs, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and things, then we found a drummer and we kept a rolling. We were friends in our hometown Thessaloniki, in the beginning we 're playing at basements with dirt cheap instruments and loaned amps, we didn't care, it was just the music and our dreams.

You've worked with Sotiris Zisis for over twenty years. How has it been working with him?  What is his contribution to your songwriting?
Ha, just like a married couple! Ups and downs, fights, frustrations and triumphs! No DVC yet! I write the songs, then we work together to shape' em to our common taste. Listen to this: no Blues Wire would exist if Sotiris hadn’t been the man he is.

How important is the venue for a performing musician? How does that contribute to his overall success?
Let me put it this way...the worst venue can't beat an inspiring act from a dedicated musician. But, the slickest club can't make a poor artist sound good...


What musicians/songwriters have influenced you most as a songwriter?
Many of course, guitarists, pianists, sax players, singers from Rn'R, blues, rock, you name it...I will say one name though, a huge influence in blues songwriting, that's Willie Dixon, he penned so many classics it's scary...

 

 

Who are some of your favorite blues musicians of today?
Alvin Hart, Junior Watson, Kim Wilson, Jimmie Vaughan, Mavis Staples, Rick Holmstrom, Keb Mo, Janiva Magness, Levon Helm, Ronnie Earl, Gregg Allman, John Hammond, Ruthie Foster, Los Lobos, Big George Jackson, Delbert McClinton, Angela Strehli...

How do you think that you friendship with Katie Webster has influenced your career?
Katie made us better people...she was so kind and positive, how can we forget her……...

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started?
Aw, man, we were chasing vinyl albums and Teles, now, internet, digital toys, mp3s, mobile phones, applications...I get dizzy. It is a nice thing for young generations, I can handle them myself up to a point, but the old school recording studios are hard to find I'm afraid, managers want you to be the new Lady Gaga or something, or, I’m just getting old! .

Do you think you’re getting better as you’re getting older?
Yes I do, as a matter of fact I would quit if I stopped believing this every single day!

Elias, how do you feel now, when you see younger musicians playing the blues?
I feel good man! Proud sometimes and definitely optimistic.

What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?
We can talk for hours attempting to define success...I feel just very lucky to play my music, I 'm true and honest in what I do, I guess that’s it..

You have a lot of guitars. Tell us about your favorite ones.
Errr, actually I don't... anymore...used to, these days I have about 3-4 electrics and a couple of acoustics...but I exchange them at a regular basis, you know, buy one, taste it a bit, then sell it to try something different...ain't rich, man, sometimes I wish I could keep some of the special ones, but... If I had to keep just one guitar though, this would be a Telecaster.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory of Champion Jack Dupree?

Hey, what a guy! Now, here's a good one. In Budapest, early in the morning, Champion drinks brandy and smokes a cigar. Rest of our young white fellas drinking coffee trying to wake up...someone asks the old man: Champion, how come you're drinking booze and smoking at breakfast time? Ain't you afraid? Then, Champion pauses for some secs, finally spoke...I see people eating greens and things, go to the gym, running on the beach, keeping a fine form and...all of a sudden, they drop dead, just like that...well...I 'm gonna die of something!!! Ain't that cool or what?

What should people expect from you at a show?
Better come to check me in person!

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
Mmmm, that's a good question...I guess music comes from anywhere, you don't say the same things all the time. Sometimes you gotta trust your instincts, other times you need to use knowledge or experience, then again you might use different things to create a unique mix. That's art I guess...


 

Blues Wire's website      


 

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