Greek Blues Scene: An Interview with guitarist Sakis Dovolis of Blues Bone Band

"we (even we “non-american” bluesmen) should try to pay our respects to this music with every note we play, with every word we sing, with all the grace it deserves."

Sakis Dovolis: Blues To The Bone

Sakis Dovolis is the guitarist and singer of the Blues Bone Band. The blues have attracted his interest from the early years of his preoccupation with the guitar. Combining Stevie Ray Vaughan’s explosive energy and BB King’s clear sound with his own musical personality, he has formed a unique technique that featured him as one of the greatest guitarists in Kozani, Greece.



Sakis also, has been collaborated with local blues guitar players, Elias Zaikos and Nick Dounousis, Louisiana Red, and with the symphonic orchestra of Aristoteleio University of Thessaloniki.
He was teaching electric guitar at the Demetrios Demopoulos conservatory for 2 years and now he’s studying music technology at Arta’s University. Sakis also has a harmony and counterpoint degree and now studies fugue.


Interview by Michael Limnios


When was the first time you felt the need to play the blues?
Well, I was about 15 years old, I’d been playing the guitar since I was 9, but till then, I’d never heard of the blues. One day I went to a music store, where my guitar teacher, Panagiotis Paraskevas, was working as a guitar technician and after a long conversation on rock and blues music, he gave me Stevie Ray Vaughan’s CD  “In Step” to listen.  I remember, I got so excited about that CD, that I ran back home to listen to it. And that was, pretty much, it! When I heard this guy playing the guitar I decided that I wanted someday to be playing like him.  For a long time, I was trying to learn his style of playing, his licks and stuff.  During that time, I had a cheap YAMAHA guitar and a Marshall Valvestate amp, but I’d already decided to buy Vaughan’s “No 1”, and one year later, I made it! Then I formed my first Blues band, “separate ways”, and that’s how I started to play the blues!

 


What were your first influences in music and which were the first songs that you learned?
Before the Blues, I used to play some heavy metal stuff like Metallica etc, but my first “blues” influence, as I said, was Stevie Ray Vaughan. I fell “in love” with him, you know! And I guess, I am still “in love” with him right now! I never stop practicing on Vaughan’s playing! Then I discovered my other Blues heroes like BB King, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Albert King. And those guys somehow led me to the old school of Robert Johnson, Led Belly, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc. The first blues songs I learned were “leave my girl alone” and “tightrope” from “In Step”.  Then came BB King’s “Thrill is gone” and Albert Collins’ “Black cat bone”.


What does the BLUES mean to you?
Well, I guess, the BLUES is a really big part of my life, you know. Actually, over the past seven years my life has been revolving around the BLUES. I mean, I have a beautiful wife, who has been one of my Blues partners for the past six years, I fell in love with her while listening to a blues song, and ever since then, BLUES music has been in our lives every single day! I really believe that the BLUES has made me a better man. I’ve learned things about life and I’m still learning. You know, the blues is a personal thing for everyone. It’s the story of their life put in lyrics and music. So every time I listen to a blues song I‘ve never listened to before, it feels like I’ve just met a new friend. So it’s like I know them…



What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?
I think, my favorite gigs are all the gigs I’ve played in Kozani, my hometown, and in Arta. In Kozani because the people there are really supportive and respectful of what we do, and in Arta because it’s a really “rock ’n’ roll” city!!! We had some great gigs there, you know! As for my favourite jams, I think I can single out the jam I had with the great late Louisiana Red and the Blues Wire in Arta, with Acoustic Wire in Kozani,  with Elias Zaikos, Sotiris Zisis and Alex Apostolakis in Thessaloniki and of course, with Nick Donousis in Thessaloniki too! I’ll never forget those gigs you know!


Are there any memories from Louisiana Red, which you’d like to share with us?
I met Mr.Red in this gig I told ya before, in Arta. I was really nervous before the show, because Elias told me that he was gonna ask Mr.Red’s permission for me to play with him. I was a big fan of Louisiana Red and I couldn’t believe that I had the chance to be on stage with him! In the end, Mr. Red said “yes” and that’s how it happened. I was so nervous that I couldn’t remember the first song that we were playing together. After the first song, he told me that he understood from my style of playing that I was a big fan of SRV and asked me to play with him  “Pride n Joy”.  After the show, we found some time to talk to each other for about 45 minutes. He told me stories about how he met Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Vaughan and other Blues legends. He gave me some advice about the guitar and then his wife came and said that he was really tired and they had to leave…



How did the blues music start revealing its secrets to you?
Αs a teenage guitar player, I have to admit that I got hooked on Vaughan’s guitar technique and feeling, but when I started to roll a little deeper into the Blues, I saw the bigger picture. You see, as I was learning more about the Blues I realized that Stevie Ray was just the tip of the iceberg. You know, like he gathered all the history of the Blues in his hands, of course with his modern “rock-like” playing. And as BB King came into my life, I realized Blues is not just music, it is a way of life and as you already know, since then, it has been my way of life.


Tell me about the beginning of the band BLUES BONE. How did you get together and where did it start?
In 2006 I think, I started playing the Blues with some high-school friends but it got more serious during my college years. The first two years, the band’s roster was changing frequently up until 2009 when it got its current form with Eri Kourbali on rhythm guitar, Panagiotis Demopoulos on keyboards, Panagiotis Paraskevas on bass and George Vasileiades on drums.


Why did you choose that name & what is the “philosophy” of the band?
My first thought for the band’s name was “Blues Feelings”. But it seemed to me a little weak. So me and Eri, we were trying to figure out another name while we were listening to music. I remember T-Bone Walker was on, and I thought we could use his name. It sounded nice plus we could use the motto “Blues to the bone”, which is exactly the “philosophy” of the band. I know that it’s impossible for us to keep the Blues original because of the time and the place and everything, but we are trying to keep it as pure as we can.



What was the last album you bought & what was the best blues album you ever had?
The last album I bought was Buddy Guy’s “Living Proof” and I have to say that I really liked it. As for the best album I’ve ever had, I would have to say, Vaughan’s “In Step”. First of all, this album “showed” me the way to the Blues, so it’s really important to me, plus it was, in my opinion, his purest and clearest moment of genius.  


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?
I think it’s because the Blues is one of the very few authentic genres of music. Blues musicians sing the Blues to tell their story. They don’t do it for the money or the fame. And as we all know, true feelings are never out of style.


What are the most popular local bands of blues?
Well, it’s the BLUESWIRE, Nick and the Backbone and of course Blues Cargo.


Who are the international artists who have a special relationship with the blues in Greece?
As far as I know, the artists that have a special relationship with Greece are Nick Gravenites, Big Time Sarah, Michael Dotson and the late Louisiana Red.


Do the media help the blues & what is your opinion about blues.gr?
I think the media worldwide give space to the Blues, but here in Greece, Blues and every other genre that is not related to the Greek pop music is completely out of the map. Thank God for us, there is the internet and we can get informed about the Blues news around the world and promote our own music. Αs a Blues musician and a Blues lover, I am really glad that we have Blues.gr, because it’s a community of people who share the same passion! In addition, I think it is the only Greek website that specializes in Blues music.


Make an account of the current reality in the case of the blues in Greece
The Blues music scene always had a limited audience in Greece and that’s still the case. I know I am happy when I see that there is a decent amount of gigs around Greece by each city’s local bands. The sad part, and I hope history will prove me wrong, is that I don’t see Blues music becoming more popular in Greece any time soon.


Do you think the younger generations are interested in the blues?
To be honest not really. As a guitar teacher I see that the majority of the new generation doesn’t even know about the blues. The main reason is the general music education that kids have. Most of them aren’t even familiar with their own tradition, let alone traditions from other countries. You know, every day the media fill our heads with international and local pop music and there are still many people in Greece who have the impression that the blues are those slow pieces of music our parents used to dance in their teenage parties. It is really a shame. I know I sound pessimistic but that’s the truth of our time. The bright side is that there are always some exceptions to this sad rule. There are a few kids out there who’ve met the blues and when the time is right they will love it as I did once. Don’t forget that a teenager has no way to really feel the blues the way it is supposed to be felt. As John Mayer said, teenage kids don’t have the personal relationships or the history that a person needs to have to understand this kind of stuff.


How difficult is it to be a band outside the city walls of Athens (Kozani)?
In Kozani it is very hard to play any kind of “plugged” music because of the lack of live stages and places where a full band can perform. But I have to admit that in northern Greece and especially in Thessaloniki there are opportunities for gigs. Thessaloniki and other big cities up here have a decent blues audience thanks to Blues Wire and Nick and the Backbone. We haven’t had a gig yet in Athens because of the distance and the expenses, so I don’t know how things work there but I can say that so far we are doing well.


Do you believe that someone can make a living just by playing the blues in Greece?
As I said before musicians of all kinds of music other than pop have a hard time promoting their music. In our country musicians can’t make their living just by playing music. Most of us teach music or even do something completely irrelevant to music. And of course there are many jazz, blues, rock and even classical musicians who make their living by playing pop music. Of course it is not impossible but it’s a difficult and insecure business.


What is your secret dream for the music you play?
My dream for blues music is to remain original through the years… the old masters are now really old so I think that it is the new generation’s responsibility to keep the essence of the blues alive. Most of today’s American bluesmen combine blues with rock and they make it more today’s music and that’s ok, but they didn’t grow up in any plantation or have the hard life and everything. So I’m afraid they don’t have what it takes to keep it the way it was. Maybe that’s ok too, you know. The world is moving on and so should we too. We can’t keep it historical. I think though that even now that it is more about the music and less about the social background it represents, we (even we “non-american” bluesmen) should try to pay our respects to this music with every note we play, with every word we sing, with all the grace it deserves.


Have you ever thought of leaving your country and finding another place to play your blues?
Every single day… I always wanted to go to the USA because you know she is the mother of the Blues and I would like to really be there, where it all began. To feel the real thing, to breathe the air, even to take a picture outside of BB King’s Blues club or in front of Stevie’s statue. It would be a dream come true. So yes. I would leave Greece for a really good chance of doing what I love the most…


What mistakes in the “blues business” would you wish to correct?
I don’t think that the blues business has something terribly wrong that has to change immediately. And of course I’m not talking about Greece where there is no such thing. In America as far as I know the blues business is going pretty well considering the current circumstances. Of course pop and hip-hop is way ahead of blues and jazz and country, but that’s just the way it is. You know, the more exposed the skin the better… but what I see about the blues and what I like about bluesmen is that they collaborate, they play together, they go to fests, they do the best they can, and they are doing it first for the music and then for the money… and people know and support that. And that’s more than enough for me.


Which of the blues historical personalities would you like to meet?
All of them. And I’m not kiddin’. As I said before I feel unlucky that I haven’t lived in the birth country of the blues. So I wish I could spend a day with each one of them and listen to their stories and be a part of it in any way I can. But if you really need some names I would say: Muddy Waters, Little Walter, BB King, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, Albert King, T-Bone Walker… and the list goes on.


What would you ask Buddy Guy? What would you have given to John Lee Hooker? How would you spend a day with Stevie Ray Vaughan?
Wow, this is a tough question. I think I would like to know how it feels to be part of the Blues history. I guess it isn’t so exciting for him because it’s who he is and it’s as simple as that. But for me, a white boy from across the ocean it is really hard to get.
Now Hooker. I think I would give him one of my guitars. That would be a great honor.
As for Stevie. I would be hung on him all day long…. Ok I’m kidding. But it is sure that I would like to spend the whole day locked up with him in a studio just jammin’ and talking and jammin’ all over again.


The Blues Bone Band


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