Greek Blues Scene: Interview with Dimitris Ioannou and Stelios Zafiriou of Blues Cargo

"The blues makes you balance your life better as it offers you a soothing feeling of confronting life’s hardships."

Blues Cargo: Blame It All On The Blues

Blues Cargo is an electric Greek blues band that was formed back in 1987 in Athens by Dimitris Ioannou (bass guitar, vocals), Stelios Zafiriou (guitar), Stelios Gavrielides (drums) and Stelios Zouzoulas (guitar). The Band has been playing regularly for more than 27 consecutive years all over Greece and has gained the respect and the admiration of all the Greek and European blues fans. Their shows continue to massively attract blues audiences regardless of age and gender who consider them as one of the best Blues Bands in Europe. Besides being an extremely tight band that delivers scorching blues guitar solos and a very wide spectrum of blues arrangements, the trade mark of the band is the unprecedented voice of the singer and bass player of Blues Cargo, Dimitris Ioannou and the fine and emotional guitar paying of Stelios Zafeiriou.

Many famous American artists have been backed up by the Blues Cargo during their appearances in Greece. Some of them are: Louisiana Red, Lurrie Bell, Big Time Sarah, Eddie C. Campbell, Guitar Shorty, Lefty Dizz, Byther Smith, Angela Brown, Lovie Lee, Jeanne Caroll, Maxine Howard, UP Wilson, Sweet Betty, Jimmy Morello, Jan Harrington, Blind Missisipi Morris, Michael Dotson, and Nellie Travis. The band has also opened the shows of John Mayall, John Hammond, Nick Gravenites, and Fernest Arcenaux  in Greece. By the end of 1992, they had recorded a number of original tunes which were finally issued on a vinyl LP in 1993. The album was titled “FIRST DELIVERY” and received very good reviews. On March, 2009, the band released their second album after 15 years. That is the reason why this album is called “DELAYED DELIVERY”. The recent Blues Cargo line up is: Stelios Zafeiriou on guitarDimitris (Jim) Ioannou on bass & lead vocals, Tolis Goulas on drums, Giorgos Lagogiannis on keyboards and Babis Tsilivigos on saxophone. Stelios and Jim talks about the band and everything about the blues...

Interview by Michael Limnios

Jim and Stelios, when did you realize that the blues was the kind of music you wanted to be involved with?

Stelios: It was late 70's (1977) when the national TV channel broadcasted a documenter about country blues. Since then I have been searching for everything that relates to that kind of music 'cause I like the feeling and the strange technique the first bluesmen used in their  guitar playing. Even though I have managed to get a firm grasp of the blues guitar playing, I must say that perfecting the blues guitar playing is a non ending process. Jim Thackery said once that the blues is the easiest music to be played badly and the most difficult one to be played well. 

Jim: I listened to almost everything from Rock to Classical music and from Soul to Jazz and Reggae until 1981 when I first listen to the Blues and that was something of a revelation to me. The straight honest soulful expressions of what real life is all about, that unmistakable feeling of enjoying life becomes so true when you listen to  this music.. This was the reason that made me want to play music. Before my blues experience, I had never considered becoming a musician.

Is the “blues” a way of life?

Stelios: I don't really consider myself a bluesman in terms of making my living out of playing the blues (I mean  that I earn my living doing other things) but for most American musicians that I had the chance to play with, I would say, yes, the blues is a way of living, indeed..

However, if you mean that the blues requires a certain state of mind and a certain social attitude towards life, all I can say is that it is perhaps the best kind of medicine if times are rough and the circumstances that a person faces are difficult...

Jim: I have nothing to add to what Stelios has just said. Perhaps, the only thing I would add is that the blues makes you balance your life better as it offers you a soothing feeling of confronting life’s hardships.

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

Stelios: The best moment for me was when the Band was about to back up for the first time an artist from the States. It was Angela Brown in the late 80's. 

The worst it was when the Band backed up Lurrie Bell but I was working at that time in Crete and missed it.

Jim: The best moment for me was when I backed up Lurrie Bell for the first time.

I have a natural tendency to erase my life’s worst moments and I owe that to my exposure to the blues music.

Is there any similarity between the blues today and the blues of the ‘80s as far as  the Greek scene is concerned?

Stelios: The Greek Blues scene at the present time has many more blues musicians than in the 80's. Some of them are really good at it.

Jim: I will agree with my buddy Stelios. On the other hand, I believe that the audiences have shrunk in comparison to the much larger audiences of the ‘80s.

"The blues requires a certain state of mind and a certain social attitude towards life, all I can say is that it is perhaps the best kind of medicine if times are rough and the circumstances that a person faces are difficult..." (Photo: The early days of Blues Cargo - Dimitris Ioannou, Stelios Zafiriou, Stelios Gavrielides and Stelios Zouzoulas)

It is known that you have helped many young people who wanted to play the blues. How does that make you feel and what sort of gratitude do you receive from them?

Stelios: I enjoy helping people especially young musicians. It makes me feel good. That’s all.

Jim: Apart from the feeling you get when you help, it is the joy of helping this music become more popular in our country.

How is your relationship with the other Greek blues bands?

Stelios: Trying to be friendly to everyone, jamming with the most of them and often having a good time. Life is short, no worries needed.

Jim: We are all in the same family everybody knows everybody. Let the good times Roll.

 

Which musician has influenced you most?

Stelios: Albert Collins.

Jim: I believe most of all it was Jimmy Johnson that influenced me on my first steps but I have been listening a lot of musicians and I believe I have been influenced by all of them more or less.

Concerning my bass playing there is definitely one name for me and this is Johnny B. Gayden!!!  

Do you believe that as far as the blues music is concerned that Europe has the “brain” and America has the “soul”?

Stelios: I believe that Europe for many years had been much friendlier to 'Black Music' and musicians than the U.S. was. Also, the very first blues recording company in the U.S. was made by a European guy....

In the case of business I believe it is so. In the case of the way musicians play the blues, I believe brains, hurt and soul cannot be separated.

Jim: I have nothing to add. I totally agree.

"Love each other, respect other people’s differences and always have in mind that everything in life is linked." Photo by Yannis Rousochatzakis

Do you think the younger generations are interested in the blues?

Stelios: Yes, very much at least here in Greece.

Jim: If we define “younger generations” people from 25 and over it is so if we talk about ages below 25, I do not believe they are interested.

Which historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

Stelios: Robert Johnson

Jim: Albert Collins

What has the Blues offered to you?

Stelios: A great deal of music material to study, many hours of enjoyment by playing and jamming, and most of all, a way of thinking and feeling that life should be lived as it is..

Jim: The numerous friends I have made like Stelios, a way to express myself, a way to be balanced in my life, a way to remove my daily job routine and my worries from my mind. The Blues is a real cure, I would say.

Why do you play the blues?

Stelios: Playing music in general is an effort to express feelings. Especially the Blues Music which has a real time expression, just like talking.

Jim: I need it, as much as I need the food and water, I need to express myself and feel good after a good gig. (Blues is a feeling no other music makes you feel this way – Andrew Brown).

What was the first gig you ever went to?

Stelios: In Amyntas Athens 1983 where me and “Mitsos” (Jim) meet for the first time.

Jim: Yeap.

"Playing music in general is an effort to express feelings. Especially the Blues Music which has a real time expression, just like talking." Photo by Yannis Rousochatzakis

What was the last record you bought?

Stelios: Robert Cray 'live in Springfield'

Jim: I think it was Jody Williams ‘You Let Me in the Dark’

What sort of mistakes would you wish to correct concerning the Greek blues scene?

Stelios: No mistakes, we just need a home, a place that would exclusively stage blues events.

Jim: Yes, we need  a steady home because the blues events here are  hosted in places were other  genres are hosted as well and if someone feels like he wants to go to a blues gig, he has to painstakingly search for it.

You have been traveling all around the Greece for a long time during your various gigs.  What is the impression that you get concerning the popularity of the blues?

Stelios / Jim: Hungry for more.

What sort of advice would you give to aspiring young musicians who are thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Stelios / Jim: Do it in Greece for fun. If you mean serious business, then, do it somewhere else.

Do you remember something funny during your studio work?

Stelios: Yes, Where did I put my guitar yesterday?

What do you miss most from the early days of Blues United Musicians & Juke Blues?

Stelios: I played with the Juke Blues and I miss all that mess caused by trying to make things function.

Jim: I played with both bands I miss the craziness we had as youngsters.

"The Greek Blues scene at the present time has many more blues musicians than in the 80's. Some of them are really good at it." (Photo: Stelios Zafiriou & Dimitris Ioannou with Big Time Sarah)

What do you miss most nowadays from the old blues rock days of Greek clubs as: “Café Palette”, “Blues Hall”, “Kentia” & “An Club”?

Stelios / Jim: The numerous people that supported this kind of music.

To which person would you dedicate one of your songs?

Stelios: To Stelios Gavrielidis 'Emptiness' a song that the lyrics were written by him.

Jim: ‘Garbage Bin' to Stelios Gavrielidis...

Why did you choose the name “Blues Cargo" for your band?

Jim: My wife worked in a forwarding company named G… Air Cargo. I thought it would be good as a name because this is what we do. We carry the blues around. It is our cargo.

Tell us a few things about the rest of the Blues Cargo guys and the beginning of band.

The Band started about 1987 with Stelios Gavrielidis on Drums, Dimitris Ioannou on Bass and Vocals, Stelios Zouzoulas and Stelios Zafiriou on Guitars. Through the years, many other musicians have supported the band but in the process, they left for various reasons. At present time there are only two members of the original scheme. Dimitris Ioannou and Stelios Zafiriou.

Our current fellow band members are: Tolis Goulas a young player but a really promising drums musician. George Lagogiannis (he already had a small tour in Europe playing with Joe Louis Walker) on Keyboards and Mr Babis 'The saxy Bee' Tsilivigos on sax.

Do you have a favorite blues song?

Stelios: Yes 'I got the blues'

Jim: The Handyman’ is one of my favorite songs on the other hand there are 100 other songs that I like almost equally.

Photo: Blues Cargo with Jan Harrington & Werner Gürtler

Are there any memories from Lovie Lee, Byther Smith, Blind Mississippi Morris, Big Time Sarah, Jan Harrington, Louisiana Red, Lefty Dizz, Eddie C. Campbell and Guitar Shorty which you’d like to share with us?

Jim: We had a great time playing with them. It was some sort of a school to us to have the opportunity to play with them.

Stelios and Jim, You've worked together for over twenty five years. It seems you are they still the key people in making your music?

Somehow we complete each other but every member of the band always puts a little something to every song we write.

How do you get the inspiration for your songs?

Jim: I get my inspirations from real life events, the different situations I encounter, the troubles and the joys I experience. The songs also reflect my expectations, my hopes, my dreams and my awe towards the miracle of life.

What musicians and songwriters have influenced you most as a songwriter?

Jim: This is really difficult to tell. I could say that it is a mixture of what I have listened to during my experience with this music. Basically Chicago 80s to 2000s blues.

Which are some of your favorite blues musicians today?

Jim: Larry McCray, Carl Weathersby, Joe Louis Walker, Michael Coleman, Lurrie Bell, Ronnie Earl, Chris Cain, Lucky Peterson, Bernard Allison and hundreds of others I do not remember this moment.

Stelios: Lurrie Bell, Billy Brunch, Michael Coleman, Chris Cain, and so many others can't remember.

"Trying to be friendly to everyone, jamming with the most of them and often having a good time. Life is short, no worries needed." (Photo: Blues Cargo with Lurrie Bell and Matt Skoller)

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

Jim: It is more picture than sound, more show than music.

What is the last book you’ve read?

Jim: ‘Blame it All on the Blues’ (Gia ola eftege to Blues) written by a friend, a gifted writer Dimitris Epikouris, a lover and supporter  of the Blues. It is really moving!!

I will ask him to translate it in English sometime in the future as it deserves to be read by a wider audience.

Give one wish for the Blues.gr... and any final comments?

To get bigger with plenty of funs and help this music become more popular in Greece.

Stelios: Life is short, no worries needed.

Jim: Life is short; people have to understand that we are just a tiny spot in the universe. Love each other, respect other people’s differences and always have in mind that everything in life is linked. We are all connected with each other one way or another.

The Blues is the answer.

Blues Cargo - Official website

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