Greek guitarist Dimitris Rousopoulos talks about the poetry and freedom of Blues, Rembetiko & local scene

"Blues is salvation, freedom, a standard in many things, primitive rhythm, wandering, love, dedication, inspirational, poetry."

Dimitris Rousopoulos: Feelin' The Blues

Dimitris Rousopoulos was born in 1967 at Florina, Greece. From early on expressed interest in the music and specifically for guitar. But he bought his first guitar at the age of 12. For the next eight years he was a self-taught guitarist, who played classical and electric guitar. During this time he studied from discs the blues and rock literature and began experimenting with jazz shapes-forms. He create music bands and has played at very early age in various venues and festivals. He recorded an album in 1984 with the punk band "Stahtes" (Αshes).

Important moment in his musical route was his meeting in 1987 with Luci Murphy, singer of blues and jazz, activist and fighter for the human rights. At the age of 20 began studies at the National Conservatory of Athens and completed them within 7 years taking the diploma of soloist (1995). From 1996 to 2002 he had a band ‘Two trips in south’ and he was collaborated with Latin-American musicians and played music from all the countries of Central and South America. At that time, he worked as a session musician in studio. In 2001, he went to Senegal and Paris for 4 months were he was participated as a musician in an Afro-jazz dance group. He collaborated with composer Giorgos Pedazos creating at this time a band trying to promote his discography work. Simultaneously he worked on Greek music and mainly with the work of Manos Hadjidakis and rembetiko songs. Throughout the 2000’s, he attended seminars around jazz and studied near the saxophonist Sylvio Syrro studying improvisation. All this time, he working as teacher at several music schools, and teaching all kinds of guitars (classic-acoustic-electric). In recent years, Dimitris returned to his first love, as he says, the Blues. He plays with slide-guitar and harmonica, a program with various standard prewar blues tunes.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Greek poet, Yannis Livadas

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

First time I heard the Blues -at the age of 12- was at the radio, a song by Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard up till that time. It was the rhythm, the sound of the guitar even his voice that made me want to hear all day long and try to play it on my guitar. Trying to play a song note by note only hear it, taught me patience and persistence and also filled my hours in with creativity and enthusiasm. The Blues taught me dedication to music, cause at that point of my life, I had already decide to become a guitar player. The Blues are wandering, feeling you that life is out there. For the Blues was always a wandering, a constant life trip along with a guitar. Blues is poetry “Get out there with this life attitude and live every moment”. For me Blues is salvation, freedom, a standard in many things, primitive rhythm, wandering, love, dedication, inspirational, poetry. It’s the only music style that when I play with my guitar I can express myself, knowing each time through that process myself better and better. Each time this happens I discover again and again the magic that hides this music and feeds me constantly with feelings.

How do you describe Dimitris Rousopoulos sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I always loved acoustic sound. Of course electric sound is a significant element in my sound, through my music route up till now. For a long period I studied classic guitar. I fur field my studies getting my degree, without giving up my activities with groups that had to do with Blues, Jazz and Latin music. I was always trying to find the authentic sound and style, in every kind of music I was involved with. I play mostly with fingers and I like multiphonic sound. On the other hand improvisation among a group creates powerful and spiritual bonds opening a way to self-knowing. B.B., Buddy Guy, Skip James, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Otis Rush, Muddy, Mike Bloomfield and many others, effected and defined my sound. The last few years I have been working on my own, playing with acoustic guitars and harmonicas. I’ve been interested a lot in all the pioneers of the blues and specific those before war no matter which school of blues they belong. At last but not least I would like to say that I am preparing a project which is called 'The blind blues' and it will includes all the blind bluesman, who were many.

"The influence of blues music and culture through the environment that was born was great. It became a symbol of resistance and freedom, through this environment people came closer, they found a common means of expression and were able to shout louder what they believe." 

What were the reasons that you started the blues and rembetiko music researches and experiments?

I love both music styles. Blues and rembetiko are folk music, therefor have quite enough common context, as both talk about daily things that people experience. Their songs have a strong and direct influence to our emotions, in a way that make us want to sing and clap our hands. We must say though, that there is no similarity between them from the point of music structure. In blues we have pentatonic scales and in rembetiko we have “makam” or routes as we are commonly used to say. Despite of their intensive rhythm we must clear out that is not the same. In the end we must pinpoint that people of those music styles were outcasts by choice, when we are referring to rembetes and not by their choice when we are reffering to bluesman.

The emblematic figures of the pioneers’ music styles and the role that played in the social-political environment they lived in, was an enticement to start searching and learning about theme. Besides when someone hears Markos Vamvakaris its blues sound, but also Charlie Patton seems to me very rembetis!

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and forms?

There not so many similarities between the blues and rembetiko regarding to their structure and musical analysis. Their scales and rhythms are different. But, inspire of their differences there is a music style from the place called Heperos (Epirus) that has many worth looking similarities, such as same with the blues structural scale which is minor pentatonic scale. In addition to this, we see that at the old holler and shout songs there was a group with the singer and we had the singer singing the first verse and the group to respond to him. Same thing more or less happens with the multiphonic songs from Epirus. As a conclusion I would like to mention that every time I tried to play a solo from a song of Epirus, I ended up playing without my will, Blues.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Greece. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

In Greece somehow blues came late. I think that at the early 80’s showed up bands, which were strictly blues bands. At mid-70‘s there was Pavlos Sidiropoulos, Dimitris Poulikakos and some other bands that flirted with the blues, however they were more rock bands than blues bands. I believe the number of bands, that are playing the blues, hasn’t changed a lot since then up till now and that’s because blues need time and after all it’s not about a project. The musicians of that time are now more mature, combing their young enthusiasm with their long year experience. It’s like a red wine, as older it gets becomes better and better.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Greece?

Alexis Korner in UK and Nick Gravenites in USA did great job round the Blues. It is them to who we are referring to with pride as Bluesmen with Greek origin. In the early 80’s here in Greece “Blues Wire” and Elias Zaikos from Thessaloniki made the big step and we heard for the first time authentic blues sound played by Greek band. The arrival of Blues artists and bands such as Louisiana Red, Big time Sarah, John Hammond, B.B. King, John Mayall, Champion Jack Dupree etc. create in Greece through their concerts a blues culture. The community of Blues in Greece may be small, but has a solid core, consisted from people with big love for what they do and work constantly on this music style in a positive way.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local circuits?

There is a new generation of musicians in recent years in Greece that really do a good job. Many of them have made studies in foreign universities. As a result there are many bands and you can hear all styles of music and even the highly specialized and particular high quality. Many several friends’ musicians have released their job in CD’s. Whether it’s jazz either rock, either blues, in all this I hear sounds that really touches me, fills me with joy and definitely have something important to say. What matters is to hear every day something new. If we do this, at the end of the day something will has touched us and that remains in our soul.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are you hopes and fears for the future of?

I think that nowadays Blues sound more Rock, not to say that many times sound more like Hard-rock. I miss the sound of Muddy Waters from the 50’s, it had an incredible depth and clarity, I miss the simplicity of T-Bone Walker or yet the solid and at the same time softly-windy sound of Paul Butterfield. Playing only solos sounds boring. That ain’t blues. Blues can be played with one chord. It’s a music style that influenced and will continue to influence all modern music styles. What I hope for is the next generations of musicians to approach the Blues with respect and the knowledge that this music style will addressed straight to their soul. I hope and I wish for more blues-bands and festivals which will promote this style of music. There is a blue-feeling in any style of modern music and there is always there to give something more, such as more feeling or more character. What I wouldn’t want is Blues to be considered as a dead folklore music style. Blues is a living music-style and will always expressing the feeling of freedom. In other words breaking the bonds whatever they are.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I think all have to do with education. What I would change is the way music is faced nowadays as part of education in our education system. Music is considered as a non-important lesson compared to physics or maths even though is being taught in schools. Despite of this music is soul’s food and if you stop feeding your soul, you will become a spiritual poor person, with no emotions and without content.  Therefor I would change the educational system and I’d made music a basic lesson. After all maybe that’s a way to build better societies.

What is the impact of Blues culture and music to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

The influence of blues music and culture through the environment that was born was great. It became a symbol of resistance and freedom, through this environment people came closer, they found a common means of expression and were able to shout louder what they believe. People like Leroi Jones, Luci Murphy (blues-jazz singer and activist) and many others, managed through their fights, their songs, their texts to show that the Blues is not only a beautiful music that entertains us. It is above all struggle for a better life, for equality and freedom.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

To be honest, if I had the opportunity to go back to the past, there are many places I would like to be and many musicians, I would like to sit with them, drink and play along with them. As I am referring to trips, I must say that I like trips, especially road-trips, so where I would truly like to be is in the back seat of a car with Mike Bloomfield in the wheel and Big Joe William as a co-driver, driving to South in order Big Joe William introduce to Mike all the old and unknown Blues musicians.

 

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