Greek performer/songwriter Dimitris Panagopoulos talks about the Blues, Rock Counterculture and Biophysics

"I would like music to make the people more authentic, more true to themselves, to make them turn to real values and don’t care about seeming. To make them love and respect each other, not to pretend, be simple, honest, and true. To make them see the real values in life and try to get close to them."

Dimitris Panagopoulos: Heart & Mind Blues

Greece-born Dimitris Panagopoulos' first appearance in the singer/ songwriter scene, was in 1985, when he won the 3d prize in Thessaloniki Singing Contest for his song Monologos. In 1988, Panagopoulos' first LP 'Astathis Isoropia' ("Unstable Equilibrium"), has known huge success through the song 'Aura', 'the best Greek song of the decade', according to Manos Hadjidakis. In 1990 he goes to New York, lives there and appears in live shows in the East Village with two legendary artists, John Hammond and Dave Van Ronk. In 1991 he supports John Hammond's live in Athens. In 1993, his 2nd LP 'Ektropi' ('Deflection') is characterized by the press as 'a work of art, that we shall need time in order to understand its value'. All this time Panagopoulos keeps playing live all over Greece. 'Been in the blues so long', his 3rd LP, is a cover record that includes famous blues tunes, such as 'Key to the Highway' etc.                        (Photo: Dimitris Panagopoulos)

In December 2001, Dimitris Panagopoulos releases his 4th album ('Ecdysis'). He is a virtuoso quitar and harmonica player, he composes the music, writes the lyrics and orchestrates his songs. He has a PhD in Biophysics and works at the University of Athens. All Dimitris Panagopoulos’ albums (Unstable Equilibrium, Deflection, Been in the Blues so long, Ecdysis, Intrusive passkey) are distributed by the independent American music company DashGo, and can be downloaded in digital stores Apple, iTunes, etc.]

Interview by Michael Limnios

Besides your musical career you are an internationally recognized biophysicist, expert on the health effects of electromagnetic fields. What touched you (emotionally) from the Biophysics?

Physics was (and still is) another great love of mine. I always wanted to discover the mysteries of nature and life, and explain the unexplained. A great physics teacher in my high-school years was Athanasios Karantonis who inspired me to become a physicist, and a great teacher in my University years Panayiotis Varotsos. The electromagnetic nature of all forms of life and our natural environment, the mystery of animals/humans communicating with each other from a distance by brain waves were great challenges and still remain. Our brains and bodies are attuned by the Earth’s natural electromagnetism, and this is one important reason why we should love, respect, and protect our planet instead of destroying it. Unfortunately, in our days, the technological evolution is connected with products that destroy life and the natural environment with genetically modified foods, and increasing exposures to carcinogenic polarized radiations from wireless communication antennas and devices.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

In the beginning it was the classic Rock that had an amazingly strong impact on me. The sound and passion of the classic Rock bands (Creedence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Doors, Steppenwolf) fascinated me as a kid perhaps more than anything else. It was the combination of strength and sensitivity and the dream to change the world, carried by the music. This is what really influenced my soul, my views, and the journeys I took. Later, as a young guitarist digging deeper and deeper into Rock music, I realized there is no Rock without Blues… Thus, inevitably, I was led to the Blues. Then I realized it was not just the Blues as a musical form, but something deeper: The melancholy of the good and sensitive people striving to find their way through endless troubles and indifference. When I published my album “Been in the Blues so long” in 1998, a journalist said that the title is misleading, for how can such a young musician be so long time deep into the Blues music… But I did not mean the music, I meant the melancholy… this is what “Blues” means. Yet, the world of Robert Johnson does not exist anymore, and thus his sound cannot touch me that much. I was led to the Blues and I studied the Blues in order to be able to play Rock. I became a musician for Rock. But now I don’t like most of the “new Rock” either. Perhaps I should say, I like old Rock and I play new Blues. Two of the best examples of this “new Blues” I can think right now are Rory Gallagher and John Campbell. Both of them were incredible guitar players / performers, and songwriters / poets. Some musicians think they are bluesmen just because they play Blues tunes. Actually, only songwriters / poets can be bluesmen. The rest are technicians who know how to reproduce the sounds. Certainly, there are a few exceptions. John Hammond is one such exception.

"Meeting and playing with Blues legends Dave Van Ronk and John Hammond in New York and Athens in the early 1990s was definitely another great experience. They were impressed that I already new most of their songs and techniques when we met. John Hammond showed me among other things how to play the very high tones in harmonica, exactly as Jimmy Reed had showed that to him." (Photos: John Hammond Jr. & Dimitris Panagopoulos, Athens Greece / Dave Van Ronk & Dimitris Panagopoulos, NYC)

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

In the beginning of my journey I mostly played alone (acoustic guitar, harmonica, and voice). I wanted to be independent from other musicians who could let you down anytime for no reason. I invested my time and efforts on myself alone. I deepened into the acoustic songwriters/poets (Bob Dylan, Beatles, Jim Croce, Phil Ochs, Tim Buckley), the rag-time guitar and early acoustic Blues (Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt) and their modern representatives such as John Hammond and Dave Van Ronk. I realized that my favorite Rock songwriters did the same, they searched deep into the Blues (Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, Rory Gallagher, everyone of them…). My first album “Unstable Equilibrium” released in 1988 included acoustic Rock songs with finger-picking rag-time guitar styles and Greek lyrics. I realized the importance of the good lyrics in songwriting and I was led to poetry…. I wandered for years in the melodies, playing styles, and poetry. I read almost all great Greek, English, French, American poets and got lost in the magic world of classic romantic poetry (Shakespeare, Byron, Baudelaire, Kariotakis, …), and those rockers who were the poets of our times (Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Jim Morrison, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, and others). At the same time I was very concerned and active politically. In my next albums “Deflection”, “Ecdysis”, I merged acoustic and electric sounds and songs which is what I always wanted. In guitar playing I always liked both the acoustic Folk-Blues and the clear electric Rock-Blues sound. I believe I have always represented the true spirit of Rock in my music journey and in my shows. My creative drive has always been my restless heart and mind.

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

I miss the purity of the classic Rock bands. I miss the dream, the hope, the vision music gave me when I was young, with nothing in my hands but my heart full of dreams. I hope the world will be free from the chains the big money people have made for us all.

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

Vanish everything fake in music, and keep only whatever is true and authentic.

"I believe I have always represented the true spirit of Rock in my music journey and in my shows. My creative drive has always been my restless heart and mind." (Photo: Dimitris Panagopoulos & Aura, "In Vivo", Athens Greece)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?

One summer when I was 12-13 I saw two guys playing acoustic folk-rock songs and the sound and picture was amazing to me. They were Panagiotis Agiannopoulos and Dimitris Antypas. Meeting Babis Maragos a Greek Rock-Folk songwriter-performer in my very early years was extremely influencing. We immediately joined with a deep friendship which lasted till his death in 2013. With Babis we talked endless discussions on Rock music, poetry, songwriting, politics, social revolution, and, of course, love and women. In his bar “Big Apple” at Nea Philadelphia near my home, I got my first money as a performer in 1982. Participating in the Greek Song Festival in Thessaloniki 1985 performing solo my song Monologue and winning the 3rd prize was a great experience of my early years. Meeting and playing with Blues legends Dave Van Ronk and John Hammond in New York and Athens in the early 1990s was definitely another great experience. They were impressed that I already new most of their songs and techniques when we met. John Hammond showed me among other things how to play the very high tones in harmonica, exactly as Jimmy Reed had showed that to him. I enjoyed playing common gigs with Vaggelis Germanos in the mid-late 1990s. Then, at “In Vivo” the Rock-Blues live stage I directed from 2004 to 2017, I shared the stage with some excellent Rock-Blues musicians: Yannis Monos (Hammond organist/piano player who has also participated in my albums), Jessica Kilroy an amazing American folk singer, Dimitris Marinakis (the legendary drummer with “Peloma Bokiou”, Shirley Bassie, Manos Hadjidakis, and the Athens’ National Symphonic Orchestra who has also participated in my recordings), the brothers George and Dimitris Zikos (amazing guitar and piano players). These were some important musical meeting experiences among others. From 1993 to 2018 I mostly played gigs with my band Aura combining electric Rock-Blues, and acoustic sound. We toured all around Greece and Cyprus. In 2018 I happily completed 35 years of constant performing and I chose to quietly withdraw from live shows. I would like to thank all the good musicians who joined me in my band Aura all these years, especially the bass players Costas Petropoulos, Dimitris Leivadis, the drummers Stratos Hadjitimpas and Dimitris Marinakis, and the piano/Hammond player Costas Karagiannis.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My father once told me, “you will always manage to have a clear conscience and you will fear nothing”!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Be humble, listen to the music, follow your dream.

"I miss the purity of the classic Rock bands. I miss the dream, the hope, the vision music gave me when I was young, with nothing in my hands but my heart full of dreams. I hope the world will be free from the chains the big money people have made for us all." (Photo: Dimitris Panagopoulos)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

“Music is Real, the rest is seeming” says an old song. I would like music to make the people more authentic, more true to themselves, to make them turn to real values and don’t care about seeming. To make them love and respect each other, not to pretend, be simple, honest, and true. To make them see the real values in life and try to get close to them.

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

I would like to be a knight and a troubadour in Konstantinopolis during the Byzantine empire. Ride my horse in the woods and in the city. Fight and sing for freedom and justice.

Dimitris Panagopoulos’ Music Videos 

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