Q&A with multitalented musician Yiannis Monos - introduced the Hammond B3 Soul-Jazz sound in Greece

"Blues is the foundation of contemporary music, so simple and yet so powerful in emotions it simply delivers the performer and the listener from the most basic human emotion: pain, but it can be extremely joyful too."

Yiannis Monos: Burnin' Keys

Yiannis Monos, is a Hammond B3 organist, pianist, singer, harp player and composer-songwriter of the Greek Soul-Jazz-Blues scene. He attended classical piano lessons in the National Music Conservatory and later modern music, Jazz theory & harmony with Mike Rozakis (The Charms) and Spyros Raftopoulos. Since 1983 he performs mainly as a Hammond organ player, singer and sometimes as a Chicago South Side style pianist or a Blues harmonica player. It was in the early 80's, when he meets the late Junior Wells and got influenced and encouraged by him. His mentor in piano then was Otis Spann and he followed his unique style for sometime, something that created a strong solid Blues foundation upon which he started building his own style in the organ.

He was the first to reintroduce the Hammond organ in the early 80's when the keyboard/synthesizer sound was dominant. In 1983 he forms the 'Jugband Blues' and later he participates as a leader in various local bands. In 1988 he forms the 'Blues Family', with top local blues musicians and some of them formed their own band later (K. Saridakis, A. Gomozias, Zorz Pilali, S. Kokavesis, G. Hatzopoulos, G. Panousis, and others). From 1994 to 1998 he participates in the group 'Blues Bug', and in 1995 released their debut album. In 2000, he meets Dr. Lonnie Smith whom he sees as a guiding light encouraging his efforts and influencing his organ style. Since then they met several times in Athens and Zurich. In 2004 he forms together with Jazz guitarist Makis Ablianitis and drummer Zafiris Tsinalis, the 'Hot Organic Trio'. The trio's repertoir includes Blues, Soul & Jazz standards from the 50's - 70's adapted and arranged in their own style, together with their own originals. Monos appeared in concerts together with: Mick Taylor, Guitar Shorty, Guitar Crusher, Louisiana Red, Malik Yacub and opened for: John Hammond Jr., Eddie C. Campbell, and Luther Allison.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Jazz & Blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Blues is the foundation of contemporary music, so simple and yet so powerful in emotions it simply delivers the performer and the listener from the most basic human emotion: pain, but it can be extremely joyful too. No wonder that it has spread around the world so fast.

To me the Jazz & Blues culture is 20th century's classical music. It has incorporated practically everything, all musical legacies and trends, explored the rhythm and the groove, the harmony and melody, promoted the improvisation, defined the way musicians behave, act and interact with the audience, fused the tradition and soul  with the modernity and intellectuality and created a very "reach" and "juicy" musical result that no one can ignore.

How do you describe Yiannis Monos sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

The Yiannis Monos sound is simply what I am. I think I managed to find my own way of letting out the music I have absorbed through the years with the experience you get in 30 years of countless gigs. You know, I was the first and I struggled a lot since the mid 80's to re-introduce the Hammond organ in Greece and I've received a lot of laughs mainly from fellow musicians back then. It was the time of the synthesizers you know…All the bands I've formed in the past the Jugband Blues, the Lot, the Blues Family, the Blues Bug, and eventually the Hot Organic Trio, have the Hammond organ in a dominating place and as you see today the Hot Organic Trio after being more than ten years on the scene, has many followers and very good ones too. So, it is normal my sound is based on the Hammond B3 organ but with the co-existence of vocals and harmonica, you know I have developed a technique of playing the organ and singing parallel to improvising with the harmonica. Leaning sometimes more to the Blues, sometimes it gets more soulful, sometimes is more jazzy...My music is basically songs I wrote during the last 30 years. Some were included in the Blues Bug 1995 first album and I remember they received a significant airplay and welcome from the audience back then, especially "Don't you call my name". The lyrics I also do myself are simple and telling about problems personal or social.

"Greece had and still has very talented musicians. The musical education in the last decades have contributed to that a lot but most of the younger ones approach Blues and Jazz in an academic way and that shows." (Photo: Hot Organic Trio)

What were the reasons that you started the Soul, Blues and Jazz researches and experiments?

Well, no reason else but to see myself in there, it came naturally... I remember this friend of mine in the highschool Panos "Tsiko" Katsikiotis, (by the way excellent drummer and musician), coming one day in the late 70's with the Best of the Chicago Blues double album in his hand saying: you got to listen to that…and I did and it was a revelation to me. After that, I knew what to do…and I started studying everyday hours and hours on the piano the Otis Spann's Chicago South Side Blues style...he was my mentor. I think this had a tremendous impact on my playing and still is the ground, the foundation of what I do...

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I would never forget how I got to know Junior Wells. It was back in 1984 or so and he was in Athens playing with Son Seals at Sporting. Of course I was there and just because I was too nervous before the show, I decided to go for the toilet but I opened the wrong door and end up backstage with Junior and all of the guys warming up.

-Sorry for intruding Mr. Wells...

-it's all right son but don't call me a mister ... come over here....what you do for living?

-well, I'm trying to be a musician, I play the piano...

-and you like the blues?

-yes

-and who is your hero piano man?

-Otis Spann…

At this very moment he stands up and gives me a hug, we used to be friends with Otis he said, now look here...each one of us does the same thing in this life, eats, sheets, gets sick and dies, so we're all the same.

If you really dig the blues you can play too...never forget that...now have some chicken and vodka...

I left like leaving a dream behind and for weeks I was having this scene in my head trying to live it again and remember all the details, it was kind of symbolic to me...and pushed me forward... Another very nice moment was when we played with Mick Taylor. It was at Hi-Hat cafe in 1996 and we were playing with my band then the Blues Family, you know A. Gomozias on guitar, Stelios Ladopoulos on bass, Zafeiris Tsinalis on drums. Mick played his black Gibson ...You got to move...you got to move child...I have the photos and a part of the video still...what a guy! Lonnie Smith and I met in my little studio after a friend of mine introduced me to him during his concert at the Half Note Athens...he said to Lonnie well, here is the Greek Hammond organ player you should hear him play...I was so embarrassed but he insisted and said: pick me up tomorrow at four. Next day I drove to his hotel and he was waiting outside holding his cane, then he jumped in my old 2CV and off we go... I should have a picture from this...

When we arrived to the studio he started to play my 1959 Hammond C3, told me his life story, memories from Benson, Miles, etc. and then very seriously he went to the corner, turned his back and put me to play something from time to time he would go yeah...or no no no don't do it like that... that's how you do it...now go again...It was like a privet seminar. He was supposed to have dinner with Lou Donaldson and the band somewhere in Plaka (old city) but he never went...we stayed there like four hours. He gave me his self-phone number and his address saying anything you want, I could help. We met a few times after that in Athens and Zurich Switzerland. A very friendly and simple guy, a giant. He knows the enormous musical power he has inside, and he has nothing to prove to nobody. He has influenced me a lot and in many ways. His approach to the B3 is unique and genius and the way he moves his hands is something else…is like a juggler, a wizard.

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

What I miss nowadays mostly is the spirit. Back in the 50's and 60's most of all these giants were next door people. I don't think they had fame in their mind, at least not the way artists do today. Today you have a whole industry out there, with production line and so. Of course there's always the ones that like to go upstream and there's always talents, but the audience is much easier manipulated nowadays. So I fear things will go worse and I hope will be better...we'll see...

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

I would erase the word product...

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

Greece had and still has very talented musicians. The musical education in the last decades have contributed to that a lot but most of the younger ones approach Blues and Jazz in an academic way and that shows. If they miss something, then it's the feeling. In relation to the Blues, the most buzzy times were the 80's and the 90's. Then we used to play a lot, sometimes two gigs per evening weekdays and weekends. There were many Blues artists coming from the States then and it was a lot goin' on. We had the chance to see, to open and sometimes to play with them. And the audience was much bigger than it is now. We had young students together with people from the hippie and the beat generation.

"When we talk about Blues and Jazz we talk about expressing of emotions and freedom and communication with the people. The nature of this music is denunciative and protestant. Bob Dylan's songs use the 12 bar form so much, is it a coincidence?"

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

I really don't know. If you see it from the musical side of it, then not many. Greece's tradition in music is influenced mostly from the East. Blues & Jazz is based on the African and classical European tradition. If you see it from another side then Rembetiko and Blues both express the same basic need of man to talk to someone about lost love, poverty, misery.

What is the Impact of Blues & Jazz music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

When we talk about Blues and Jazz we talk about expressing of emotions and freedom and communication with the people. The nature of this music is denunciative and protestant. Bob Dylan's songs use the 12 bar form so much, is it a coincidence?

What touched (emotionally) you from the Hammond B3 organ? What are the secrets of Hammond B3?

The Hammond B3 organ is the most perfect instrument man ever created. It is the electronic version of the church’s organ the descendant of the Greek ancient key instument Hydraulis of Ctesibious. It's a whole orchestra and gives the player the opportunity of creating practically any sound and so to express himself using countless colors and to any volume too, from the whisper of the summer breeze to the scream or the howling of the beast. Combined with the Leslie 122 speaker it can turn into an emotional bomb in the hands of a skilled organist, it produces endless power. As for the secrets, there's plenty of them, these are the ones I'm trying to master....

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

I would like to spend some time with all my heroes in music I've never had the chance to meet personally...like…well I don't want to mention names ...there would be countless anyway!

 

 

 

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