Blues in Balkans - Vasja Ivanovski talks about Skopjean blues scene and his experience on blues paths

"Musically speaking there are no big, noticeable differences regarding blues all over the world. If you have the skills and enough feeling to express yourself, your message will touch people no matter where on our planet."

Vasja Ivanovski: Nothing but the Blues 

VASJA IVANOVSKI was born in Ljubljana, Slovenija and engaged in music media as journalist and radio personality for more than 30 years. Contributing author to numerous music related magazines in FYROM and abroad.
Has interviewed people like B.B.King, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Lucky Peterson, Michael Hill, Phil Guy, Scott Henderson, Sam Brown (Big Brother & The Holding Company), Kim Simmonds (Savoy Brown) and many others. Vasja is editor of Blesok Sound and acting as an artistic director for Skopje Blues & Soul Festival, in the last years

Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in the blues?

Well, being a record collector for many years and collecting pop, rock, jazz, blues it came naturally for me to favor blues as my favorite, because, after all, it happened to be source or roots, whatever, for most of everything we used to listen to or listen today. It was some strange feeling it produced for me, feeling that I could relate to. It could generally suit any mood I was in as I listened to different bluesmen, they all were able to send their message and feeling to my ears and my heart, it as simple as that.


Who were your first idols?

Too numerous to mention, but as all at that age I got hooked on blues through British blues boom in mid-sixties listening to the people like Cyril Davies, Alexis Korner, John Mayall of course, and bands like Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, Savoy Brown, Blue Horizon albums…all of these opened interest to go deeper to the source to Mississippi Delta and check the originators of this great music like Charley Patton and others.


Which artists have you worked with?

I am proud of the fact being able to interview two music icons of 20th century Duke Ellington and B.B. King! That must be some kind of highlight of my involvement with music. I was lucky to have worked with some of the great blues people and first to be mentioned must be David Honeyboy Edwards who played with Robert Johnson and who has unbelievable memory and he is almost 100 years old! He told me some great stories about him, Robert and other guys which I recorded and keep as precious document of blues history!

I worked with Derek Trucks, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Lucky Peterson, Phil Guy, U.P.Wilson, Michael Hill’s Blues Mob, Eric Sardinas, Temptations, Mighty Sam McClain, Louisiana Red, Melvin Taylor & The Slack Band, Bernard Allison, Jimmy D. Lane (son of Muddy Waters’ guitarist Jimmy Rogers), Sherman Robertson and people like Nine Below Zero, Vargas Blues Band, Jan Akkerman, Lance Lopez, Matt Schofield Trio, C.J. Chenier  and more…nice bunch of people, don’t you think?




Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best?

As I said, it’s hard to pick anybody as all of them are great artists, down to earth human persons and we all stayed in touch, some of them left us unfortunately like David Honeyboy Edwards, Phil Guy and U.P.Wilson but their music lives on as their great legacy.


Is “blues” a way of life?

Depends on your state of mind, but actually, it’s about feeling and the way you and life embrace each other, putting some of its segments to music that can touch people.


Tell me a few things about the history of local blues bands.

Blues history in my country is not a long one, it goes back into the early eighties with bands like Bankrot Blues Band and others, but people who like this type of music and collect blues records can be compared to blues fans in other countries, namely most of them started listening and collecting records in mid-sixties with British Blues Boom.


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

My personal highlights must be interviews with two icons of 20th Century music B.B. King and Duke Ellington! I did and interview with Duke in Belgrade, July 18, 1971 during traditional Newport Jazz Festival. His big band was truly a dream team made of legends like Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson, Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Mercer Ellington, Russell Procope, Wild Bill Davis…!!!

I talked to B.B. King before his Skopje concert and learned many interesting facts about him, what can you say when you happen to be talking to a legend!

There were no major worst moments, so I don’t waste my time remembering them. I met and hanged around with numerous blues people and I did not meet anyone that was unpleasant or irritating as it is often the case in, say, rock or jazz…



From the musical point of view is there any difference between the blues in Balkans and the blues in West Europe?

Musically speaking there are no big, noticeable differences regarding blues all over the world. If you have the skills and enough feeling to express yourself, your message will touch people no matter where on our planet.


Do the media help the blues in your country?

Unfortunately I cannot say that media here is favorable to this kind of music, there no radio shows (with few exceptions including me), not enough big concerts, not enough suitable places like blues clubs, so blues fans are usually left to themselves to enjoy this music. Of course, big exception is our Blues And Soul Festival which entered it’s 16th year, but that is another matter.

I used to write reviews in local magazines, did articles on different issues and that would be that. My stuff has been published in German Blues News, Blues Matters in UK, Texas Blues Magazine and others..


What does the term BLUES mean to you?

It generates cool vibe that gives one’s soul some kind of satisfaction which is rare occurrence in today’s living and therefore it should be treated with respect, but then, some people lack that kind of soul, but that would be their loss.


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

Thanks to our festival there is younger generation that enjoys blues and soul music, so we might say that the future is bright at least in small quantities here!


What was the last record you bought?

Box of Jimi Hendrix At Winterland, classic stuff and Jimi at his best!


What advice would you give Janis Joplin?

What could one advise Janis? It’s just too bad she left us so early…


What would you give Robert Johnson?

Thanks for everything man!


Do you know anything about Greek blues scene?

I know a bit about blues scene in Greece. Thanks to my good friends Elias Zaikos and Nick Dounoussis who I brought to Skopje numerous times, I am aware of quality of Greek blues scene.

Before there were Blues Gang which transformed in Blues Wire, then Nick left the band and Backbone was born.

These two great bands helped in a great way to what you have today, excellent artists like Blues Cargo, Tubescreamers, Panos Badikouthis and many more. Also I must mention John Angelatos who organized some great concerts with premier blues artists! So, you see I know what’s happening and that’s good!


Three words to describe blues scene in your country?

Could be better!


What would you ask of Gregg Allman?

I brought your son Devon Allman to Skopje, so when you are coming here?


Your favorite FYROM blues band and why?

There are some cool bands at the moment like Wild Bunch, Crossrorad Blues Band, Igor Stanoevski Band, Nikola Petrovski Jimi, Shine and more and all of them deserve mention. They are young, willing and able to transcend the universal language of blues to everybody that would listen.

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