Greek Blues Scene: An Interview with Deep in the Top - The new generation of Greek Blues

"It’s the music that you can play and feel in any mood! You are happy? You have the blues! You have no money? You have the blues! You have no house? You have the blues!"

Deep in the Top: Bluesier and Bluesier

Deep in the Top blues band was formed in 2010 by four high school students in Thessaloniki, Greece. Since then, the band has performed on some of the town’s clubs and festivals. In February 2012 they played for the first time in a concert with the popular Greek blues band, the Blues Wire. Then, in the summer of 2012 Deep in the Top collaborated with the local bluesman Elias Zaikos, who recorded two songs with the band at their first recording attempt. Two weeks in the studio resulted in ten songs. Four of them are the band’s own compositions.

The following year the band worked on writing new songs and, at the same time, they performed as many times as they got the chance to. Deep in the Top participated in a music contest, organized by Phillipos Nakas conservatory; they were chosen by the judges and travelled to Athens to compete at the semifinals. They won the 1st prize, and so they got the chance to revisit Athens to record a new series of songs in SAE studios. The band’s influences range from the wide field of Blues, to Jazz, Funk and Rock. In the sound of the guitar one can easily trace influences from Blues players such as Albert Collins and from more contemporary ones such as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer and Elias Zaikos. The keyboard sound is a result of jazz and fusion touches, inspired by artists like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Herbie Hancock. The band are: Nikos Tsopoglou-Gkinas (Guitar, Vocals, Harmonica), Mike Trachalios (Keys, Flute, Vocals), Minas Vakaloudis (Bass) and Filippos Samlidis (Drums)

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues culture? What does the BLUES mean to you?

Nikos: It all started when, at an early age, my father put the “Blues Brothers” film on the video. Every day since then I listened to the Blues Brothers songs and slowly I began to discover the older bluesmen. Muddy Waters, BB King etc...
The BLUES? Everything!

Mike: It was one summer day when I asked Nikos “For how long can you play the Blues?” and he answered “Forever!” and I said “Me too!!!” It was the time when I jumped into the Blues for good! When I play the Blues I feel a sense of relief.  All my problems belong to the past.

Filippos: I think when I first became a band with Deep in the Top; I decided to become seriously involved with the blues! And this desire became bigger after a few months, after our first lives. I like the blues because they never let me down. Whenever I am not in a happy mood, blues is there to cheer me up!

Minas: This band was actually my first experience of the blues. There were always some blues songs in my mp3, but Deep in the Top was my chance to learn this music, (this culture) from the inside. After three years of playing and reading about the blues, it has become a part of my life. Albert Collins once said “Blues is simple music, and the simplest music is the most difficult to play” and to understand, may I add.

Tell me about the beginning of Deep in the Top. How did you choose the name and where did it start?

Nikos: Well “Deep in the Top” started as “The Bandanas” (December 2010) playing more kind of rock songs (covers ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin', Deep Purple etc). At the time we thought that our inspirations were mostly Deep Purple and ZZ Top so we ended up to “Deep in the Top”. The “rock thing” passed over to Deep in the Top at the first months, although we were slowly discovering our common passion for the Blues. “It's that feeling you get, that no other music can give.” we were keep saying (...and still). So at the end we were Deep in the Top and we were getting Bluesier and Bluesier...  

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory with Deep in the Top?

Nikos: It was when we composed our first song! What a rehearsal!!!

Mike: We are at the “Nakas Band Festival” finals. The moments before the announcement of “And the first prize goes to... Deep in the Top!” are memorable!

Filippos: I cannot forget the moments, waiting for the results of the Nakas Band Festival Competition. We heard the 3rd band…We weren’t….We heard the 2nd band (there were two of them)….We weren’t…..We heard the first band…And the party Began!!!

Minas: We‘ve experienced so many beautiful things during these three years of playing, that it’s difficult to choose. Those five days of recording (during last summer), in SAE, Athens, will surely stay in my mind for a long long time!

How do you describe the music philosophy of Deep in the Top? What characterize the Greek Blues scene?

Nikos: Hit the blue note and your fellows will play along. The Greek Blues scene is very promising, but yet far from the Greek music audience.

Mike: I think that the point is to achieve passing the good feeling we have on stage, to our audience.  As for the music, I believe that our basic characteristic is that we react as one body and mind but yet everyone has their one style! 

Filippos: Actually we don’t have a specific philosophy. We play the blues whenever we want and that is our passion. If this is a philosophy, then ok!!! And we share our music with the people who like it! I think we have many talents, especially guitarists, although the most of them have a specific idol that they want to take after him. They want to be the same with him. The point is to make your own music and your own sound, and not to mime someone who is already a star! Still we want more blues bands. There are not few, but there are never enough!

Minas: Deep in the Top is clearly a BLUES band, although there was never an intention to play the blues and nothing else. It’s the music we love, that’s why we play it and that’s why we write it. There’s nothing pretentious in it. I believe the Greek blues scene is a bit limited. I wish there were many more blues bands in Greece and that they would support each other. I also think it’s time for a “new generation” of blues musicians in Greece.

What are some of the memorable gigs and jams you've had in local bars and clubs?

Nikos: One of the most memorable gig was when some friends of ours came up on stage and at the last three songs jammed with their saxophone, trumpet and harp!

Mike: It was the gig we had at Gaia Live Stage when we opened the most famous Greek Blues Band “Blues Wire”. Of course our live performance at Gaia the next year was a big challenge for us and I think that we over came it.

Filippos: With no doubt, one of our best gigs (and our first big appearance) was the one that we played as a support band to Blues Wire. The most famous Greek Blues Band. And we’ve jammed several times with them at some live bars. Also we’ve jammed with Nick Dounousis, another famous blues man in Greece. And of course the best moment was at our last big gig in a live club in Thessaloniki where Elias Zaikos came up on stage and jammed two songs with us. Best gig, best jam! Elias recorded some songs with us, too!  Oh! And one more!!! In the middle of September we called a jam at a live club at Thessaloniki. Many of our friends were there for a night full of blues jam!!!

Minas: On 26/6/2013 we had our most important show at Gaia live stage in Thessaloniki, with Elias Zaikos jamming with us in two songs, a vocal session for 5 other songs we played and a very good vibe from the people who came to listen and dance to our music.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Nikos: As I said before it's that feeling you get, that no other music can give.

Mike:  It's because “The Blues is the roots” and that the influence of that music can be found in many many other music styles.

Filippos: I think everything is about music preferences. Many people, many kinds of music. Blues is the music of jam!!!

And you never get tired or bored playing 12-bar blues! It’s the music that you can play and feel in any mood! You are happy? You have the blues! You have no money? You have the blues! You have no house? You have the blues!

Minas: Because the blues music began as a part of people’s life in the cotton fields and the juke joints.  It was never just a mean of amusement; it always had to do with people’s lives, problems and thoughts.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?

Nikos: From the legends Eric Clapton, BB King, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and also from the Greek legend of the Blues, Elias Zaikos.

Mike:  I “borrowed” the secrets of the Blues from many artists and bluesmen by listening to their playing.  For example Jimmy Smith and Albert Ammons.

Filippos: From my bassist player, Minas!!!He is addicted to blues!!!! An original blues-maniac!!!!!

Minas: Elias Zaikos has been a great mentor, for both playing and learning about the blues. He’s been very supportive since the first day we met him and we thank him for that. I suppose I could say Willie Dixon has been my biggest influence as long as bass playing and song writing is concerned.  After I read Francis Davis’ book about the blues (the history of the blues), I had the chance to find out about blues musicians in the 20’s and 30’s and to get to know what the blues was all about when it met its heyday.

When it all began for the blues in Greece, who is considered the "godfather" of the blues in Greece?

Nikos: The “godfather” is the guitarist Elias Zaikos, who formed Blues Gang (1983) with Sotiris Zisis (bass guitar) and they renamed themselves as Blues Wire in 1985.

Minas: I think Blues Wire, Nick Dounoussis and Blues Cargo.

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

Nikos: I think that it was back then, when Blues Wire were at the beginning of their career.

Filippos: Well many people like the blues, but the new artists do not believe so much in it. They want to play something new, something familiar to blues but not the blues. There is not a certain period that is more interesting than the others but the winter and spring months have more lives!!

What are the bars and clubs that host blues events and the most popular local bands? Do the local media help the blues?

Mike: The Rock Club of Thessaloniki “Sharp 9”. As for the media, Blues is not a good product to sell. All the information we get for the lives etc. is from the internet.

Filippos: The first bar that comes to my mind is GAIA LIVE. Also there was another great bar called “blue barrel”, which hosted the many bands of this kind of music, but it closed. “Malt And Jazz” is a great bar too! I don’t think that the local media helps the blues, but this is not something that local media should do. Local media must support the new kinds of music, the new kinds of promising music especially. Blues is here to stay. It doesn’t need much help!!! 

What mistake of local scene you want to correct? Do you believe it has the possibility to live only with the blues in Greece?

Mike: As for the local scene, I would like more people going to the concerts and when they do, I would love to see them expressing themselves truthfully.

Filippos: You cannot live only with the blues anywhere. In general you cannot live playing the music only. The musicians’ rewards are meager! I want to make more blues and jazz bars and clubs. There used to be many of them but now the number of the blues and jazz scenes has been reduced dramatically.

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between an USA and local Blues Band?

Mike: The main difference is that in the USA they sing in their mother language and they can express themselves more easily. The similarity is that when we play the Blues (and this is for all the Blues bands I think) we put our soul in it!

Filippos: Of course there are many similarities because a Greek band has listened to American bluesmen and blues bands, in order to play the blues. The main differences focus in the lyrics. Everyone has something else to say through his music. The old USA bluesmen sing about their pour lives in Mississippi. We don’t have their problems (yet!) so we don’t sing about them.

Minas: I think that when someone starts a blues band, they would first try to sound like American bluesmen. But, then again, different cultures and different influences always contribute to the creation of something new and unique. So, the root may be the same, but the result is sometimes completely different.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine for the next 24 hours, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Filippos: Mmmm….!!! Let’s go to Mississippi Delta in the 20s to meet the birth of the BLUES!!!

Minas: Hmm…I would say Chicago in the 40’s and 50’s, or maybe Maxwell street in the 30’s, when blues musicians used to play on the street all day!

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