Interview with Greek origin Nick Kipridis of South Australian blues-soul-rock band of The Streamliners

"A further revelation is that most people have very similar problems to yours – the blues are universal – and herein lies the appeal of blues music."

Nick Kipridis: The Streamliner of Oz

Consisting of some of the cream of South Australian roots/rock musicians, ”The Streamliners” are an Australian Institution of blues, soul and roots music,. In the backwoods dustbowl deserts cape that is South Australia, a distinct sound weaves a common thread through most bands in the locale. Largely attributable to the isolated environment engulfing the city of Adelaide, this sound is easily identified when listening to the music of the Streamliners.

There is a unique synergy at play when these 'NOW FIVE' musicians get together and make some noise. Their unpredictable live shows take on a firey spin of their own that to the audience's delight, sound fresher and somewhat beyond the four CD's released over the last few years. The Streamliners are a group continually striving to take that extra step into the void and to hell with what is expected.

Since 1989, many gigs and musical miles later, they continue to inspire longtime fans and newcomers alike with the strange, elusive brew of bluesy, folk, space/funk/rock experiments (they've come a long way since their Muddy Waters coverband days) and never seem to wallow in any one place for too long.

Over the years, the band has been fortunate enough to play or open up with some key performers in the blues field, namely: Junior Wells in 1992 & 1995, Charlie Musselwhite in 1994, The Holmes Brothers in 1996, Carey Bell in 1999, Big Jay McNeely in 1999, Eugene "Hideaway" Bridges in 2001, Dave Hole in 2004 and The Fabulous Thunderbirds in 2004. The Streamliners are: Nick Kipridis - main vocals/guitars, Dennis Kipridis - electric & acoustic bass/vocals, Bill "Billso" Rankine - guitars/vocals, Deryck Charles - piano/organ/keys and Steve Peterka - drums/percussion.

Interview by Michael Limnios     Photos courtesy of The Streamliners

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

Nick: The blues have taught me that in life, no matter how tough things may seem to get and no matter how desperate, there is always someone worse-off than you. A further revelation is that most people have very similar problems to yours – the blues are universal – and herein lies the appeal of blues music.

For me - and I’m sure for many fans of the blues – it acts as a kind of “salve” to help folks forget their troubles (if only for a short while!), especially in the knowledge that many share similar circumstances of pain or hardship. I love listening to it – it makes me feel better.            

Tell me about the beginning of The Streamliners. How did you choose the name and what characterize band’s philosophy?

Nick: The Streamliners got together in ’88 – ’89 as a kind of vehicle for playing all our favourite blues tunes. We were inspired by the first Butterfield band record and songs by Muddy Waters, Howling wolf, BB King, etc quickly became part of our live sets. We chose the name after the western modern design movement that flourished in the 20’s & 30’s. A prime time for the blues we thought. Our only philosophy at the time was to try and keep it as authentic as possible. This meant using very basic equipment, for example, no effects on guitars and really old, cheap amplifiers etc. Nobody around us was doing that at the time.

"Blues has always been popular in Oz. Since the sixties Brit invasion, there have been countless blues/R&B outfits that have existed in this country." 

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Nick: It’s still interesting – this is why we’re still doing it. Over the last few years, we’ve been trying fresh approaches to the form but still strive to retain that blues “thread” through it all. As long as the ideas keep flowing, then we’ll have something to talk about.

The best times were obviously the ones when we’d back visiting blues artists and get to play with some of our heroes. I’m still waiting for the worst – hope it never comes!

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Nick: Probably because it speaks to some people the way no other music does. A lot of it has to do with what we discussed in your first question – it makes you feel good, contrary to what the average person thinks of blues music. Some folks will come up and say “…but I thought blues was depressing music?”, somehow thinking it was devised to bring you down. I tell them the reverse is true.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Nick: I especially remember a great jam with Canned Heat back in the mid 90’s. They were in our town that night and they came by the club we were playing in. It was very late – way past midnigh and we were in the middle of playing a John Lee Hooker tune when they came in and just stood there checking us out. They were pleasantly surprised - they probably haven’t heard a young band doing a Hooker groove so convincingly. Their drummer Fito (de la Parra), said that when other bands try it, they sound like a washing machine.

They brought their instruments down and jumped up with us to play. James T, Fito, Harvey Mandel and a bass player (it wasn’t Larry Taylor). We did 3 or 4 numbers and had a wild time. It sounded like WoodstockAnother great one was with Carey Bell.

"The blues have taught me that in life, no matter how tough things may seem to get and no matter how desperate, there is always someone worse-off than you." 

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Nick: A lot of visiting blues artists usually avoid meeting the younger, white “blues” support acts – probably because they think that most of them are not worth listening to, or worse yet, not worthy of carrying the blues banner.

This isn’t difficult to understand – many of these elder blues statesmen/ women grew up in an American industry that unjustly took – or to put it bluntly – stole a lot from them and didn’t give much in return, so bitter attitudes prevail, even after so many years. It’s sad, but it’s very real, so as a consequence, very few come out to say hello or offer advice. Unfortunately, many also choose to buffer these negative undercurrents with booze and their performances can sometimes suffer as a result.

I remember one ambitious promoter brought out a “Mississippi Legends Tour” back in the 90’s. We weren’t on the bill, so I went to check it out. I thought it was fantastic – RL Burnside, The Jelly Roll Kings with Big Jack Johnson, Jesse Mae – but we could tell that most of them had been drinking heavily which was reflected in the rather sloppy musical delivery. I loved it, but most people didn’t get it and left the show.

Big Jay did give us advice: “Play it like you mean it”.  That pretty much says it all.

Are there any memories from Big Jay McNeely and Fabulous Thunderbirds which you’d like to share with us?

Nick: Big Jay came through with Carey Bell and we had the fortunate position of being the backing group for both of them. Jay gave us a hard time though. He’d played Melbourne the night before and had a terrible experience with the backing group there, so he just assumed this evening will be another young bunch of hack musicians trying to play his stuff. Before he came into town however, the promoter who got us the gig gave us advance copies of music charts for Big J’s set. We thought this was cool, so proceeded to do our homework. Now, on the day of the sound-check, Big J comes in with a completely different set of tunes. Of course, he thinks we know them all  “…it’s all on the charts!..”  he’d say, after we’d be halted mid-song for the umpteenth time. All the while, we’d be trying to explain to him that we have the wrong charts, but he’d just get mad and wouldn’t listen.

Come show-time, we just forgot about it and played by instinct and sheer gusto – mainly because we were pissed-off ourselves. He blew and blew chorus after chorus of this amazing stuff and we could see that he was enjoying himself. After the show, we’re hanging backstage and trying to avoid him, when he comes marching straight over and wants to shake our hands “…you guys were kickin’…kickin’…”

What I remember of the T-birds gig is a comment Kim Wilson made as he walked past my amplifier backstage. I was using an old solid-state Acoustic amp from the 70’s at the time. He looked at it and squinted “That’s not what I think it is, is it?” and walked off. I didn’t bother me – I knew that Albert King had also used these amps and if it was fine for Albert, it’s sure as hell fine with me!

"I just hope that the flame continues to be picked up and passed on, but at the same time preserving the essence of what makes this music so great."

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

Nick: Blues has always been popular in Oz. Since the sixties Brit invasion, there have been countless blues/R&B outfits that have existed in this country. Once a predominately working-class population, Australian youth naturally gravitated toward this music, with its heyday roughly between the late 60’s and early 80’s. The early 70’s was probably the most interesting time for blues in Australia. Although I was still too young to experience it firsthand, looking back at the records from that period, you could see that a lot of experimentation was in order as R&B was becoming more progressive and louder. Local groups weren’t afraid to express themselves, no matter what the repercussions, and made frequent live appearances on TV – local bands don’t ever appear on TV these days! Almost all music programming is controlled by the big overseas corporations like Sony BMG, and that goes for radio too. But I think it’s the same the world over now.

What do you know about the Greek blues scene? How is a Greek play the Blues at Down Under?

Nick: I don’t know a lot about the blues scene in Greece. I was in Athens for a very short time in September of  last year with my dad, and one Sunday afternoon, we took the train up towards Kiffissia for a joy-ride. At one of the stops on the way, the train doors slid open and on the street below, we could hear a blues band playing “Born in Chicago” quite loudly and having a fine time! I wanted to get out of the station and catch the band, but didn’t want to leave dad alone, as he was ill at the time.

Some years back, one Thanassis Triantopoulos from Athens, got in touch with our band and sent us a cassette of two Greek blues bands. Blues Cargo from Athens and Blues Wire from Thessaloniki. Not sure if either of these outfits are still around, but they sounded pretty good! I’ve lost track of Thanassi – wonder if you know/heard of him?

We have also got in touch with Mickey Pantelous through myspace and he’s been doing some interesting things. I was also introduced a long time ago, to older Greek blues/rock bands like Socrates and Poll. I’ve always been a big fan of John Spathas’ guitar playing. Wonderful.

My dad was a musician and there was always a guitar around the house. My brother Dennis and I started playing traditional Greek music in local Greek bands many years ago, but then we started to listen to rock music and most of the heavy bands of the day. We decided we’d had enough of the Greek bands because they all played the same tired songs. Some band members thought they were prima donnas too, so we got out of that scene and began jamming with school friends for fun. As we got more serious, we looked further back to the blues and of course, that started a whole other thing.

I suppose it does seem unusual that a couple of Greek lads in Australia would end up playing blues, but for some reason, the music spoke to us and I think as Greeks, we seem to easily relate to it. I guess it was the same for other more famous “Greek” blues musicians like Nick Gravenites, Johnny & Shuggie Otis and Chris Cain in the US, or Alexis Korner in the UK. I’m sure there are many others I’m not aware of.

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

Nick: Quality. Everybody these days seems to be focused on guitar – which is fine – but there is more to the blues than that. Singing in the blues style for example, and singing it right, unfortunately gets overlooked in favour of the latest, hot guitar licks. I think there should be more effort made there, as well as learning to emote – that is, learning to put the song across, or projecting it so that the audience “gets” it. They may not even have to understand the words, but by the way the tune feels and sounds while it is being performed, should be enough for listeners to lock in and understand what’s going on.

I just hope that the flame continues to be picked up and passed on, but at the same time preserving the essence of what makes this music so great.

Which memories from Junior Wells, Charlie Musselwhite, The Holmes Brothers, and Carey Bell makes you smile?

Nick: Junior was a laugh…so cool! He’d be wearing this gorgeous, glow-in-the-dark purple suit with matching hat, gold bling everywhere, leave the stage with his band still pumping mid-song and come backstage to the band room where we were sitting and he’d still be singing! He sits down at the table and turns to Sava, our guitarist at the time and sings to his face. Then he’d stop and say “Man, James Brown ain’t got SHIT on me!”

Charlie (Musselwhite) is just a gentleman. He talked about Memphis a lot, which is where he grew up and really liked our band.

The Holmes Bros can play Jimmy Reed like no other. When they lay on those 3-part harmonies, it’s incredible. I could watch those guys play all night. A friend of ours was their designated driver during their gigs here, and every evening at dinner time before a show, our friend would ask what they’d like to eat. The answer was always the same: “Meat and ‘taters, meat and ‘taters!” So he’d drive them to the same old Greek BBQ joint every time. They loved it. After the show, their drummer would always go and stand at the bar, drinking, talking to and trying to pick up young girls. He was good at it too!

Carey Bell was the best gig we ever did. That night was pure magic. What we found out later that evening was that he was very sick. Someone had forgotten Carey’s diabetes medication, so before the show, we spotted Carey sitting on a chair wrapped in a towel and trembling, sweat pouring down his face. We were heartbroken. Then, when we started his set, he came out wailing as if nothing was wrong – singing and playing his fantastic harmonica – I swear, Little Walter was in the house. We were swept along by this and on fire – playing authentic Chicago-style was our specialty and the packed house roared their approval. At one point, Carey turns to Save for a solo. He said “Hey!  Mr GITar man!” and Sav closed his eyes and pulled off a Hubert Sumlin-style solo that blew the roof off! You should’ve seen the smile on Carey’s face.  When it was over, Carey went back to his chair with his towel and began to tremble and shake again. We couldn’t believe it. That’s what it takes to be a true professional. For some, not even being sick has an effect on the performance.

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..? 

Nick: London ‘67 or ‘68. Just to see some of the great rock bands of the day – Floyd, Cream, Hendrix, Traffic, Fleetwood Mac, The Stones, The Who!

The Streamliners - official website

The Streamliners are: Nick Kipridis - main vocals/guitars, Dennis Kipridis - electric & acoustic bass/vocals, Bill "Billso" Rankine - guitars/vocals, Deryck Charles - piano/organ/keys and Steve Peterka - drums/percussion.

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