Q&A with Greek-born (NYC based) musician Spiros Soukis, funky grooves, shuffle beats and rock elements

"For me Music is Love, Connection, is Giving and Receiving, and Blues Music and Rock`n`Roll has been connecting people and cultures with its own universal language!"

Spiros Soukis: Sweet Rock, Blues Thing

Spiros Soukis, guitarist/singer/songwriter, creates tunes that are spiced with funky grooves, shuffle beats and rock elements enlivened with European style and the freshness of Mediterranean breezes. With his latest single "Feel Like a Superstar" Soukis will make you feel like one yourself with an amazing riff, instantly recognized, rich vocals and screaming lead guitars! With his recent release, Sweet Thing (2018, So Well Music), Soukis once again takes the listener on a musical adventure with his signature sound and versatile strings. Six songs cover a lush range of styles and moods - the exuberant title tune, Sweet Thing; country-rock ballad, Kathleen’s Song; straight-up rocker, Fool for Love; soulful-funk instrumental, Summer Breeze; funky blues rocker, Together We Will Grow; and You Don’t Really Love Me, a blues-rock classic in the making. Native of Athens, Greece, Soukis began his love affair with the blues filtered through the British Invasion and guitar masters Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Robin Trower and Jeff Beck. In time he learned about American slingers like Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Duane Allman and Roy Buchanan. Reading liner notes and scrutinizing recording credits led him to discover the original men behind the music like B.B. King, Freddie King, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. His studies in guitar and piano earned him a Music Theory degree from the Athens Conservatory. He performed and toured with Greek rock legend, Pavlos Sidiropoulos, then moved to Stockholm, in the mid ’80s, where he continued performing live while teaching music and earning another degree, in Musicology, from Stockholm University. Returning to Athens in the early ’90s, Soukis formed the band, That’s Why, performed widely, recorded regularly and toured extensively. That’s Why opened for a diverse group of musicians ranging from The Pixies to Peter Green - one of his earliest influences.                   (Photo: Spiros Soukis, New York)

Fota Tou Iliggou (Lights of Vertigo), his first solo album, was released in Europe to overwhelmingly positive reviews and voted ‘CD of the Month.’ Reissued September 2000, its songs have been included in numerous compilations. Soukis moved to New York City, just when the U.S. Congress auspiciously declared 2003, “Year of the Blues.” A year later he released Transblues the first of his English-language CDs. Recorded in both Athens and his newly adopted hometown, the record consists of eight of his own songs on which he sings and plays guitar. Two smokin’ blues covers, captured live in the heart of Manhattan, round out this dazzling American debut. Loveborne Blues highlights the incomparable Soukis style that takes the listener on an aural journey through six shades of blue. A consummate performer, Soukis regularly played at the late, great B.B. King Blues Club, the place for live blues in Manhattan. With his eponymous power trio, Soukis, or as a solo opener for many other artists, including Robert Randolph and Popa Chubby, he played right to the end, performing at the iconic club’s closing night, April 29, 2018, for a blues-fuelled finale. His electric and acoustic tributes to some of his favorite slingers - Eric Clapton, Robin Trower and Johnny Winter - are big hits in NYC’s premier clubs such as Cafe Wha?, The Groove and Bonafide. Soukis returns to his earliest musical roots at his popular ‘Greek Music Nights’ which he hosts and performs at the New York Open Center with an array of musicians playing traditional instruments. A dedicated teacher, Soukis has a large number of private students, some of whom are invited to participate in his master jam sessions at his private Manhattan studio. His music scores feature in a range of film genres from documentary to travelogue.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from Rock n’ Roll music and culture?

From the frenetic vibe of Wooly Bully to which I danced as a kid with my sister, to The Animals, The Beatles ,The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who I became addicted to Rock n`Roll music which put me in a trance with it`s melodies ,distorted guitars, songs and lyrics, I travelled to places I had  never been before and I discovered cultures I never knew existed, and it was heaven in my ears and my soul showing me a way out of the ordinary, and how to peacefully rebel against the  status quo in Athens - Greece at that time when I was growing up,  which was under the junta!

What does the blues mean to you?

Spending all of my pocket money buying records of the artists that I loved, and reading meticulously all the linear notes I discovered the American Blues Artists, from whom my idols were influenced, and who’s many songs I already loved and I adored by listening to the more rocky versions of them on my beloved artists records. I also became aware that if the Blues was not the main influence behind the music of a new artist, I seldom liked him/her and I never became interested in their work. Their music simply never touched me! The Blues hit you right in the gut as they say which is true! Listening to my guitar hero Peter Green with the early Fleetwood Mac could bring tears to my eyes! Of course, it was much later that I discovered, and then I could hear it, how much he was influenced by B.B. King! The Blues still remains my main source of inspiration, as there is always something exciting happening within the genre and new artists are coming up with great music!                                          (Photo: Spiros Soukis, Club Bonafide NYC)

"Musicians generally have a good ear, and they are always eager to learn and explore new forms of music, and Greeks brought their music roots here with them and they got inspired by the Blues, Rock and Jazz from the United States. I recently discovered that most, if not all of the Greek music that was popular on the radio when I was growing up in Athens, had been recorded right here in Astoria New York in the 40`s and the 50`s, maybe because of the recording equipment available here and not there at that time!"

How do you describe Spiros Soukis' sound and songbook? What characterizes your music philosophy?

Of course, my music reflects my Blues- Rock influences. I always strive to write something that will give me the same thrill as a song, a riff, or a guitar solo gave me when I first heard it. The Recent years I listen to lots of Jazz music and I also rediscover Greek Music in a whole new way, bought myself an amazing bouzouki and I’ve learned how to play, which I enjoy very much, and that I think it would make a great addition to a new Bluesy tune! As I did with the song “I Magissa tis Arapias” by mixing the Blues with the Greek rebetiko, it is something that I always find interesting, but hard to duplicate! But I certainly keep it in mind!

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

Playing with Pavlos Sidiropoulos in Greece in the 80`s was an unforgettable experience!

Opening for Peter Green at the Rodon club in Athens, with my power trio That’s Why! and hoping to talk to him when I spotted him sitting by the bar, while we were doing the soundcheck, and being advised by his manager to not even come close to him because he was very fragile for socializing! So, I lost my chance to meet him up close, as I had hoped for!

Meeting my idol Robin Trower on my first visit to New York in 1997! I had written a letter to him saying how much I love his playing and his music, and after the concert I was waiting for him outside the club and when he came out I gave him my Greek CD that had been released in 1996, and he signed a copy of his new album and we chatted a little! I saw him again when he was playing at B.B. Kings in NYC where I attended all of his three great shows in the big room there!

I was playing at B.B. King`s-Lucille`s, when the man himself, Mr. B.B. King was playing in the big room, and we never met! That happened twice! Another time I got a call at 8:30 in the evening, while the snow was falling and the streets were cold and freezing, to be asked to substitute for Mr. Johnny Winter whose bus was stuck in the blizzard! I did go, since I live very close to the club, which was packed with Johnny Winter fans, and I did the show with an acoustic Guitar! That was scary but it turned out to be a great gig and a great night for all who were present in that room!

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

“The more you put into it the more you get out of it” by my mother and it has been true!

"I do not miss anything really from the music of the past, because there is so much great music and great artists coming out now!" (Photo: Spiros Soukis, Club Bonafide NYC)

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

When I first arrived in New York City I started going to most of the jams that interested me, and met and played with many fine players of the New York Blues Music Scene, many of them I call my friends now. I remember having heard about a Monday Blues Jam on 57th st. bet/ 8th and 9th in a club called Le Bar Bet back in 2004, and  It was the weirdest most interesting place, a recording studio where  the entrance was filled with gold and platinum records, of two albums by The Rolling Stones, both were recorded there, as well as Jimi Hendrix Recordings for the Cry of Love album and some other jaw dropping artists and recordings in this old church turned to a studio and music hall! The band was just amazing and that’s where I met my bass player, friend and collaborator on all my recordings and most of my gigs ever since, in NYC!

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

I do not miss anything really from the music of the past, because there is so much great music and great artists coming out now! Today you have the opportunity to discover and listen to so many artists on all streaming platforms, and I am happy to say that the Blues Are still alive and well with some amazing new artists coming up with brilliant new songs, writing, and guitar playing! I am very optimistic about the future of music because music is life and life never stops evolving!

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

After B.B. King`s closing, I started playing  at the Club Bonafide which is located at 52nd st. and learned about the music history of the street ,back in the 50`s , when it was a thriving  club scene where you could go and hear at any given night Miles, Duke, Ella and all the great and legendary jazz musicians of the era. That’s one place I would like to take a trip to!

I would also  like to go back to the 80`s and  90's, when 48th st. bet/6th and 7th was still full of music stores as Manny`s, Rudy`s, Sam Ash and so many more little stores full of guitars new and old and used, the time when so many more music stores and clubs where active and alive in New York and have a day in life full of new experiences and discoveries! But I am perfectly fine in the here and now!

"Spending all of my pocket money buying records of the artists that I loved, and reading meticulously all the linear notes I discovered the American Blues Artists, from whom my idols were influenced, and who’s many songs I already loved and I adored by listening to the more rocky versions of them on my beloved artists records. I also became aware that if the Blues was not the main influence behind the music of a new artist, I seldom liked him/her and I never became interested in their work. Their music simply never touched me." (Photo: Spiros Soukis)

What is the impact of Blues and Rock n’ Roll music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

For me Music is Love, Connection, is Giving and Receiving, and Blues Music and Rock`n`Roll has been connecting people and cultures with its own universal language!

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

Musicians generally have a good ear, and they are always eager to learn and explore new forms of music, and Greeks brought their music roots here with them and they got inspired by the Blues, Rock and Jazz from the United States. I recently discovered that most, if not all of the Greek music that was popular on the radio when I was growing up in Athens, had been recorded right here in Astoria New York in the 40`s and the 50`s, maybe because of the recording equipment available here and not there at that time!

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the Greek music circuits at early ‘80s?

Antonis Tourkogiorgis from Socrates would make me laugh with his jokes, and with Pavlos Sidiropoulos we shared so many stories whenever we were on the road and at our shows together. Pavlos was a great performer and always in sync with the audience! He could touch them emotionally with his singing and with these songs and he knew how to keep them happy! I`ve learned a lot from him and I really liked him as a person!

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Photo: Spiros Soukis, 2021

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