As I was looking for information about the swing and rock ‘n’ roll scene, I realised that one of the most stable artists is Johnny Vavouras. He remains musically active with two bands and he therefore has firsthand knowledge on swing revival. He has been playing original rock ‘n’ roll in Greece –and not Greek rock, as he hastily specifies− for 42 years.
I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with him, during which he answered all of my questions about the rock ‘n’ roll scene.
Talking the rock ‘n’ roll and swing scene.
Are there any similarities between rock ‘n’ roll and swing? Why do you think rock ‘n’ roll is popular with Greeks?
Both kinds of music go down well with the audience; anyway, rock ‘n’ roll was originated with swing music. At one point rock ‘n’ roll, but also swing, became a trend. Maybe swing was even trendier, but this is not a coincidence. Since the ‘40s and ‘50s there is swing heard in Greece, in Greek lyrics, through songs by Giorgos Mouzakis, Giorgos Katsaros and many others. Songs like “Don’t worry, I’ll love you” (music by Mouzakis, lyrics by Kostas Kafiniotis) are swing. There has been a swing revival in the last years, thus these songs are recorded again in a more modern execution and sound.
Based on your experience, from all the people who enter the rock ‘n’ roll scene, who remains there after all?
I cannot tell. The musical scene places or specialised events which attract people who know what they are listening to are really few. In other events or small bars, people are erratic, but this is the audience I wish to win over.
Since we are talking about authenticity, is there a dress code required in swing and rock ‘n’ roll?
Ouch, what a question. You can see some bands playing while dressed with the same clothes they put on in the morning to go to work.
Should the artist and the dancing audience support their choice with their style?
Of course. Absolutely! How are you going to dress for a wedding? How are you going to dress for a job interview? You wish to win over the others; to impress with your looks, too. I was happy when I saw the Swinging Cats at Gazarte, styled by DSevents. Because this is how you should appear on stage. We, the Johnny Vavouras and the Cadillacs, appear with jackets, shirts, ties, nice shoes.
“Think that wherever you play, you are there to impress”
What would you suggest someone have in their disc collection when they start listening to this music?
For someone to have good rock ‘n’ roll in their collection, they should have a bit of all the great artists of the ’54 to ’61 era. One can start from YouTube best of playlists. Chuck Berry wrote most of the best songs, but there are also others, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Little Richards, Chubby Checker… There are many artists.
Talking music and Johnny’s career.
Johnny, which song clicked and made you listen to this kind of music?
It’s not one. It’s generally got to do with the rock ‘n’ roll rhythm. On one hand I liked swing and rock ‘n’ roll rhythm and tempo and on the other hand I liked ballads because I have always liked melody.
When did you start being active on this music?
In 1976, when I created Vavoura Band together with Yiannis Drolapas. We will complete 41 years as an active band this year and we are playing at Lazy on 28 January. With Yiannis we were into this music and later on into hard rock and we managed to become popular and to stand out with our first three bands.
Generally speaking, I was working as a production manager not only because of my musical, technical and English language knowledge, but also because of my problem-solving skills. In 1987, I participated in producing one of Chuck Berry’s concerts. We realized −two days prior to the concert− that he was going to be on stage for one hour according to his contract and we assumed people would feel disappointed. So, we formed Johnny Vavouras and the Cadillacs and after two days of rehearsals we appeared in front of a crowd of 6,000 at Lycabettus.
How did you start? Did you think it was all going to be a hobby or had you had already in mind to be active for so many years?
I started because I fancied the whole thing with Vavoura Band and with Johnny Vavouras and the Cadillacs, too; to put it simply, because I fancy playing music. When I started, I was not “gifted”, like others whom you watch singing with a good voice or who grab a guitar and have an idea of what they are doing. I worked for this.
Would you say that you owe it less to talent and more to being dedicated to music?
Yes, exactly. I have energy. Neither have I studied so much. But what characterised me was that I have always been bold, I dared do things. I was a frontman and I wanted to be the same with my group of friends and with the pals and at school; I was communicative. And this is what held me there.
Where would you like to play?
I don’t know… maybe in a country where there is an active rock ‘n’ roll scene. There are people interested in it in the Netherlands, as well as in the UK. I just need to make it clear that I work on it because this is what I like and I don’t think that playing others’ songs is my job. The Cadillacs are a very good cover band. My band is Vavoura Band. There is chemistry with Yiannis Drolapas and we perfectly match each other. We “got married” with Yiannis in 1976 because we perfectly match in some things. We have a kind of chemistry, the chemistry Mick Jagger has with Keith Richards, what John Lennon and Paul McCartney had as far as music is concerned, since we get on like a house on fire. Because what we have done separately has not touched what we have done collaboratively, either as execution or as composition.
What are your future plans?
We are celebrating 41 years with Vavoura Band and we are preparing a new album that will be released only as a vinyl disc.
With Johnny Vavouras and the Cadillacs we are going to prepare a Christmas album, something which I have wanted to do for many years, but I always remember it really late and there is not enough time. However, I will record it this year in my new studio.
Do you dance?
No, I have two left feet. I am even funnier than Tom Jones when dancing. But I make others dance.
- Johnny has been listening to this kind of music since when he was 40 days old, when his mother took him out for a walk at a small restaurant they ran in a working-class town in Ohio.
- As a child, he listened to artists like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and others on the radio and on television. When he was 12, he got his first guitar and he started experimenting with ballads, too.
- On 28/1 he will celebrate the Vavoura Band 40+1 years of presence at Lazy Club.
- If he had to choose a song, that would be “Working class hero” by John Lennon. The Beatles are the top music band for him, since they are a music, harmony and music evolution lesson from rock ‘n’ roll to indie and psychedelic music.