I’m really happy to announce that we have two phenomenal guest posts over the next two weeks - get ready! Today’s post is from musician David Murray, who not only has a fascinating collection of Chinese opera 78s which he offers to the public over at Haji Maji, but he’s also an expert in Greek rebetika. His post today is very special - an extremely rare record, with his copy in the best known condition. Enjoy! - JW
I threw on a CD of old rebetika 78s while cooking dinner one night. I’d listened to the CD a couple of times over the years, but never really paid much attention. Somewhere around the fourth song, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t believe how amazing this bouzouki player sounded. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I listened a few more times. And the next day and the next day, until I eventually resolved to figure out what this was all about (the CD was printed only in Greek). The bouzouki player turned out to be Spyros Peristeris.
Peristeris was born in Smyrna in 1900 and was musically trained in Istanbul, playing mandolin, guitar, piano, bouzouki, and other stringed instruments. By the early 1920s, he was living in Greece and working as a musical director for the Odeon/Parlophon labels, supervising recording sessions and often playing various supporting instruments for singers like Andonis Dalgas, Rita Abadzi, Roza Eskenazi, and others.
Bouzoukis and rebetika were becoming increasingly popular, and in 1932-1933, Peristeris played on and directed the first recordings of this new genre with the great Markos Vamvakaris. Markos was a self-taught bouzouki player (”My only school was the hashish den.”) who had been playing for only a few years. His playing and singing were rough, and he had a strong rhythmic style that captured the essence of the rebetis character: smoking hashish, fighting, etc. Markos went on to record hundreds of songs and was very popular throughout the 30s and 40s.
Peristeris stayed in the background, scouting talent, directing recording sessions, writing and arranging. He, too, played on hundreds of records, sometimes playing under the pseudonym “Georgiades,” sometimes anonymously (including playing the bouzouki on some of Vamvakaris’ own records!). His material covered many styles of rebetika, folk, cabaret, popular, and more, but most of his sought-after recordings come from a run of 50 or so rebetika songs he recorded from about 1934-1940. On these, Peristeris played bouzouki or guitar (in a bouzouki style) with a trio or quartet.
His technical grace really stands out with these small, well-recorded groups. The playing is syncopated, fast, highly ornamented and full of twists and turns. A very different sound than Vamvakaris’ strident, pulsing rhythm.
The singing on these records were by some of the best Greek vocalists ever recorded: Kostas Roukounas, Zacharias Kazimatis, or Jiorgos Kavouras. All three singers sang in an old school style that was replaced by a simpler rebetika sound.
The majority of these records also feature guitarist Kostas Skarvelis and many are his own compositions. Not only was he one of the great songwriters of the rebetika era, he also, along with Kostas Karipis and a few others, played on the vast majority of rebetika recordings.
Occasionally a baglama was included and some feature a great, but uncredited, accordion player. Regardless of the exact makeup of the group, these recordings stand out as one of the major strands of influence in rebetika, and popular Greek music in general.
Here’s one of my favorites from these sessions. A Skarvelis zeibekiko sung by Kavouras and played in the key of G minor.
Pono, De Me Lypasai (I’m in Pain, Don’t You Feel Pity For Me?) (1937, Kostas Skarvelis gtr., Jiorgos Kavouras vcl., Spyros Peristeris bzk.)
My eyes cry for you day after day, My heart aches and breaks into pieces
I’m sighing but you don’t pay attention, you’re heartless, you don’t feel pity, You’re having fun with somebody else and you forget what you had promised
You don’t even come to see me, You don’t care where I am You only gave me cause to suffer
You faded me away, you hurt me, May you not escape from suffering, too - May you experience the same pain in your heart and be ruined.
(Thanks to Nikos Politis and Kostas Ladopoulos for the translation.)
Technical Notes Label: Parlophone Issue Number: B.21921 Matrix Number: Go 2761