The son of legendary rebetis Markos Vamvakaris, Stelios has taken his father’s secrets from the vaults and turned them blue. Inheriting Markos’ musical genes, Stelios experiments with the bouzouki in a very Greek way towards a very blue sound.
First he tunes his three-course (three pairs of strings) bouzouki “karadouzeni” style (translating into ‘black tuning’), and then he hooks up with Louisiana Red and John Lee Hooker to exchange musical philosophies.
Once he’s got it down, Stelios crafts a rebetiko of his own, one that’s original and at the same time doesn’t deviate from the standards his pioneering father set in the mid-1930s.
With such a legacy – Markos composed such masterworks as “Frangosyriani” and “Ta Matoklada Sou Lamboun” (Your Lustrous Lashes) – it’s no wonder Stelios wanted to do his own thing, and he’s been dedicated to the Greek blues for the past three decades.
One of his bold blues experiments, Mia Mera ti Nychta (A Day at Night) – Athens Blues (V2records), was released in 2001 as the score to the same-titled film by Greek director Giorgos Panousopoulos.
Toying with the range of the bouzouki, Vamvakaris masterfully plays it blues style as in harmonica-filled “Parallili Drasi” (Parallel Action).
The film’s title track, the instrumental “Mia Mera ti Nychta”, is an upbeat bluegrass-style breakdown featuring the bouzouki in the place of the banjo.
In Panousopoulos’ words: “Only Stelios can get out of a rock and a hard place. You can’t mix such original genres like the rebetiko and the blues without ruining both.”
And yet, Vamvakaris gets away with both, daring to persuasively bring the two together without stripping each genre of its roots, retaining their dynamic and color throughout and producing an intoxicating brand of “Greek-American” blues.
For Vamvakaris, common ground between the blues and the rebetiko is in the “feel and the atmosphere they create”. And this underlying mood lays bare in “Το Blues tou Steliou” (Stelios’ Blues).
Sit back and feel the sound.
♪ Stelios and Louisiana Red recorded ‘Blues Meets Rebetika’, re-released through Lyra in 2008.