Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blues and Rembetico

There have been many discussions, several articles and some books around a possible connection between the blues and rembetico. I assume that the reason for such a comparison lies in sociological factors primarily and musical similarities secondarily.

It is true though that when it comes to music itself the similarities are not so obvious. Not as the ones someone would find between country music or hillbilly or even rock music and the blues. As of the effect that the music has over fans of the specific genres, one could find more space for discussion but again: they are two separate genres with only some things in common but in any case a long history, a cultural impact and an interesting artistic outcome when these two worlds meet.
So in this post we’ll stick to the cultural exchange from the listening pleasure perspective without trying to prove any existing or not connection. Nevertheless some similarities exist.

So both the blues and rembetico have their origins at the end of 19th century. The lyrics are simple and have to do with everyday life – most often – of lower class. Desperate love, hard work, poverty, war, illness, jail, drugs etc are common themes for both worlds.

The most common example of a connection between blues and rembetico is the comparison between the blues song “How dry am I” released in 1921 and “O Boufetzis” (the buffet-chef) by George Batis from 1932.
Here’s the original version...

...and here's the two songs combined

The same song performed in blues style with steel guitar by Zorz Pilalis here:

Another interesting example is "Diana’s Blues" by John Stamatis “Sporos” or Yiannis Stamatiou “Sporos”.
Sporos, born 1936, was one of the greatest bouzouki players. He lived in US from 1957 to 1979 and played with many orchestras in Las Vegas, San Francisco, recorded with Hrach Yacoubian orchestra and his fans included Elvis Presley, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra and others. They say that his success was so big that made him a cover on the Time magazine in 1963 (I searched for this but wasn’t able to find anything to confirm).

"Diana's Blues" from album Musical Reflections

Stelios Vamvakaris, son of master of rembetico Markos Vamvakaris, is a composer and bouzouki player who actively works and explores the relation between blues and rembetico. He has collaborated many times in live performances and discography with blues master Louisiana Red.

Stelios Blues is from “One Day at Night, Athens Blues” movie soundtrack of 2000.

Here you can find one of the most famous rembetico songs, composed by Yiannis – Jack – Chalkias who lived in US, covered by guitarist Babis Papadopoulos in his album “From the Dragon’s Cave” of 2010. Papadopoulos was the guitar player of the famous Greek rock band Trypes. He has released two very interesting solo albums with acoustic improvisations over folk, rembetiko and traditional music.

"Teke Minor" (To Minore tou Teke) 

Last but not least one of the greatest covers of folk-rembetico music by Spiros Soukis. Soukis is a singer-composer-guitar player who lives in US since 2003. Back in the 80s he played with Greek rock legend   Pavlos Sidiropoulos and in the 90s he formed That’s Why with whom he opened for live shows of Pixies and Peter Green.

Check his blues cover of Vasilis Tsitsanis song “Sorceress of Arabia” (Magissa tis Arapias)

Soukis is offering some songs (including this one) on his site so you can check:


  1. Hello there. I am the daughter of John "Sporos" Stamatis. Just wanted to let you know that my father was born May 9, 1934, not in 1936. Thank you for the wonderful information on your blog.


    1. Hi Diana, thank you for the information. Will update the post accordingly.
      I'm reading on Hellenic Journal ( that Sporos appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1963. I have tried to check this but i found nothing. I looked for all covers from 1961 to 1965. Can you confirm that such a cover existed? Do you have it?


  2. Hello again. The cover was for a pubicity shot.


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