Ukraine always on his mind for Red Elvises’ Igor Yuzov – Times News Online
Igor Yuzov was ready to travel to Moscow again this year.
After a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown, Yuzov was looking forward to performing in Russia for fans of his band, Igor & Red Elvises.
Playing rock ‘n’ roll with a lyrical eye for humor (“I Wanna See You Belly Dance”, “Closet Disco Dancer”), Igor & Red Elvises’ annual tour has included concerts in St. Petersburg, Siberia and kyiv. , Ukraine.
“I was supposed to give a concert in Moscow just before the war. And I canceled it,” Yuzov says. The war in Ukraine began on February 24.
“I didn’t feel safe. I felt there might be problems crossing the border. I could have been stuck there,” Yuzov says.
Yuzov was interviewed on April 1 by telephone from St. Petersburg – not from Russia, but from Florida, where the Red Elvises tour included Bradenton, Tampa and the Naples Blues Festival.
The tour brings back Igor & Red Elvises, a perennial favorite for some 25 years at Musikfest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the band’s first concert at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Jim Thorpe, at 8 p.m. on April 9. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Yuzov, who has friends and relatives in Ukraine and Russia, is reluctant to go into detail about his views on the war in Ukraine.
Yuzov, born in Germany in 1964, moved at the age of three with his family to Odessa, Ukraine and then to the Soviet Union.
“It’s very weird what’s going on. Most people know I’m from Ukraine. I have friends in both countries. I’m really praying it’s over soon.
“Most immigrants don’t support the war. And most people in Russia don’t support the war.
“They are all afraid that the days of the Soviet Union will return. I lived that. I don’t want to go back to that.
The songs of the Red Elvises are not political, despite the band’s name. The concerts are intended for maximum enjoyment.
“They come to have a good time. And we try to make them forget the problems. We celebrate life,” says Yuzov.
Red Elvises concerts have garnered accolades for years:
“The best party band in LA.” – The weekly
“More irresistible than matryoshka dolls [Russian nesting dolls] and more powerful than a Molotov cocktail. – Minneapolis Tribune of Stars
“One of the hottest, wackiest bands around.” – Weekly Pasadena
The Red Elvis were previously called Limpopo, for a Ukrainian folk tale about Africa.
Yuzov and members of Limpopo, which played Ukrainian-Russian folk music, emigrated in 1991 to the United States, settling in Santa Monica, California.
Limpopo, busking (playing for tips) on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, was scouted for “Star Search”, hosted by Ed McMahon, 1983-’95. Limpopo ranked first on “Star Search” in 1993.
“We made money and we bought a van and started touring the United States and Canada,” Yuzov recalled.
“I got tired of playing traditional music. I like to write my own songs. I more or less learned English at that time and started writing songs in English,” says Yuzov.
Limpopo became Red Elvises in 1995.
“I had a dream,” says Yuzov. “Elvis appeared in my dream and he said, ‘Call them the red Elvis. “”
Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977), nicknamed ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, went from a svelte, swing-hips 1950s teen idol and movie star to a jumpsuit-wearing entertainer Las Vegas show.
Did the first Elvis or Vegas Elvis appear in Yuzov’s dream?
“It was the Elvis of Las Vegas. I prefer the first Elvis. But for some reason in my dream it was the Elvis of Las Vegas. But who am I to choose? I was happy that he showed up,” Yuzov said.
“Red” is derived from “the reds”, a pejorative for citizens of the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991. The term refers to the color of the flag of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ( USSR), which included the image of a golden hammer and sickle on red. During the Russian Civil War of 1918, the Bolshevik army, called the Workers-Peasants Red Army, defeated the White Army, loyal to the Tsar.
Yuzov told his Elvis dream to his bandmates and the recommendation to change the name of their band, Limpopo, to Red Elvises.
“Surprisingly, they liked the idea and said, ‘OK. Let’s do it,” Yuzov said.
Yuzov became the designated Elvis, even for having suits fashioned in the style of those worn by Presley.
“I used to go to Thailand a lot,” says Yuzov. “You point your finger and say, ‘I want pants like that and a coat like that,’ and they do.
“My suits look a bit worn. I have to take a trip to Thailand. Now they are opening the borders. I look like homeless.
Red Elvises fans can attest to the wear and tear on Yuzov’s costumes. Under the Volksplatz tent at Musikfest, Yuzov was usually drenched in sweat during a concert.
Igor & Red Elvises are set to return for Musikfest 2022, possibly for three concerts, August 7, 8 and 9.
Yuzov started playing bass at the age of six. His older brother had a cover band, doing Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin songs. The band performed at wedding receptions in Ukraine.
“Whenever his bass player didn’t show up, I was very happy,” says Yuzov.
“I learned a lot of traditional Ukrainian Russian melodies, klezmer music, Moldavian music.
“I’ve played with much better musicians than me. So I was still learning. I saved on tuition.
Yuzov was 18 when he joined the army of the Soviet Union. After serving two years, from 1982 to 1984, he moved to Moscow, enrolling in the Teacher Training University.
“We put together a group, so I didn’t have time to study,” Yuzov said of Limpopo.
The Red Elvises have a devoted following not only at Musikfest, but all over the United States, touring eight months a year.
“Covid has changed a lot. But we go back to our schedule,” says Yuzov.
With album titles such as “She Works for KGB” (2017) and “Surfing In Siberia” (1997), Yuzov’s songwriting is decidedly tongue-in-cheek.
The songs, he says, “are kind of making fun of things. Making irony.
“People can conga-line to ‘Sad Cowboy Song.’ It’s something traditional,” Yuzov says of a Red Elvises concert.
Whether you call it HOD (Humor Oriented Dance) or DOH (Dance Oriented Humor), terms I coined to describe pop songs like Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool” (1979), Yuzov was onto something with the Red Elvises.
It should come as no surprise that Yuzov developed “joke rock” with the Red Elvises.
“I grew up in Odessa in Ukraine. This city is very famous for its southern humor and culture. Many comedians and actors came from Odessa. Odessa is famous for its musicians and comedians,” says Yuzov.
Yuzov, who turned 58 on March 27, says he loves the warm sunshine in St. Petersburg — Florida, that is — just like he does in Santa Monica.
“That’s probably why I still haven’t moved, because there are so many musicians there,” Yuzov says of the California beach town.
Santa Monica has provided musicians for several line-up changes during the Red Elvises’ 26-year history.
The lineup is now: Yuzov, guitar, lead vocals; Alex Kozlov, guitar; “Crazy” Tomes, guitar; Riley O’Halloran, bass, and Tata Batera, drums. The band features a large contrabass-style balalaika in the shape of a red triangle.
“My drummer in the band is Brazilian,” says Yuzov.
“It’s always fun. The band has good energy,” says Batera, who has been drumming in the Red Elvises for about a year.
“And the audience likes to dance and participate in the songs,” Batera said in a separate phone interview.
“I started playing drums by ear in church when I was 13. My family played music in church. My dad plays bass and my mom sings,” says Batera, from Brasilia, Brazil.
“My mother said that when I was 3 years old, I was already interested in the drums.”
Batera came to the United States to study drums at the California College of Music in Pasadena.
His drum teacher, Craig Palo, who had played drums in the Red Elvises, received a phone call from Yuzov, who was looking for a drummer. Batera auditioned and got the gig.
She was part of the Red Elvises’ 25th anniversary tour in 2021, which included three concerts at Musikfest. Batera is approved by TRX Cymbals.
“We sang Brazilian songs,” Batera says of his contribution to the Red Elvises. “We have all kinds of different flavors in the songs.
“One of them, I sing in Portuguese and Tomes sings the other half in Hebrew,” Batera explains.
The Igor & Red Elvises Jim Thorpe concert is expected to include new songs and fan favorites.
“When I write a song I play a song live and put it on the album if they like it and if they don’t like it I don’t put it on the album,” says Yuzov.
The Red Elvises live at Musikfest, Volksplatz, 2019:
Igor & Red Elvises, 8:00 p.m. April 9, Mauch Chunk Opera House, 14 W. Broadway, Jim Thorpe. Tickets: ticket office; https://mcohjt.com/; 570-325-0249
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Igor Yuzov, above, second from right, and Red Elvises, a perennial favorite for about 25 years at Musikfest, Bethlehem, are back in Pennsylvania at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Jim Thorpe, 8 p.m. april.
Red Elvises, album “Surfing in Siberia” (1997)
Limpopo, “Give Us A Break” album (1995)