The story about rockabilly in Russia

Rockabilly is a music played by various musicians in a lot of different countries. Russian musicians are not an exeption but in our country there is only a little part of musicians who are really familiar with a rockabilly style.

I should mention that all the words I'll write below are related to the rockabilly life of my home city, St. Petersburg, wich has an unofficial status of the rockabilly capital of Russia. But St. Petersburg is not the only place where rockabilly music is well-known. The rockabilly culture in Russia grew up at a lot of places, from St. Petersburg in the west to Vladivostok in the east and from Arhangelsk in the north to Stavropol' in the south. There are a lot of towns where one can find some rockabilly musicians or at least some rockabilly fans. The biggest problem of rockabilly in Russia is that the rockabilly musicians and fans here are distributed on a very wide area of our country. It's impossible, for example, for a rockabilly band from St. Petersburg (in the north-west part of Russia) to travel to Krasnoyarsk (it's in Siberia, yeah, there are living some rockabillies too!) to have any gigs there because of the miles between the mentioned towns. There are two centers of rockabilly in Russia. It's St. Petersburg, the 'rockabilly capital', and Moscow. The info on rockabilly in Moscow you can find on the page of Moscow rockabilly guy Sergey Karamaev at

It all started in the Soviet Union in the late 80's forced by the wind of so-called 'perestroyka'. That was a time when the underground rock bands wich was under the supression of the Soviet government grew up in popularity. Most of that bands played cheesy music, so-called 'Russian rock' influenced by the European post punk of the 80s as well as by 'folk' music of the Russian criminals. They sang their songs in Russian with the relatively low music playing skills. But also there were some musicians who were interested in an authentic American music such as jazz, blues and rockabilly because these kinds of music are the roots for all other genres in modern musical culture. Some of that musicians became the first generation of the Russian rockabilly.

1988 was the year when rockabilly in St. Petersburg was born. The first attempt to play rockabilly was made by two bands, the Stannin' Jive Sweets who played rockabilly with the touch of be bop jive, and the Swindlers who played more expressive music influenced by neorockabilly and even psycho. One should mention that in Russia word 'rockabilly' does not mean only pure authentic style of the originals such as Carl Perkins, Johnny Caroll, early Elvis etc. The most of so-called Russian 'rockabilly' fans are the fans of psycho, neorockabilly, punk, ska etc. Most of Russian 'rockabilly' bands are not true rockabilly bands because their music is a fusion of many genres from rock'n'roll to punk and ska with only a little influences of authentic rockabilly. The music of such bands is called "a billy-related music" in our country. Well, but we are talking about pure rockabilly so I won't mention "billy-related" bands anymore.

The times rolled by and the Swindlers became a psychobilly trio and went outside of Russia to conquer the European scene. As for the Stannin' Jive Sweets, they became a jive band with brass section. Unfortunately the members of the Stannin' Jive Sweets were non-profeccional musicians because it's extremely hard to earn money for life for the rockabilly and jazz musicians in Russia. That was the reason why the Stannin' Jive Sweets split off around the 1995. The frontmen of the Stannin' Jive Sweets, Dan Gutsenko, was a DJ on the local radio station where he managed a weekly rockabilly show called 'Old Suitcase'. That radio show was a 'digest' of the St. Petersburg rockabilly life from the 1992 to 1995 and it helped to turn the somebody to rockabilly as well as to find the first promotion for some young rockabilly musicians. In the 1993 Dan Gutsenko announced a competition for young rockabilly musicians. Its winners became the next generation of Russian rockabilly. They were the Sunstrockers (the winners in a nomination of the best feeling and sound of rockabilly), the Starlings (the leaders in a nomination of the best musician's skills) and young guy Kirill Prasalov (yeah, it's me!) was granted by a status of the best rockabilly songwriter of St. Petersburg.

The Sunstrockers played an authentic rockabilly with the beautiful female vocal. Oksana Polyakovskaya, their female singer, had a strong and bright voice compared to the voice of young Brenda Lee. Other members of the Sunstrockers were two guitar players, an upright bass player and a drummer.

The music of the Starlings had a slight touch of jazz and boogie due to jazz piano player Konstantin Eremichev. Frontman of the Starlings had a distinctive manner of singing, his name was Philipp Izvarin. Other members were a guitar player, an upright bass player and a drummer. Before the formation of the Starlings their singer Izvarin and drummer Anton Kukhlin played together in a rockabilly band called the Filibusters. Unfortunately the Filibusters split off because some of their members had big problems with drugs and one can hardly find any of the Filibusters demo recordings now.

As for a winner in the nomination of songwriting, Kirill Prasalov, in that time he was a young 15 years old guy who sang his own songs and played rugged chords on an acoustic guitar because he had no money to buy an electric one.

About a half year after the end of the mentioned above competition there were some changes in the Starlings and the Sunstrockers.First of all, singer of the Starlings, Philipp Izvarin, left the band and travelled to Holland where he started his career as a solo performer known as Phil Friendly. His place in the Starlings took Oksana Polyakovskaya from the Sunstrockers. It was a breakdown for the Sunstrockers but it didn't became the end of their band. Their double bass player Alexandr Karnazov started to sing and the Sunstrockers continued their way in music.

Another event that helped St. Petersburg rockabilly musicians to grow up in professionality was the visit of the High Noon rockabilly trio to our city that happend in 1993 as I remember. Yeah, the great High Noon played in St. Petersburg! Hell, I was a young boy so my mother forbid me to go there. But the most part of St. Petersburg musicians visited the High Noon concerts, contacted Shaun Young, Sean Mencher and Kevin Smith and were consulted by them about how to play rockabilly and what kind of gear one should use to play this kind of music. The only problem was that the price of even budget set of gear (for example, Fender American Standart Telecaster and not too expensive tube amp) is about $1500 and it was extremely high for Russians because the most of our people in that period of time earned only about $100 per month. One should say that now this problem is not solved yet. The monthly income of the average citizen of St. Petersburg varies from $200 to $500 and rarely achieves $600 - $800. Anyway I'm a happy owner of a Fender American Deluxe Telecaster with Vintage Noisless pickups but to buy it I stored money for about a year.

In 1994 a noticeable event happened in our city. The daily working rockabilly club called 'Money Honey' opened its doors for St. Petersburg rockabilly fans. It became a chance for rockabilly musicians to earn money and for rockabilly fans to listen their favorite music. The first performers in Money Honey were the Starlings and the Sunstrockers. Unfortunately it was the end of these bands's career in music. The musicians of the Starlings were students of various St. Petersburg universities. That was a time when their drummer Anton Kukhlin and guitar player Andrey Petrov graduated their univercities and turned their faces to making career in public relations and software development respectievly. Their double bass player left Russia to live in France and Oksana Polyakovskaya, the female singer, got married and was waiting for the child. So the Starlings split off. The Sunstrockers split off too because one of their guitar players decided not to play music anymore and their drummer became the drummer of another rockabilly band called Mad Fish. Other members of the Sunstrockers needed to earn money so they quickly found a new guitarist, new drummer, invited one of their friends to sing (because it was hard to their bass player to sing while playing double bass) and finally formed a band called Rockin' Chair. Only goal of the Rockin' Chair was to play in local clubs for money so they didn't make any recordings.

I mentioned above Mad Fish, they were new band for St. Petersburg rockabilly scene in 1995. They were formed by the group of young rockabilly enthusiasts leading by singer Ivan George who has a deep low bass voice. It was a joke between St. Petersburg rockabillies in that time that one Ivan George sings like the fifteen Johnny Cashes together :))) Another band that was formed in that time was a trio called Awaqua. The members of Awaqua were Dennis Dan, a guitar player of the Stannin' Jive Sweets, and an ex-rhythm section of one of the best Russian psychobilly bands called the Meantrators. Awaqua was the most professional band in Russian rockabilly music of that period and their members quickly became the 'gurus' for other musicians. Unfortunately they were also the first band who turned their faces from true rockabilly to a strange fusion called 'billy-related' music. One should mention that no one of Awaqua wasn't a rockabilly musician in the true meaning of these words. Dennis Dan was a kind of blues or maybe jazz player and the other members of the band were typical psychobilly musicians. So they played rockabilly only for a few months and then they decided that rockabilly music is 'too easy to play' (but even in those few months one couldn't say that their music was a true 100% rockabilly!). So Awaqua started to mix rockabilly standarts with some unusual for authentic rockabilly songs like reggae songs, ska songs, blues-rock songs etc. And because they were the local 'gurus' many other musicians were influenced by Awaqua and started to lose a 100% purity of rockabilly style.

In 1995 there were also some interesting things in the youngest part of rockabilly musicians of St. Petersburg. There were formed two bands that were a cheesy bands of newbie musicians but some of these musicians played a big role in Russian rockabilly scene for a few years later. First band was a hillbilly trio called Pink Cadillacs. Every member that played there in that time had a tattoo with the pink cadillac. A few months later after the band formation their name was shortened and they became just the Cadillacs. The leader of the Cadillacs was an old friend of musicians of the Sunstrockers. His name is Sergey Shornikov. Since that time there have been many changes of musicians in the Cadillacs. Their first guitarist left the band because of problems with drugs and first bass player of the Cadillacs now plays ska and hardcore in various bands. In some periods Cadillacs played with drummer, in other periods they were a hillbilly trio. Sometimes they even tried to play with a steel guitar but anyhow Sergey Shornikov was the leader of the band anytime.

Second of mentioned above 'young' bands was formed by Kirill Prasalov (do you remember the guy who was the best rockabilly songwriter in 1993?). This band called the Fireballs and it was the first rockabilly band in Russia the half of whose song list was filled by original songs (all of mentioned above bands played mostly covers). But the Fireballs wasn't a succesful band. They played together about a year and after that their drummer was invited to play with the Cadillacs. Kirill wasn't satisfied with his guitar playing skills and with the skills of his bass player so he didn't start to find a new drummer and the Fireballs split off. Kirill turned his face to improving his skills and to obtaining a musical education in the field of jazz guitar playing. Since the end of the Fireballs he played in a lot of bands, in different styles from dixieland to acid jazz and also he became a teacher of jazz and blues guitar playing. And only five years later he turned back to rockabilly music.

1996 was a rich year for rockabilly evens. It was the year when rockabilly scene in St. Petersburg got its today's form. On the other hand it was beginning of the fall of Russian rockabilly.

The 'Money Honey' was a commercially succesful club by then it became an example for owners of other clubs. So in 1996 about four big and much more small clubs where rockabilly bands were welcome to perform appeared in St. Petersburg. It seemed good because it provided an ability for rockabilly bands to grow up commercially and to increase number of their listeners. But actually it was not so good. There were only a few rockabilly bands that could perform in such clubs. The Rockin' Chair, the Starlings (before the end of their career), Awaqua, Mad Fish and maybe the Cadillacs. Totally four or five bands. So they couldn't fill all of club gigs. Clubs were forced to invite to play some bands that were not true rockabillies. A lot of non-rockabilly musicians were glad to earn money so they formed bands with typical play list that included songs like Johnny B. Goode, Tutti Frutty, Pretty Woman, songs from the Pulp Fiction motion picture. And to 'freshen' their play lists they sang songs of the Beatles, the Doors, Shoking Blue etc. The most part of crowd in St. Petersburg wasn't acquainted with rockabilly so mentioned above pseudo-rockabilly bands fit the clubs and the crowd very well. And by the time pseudo-rockabilly bands conquered the club scene and left no chance for true rockabillies.

As for the rockabilly music, 1996 was the year of birth of two interesting bands named the Rattlesnakes and the Big Livers.

The Rattlesnakes were formed by musicians of the Rockin' Chair. It was the end of the Rockin' Chair's career. Guitarist Oleg Hoodkin, bassist Aleksander Karnazov and drummer Aleksey Gubin invited Yuri Sutkovoi (who was an ex-leader of psychobilly band called the Attracards) to sing and play lead guitar. Together they made an interesting kind of music that was a fusion of neorockabilly, latin, blues, rock and with a big influences from pop music. The Rattlesnakes became the most commercially succesful band in Russian 'billy-related' scene and they even released two CD albums. But actually it was as far from a true authentic rockabilly as modern country music stars are far from the music of Red Foley, Ernest Tubb and Eddie Arnold, the people mentioned in Carl Perkins's 'Tennessee'.

Another band that was formed in 1996 is Big Livers. Singer and guitar player of the Big Livers, Vitaliy Novikov, is an extraordinary person with an unusual way in music. Before playing rockabilly he played various genres like blues, classic rock and even neoclassic shred like Ingwie Malmsteen. One evening he came to Money Honey to spend some time and money, to drink Russian Vodka and to pick up a woman for night. He listened the Cadillacs that performed that evening there. That kind of music impressed him. After gig he talked to drummer of the Cadillacs, who was an ex-drummer of the Fireballs, and he gave Vitaliy Novikov a phone number of an ex-leader of the Fireballs, Kirill Prasalov. One of Kirill's friends, Aleksey Varlamov, was a double bass player and Kirill helped to establish a contact between Vitaliy and Aleksey. After some time of rehearsals Vitaliy and Aleksey invited Aleksey Volkov, an ex-drummer of Mad Fish, to play wih them (Mad Fish splitted a few months before because their singer, Ivan George, left the band and started his own jive combo called Jive Pipes). Professional skills of Vitaliy Novikov and Alexey Volkov was so high so that the Big Livers became the best rockabilly band in Russia. They were the first band that played rockabilly as good as any American band I think.

I 've already told that 1996 was a 'grave' for Mad Fish. Also in 1996 the Starlings split off finally. And one year later, in 1997, it became the end of Awaqua. As I told above members of Awaqua thought that rockabilly is 'too easy to play' (but I never heared them playing rockabilly as good as it could be suggested by hearing their words about 'simplisity of the rockabilly'). Musicians of Awaqua started to play ska, hardcore and alternative rock in various bands.

We should also mention some other band that appeared at 'billy-related' scene of St. Petersburg in 1996. The name of that band is the Barbulators. They played pop rock when their leader heared about good money that one could earn by playing 'pseudo-rockabilly' or 'billy-related' music in local clubs and bars. So the Barbulators turned their faces to 'billy-related' music. They integrated into the rockabilly more then other 'pseudo-rockabilly' band and they even invited double bass player to play with them (it was an ex-bassist of the Fireballs Stas Boytsov). Their music was a strange fusion of Russian urban songs and psychobilly. I've never heared them playing rockabilly music but (I don't know why) their called themselves 'rockabilly band'. It was the final step in desinformation of Russian music fans. Since that time in our country word 'rockabilly' has been meaning something psycho-like or something pop-rock-like (i. e. 'billy-related') or something swamp-rock-and-surf-like (i. e. 'pseudo-rockabilly'). Difference between 'billy-related' music and 'pseudo-rockabilly' music is that 'billy-related' bands usually play some kind of original songs (but I can hardly call these songs true rockabilly) while 'pseudo-rockabilly' bands play mostly covers.

Since 1996 to 2000 there were not any noticeable events, news and changes in rockabilly scene of St. Petersburg. But some rockabilly bands were formed in various towns of Russia (I won't talk here about bands from Moscow and if you want to know about them I'll refer you to Sergey Karamaev's page about Moscow rockabilly at Sorry, I said 'rockabilly bands'? No, they played mostly neorockabilly and psycho and I don't know why in Russia it's called rockabilly! The only true rockabilly band in that period of time was 15 Megatones from Petrozavodsk, a town on the north-west of Russia. But a few years after their formation they left Russia to live and play rockabilly in Finland.

In 1997 the first compilation CD of Russian rockabilly called 'Delayed Action Mine' was released. It consists of the songs of St. Petersburg and Moscow rockabillies wich were recorded at amateur recording studios from 1991 till 1997 plus two songs of neorockabilly band called 'Jukebox' from Voronezh and one song of Belorussian psycho band called 'Wanted'. Only a few songs on that CD could be called an authentic rockabilly, other songs were something 'billy-related'.

In 1999 the second compilation of Russian so-called 'rockabilly' was released by the Mikadox Records, a recording label from Japan. That compilation was called 'Splendid Seven of Rockabilly'. Most part of tracks on this CD were psychobilly or 'billy-related' songs with only a few rockabilly ones.

Do you remember the Cadillacs? The times rolled by and the Cadillacs grew up in professionality. Their permanent leader was singer and rhythm guitar player Sergey Shornikov. Other musicians changed from time to time. Before 2000 the Cadillacs became a hillbilly trio without drums and thus went back to their roots. Except Sergey Shornikov, other musicians that play in the band are Andrey Androsenko on guitar and Aleksander Loginov on bass. The Cadillacs became the second 'high-end' authentic rockabilly band in Russia (as you remember, the first was Big Livers). The Big Livers sounds as an old LP from the 50s and they are similar to the many of old rockabilly players. The Cadillacs differs from the Big Livers because their music got some modern sounds. They established their own distinctive feeling and sound based on authentic rockabilly.

Something interesting happened in St. Petersburg's rockabilly scene in 2000. Do you remember Kirill Prasalov, the winner of rockabilly competition in the nomination of songwriting and ex-leader of the Fireballs? As it was mentioned, after the end of the Fireballs he quit rockabilly and became a professional jazz guitar player and teacher. In 2000 he turned his face back to his rockabilly roots and formed a band called Neva River Rockets (Neva is the name of the river on wich shores St. Petersburg was built). Kirill's jazz collegue Nikolay Potapov became a drummer of the Neva River Rockets. And what about double bass player, his name is Peter Mironov and he was an old Kirill's Internet friend. After the Big Livers and Cadillacs they became a third good sounding rockabilly band in Russia. Also they became an unique band on Russian rockabilly scene 'cause their play list had 30% of original songs (they easily could sing more original numbers but it wasn't nesessary on Russian scene).

In 2001 the third compilation of Russian rockabilly, CD called 'Rockabilly Girl' was released. One should mention that it was more rockabilly then psycho compilation. It has some 'billy-related' tracks too, but anyway there are seven rockabilly songs on it, two songs of the Big Livers, two songs of Neva River Rockets and three songs of the Cadillacs. This compilation influenced some young rockabilly musicians. For example, in 2001 a rockabilly trio called Rock Fellers was formed in Krasnoyarsk (Siberia). I don't know about their music but I hope that they will record a demo CD soon and then I'll listen them.

And in the end of 2001 - beginning of 2002 there were started the black days for St. Petersburg rockabilly. In first, the Cadillacs splitted because their leader, Sergey Shornikov, moved from St. Petersburg to live in Moscow. The next was Big Livers. Their drummer Aleksey Volkov decided to make a career in business. It seemed that the end of the Big Livers is near but it wasn't true. Anyway the number of their gigs significantly decreased and as far as I know they are rarely performing in Money Honey saloon. The Neva River Rockets noticed that playing pure rockabilly wouldn't provide them a good job so they turned their faces to more sophisticated tunes like country instrumentals in Chet Atkins style and Les Paul-like arrangements of the old jazz standarts of swing era. They thought that such tunes would let them to have gigs in jazz clubs but the keepers of jazz clubs didn't want to see a rockabilly-based band there. So Neva River Rockets were forced to stop their interesting project. They split off, Peter Mironov continued his career in business, Kirill Prasaleff became a software developer and Nicolay Potapov started to work as a salesman.

Also 2002 was the breakdown year for the Rattlesnakes. As you might remember the Rattlesnakes were formed by musucians of the band called Rockin' Chair, Oleg Hoodkin, Aleksandr Karnazov and Aleksey Gubin who invited Yuri Sutkovoy to play and sing with them. From the beginning of the Rattlesnakes there was a desagreement between Yuri who wanted to play his own 'pop-latin-neorockabilly' songs and other members of the band who wanted to play traditional rockabilly. This disagreement resulted in leaving Yuri alone by other musicians in 2002. Oleg, Aleksandr and Aleksey formed a rockabilly trio named the Phantoms. It wasn't a problem for Yuri Sutkovoy to find some new musicians so he did it and it wasn't the end of the Rattlesnakes. But at the same time the Rattlesnakes lost most part of their skills, experience and individuality and became an ordinary 'pseudo-rockabilly' band. The Phantoms are playing traditional rockabilly now. Unfortunately requirements for music playing skills at St. Petersburg local clubs now are very low. That's the reason why the Phantoms don't take care about their skills. The result is that quality of their playing varies by the time from very high to very low. Nevertheless I can say that members of the Phantoms are experienced professional musicians.

But the times are passing by and Russian rockabilly giants don't want to close their deals with rockabilly. As it was mentioned, Big Livers are alive now. The only problem is that they lost the most part of their gigs. Sometimes after their 'end', the Cadillacs were joined again and now they play a few gigs in St. Petersburg monthly. The main change in the Cadillacs is that they are now playing with a drummer. The Neva River Rockets have also been joined again recently, but in comparison with the Cadillacs they don't have a drummer now. They invited their friend Anton Kurakin to play an acoustic guitar. Today musicians of the Neva River Rockets having a period of strong rehearsals and preparing new original songs and covers in a rockabilly/western swing style.

Unfortunately classic rockabilly is extremely unpopular in today's Russia. It's a big problem for rockabilly musicians here in Russia to find any gigs to play because rockabilly is a kind of music that falls down between the popular in Russia genres such as jazz, classic rock, Russian pop-music. True rockabilly isn't commercial music so that all of the rockabilly musicians here are forced to work on the various day jobs and to play rockabilly after the job hours.