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BIO Magazine - The saga of Demis Roussos Δεκέμβριος 2015
Δεκέμβριος 2015 No38


The saga of Demis Roussos
The saga of Demis Roussos

Artemios (Demis) Ventouris Roussos was born in Alexandria, Egypt on June 15, 1946. His father, George, had been a successful Greek architect, but the family, including mother, Olga, and brother, Costas, was forced to flee as penniless immigrants. They left behind their possessions during the Suez crisis and returned to their native Greece.

Demis, forced to support his family, began work as a cabaret musician having learned guitar, trumpet and piano in school.

In Athens in the mid sixties a musical style was flourishing, mainly that of pop-English and pop-European "cover" songs. Demis joined this scene with The Idols and We Five. Other bands of prominence included The Charms, The Sounds and perhaps more importantly a band led by Vangelis Papathanassiou, The Forminx.

In We Five, Demis was soon able to lend his distinctive voice to the cover songs "House of the Rising Sun", "When a Man Loves A Woman" and "Black is Black".

While performing, Demis met Vangelis. Along with Loukas Sideras and Agyrilos Koulouris, the two formed Aphrodite's Child, a soon to be chart topping progressive pop/art rock outfit whose ultimate achievement "666" managed to gain the band notoriety due to the vocal performance of fellow Greek actress Irene Papas.

"666" would sadly signal the end of Demis' full time involvement with Aphrodite's Child and Vangelis, although any signs of acrimony are not found as the two appear to enjoy the occasional collaboration.

One such collaboration between Vangelis and Demis that occurred even before the breakup of Aphrodite's Child would be on Vangelis' notoriously rare 1970 soundtrack "Sex Power". A careful and quite pleasurable examination of the "oohs" and "aahs" which permeate Vangelis' lilting music reveal our favourite golden throated singer. That BR Music, in one of their earlier Aphrodite's Child compilations, lists "Sex Power" as being in the Aphrodite's Child canon further fuels speculation that "Sex Power" was recorded during the later Aphrodite's Child era.

As Vangelis went on to explore the super-sonic capabilities of traditional and found percussion and the brand new synthesizers of the seventies, Demis continued on in the style of Aphrodite's Child. That is to say, soulful, exotic, Mediterranean-tinged European pop highlighted by Demis' oftentimes heart stirring vocal performances.

His first solo outing was "On the Greek Side of My Mind", also called "Fire and Ice" on the French release. Featuring Loukas and "Silver" Koulouris of A. Child, Michel Ripoche (a Vangelis collaborator), lyrics by Boris Bergman and distinctive arrangements by the then Demis collaborator Lakis Vlavianos, "On the Greek.." is a brilliant album. Some Demis fans would argue that this album remains artistically one of Demis' greatest achievements.

More hits and records followed throughout the seventies. Demis finally settled on the formulaic success of such European "smashes" as "This Time it isn't Au revoir", "Happy to Be On an Island in the Sun", "My Reason" and "Goodbye My Love, Goodbye". All these tracks featured Demis' by now trademark "warbling" and the splendid but perhaps repetitive arrangements of studio professionals like Chalkitis.

Fortunately, Demis' much maligned music of the seventies was not without its "diamonds in the rough". 1976's "Happy to Be..." provided some earthly reprieves from the continuous onslaught of Demis-itis. Songs like "Mary Was An Only Child", "Funny Man" and "Lovely Love De Paris" (written and arranged by the French composer Francis Lai and fellow arranger Jean Musy) proved that Demis could still soar.

1977 saw Demis and Vangelis hooking up for the "Magic" l.p., perhaps a disappointment to Vangelis fans as the arrangements were less than subtle. There were still some wonderful moments. Demis and Vangelis' arrangement of "My Face in the Rain" had a more traditional gospel approach than Vangelis' own version from "Earth", much befitting Demis penchant for spiritual solitude. Available only on vinyl for what seemed an eternity, "Magic" was finally released on CD in 1998 by BR Music. Two new Vangelis/Constandinos tunes from the orginal sessions finally made the light of day: "The Promise" and "Song for You". Complementing the release is "Reasons Unknown (When You're Gone") a heart-breaker if ever there was one.

1979 saw the release of "Universum" an unspectacular album but remarkable in that it was recorded and released in four languages (French, German, Italian and Spanish).

Demis made a surprise, and at the time uncredited, appearance on Vangelis' "Blade Runner" soundtrack, offering up some ethereal Arabic-inspired vocals that are in actuality indecipherable. "Tales from the Future" was finally released on the Vangelis-approved soundtrack release, but unfortunately not all of Demis' contributions to the soundtrack are available on disc. Most notably the ethnic synth pop background music when Deckard visits the nightclub looking for the snake-woman.

In 1982 Demis, with the help of Vangelis' then "life companion" Veronique Skawinska, published "A Question of Weight", chronicling Demis' miraculous transformation and rebirth from 320 lbs to a more manageable 220 lbs in 1980. Biographical by nature and full of anecdotes, "A Question of Weight" not only succeeds as a guide for weight loss (as you can guess it was not an easy task for Demis), but with its historical pictures of Demis (including a 13 year old Demis as boy scout!), provides much insight in to Demis, the man.

Vangelis entered Demis life again in 1982, this time for the l.p. "Demis". A surprise was "Race to the End", an appropriately stirring vocal adaptation of Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire" arranged and performed by Vangelis, lyrics by Jon Anderson, and singing by Demis. Two more Jon Anderson penned songs graced the l.p.: "Lament" and "Song For the Free". Though uncredited at the time, Vangelis arranged and performed "Lament", another rousing number complete with Jon-style acoustic guitar and Latin choir. The Vangelis-like instrumentation of "Song For the Free" and the other unmistakable Vangelis flourishes on the remaining songs continue to spark interest in the possibility that Vangelis contributed wholly to the release. Whatever the case, "Demis" stands as one of Demis' finer efforts.

Demis followed this thread of electronic instrumentation with 1982's "Attitudes", a synthesizer outing with arrangements by Rainer Pietsch of Tangerine Dream and synth master Kristian Schultz playing. A stunning rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" brought Demis back full circle to his Greek cabaret roots.

Speaking of full circle, Demis and Vangelis in 1984 again teamed up for "Reflections", an entire l.p. of "cover" songs from the two Greek friends' past. Not surprisingly "Marie Jolie" by A. Child was covered alongside such landmark American pop standards like "Love Me Tender" and "Stand By Me". All of these songs were given the Vangelis treatment, meaning heavy on bass and drums, and most surprising of all, in a reggae style!

With his girlfriend Pamela, Demis flew from Athens to Rome on July 14, 1985. Their plane was hijacked and Demis was kept hostage in Beirut for five days. Although the English press at the time praised Demis for "singing his way to freedom" (the hijackers actually celebrated his birthday with him and let him free because he was indeed Demis), it was quite apparent that the incident had left Demis shaken and a new lease on life was forged.

The late eighties saw Demis release in quick succession "La Grec", "Time" and "Voice and Vision". Each of these releases offered Demis singing in either French, English or Italian. The instrumentation was appropriately electronic with Demis, having lost much of his once hearty 300 pound girth, singing with a range that one would suspect to have gone away with the rigors of live performance over a 25-plus year career.

It should also be noted that Demis has recorded two Christmas albums. "Come All Ye Faithful" in 1987 and "Christmas with Demis Roussos" in 1992.

The nineties found Demis much active and entering a renaissance of sorts. 1993's "Insight" was produced in France and featured a modern, almost techno, version of the traditional/Cat Stevens tune "Morning Has Broken". The Vangelis-connection was again made clear by the inclusion of "Spleen", a rap tune arranged by Vangelis' ex-engineer Raphael Preston with guest vocals by the former Vangelis collaborator, Ronny. "Spleen" is, in fact, the title of a poem written by Charles Baudelaire and is recited by Demis. The poem can be found in the compilation "Les Fleurs Du Mal".

1995 saw two albums: "In Holland", a symphonic/pop album with some quite nice arrangements and "Immortel". "Immortel" was a stunning fusion of world-ethnic, synthesizer landscapes and popular french "chansons" written by the likes of Trenet, Legrand and Piaf. Produced and arranged by the BR Music team in Holland, Ed Starink and Bert van Breda, with emotional flute/shakuhachi playing by Peter Weekers, "Immortel" seemed to be Demis' 1990's version of "Attitudes". In other words, perhaps his best effort of the decade. Demis followed up with the highly original "Serenade" (1996), a collection of Western classical opera pieces but, again, featuring the imaginative talents of Ed Starink giving the music a contemporary edge.

Demis broke away from the BR Music collective in 1997 and returned to the Mediterranean music of his homeland. The result was a pleasing collection of pop tunes called "Mon Ile" ("My Island"). Though not entirely as innovative as, say, "Immortel", it was nonetheless a bold mixture of many world/ethnic styles and influences, with punchy percussion and Demis' hearty vocals. "Dinata" and "Ohe" were standouts.

Demis would not release any more newly recorded music until 2000, but his star remained bright thru the late 90's thanks to the continued efforts of BR Music. BR Music, in addition to being the producers of the bulk of Demis' 1990's new music output, led the vanguard in re-releasing and re-packaging Demis' material. "Souvenirs", "Happy to Be...", "Man of the World", "Forever and Ever", and "Attitudes", among others, all enjoyed the BR Music treatment. This meant plenty of original album art, insightful liner notes and rare bonus tracks.

Not to be outdone by themselves, BR Music released in 1998 "The Phenomenon", an exhaustive four CD box set spanning 30 years of Demis' music.

Boasting an impressive 25 x 14 cm size with colour pictures and comprehensive text, "The Phenomenon" merged Demis' popular Polygram years with his more current 1990's material. The fourth CD was live, rare and B-sides. Highlights on this eagerly anticipated platter were: "Thousand Years of Wondering", a 13 minute progressive rock opus sounding happily inspired by Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, "Ulysses", a mini-rock opera complete with scary sound effects and great tablas playing, and "Winter in America", wherein Demis wakes up to strangers and declares that America is cold.

The new Millennium saw the Digital Video Disc (DVD) companion to "The Phenomenon" be released. Produced, again, by BR Music and containing 20 videos, a photo gallery, discography, and an extensive interview, the DVD gave fans an eagerly anticipated glimpse in to the Demis world. There was Aphrodite's Child, in their finest 60's threads, meandering down the streets of Paris. There was Demis singing at the foot of the Acropolis, and with a single red rose, performing "Because". There was Demis offering up a rather serious interpretation of "Race to the End" and, in the DVD's most current clip, playing bass on "On Ecrit Sur Les Murs". Disappointingly, there were no live recordings and all of the songs were lip synched. Nonetheless, the DVD made for an intriguing visual companion to some of Demis' more memorable tunes.

Getting back to work after the "The Phenomenon", Demis put together a CD, "Auf Meinen Wegen" in 2000, which was a combination of new songs and reworkings of old classics. Recorded in Germany late '98 "Auf Meinen Wegen" was seemingly targeted for Demis' German audience who had been appreciative throughout his long career. Singing in German, English and Italian, Demis deftly maintained the blend of styles that his audience expected, but this time with a full band and less reliance on keyboard programming. "Fiesta Fiesta Brazil" took on a Latin groove with a complete horn section. "Cinderella" and "Hello" were both charming reggae tunes. Of the reworkings, the big surprises were "Goodbye My Love Goodbye" which was full tilt salsa and "Amapola", in which Demis really belted it out in Italian.

The year 2001 did not see any new Demis recordings, but Demis continued to perform. One performance of note was an intriguing appearance in Lebanon at Mediterraneo 2001, the Byblos International Festival. On August 30th thru September 1st Demis performed an "avant-premiere" accompanied by the Oriental Roots Orchestra (traditional Oriental instrumentation with qanun, nai, accordion, mizmar, oriental violin, riq, mazhar, durbake and the like). Not only were Demis' classic hits performed in a rearranged Oriental fashion, but new songs composed by arranger Michel Elefteriades were performed as well. Mention was made that Demis and Elefteriades had collaborated on a forthcoming album which was to include "The Beast", a tune on the concerts' set list.

Also, in 2001 Demis visited Moscow for a large solo performance, accompanied by an orchestra, in Kremlin Palace. Two years later he would attend another huge show in Russia, "The Melodies And Rhythms Of Foreign Music", along with other well known singers of the mid 80's. The songs performed were "Goodbye My Love Goodbye" (a special Christmas-themed video clip was produced) and "From Souvenirs To Souvenirs". Demis was also spotted playing synthesizer on stage during another performance.

Reestablishing his commitment to his British fans, Demis toured England in Spring of 2002 in support of yet another compilation CD "Forever and Ever - The Definitive Collection". Many interviews were given and the press was on the whole quite favourable. Thankfully, Demis was not seen as a "nostalgia" act, but as a still vital performer whose impact, though somewhat diminished, had not faded entirely.

2004 saw Demis put up his "official website" at www.demisroussos.net. Here, Demis celebrates his "40 years of success" with "videos, pictures and extracts of his international career".

Finally, in 2009, Demis released a CD of entirely new recordings simply entitled "Demis" (Discograph 6153776). "Demis" was produced by Marc di Domenico and recorded at the State of the Ark Studios, a "boutique" studio in London which specialized in retro and vintage recording equipment and gear. As this would indicate, Demis was clearly taking a few cues and inspirations from his musical beginnings. The songs were of a blues-y and soulful nature, with stripped down rock band instrumentation (Virgil Howe, the son of Yes' Steve Howe, played drums) and simple backup vocals. It seemed like Demis was out for pure fun this time and his vocals never sounded any raspier, or emotional. The "single" that was pushed was "Love Is", a jaunty 60's inspired "Philly-soul" piece with clever lyrics and a catchy chorus. However, the track that stood out was "Who Gives a Fuck", which, as one could guess, was a not-so-subtle meditation on today's social and political climate. Composed for sitar and tablas with a surprisingly melodic piano line between verses, the 9 minute plus piece ended with a psychedelic flurry of Greek radio broadcasts and Demis' ethnic vocalizations, reminiscent of his "Tales of the Future" performance from "Bladerunner". In other words, it was a real eye opener. The listener was led to think that with its lyrical content, it was perhaps not a song Demis chose to perform in concert, lest the crowd start running for the aisles! A huge amount of promotion and media content related to "Demis" was posted on Demis' official website, www.demisroussos.net . Additionally, the tracks were made available for download.


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