The Red Elvises
November 5 @ The Tractor Tavern
By Tyson Lynn
They learned their English from The Beatles and Queen. They love Thai pop. They won the International Band Competition on Ed McMahon’s Star Search. They blend good old rock’n’roll with ethnic music from Russia, and they’re influenced by Chuck Berry and Fidel Castro. They are the Red Elvises, and they’re coming to kick ass and boogie all night.
Founded in 1995 by singer/songwriter Igor Yuzov and actor/bass-balalaika player Oleg Bernov in Los Angeles, Calif., two Russian political refugees, The Red Elvises grew out of the ashes of a Russian folk-rock band Limpopo. Yuzov and Bernov soon added guitarist Zhenya Kolykhanov (or Zhenya Rock as he is legally known now) and Texas drummer Avi Sills to the lineup. Within months, the band outgrew Santa Monica’s famed 3rd Street Promenade, eventually being politely, but firmly, asked to leave as their crowds interfered with the shops’ business.
By 1996, the band had recorded and released their debut CD on their own Shooba-Doobah Records. Entitled Grooving to the Moscow Beat, it was quickly followed by 1997’s Surfing in Siberia. Continuing to tour as they recorded and released their albums, The Red Elvises became known to fans as “America’s Singing Sweethearts”, a motto that drew crowds into the bars and onto the dancefloor.
But it was a different type of dancing that their 1998 album promoted. I Wanna See You Bellydance dropped to growing acclaim, followed soon after with their appearance in both Lance Mungia’s independent film Six-String Samurai and its soundtrack. Not long for the big screen, the Red Elvises stopped by both Melrose Place and Penn & Teller’s Sin City Spectacular, womehow making the leap from movies to TV drama to variety show seem easy, natural, and right.
Instead of slowing down, the Red Elvises spent 1999 releasing three new albums. “Better Than Sex, Russian Bellydance, and Live At The Great American Music Hall were a new collection of songs, a Russian language version of I Wanna See You Bellydance and a sweaty and stellar live set from San Francisco’s famed Great American Music Hall respectively. Not only that, but the band returned to TV melodrama by playing in Malibu to promote Beverly Hills 90210.
2000 saw a transition in the Red Elvises. Their seventh CD, Shake Your Pelvis, turned away from the guitar-oriented rock for a more electronic techno style, and longtime drummer Avi Sills left the band. Choosing not to replace Sills, on tour the band traded off drumming duties song by song, often culminating in a percussion freakout to end the show.
During 2001, the prolific Red Elvises released two new studio albums. The first, Welcome to the Freakshow, was written entirely by Igor, the second, Bedroom Boogie, by Zhenya. The writing division proved to be the beginning of another major shake-up in the band.
But first: another year, another Red Elvises release. This one entitled Rokenrol and recorded almost entirely in Russian. In the midst of touring and recording, Zhenya began a side project that eventually became his main band. By the end of the year, he announced his departure from the Red Elvises.
Again, the split only sped the band along. This time the band added leg “Schramm” Gorbunov on keyboards and accordion and new American drummer Adam Gust to the line-up and it was this permutation of the Red Elvises that returned to the big screen (and speakers) with their appearance in Mail Order Bride and on its soundtrack.
This iteration proved shakier than usual. By the end of the year, both Schramm and Gust decided to pursue other opportunities, forcing original members Igor and Oleg to reinvent the Elvies anew. To that end, they added three new members: American-of-Ukranian-descent Roman Dudok on saxophone and flute, American drummer Craig Pilo, and a new Russian, Alex “Sasha” on keyboards. Back on track, the band started off 2004 with a brand new CD entitled Lunatics and Poets.
Their history might read like a Tolstoy novel, but live they’re hornier than Lolita and hungrier than Kafka. Show up and get ready to proclaim them “your new favorite band.”