Dionyssis Savopoulos

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Acclaimed singer-songwriter of the counter-culture defined Greek roots rock.
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b. 1944, Salonica, Greece. One of the leaders of the Greek counter-culture, singer-songwriter Dionysis Savopoulos has been acclaimed as the ‘artist who first and best defined Greek roots rock’. Influenced by Greek and Balkan folk music in his youth, he hitch-hiked to Athens in 1962 and began playing his songs on the local small club circuit. His simple but affecting music, which saw him signed to the Athens label Lyra Records, was marketed as ‘neo kima’ (translating as ‘new wave’, though not in the sense that it is applied to Western post-punk music). It relied as much on the imported folk ballads of Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan as native forms. His lyrics, meanwhile, encapsulated the anxieties facing Greek youth. His recording career began with the single ‘Don’t Talk About Love Anymore’, released in February 1965. His debut album, Fortigo (Truck), followed in 1966. This half-sung, half-spoken acoustic set (featuring only guitar and tambourine) single-handedly revolutionized the Greek music industry and redefined its folk traditions. However, his career was interrupted when Greece entered a period of political turmoil which resulted in a military takeover. All but the most inoffensive and lightweight contemporary music was banned. Savopoulos himself was arrested, but returned in time to record his first ‘electric’ album in 1968. To Perivoli Tou Trelou (The Garden Of A Fool) was arranged by composer George Kontogiorgos and featured his first ‘rock songs’ such as ‘Aunt Maro’ and ‘Seascape’. During the military clampdowns he continually hit back with songs such as ‘What’s The Use Of Your Songs For Me?’, which he regularly sang on stage with folklorist Domna Samiou. His collaborations with other traditional musicians also engendered something of a folk revival, leading to the formation of the folk rock group Bourboulia, who recorded the highly radical Ballos album. 1972’s Vromiko Psomi (Dirty Breed) included some of his most enduring lyrics, notably the title track’s refrain of ‘In this country those who love eat dirty bread’. He welcomed the commencement of democracy in 1974 but soon found that left-wing politicians would ‘take his truth and crush it’. As a result he issued Deka Chronia Komatia (Ten Years Of Songs), a compilation of previously censored material. He also mounted a new version of Aristophanes’ musical Acharnes, which included singers such as Manolis Rasoulis, Parnos Katsimihas and Nikos Papazoglou. By this time he had also become musical director and producer for Lyra Records, serving as midwife to new generations of Greek musicians, both contemporary and traditional. Further albums continued to enjoy great popularity, though like one of his early influences, Dylan, he spent much of the 80s on a spiritual quest which led to disappointing fare such as 1983’s Trapezakia Exo (Little Tables Out In The Open). Later he hosted his own radio show, Winter Solstice, and television programme, Long Live Greek Song. Six years passed before the recording of his next album of original compositions, To Kourema (The Haircut). Symbolically, this saw him shave off his trademark long hair while songs such as ‘Bloody Greeks’ attacked the national self-image and expressed his disgust at the betrayal of his people by left-wing politicians once elected. When he supported a right-wing candidate for upcoming elections, his messianic status within the Greek music industry was severely questioned and he became the subject of several personal attacks. For his most recent collection, Min Petaxis Tipota (Don’t Throw Away Anything), Savopoulus returned to a folk-inspired musical platform and restrained some of his political views, his stance now analogized by one writer as a symptom of ‘the death of ideologies and crisis of values’. There was also some optimism present for the first time in years, most obviously in ‘Better Days To Come’, which advocated a return to cultural roots and the imperative to rediscover native tradition rather than surrender to the values of the West.