by Matt Barrett
Socrates was Yannis Spathas and Antonis Tourkoyorgis on guitar and bass
respectively. During the period that they were playing in the Kitarro Club they
went through several drummers including George Trantalidis, all of them terrific. In Athens during the early
seventies, when the 1967 military dictatorship was still in control, there were a number
of rock clubs in the area around Victoria Square and in the Plaka. Poll and
Morka played at the Elaterion. Socrates and Exidaktilos played at the Kitarro.
As Dorian Kokas, the founder and leader of Morka told us one night "We used to
race through our set and play everything fast so we could get out early and
go to the Kittaro and catch the last set of Socrates." Musicians loved
Socrates. Even Savopoulos used to go hear them.
We were musicians too. Barely. Rick Miller (Parthenon Huxley) and I had been
playing in bands like CC Blues King and Officer Henry since Junior High but we would go to the Kittaro and sit in
the front row a few feet from Spathas, watching him play guitar, with our
mouths open in disbelief. Sometimes we would walk right up to the stage and
stand 2 feet in front of him and his stack of Marshal amps and just stare
at his hands. (We must have been on drugs)
Socrates sounded like several bands that were popular at the time,
Jimi Hendrix Experience, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, and Black Sabbath
come to mind now when I hear their music from that early period,
the majority of their material was original. There were songs that were
crowd favorites such as "Close the Door and Lay Down" (or what we
called "Do It To The Rythm"), "Starvation" ("Give Them
Some Bread") and "Underground", but often the highlight of the evening
was when they did their Hendrix songs like "Voodoo Chile", "Message
of Love" and "Red House" or jammed on songs like "Kansas
City" with singer Jimi Quidd (later of the NY Dots) and Greek-American
blues guitarist John Kronis.
Spathas played a Fender Strat, long straight hair hanging down almost to
the guitar, he was motionless except for his hands which effortlessly ripped
out the most fluid, solos and riffs. He always hooked the chord to his amp
over the bottom cutaway so he would not step on it and pull it out during a
solo, I suppose. It was sort of his trademark in a way and we would watch him
tune up and wait for him to do it which meant to us that the music
was about to begin. He would play some mind-boggling riff to
make sure the volume was right or the guitar was in tune and
they would be off. Antonis Tourkoyorgis played bass
and sang and if Spathas gave the appearance of being introverted he was the
complete opposite. He was also a great bass player. The powerful sound this
little three-piece band with their stacks of Marshalls put out in the
Kittaro kept us coming back night after night. In all honesty I have to say
that to this day I have not heard any band, three-piece or more, fill as much
musical space. Seeing the Who in 1976 I found myself comparing them to Socrates.
OK, the Who is the Who. But apart from the personalities, the songs I knew and
the flamboyance, were Townshend, Entwhistle and Moon as good a band as Socrates?
No way. Led Zepplin? Nope. You'd have to ask someone who had seen Hendrix or
Cream to make the judgement about those bands but I can't imagine anyone being better than Socrates
on a good night and as far as those nights in the Kittaro went I
don't think they ever had a bad night. They were too good to have
a bad night.
What made them so remarkable was
the guitar playing of Spathas. Even today listening to the solos
he played in 1972 I still can't believe the music he was making. Brent
Lambert of Kitchen Mastering, quite a guitar player himself,
after hearing several Spathas solos from thirty years ago said "If
this guy had come to America he would be a guitar hero and
everyone would know his name."
If you liked the way Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and
Eddie Van Halen play you will love Spathas and if you play guitar
yourself you will wonder "If this was thirty years ago and
he is still playing how good must he be now?"
Socrates made two albums as a three-piece, both pretty
of poor mixing and mastering though the songs and performances were
good. In those days producers had no idea what to do with a group
like Socrates. It would be like recording Rage Against The Machine
after spending 20 years doing Herman's Hermits. Later
the group added a lead singer and different variations of guitarists, keyboards. At
one time both Spathas and Tourkoyorgis played guitars. Vangelis Papathanasiou,
otherwise known as Vangelis joined them for an album or two and made them more
of a progressive-rock band with lots of keyboard, synth and guitar interweavings. But the three-piece
version of the band's first two albums and the original rock-blues style was probably their
best shot at world fame.
In December of 2003 I took
the first album which had been re-mastered to CD, to Brent Lambert
at Kitchen Mastering and asked him if there was something we could
do to make
it sound better. He listened to it and told me there was. By
isolating frequencies, equalizing and compressing he was able to
take several songs from the CD and make them sound pretty good, almost
as they should sound. If we
had the original source tapes of course we could have done a lot
more but the songs are certainly listenable and you can get an idea
of what a great band Socrates was and what an amazing guitarist
Yannis Spathas was then and is now. He may become an international
guitar hero yet. He certainly deserves to be.
Socrates still plays. They are again a three-piece
with Spathas and Tourkogiorgis joined by -Makis Gioulis, a fine drummer
in the traditon of the band. Asteris Papastamatakis plays keyboards on
some material and a female vocalist named Markela Panagiotou, harmonizes
and does duets with Tourkogiorgis and sings a couple songs on her own.
Still the best part of the night for me is when the band strips down to the
core of guitar-bass-drums
and they play the old songs from the Kittaro or jam on some Hendrix tunes. Maybe
I am just nostalgic but I can't help listening to them and thinking of what
might have been. Had it not been for the fact that they were at their prime
during the dictatorship then maybe Greece might have been known as the country that gave us Socrates
instead of Yanni. Then again oppression can breed great art as an instrument
of rebellion. Socrates with their long hair, beards and high-energy blues
and rock and roll were a window on the world outside and the
reason people crammed into the Kittaro every weekend. For that reason
they belong alongside the great bands of Rock and Roll History.
You can still catch a bigger
and funkier version of Socrates in Athens playing concerts and clubs
in the winter and festivals in the summer. If you stick around until
the end you may get a treat and hear some of the old songs.
In the meantime I hope you
enjoy these songs that we took off their 1972 Polygram album. This was truly a labor of love from me for the group
that was probably my biggest influence. I feel I was very lucky
to have been able to listen to them so often. Too bad I could not
become a better musician just by listening to them. Maybe you can.
PLAY IT LOUD!
In the Country
Thanks to Brent at The Kitchen
Mastering at www.kitchenmastering.com
who performs miracles and made these guys sound almost like I remember
Got a highspeed connection
and some time on your hands? Check out these little video clips
of Socrates doing Hendrix' Message
of Love and Red
House as well as Spathas
doing his Epirotiki
live at The House of Art in Psiri, Athens.