RV Electricity – Road Signs: From Russia with Love

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By Mike Sokol

Many of you know that I’m a child of the ’60s and ’70s when it comes to music. But did you know that my name, SOKOL, is actually Russian for falcon or bird of prey. Here’s the official Sokol coat of arms from Moscow, which I think is really cool looking. I’m actually Hungarian, but my grandfather had an accidental name change on Ellis Island in the early 1920s. So no, I’m not related to any Russians except by a spelling mistake.

You all should know by now that my love of music is what drove me to study electronics, starting with vacuum tube theory when I was perhaps 12 years old, and later Op-Amps, TTL digital circuits, MicroProcessors and just about any other way you could design an audio filter circuit, computer or control device. And the last 50 years of all types of mechanical and electrical engineering jobs have been quite a ride. However, as I’m retiring from active music production, I’m now thinking about new things I can do that will use all the skills I’ve learned about music and music production.

That’s why I’m now looking back at some of the greatest music of the ’70s through the eyes of modern musicians who cover those acts. And few acts wrote more memorable songs in the ’70s and ’80s than the great horn band Chicago. I mean, just the first few guitar notes of “25 or 6 to 4” lets you know what the song is. And talk about writing great love ballads with fantastic horn arrangements such as “Wishing You Were Here” or “Beginnings.”

But a few months ago one of my admins on the RVelectricity Facebook Group turned me on to a Russian band who covers Chicago so perfectly, that except for the bit of Russian accent while singing, you would swear you were listening to Chicago themselves. Click on the pic to listen to “Call On Me.” Or watch them play “I’m a Man” and pay attention to the drummer, Igor. He is a fantastic player, as is the guitarist and everyone else in the band.

Called “Leonid and Friends,” after the originator of the group who not only plays bass guitar, but writes out all the arrangements BY EAR, teaches the band to sing the words in English (most of the band members only speak Russian), then he records, mixes, edits the video, then publishes it all on YouTube. The final result is as amazing to listen to as it is to watch. This could be my favorite cover band of all time, and I listen to a LOT of music.

So this wasn’t some big paid gig. Leonid started this by wanting to record just one Chicago tune as a retirement birthday present to himself, because at 60 years of age he had been listening to bootleg copies of Chicago since he was a teenager copying records he could borrow onto a tape recorder. He had worked in a recording studio as an arranger and engineer for the last 25 years, and used a bunch of jazz and studio musicians he had previously recorded to throw together just one song.

But after the first song they knew it was something special, and deceided to keep it going. They’ve now learned and recorded (by EAR) dozens of songs from the great American horn bands of the ’60s ’70s and ’80s including Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Ides of March, Earth, Wind & Fire, and others. The 11 members of the band all hail from the Ukraine area, and they not only play in Moscow clubs, they did a tour in the USA last year. And as you can see in these videos they absolutely love playing this music.

So Leonid and Friends is giving me new inspiration for what to do since I’m now in soft retirement. In addition to all the articles and videos I’m doing about electrical safety, I might just have a few musical tricks left in me. I hope so….

I would suggest that if you have some childhood or teenage talent you’ve repressed for decades since you needed to get a paying job, once you’re retired from a regular day job now is the time to revisit your past and reconnect with your roots. You might even see me on an RV rally stage before too long.

 

 

Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.

Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.

For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign.

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John Victor
1 month ago

Hi Mike! As a long time fan of Leonid & Friends I enjoyed your article very much! Most members of L&F are actually Russian. Serge – who does the high Peter Cetera voice – is the only one from Ukraine. He sometimes records in Moscow with them or does it remotely from his studio in Kiev – as seen in the ‘Call On Me’ clip you posted above. Thanks.

tom
3 months ago

Mike, Many East European and Russian names were changed to “more” english renditions at Ellis Island. One of the most interesting places that I have visited is Ellis Island, Planned on a quick 30 minutes,spent 2 1/2 hours. Left only because they closed for the day.
After you leave Ellis, visit the Tenement Museum in NYC. Makes you see in a small way how desperate they were to come here. I am personally glad that my grandparents left friends and family and came to America.
With all it’s warts and bumps, it is truly the promised land.

Anne
3 months ago

My husband of 63 years old, is working on a tribute called “Cream Machine” to honor the music of Eric Clapton and Cream. He started as a stagehand at 15 years old and worked for almost 50 years as a musician, producer, stage tech and sound man, all while having a “regular job” most of the time. Keep musicians in mind in this time of lockdown, most still are not allowed to perform, most have no insurance and many don’t qualify for Social Security. Seems like artists, tour personnel, and support crew have historically gotten the short end of the stick.