Igor Yuzov’s background is as varied and eclectic as the music that he plays with his Russian-themed rockabilly-ish band the Red Elvises. The self-effacing, quite hilarious singer and guitarist was born in Germany, and raised in the Ukraine, before eventually studying in Russia.
Yuzov grew up in the former Soviet Union, having some interest in the folk music that was prevalent, but finding himself fascinated with the rock and roll that was, for all intents and purposes, illegal. Soon after world politics allowed, around 1991, Yuzov made his way over to the States with his then-band Limpopo. By 1995, that had morphed into the Red Elvises, and the group was making a living performing in the street.
“We started about 22 years ago,” Yusov says. “We started playing on the streets of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. People liked it, and they started inviting us to different parties, festivals and that kind of stuff. Then we started getting pretty big crowds on the streets, so the city of Santa Monica had lots of complaints and they kicked us out. We started touring thanks to them. Otherwise we’d still be playing on the streets. It’s been a long time since then but we still are touring all over the world, pretty much.”
The Red Elvises’ sound is a fine mix of rockabilly, surf, and traditional Russian folk, meaning that it’s all a rare blend of Eastern European and American roots. It’s kinda like Rocky IV, if Balboa and Ivan Drago were dancing instead of fighting. Or a hippie love-in involving Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Whatever, the results are some of the best party music heard in SoCal and beyond. The Russian drinking tunes and frenzied rock and roll bring to mind Gogol Bordello jamming with the Stray Cats.
“It’s the melodies,” Yusov says. “We’re using lots of American rhythms like rockabilly shuffles, and surf beats. We use rock beats. But melodically, it’s more natural to me to write Russian melodies on top of American rhythms.”
At this point, the band has about 15 albums available, the most recent being She Works For KGB, released towards the end of 2017. The title track, Yusov says, is a love story. We’ll get to hear that new material this when the Red Elvises plays Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, on a bill with the Reverend Horton Heat and the Voodoo Glow Skulls. This will, in fact, be the band’s first gig at Alex’s Bar.
When this show is done, the Red Elvises will set out on tour and take the Russian rockabilly to the colder climates of Colorado and other states further east. If we know anything about Yusov, it’s that the cold doesn’t bother him at all.
“It’ll be crazy,” he says of the tour. Of that we have no doubt.
Though they’re spending lots of time on tour in the U.S., Yusov hasn’t fully left Russia either; he spends month in Moscow each year, playing a bunch of gigs and seeing friends before returning to the States to do exactly the same thing here. He plays with a different set of musicians in each country.
“I’m still in-between,” he says. “I spend a lot of time in Moscow. That’s where I’m going in a week. I’ll spend a month in Moscow, then I’ll come back and start touring in the US. Our tour starts in February, in Russia. But I’m used to the cold. It’s not much of a big deal. You just buy warm clothes and drink more, and that’s it.”
The band leader says that American crowds tend to be crazier than their Russian counterparts, though he says that Russian rockers are starting to get to grips with the rigorous demands of a rockabilly show.
“Recently, the Russians started to get it,” Yusov says. “It took them about 15 years to get it, but I’m glad they got it eventually.”
Igor & the Red Elvises play with the Reverend Horton Heat and Voodoo Glow Skulls at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 30 at Alex’s Bar; 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; 562-434-8292; $20; 21+.