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Demis Roussos
10 Aug 2013
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The Roussos had been in Egypt for two generations and on 15 June 1946 Artemios Venturis Roussos was born in Alexandria. His mother, Olga, and his father, George, both of Greek extraction, had also been born in the country their parents had come to in the 1920s. Following the Greek custom, the baby was named after his paternal grandfather, Demis being a pet name for Artemios. In the heart of an orthodox community, he lived in the middle of a Muslim city. From his early childhood he was immersed in folk music, exposed to Byzantine and Arabic influences. Attracted to singing, he joined the choir of the Greek Byzantine Church with which he sang for five years as a soloist. At the same time he studied musical theory and learnt how to play the guitar and the trumpet. Everything was going well when the Suez crisis blew up in 1961. Residents in Egypt had to leave the country and the Roussos – Mr Roussos was an engineer with a property construction company – returned to their native land, Greece. At the age of 17, with only music in his head and to the great disappointment of his mother who was hoping to send him to the best school in Athens, Demis formed his first band, ‘The Idols’, in which he played guitar and bass. At that time the band members were his cousin Jo, Natis Lalaitis, Nikos Tsiloyan and Anthony. A chance happening meant that one day Demis had to replace the group’s singer for a short time and he sang an Afro-American spiritual, ‘The house of the rising sun’, and another popular success of the time, ‘When a man loves a woman’. The public was immediately won over by his voice. Overcome by a great desire for independence, he began to feel the need to take control of his own life. Henceforth, bands and clubs became part of his daily life. Meeting Lucas Sideras and Argyris Koulouris lead him to play the international successes of the moment in clubs and night- clubs. The great turning point of his musical career was his meeting with Vangelis Papathanassiou in the summer of 1966. One particular song introduced Vangelis to Demis’ unique voice. Within his group he began to sing more and more often, frequently as a soloist. However, a few meetings with Vangelis did take place. These young musicians, cut off from the international music scene, soon realised that an interesting career could only be accomplished outside their country.

Demis left his group and began to practice new songs with Vangelis. At the end of March 1968, Lucas and Demis took the train to London. Vangelis was supposed to join them a few days later. Fate decided otherwise. When they arrived in Dover, at the English border, with no work permits, customs officers discovered photos and tapes in their luggage and quickly realised what their true intentions were. The young musicians cut short their journey. Back in Paris, trapped by the circumstances, their savings melted away day by day. Unable to leave Paris where unrest was brewing, only a recording could get them out of a tight spot. They learnt that Phonogram was holding an international conference and, plucking up all the courage they could find, they went to meet with the executives and explained their situation. A draconian contract, which promised exclusivity for six years, was drawn up. Confronted by the necessity to get by, they signed the contract and were able to begin recording. Their dream was at last coming true. It was in the 4m² cellar near the Porte d’Italie where they practised that ‘Rain and tears’, composed by Vangelis, was born. The lyrics were written by Boris Bergman, a young song-write introduced to them by the record company. The recording of the single took place in extremis in rather unusual circumstances. The following day the studio closed due to the general strike. A few weeks later ‘Rain and Tears’ was number one in the charts. They had made a hit! They themselves saw very little difference in what they were doing but they began to receive proposals for concerts and they were swept up in success. In June a week of performing at Olympia as Sylvie Vartan’s opening act was a real success. They spent the summer in the clubs of the South of France. Their success continued to grow. Hundreds of thousands of copies of their first album were sold and Demis’ fantastic voice brought them a great many more successes with ‘It’s five o’clock’, ‘I want to live’, ‘End of the world’ and ‘Spring, summer, winter and fall’. These five hit singles were accompanied by two albums, one of which became number one. The group climbed to number one in Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and Italy… ‘Aphrodite’s Child’ lasted for two years. They made 239 television appearances over this period. Demis married Monique with whom he had a daughter, Emilie. Vangelis however was dissatisfied. He wanted a more serious music, more like the music he composed alone. He wished to confront the English and American markets, to stop touring and devote his time to studio work. The recording of the double album ‘666’, based on the texts of Saint John’s Apocalypse, was the materialisation of this desire for change. It was a critical moment for the group: after three months of costly recording, the record company panicked. The break-up of the group became inevitable after a heated argument between Vangelis and Lucas. In the end it was Vangelis alone who, one year later, finished the album which was seen at the time as a classical masterpiece. Supported by the record company Phonogram, Demis began a solo career.
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