Black Bread & Dr. Agranovsky

Russian version


Doctor, Tabula Rasa club, Moscow 1996What are bands made of? Sometimes of haphazard people and stuff bound by a chain of coincidences. Sometimes they are assembled on purpose, but that’s another story. Dr. Agranovsky - man and group - grew out of the Moscow “kitchen blues”. This story started in 1972, when Agranovsky brothers (parents off on vacation) had their home open for part-time-job-most-time-rambling musicians and Moscow hippies, singing, smoking, playing, drinking, making direct takes on a mono tape recorder. The first listeners-friends, girls, and neighbours-got their kicks. The flat on the Lomonosov Prospect saw quite a few persons of underground fame: linguist, singer, and composer Alexander Lerman, who then played in Skomorokhi; Mike Guzhov, who himself rigged gadgets for electric guitar, and played peculiar blues on a XVIII century nine-string cittern; Vadim Golutvin, then one of the few if not the only in Moscow who had mastered acoustic guitar folk rock and country; Alexander Galkin; Pal Palych Stolypin, Boris Barkas, and many, many others. The elder brother, Alexey, sang the nights away in foreign language, and spent the mornings getting refunds for empty bottles to feed his brother and guests.

Starukha IzergilSuch kitchen blues happenings, this place or that, became part of a life style, to last for 25 years. In between, Alexey “Doctor” Agranovsky played solo, including three years in Ethiopia and two in Germany (where he had contracts on research and teaching; by the way, his stage nickname reflects his Ph.D and D.Sc. degrees). He says he saw the First Blues grooves in the Abyssinian mountain crests of Shewa, and the morning was metered out in the ritual drum beats from the Coptic church of the nearby town of Ambo (ancient name Hagere Hiwot, meaning Holy Water).Africa... green cloth draped over the knee of the hill... Icy deserts of Germany... And what’s blues if not experience? Got another definition? OK, be seated. So what if you have never learned solmization, the essence is what you’ve got to say.

Well, that was the background at which one could hear the rattle of that chain of coincidences. Doctor got a phone call from an old (though young and pretty) friend Veronica, with an invitation to come to the “Cry Baby” club and “play and sing something”. Doctor called his old-time session partner Alexander Chinenkov (a.k.a. Chinya), trumpet player and percussionist who worked with Arsenal, Voskresenie, and-for many years now-SV (to mention only the bands pertinent to the topic). At that time he was into blues harmonica, and promised his support rightaway. Then Doctor said it would be groovy to have on the bass their buddy Starukha Izergil (a.k.a. Alexei Antonov), a session musician in many Moscow projects. Chinya said he’d find out. Next day they three got together at Doctor’s and recorded a dozen things (from Bo Diddley’s “I Am a Man” to Lennon/McCartney’s “Come Together”). Max StepanovAt the end of the session, Starukha said a neighbour of his, a young guitar player, could also be invited to the gig next day. That was how the first team assembled as water drops on a frying pan, and, on a rainy night of November 11, 1994, “Cry Baby” saw and heard Chinya (drums and harmonica), Starukha (bass guitar), Max Stepanov (first guitar), and Doctor (next guitar and vocals). In the middle of the show some people came and took away their drum (an important one), in the end two strings tore on the next guitar,taking away a piece of Doctor’s skin and blood stained his white shirt; yet nothing could take away the success. The bad luck was that on the way home Veronica broke her leg (she’s all right now).

From that time on, the team regularly appeared in Moscow clubs, and no one quit, on the contrary, new people came (all old friends, however). At the second appearance at the Magnifique, when “Nobody Knows the Way I Feel this Morning” was going on for twelve minutes already, to the stage came Vadim Golutvin (ex-Araks, ex-Voskresenie, then and now SV) and played one of his sparkling guitar soloes. And stayed, having found conciliation between his love for live blues and hate of the limelight, glory, and female smiles; anyway, he mostly played seated. Later on, the concerts invariably featured another musician from SV, Sergei Nefedov at keyboards, and up to its half-breakdown in the summer of 1997 the band appeared as “SV & Dr. Agranovsky”. The stage sound was set by the big-time wizard, Sound Director of the Lenkom Studio, the late Valerii Andreev and by Roman Ivanovskii; that was always an impeccable job.

In 1995 Doctor published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (vol. 92, pp. 2410-2473) a paper describing a plant virus resembling (in the microscope) a rattlesnake. He mailed a reprint of this paper to Martin, Tennessee, to a country and blues singer Rattlesnake Annie, who had impressed him by her performance of the “Blue Flame Cafe” in the famous movie “The Other Side of Nashville”. They exchanged friendly letters until in May 1997 she flew in to Moscow and delivered several superb concerts backed by “SV & Dr. Agranovsky”. Just before returning home (hopefully not so smoke-filled as the Moscow clubs, which she kept complaining on) Rattlesnake Annie sang Gershvin’s “Summertime” in a jam on the Russian TV channel (featuring Golutvin on acoustic guitar, and Doctor on an electric Gibson unplugged by some bastard having stepped on the guitar cable).

Vadim Golutvin & Rattlesnake Annie Both the merits and the flaws of “SV & Dr. Agranovsky” stemmed from that it was essentially a jam assembly of people constantly engaged in other projects. The raw blues performance did not cause indigestion but was even welcomed by the audience, as its other side was freedom. Unrehearsed, the team developed a solid drive, with riffs and ornaments stitched in by totally different lead guitars. “SV & Dr. Agranovsky” performed the blues classics, not copying versions but rather recalling the mood (with, for instance, “Bring It On Home” going back not to Led Zeppelin but to the Sonny Boy Williamson’s original) or deliberately rearranging the standards (Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” and “Hellhound On My Trail”, Robert Cox’s “Nobody Knows...”); introduced the blues spirit into not-quite-blues things like “Come Together”, and composed some original items such as “Out of Work Boogie” and “Six-Bits-Blues” to Langstone Hughes’ lyrics, or “Slishkom Pozdno” (Too Late) in Russian. This, of course, wasn’t purely black music (this could have hardly been possible), but the vocals, phrasing and phasing were quite close to that (to quote Rattlesnake Annie, “Alex, you sing like black”).

This team has left no recordings. It appears that they confessed the ecological principles and kept the air tidy, making the music live and die in the hall. However, already breaking apart, they made a gig in the “Hour of the Owl” program of the STS-8 Moscow TV channel, featuring good blues (incidentally, the first live performance in the program) and an unrestrained interview.


The new band was composed by Starukha, Doctor, and Max, later joined by the drummer Yuri Titov (ex-SV). After six months of rehearsals at Starukha’s flat in Izmailovo, they resumed Moscow club performances with remakes of Beatles, Hendrix, and some previous blues stuff. The musical concept changed completely; or rather, a concept appeared where there had been none. In due course, Titov/Antonov/Stepanov made a quite special hard-rock trio, which got the name of Rokovye Yaitsa (translation to your choice: Fatal Eggs-after M.A.Bulgakov’s novel-or Rocking Balls of Doom). Doctor and a later acquisition, female singer Anya Salming performing Janis Joplin’s and Zeppelin’s things, were something of soloing electrons spinning around this hard nucleus. The band recorded several songs at the Boris Oppenheim’s studio in the summer of 1997, including "heavy" versions of the “Hellhound on My Trail” and "Got My Mojo Working".

1998-2003: CHERNYI KHLEB

Cherni Khleb-99 (from left): Doctor, Yuri Ivanov (a session bassman), Yakovlev, Rake, Kuznetsov, LushnikovHaving rolled for some time on hard-boiled Eggs (...), late in 1998 Doctor launched a blues project of his own, Chernyi Khleb (The Black Bread). The repertoire was based on blues and spirituals in original language, as well as own things in Russian. Their music comes from the roots; in nearly chamber style, they drive in their point without electric agressiveness. Generally speaking, the sound and the stage image of the band tend to the air of the old-time blues bars. This, however, did not avert them from large-stage performances, for instance, in the Moscow University. Two more audios on this page-“Stormy Monday Blues” and “Crossroads”-perhaps convey the taste of The Black Bread.

Chernyi Khleb of ‘99: Alexey “Dr.” Agranovsky: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Ilya Lushnikov: keyboards (previously, jazz bands of Khabarovsk, Brevis and The Lushnikov Quartet); Valerii Seregin: bass guitar (Udachnoe Priobretenie, Serebryanyi Rubl, The Budapest Jazz Quartet, Big Bob Band, and other jazz bands);

Kirill Yakovlev: drums (Ikh Net, Tupye, Scratch’n’Sniff, Brothers and Sisters);

Sergei Kuznetsov: electric guitar, bass guitar; Dmitrii “Rake” Luzgin: harmonica, electric guitar.

The three years to follow brought enough changes. Andrey Lobanov, Nikolai Balakirev (Udachnoe Priobretenie, Ser'Ga), and Igor Kartashev (Old Man's Blues Band) - in this order - have played drums with the band. Valery Seregin came back. Ilya Lushnikov left for Khabarovsk. New acquisitions were Eugenii Nemov, a young guitarist from Murmansk, and the experienced keyboardist Michail Olshanitsky (Udachnoe Priobretenie). This merry-go-round spoiled the Doctor's temper, but hardened the band.

In 2001, the first recording of Chernyi Khleb & Dr. Agranovsky, called Tic, saw the light. It was recorded at the MMS studio, released by Otdelenie Vykhod, and came out round, in plastic case, with a gloomy booklet. It contained 12 songs recorded by 15 people of 14 to 50 years old. The following "Tic" session musicians deserve special notice: Eya Motskobilli, Lesha Birioukov, Boris Bulkin, Michail Vladimirov Jr., Yuri Kaverkin, Vova Kozhekin, Alexey Kolomeitsev, Alex Novoselov, and Sergey Ryzhenko.

Chernyi Khleb of 2002:

The Blues Spinners trio (from left to right): Nemov, Bratetsky, DoctorThe Blues Spinners: Gelyuta, Kuznetsov, Doctor, Polovinkin, Bratetsky


A new band, The Blues Spinners, was set up in 2001 by Doctor (acoustic guitar, vocal), Nemov (electric & slide guitar), and Alexander Bratetsky (harmonica). A small and mobile trio, The Blues Spinners was built up as an alter ego of a full-sized band. The functions of bass and drums were delegated to the guitars, with the harmonica also playing backs, hence substituting the keyboards and percussion. Each instrument turned into solo parties, sometimes mimicking the "railroad" sounds, whereas the voice spinned the main line of the story.

The band appeared in radio shows at "Ekho Moskwy" and took part in the blues festival "Delta Nevy" (St. Petersburg, July 2001). Along with the regular club gigs of their own, The Blues Spinners have been a part of the house-band at jam-sessions in a Moscow clubs "Vtoroi Etazh", "Expat", and "Woodstock". Later, these excercises transformed the Spinners into a blues quintet with the lead guitarist Valery Gelyuta, drummer Alexander Polovinkin, bassman Sergei Kuznetsov, Alex Bratetsky and Doctor. The band has played gigs in Moscow and, occassionally, in other Russian cities (St Petersburg, Ulianovsk, Surgut).
By the end of 2004 the musicians became engaged in different projects of their own, and The Blues Spinners occassionally gathered togeter only as house band for the jam gigs.

2001-2007: CHERNYI KHLEB (continued)

Cherni Khleb-2005: Balakirev, Olshanitsky, Agranovsky, Seregin Chernyi Khleb has continued to play the blues, despite the twists of the Spinners fate. For some time, Doctor has had gigs with Khleb, the BS trio, and the BS quintet, sometimes all in the same week (or weekend). This mess ended in 2004 anyway. Chernyi Khleb went on the same track, but with new songs, including original staff and new covers of blues and gospel (some arranged for three or four voices).

Chernyi Khleb of 2004:

In the summer of 2004, Doctor received invitation to take part in the VOXSTOCK BLUES FESTIVAL in Belgrade, Serbia. This came from the harmonica player and session man Pera Joe, who had been in Moscow and played with Chernyi Khleb. In three days before the festival (June 26), Doctor and Pera Joe Blues Band rehearsed a 50-min program. Their appearance, featuring also slide guitarist Vladan Stanoshevich, was a success. That day, from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., the blues players and bands from the UK, Italy, Hungary, Austria, and Serbia played on top of the Koshutnjak mountain.

In the fall of 2004, guitarist Omar Esteban Itcovici (ex Albert King Tribute Band of Buenos-Aires) joins Chyornyi Khleb. In March 2005 the band made a joint show with Pera Joe and Vladan Stanoshevich in the Moscow Central House of Artists. The concert was released as DVD "Two For The Show - Vol. I" at the turn of the year.

In September, 2005, Doctor and Omar invited to Moscow a bluesman from Chicago John Primer. Chernii Khleb, supported by Igor Boyko (guitar) and Sasha Bratetsky (harp), opened the show for Primer in the Central House of Artists. This was the gig of the year for the Black Bread. Agranovsky and Bratetsky, backed by Omar on guitar, Mauro Diana on bass, and Patricio Ruffo on drums (the John Primer's band during the Russian tour) opened another show in the "Carroll" club of Ryazan'. Talks with Primer, his stories about the old times in Chicago, were a great ball and thrill for Moscow bluesmen (Doctor no exception). John Primer was seemigly happy about the trip. In February 2006 Omar and Doctor brought to Moscow another Chicago blues guitarist James Wheeler. Later in the same month Chyornyi Khleb played several gigs in Moscow clubs with Keith Dunn, a harmonica player and singer from Boston. The other bluesmen soon visited Moscow: Lurrie Bell (April 2006), Bob Stroger (September 2006), and Eddie C. Campbell (December 2006). This way The Black Bread started up the programme "Chicago in Moscow", aimed at showing to the Russian public the black blues as it is.

In November 2006 the third release of the band, CD Alabama, was issued.

End of case record, but hopefully not the end of the story.

Original Russian text by Nikolai Shchepotiev
Adapted for English by Alexander Galkin
Photo by Evgenii Kulemin, Anrey Evdokimov & Vasily Chernii

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