Russian rock legend dies
Former Akvarium member Yevgeny Guberman, once described as Russian rock music’s ‘greatest drummer,’ was equally at home playing garage rock and mainstream jazz.
Published: January 16, 2013 (Issue # 1742)
A member of Akvarium and other seminal bands, Guberman later emigrated to the Netherlands.
The Russian rock and jazz scenes are in mourning for Yevgeny Guberman, the local drummer extraordinaire who died in St. Petersburg on December 30 at the age of 57.
Guberman played in styles ranging from garage rock to mainstream jazz and was reputed as the city’s —or even Russia’s — No. 1 rock drummer.
The St. Petersburg Times sat down with Guberman at the now-defunct Dostoevsky Bar in August 2000, when the musician came back to the city to play a few concerts as a member of the Dutch rock trio Kek ‘66.
Guberman had moved to Amsterdam in 1987, when Russia was starting to open up under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The drummer performed with a number of outfits there before returning to St. Petersburg in 2004.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Guberman played with a number of bands and styles — from the mainstream jazz group David Goloshchyokin Band to Akvarium, which was in its “punk” stage at the time.
Once described as the greatest drummer in Russian rock, Guberman said: “It was what people said — it was not my thing. In Holland everything is different — there’s no concept of who’s the best, who isn’t the best. You’re a drummer, O.K. Nobody looks at what kind of drums you have, what kind of cymbals, because everything is in the stores. But after a concert people approach you and say: ‘Oh, it was great,’ and you say: ‘O.K., thanks a lot.’”
Although Kek ‘66 was reminiscent of British beat of the 1960s and used Kinks-style riffs, Guberman insisted that the music the band played was American.
“We play real American garage punk. It was people who were orientated not to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but to The Kinks, Remains, Searchers, The Hollies,” he said.
“American kids who were 15 or 16 would buy instruments, get into their fathers’ garages and blast it out at full force — this music stems from that.”
Apart from Kek ‘66, Guberman played with four jazz outfits in Amsterdam at that time.
“If I had to play five days a week with one and the same band, I wouldn’t be able to stand it, it would become a routine,” he said.
“I need to play different music, with different people — just to stay in balance. And I need to play jazz — because I love this music, I feel it and can play it — not as the greatest players did, but still in my own way.”
Despite his busy music schedule, Guberman made a living as a driver while in the Netherlands.
“You can’t survive on music,” he said, “or you have to play with the likes of [pop stars Alla] Pugachyova or [Filipp] Kirkorov, which is possible, but I don’t want to do that. It would be the same crap five days a week. No.”
Kek ‘66 was heir to The Kliek, a similarly ‘60s-influenced band that came to Russia in 1993 to play at the now-defunct TaMtAm club — and split soon after returning to the Netherlands. Featuring Guberman and Kek’ 66 founder Robert Müter, who sang and played guitar, the band disintegrated due to troubles on the road.
“We came on our own, it was February, the van broke down and there were those borders — Polish, Belarusian,” said Guberman. “When we came back everybody fell out, and we split in a week.”
Born in Leningrad on July 30, 1955, as a teenager Guberman studied ballet at a choreography school in the Urals city of Perm for three and a half years.
“The school was formed by teachers of Leningrad’s Vaganova School who were evacuated there during the war. I was totally crazy about ballet — but then I heard [The Beatles’ debut album] ‘Please Please Me’ and everything ended there — in one day.”
Upon returning to Leningrad, Guberman graduated from high school and studied for four years at a music college.
“Then a friend told me that Goloshchyokin needed a drummer, because his drummer had gone on a drinking binge,” he said. “I came to an audition, he took me on, I got a steady job and everything started from there.”
Guberman considered Goloshchyokin “his great teacher” — alongside veteran saxophone player Alexei Kanunnikov, who led an amateur jazz band with whom Guberman played his first concert.
He joined Akvarium “by chance.” The band got an invitation to “Spring Rhythms,” the first national rock festival in Gori, Georgia, when the state eased its grip on rock music to demonstrate its “human face” to the world before the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. As the regular drummer was out of town, Guberman was invited as a replacement.
The now-legendary performance at the festival resulted in a scandal with the jury walking out and repressions awaiting Akvarium back home. “I don’t know what it was. All the bands were rather polished, while we simply raged. Of course, we were well prepared — unshaven, uncombed. Grebenshchikov made buttons for everybody.”
“Dyushka (flautist Andrei Romanov) wore a button reading ‘Where Am I Living?’ Boris had a button reading ‘No, I Am Not Boris Grebenshchikov,’ and I had one saying ‘A poshli vy vse na khui’ (‘Why Don’t You All Fuck Off’). I remember a cameraman approaching me on stage and nearly falling down. We were totally unleashed at that time.”
According to the memoirs of Akvarium’s cellist Seva Gakkel, the band’s performance at Gori’s staid Georgian Philharmonic concert hall made the jury walk out.
After the festival Akvarium was banned, Grebenshchikov was fired from his job at a Leningrad sociological research institute and expelled from the Young Communist Union, and the band had to resort to the practice of underground “apartment concerts,” having to play without a drummer in order not to disturb the neighbors and attract the police.
Guberman’s drums can be heard on Akvarium’s classic albums “Elektrichestvo” (Electricity), which featured the band’s Tbilisi live set and a number of studio tracks, and “Radio Africa.” The two albums were released as self-produced reel-to-reel tapes in 1981 and 1983 respectively.
Guberman continued to play with other jazz and rock outfits, most notably rhythm-and-blues band Zoopark, until moving to Moscow in 1982, where he performed with the jazz bands Allegro and Igor Butman Quintet.
His reputation was so immense that Akvarium’s long-time drummer Pyotr Troshchenkov, who joined the band after Guberman finally left in 1982, used the pseudonym “Pyotr Guberman” for some time.
Guberman emigrated in December 1987 — just before the Russian rock breakthrough, when formerly underground bands started to play stadiums.
“I just had to leave, I simply couldn’t stay in Russia any longer,” said Guberman. “It didn’t matter to me at all where to, and by pure chance, I married a Dutch girl and found myself in Holland.”
In a later interview, Guberman explained his return to St. Petersburg in 2004 as being due to his feeling of remaining a foreigner despite having lived in the Netherlands for 17 years.
Recently, he performed in St. Petersburg clubs with a band called Shaggy Train.
Guberman chose the drums because of Ringo Starr — and he admitted to knowing the drum parts to every Beatles song by heart. Speaking about his favorite drummers, he also mentioned Simon Kirke (Free), Bobby Colomby (Blood, Sweat and Tears), Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa), Paul Hammond (Atomic Rooster), Charlie Watts (The Rolling Stones) and American jazz drummer Tony Williams, among others.
“I never liked drum solos — I can play those solos, but it’s somehow not very interesting,” Guberman said.
“I like to play with people. I like it when people play music together. How people react to each other. I can play guitar and I can play bass, which is my favorite instrument. But drums are something else.”
Guberman was buried at the city’s Krasnenkoye Cemetery on Jan. 4. The cause of death has not been announced.