Updated: Dec 2, 2019
After a revolution and then invasion, occupation by Russia it is not certain that all the people we played for are alive. I get sad every-time I think about it.
Ukrainians are deeply soulful people
Between 2009-2013 we played promotion tours throughout Ukraine.
It was an enlightening experience because all we knew about Ukraine was that It's a former Soviet Union country.
Of course, being American that conjures up a very different picture than what I experienced in Ukraine.
Ukrainians love blues music, moreover they love to enjoy and experience they don't just listen they get involved. People would spontaneously dance, or almost always start clapping along to the music.
What was I told about the Ukraine as a teenager ?
I remember being told in world history and civics class starting in Junior High School,
that if I would meet someone from a Soviet Union country that I would have nothing in-common with them and that we would not like each other.
Well I can tell you that that was not my experience anyway.
I found that the Ukrainians are very welcoming, friendly and well informed.
Many but not all speak good English and the musicians either have a long musical background or are able to learn quickly.
The ones I met knew a lot about In particular rock and rock'n roll music.
They seem to know the connection rock n roll has to the blues.
Do they like the blues? No, they love it!
Every venue we played we were met with an almost overwhelming response.
I remember looking out at the audience and they were always smiling at me.
On the uptempo songs they would suddenly standup and dance or clap on the beat.
I must say that I felt like a star. Not only did they listen they would actively participated.
A better audience that is this consistent can't be found anywhere that I've play for anyway.
American Music Symbolized freedom
Why would people think that American music would symbolize freedom is because we have always had free speech.
In 1791 The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gave Americans a lot of freedoms and made an example of how society can be governed without oppression.
From the late 1800's with the invention of the phonograph and eventually the radio many labor and protest songs started to spread their songs of freedom to more people. This culture with art and music as the vanguard made its way back to Europe and Asia.
Simply put we can complain publicly without fear. American music, literature and art,
American fashion, Hollywood movie stars, James Dean, fast cars, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Levi's jeans Yes, and the American flag symbolized freedom of expression for people around the world and definitely no less in Ukraine.
Some clubs Insisted on big production.
With lots of lighting, large sound-system and even dancers.
Everything was very well organized. The shows are even well promoted. I did radio and even television interviews.
This video is from their national TV station. They interviewed me and showed the band performing several songs.
I told long stories about Blues History and about my story with the blues. All in Ukrainian language. This video and photo below is from our first tour with the Swedish band.
Patrik Thelin, Olle Boson, me and Igor Boyko. This was takin the last night after the last song of the tour. At club Agata in Kharkov Ukraine 2009.
I came back later that year but we used a Ukrainian band.
The Blues Nephews
Just band featured Mighty Mike Pryz on the guitar.
Michael Pryz AKA (Mighty Mike) loves the blues And it really shows and his sound and his dedication and uncompromising understanding of the music style.
Mighty Mike Pryz and Big Walker
With his band we traveled all to the Ukraine, even some cities I believe are now occupied.
And we played with some of the Ukrainian music celebrities.
This is one of the uncut videos that was made on tour. The Blues Nephews and I I always had a lot of fun and they gave their hearts on every show.
What is it like touring in the Ukraine?
What was it like? Like all tours it was heaven and hell.
The hell was when we traveled by bus.
We hired a small bus with a driver.
That was fine but driving on some of the roads in the Ukraine is a bumpy ride.
With potholes and deep craters it's Impossible to sleep. The only smooth freeway that we experienced was between the city of Odessa and Nikolaev as I can recall anyway.
The best way to travel in Ukraine is by train.
I have taken many train rides through most European countries, But I never seen A trained with so many cars, one of the trains we took must've been 50 cars or more long.
One time we had to take the public transportation bus between cities.
This is not something I would advise for tourist.
There was a bus driver and break-man. In other words, the bus driver had no breaks that he could control himself. That was the brake-man's job. so, when the bus needed to slow down or stop the brake-man would pull on the emergency break that was placed to the far right of the bus-driver.
They also made frequent unscheduled stops on the freeway to pick up passengers.
I seem to remember one passenger coming onboard with a chicken.
They had toilets on the bus but you could not use them for whatever reason.
So yeah, taking long bus rides in Ukraine is hell!
With all that said cities like Odessa was beautiful and the people are very nice.
I wish that I paid more attention and took more photos!
I didn't realize what a rare occurrence playing in the Ukraine would be.
At my age I'm finely learning not to take anything or anybody for granted. Some of the things I saw and some of the people I met might not even exist anymore. I can't Imagine what they have had to indoor these past years.
Playing in the Ukraine will be one of my fondest memories of being a musician In this lifetime.
Ukrainian people are lively, engaging, energetic, complexed, appreciative and contemplative. It was a joy to perform for them, I do hope I will be given a chance to do so again.
We almost always had a full house and always a lively audience!
Ukraine is perfect for having a dance contest, because they are always dancing anyway.
The drink of choice is brandy in the Ukraine whiskey is quite expensive sometimes it even can't even be found. One thing I found different is that most of the bars sold an assortment of fresh squeezed juices. You could order apple juice, orange juice, and carrot juice they would squeeze it fresh at the bar. And of course beer, the beer in Ukraine was very good and inexpensive. Back then a pack of cigarettes was about $2 For Marlboro and you could get Ukraine brands for around 75 cents.
The clubs mostly had good sound and excellent sound technicians.
Some of the crowds would go wild when we hit the stage.
I guess at home and in a lot of Europe, people feel like they've heard it all before. Or that they've heard better.
In Ukraine there is a fresh feeling with the audience. They didn't bother to compare it to anything.
What mattered was to enjoy this moment, this music, and life right now.
And I'm very grateful that I could be there to share that experience with them!
One thing that was interesting is that many of the buildings seemed to be crumbling, and some of the roads had not been maintained for many years. We saw people that looked like they are poor farmers riding on horse drawn wagons. Then we would go the the venue and they would have state-of-the-art equipment and the interior would be of the most modern design I've ever seen anywhere.
We do hope the world will stand by the Ukraine, that we stand up for the Democracy that so many around the world look up to!
We salute the bravery of the Ukrainian people fighting for freedom against overwhelming odds.
By Derrick Big Walker 12/1/2019