“WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS” NATIONAL COVERAGE AND FOLLOWUP ORIGINAL “TROUBLIN’ BLUES”
Written by The Partae January 21, 2023
Music Interviews & News
We were preparing for the Glenmaggie Blues and roots fest in March 2022, and the devastation up north in Lismore was heartbreaking, people in the Northern Rivers were losing their home and the relentless rain just kept travelling down south from NSW and actually even washed out that festival which moved indoors. We included that song to the repertoire then and it continues to resonate with our listeners. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ made it into the top 10 on Metropolitan AMRAP charts just before Christmas and we’re so grateful it’s starting to get airplay around the country along amazing national and international artists and songs.
You’ve referenced Memphis Minnie as a mentor on a few occasions, what is it about her that inspires you?
I consider Memphis Minnie a revolutionist, survivor, and genius way ahead of her time. Rising above oppression not just because she was an African American woman destined for slavery. She became a practicing musician and band leader in what can still be consider a man’s domain in a white man’s world. She developed and performed brilliant and lasting guitar that accompanied her desperate and bold vocals. Minnie had to be better than men and her material is still relevant and continues to resonate with songs of oppression, slavery, sexuality, domestic violence, systemic corruption, prostitution, forbidden sex and love, rape which just skims the surface of her tribes struggles. So if I feel blue, down or done, I think of her, and play and sing, dust off and get up and go on!
Who makes up the Blues Messengers?
The band really is a team of world class talent is led by me with the watchful ear and mentorship John Durr, president of Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society. All the musicians, including myself, are a work in progress embracing life learning. Playing dixieland piano is Lisette Payette (Kelly Auty), Connor O’Neill (Dream Boogie) recorded the fretless Sussaphone style electric bass guitar and Tim Matthew (Melbourne Ska Orchestra) joined us last year for the Double Trouble Blues Session & Ruth Robertson (Sweet Inspirations) deputy Double Bass and Clarinet was session on recording for Levee Terry Wheelan from NSW recording specialist but not really blues specialist and Darren came to fill-in live until Nicholas Peirce (Tism) just joined to specialise on Blues Clarinet and some Baritone.
You’ve been working with Geoff Achison, Ian Collard, Jimi Hocking – some of the great names of Australian Blues… what are some of your personal highlights What are your future tour plans?
Whilst we’re preparing our 2nd single and original release “Troublin’ Blues”, I have and continue to learn allot from these national icons, and Geoff is my serious goto mentor and guitar teacher. Playing with these artists is like a six month master class! I often consult them on teaching and learning aspects. With Geoff, I’m learning about the Zen of performance and guitar – simmering an intro or a 1 chord and a solo. Jimi – sound production as well as dual guitar concepts. Ian – slide guitar and open tunings, swing/shuffle, and the finer early blues specific nuances related to the style I’m honing on in. I’m like a baby excited and absorbing everything – loving the blues.
AUSTRALIAN MUSICIAN REVIEW: KALIOPI & THE BLUES MESSENGERS – GEORGE LANE, ST.KILDA
Greg Phillips Dec 13, 2022 Blog
Kaliopi & The Blues Messengers at ‘When the Levee Breaks’ video shoot
Review: Colette Imison. Photos: Jason Rosewarne
George Lane in St Kilda was the perfect venue chosen by Kaliopi and The Blues Messengers to launch their new single ‘When the Levee Breaks’ on Saturday 10th December. Built in 1857, the ambience of the delicately lit room genuinely took you back to the early 1900’s and back to an era where one of the worlds most prominent ladies of blues ‘Memphis Minnie’ (Lizzie Douglas) took to the stage in a time when woman supposedly had their ‘place’.
Legend has it that Memphis Minnie was the first woman to take an electric guitar to the stage, where she wanted to drown out the chatter of the crowds and bring all focus onto her music and words. A staunch feminist, who refused to conform to the expectations of ‘well-behaved’ ladies, found Memphis Minnie become a role model to many ‘strong-women’ of the day and continues to be nearly 100 years later.
‘When the Levee Breaks’ is a cover originally penned by Memphis Minnie in 1929 in response to the most destructive flood in U.S history, the Great Mississippi Floods of 1927. Many may recognise the title, as it was also covered and re-worked by Led Zeppelin in 1971.
A Tribute To Memphis Minnie and Women of Blues, the matinee performance started with the premier of the ‘When the Levee Breaks’ music video, which was directed by Demetra Giannakopoulos.
Given climate change and the recent floods the east coast of Australia has endured over the past few years, Kaliopi was inspired to reinvent the track together with her 5 piece band – The Blues Messengers.
Comprising of: Lead Vocals/Electric Guitar – Kaliopi Stravropoulos Keyboard/Backing Vocals: Lisette Payet Double Bass: Ruth Robertson Clarinet/Backing Vocals: Darren Hutton Drums: Les Oldman
Check out the fab new video below from Kaliopi and The Blues Messengers for their new single ‘When the Levee Breaks’
The video captures the impact of floods and climate change, where the bands own take on the track finds a hint of the sounds of Dixieland music, which was popular with musicians in Chicago, where ironically Memphis Minnie established herself as a musician.
The lyrics truly brings to the forefront the impacts of flood and climate change and the affects endured by those caught in the chaos. ‘If it keeps on raining, levee’s going to break And the water gonna come and have no place to stay. If it keeps on raining, levee’s going to break And all these people’ll have no place to stay’.
Kaliopi and The Blues Messengers are a relatively newly formed ensemble who debuted at the Glenmaggie Blues and Roots Festival in early 2022.
Briefly chatting to Kaliopi, she spoke about her personal and musical journey, where she weathered many personal storms during a period where rock music was predominant in her life.
Having worked with an array of seasoned musicians in Australia, Asia, Europe and the U.S.A, Kaliopi found herself travelling to her motherland of Greece, where she was privileged to perform with some of Greece’s finest musicians and where she also found a connection to the strength of women on the island where her mother was born.
This in turn found her exploring Greek Blues Music, performing with Greek Rembetika and Smyrnaika musicians, where she states she was introduced to scales that were reminiscent of traditional blues.
Akin to an epiphany, Kaliopi states that she finally found a style of music that spoke to her, where blues had the ability to allow her to find herself and free to BE.
Having graduated from the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Societies ‘Women in Blues Program’ and further studies, Kaliopi credits president of the MBAS ‘John Durr’ to be a notable mentor in her blues journey.
Embracing blues music found Kaliopi release an album ‘Love, Loss and Mental Health’ (40 Year Compilation) in 2018.
Fast forwarded to 2022, Kaliopi is joined by The Blues Messengers, whom together are doing just that. Playing the blues with a strong message.
The band started off with a silky version of Koko Taylor’s (1975) Voodoo Woman, where Kaliopi’s smooth guitar picking on her Gibson takes you in, finding her strong raw growling vocals casting a spell on you instantly.
Covering a number of Memphis Minnie tracks throughout the afternoon, including launched single ‘When the Levee Breaks’, Kaliopi surmised the intent of each song before performing each track.
The music wasn’t overdone and had an honest feel to it, where the listener was able to tap into the warm notes of the soothing clarinet, and the wispy sounds of the drum brushes sweeping on the snare and hi-hat. Surprisingly Ruth Robertson who traditionally plays guitar and is a vocalist, only started playing the Double Bass three years ago. One would never have known, as she played it so confidently.
A stand out to everyone in the room was that every musician on that stage had a rapport with each other, where there was friendly banter, smiles and laughter between them. At one point you felt that Kaliopi and keyboardist Lisette Payet almost forget they had an audience, they were both so in the moment and connected in that moment, one couldn’t help but smile.
Playing BB King’s ‘Why I sing the Blues’ found the band weave in the sounds of the Greek Blues. You couldn’t help feeling this song, knowing that Kaliopi’s experience with music in Greece found her at the very point of understanding ‘Why she plays the Blues’.
Keen to hear some original pieces, George Lane were privileged to hear a piece written by Kaliopi called ‘Troublin’ Blues’. The essence of blues is that it is a vessel to communicate and to tell a story.
It is healing and stripped raw. Listening to the words conveyed by Kaliopi throughout this show and hearing snippets of her own journey, finds me wanting to hear more of her own story through song. With hope that the healing she has found through the music of Memphis Minnie, can be replicated and healing to others in a similar fashion.
This was indeed a marvellous tribute to Memphis Minnie and her works, with a strong emphasis regarding the importance of tackling climate change, embracing womanhood, strength and truth.
You find yourself questioning whether much has changed for women the last 100 years.
Relatable in a sense that although our journeys may be different, that song and music has the ability to resonate with us all and heal us.
SET LIST Voodoo Woman (Koko Taylor) Kissing in the Dark (Memphis Minnie) When the Levee Breaks (Memphis Minnie) Mother Fur Ya (Memphis Minnie) (I Hate to See the) Evening Sun Go Down (Memphis Minnie) Hoodoo Lady (Memphis Minnie) Black Cat Blues ( Memphis Minnie) Me and My Chauffeur (Memphis Minnie) Troublin’ Blues (Kaliopi) Why I sing the Blues (BB King) I’m A Woman (Koko Taylor) Got my Mojo Working (Etta James)
Upcoming shows for Kaliopi and The Blues Messengers.
Thursday Dec 15 Humes Blues Club – Thornbury
Friday Dec 30 Beneath Driver Lane – Melbourne
Sat 14 Jan The Blues Train – Queenscliff
Kaliopi will also be sharing the stage with Geoff Achison and Jimi Hocking.
Double Trouble Blues Sessions Sunday 18 December Ziggy Pops – St Kilda
For ticket info visit: www.kaliopi.com.au
Kaliopi Stavropoulos sings the blues
by Con Panagos
1 December 2022
Georgina Tsolidis, a friend who shares my keenness for old school African-American blues and Rn’B music, recently put me on to blueswoman Kaliopi.
Kaliopi is a Melbourne-based Greek-Australian Blues Artist, guitarist, and singer-songwriter who draws on the great blues tradition and the powerful blues women who made it their own.
After having an initial look around Kaliopi’s website, it didn’t take long for me to seek her out in real life. We were both in the audience for bluesman Matt Schofield’s St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall performance on November 25th. So I took the opportunity to bowl-up and introduce myself. I was delighted to find her unassuming, engaging and chatty. I have drawn on our subsequent discussions for this article.
Kaliopi and her band – the Blues Messengers – will soon launch the first single When the Levee Breaks and the video clip from their new studio album; and will be performing the album live at the launch. This will happen next Saturday December 10th from 3:00pm at the George Lane venue which is at 1 George Lane, St Kilda. Georgina and I will be there with our partners. To join us, a link to purchase tickets is on Kaliopi’s website
Kaliopi told me the recent Lismore floods inspired her to release ‘When the Levee Breaks’ as the first single from the new album. The flood-prone Mississippi Delta is home to the birth of the blues. Most readers will remember Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in 2005. It caused over 1,800 fatalities and $125 billion in damage. It wasn’t so much the tropical cyclone that caused this catastrophe, it was the massive flooding from when the levees broke.
Less well-known is the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States. More than 200,000 African-Americans were displaced from their homes along the Lower Mississippi River. To prevent future floods, the federal government built the world’s longest system of levees. Unfortunately, these levees did not hold-up to the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina 95 years later.
Flooded streets and homes after Hurricane Ida moved through in August 2021, the second big disaster since 2005. Hard-hit LaPlace is squeezed between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Photo: AAP via AP/Steve Helber
Lizzie Douglas (1897–1973), better known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter whose recording career lasted for over three decades. She recorded around 200 songs, one of the best known being When the Levee Breaks.
When the Levee Breaks is a country blues song written and first recorded by Memphis Minnie in 1929. The lyrics reflect experiences during the upheaval caused by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Readers of my generation may recall the tune was re-worked by English rock group Led Zeppelin as the last song on their untitled fourth album. Singer Robert Plant used many of Minnie’s original lyrics.
Memphis Minnie. Photo: Memphis Minnie – When the Levee Breaks/YouTube
Kaliopi says musically, discovering Smyrnaika and early Rebetika (now commonly referred to as the Greek Blues) drew her closer to the blues she’s playing now as she connects these exotic scales with the micro tones or ‘blue notes’ of the Mississippi Delta Blues.
“I’ve always been a passionate advocate for the underdog, marginalised peoples, women’s rights and so-called obligatory roles; so mixing that with issues of subordination, slavery and displacement resonates with gut wrenching feelings, ignites improvisation and hollering that’s healing in the blues…” she says. The lyrics of these traditional tunes draw on timeless metaphors that resonate to this day – such as climate change. Specifically, within the Memphis Minnie repertoire Kaliopi’s band have recorded, it includes themes around domestic violence, substance abuse, systemic corruption, prostitution, discrimination, and subordination.
“Greek women naturally celebrate their blend of androgynous femininity, and our material is bathed in liberating strong women, particularly through the material of Memphis Minnie ‘heeded as a woman of absolute divergence’ – during a culture where that was not just brave but fatally dangerous!”, says Kaliopi.
If you can, join us at George Lane next Saturday afternoon to see Kaliopi and the Blues Messengers launch their new single ‘When the Levee Breaks’.
Music InterviewsMusic News
KALIOPI – DOUBLE TROUBLE BLUES SESSIONS
written by The Partae July 18, 2022
When did your musical taste and performances begin to gravitate towards the blues?
My release of an 18-track compilation album ‘Love Loss & Mental Health’ in 2018 marked the end of a significant period for me. Specifically, I felt that style of music seemed unnecessarily complicated which detracted from the real essence of what I was trying to express. I began digging deep within my soul and connected with my Greek roots! This included frequent travel to Greece, where I began to jam and perform with some national and international touring Greek Rebetika and Smyrnaika (pre-1930) musicians who introduced me to some exotic scales that were not too far removed from the blues.
(and related to that):
As your early work was in the rock arena, was there always an underlying attraction to the blues genre or did that come later?
I actually started out playing blues rock progressions in clubs as a teenager, and before that folk or roots progressions in a community bush band. That then developed to listening to a vast range of rock from Bowie, Lou Reed and Elvis to Billy Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington. I’ve always had a vast eclectic taste in music explorations but was always drawn to a pure connection with the blues.
How, if at all, has your interest in the blues been shaped by your Greek heritage?
The exotic scales and compound time in Greek music were my first experience of music within my mother’s womb and I believe have brought me back to the blues and shuffle feels. The wailing vocal Greek Rebetika improvisation also connect me to the blues. My mother was from the Dodecanese Islands and my father from the Peloponnese. Particularly the way a melody is expressed on the violin from the Greek isles and on a clarinet from the mainland strongly connect me with pre-WW blues music.
You’ve said that Memphis Minnie has been a big influence – in what ways?
I love Memphis Minnie for being a brave woman who played the first blues electric guitar to be heard over rowdy crowds. She also wrote and sang, in a very pure and simple honest way with halftime upbeat shuffles, and stories I resonate with (such as depression, domestic violence, suicide, climate change, and oppression). I think it’s just genius, and she influenced a world of blues and rock guitarists from Rosetta Tharpe to Chuck Berry.
Is there anything you want to say about the role and status of women in the blues genre more generally?
Both my mother and grandmother are Greek Islanders who came to Australia in the mid 50’s from a Matriarchal part of Greece -the Dodecanese on the Aegean Sea… Minnie was born around my Grandma ‘Kaliopi’s’ time, and Big Mamma Thornton, around my Mum ‘Fani’s time –
I’ve always been very inspired by strong women! As attested to not only by my influences and lineage but by “the company I keep.”
Minnie played a significant role in exposing and protesting against the patriarchal domination and subordination of women. This resonates with me to this day… , Some 50 years before the feminist movement of the 70’s, Memphis Minnie not only sang about the impoverished slavery of Black African Americans but also about domestic violence, corruption in the law, sexual liberation, forbidden sexual relationships – including same sex partners – depression and suicide, unprotected sex and backyard terminations. When we reflect on this we have to question just how much has changed, which increases our motivation to join the HERSTORY choir.
St Kilda Arts Culture Blogger Kerrie Pacholi
Jimmy Hornet Sold Out Debut Review
It was clear even before they began the set that Kaliopi was a veteran performer who knew what she was doing and where she was heading in the Blues. She stated by giving us a little background about one of her mentors who died in 1973. This I found very fascinating and from that point I was all in.
The nights performance was terrific so I decided to publish a story. After the gig I emailed Kaliopi Stavropoulos a few questions telling her that her gig inspired me to jump back on the blogger horse. Her written reply read:
“Yes indeed, eclectic blues fusing life’s various palettes and colours from a simple shade of blue. Definitely! I think life contextualises the music we play. I’ve been embracing the blues since my last compilation release ‘Love Loss & Mental Health” which seems a lifetime ago… And ironically during that tumultuous chapter or chapters of life I was blue releasing rock with a tint of Blues & Jazz with Soul….but now it’s Simple.. I play, sing and write the Blues feeling more at peace than ever before – even euphoric at times playing blues guitar Like I’ve come back home!…paradox how one can feel so good playing the blues…but feel so blue singing a tragic pop ballad, or screaming rock, improvising frantic jazz…. past few years I’ve kept it simple – expressing from singing.”
My next suggestion was…
You really opened up a portal when you said that Memphis Mini was one of your mentors and went on to give the audience tit bits of info. Perhaps let us know about your relationship with Memphis Mini as a perceived mentor.
“Memphis Minnie born in 1897, has served as a great role model in many ways.
When we reflect on our feminist movement in the 70’s Memphis Minnie, was ahead of her time 50 years earlier unassumingly challenged not only the impoverished slavery of Black African Americans singing and playing the blues, but also sang and played about domestic violence, corruption in the law, sexual liberation, forbidden sexual relationships – including same sex partners – depression and suicide, unprotected sex and backyard terminations. Minnie was a strong force of HERSTORY!
Some of her pieces we perform include, Kissing In Dark, Black Cat Blues, Dirty Mother Fur Ya, Hate to see the sun go down, and I want to include more – I love her metaphors and learn from her storytelling, and I want to continue carrying her torch.
Minnie played a significant role in exposing and protesting against a patriarchal domineering subordination of ‘women level of emotional intelligence’, that is arguably a distinct woman vantage that more than 2 Centuries later is recognised as the essential intelligence for world peace, order and equality, according to feminists including Altra Rock Chick (Oct 13 2014 Web review).
Memphis Minnie was also a pioneer guitar player and one of the first guitarists to play electric guitar so as to be heard over rowdy crowds. Minnie played a mean guitar who unquestionably, influences me, but certainly would have influenced Big Mumma Thornton born 30 years or so after Minnie – Minnie was born around my Grandma ‘Kaliopi’s’ time, and Big Mamma Thornton, around my Mum ‘Fani’ time –
Both my mother and grandmother are Greek Islanders who came to Australia in the mid 50’s from a Matriarchal part of Greece, – from the Dodecanese on the Aegean Sea…
I’ve always been very inspired by strong women as attested not only by my influences and lineage, but also the company I keep.”
What you would like to achieve as a musician into the future?
“This is another important and long story – but In short I must honor my art…I have a lot of time to make up for…that I won’t get into now…but performing is my purpose, the stage my home, the audience and colleagues my family and my guitar an extension of my voice. I’m warming into touring and as I develop my blue band I will incorporate blues songs I am writing, “Not Just Anybody's Daughter” and Running From The Law” are a couple of recent blues songs I’ve written that resonate with my blues message to celebrate and empower women in blues. I will record my album and hone my blues career starting in Australia and then the States, Europe and Asia – everywhere – spread the love and power of women in blues with my guitar and my Blues Messengers!“
After experiencing her Blues performance and reading these incredible answers I had a look on youtube to see what else I could discover about this strong, talented lady and I discovered that she started out as a ‘rock chic’ and has produced an Album titled KALIOPI Love Loss & Mental Health 40 YEAR COMPILATION. Following is a song written and performed by Kaliopi Stavropoulos.