Thin and full of nervous energy. James Dean cool in a white T-shirt, leather jacket and boots. Tats on his forearms before everyone had a tattoo. A hurricane of black hair on his head and a cigarette dangling from his lips. He even came with a mysterious and somewhat menacing accent, courtesy of his native Greece.
Basile Kolliopoulos was a rebel with a cause, and the cause was rhythm and blues.
His band, The Fortune Tellers, rocked Oklahoma City throughout the 1980s in a way the city hadn’t been rocked. A snarling, gut punch of a rock band that recalled the Stones when Mick and Keef still made people a little nervous.
Basile died Jan. 29 of cancer. He was 59.
I’d interviewed local bands before, but this cat was different. He and his band mates — brother/guitarist Miho, bass player Victor “V-Roy” Goetz and drummer Mike Newberry — weren’t guys who escaped a hard week at the office by tossing on some Ray Bans on the weekend and calling themselves a blues band.
These were guys with hellhounds on their trail. OKC was their crossroads, but they had fans in Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis and Chicago — cities that know a little bit about rhythm ‘n’ blues.
Who knows how many shows Basile played with the Tellers or Reverb Brothers at VZD’s, The Blue Note, Liberty D’s and other clubs? Has there been a more glorious noise in Oklahoma City than Bo Diddley, backed by the Tellers, at the Bowery?
Lively Up, the third album the band recorded for the French label New Rose, best captures its sound. The Fortune Tellers’ success wasn’t measured in record sales, but from standing on stage night after night, doing it their way and paving the way for others to do the same.
Returning to OKC recently after a 15-year absence, I bumped into Basile at VZD’s. He gave me a hug and made fun of my now-gray hair. I told him he looked great, and he told me he was doing a new thing now, a two-man Reverb thing. He was jazzed.
You’re never ready for closing time.
How could you be?
Rhythm and Blues grabbed you by the lapels and left you all shook up and never more alive. Lightning flew from the amps, and the crowd caught it and threw it right back. Then the house lights come up: a harsh, florescent reminder that there’ll be no encore tonight. Not tonight.
And so you walk into the cool night air with nothing but memories and a ringing in your ears. Against the dull buzz, you hear your heart beat. Thump. Thump. Thump. It sounds like a backbeat. It sounds like rhythm.
And you smile because you know that, while the show’s over, the rhythm’s still there. It’s Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf coursing through your veins. It’s James Brown, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Elvis and Keith Moon pounding in your heart.
It’s Basile Kolliopoulos and every person who’s ever strapped on a guitar and counted off, “One … two … three … four …”
He’s part of that rhythm now. Always will be.
Hill, chief of staff to Mayor Mick Cornett, was a music columnist for Oklahoma Gazette throughout most of the 1980s.
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