Your lucky numbers are 12 and 31, as ’80s metro mainstays The Fortune Tellers make a ballyhooed reunion on New Year’s Eve.
If you were in Oklahoma City during that era when cell phones were bigger than irons and neckties were skinnier than Calista Flockhart — the 1980s, for those of you playing along at home — and had any interest in live rock ’n’ roll, chances are you spent more than a few sweat-stained evenings immersed in the sounds of The Fortune Tellers.
Serving up a sizzling stew of R&B, The Fortune Tellers were among the most-beloved groups to make the rounds in the metro music scene. Although the band split up in 1990, and many of its onetime stomping grounds — The Bowery, Liberty Drug — no longer exist, the outfit’s musical chops remain very much intact. And so it is that the Tellers’ lineup of guitarists/ brothers Basile and Miho Kolliopoulos, bassist Victor Goetz and drummer Marty Dillon will reunite Friday for a New Year’s Eve show at VZD’s.
The venue is a natural homecoming for the group, who blew the roof off the place (figuratively speaking, natch) on more than a few New Year’s Eves in the ’80s. It also marks an Oklahoma City return for Miho Kolliopoulos, who has lived in his native Greece the past several years. Although he still works for a local architectural firm, Elliott + Associates, he executes most of his job over the Internet.
“In a sense, I never left, because my day job is here,” said Kolliopoulos, 55. “I come back two or three times a year and stay for a month, and then the rest of the time, I’m in Athens. I lived here so long I’m more comfortable here than I am there, to tell you the truth.”
Then again, he said he and Basile were drawn to the U.S. even when they were children in Athens.
“American music was really big when we were growing up,” he said. “There were radio programs that would specialize in that. We were exposed to Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy early on.”
Years later, Basile wound up studying art at Oklahoma City University when he formed a band with Goetz and drummer Mike Newberry. Back in Athens, Miho was finishing up his third year of mandatory military service.
At the time we got started, the music scene in the city had stagnated.
“Basile called and asked if I would consider playing guitar with them,” Miho said, chuckling at the remembrance. “I weighed the possibilities and I thought, ‘Hmm, I think I’ll just catch a plane and go over there.’” That was 1979. Within a few years, The Fortune Tellers — the name came from an Allen Toussaint-penned R&B standard — had captured the attention and adoration of Oklahoma City’s music scene.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anyone saying this, but at the time we got started, the music scene in the city had stagnated a bit,” Miho Kolliopoulos said. “There were cover bands more akin to play Top 40 from English bands that were big at the time. Both of us (he and Basile) have a great love for the music that was born here.”
No cheesy synthesizers or drum machines were in The Fortune Tellers’ arsenal. Their originals and covers traversed the bare-knuckled soundscapes of Bo Diddley, Dale Hawkins and Link Wray. Diddley, in fact, made The Fortune Tellers his backup band during a few stops in Oklahoma City.
It is not surprising that the group felt more closely aligned with R&B than rock ’n’ roll.
“R&B has roots that go further back in time,” Miho Kolliopoulos said. “In that sense, it has a little more seriousness to it. To me, they are really close together. One stems from the other. It’s all dance music. If you play it and people dance to it, well ... it may be R&B and it may be rock ’n’ roll, and that’s fine.”
The Fortune Tellers made three records during their heyday. By the close of the decade, however, the grind of regional touring had worn thin, and the band dissolved. Basile went on to focus on what had been a sideline project, The Reverb Brothers, while his younger sibling returned to the world of architecture, which he had studied years earlier in Paris.
“When we were 25 and 26, we would play in Chicago on Saturday, St. Louis on Sunday, drive back to Oklahoma City in the middle of the night, and be at the office by 7 o’clock in the morning,” Miho Kolliopoulos said. “By the time you’re 30 or 35, you can’t do that anymore.”
And although the idea occasionally crossed their minds about trying to make a go of it in a more musically rich hotspot like Austin, Texas, the Tellers ultimately decided that Oklahoma City was where they belonged.
“From an artistic viewpoint,” Miho Kolliopoulos said, “I always thought that artistically for a rock ’n’ roll musician to be here would be a privilege more than it would be a setback.”