His name was George Righellis

IMG_0661

Harry Minassian, Fred Elias, George, Gary Alexanian

My name is George and I never sing
about the bitter-sweet issue of love
I’m not used in rending daisies,
I don’t wait for anyone’s comeback

These are the lyrics to Me Lene Giorgo, a song that George Righellis made very popular amongst the Armenian and Greek communities from the New England area to Detroit to California. It is probably the one song that I identify and think of whenever I hear or speak of guitarist George Righellis.

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Manos Koutsangelidis and George when they met in November, 2018

Toward the end of 2018, the musical world said goodbye to George who passed away after a lengthy and heroic battle against cancer. Even knowing his ultimate fate, he was still sharing his love of music with the world and connecting with the online community posting vintage photos and live music tracks from his musical heyday. He outlived the medical expectations by several months allowing George to not only share his music but to be appreciated for the years he dedicated to playing Armenian, Greek and Middle Eastern music. Less than a month prior to his death, George even met an admirer from Greece, the talented Greek kanunist and vocalist Manos Koutsangelidis. George was so touched by his playing that one of the last posts he made on Facebook was to Manos. “Manos I miss you already. You are one of the best musicians I have ever played with and hope to be with you again on stage…”

GR5“George Righellis was full of life, and full of music. He always light up the room whenever he performed. He loved both Greek and Armenian music, but told me once in an interview that he always gravitated more toward Armenian music. He was such an inspiration to so many of us, and he will be very much missed.” said Meleti Pouliopoulos, Historian for Greek Cultural Resources.

By right, George should be credited for being one of the first guitarists to introduce the instrument to Middle Eastern music. The guitar along with the dumbeg or drums provided a “wall of sound” of rhythm for the other musicians and gave it the “kef” (party) sounds we have all grown to love.

I talked to a few musicians that knew George very well and had performed with him and they had this to say about him:

“I have had many occasions to play music with George. All of them fun filled and musically rewarding. But although from Massachusetts, George represented a special place in the music of the New York City area as well, unbeknownst to him personally. George was the first musician that I heard using the guitar in our Armenian music back in the early 60s. I loved the sound that was created by the threesome Harry, Gary and George. (Harry Minassian, Gary Alexanian and George Righellis) in New England kef music. In 1962, and for the first time in New York, I started using the guitar in my group and in Armenian music. So the sound that George influenced in New England acted as a catalyst for me and for Armenian music in New York”. John Berberian, Armenian oudist

“I first met George around 1970 — Eddie Mekjian produced two albums: Road to Harpoot and Greece after Sunset featuring George. I heard those albums and I was fascinated with the fullness of his guitar. Why was it so full from an acoustic guitar? The recording on that album stood out tremendously with the sound of George. I think he was the best guitarist for Armenian music and he blended perfectly with the bands. George was the first to introduce the guitar to Armenian music. The Armenian bands starting using guitar back in the 1950s by hiring Greek musicians. That’s why a lot of Armenian musicians have a extensive Greek repertoire in there material. The legacy George left is that he inspired a lot of the younger Armenian guitar players such as myself.  I would copy every run and chord changes that he would do in a particular piece. I started playing with George at the Athenian Corner Restaurant in

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George with his uncle Kosta Kamanis at the Averof Restaurant in Massachusetts.

Lowell , MA. He had his D28 Martin Guitar plugged into a B12X Ampeg Portoflex amplifier, and he sounded like he did on the records. A lot of his material he learned from his uncle Kostas Kamanis a great oud player and entertainer. He idolized him tremendously. They played every Sunday afternoon at the Averof Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts”.Mal Barsamian, Armenian musical (clarinet, oud, sax, guitar) virtuoso

Discography of George Righellis

Music of the Bedouin Bandits – Fuad Hassan Ensemble (RCA Victor LSP-1991) (1959)
Near East Enchantments – Harry Minassian (Mark Records)
Interlude with The Orientals (Soundcraft Associates SA-242)
Next Stop… Near East – George Chakoian’s New England Ararat Orchestra
(ARA S1005)
Kef Time Hartford (Saha Records)
Crossroads with the Vanites Band (Worcester/Whitinsville Armenian Band)
Harpoot to Istanbul – Eddie Mekjian and Ensemble
(NILE NLPS-1003)
Greece After Sunset – George Righellis (NILE NLPS-1004)(1971)
The Seventh Veil -Eddie Mekjian and Ensemble (Fiesta FLPS-1599)
HOSSEH! – Richie Berberian Ensemble (IAN Records)

Special thanks to Meleti, Mal and John for their contributions to this tribute story. 

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11 Responses to His name was George Righellis

  1. Lea says:

    I am very saddened by his passing. He also leaves behind a legacy and we should rejoice. Thank you Mal Barsamian for connecting Niko and George after many many years. It was an honor to speak to him. May he rest in peace.

  2. Steve Asadoorian says:

    Played on a recording with George in the mid 60 s on the Vanites’ “Near East Meets West” album. He added so much to the rhythm section as well as his vocals on this album that was cut at Hill s studios in Worcester. Steve Asadoorian, Orlando, FL.

  3. Mark Gavoor says:

    Ara

    Great tribute to a wonderful musician and an even nicer man.

    Mark

  4. Chuck Koustas says:

    George is and always will be an inspirition to us Greek Musicians- the smile , vitality andlife he brought each and every time he performed will be idolized but never matched!

  5. Mark DerMugrditchian says:

    I grew up in East Watertown on Crawford Street right across the street from George’s family home. The street had mostly Armenian and Greek families with a few Italians mixed in. I clearly remember watching and listening to George practice his guitar while sitting on his front steps. I was around 10 years old and he was around his mid twenties.
    I started playing the clarinet and other instruments when I was 10 but never had a chance to play with George until 20 years ago and each time he played and sang with me it was great for me. He had s vivacious style all his own. I was fortunate to play one last job with George last September when he joined Greg Krikorian ‘s ensemble in Cambridge. I will always remember George sitting on the front steps of his house on Crawford Street playing his guitar.

  6. Mark DerMugrditchian says:

    I found a correction to be made to my post
    My age was 10 not 19. If you would make that correction I would appreciate it
    Big fingers poor eyes we are all getting older!
    Thanks

  7. Pingback: Harry Bedrossian: Euphoric Oud Ride | HYE Times

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