1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1984: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

The History of the Konservnaya Banka

Rive Gauche Moon of Yorgi (Clubbo Records)

The history of this distinctive instrument is almost as interesting as Yorgi’s own story. The konservnaya banka is thought to have been invented by peasants in the Russian province of Smolensk in the early 1800s, when Napoleon’s army left countless empty glass jars and rusting, tin-plated iron cans in its wake. The basic design of the instrument — a can, a stick, and one string, variously made of gut or wire — remains unchanged to this day.

The konservnaya banka spread from Russia to neighboring areas, making its way as far south as Turkey and as far west as Romania. Still, in most regions it was a little-known novelty until the early 20th century, when an unknown Berdyansk cannery employee with a musical flair resurrected the instrument. Thanks to the town’s role as a fishing and canning center, the basic materials of the instrument were readily available, and there were soon hundreds of konservnaya bankas created and played by the local populace.

Traditional konservnaya banka music relies on a series of semi-improvised melodic figures that vary from player to player. Master players claim particular note sequences as their own. If another player appropriates the melodic signature of an established master, a musical duel ensues, usually culminating in the public humiliation of the upstart who dared challenge the more experienced musician. These melodic motifs are passed from generation to generation, with each master selecting a single descendant as the new keeper of the family riffs. In cases of sudden or accidental death, when the family’s musical legacy remains unassigned, a public contest is held and the community’s most revered masters select a new recipient, whether related to the deceased master or not.

By the time Yorgi was born in 1946, the konservnaya banka had undergone various technological improvements. Fixed-position frets were added to the wooden fingerboard, though rust would continue to be a problem until aluminum cans became available in the early ’60s. But despite intermittent attempts to expand the instrument’s range, it has remained a one-stringed affair.

The world owes Yorgi Golyarevsky a great musical debt. Prior to Yorgi’s multi-decade recording career, few outside his native city of Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov, had heard of the local folk instrument konservnaya banka [kahn-SYERV-na-ya BAHN-ka] — literally, “tin can” — or enjoyed its sentimental yet piercing tones.

Yorgi, Master of the Konservnaya Banka (Clubbo Records)

For young Yorgi, learning to play was as natural and essential as breathing. The Golyarevskys owned an anchovy cannery and export business, and had a history of fine musicianship — but unfortunately, the family’s traditional konservnaya banka riffs had been lost after Yorgi’s grandfather Pylyp was killed in a freak pasteurizing accident in 1919.

So it was a bold move for the musically disinherited Yorgi to appear in public performing — flaunting, some said — his family’s lost musical motifs. He soon found himself locked in a duel with Symon Drushevsky, the konservnaya banka master who had usurped the Golyarevsky musical signatures. Yorgi slew the aging maestro with an energetic ten-minute improvisation, winning back not only his own family’s musical legacy, but the entire Drushevsky heritage as well.

Yorgi's 1970 classic, Trade Winds of Tropics (Clubbo Records)Yorgi’s family had always expected that he would join their anchovy business. But everybody agreed that the boy had a unique talent, so Yorgi was sent to the prestigious Rachmaninov State Institute of Music in the industrial city of Tambov, Russia. He studied in the Department of Folk Instruments under I. V. Skvorsovin, Professor, Candidate of Education, Honored Culture Worker of the Russian Federation, and was a featured soloist with the Institute’s Folk Orchestra in addition to winning top prizes at the 1963 International Folk Music Festival in Hungary, the 1964 World Festival of Young People and Students in Moscow, and the 1965 Folk Instrumental Music Contest in Magnitigorsk.

Thanks to Yorgi’s skill and charisma, the konservnaya banka rapidly evolved from the butt of musical jokes into a source of national pride. Before he’d even completed his studies, Yorgi received an offer from the state-sponsored Melodiya label to record some of his improvisations, backed by a specially assembled combo of percussion, marimba, woodwinds, violins, electric bass, and guitar. This recording, now out of print, was later reissued by Clubbo (with added “rainstorm” sound effects) as Yorgi Trade Winds of Tropics. So commenced a grueling recording and touring schedule for Yorgi, whose konservnaya banka stylings were accompanied by increasingly exotic and varied backing tracks.

But with success came heartbreak: Yorgi’s girlfriend Olya Gurestova, a student in the Rachmaninov Institute’s Department of Special Piano, was rejected by Melodiya as part of Yorgi’s combo. Olya was furious, believing that Yorgi himself had instigated the exclusion, and she broke off contact with him.

Yorgi on the Old Inca Trail (Clubbo Records)The desolate Yorgi immersed himself in music and alcohol. In a fit of despair, he overdosed on Becherovka after a performance in Mikulov, a border town in the former Czechoslovakia. After a night of wandering the city’s streets, plaintively plucking his konservnaya banka, Yorgi passed out in the back of a pastry delivery truck. When he awoke, he and his konservnaya banka found themselves covered in sugar, crumbs, and sticky cream filling. And in Austria.

This accidental defection gave Yorgi a welcome chance to start over. He busked for change on the streets of Vienna for several days before hitching a ride to Innsbruck, then moving on to Lucerne, Basel, and Amsterdam, where he eventually hoarded sufficient change to purchase an illicit passage to Baltimore. He continued west, finally arriving in Los Angeles in November 1969.

As luck would have it, Yorgi ended up almost on Clubbo’s doorstep. Cindy Pinkus, Bo Bogerman’s assistant at the time, noticed the handsome young man busing tables at a Sunset Blvd. eatery and struck up a rudimentary conversation. Upon learning that Yorgi had been a popular recording artist in his homeland, Cindy begged Bogerman for an audition on Yorgi’s behalf. Bogerman, in an unusually good mood after winning a recent poker tournament, agreed. Though he was not personally enamored of Yorgi’s instrument or style, his own grandparents had been Ukrainian refugees. Besides, even in the late ’60s there was still a strong market for global exotica records — and the more exotic, the better. Yorgi’s dark good looks and dramatic personal history only sweetened the pot.

Yorgi with Mystery of Sphinx (Clubbo Records)Yorgi’s first Clubbo release, 1970’s Yorgi Trade Winds of Tropics, was quite possibly the label’s cheapest — and least legal — production to date. Bogerman procured a copy of Yorgi’s first Melodiya record, transferred the music to reel-to-reel tape, added some thunderstorm sounds, and re-released it as a brand-new Clubbo recording. (Bogerman’s alleged comment: “What are the commies going to do, nuke us?”) In fact, Yorgi’s first nine Clubbo releases, from Trade Winds up to 1972’s Gypsy Passion of Yorgi were (not to put too fine a point on it) stolen from Melodiya.

Thus began a long chain of Yorgi LPs on Clubbo. The deliberate syntax errors in the titles of those early releases served to emphasize Yorgi’s “otherness,” just as the use of stock photos as record-cover backgrounds helped stretch slender art budgets while still communicating a sense of the exotic to Yorgi’s fans.

And those fans were legion. Yorgi and his adopted American audience loved one another with equal fervor. Though Yorgi never became a citizen, or indeed a legal US resident, he enthusiastically took to the American way of life. Not as naïve as some Clubbo artists, he negotiated an unusually favorable royalty rate with Bogerman. He and former Clubbo fetch-it girl Cindy Pinkus built a beautiful glass-walled house in the Hollywood Hills. Cindy may have held title on the house and the cars, but the saying around town was, “The party’s at Yorgi’s place!”

Yorgi Live at China's Great Wall (Clubbo Records)But this too had to end. A series of personal disasters rocked Yorgi’s world, starting with Bogerman’s 1982 death. For Yorgi, Bo had been more than a benefactor and business partner — he’d been an irreplaceable member of a long-running poker game that also included Leather Tiger guitarist Snickers Keith and Marco Lanzetti, cofounder of the Elinem label. Once Clubbo’s new honcho Bas Carlton took over, certain changes were inevitable. Yorgi still had two records left on his current contract, but Bas made it clear that they would be his last. Times were changing: Yorgi’s 1979 Krakatoa Explosion! sold fewer units than expected, and the next two LPs, 1981’s Yorgi Disco Nightsand 1982’s Yorgi Takes Broadway, were flat-out flops.

In 1985, soon after the release of Yorgi Honky Tonky, Cindy Pinkus was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A brief remission allowed her and Yorgi to spend one last Christmas together in their vacation house in Morro Bay, but she died in February 1986. Yorgi could barely pull himself together to record Yorgi Provençal Summer, his final disc on the Clubbo contract. Meanwhile, the IRS and the INS had both caught up with him. The Hollywood and Morro Bay houses, the three cars, Yorgi’s US bank accounts, and all his other assets were seized.

Yorgi's Big Cowboy Howdy (Clubbo Records)And Yorgi himself? He just disappeared. Rumors abounded: He was in a Mexican prison. He was back in Berdyansk. He was dead. He was flipping blinis in a Brighton Beach diner. The Yorgi saga had trailed off into a sad, strange silence.

But in late 1991, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yorgi suddenly reemerged, looking better than ever. After a long, closed-door meeting with Bas Carlton, he was reinstated on the Clubbo roster. Starting with his 1992 release Yorgi Kyoto Dreams, the new, improved Yorgi found an eager record-buying public for his culturally sensitive musical adventures. Gone was the blatant ethnic fakery of Yorgi’s previous releases. Now Yorgi hopscotched the globe in search of collaborations with true world music masters. 1993’s Yorgi’s Native Spirit paired the konservnaya banka with the flutes and drums of some of the Southwest’s finest Native American players. In 1995 he journeyed to Johannesburg, South Africa to record Yorgi Township Jive with leading Zulu and Xhosa musicians. And Yorgi’s 1997 sojourn to Havana, Cuba, resulted in his best selling disc ever, Yorgi’s Latin Social Group.

Yorgi dropped his final Clubbo disc, Yo Yorgi! Konservnaya Banka Flavaz from da Street, shortly before Clubbo closed its doors in 2002. Then he quietly retired to his hometown of Berdyansk, where he helps oversee his family’s business concerns. He has yet to name an heir to his grand patrimony of konservnaya banka melodies.

Yorgi's Kyoto Dreams (Clubbo Records)At least that’s the official version.

While doing research for Yorgi’s updated artist bio, current Clubbo staffers uncovered new information that contradicts the publicly accepted Yorgi biography.

How, some wondered, did Yorgi manage to look nearly identical in physical appearance over the course of his long career (aside from developing a bit of a paunch around the time of Yorgi Big CowboyHowdy)? And where did he really go during those “lost years” between 1987 and 1991?

Here’s what we discovered: Yorgi is no mere mortal — he’s a family franchise. Like the mythical Hydra, when one Yorgi’s head is lopped off, two more take its place.

When Yorgi vanished in 1987, he did in fact return to Berdyansk. And he wasn’t only fleeing his American problems — he needed to contend with a crisis that threatened his family’s livelihood. A species of comb jellyfish known as Mnemiopsis leidyi had infiltrated the waters of the Black Sea and the adjoining Sea of Azov. This voracious predator of fish eggs and larvae, probably introduced in ballast water from a US ship, multiplied rapidly in the already-stressed Black Sea ecosystem. Fish populations plummeted. For the Golyarevskys and their anchovy business, it spelled disaster.

Yorgi rode to the rescue. Fueled by funds from his Cayman Islands accounts, he helped his family reinvent their business, modifying equipment and techniques in order to process comb jellies instead of anchovies. In partnership with a Kiev-based cosmetics company, they converted their catch into the secret youth-enhancing ingredient of a new face cream. Puryana Rejuvenator Jelly retails for $125 per .75-ounce jar at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

With so much to do in Berdyansk, resuming his musical career was the last thing on Yorgi’s mind. This was even more so when a mutual friend helped him get back in touch with his old flame, Olya. So Yorgi passed the torch to his sister’s son, also named Yorgi. Although this second Yorgi was already in his early thirties, he was having a difficult time finding a direction in life. After an unsuccessful attempt to interest his nephew in the family business, the older Yorgi suggested that Yorgi #2 try his luck in the US, just as he himself had done two decades earlier.

While the younger man was no Yorgi (so to speak), he could play the konservnaya banka well enough. Yorgi #1 wrote a letter to Bas Carlton, in which he mentioned certain Clubbo financial dealings under Bo’s management, and Yorgi #2 was dispatched to Los Angeles, bearing Yorgi’s well-loved konservnaya banka and the legacy of family riffs. It was this younger Yorgi who created the less virtuosic, but more ethnomusically informed releases of the ’90s, commencing with 1992’s Kyoto Dreams. After Clubbo folded, he too returned to the Ukraine, where he oversees the Rocktion rock auction website from his home outside Berdyansk.

But the Yorgi story may still hold a few more chapters. There are at least two more Yorgis in the wings: One is a 28-year-old Golyarevsky cousin who works as a Los Angeles club promoter, valet parker, cable TV installer, and semi-professional checkers competitor while he hones his konservnaya banka chops. And the newly reestablished Clubbo offices recently received a press packet from one Lil’ Yorgi, a pre-teen Ukrainian “urban style” konservnaya banka player seeking a US record deal. Except for the lack of facial hair, he’s a dead ringer for you-know-who.

LISTEN: Selected hits from Yorgi’s extensive Clubbo catalog…

EXTRA! The exciting story of Yorgi’s mighty instrument…

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