I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. My parents John and Lefko are Greek immigrants and I have a brother ten years older named Chris and a sister eight years older named Georgia. My parents lived in northern Greece near the Albanian border. My father is from a village called Sopiki and my mother’s village is Drumades. They made their journey to the US in the late ’50s.
I have wonderful memories of growing up and having all my relatives come over for special occasions. There would always be plenty of great food and drink as well as live music. My father would play a middle-eastern hand drum called a defi and my uncle Tim would play the clarinet. My grandfather Andrew would grind away at the violin and everyone would sing and dance. The songs were in the traditional Epirotiki style, meaning they originated in Epiros or northern Greece. My brother would eventually learn to play the bouzouki, a middle-eastern stringed instrument similar to a mandolin with a longer neck.
I started taking guitar lessons at age eleven and learned to play Greek music as well through the help of my brother. We would play at local Greek restaurants and parties. I learned all the popular music of that time as well as studying theory and harmony from St. Louis’s premier guitar instructors. I loved the music of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, etc. I had become quite proficient by the age of fourteen and I started to listen to blues and jazz, transcribing solos of jazz greats such as Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. My palette of influences broadened by my late teens and I was soon playing in jazz and blues ensembles, top 40 groups, and traditional ethnic Greek duos making a living as a musician.
In the late ’70s I was one of the busiest session guitarists in St. Louis. My good friend, the incredibly talented keyboardist/composer/producer Jay Oliver, was at the top of the studio scene and would call me to play on all his projects, from jingles to industrial projects to local record dates. Jay has worked with many well known artists including Sheryl Crow, Dave Weckl, Jimmy Buffet, Maynard Ferguson, and the Eagles, to name a few.
I realized that if I wanted to go any further in the music industry I’d need to live in New York, Nashville, or LA. I tried NY very briefly. Finally I moved to LA in 1988 and have been there ever since. When I first got to LA I was playing a lot of Greek and international music in local restaurants and at private functions. From there I slowly started getting work with singer/songwriters. I spent several years working with an artist named Maia Sharp, who has penned songs for artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Art Garfunkel, the Dixie Chicks, and many more. I had cowritten a song with her called “Sinners,” which appeared on her self-titled album in 2002. Billboard magazine called “Sinners” the best song of the set.
Eventually I met up again with Jay Oliver, whom I had convinced to move out to LA. Along with Jay would follow a friend we had both played with in St. Louis, Sheryl Crow. Jay and Sheryl would write and record her first record for A&M. I was very involved with the original demos, coming up with all the guitar tracks. I would soon go on to play on the record along with a host of stellar world-class musicians including Vinnie Colaiuta, Pino Palladino, and Dominic Miller. The record was produced by the veteran Hugh Padgham (The Police, Paul McCartney, XTC, Peter Gabriel). Unfortunately, the record was never released. Sheryl, the record company, and her management decided it was the wrong direction for her and shelved it. It was a half-million-dollar record down the tubes. She would follow that with “Tuesday Night Music Club,” which was released instead, and the rest is history.
During this period, however, I was working with several other songwriters as well, developing my skills and building up my catalog. My songwriting had become a hybrid of various styles that I’d been playing through the years. I always felt a connection with rock, folk, jazz, and traditional Greek and world music, and these styles started to fuse and show up in the music I was writing.
Around the mid ’90s, I decided to put out a record under the band name “The Beggarwoods” titled “Perfumed Garden.” All the songs were cowritten with my wonderfully talented wife Catherine, who I’d married in 1993. Catherine is an incredible poet and lyricist and is my favorite person to collaborate with. We’ve written quite a large collection of music together. We also have a ten-year-old daughter named Anastasia.
Into the late ’90s and early 2000s I started doing a lot of session work as a guitarist for film composer Alex Wurman (March of the Penguins, Anchorman, Play It to the Bone) and really got addicted to working with film music. I found that the styles I had played through the years as a musician (rock, jazz, blues, world music, folk) were the ideal combination for providing a wide palette of colors to choose from when it came to writing and playing to picture. All of a sudden a whole new world opened up that inspired me to pursue film composing. I started watching how Alex worked and listening more to film music and soon put together pieces specifically intended for that genre.
My first chance at writing for film came when I met a director named Dale Fabrigar through a neighbor. After hearing my film music demo, he decided to give me a shot on a short film he was directing. Eventually I did more projects with the same creative team and things started to get busy. I did many small indie films and really honed my composing skills. Meanwhile I was building up my song catalog for music supervisors connected to the film industry. I started getting interest in my ethnic music for film. I placed an original Greek song called “Dream Dance” in the movie “My Life in Ruins” starring Nia Vardolos and produced by Tom Hanks. I’d also gotten songs placed in various films through composer Alex Wurman, in movies such as “Sleep Easy Hutch Rimes” and “Run Fatboy Run.” During this time I’d scored several professionally done Web series. These glossy well-made series gave me a great chance to hone my skills further. My first series was called “Ylse,” a dramatic comedy combining Spanish and English, starring Ruth Livier. “Ylse” won the prestigious “Imagen” award for best TV Web series in 2010. The show is currently shooting season 3.
In 2010 I’d placed a romantic Italian ballad called “Verona” in the hit summer film “Letters to Juliet” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Amanda Seyfried. I had also completed the score to a beautiful film shot on the island of Santorini called “Santorini Blue.” The film stars Deirdre Lorenz (The Sopranos), Matthew Panepinto, Ice T, and Richard Belzer. I was able to combine elements of the traditional Greek and middle-eastern music that I’d played for so many years with modern elements to come up with a unique hybrid style. This is where I feel that my composing really started to come into its own. Also during this year, I was very fortunate to work on another dramatic/thriller Web series called “Celeste Bright.” It stars Ryan Michelle Bathe from the TV show “Trauma” and is written by Sonya Steele, writer for “ER.” The show has been nominated for several awards and is now shooting season 2.
Through the latter part of 2010 I was completing the score to a feature zombie spoof titled “Revenge of the Bimbot Zombie Killers,” directed by Joe Camareno. It’s in the vein of “Get Smart” and “Austin Powers.” The music I wrote was a combination of ’80s-style rock and big over-the-top orchestral elements.
Currently I’m working on the score for the feature film “Tin Holiday” directed by Joe Camareno as well as Sacred Chants 3 with the amazingly talented singer Emily Tessmer. The record is heavily steeped in the traditions of world music and will be released later this year.
Guitarist for the following artists: Sheryl Crow, Dave Weckl, Jewel, Maia Sharp, Johnny Johnson, Mitch Ryder, Jay Oliver, AO, Orenda Blu, The Shirelles, Alex Wurman.
When viewing a film for the first time, I usually try to imagine what the music would sound like and also where there should even be music. I’ve found that with many new films, there’s more than enough music and usually too much. The most important thing for me is to support the visual and bring the director’s vision to another level. I’m always interested in working closely with the director to bring out the emotional effect he or she is striving for. I’ll usually sit down without any instruments available and then try to imagine what sonic timbre or colors will fit the visuals. Does the film need music that is simple or complex? Does a certain type of atmosphere need to be created overall or does each main character need a specific theme? There’s a constant soundtrack playing in my head as I watch something and when I pick up an instrument, I try and get that out and recorded as quickly as possible. If I fail to do so, the idea may be lost forever. It’s not something that I need to force in any way. If it were preconceived or forced, than it wouldn’t be a true reaction to what the film is telling me. I always ask, “Where do the visuals naturally want to go?” I have learned to trust my intuition and have never been let down yet.
As a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, I have quite an array of sounds and timbres at my disposal. I have a certain affinity toward writing the initial score ideas on a baritone acoustic guitar. This guitar is unconventional in its tuning. Its bass range is much lower than a normal guitar, and this allows me to get a better idea of how I want to orchestrate a piece of music. It’s akin to playing a piano, if you will, but with the natural quality of plucked strings. After the initial idea is realized, I’ll begin to orchestrate the music with other instruments as needed. I may even replace the baritone guitar with a different instrument like a mandolin, piano, or an electronic sound depending on what the visual is suggesting. The sky is the limit at that point. From there, it’s very important to experiment and find the proper combination of instruments and timbres to fit the vibe of the film – whether it be very organic with mostly acoustic instruments, or very ethereal with synths and electronic instruments, orchestral instruments, or a hybrid of sounds. This is also where the director’s input is extremely important. Once the initial idea is working with a very simple “one- instrument” approach, then it can go in many directions from sparse to very dense. I stay in close communication with the director during this process so as to never stray too far from his original vision unless things naturally take a different direction and we both agree that it works.
Acoustic guitar, baritone acoustic guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, mandolin, mandola, banjolin, fretless guitar, bass, bouzouki, piano, Indian flute, penny whistle, harmonica, spike fiddle, clarinet, hand percussion, drum programming, orchestral programming, synth programming. I’m also an accomplished tenor singer.