He rocked his way to America from Athens and wound up staying in Oklahoma and reinventing the local music scene.
Basile Kolliopoulos, who made Oklahoma City his home-base for his rhythm and blues influenced rock sound that went worldwide in the 1980s, died Monday in Oklahoma City at age 59.
A raspy-voiced singer and guitar player of the Fortune Tellers, the Reverb Brothers and the Fensics, his bands were local nightclub favorites from the late '70s to just months before the crooner succumbed to cancer.
A memorial concert is being planned, said drummer Marty Dillon, 48, who played with the Reverb Brothers. “It's going to be a big void in Oklahoma City,” Dillon said.
Kolliopoulos and his bands opened for the Police, the Cramps, the Blasters and other major acts in Oklahoma City at a time when new wave and punk rock were taking hold.
The Fortune Tellers, with bass player Victor Goetz, drummer Michael Newberry and brother Miho Kolliopoulos on lead guitar, toured nationwide and their sound was released worldwide by New Rose Records in Paris.
The Fortune Tellers had a guitar-heavy and raunchy style of blues that exploded in the 1980s. Basile's the Reverb Brothers were a mainstay in Oklahoma City clubs in the 1990s until late last year when cancer took its toll and live shows were canceled.
Oklahoma City live music had never seen the likes of a loud rhythm and blues-driven punk rock act when the Fensics formed in 1978, said bass and guitar player Goetz.
“Basile was the birth, the reinvention of music in Oklahoma,” Goetz said. “There was nothing like it.”
“Basile had a real feel for rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll music, there was no one more high energy than Basile,” Goetz said. “There was no punk or punkabilly bands before the Fensics in Oklahoma City.”
He left Oklahoma City to play guitar in the Senders in New York City in the early 1980s before moving back to Oklahoma City to reunite with his brother, architect Miho Kolliopoulos, and regrouped the Fortune Tellers in 1981.
In 1987, the Fortune Tellers' “Musick Without Tears” was released on New Rose. It made a top 10 album list on a Columbia, Mo., college music poll.
In the late 1970s, Basile Kolliopoulos moved from Greece to study art at Oklahoma City University and pursue a rock 'n' roll career in America. For three decades he was known at clubs like The Bowery, The Velvet Underground, Blue Note and VZD's in Oklahoma City.
Once during a show at the Samurai Club on N May Avenue in 1985, Basile Kolliopoulos told an Oklahoman reporter what it was like growing up in Greece as a rocker who liked the Rolling Stones.
He said he aligned himself with the bad boys of rock when he was growing up.
The clash was raging in his youth between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He was one of the “teddy boys,” who was into the Americanized rhythm and blues sounds.
“It was a split camp, man: the Beatles gang vs. the Stones gang,” Kolliopoulos said. “The Beatles were nicer: they shook hands, they wore ties ... and they didn't get busted,” Kolliopoulos said.
Goetz said Fortune Tellers live shows gained a regional following.
John Manson, singer of the Oklahoma City band Billy Joe Winghead, was the doorman at The Bowery at NW 10 and Walker Boulevard when he met Kolliopoulos and the Fortune Tellers in the early 1980s.
The band members wore sharkskin suits and walked in with creepers shoes, Manson recalls.
“They looked like Mink DeVille and sounded like Dr. Feelgood,” Manson said. “They played a blues, slash, pub rock with a punk rock attitude. It was obvious when they took the stage you knew who the cool guys were.”
In 1992, Kolliopoulos released “El Greco,” true to his Bo Diddley beat influence but with his own Greek accent and style.
Oklahoma City disc jockey Jon Mooneyham's career has paralleled Kolliopoulos on the local music scene since the 1970s. Mooneyham said Basile Kolliopoulos did more than embrace the roots of rock during his career in Oklahoma City. He was also known for his artwork.
“He was a multifaceted diamond,” Mooneyham said.
He is survived by wife Heather and his son Miles, 22, both of Oklahoma City.