Paul Voudouris Biography

History

1956-1974

I was born at 1:33 in the morning, in Tripoli, Libya, on February 7th, 1956.  An Aquarius, with Scorpio rising and Sagittarius moon (for the astrologically inclined), I was the second of three children delivered to Arthur and Tina Voudouris.  My father was a first generation born American, of Greek refugees from Izmir, Turkey.  My mother was born in Athens, Greece, to Greek parents.

As my father was an officer in the United States Air Force, we tended to move around a lot.  My first six years of life were spent shuttling between Greece and the United States, where I attended Greek and American schools.  Second through sixth grade was spent at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), near Colorado Springs, where my father taught French.  I have fond memories of this time.  Lying out in the center of the grass cluster, eating popcorn with friends while stargazing.  Tree houses, hiking, yard work, sledding, learning to ride a bicycle, chopping down our Christmas trees.  It was a time of bounty, rich in experience.  

Four years later, in 1966, we moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where my father began studying for his Ph.D.  That year at Sandia Air Force Base was mixed with joy and sorrow.  My mother, homesick for Greece, decided to return to Athens, and took my sister and baby brother with her.  I stayed with my father.  Attracted to sports, I was on a baseball team, a swimming team, and a tennis team.  After practice I’d find my dad over the hibachi in the back yard with a couple of steaks on.  But it was the taste of “souvlaki” which would soon whet my palette. 

Within the same year I returned to Greece to begin junior high school.  My father remained to finish his degree and followed us immediately thereafter.  This would be the final move for my parents who had decided Athens, Greece would be our permanent residence.  I attended The American Community Schools throughout junior high and high school.  My sister Anna and brother Nick attended the same school.  When I wasn’t studying, I spent my time playing ping pong, football, basketball, baseball, badminton, and volleyball, and avidly attended Tang Soo Do classes (I would receive my black belt at 17).  Additionally, I was an active member of the local theater guild and played piano and sang with some of the G.I. bands.  I already knew that the arts would be a driving force in my life.

(I can trace my love for music, and the business of music, back to the second grade.  There was a popular song on the radio whose title, if I remember correctly, was “Snoopy and The Red Baron”.  Friends and I got together to learn and perform the song.  I played piano and sang, one friend played bongos and sang, and the other friend sang but played no instrument.  Enterprising, at an early age, I suggested we go to the houses of friends who owned pianos and charge 25 cents to sing the song.  The kindness of parents provided us with lots of ice-cream money.  I also remember some of my sister’s records around the same time which included The Doors, The Monkeys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Ventures, and The Beatles.)

One summer job, wherein I was the peon for a pharmaceutical firm, yielded the funds to purchase my first tape recorder; one of those small reel-to-reel units popular in the early 70’s.  And though the floodgates to music had yet to open, I was already wet and welcomed the deluge.  I was listening to “Abbey Road” a lot.  But it was two brothers (and their love of music) who would have the greatest influence with my future as a musician.

These brothers were in the admissions office of the American Community Schools at the same time as my mother was paying our tuition.  Characteristic of my personality, I made a joke, the brothers laughed, and we introduced ourselves.  Chris and John Spheeris and I had, in an instant, sparked what would become a deep, lifelong friendship.  They brought albums and 45’s from the United States, which we would listen to daily.  I fell in love with Elton John (the first album) and Carole King’s “Tapestry”.  Then, with the purchase of my bigger and better reel-to-reel recorder, the floodgates did open up and a wave of beautiful music filled my life:  Seals & Crofts, Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, Loggins & Messina, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Queen, and, it seems, just about anything I could lay my hands on.  I began singing and playing Elton John songs on the piano.  This led to the desire to write and express my own thoughts and emotions through songs.  A pubescent teen, some of my early songs had titles such as “Hanging Meat”.  (Are you smiling?)  At one point, I was part of a band comprised of Rick Miller (later to become CBS recording artist Parthenon Huxley) on guitar and Jim Kress on drums.  We had one public appearance.  Taping every album anyone would lend me, I remember this period as my most open regarding musical styles.  Having little knowledge of the craft of music, everything felt and sounded new and fresh.  I listened without prejudice and was never to become a greater fan of music.  Then, suddenly, I crossed the line from being a fan to being an artist.  

By the last two years of high school I was writing many of my own songs with lyrics provided by friends and budding poets.  The Spheeris family had returned to the United States but John stayed in their apartment alone (what a lucky guy!) to complete his senior year in Athens.  He and I were chess fanatics and would play for hours while listening to music.  

(Somewhere amidst all this I lost my virginity to my girlfriend, though not she to me, and spent what free few minutes I had left to look for a place to practice my new favorite sport.)

I was stood up at the Prom, the school President, a member of the National Honor Society, and Varsity Basketball, as well as elected “most talented”.  Yeah, I was the King of the World.  But the exploits and prestige of the high school experience drew to an end as discipline and severity loomed around the corner.

1974-1986

The Air Force Academy had provided vivid childhood memories for me.  We’d moved there when I was seven, from Greece.  But returning as a teenager to become part of a cadre of boys who would one day become officers and gentlemen was quite another matter.  Off came the long hair and sideburns and in entered discipline, gravity, and other associated military virtues.  Harvard wouldn’t have me, nor would any of the other prestigious schools to which I was sure I should have gained entry.  So destiny (assuming there is such a thing) played a role assuring that I enter my father’s “business”.  Though a free spirited teen with pervasive creative interests, the Air Force Academy insisted I focus on the other hemisphere of my brain.  It was not long before I realized I was not destined to be an officer.  Or, if I were to become an officer, it was then that I realized I would be an unhappy one.  A life of creativity, in the arts, presented open possibilities, and a canvas seemingly void of traditional parameters.  A General in the Air Force, with a specific salary, was the most I saw the military giving me.  It would be two years before I left the Air Force Academy.  In the meantime, I served my time, was active in the theater guild, had a band (the Doolie Brothers; Doolies being first year cadets), and took up transcendental meditation.  Having aced the Spanish equivalency entrance exams, I was allowed some electives.  I replaced foreign language with Literature and Film; which were two enormously gratifying and refreshing breaths of fresh air amidst the stifling atmosphere of the Academy.  

When they saw me during a Thanksgiving in which I didn’t return to Greece, Chris and John were shocked to see the effects on the revamped Paul who got up early Saturday mornings to shave himself and polish his shoes.  They lovingly suggested that the military and I weren’t exactly a match made in heaven.  During the first two years at USAFA, Chris would send me lyrics via mail and I would write music to the lyrics and perform and record the songs with the Doolie Brothers.  It was the beginning of the musical collaboration between us, and a glimpse of a life based on creativity as opposed to rigidity.  Destiny (!?) again played its hand and I was out before the beginning of my third year and soon to be in yet another interesting environment.

The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, had accepted me as a senior after two years of hard labor at the USAFA.  Chris and I had decided to give our talents as a duo a go and I dove into college with zeal.  Once loaded down with Science and Engineering, I now had a choice and I chose five English courses each semester.  In bliss, I consumed numerous novels a week, and especially fell in love with Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Julio Cortazar.  (So much so, with Cortazar, that I named my publishing company “Hopscotch Fever Music” in honor of his “Rayuela”.)  It was a massive curriculum and I would frequently be preparing for exams, as well as reading and writing, in the booths of The Ground Round.

The Ground Round was (is?) a chain restaurant.  Chris and I, now titled Spheeris & Voudouris, had landed a five nights a week gig at the haven for hamburgers.  Picture this:  free popcorn, a juke box with a large selection, a clown creating free balloon art, a television blaring at all times, and the two of us, first singing songs by our favorite artists, then injecting our originals amongst the rest.  The pay was good for guys attending college full-time.  We learned the ropes of the business as well as the art and craft of composing and playing live.  Within a very short time we were performing as much as we wanted.  Having developed followings, we played shows that consisted of solely original compositions.  We loved all sorts of music, from folk to progressive rock, to jazz, to ambient (God bless Eno!) and our songs were some strange, but original mélange of our influences.  Two years after our professional debut, we recorded our first album.  It proved to be a gargantuan task for virgins in the studio. 

(In the meantime I’d graduated with a B.A. in Literature, was elected to the English Honor Society, and entered the Masters Program at U.W.M. Milwaukee.  As Chris and I were touring extensively, after one graduate year, I could no longer continue my studies.)

With loans from our loving parents, we recorded “Spheeris & Voudouris” (1978), the first of many collaborative recordings.  It took months, an exorcism of the studio, and lots of energy, but we finally completed the album.  Then we went back to a grueling schedule of live shows.  Within two years we were playing the college circuit, from the Midwest to the east coast.  Though lucrative, we spent endless hours driving, setting up and breaking down, and rehearsing.  What a time of multi-faceted experience and brotherhood it was! 

Our next release, “Points of View” (1980), was recorded at a beautiful studio housed at the Playboy resort at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  This album contained more esoteric compositions and displayed us in fine, progressive folk-rock form.  We played more and more gigs.  The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra accompanied us performing our compositions in the gorgeous Performing Arts Center of Milwaukee.  We explored different forms of composition, listened to Tuxedo Moon, The Residents and, of course, there were the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and it seemed that music was being deconstructed again.  In a bizarre move (why can’t artists just do one thing over and over again?) we recorded “Primal Tech” (1982), our version of new wave, and played these songs exclusively.  That move cost us a good chunk of our following.  But we cared not.  Then came “Passage” (1982), our meditative, alpha state offering (and STILL one of my favorite of our works).  Then, suddenly, we deconstructed just as so much of the music around us had.  I moved back to Athens and Chris stayed on in Milwaukee. 

I came home (to Athens) with lots of energy and focus and had very soon made influential acquaintances that would prove important to my professional future.  I started teaching at my old high school.  (My father was still teaching there and Nick was a student.)  I taught high school Literature (American and British) and Karate (for P.E.).  At night I was working in the best disco in Athens: “Autokinesis”.  The disc jockey was Piero, an Italian living in Greece with an impeccable taste and love for music.  (He is still one of my closest friends.)  My job was to man the mixing console for the half hour that a rock group would play.  The group was signed to CBS Records and was called Big Alice, a pun on the last name of the brains behind the operation.  The drummer was Dimitris Plessas, son of famous Greek composer and performer Mimi Plessas.  When the elder Plessas caught wind that I was into synthesizers (this was still a novel thing in those days) he asked me if I would like to play in the televised concert he was hosting on the island of Ithaca.  Accepting, I wrote a composition that included tape loops, and taping down drone notes on the synthesizers, and performed it at the concert.  Within two weeks, I was approached at my evening gig by the A & R man for EMI Records, Greece.  

Remarkable as it seems, I was in Greece less than a year before I was offered a major label recording contract; the dream and goal of most musicians.  I was signed on the basis of my performance and a one-song demo (recorded on my 4-track reel to reel) of one of my new compositions, a new-wave song called “Carpe Diem”.  (You can’t take the teacher out of the musician.)  Aside from the recording budget, I was given a $1,500 advance (laughable by any standards, at almost any time).  The task of recording the album was monumental.  With few exceptions, I was playing all the parts on analog synthesizers, and singing all the parts, one part at a time, one after the other.  Booking time in one of the top recording studios was difficult and I would often be given time slots at 3:00 in the morning.  ”In The Movies” (1984) was eventually completed and EMI England got interested.  But their philosophy was to go in and redo it in a different way.  (As Francis Buckley always says, “Things don’t get better or worse, they just get different.”)  So the album was rerecorded, adding the very famous Greek rock band “Socrates” as backing musicians.  EMI UK dropped out at some point, leaving me with a couple of singles and enormous conflicts with EMI Greece.  The bonfire of my appearance on the Greek music scene had been reduced to the flicker of a firefly.  And I was back to working as a sound engineer in the evenings.  But now I was doing sound for all the major stars of Greece.  I met interesting and creative people, went to bed about 6:00 or 8:00 in the morning, after eating, drinking, and smoking too much of one thing or another.  (The nadir was falling asleep under the sound console from having drunk a bottle of cough syrup in order to extract its codeine.)  From season to season, I saved money, had raccoon eyes, and spent less and less time being creative in my studio.  How much longer would I continue this lifestyle?  Was destiny to play a role again?

The Neraida beachside nightclub had a summer program to top others when I was offered their sound engineering position.  Marinella, Xatzidimitriou, Paschalis, Parios, Nikolaou, among other singers, and a dance troupe from Las Vegas performed at intervals throughout the evening.  I was attracted to one of the American dancers and, obviously, she to me, because we were together from opening night till the troupe left three months later.   She suggested I come back to the U.S. and live with her.  Weary of the nightlife and the jaded lifestyle I’d adopted, the offer was appealing.  But I’d at least have to wait some months as I’d committed to another sound engineering job at a club in Thessaloniki.  We shared the frequent phone calls that love in bloom knows so well.  And, before I new it, I had a suitcase of clothes in one hand, my trusty and still relevant Prophet-5 synthesizer in the other hand, and $1,500 (U.S.) in my back pocket.  Las Vegas Bound!

1986-1996

Lights.  Cameras.  Action.  Wake-up call.  Athens to Las Vegas?  Hell, Los Angeles to Las Vegas is a contrast.  Athens to Las Vegas is surreal.   I found out I was allergic to cats, tried to do something with my music, worked in telemarketing (this marked a low below that of the cough syrup incident), and floundered.  S. worked at the Lido and then retired.  We decided to move west.  Was Hollywood to be an improvement?

The sheer size of Los Angeles is daunting.  Where does one choose to live and for what reason?  What will one do for income while pursuing one’s dream?  I worked in a gay restaurant as the token straight waiter.  It was a great restaurant and a good job.  I also took the appropriate exams with the Los Angeles Unified School District and received my teaching credential.  Having phased out being a waiter, I worked like crazy for the school district.  I had part-time teaching positions for a while but was given a full-time contract within the first months.  The position was in a language lab in a school in central Los Angeles.  

Hired to replace the director of an innovative E.S.L. program who had been promoted, I stepped into an ideal position.  I had my own language lab equipped with the latest technology, two separate rooms, a secretary, and a salary greater than I’d ever had before.  But L.A. has a way of separating one from one’s newfound wealth.  S. and I split up.  She returned to Europe to dance and I went on with my existence.  But I had begun to reason that if my bank account were to have a zero balance at the end of each month that I preferred to be broke in a healthier environment.  Chris and I had been in contact and worked on each other’s stuff.  (I went to Portland and participated in Chris’ “Pathways To Surrender” and he played on a batch of songs later to be found on my  “Contact Theater” recording.)  Upon one of my visits to Milwaukee to visit the Spheeris family, I was struck with the initial inspiration for what would become my favorite and most unique work.

“Speak To Me” (1987) began by my recording every single telephone call I made or received onto my pro-walkman.  I’d set up a tap and trained myself to turn on the recorder before picking up the receiver.  The results were listened to, dated, and labeled under groupings such as “death”, “love”, “relationships”, etc.  Then, I manually taped (this is pre-digital editors) selected passages to a 4-track cassette machine.  Adding voice after voice, I created aural collages where people who didn’t know each other appeared to be conversing.  Ambient music behind the theater of voices completed the sonic portraits.  Using a photograph of me, Chris created an innovative cover and I manufactured 1,000 cassettes.  Played in its entirety, once, on KPFK, a progressive L.A. radio station, the tape never made a profit but remains dear to my heart.  “Speak To Me” made me examine myself and question the sanity of continuing to live in an environment such as L.A.  

In our many hours of phone conversations Chris and I had discussed finding a healthy place to live (he was planning on moving) and visited northern California, Oregon, and Arizona to that purpose.  Aside from having attracted extraterrestrial walk-ins and other unique and interesting characters (see “So Who, Finally, Is this Paul Voudouris”) Sedona, Arizona offered a magnificent visual landscape and became our ultimate choice.  Bidding the Los Angeles Unified School District farewell, I moved to Sedona and shared a house with Chris.  

We played music, wrote music for a musical, sunbathed around the pool, and got really healthy.  It was a period of rebirth, exploration, and fraternity.   I began writing an autobiographical account of all that I was going through.  “The Tip Of The Crystal,” as I called my selected writings, was a humorous account of many of the practices of the new age movement and its practitioners.  But I was laughing at myself, primarily, because I was the guinea pig willing to administer myself a coffee enema or collect my morning urine for later consumption.  I wrote prolifically and performed two hours of new material every three months.  And then along came Music West Records.

An independent record label located in San Rafael, California, Music West Records was responsible for the birth of “Enchantment” (1992).  We worked on our midi parts with an acute attention to detail, synched it up with an 8 track reel-to-reel recorder and added woodwinds, guitars, and whatever else was required.  “Pura Vida,” one of the cuts on “Enchantment,” was included on a benefit album titled “Polar Shift”.  This move unknowingly brought us lots of airplay and exposure.  (Which was good because Music West Records went bankrupt three months after releasing the record.)

Through negotiations worthy of our Greek heritage, we came to terms with the label, were given the rights to our master, and bought our seized c.d.’s from the bank for a fraction of the cost.  We reopened the doors to our label, Epiphany Records, and “Enchantment” was once again within the grasp of the consumer.  We did well, rapidly.  Very well.  Chris dealt with public relations and I did the accounting.  Meanwhile, we both worked on individual projects.  “It Takes Two” was my new focus.

While living in L.A. I used to buy my music equipment from a salesman who was also an accomplished guitarist and a terrific person.  Greg Westall, still my very good friend, and co-producer of “It Takes Two”, would later move to work for Alesis.  This was important because we were recording the album on ADATs, the newest toys at the time.  I periodically went to L.A. and stayed with Greg and his wife Julie and put in endless hours of midi and recording work.  Greg and Julie came out to the ranch in Cornville (outside Sedona) where I lived and we continued to work on the record.  The two years we spent working on the album honed and polished it into a finely produced pop product.  I had five singles on the record get substantial airplay with “It Takes Two To Tango” finding its way to the top of some international charts.  The record was recorded (primarily in Sedona) by Steve Shepherd (a creative engineer with a great voice and vocal ideas) and Greg, and mixed in Los Angeles by Steve and the rest of us.  Engineer Francis Buckley, interested in the prototype Alesis remote control (BRC) we were using, came in near the end of each day to add his personal touch.  Tim Gehrt, an Alesis programmer and drummer, programmed the drum parts.  Many lasting friendships were formed on that project and I continue to work with Francis, Greg, and Tim.  Chris and I, in keeping with our history, were taking a breather from each other.  Chris worked on more solo projects and I began composing my next album “Nothing But The Truth” (1994).  In the meantime, “Enchantment” had turned into a consistent seller.  Epiphany Records was flourishing and Chris and I bought Lexus automobiles, and homes, and improved our circumstances measurably.

The recording and mixing of “Nothing But The Truth” was all done in my house in Sedona.  Steve Shepherd came in to record and produce the vocals.  Francis came to mix.  The ADAT technology made it possible for musicians in L.A. to record their parts in their studios and mail me the VHS tape.  This was revolutionary and liberating.  “Nothing But The Truth” was a quieter, less pop album than “It Takes Two”, and sales were correspondingly less brisk.  It was the year following the release of “Nothing But The Truth” that Chris and I were again ready to go in and do something together.  That album would become “Europa” (1996).

“Europa” was recorded in my house and mixed in Chris’ house, two blocks away.  As always, Russell Bond did some incredible recording and Steve Shepherd left his invisible, creative touches during the mixes.  Chris and I had many arguments concerning production touches.  (Imagine heated exchanges over the degree of reverb on a rim shot!)  Chris took the record to L.A. for mastering and I took myself to Southeast Asia.  While in Bali, through faxes, and with the assistance of our favorite mediator, John Spheeris, we dissolved our partnership (again).  I spent six months in Southeast Asia relaxing, learning to scuba dive, receiving incredible massages, and writing about it all.  The writings were called “The Adventures of King Prawn” and were nothing more than the (humorous) relating of my (often bizarre) experiences.  (There goes Paul, the guinea pig.)  I celebrated my 40th birthday with John, in the city appropriately titled Bangkok, visited Laos and Vietnam, received more massages, and tasted dog.  Returning to Sedona, I decided I no longer wanted to live in the United States and was ready for another cultural flavor.  With packed bags, house rented, and the studio in storage, I got on a flight toward Mexico.  Making enough money from music, I reasoned that I could (theoretically) travel indefinitely while looking for a new place to move.  I wouldn’t get past Mexico. 

1996-2006

Renting a small house on a beach about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, I spent time writing, walking, and recalling how to speak Spanish.  Having bought a pick-up truck in Guadalajara, I drove through Mexico and finally ended my touring and sightseeing in San Miguel de Allende.  A colonial town near the center of the country with a diverse and talented selection of musicians, this seemed the best place to pause and record my lattest compositions.  Within two days I’d rented a house and a studio.  I went out at night, heard bands, and started working with my new friend and co-worker Mariano Pini, a unique, colorful, and talented guitarist from Argentina.  As he was into Eno, and Reiki, and perpetually in a state of creation, we hit it off.  He brought along his previous band mates Michel Lombard (drums) and Beto Gonzales (bass) and we formed King Prawn.  Unlike my studio collaborations with Chris, King Prawn was a live, performing band, which was continually playing out.  I have fond memories of our camaraderie and, specifically, our tour dates in Durango.  After two versions and various revisions, we recorded the eponymous album, “King Prawn” (1997), again assisted by the brilliant production and engineering skills of Francis Buckley.  The result was a combination of pop, rock, and jazz.  (I still love “Ticket To The Moon” and “I’m A Dreamer” and the lyrics to “The Idiot Box”, “Cocaine”, and “Home”.)  But the band’s life was short-lived and each of us returned to his own world and ways.  I had a fallow creative period after that.  I’m not sure why, but the inspiration was gone and I wasn’t going to force the act of creation.  But creation comes in many forms, as I discovered when I found out I was going to be a father.  

Building a house and recording studio in the country, I occupied myself with all that building a house and raising a baby entails.  Emilia, my greatest creation, was the inspiration for my next release, titled “Emilia’s Notebook” (2002).  From the moment I knew I would be a father, I began to research the most efficient manner for the instruction of the languages of her lineage in order to insure she would never have one of the horrendous accents that frequently assaulted my ears.  I discovered the importance of the formation of phonemes in the brain, during the first twelve months of a child’s development and set out to make a work that would create the appropriate phonemes for Emilia.  The result was the alphabet, the days of the week, and the numbers, recited and sung, in English, Spanish, French, and Greek.  This project took me two years to complete as I played all the parts and, with the exception of French, sang all the parts.  Voice after voice were added (in-between changing diapers) and some musician friends would lent a hand, here and there.  This was to be my last recording for a very long period as my interests and passions had found a new inspiration.

A ballet and yoga teacher, Emilia’s mother had long suffered from pain in her right hip joint and had found no relief from traditional or alternative therapies.  An acquaintance had recommended her to explore The Feldenkrais Method® as it had helped her immensely with her own pain.  When she called to make an appointment for a Functional Integration® session, I asked her to make one for me as well.  I walked out of the lesson decided to become certified practitioner of the method.  

It would take a little less than four years and a world full of learning before I was to become a certified practitioner and it would take many pages to tell of the journey and the lessons learned.  I was, and continue to be, very, very passionate about the Feldenkrais Method® and practice and teach on a daily basis.  Very soon after I was certified, I began another journey into becoming a Bones For Life® teacher and completed that, as well.  My life had become one of traveling to Greece to impart workshops in the Feldenkrais Method® and doing the same around Mexico.  At the same time I was (and continue to be) touring with Doc Severinsen (the band leader from the original Tonight Show) as a live sound engineer.