The first time we heard the high energy sound of bouzouki being played with fire and passion, at some family gathering thrown by the Vlahakos or Demeris clan no doubt, We were overcome by the pure unadulterated joy the instrument is capable of producing. At Nassau Bay Music Lessons we offer bouzouki lessons at our Clear Lake Texas studio, conducted under the adept tutelage of Edward Motter-Vlahakos. Ed has been teaching and performing in Houston for over 20 years, and is particularly gifted instructing bouzouki pupils in the traditional musics of Ireland and the British Isles, as well as Greek, Turkish, and Arabic forms.
Although considered a Greek instrument today, the modern bouzouki with its staved back and steel strings similar to the Neapolitan mandola became popular in Greece at the beginning of the twentieth century. Before that, stretching back into the mists of history, lute-like stringed instruments of the tambouras family have existed in Greece since prehistoric times, taking on an astounding variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and number and tuning of strings. With the astounding popularity of Rembetika music in the early decades of the 1900’s the elements of the modern bouzouki as we know it today were assembled into either a three course of four course arrangement of strings.
In the mid sixties, Dublin musician Johnny Moynihan noticed a peculiar instrument gathering dust at his friend Tony Ffrench’s place. Tony had purchased a bouzouki on a recent trip to Greece and brought it back in the hopes of learning how to play it, but his dreams never bore fruit and the derelict bouzouki was left wholly unattended. Johhny, commonly proclaimed “The Bard of Dalymount”, restrung the instrument and tuned it like an octave mandolin, intending to perform on it with his traditional Irish group “Sweeney’s Men” much to the chagrin of fellow bandmates ‘Galway Joe’ Dolan and Andy Irvine who were nonplussed by the peculiar look and sound. Finally, when working on a counter-harmony to Irvine’s mandolin part on Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willy, the instrument seemed to be the perfect counterpart, with its deeper, richer tone, and the birth of the Irish Bouzouki in traditional music was cemented into history! Around the same time, London luthier John Bailey fell in love with a typical round backed Greek bouzouki he saw decorating the wall of a restaurant and so he brought his measuring tape and took note of the dimensions into a notebook. Upon returning to his workshop, he conceived of an experimental flat backed version of the same instrument on which he immediately began work. Johnny Moynihan happened to be visiting London at the time, and promptly bought the instrument from Bailey, and the rest is traditional music history.