"OTI ARHIZI OREO"
THE LIFE OF SPYROS SKORDILIS
Born in Athens in the summer of 1930, "Spyros Skordilis" early life was marked by struggling to survive in the economy created by two World Wars and political turmoil within Greece. A defining moment in his childhood was when in first grade, his teacher asked him to read the next line in the textbook, and when Spyros replied that he had lost track of the page, his teacher hit him across his knees with a ruler. When he came home from school, he didn't mention this reprimand to his parents, thinking he would be in more trouble. But, by midnight, his leg had turned blue and the pain was intolerable. His parents rushed him to the hospital where doctors told them he had internal bleeding and an infection, and for the next three years, his father carried him on his back to the hospital for treatments. (there were no good roads or busses). Understandably, Spyros didn't want to go back to school, so what he learned of reading and writing was taught to him by his nurse.
Spyros' father was an enormous influence on his life. After dinner, he would often play his guitar with young Spyros singing by his side. Spyros' father noticed his son's talent for music, and began teaching him to play the guitar as well. However, Spyros father died at a young age leaving the family to struggle financially. Spyros worked doing odd jobs to help support his mother and younger siblings, but his love of music never lessened.
At age 18, he formed his first band which became a well-known Laiki orchestra. Five years later, he turned his interests to fold music, learned to play the bouzouki, and formed the "Blue Trio" with whom he played in many tavernas in Plaka, the historical neighborhood on the slopes of the Acropolis. By 1958, Spyros had mad a name for himself playing in the company of other well-known musicians, of the decade, Like Bobby and George Malidis, Georgo Kehayias, and Panagiotis Visvardis, and was soon signed with Columbia Records. Spiros' first hit song was "Vongae O Ponos," a Zeimbekiko song that took off in popularity, launching Spyros into the nightclub circuit of featured performers. It was during this time that Spiros met Lena Daina, a young and talented vocalist who would become both his wife and partner on and off-stage. The story behind his most famous son "OTI ARHIZI OREO" (WHEN SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL BEGINS) is that after he and Lena had a fight one night, she wrote a phrase on a cigarette package: "it's wrong to build castles in the sand, we will not be able to sustain the windy storms and turbulences of life." She handed it to Spyros, whose reaction was far from positive. But it kept him up for the rest of the night, and by dawn, he had the lyrics and music for his breakout composition.
However, "OTI ARHIZI OREO" was a tough sell to his record label, with management, rejecting it as unsellable. Spyros persisted in slipping in the song every time he presented work for recording until RCA finally relented. "OTI ARHIZI OREO" became not just a hit, but a standard in Greek fold music, recorded in many countries by many artists (most notable by Bobby Tsetinis), and used in the movie "OTAN OI YINEKES AGAPOUN."
By 1967, Spyros' compositions and recording were gaining in popularity, like "TOU BOUZOUKIOU MOU TO MINORE," "TO MINI MINI TO MINAKI SOU" and the anthem for his favorite soccer team: Olympiakos. But his success was mounting against a backdrop of revolution when the military junta seizing power in a coup d'état. The junta arrested, drafted, imprisoned, and tortured any who disagreed with their politics, and tightly controlled the artistic community, even dictating what music was played. After they banned the song "TO MINI MINI TO MINAKI SOU" Spyros and Lena decided it was to take their act on tour. The next decade saw the pair performing in Australia, Montreal, Boston, Chicago, New York, South Carolina and Florida.
In 1977 Spyros and Lena left Charleston, So. Carolina, for and engagement in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Lena became ill, and within six months, passed away from a stroke. Spyros had lost his wife, collaborator, and performing partner, leaving him devastated and without direction.
The Fold-Artist-in-the-School program, sponsored by the Pinellas Art Council, encouraged Spyros to teach the bouzouki to sixth grade students, most of whom were not of Greek descent, and many who had never played an instrument before. Spyros noted that they took to the instrument naturally and were eager to learn. In a newspaper article at the time, one student said "this class is better than all of my other classes put together. "Spyros had found a new direction for his life, that of teaching and it was at this time he met Kalliope (Kay) who eventually became his adoring wife. While Kay Skordilis wasn't a musician herself, she loved music and wrote lyrics to many of Spyros compositions. Their partnership resulted in music, that is full of emotion, meaning and cultural distinction.
As Spyros made a place for himself in the Hellenic-American Community of Tarpon Spring, many of his fellow musicians urged him to return to Greece. With a dozen new songs in hand, he made the flight in 1983 and met up with a contact at the Greek record company. While Spyro had hoped to make a comeback in his musical career, the recording company had other ideas. They wanted to give his songs to younger artists. Spyros returned to Florida disappointed, and wrote "EXO DIO PATRIDES" The lyrics, written by his wife Kay, say "Now that I have returned, everything seems to have changed. It is very hard for me to choose. It is hard to have love torn between two countries." Not only did it become one of his favorite songs, it spoke to the hearts of many Hellenic-Americans.
By 2005, Spyros at the age of 75, had survived lung cancer to continue teaching the art of the bouzouki, direct a chorus group named :ORPHEAS" and perform at local restaurants. He also saw his granddaughter, Katie Levent, follow in his footsteps, learning to love and perform music inspired by her Greek and American heritage. In his lifetime Spiros recorded close to 200 songs and had the pleasure of working with artists including Tsitsani, Papaioanou, Vambakari, Tsaousaki, and Mpagioumtgi. In 2013 He was honored by the Pan-Hellenic Center Prometheas of Florida.
On June 15th Spyros Skordilis passed away at the age of 83 in Tarpon Springs, hi home for 36 years. He leaves behind two children in Greece, one child in Tarpon Springs, four grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and his wife Kalliope (Kay) who is working on a book about his life.
Many of our friends have asked us why we waited a week to bury Spyros, and the answer is: We believe it's what he would have wanted. On April 11th, Spyros went to visit, the gravesite of his mother-in-law Evlambia Kalimtgis, on the anniversary of her death. He hugged the stone and said "I'll be up in heaven soon, and we'll celebrate your birthday together in a big glendi." Her birthday was on Saturday, June 22nd, which is also the day of Psyhosavato, or "all Soul's Day" in the Greek Orthodox Church. We feel it's appropriate day to send off the man who so many loved and admired.
Spyro always a way of knowing which was the dice would roll in a game of backgammon, and we think he had a feeling about this too. Thank you for joining us to celebrate his live.