The Leningrad Cowboys are a wacky group of Finnish musicians whose schtick includes pretending they're from Leningrad, and sporting extremely long pointy-toed cowboy boots, the length of which is matched only by their extravagantly exaggerated pointy coifs. Their website claims their history extends back to 1397 when two guys named Tonau ("the Russian equivalent of Don") walked from Siberia to Alaska in the winter, continuing on down to California in spring - thus being the first Europeans to discover America. Finding only "some yellow unknown metal" and "some muddy, black fluid shooting up from the ground", useless for cowboys, they returned to Siberia, where their village was rich in clear spring water, useful for beer and vodka production. This story is apocryphal, however, as the Leningrad Cowboy family documents were destroyed in the vodka floods of 1977. But no matter: the existing Leningrad Cowboys, no matter what their parentage, soldier on.
Current members of the band, and the website's descriptions of them:
- Twist-Twist on tractor and drums: "No one´s sure whether he is human or an animal. Keep him far from your booze."
- Sakke on vocals and space guitar: "Tractor driver. Knows how to fill a moped`s fuel tank (that means: a genius) Can scream so loud, you can hear it to the other side of the lake, and easily."
- Silu on bass: "Never has any money, but always has a bottle of beer in his hand. Band calls him a walking miracle."
- Tipe on lead vocals: "Long, blond curly hair always makes girls go wild."
- Varre on guitar: "This youngest family member was named after a famous motor vehicle called Wartburg, (inside which he was first conceived by his mother and the locally known Siberian rally driver.)
- Vesa on lead guitar: "XXXXXXL, even then too big for his clothes. During his holidays stands in the middle of his hometown, as a tourist attraction."
- Pemo on trumpet: "There are strong rumors about his real father. Band is sure that Good Old V. I. Lenin himself has been busy with beloved mother of the band."
- Ana on saxophone: "Also known as the rabbit."
- Mauri on keyboards and accordion: "Mr Pizza-man himself. Knows how to drive a space rocket."
- Linda & Elina as the go-go Leningrad Ladies: "Both of the girls are physically attractive. Linda was crowned Miss Vladivostok in 1967. Elina was crowned Miss Ulan Bator in 1968. In case the ladies can be tempted on stage with three bottles of white wine, and they happen to be "in the mood", you will witness some heavy movements. But that's only temporary."
- Häkä: "As an extra-bonus artist the band features a Husky Female Army General Ms. Galina Gulakova alias Häkä - performing traditional Russian "Iron Rock" numbers."
No mention of the balalaika, but still, how can you fail with a line-up like that?
In 1990 the Cowboys starred in a road movie, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, about their seduction by America as they travel across the continent armed only with language manuals and a coffin. The movie featured Jim Jarmusch in a cameo; his hair looks positively restrained when ranged against the Cowboys'.
Unlikely as it may seem, the Leningrad Cowboys have twice performed with the 160-member Red Army Ensemble, a combination which Variety magazine called "the most incongruous - and inspired - crosscultural pairing since Nureyev danced with Miss Piggy". In 1993 they performed in Helsinki, and the 70,000 member audience sang along with hits like It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, Stairway to Heaven and Delilah, as well as majestic renditions of Russian ballads and Finlandia by Jean Sibelius.
(I wouldn't believe it either if I hadn't seen it on TV one night. Me: "Hey, isn't that the Leningrad Cowboys!" Him: "Isn't that the Red Army Ensemble?" Us: "Oh my god, they're singing These Boots Are Made for Walkin'!")
The historic matching was repeated the next year in Berlin, with a similar number of people joining the Cowboys and the Ensemble in Gimme All Your Lovin' and other great hits as the Allied troops marched out of the newly reunited city.
The Cowboys have a number of albums to their credit. The earlier ones - We Cum from Brooklyn, Live in Prowinzz, Happy Together, Total Balalaika Show (with the Red Army Ensemble) feature covers of songs like Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Just A Gigolo, California Girls, Yellow Submarine, Sweet Home Alabama, Delilah, Stairway To Heaven, Those Were The Days, L.A. Woman, Born To Be Wild, Proud Mary, Back In The U.S.S.R., A Cossack Was Riding Beyond The Duna, Volga Boatmen...Oh I could go on and on!
Their newer albums - Go Space, Mongolian Barbeque, and most recently Terzo Mondo - feature more original tunes, like Space Tractor, Jupiter Calling, Ulan Bator Girls, Little Green Men, Drink Beer Polka, Bumpersticker Rock, Lumberjack Lady, and Abu Dhabi.
Well, I know you won't rest till you've got some of these great titles on your shelves, so visit their website to find out more, and see photos of those hairdos in action!