The story of Aris San is an interesting, mysterious story. A story of Greek innovator guitar player who immigrated to Israel, became a star, left, got in troubles with the mob and died in mysterious ways.
His legend is deeply rooted in the Israeli rock DNA as many modern guitarists were inspired by his sound, style and phrasing. Sadly he isn’t well known to fans of eastern/oriental guitarists, and Aris San is a name that should not and cannot be ignored in the internet era.
But let’s start with the story.
Aristotelis Saisanas was born in Kalamata, Greece and immigrated to Israel In the age of 17. The reasons for that has three versions. Some say he fell in love with a girl and came with her to the country, some say he was brought by an Israeli club manager who came to seek for a talent, and some say he was avoiding an army service, being a pacifist.
He changed his name to Aris San and arrived to city of Haifa, quickly hooking up with the seaport’s workers Greek community (Jewish people who arrived to Israel after WW2) and was told to seek for the Ariana club in Tel Aviv. There, he was told, he might get work as a musician as Ariana was the center of the Greek community nightlife in Tel Aviv.
The same day he went to the club, auditioned and became a resident. This was the late 50’s.
He started recording some 45” with traditional Greek music, playing a wonderful Bouzouki and getting fast recognition with the little Greek circle and other fans of this music.
He got himself a band and switched the Bouzouki for an electric guitar. This was where his innovation of the guitar was revelead; His right hand technique was fast and sharp, much like surf music guitar, while he was playing eastern/Greek scales. This was a completely new sound and style in the local music scene. Bear in mind that early 60’s and much until 1973, the local mainstream pop music was dominated mainly by army bands groups of soldiers groups who record and released music (this interesting phenomena worth itself a different post).
But Aris was not only a killer guitarist, he was also an incredible performer, smiling and full of presence with his hair, big glasses and Clark Gable tiny mustache. He dressed in suits and was the chicest musician in the country. Aris brought a rock star attitudes to a very young country, an immigrants society without a clear definition of what is the local culture all about. It was a strange mixture of cultural influences that arrived from Iraq, Russia, Tunisia, Germany, Iran, Poland and more.
His shows became quickly popular. Not only ordinary people came to see him, but also politicians and the highest army officers (which, at that time, were as close to god as you can be). Thanks to his relations with the army officers and politicians, Aris San got himself an Israeli citizenship (which is almost impossible to obtain for a non-Jew) and his career was rising.
His hits Boom Pam and Sigal became huge success and of course love stories, late night parties and all the rest of the greek’n’roll shenanigan was happening.
In 72 Aris San left Israel and moved to NY and opened the Sirocco club which became very popular by many celebs. The local mob started getting drugs into the club, the FBI became involved and Aris San found himself in jail for two years.
When he was released, he got himself into huge debts, and had to escape. He left with his manager to Budapest, Hungary where he found a local Greek club owned by an Israeli and got a work there.
But the mob got him there and one night they beat him really bad.
In the hospital, allegedly, he had a heart attack and he passed away in 1992. Allegedly, because some say the mob killed him there, and some say he is still alive and hiding somewhere. His manager says he burned the body but no one knows if his grave contains his ashes, or where the manager, the only one who saw the body, is.
The whole story of Aris San was greatly covered in Dani Dotan’s movie “The Mystery of Aris San“
But besides of the interesting story of Aris San the person, it’s a story of a wonderful musician. An amazing, innovative guitarist (which fans of Omar Khorshid will enjoy), a singer with a warm voice and presence, and a very talented songwriter. Aris San wisely combined the obvious Greek elements, with rocknroll, some jazz and even psychedelia on two fabulous tracks.
I’ve made this little mixtape of Aris san’s greatest guitar tracks, I hope you’ll enjoy and spread the word about an incredible musician which I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until one of the great reissues labels out there, will pick him as a project.