PLATTSBURGH — The year, 1972.
The place, Siberia.
At 17, Leonid Vorobyev was chilling in his native Chita, when a Moscow-based band rolled into town.
After the show, Leonid went backstage to see them and struck up a conversation with the band’s drummer.
“The drummer started to ask me, ‘Hey, do you know Chicago? Do you know Blood, Sweat & Tears? Do you know those guys?” said Leonid via his interpreter/son, Roman Vorobyev.
“I said, no. This is the first time I hear.”
BACK IN THE USSR
The drummer invited Leonid to come to his hotel room at 8 a.m. with blank reel-to-reel tapes and a home tape recorder.
“‘And, we can copy some stuff for you,’” Leonid recalled the drummer saying.
“The whole day I was basically re-recording the tapes from him. And by the end of the day, I was completely overwhelmed. There was so much stuff including CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) albums. I became the richest person in Chita just having those recordings because it was not easy to get stuff like that back in the USSR in those days.”
When Chicago rippled into Leonid’s consciousness, the band’s lineup was Peter Cetera (bass, vocals), Terry Kath (guitar, vocals), Robert Lamm (keyboards, vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Pankow (trombone), Walter Parazaider (saxophones, flute) and Danny Seraphine (drums).
A PATH TAKEN
Flash forward to now.
Leonid & Friends bring their Summer Tour 2019 Back to the USA to the Strand Center tonight.
The Chicago-tribute band will perform their uncanny spin of the iconic American rock-and-roll band with horns.
Since that marathon recording session in a Chita hotel, Chicago never left Leonid’s life.
“I kept finding and learning new albums,” he said.
“I was getting new stuff because Chicago was very productive and very fruitful with their music.”
An East Siberian Institute of Culture alum, Leonid worked in various outfits as a bass player and a singer.
In 1989, he focused on studio operations and embarked on a career as a record-mix engineer and sound producer.
For nearly 30 years, he worked as a musician, music producer, sound engineer, composer and worked with many Russian bands and vocalists.
Four-and-half years ago, Leonid celebrated his retirement with a 60th birthday gift of recording a cover version of one his favorite songs by Chicago, “Brand New Love Affair.”
Since no charts or scores of the song existed, he transcribed the musical score by ear.
He tapped his many excellent musicians/friends and recorded the song off the album “Chicago VIII” released in 1975.
“I knew they wouldn’t refuse me a favor actually, because I did already work for them in the studio,” Leonid said.
“We knew each other from a lot of different projects.”
His object was to record the song, keep it for himself and maybe distribute it among friends, old rock-and-roll guys like him who remember Chicago from their glory days.
“I didn’t expect anything to come out of it,” Leonid said.
“I actually thought once I put it out on YouTube, I could get some bad comments maybe from the fans of Chicago complaining why are we trying to copy that in Russia and so forth.”
A COVER BAND IS BORN
To his amazement, his cover was posted on Chicago’s official website.
It was a stamp of approval from the source.
“It was like ‘look at this guys,’ endorsed by Chicago themselves as a great cover,” Leonid said.
“While the first song was more of a favor to me and gift to me on my birthday from all my friends/musicians who did it with me, after this wave of great comments and admiration and likes the guys said maybe we should do another one?”
Leonid & Friends continue as a studio project.
He is the band’s leader, founder and producer.
He plays bass and piano, sings lead and backing vocals, transcribes all the musical sources as well as produces, mixes and masters all audio and video productions.
His wingmen are Vasilii Akimov (vocals, guitar) and Igor Javad-Zade (drums).
“Each musician had their own full-time job in other bands and in other projects,” Leonid said.
“They just came together once in a while with me to record a new video and song in the studio and to surprise our fans on Facebook and YouTube.”
Roman, Leonid’s younger son, joined to launch touring as a performing live band.
“Because there have been many requests on Facebook like ‘When can we see you guys live?’
“From that point, Roman joined our band as the manager,” Leonid said.
“We started to make headway on playing first a few clubs in Moscow. And funny enough, at one of the shows the Ambassador for the United States, Mr. Jon Huntsman, came to one of the shows together with his wife and his friends.”
Huntsman, a rocker on keyboard, was impressed and played with the band at a July 4, 2018, event at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
After a year of solid gigs in Russia, Leonid & Friends launched their debut American tour in January.
“This is our second tour right now, the summer tour is our second tour since January,” Leonid said.
“We are coming back in the fall and winter. We just hope to be coming back.”
In January and now, the Russians visited Chi-town, where they had packed houses.
“We did meet with founding father of Chicago, Danny Seraphine (drummer),” Leonid said.
“We actually played together with him this time in Chicago. He now has his own band called CTA. We played together with them on stage. In January, we met with Robert Lamm (keys/vocalist). He’s also a founding father. They both are great friends. They love what we do, and we love them. They are our heroes. They are my heroes. This is a tribute to them.”
Email Robin Caudell:
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Leonid & Friends, a Chicago tribute band.
WHEN: 8 p.m., today.
WHERE: Strand Centre Theatre, 25 Brinkerhoff St., Plattsburgh.
ADMISSION: Advance tickets are $33/$45/$55 with Meet & Greet package $83/$95/$105. Day of Show tickets are $38/$50/$60.
BOX OFFICE: The Box Office is located at the Strand Center at 23 Brinkerhoff St. Hours are Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
LISTEN: Hear some of the band’s recordings on their YouTube page: tinyurl.com/y4bdhj8h