The star and death of Valery Obodzinsky

In January of this year the popular singer of the Soviet times Valery Obodzinsky would have celebrated his 70th birthday. April 26 marked the 15th anniversary of his untimely death. Yefim Dymov who led the group "True Friends" and is now living in Toronto (Canada), spoke about Obodzinsky as a singer and a person with a difficult destiny.

"I never thought that I would talk about Valery Obodzinsky, but having watched the documentary  "Unknown confession," after reading many articles,  I decided to bring some clarity to this flow of truth, half-truths and simple lies," explained his desire the ex-leader of the band "True Friends".

Yefim Dymov asked to call him not by his real first name and patronymic, but his creative alias of Soviet times, which is still memorable to people close to the stage of those times.

Could you please tell us about your relations with the popular singer Valery Obodzinsky?

"I worked in the band "Muscovites", played the saxophone and alto violin. Popular singers Alla Pugacheva, Alexander Barykin, and my friend Georgy Mamikonov, now head of the show band "Dr. Watson" began their career In this band. The hallmark of "Muscovites" was a great song by David Tuhmanov "What a wonderful world." The audience liked that the three brass musicians changed their instruments for two violins and viola, and guitar player changed his instrument to the cello, thus producing a string quartet.

Valery Obodzinsky's career peaked in 1973-1976. At that time, he collaborated with the band "True Friends" that I've led for nearly 15 years. In those years, he was an insanely popular singer and most of the time we spent on tours and not at home. I knew Valery as a living, normal person. And I have some inside information about him - unlike the people who write about him. I do not pretend to have the entire truth about Valerie. Of course, he had friends and family, but at work, Obodzinsky mostly talked with me."

How did you meet?

"In June of 1973 we arrived in Minsk for the All-Union Competition of Variety Artists where we became nominees along with "Pesnyary" and "Kobza". According to the contest rules, the winners were supposed to represent our country at the Tenth World Youth Festival in Berlin. But the fate of the "Muscovites" was dramatically changed by the middle-aged, gray-haired man named Yefim Zuperman. He made us an offer we could not refuse, stipulating a number of conditions: a move from Mosconcert to Rosconcert, changing the name of the band, not going to Berlin and starting work with the popular singer Valery Obodzinsky."

"Some biographers of Obodzinsky argue that the popularity of the singer started through his tour with a team of Oleg Lundstrem and the songs of composer David Tukhmanov. What role has cooperation with the band "True Friends" played in the life of Obodzinsky?"

"Valery Obodzinsky was a lifesaver for an orchestra of Oleg Lundstrem. In fact, he became famous even back when he performed in different Philharmonic societies at the periphery. Obodzinsky became insanely popular after the American movie "Mackenna's Gold " was shown on the Soviet screens. Singers in those years were entitled to a song, a session in a concert, or a solo concert. The right to a solo concert was then held by only a few singers - for example, Zykina, Magomayev, Kobzon, a little later Leshchenko. More singers had a right to a session in a concert, for example Pugacheva whom we worked with together in Rosconcert.

Our band also had a right to a session. Obodzinsky brought to our band pianist Yuri Shcheglov, who became our musical director in the first two years, and the well-known in those years guitar player Boris Pivovarov. We moved from Mosconcert to Rosconcert, changed the name to "True Friends." The name was the idea of our trombonist Igor Oskolkov - and in a very short period of time we were rehearsing Obodzinsky's program that prior to us he performed with a "floating" staff."

"Why did Valery Obodzinsky appointed you as the music director instead of Yuri Shcheglov?"

"I do not want to brag, but I'm more or less able to make arrangements. In addition, Yuri Shcheglov used to drink and, his wife, who worked with our costume, also drank.   Obodzinsky did not allow alcohol under any pretext. We heard that he had previously abused, but at some point it all had stopped. Yuri Shcheglov spoke about a story that happened to Valery in Norilsk, if I remember correctly. He was supposed to sing at the New Year's TV broadcast, and in those years TV was basically live.

Knowing that Valery had a history of abuse, he was locked in a hotel room for nearly the entire day. Then a representative of the Party Committee came to get him and suggested they go to the TV station. Goingdown the stairs, Valery somehow managed to run to a cafe and had a couple glasses of wine. On TV it was all good until soffits went off. Valery was singing his famous "Angela", and fell into the orchestra pit. There was a terrible scandal, and Valery decided to radically change his life."

"Was he successful?"


"From that moment Valery stopped drinking. He knew that if he had a drink he would die. At the same time, he was a very hospitable person. One day we gave a mentoring concert in some organization, and as a reward a bar was installed at his house. He loved to pour, and it seemed to me that he was blissful doing it. After the first trip, returning home a few days later we left for another tour. Recalling the beginning of work with him, I can only say that back then Valery was a man of unwavering willpower. The only thing that was surprising is once in a train compartment, he accidentally opened his suitcase that was half-filled with some pills. Back then none of us knew that Valerie was using cough pills that contain codeine."

"Was Obodzinsky a wealthy person at that time? What role it played in his life?"

"My opinion is that big money cancelled out his entire life. Obodzinsky, despite the fact that he was bringing a huge profit to Rosconcert and Philharmonic, was paid 27 rubles per concert. None of us objected to it, knowing that the money goes to Zuperman whose salary was very small. Later, everyone knew that part of the money was paid back to Rosconcert for allowing to do more than 16 concerts a month, and scheduling tours at our discretion.  

"What, in your opinion, has played a fatal role in the life of Valery Obodzinsky?"

"A fatal error occurred on the day when Obodzinsky fired the director Zuperman. On this day he signed his own death sentence. When a new entertainer Boris Alov joined us, he managed to convince Obodzinsky that he will be able to do all administrative duties and Valery will not have to share with Zuperman. Yefim was virtually a non-drinker and idolized Obodzinsky. I am convinced that if he stayed in the team, he would not have let Alov to get Valery off-track. For a long time after this event nothing indicated an upcoming storm, and we gradually came to terms with his departure, although were very sad. Soon Yefim died.

Director Alov "unleashed" Obodzinsky. In those years, alcohol-dependent people would have some capsule sewn in their arm, and the person affected knew that if they drank, they would immediately die. Valery was a very hospitable person, but for those four and a half years he has not had a drop of alcohol. Slowly Alov began to influence Valery. Not since the first day, but gradually, he enticed him to drink. When Obodzinsky drank he would feel sick. In order to feel better Valery needed blood transfusions and other procedures done, and we happened to leave him in the cities where we were on tour.

In those years, Valery was an incredible force of will. When he felt that he was beginning to gain weight, he would go on a strict diet, and on Thursdays he only ate two apples and drank plain water. I mention this because in my mind I cannot understand how this powerful and strong-willed person could be under the influence of alcoholic Alov."

"Did Alov mean to do harm?"

"Boris Alov was a good man, cheerful, in the prime of life a strong, healthy man. You know, a Jew who could overdrink any Russian. The only distinguishing feature of his was that almost every night after concerts he drank two bottles of brandy. He used to chase his drinks with a raw egg. In concerts he was always sober, always cheerful and fresh, but after a concert they would play whist, and Valery, too, liked to play, they would drink over a bottle of brandy while playing.

Once in the Far East, we had a very early flight. Boris did not have time to recover and during the flight fell into the aisle between the seats. The first time we lifted him, after the second and third falls flight attendants and passengers stepped over him until the end of the flight. Until the last day, no one knew how destructive of a process was going on in the soul and body of Valery Obodzinsky. Alov in the mid-1980s left with his family for the U.S., where some time later he passed away."

"Has Obodzinsky's addiction marked the end of your collaboration with him?"

"For the first time it happened in Kiev. We played at the Sports Palace with a very popular in those years band "Singing hearts." An hour before the concert I went to Valery's hotel room. What I saw was indescribable: on the bed there was trembling in a fever Obodzinsky. When he saw me, hetook offhisexpensive watch and prayed: "Bring me a bottle of vodka for the watch." To say I was shocked would be a gross underestimation. We failed to bring him to life that day. The concert was not canceled - we were in the first part, "Singing hearts" - in the second.  I felt sorry for them because most of the people came to see Obodzinsky.

The next day the director of Rosconcert called and gave the main argument of the time: "Valery, if you do not go on stage, you will have to surrender your party ticket." Obodzinsky was all wet on stage, but he sang like a god. This was the peak of his career. Since then, it slowly at first, and then incrementally faster was swept into the abyss. After Kiev our cooperation continued for five or six months. The last concert I had with him and the orchestra of Lundstrem in Omsk, where Valery had to be placed in a mental hospital. After that we no longer worked together.

The last time I talked to him was in 1988, beforegoing to Canada for permanent residence, when he came to my house to listen to new songs. At the time he recorded two of my songs. It was a totally unrecognizable Valery Obodzinsky - worn-out sneakers, unshaven, rumpled. And most importantly, he was an awfully tired of his life and struggle sad man who did not compromise his dignity and honor, did not change his principles - to sing the songs that reached the hearts of his audience. And they in turn understood that he was a great performer."

"Valery Obodzinsky adored his wife, whom he met on tour, and was very fond of his daughter. Could the family keep him from falling?"


"Valery loved Nelly. On one of his trips, he bought her a mink coat for 3,500 rubles. It was a lavish sum in those days. He loved his family - his wife Nelly, and his daughter Angela. You had to see and hear with what penetration he sang "Angela." Of course, nobody is perfect in this world. He once told me that the family for him was sacred. So when he later divorced Nelly and married a woman from Odessa who was many years his junior, for me, and probably for many, it was a shock.

"The reason of Obodzinsky's breakup with his wife is believed to be his addicted to alcohol, rather than adultery."

"I cannot say for sure, but I think this was the period when Valery was influenced by Alov. At that time, he met a girl who was 20 years his junior. Valery was carried away by her. He introduced us. When I learned that he had a daughter with her and that he divorced Nelly, I was very surprised. He did everything for his wife.

Then this girl Lola was arrested for some kind of fraud with the sale of tickets, but it already happened after Valery had left her. I knew that he had returned to Nelly, and asked him how his current life was with the woman he loved so much. He replied sadly: "You can't glue a broken pot back together."

"How do you remember Valery Obodzinsky?"

"What always amazed me in him was his tremendous composure. We would be in Moscow just for a couple of days. During this time he managed to meet with composers, or was recording a record. Given that no one was doing these administrative things for him. It seems to me that he had a very important principle in life: "If we do not act, it does not matter how intelligent we are." Valery did not envy anyone. I have not heard him speak ill of his colleagues. He had a favorite saying: "Every horse has its stall."

At the same time Valery was not well familiar with the notes. In this regard a famous story comes to mind when "The Beatles" were asked how they know the notes. The answer was succinct: "Notes are road signs, and why would you need to know them when you know the way?" So, Valerie knew the way! He performed songs in a way that made people have chills running down their spine. When he sang the song "There's always a woman's hand" on Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem, the audience - especially the female half - had tears in their eyes. Surprisingly, I have never been able to find a recording of this song, in my opinion one of his best. I am sure that if someone wrote this song today, it would be a real hit - a combination of beautiful music with beautiful poetry.

I would like to add that none of the bitter truth can cross out the fact that Valery Obodzinsky was an absolutely extraordinary singer of his time, and a separate chapter in the history of Soviet music."

Igor Bukker

Tatiana Barkhatova

Read the original in Russian

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov