On any given day, you can find Sergei Grin, a.k.a. “Gringo” sitting on his back porch, having a smoke, riffing on his guitar, Jack. His dog, Jim, lying at his feet.
This could be a scene straight out of the Mississippi Delta. But it’s Bačka Topola, a village in northern Serbia, a one-café town at the end of the bus line.
It only took one listen for Grin to hear the blues and know that's what he was meant to play. Grin, who is originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, now travels around Serbia with his guitar, singing American country music and blues.
“I feel that this music is like my pulse,” he said. “That's a strange feeling, a really magical feeling. I said to myself, ‘Sergei, maybe the blues is something more than music.’”
Grin has written an entire blues opera titled, “Tumbleweed.” It tells the tragic story of a broken-hearted man, with nothing left but his six-string and the lure of the train tracks stretching to the horizon.
Grin has the blues down, but he’s never been to the US. In his head, though, he’s traipsed across the country with his guitar on his back. He also picked up English listening to blues legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.
Grin said there’s a small blues scene in St. Petersburg and Moscow. But he said singing the blues in Russian is like watching a film with voiceovers. Something essential is lost.
“Some mystical cooperation between the words and the sound of a guitar, for example. You know, it burns inside of you like a little fire,” he said. “Or maybe a great fire.”
Grin said he left Russia last fall in search of a more peaceful place to let those creative fires burn. He said he had no plans to hitch a ride back anytime soon.
Petar Mitric contributed to the reporting of this story.
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