BigRock Balalaikas was formed in 2001 by Judy Sherman in Morro Bay, CA. “Big Rock” refers to the Morro Rock, a partially submerged extinct volcano situated in the Morro Bay harbor.
The balalaika is the traditional instrument of Russia. Its triangularly-shaped body and three-strings, played without a pick, give it a distinctive sound. Also featured are domras, round-bodied instruments, played with a pick.
In 1972, at UCLA, Judy met Steve Wolownik, who, as director of the UCLA Balalaika Orchestra, transformed Judy’s love for Russian music into a 27 year professional career. Beginning in 1973 with the Odessa Balalaikas, and, in 1980, in Philadelphia, with the Gypsy Balalaikas, and New York, with Balalaika Russe, Judy was fortunate to perform with masters of the Russian caberet style. She is indebted to Steve Wolownik, Alan Zemel, Gary Nova, Bill Melick and Alex Alexandrovich for 20 years of musical inspiration with Balalaika Russe, and to Linda O’Brien-Rothe and Peter Rothe, for invaluable concert experience with the Odessa Balalaikas.
In 2000, Judy moved to Morro Bay, CA. She began playing at the Farmer’s Market and Two Dogs’ Coffeehouse, where she met dozens of local musicians and set out to create a cabaret-style ensemble. BigRock Balalaikas took shape when Tina Granados, Walt Langford, Carl Moody, John Bates and Rick Schneider joined Judy for First Night, Winter of 2000, in San Luis Obispo, After several acclaimed performances, including Coalesce Bookstore and the Stone Soup Festival, BigRock Balalaikas has become a favorite at events throughout the Central Coast of California.
BigRock Balalaikas consists of:
Judy Sherman, alto balalaika, prima balalaika, vocal. After receiving a music degree from UCLA, Judy toured with the Odessa Balalaikas (the professional extension of the UCLA Balalaika Orchestra) for 8 years. In 1980 she moved to Philadelphia, performing and recording for 20 years with Gypsy Balalaikas and Balalaika Russe, and contributing to the continuation of the University of Pennsylvania Balalaika Orchestra. In 2000, she moved to Morro Bay and started BigRock Balalaikas. Judy’s motto is: “be the last to leave the party because there’s always another tune to learn”.
Tina Granados, prima domra, spoons, vocal. With her extensive background in music and B.A. in dance and theatre arts, Tina quickly learned the Russian melodies and now plays lead prima domra with BigRock. Judy and Tina are cousins, and attribute their passion for this music to their Serbian mothers and aunt: Vida, Valeska and Brana Porubovich. Tina is a founding member of the group.
Walt Langford, guitar. Never dreaming that he would be playing in a Russian gypsy ensemble, Walt was the first brave Morro Bay resident to perform with Judy at 2 Dogs Coffeehouse in 2000. He has been an enthusiastic member of the group ever since, and has contributed a great deal to BigRock’s promotional materials. Walt is a founding member of the group.
Carl Moody, alto domra, vocal. Having studied Russian at University of Massachusetts, Harvard, Indiana U., Ohio State and Moscow (MGU), Carl finally learned enough to order bliny in a Russian restaurant and sing a couple of Russian tunes. Carl is a founding member of the group.
Evelyn Spencer, accordion. Having played accordion and other instruments since she was a child, Evelyn also performs with several other local music groups (but has the most fun with us!). Originally from Fresno, CA, Evelyn joined the group in 2001.
Andy King, contrabass balalaika, alto domra, guitar, vocal. A veteran of the Los Angeles ethnic music scene, Andy met Judy at UCLA in 1972 via Steve Wolownik’s Russian music class. Andy joined the group in 2002.
Stephanie Moss, prima domra, vocal. Former member of the Aman Folk Ensemble and various music groups, Stephanie is also an accomplished keyboardist and Balkan-style singer. Stephanie joined the group in 2002.
Monty Ellman, alto domra, guitar. Originally hailing from Texas, Monty is a veteran professional guitarist. He performs with other local groups, in styles ranging from Klezmer to psychedelic. Monty joined the group in 2003.
Jim McKnight, prima balalaika. Jim first heard Judy play in 1976 with the Odessa Balalaikas, and is a self-taught balalaika player and a fine luthier. Having recently moved to the area, Jim is our newest member (2006).