Atex Hassilev's appearance on the stand with the Limeliters is misleading until the group has worked over a few tunes. When they first walk on, a practiced "show biz" mentality will hastily assume "The tall guy with the bass and the short guy with the guitar are the heavies. This guy with the banjo is so good looking, he don't have to sing or play!" While it is true that Alex's tall, dark and suave exterior seems to provoke many females (he's compared to his favorite singer - Yves Montand,) he is much more to The Limeliters than an Apollo-like prop. Alex is a rare combination of musician, actor and linguist.
Born in France of Russian parents, 28 year old Alex speaks fluent French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian and sings in over a dozen additional languages and dialects. His innumerable accents range from Smokey Mountain wail to Ural Mountain grunt - sometimes, as in the case of "Hard, Ain't It Hard," during the same song.
Although he is the antithesis of the current crop of Ivy League "folk singers" who collect their material at Bennington and Swarthmore, Alex admits spending one year at Harvard, "My parents," he sighs, "considered it the status school." Desperately, he transfered to the University of Chicago. After two years in the Army (ours), Alex followed an acting career, appearing in many productions both on and off Broadway and one Hollywood horror film."Unlike most movies," he adds, "the horror in this film was intentional."
On stage with the Limeliters, he alternates between the guitar and the five-string banjo with the relaxed ease of a master and is often featured in a banjo solo. His most popular numbers are "Gari Gari," a "hip gypsy" saga with plenty of borscht-and-black-bread emoting and the inimitable "Monks of St. Bernard," which is his own arrangement of a medieval song, decidedly secular, sung in both French and English.
Alex, like the other two-thirds of the Limeliters, feels a close musical affinity with the likes of Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. "Like these unashamed eggheads," he says, "we get much of our material out of the daily paper. " 'Charlie the Midnight Marauder,' for example was an actual case which we read about."
"Not every song is satirical," he adds. "We're collectors of authentic folk material; some we play straight, others we kid. The real function of the folk song is one of social comment. The calypso singers in Trinidad do this continually - but we are the only comparable group in this country doing it."
It is only charitable to the females to point out ihat Alex lives in Sausalito (a state of mind in California) with his wife Ginger and an infant son. C'est la vie!
Click here for another photo of Alex performing.
1963 Souvenir Program
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Introduction | historiography |
louis gottlieb | alex hassilev | glenn yarbrough |
the doctor and the fiddle | thank you
Last update: December 29, 1997