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Chicago tribute band from Russia exceeds skill of original group

Leonid & Friends brings its faithful renditions


Joshua Schipper

Whatzup Features Writer

Published October 20, 2021

October concertgoers will have the opportunity to witness the result of a YouTube collaboration among friends on the other side of the world that went viral.

Leonid & Friends, a group covering songs by the classic American rock band Chicago, will play at the Clyde Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 27.

There’s one catch to this group, however — no one in this global cover band has ever seen Chicago perform live. In addition to this anomaly, these talented musicians come from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus.

Reinventing the Sound

Leonid Vorobyev is the leader and founder of the group, but also fills a number of other roles in his work with Leonid & Friends.

Vorobyev acts as a producer for the band, in addition to playing bass and piano, singing lead and backing vocals, and transcribing all the musical scores so that the musicians can accurately replicate the jazzy sound for which Chicago is known.

Vorobyev also plays the producer role in all of the cover band’s audio and video creations.

The band’s official website recounts that, after retiring several years ago, Vorobyev “decided to give himself a gift to celebrate his retirement by recording a cover version of Chicago’s 1975 song, ‘Brand New Love Affair.’”

However, because there were not any scores of the single available for musicians to use, he transcribed the song by ear. Vorobyev and his friends recorded the transcribed music. That launched the collaborative project now known as Leonid & Friends.

Classic Music

Some of the band’s influence and interest in Chicago comes from the lack of availability of certain instruments when Vorobyev was growing up.

“In the early 1970s in the U.S.S.R., electric guitars, amplifiers, and drums were rare to find, so at school we were playing self-made instruments,” Vorobyev explained on the band’s official website.

“We were allowed to rehearse in the same room with a horns band. Those musicians almost always were drunk and quite often tried to play with us our rock songs. It was a nightmare, and I hated them all!”

The musicians collaborating with Vorobyev to bring Chicago’s classic tracks to the stage have their own extensive experience in the music industry.

Vasilii Akimov is a vocalist and guitarist for the band. According to the band’s website, he has won a number of international music competitions. He has also been a member of Russian rock band Monomakh.

Igor Javad-Zade is the drummer for Leonid & Friends. Javad-Zade has “collaborated with musicians in Russia and from various foreign countries,” according to his online biography.

Another vocalist that plays guitar for Leonid & Friends is Serge Tiagniryadno, who was born and lives in the capital of Ukraine. There, he runs his recording studio, Crystal Sound. He studied to be a television and film director at the Karpenko-Kariy Kiev National University of Theatre, Cinema and Television, and also received education at the Kiev Institute of Theatrical Arts.

In addition to vocal and guitar work for Leonid & Friends, Tiagniryadno also plays bass guitar, clarinet, saxophone, percussion, drums, and keyboards.

Since 2020, Sergey Kurmaev has played keyboards and provided backing vocals for the group. Born in Kyrgyzstan in 1980, he enrolled at a local music school to study accordion at age 8. His early successes led the Kyrgyzstan National Conservatory of Music to award him admission to continue studying piano.

According to the band’s website, during his first concert with the band, Kurmaev said, “When I saw Leonid & Friends on YouTube, I thought myself maybe one day I would play in a band like this. But now I’m here, it’s a magic, thank you my God, and I very glad to be part of Leonid & Friends. Thank you very much, thank you for trust and I want to see our friends in the future.”

Matchless Covers

Audiences may be surprised to find how well the cover band matches the original Chicago style.

Rich Jorn, director of a venue in Owensboro, Ky., saw the band perform in 2019. He told The Messenger-Inquirer in mid-October that, while he means no disrespect, “If you bought a ticket to see the current lineup of Chicago and bought a ticket to see Leonid & Friends, Leonid & Friends is the better band. They’re gonna sound more like Chicago than Chicago.”

The Messenger-Inquirer also reported that concert goers may even hear songs from artists like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Rolling Stones, and Steely Dan.

The band embarked on three U.S. tours in 2019, the first year that they had toured outside of Russia. During a visit to Los Angeles, the group met two founding members of the original Chicago band, as well as the daughter of the late Chicago guitarist Terry Kath.

“We were so thrilled that Robert, Danny, and Michelle took the time to visit with us,” Vorobyev recounts in an interview on the band’s website. “It was an experience that we will cherish and remember forever.”

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