Alexander Kariotis honors late brother in rock opera style
Alexander Chicago Sun Times Interview
Alexander Chicago Sun Times Interview

Alexander Kariotis honors late brother in rock opera style Alexander Kariotis’ self-titled debut, out now on Sony/Red, profiles a life set to music. From growing up in Elmhurst under the tutelage of his older rock-star brother to becoming one of the brightest stars in the grandiose rock opera tradition, it’s all laid out in 10 original tracks, including collaborations with jazz purveyor David Sanborn and Run- DMC’s Darryl McDaniels.

While there are songs about the time Kariotis’ father ran away with his piano teacher (“Home”) and, years later, meeting the love of his life in Germany (“Lucky in Love”), the multilingual record is eclipsed with moving stories about the singer’s late brother. “This is kind of Tony and Alex’s album,” says Kariotis, explaining how the Steve-Perry-meets-Pavarotti style mirrors the intersection of their two worlds.

Tony Kariotis was once the frontman for the melodic rock band Gambler, formed in Chicago in the ’70s in the era of Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon. When the band needed an opener, Tony would often slate his kid brother’s high school group, the Nodes, to join the bill. “As a teenager I was already living the rock-star life. I was playing the Aragon Ballroom and Park West and touring the whole Tri-State area,” Kariotis recalls. “I thought being a rock singer would be my path in life.”

But his brother had other ideas and soon took the young star to see Luciano Pavarotti at Poplar Creek. “It was one of those a-ha moments for me,” says Kariotis, who became inspired to study opera at the Mannes Conservatory of Music on the East Coast while his brother was courted by a record company in L.A. The two kept in constant contact, building songs together by shipping cassette tapes back and forth that would eventually home in on Kariotis’ style. “It started off as a challenge,” he admits. “I didn’t hear anyone else bringing these types of sounds together.

I knew they had the same passion and excitement and wanted to find the intersection.” Sadly, Tony did not live to see his brother’s recent success, as he was diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease and passed away 18 years ago. “It felt like this whole part of my musical being was gone,” says Kariotis, still seeing the silver lining.

“But when I do my shows now, it feels like Tony and Alex singing together again.” In addition to a hefty schedule of upcoming concerts to promote his new album, the singer is also keeping his brother’s memory alive and spreading awareness about the disease with a mini “national anthem tour.” He has been singing at select ballparks — including Wrigley Field on Thursday — to coincide with the 75th anniversary last month of Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” retirement speech, when the baseball legend hung up his jersey for the last time as the illness started to take over his body.

SELENA FRAGASSI, Chicago Sun Times
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