Even during their studies with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Beatles probably had no idea an instrument called an oud existed. On the other hand, oudist John Bilezikjian had no idea who they were.
“When I first started out, I had no idea who The Beatles were, or Simon and Garfunkel. Then one day I heard ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and I started crying. I asked my wife, ‘what is that song?’ and I couldn’t believe she had the record and played it for me. My whole life until then had been classical music and Turkish 78s.”
Bilezikjian had grown up in the San Fernando Valley in a large family with strong traditions in music and its Armenian heritage. His musical life began at age five with violin lessons from his father, Andrew, himself a classical violinist. During these early years, the boy listened to 78 RPM recordings brought from Turkey. In particular, he was fascinated by the sound of the oud, an ancient Persian instrument popular on the old albums.
“What instrument is that?” he asked his mother.
She brought out his grandfather’s oud and placed it on the boy’s lap. As he experimented with its 11 strings, he was unaware of its roots that reach back 2,500 years. He didn’t care that it was the forerunner to the lute or that it had no frets. He just wanted to play the wonderful sounds he heard on the scratchy albums and in his home every weekend.