Baby Grandmothers interview with Kenny Håkansson
Baby Grandmothers are one of the most prolific and unique psychedelic, modal, experimental power-trios to emerge out of the Scandinavian psychedelic underground-scene. Merkurius is the mind-melting new surprise album from the originators of Swedish psychedelia. The band launches into drones, avant-garde dirges, and fevered hard rockin’ wig-outs heavily overblown with jams rocketing into surreal spheres.
The three-piece band consisting of Kenny Håkansson, Bella Linnarsson, and Pelle Ekman originally formed in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1967. They enjoyed a cult following and became one of Sweden’s original key psychedelic bands. In 1968, they were chosen as the support for the Jimi Hendrix Experience European tour.
Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life?
Kenny Håkansson: I grew up in Solna, a suburb town connected to Stockholm on the north side. None of my parents was in music too much. They did listen, but not playing any instrument or singing. My older brother brought me to join a brass band when I was about fourteen. He played the tuba, and I was given a baritone horn.
When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?
I was around fourteen when I started playing, and that was on an acoustic guitar, which was given to my older brother by our grandmother. It had steel strings, and it had a crack in the neck by the body, so the strings were hard to press down. My fingers almost bled. This was the time when the British group The Shadows became famous, and they were my first significant influence.
A couple of years later, after doing a summer job for a month, I bought an electric guitar, Hofner hollow body looking like the Les Paul, but much cheaper. Together with my brother, who also bought a Hofner, but bass, we formed a trio, and our main tunes were the Shadows tunes.
Prior to the formation of Baby Grandmothers you were in a band called T-Boones. Three singles were released. Two of them on Polydor and the last one on Decca.
I joined the T-Boones after they were signed on Polydor, and Decca I don’t remember how. I suppose they took us in because there weren’t so many groups sounding like that, and they were testing the market. I don’t know.
What can you tell us about “I Want You” b/w “Mr. James” single from 1967. It’s a very heavy number from 1967.
“I Want You” is a cover of a Graham Bond Organisation song with a bit of Hendrix influences, and ”Mr. James” is a cover from John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. We were still in blues mood at that time. I had a 100 watt Marshall amp with two Malmberg 4×12 speakers, a 1967 Fuzzface pedal and a Guild Starfire guitar from 1965 with a Bigsby whammy bar. The psychedelic touch came after summer of sixty seven. Sixty seven, when it all begun…
There was some lineup changes and in the end the final lineup became Baby Grandmothers. You had to join army in the meantime. Can you elaborate on the formation of the band?
Baby Grandmothers was the result of me joining T-Boones, who then became a five piece band. Two of the guys quit, and the three of us went on as a trio. Then the original base player left, because the drummer and I wanted to be a full time musicians, and therefor left our daytime jobs, which he didn’t want to do. At this time there was a ‘psychedelic’ club in Stockholm, where we played a couple of times every week, and felt “this is life, this is what we want to do” “let’s quit our jobs and go wild and crazy”.
That was a big step those days for a person coming from an ordinary middle class family. To leave a good employment for an uncertain future as a musician on the hardly existing rock scene.
You were a house band in the popular club called Filips. What do you remember about it?
That is the music scene that in many ways formed my musical life. We could play freely from our hearts, and we did. Sometimes the place was more or less empty, sometimes crowded. Once in a while the great artist from US or England were there, for jamming or just for visiting the one club in Sweden which was in tune with the movement of the world.
How was the band accepted by the audience? What sort of venues did Baby Grandmothers play early on?
We were playing in Filips once or twice every week for almost three months in the end of 1967 (September to December), then the place was closed. The building was to be demolished. The whole area was demolished. We were on three gig tour as sub-sub for Hendrix in January 1968: Gothenburg, Stockholm and Sandviken. In March same year we went to Helsinki for a music and art festival, which resulted in recording a single – “Being Is More Than Life” – for a small Finnish company called Eteenpäin – Forwards. A promo single ‘not for sale’.
How did you decide to use the name ‘Baby Grandmothers’?
Our friend and co-owner of the club, Bill Öhrström, gave us the name. He thought we were young in flesh, but old in soul.
Recording the Baby Grandmothers 45 in Finland 1968.
What influenced the band’s sound?
Mainly Hendrix and the sound of the time, and then it has been developed from there by the use of all kinds of pedals and boxes.
What’s the story behind Baby Grandmother’s recordings, first issued in 2007 by Subliminal Sounds? Where did you originally record it? What kind of equipment did you use and who was the producer? How many hours did you spend in the studio?
The album released by Subliminal Sounds was recorded live at Filips. The man starting the record company Silence, Anders Lind, was disc jockey in the club, sitting in a booth beside the stage. He hung up one or two mikes near the stage, and recorded many of the bands playing there.
Above mentioned club Filips was the breeding ground for bands such as Hansson & Karlsson, Pärson Sound, as well as orgiastic all night jams with foreign luminaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Blossom Toes and the Mothers of Invention. Were you part of any nights with Hendrix or Zappa?
We were jamming with Jimmy Carl Black from Mothers Of Invention for about an hour. I was there when Hendrix was jamming with Hansson & Carlsson, but only in the crowd.
Were you friends with other bands from your country like Pärson Sound? What was your opinion about the scene? There were a lot of interesting albums being released in your country.
Yes, we were friends with Bo Anders Persson, and many other band members of our age. That was a very interesting time to be young in. So much good music. A time full of hope and optimism.
Was there a certain concept behind Baby Grandmothers?
We wanted to play what nobody else did. Find our own voice. Influences yes, a lot, but no cover kind of…
Today, in 2018 you’re releasing a new album entitled Merkurius. Certainly a very unexpected mind-melting album full of drones, avant-garde dirges, and fevered hard rockin’ wig-outs heavily overblown with jams rocketing into surreal spheres. How did this project come about?
Mostly in our rehearsal room. The core of the tunes pops up as we play, and then we play around it with different drumming, changing the bass figures, and the guitar jumps here and there, very freely.
How long have you been working on it?
We started playing again in 2007-8, Stefan Kéry (Subliminal Sounds) released the live album in 2009. We went to Silence studio in 2011 first time for six days, being invited by Anders Lind, the owner of the studio. Then we came back in 2016, and again in 2017. Meanwhile I was working on the recordings in my studio at home. Editing and adding a few things. Not too much though, trying to keep it as true as possible without letting major mistakes through.
What’s the concept behind it?
I would call it ‘Spiritual’.
Baby Grandmothers, are now back at their power-trio roots, still consisting of the original band members. How is to play back together and working on an album with a band that was active many years ago? It must be really exciting?
It is really good. We know each other well. We are old enough to accept our different point of views. We have a lot in common in music thinking. We grew up in the same era, “love, peace and understanding”…
What would you say influenced you the most? Have influences changed during the years?
The early influences are the strongest I suppose. I can still be influenced by more recent sounds. Maybe it won’t change my playing, but it can add to it. It is hard to say what is what sometimes.
How pleased was the band with the sound of the album? What, if anything, would you like to have been different from the finished product?
We are quite pleased, and there is nothing we would like to change. The next album will be the next step, and there we can develop things we might feel should have been in an other way.
What are some future plans?
The plans are to play as often as possible around the world, or at least around Sweden. We want to spread the words “peace, love and understanding”, and hopefully plant some of it in the minds of the younger generations.
Would you mind if I ask you about some other projects you were involved with?
Baby Grandmothers expanded to a four-piece and gradually morphed in to the Mecki Mark Men. This formation came to release two albums (one of them on prestigious US label Limelight) and became the first Swedish rock band to do a major US tour. After recording their last album in the Chess studio in Chicago, the band split up, but the original power-trio continued on with a new musical vision: to merge acid rock with Swedish folk music. And Kebnekajse was born. Was music of Mecki Mark Men different to what you were doing as Baby Grandmothers?
Yes, it was. Baby Grandmothers then as today were instrumental. Mecki brought with him good songs, with structure and lyrics. We were at that time missing that.
Kebnekajse had a bit of different concept to it.
Kebnekajse is also mainly instrumental, and the music is rooted in Swedish folk fiddle tradition. This turn came early seventy. It is hard to say why and how the trends are coming and going, but there was a wave going through Sweden in the seventies, especially early years. People started to turning away from city life. Wanted to try living as green as possible. With that also the music changed, from listening to music from outside of Sweden, an interest of ‘domestic’ music started to arise.
Later you joined a band called Dag Vag that were very famous in your country.
We played ‘rock reggae’, with funny lyrics. 79-81 and 88-2010. The best years of that era was 79/80. We toured very much in Sweden those years. We were a bit connected to the punk movement.
What do the names ‘Mecki Mark Men’, ‘Kebnekajse’ and ‘Dat Vag’ mean?
Mecki is the name of the band leader, Mark is the end part of his family name, Bodemark, and Men was us. Kebnekajse is the highest mountain of Sweden, 2117 meters above sea level. Dag Vag is playing with words, Dag = Day, Vag = Vague.
You have a very special way of playing your instrument.
I never went to music school. I learnt by listening, guessing, trying and testing. I knew where C is, and from that I could understand d e f g a b, and I knew haw to play the tri-notes c-e-g in different keys. The rest is ‘common sense’ in a way.
Kenny Håkansson © Ditte Edin
“Somebody Keeps Calling My Name” b/w “Being Is More Than Life” (1968) was the only single you released as Baby Grandmothers. Was it too difficult to find a label for Baby Grandmothers? How different was it for Mecki Mark Men?
The single was never actually released. It was a so called promotion release, not for sale. I don’t really know the full story behind it. The person who was the recording “manager”, was M A Numminen, a performing artist of Finland. He also was the one who took us to Helsinki for a concert at a university, and that is why the recording took place. Just a funny line of coincidences. He happened to hear us in club Filips…
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
The last album I really enjoyed, was Elwan by Tinariwen, desert blues.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Have a good life.
– Klemen Breznikar
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