One of the pleasures of being a travelling blues dancer and DJ is that I get to listen and dance to some of the best blues musicians in Europe.
I met and heard Christoffer Johansson for the first time earlier this year at The Blues Garden in Gotebörg. I was simply blown away by his performances. Lucky for me, we were both at Blossom Blues in Zurich in May. Then, just two weeks later, we were in Oslo together at Moose Blues.
Curious to find out more about his musical roots, I persuaded him to sit down for a chat, just half an hour before he was due to play on Saturday night.
How did you start playing guitar?
My father was a musician. He played guitar in a Swedish Dansband. The music style is similar to Nashville style country music, and he worked at a lot of weddings and parties. My dad bought me my first guitar age 5, but I’d been playing his since I could walk.
I started drums age 9, and learning guitar properly around 2 years later. Where I grew up there was a youth music programme – every school age kid had a chance to join. We had three really great teachers. My school was quite small – maybe only around 200 or 300 pupils. There were around 50 bands and I played in 10 of them. We had music festivals where each band had to play a couple of songs. I’d only been playing a month when I joined my first band.
I got more and more into it. My lessons were on acoustic guitar but when I started playing in bands I played more electric guitar. After about a month of lessons I was playing guitar as much as I could. One of my teachers, his name was Bosse, was very supportive. He talked us into writing our own songs. He was really good at simplifying songs and making them playable. From very early on we could play what we liked. We played a lot of Beatles but the first thing we learned was 12 bar blues.
How would you describe your music style?
American Folk Music. That includes: blues; country; mountain ballads. I also play more experimental stuff.
Who were your earliest music influences?
Nirvana was one of the first bands that I really enjoyed. Grunge. In some ways I was very influenced by Kurt Cobain. He was a big part of my musical childhood years. I was also influenced by Swedish Punk Band Ebba Grön, Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix.
Who are your music influences now?
Muddy Waters. Son House. Charlie Patten. Skip James. Blind Willie Johnson. A few years ago I was listening to a lot of Kelly Jo Phelps. I listen to Tom Waits a lot.
What is your favourite Tom Waits song?
I really really love ‘Martha’. I also love ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. ‘Mule Variations’ is my favourite album. He’s a great songwriter. He’s created his own genre.
Are there any other albums that have influenced you?
Bob Dylan ‘Time Out of Mind’. When I do music production I am inspired by that album.
Also, ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’. That album is very important.
Which female artists have inspired you?
Björk and Joni Mitchell.
Tell me about your day job
I’m a full time musician. I usually play gigs on Fridays and Saturdays. I am part of a group of 15 musicians who share a space. I spend my time rehearsing. Mixing. I work as a producer and sound engineer. I’m involved with a guy called Alexander Ringbäck, a singer-songwriter who plays guitar and piano. He plays with a saxophone player called Malin Wättring. I’m producing his music for him. I’ve recorded and mixed two albums for Bror Gunnar Jansson. I sometimes teach private students. I teach lessons in my local guitar shop – groups of 3-5 kids. We mostly work on acoustic blues and slide.
Tell me about your current guitar collection
I have a very beautiful Finnish guitar, built by a man called Olav Loef. It is called a ‘parlour guitar’ and was common during the 1920s. I also have a resonator guitar that is fairly new. It’s 10-15 years old. I also have a beautiful old National guitar from the 1950s. National were famous for their steel body guitars, but this is a jazz guitar. It has an arch top. My local guitar shop is called No 1 Guitar Shop. The guy who owns it goes to America to buy used guitars. One day he called me up and said he had a guitar for me. It was a very good guitar. I had asked him to find some other guitar and he had looked for it on one of those trips, but when he came back he said he had found something better. It’s a great shape and in great condition.
What was the last music gig you went to?
I have a friend who is a great cellist: Emma Augustsson. She plays improvised jazz with a sax player from Denmark and a drummer. They played at a small venue in Gotebörg. They played some great music composed by the saxophone player.
Our official ‘interview’ ended here, but we managed to find time to continue our conversation a little later. I’d like to share part of that conversation with you.
Me: I don’t know how much you listen to my sets?
Christoffer: I listen.
Me: I felt really bad when I played Keb Mo’s cover of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ before your set at Blossom Blues. I didn’t realise it was part of your repertoire until you played it later on. I saw you look at me when I played it.
Christoffer: You made me think about playing it. I hadn’t played it in 5 years.
(Christoffer also played it at Moose Blues. This is such a favourite song of mine it made me very happy.)
Christoffer, it was a pleasure spending time with you. It always is.