There is a key element to Rockabilly music. It is in the name. BILLY! Back in the 50s it was created by hillbilly cats (yep I just said hillybilly cats) making rock n roll. Fast forward to 2010s and once again the world has shifted and out in Sweden they got some hillbilly cats (said it again!) themselves. This band called themselves the Countryside of Harmonica Sam. I was blown away when I heard them. Ridiculously American sounding music that sounds more American than most Americans! Consists of Patrik on drums, Ulrik on the double bass (bass bicyle), Peter on pedal steel guitar, Harmonica Sam on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Johan supplying the electric guitar. I wanted to learn more about the band after they were included on the stellar line up for next years Nashville Boogie. I got to exchange some words with Johan. The following is what went down.
Rockabilly Nerd: Thank you very much for agreeing to answer some questions. I absolutely love your music. Being from Sweden, how did you discover country music?
Johan: Ever since the 50s American pop culture has been quite big in Sweden. Especially the rockabilly scene has been strong and there are many great bands over here doing the authentic rockabilly/hillbilly style. In The Country Side of Harmonica Sam we all came from playing different American styles. Me and Sam are from the same town where the blues scene was strong and Sam started out as a blues harmonica player and he released an album at Enviken Records under the name of Harmonica Sam. He had quite a following and that’s why we decided to use his already worked in name when we put this band together. I was in a bluegrass band when we started and Peter, Patrik and Ulrik still play together in a western swing band called Swinging Hayriders. But it turned out we all shared an interest and love for traditional country music.
RN: Was it hard getting musicians to get the sound you wanted out there?
Johan: We all live in the south of Sweden around a town called Malmö and after a while you get to know all the people who share the same interest I guess. I knew Sam from before but I didn’t know he was into country music then but Peter and Ulrik had done a couple of gigs together with Boppin Steve & The Playtones and had started to talk about putting a country band together. Peter asked Patrik and Ulrik from the western swing band to join and they knew me from filling in for Peter on pedal steel in another country band they used to play in. In the beginning we did a little broader style and played country from the 40s, 50s and 60s but pretty soon we agreed on doing that late 50s early 60s style that we all loved. When the time came for recording ”Open letter to the blues” we decided to give the vintage studio Lightning Recorders in Berlin a try. The Swinging Hayriders had been there twice and it’s a great studio for rockabilly, swing and early country music. So that was a six tracks straight to tape recording. On our upcoming album we’re gonna try explore the sounds from the early 60s a little bit more and have started to record some at Gula Studion, in Malmö, who also have a great selection of vintage gear.
I was just told I got it a little bit wrong. It was actually Peter and Patrik who had planned to start a country band but they had a hard time finding a really good male singer and it was after a show Peter and Sam did with Boppin Steve that got Peter thinking about asking Sam if he wanted to join them. (Rockabilly Nerd here. I wasn’t sure how to fix this up so I decided just to include the correction. Hi Johan!)
RN: You’re playing the Nashville Boogie next year! Have you visited the country music capital before?
Johan: I have been there three times before but I think I’m the only one in the band actually. I met Jason Galaz who runs the Nashville Boogie and Muddy Roots when I was with my bluegrass band in Raleigh, NC, last year. I mentioned The Country Side of Harmonica Sam to him and then we met again in Austin, TX, this year while we were at the Ameripolitan Music Awards. We’re really looking forward to the Boogie and hopefully we get to meet some of our old heroes!
RN: Deke Dickerson once said that your band sounded like you were raised in Arkansas, eating biscuits and gravy every morning, As a person from Arkansas, who did eat biscuits n gravy I can totally agree. Have you eaten biscuits n gravy before? (I know that was a silly one)
J: Ha ha, I know some of us tried it earlier this year in Austin, TX, and as I recall Patrik liked it a lot but on the other hand he eats everything!
RN: What artists of the genre did you guys look to for inspiration? I can pick up some George Jones in there.
J: Of course we have listened a lot to George Jones but maybe even more Ray Price and Faron Young. We love the country shuffle style that Ray Price made famous and Faron did some great recordings between 1959-1961 with a lot of pedal steel guitar and tic tac bass. We have also listened a lot to Skeets McDonald from that same era when he had Ray Price on harmony singing and Jimmy Day on pedal steel. For us that’s the golden era of country music.
RN: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to anyone reading this?
J: Yeah, if you like us, love country music from the golden years 1959-1961 check us out on Itunes, Spotify or you can order the cd or vinyl directly from El Toro records. We’re also on Facebook if you want to follow us there. And please come up and say hi at the Nashville Boogie! We love to talk about some good ole country music! Best regards, Johan.
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Come back next time when I’ll attempt to make victory rolls with my chest hairs!