Swedish guitarist Janne Schaffer definitely has some stories to tell.
There’s the millions and millions of albums he sold worldwide with ABBA. Or perhaps making jazz-rock history at Montreux in 1977 with the CBS Jazz All-Stars, alongside greats such as Billy Cobham and Stan Getz. But there are also some lesser-known experiences that are, quite simply, jaw-dropping…
“My whole life is like a pop music history,” he grins, sat in one of London’s swankiest hotels, behind a cup of coffee.
“When I was starting out, my band were on a TV programme. There was our backstage room and then on the left of us, The Byrds, and on the right, Jimi Hendrix… all of us appearing on the same show. A bit later, we started supporting the English groups coming over - in 1967, a band called Pink Floyd, fronted by Syd Barrett, were coming to Sweden for the first time and needed to borrow our instruments.
“It was the only time Syd played Sweden with Pink Floyd,” he nods. “The only thing I remember is he was very… stoned. They’d just be playing the songs round and round. When David Gilmour came into the band it became a totally different thing. I was disappointed by that concert because they were so high.”
Then there’s that time Schaffer and American singer Johnny Nash offered a Jamaican reggae musician somewhere to crash in Stockholm while working on a movie soundtrack. The man’s name was Bob Marley, and he would end up penning the majority of Catch A Fire under the very same roof.
It’s a career littered with surprises, which continued crossing genres through the decades - like when the guitarist’s song It’s Never Too Late was sampled by American rapper KRS-One for Boogie Down Productions' Like A Throttle. Schaffer takes us back to the beginning…
“I grew up with two musical parents - they studied at the Swedish Music Academy,” he explains. “My mother was a piano teacher who taught from our family home near Stockholm and my father played violin. I heard a lot of pupils coming and going, maybe four or five a day. I was surrounded by music, though it was mainly classical and I wasn’t hugely into that.
“I started on acoustic and then it all changed when I went to electric - hearing Elvis was really quite special. Heartbreak Hotel was on the radio and that was it for me. I went to another style of music and never looked back!”
Here, the Swedish legend picks the 10 albums that defined his career…
1. Ted Gärdestad - Undringar (1972)
“This was actually my first time recording and it means a lot to me. It was produced by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA, and almost helped form that band! I got a call from a guy looking for Swedish talent as I had played on some hit records…
“We recorded this album, its title meaning ‘Wonderings’ in English, and it just went from there. Soon I met Agnetha Fältskog, who sounded brilliant, with a bit more of a jazz feel. They all came from four different backgrounds, but together as ABBA they were truly great.”
2. Janne Schaffer - Janne Schaffer (1973)
“This went gold in Sweden! I started as a session musician, even though I never studied music, but with my mother as a piano teacher, I kinda knew the harmonics. I did a lot of professional sessions, but as for my own music, this was my first try.
“And it hit number one in the charts despite not being very commercial-sounding at all. That’s when it became more about the music I played - with more fusion and experimental influences coming in.
“But I must point out, I never went on tour with ABBA, because by 1973 I had this album doing so well. At one point, I was number one and ABBA were at seven! I was always wanting to move on as a session musician, as well as a solo artist…”
3. ABBA - Waterloo (1974)
“I helped a little bit with the arrangement for the song, which was fantastic. I saw the whole thing starting and growing, and immediately knew it would be something special.
“Most of that music was arranged in the studio. There would be a tune, we’d be sat down playing it and someone would come up with an intro. We did that on a couple of tunes, just making it up in the studio, on songs like King Kong Song, He Is Your Brother, Waterloo, If It Wasn’t For The Nights, As Good As New. Some of them were completely arranged, and I played what was said.
“They were very professional and very nice, but there were no lyrics for some of the songs. We didn’t know Waterloo as Waterloo when we recorded the song - it had another title. Then the lyrics came afterwards.
“Actually, there’s a great book out with who played on which tunes on what day. I played on the very last ABBA tracks, which were Cassandra and Under Attack. Altogether there were 98 songs and I played on around 50. Looking back, we sold over 380 million records and I’m on over half, which is pretty cool!”
4. CBS Jazz All-Stars - Montreux Summit Volume 1 (1977)
“This is a live record at the famous Montruex Festival with Billy Cobham on drums, Alphonso Johnson from Weather Report on bass, Bobby James on keyboards, Maynard Ferguson on trumpet, Stan Getz on saxophone, me and Steve Khan on guitar…
“It was quite the line-up, and would also be my ticket into recording in the States.”
5. Janne Schaffer - Earmeal (1978)
“I made this in Hollywood. My best friend Björn J:Son Lindh was playing with me, one of the greatest musicians and composers from Sweden.
“It was us and Peter Robinson who played on Jesus Christ Superstar and in Brand X with Phil Collins. Then on drums was Jeff Porcaro, Mike Porcaro on bass, Joe Porcaro on percussion and Steve Porcaro on keys… it was around the same time those guys started Toto!
“Jeff told me once that they chose a four-letter name because of ABBA. I think Steve Lukather is a great guitar player. This is the album that featured It’s Never Too Late, which got sampled by lots of American artists, including KRS-One. I actually met him in Stockholm not long ago!”
6. Björn J:Son Lindh - Wet Wings (1980)
“In the '70s I’d been working on my own stuff, but by the '80s I was doing more fusion things. This was one of the bigger hits.
“There was a song called Sing Louder Little River. Bjorn plays piano and I’m on guitar - it’s still a huge hit. We played it in front of the Swedish Royal Family, which meant a lot to us.”
7. Andreas Vollenweider - Dancing With The Lion (1989)
“I was very impressed by a Swiss harp player called Andreas Vollenweider. I play on one of his records, Dancing With The Lions.
“It was recorded in Zurich and made with the Kieser Twins, who were his backing group. It’s very good European music, I think. It doesn’t feel American or English.”
8. The Electric Banana Band - Nu e're djur igen (2000)
“In Sweden, I’m also in a band called The Electric Banana Band that originally formed in 1980. We started as kids and now we’re grown-up kids, haha! We did one performance recently with a symphony orchestra that was filmed for a movie.
“The title of this album means ‘Now We’re Animals Again’ in English. and I would say the music is very West Coast-orientated.”
9. Johnny Nash - Want So Much To Believe OST (1971)
“In 1971, I met an American singer called Johnny Nash. He came to Sweden to score something for a Swedish movie he was starring in called Want So Much To Believe. It wasn’t a big hit, but he did realise we had good session musicians. We did some recordings for the soundtrack and rented a house for him. It was crowded with all these Swedish girlfriends!
“One time, a musician turned up needing to stay and we wondered where to sleep him. We put a mattress in the cellar and there he stayed… his name was Bob Marley. I actually played with him. He was very shy and laid-back. In that boiler room, he wrote the music for Catch A Fire, which he later recorded in London the following year.
“So, I played a little bit on this Johnny Nash album. It has some importance! I took some of those musical experiences back to ABBA on Sitting In The Palm Tree… that laid-back feel.”
10. Lee Hazlewood - A House Safe For Tigers (1975)
“I got called up by a guy in England who asked if I remember anything from an album called A House Safe For Tigers. I’d never heard of it, but it was an album with Lee Hazlewood. And I got told that I had played on it, which I couldn’t recall anything about it. I heard one track and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s me!’
“And it’s one of Lee Hazlewood’s absolute best albums! It was one track called Las Vegas on A House Safe For Tigers which I played on. It was really well-produced and arranged, basically a long guitar solo!”