Sing Loffe Sing – The Curious Recording Career of Janne Carlsson
Mattias Svensson lets us in to the strange world of Swedish comedy-funk!
Janne ‘Loffe’ Carlsson was the drumming part of the Swedish prog-duo Hansson & Karlsson, together with Bo Hansson on organ. He decided to spell his last name with a ‘K’ probably because in his native tongue, ‘K’, ‘H’ and the common Swedish abbreviation of ‘and’ all rhyme (this should sound something like ’haw aw kaw’ if you want to try saying it yourself). At the time Loffe was considered to be one of the best drummers in Sweden and apart from being a pioneer on the Swedish progressive scene he laid down some of the funkiest drums ever recorded in Sweden on, for example, albums by Pugh and Doris. Jimi Hendrix was a big H&K fan and he recorded a cover of their song ‘Taxfree’ and well as jammed with them on his early tour of Sweden.
Today however, not many Swedes are aware of this side of Loffe – for while Bo Hansson continued on the progressive path with albums such as ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Magicians Hat’, Loffe's career would take a completely different path - one which would make him very famous in Sweden– yes, perhaps infamous even.
It all started with an acting career propelled by the rise of the world famous ‘Swedish Sin’. One of his earliest roles was in Exponerad (a.k.a Exposed, a.k.a. The Depraved) – an exploitation movie where he starred alongside world famous Swedish pinup girl (and nowadays fungi expert) Christina Lindberg. In the 70s and 80s he mainly appeared in family friendly comedies about such things as doing national service in the army or having a boat race. While Loffe got the occasional part in more serious dramas, proving he is indeed an excellent actor, he was mostly hopelessly typecast as the silly comic relief – often portraying a prankster bachelor with an anarchic disposition, bending the rules to get opportunities to indulge in parties with booze and girls.
This typecasting continued throughout his career in the 90s as he then for many years hosted Swedish televisions’ answer to You’ve Been Framed. Loffe’s career nose-dive seemed to have culminated with him doing an awful rap at the opening some big ice hockey event in Sweden's biggest arena Globen. Now that his career had reached it lowest mark, reduced as he was as just some kind of silly national clown, Loffe did the decent thing and withdrew from the public eye and moved out to the countryside in the south of Sweden. Nowadays he spends his time painting and drumming in a small and pretty insignificant jazz and blues band, playing the occasional gig.
There was a time however when his drumming and trombone skills merged with his comedy talents. In 1975 no less than four albums with Loffes Storband (Space-Crystal-Sound) were released, apparently at the same time as they all have consecutive catalogue numbers. On these records he blended his own kind of jazz-funk with comedy songs, sometimes with funky results, sometimes with very funny results and sometimes with embarrassingly silly results. These albums were all produced by the mysterious Sandy Alexander, who also played piano and wrote several of the tracks. Apparently Canadian by origin, he got involved in this project so he could earn enough money to take him back to his native country. These albums have little in common with Hansson & Karlsson but are nevertheless an interesting part of Swedish culture in the 70s, and also have some tracks that should be of interest to Vinyl Vultures everywhere, so let’s take a look at what they have to offer.
’Loffe’s Dance Party and Fun’ (TONITON 5503)
This record is full of fake audience sounds and has Loffe shouting silly jokes between, and sometimes even during songs to the screaming and applauding delight of the audience. However, it does start off with a really good big band jazz funk original called ’Tatty Bowow’ that’s almost a bit boogalooey, and thankfully it’s free from all the interrupting and shouting too. Next up though things get worse, unless you enjoy stupid vocal comedy songs sung in Swedish - which I kind of happen to do in small doses - but most of you reading this probably won’t. Oh yeah, there’s an uninteresting tango too before the first side finishes off with a nice straight jazz version of Ellington's ’I’m Beginning To See The Light’, which Loffe introduces by screaming that he’s been a sinner but now he’s seen the light. The flip side starts with a pretty nice and swinging jazzy instrumental version of the theme from ’Sesame Street’ and then we’re overwhelmed with vocal comedy again. On one song, during a jazz piano solo, Loffe claims that it’s Hugo Blanco playing, which is not true but it’s a nice inside joke which we Vultures probably appreciate more than the original target group for these records. For a Swedish audience, one of the comedy songs that follow is actually the most famous and well liked on this album – it’s a nice jazz funk version of the country song ’Okie from Muskogee’ with cleverly adapted lyrics to fit the more stuck up conservative side of Swedish society, obviously in an ironic way since it’s no big secret that Loffe has done his fair share of pot smoking, and still uses the herb according to the latest rumours I’ve heard. Anyway, as with the first side there’s a straight jazz song finishing off the second side too – this time the Hefti penned ’Splanky’. If you’re not from Sweden though I’d say this album is pretty much a one-tracker, that track being ’Tatty Bowow’, but well worth picking up for cheap for that reason alone.
’Loffe Goes Latin America’ (TONITON 5504)
This one has a more serious approach with no fake audience or jokes between songs and just three silly vocal numbers, the rest being instrumentals, and even those are made in a decidedly more sophisticated and jazzy style. It starts out with a good version of ’Summer Samba’ – soft, nice and with a touch of jazz, which are words that can be used to describe most of this album, which is clearly more e-z than funky but mostly very enjoyable. However, this makes the comedy numbers seem even more out of place and annoying or perhaps hilarious, depending on the listeners disposition. In fact the only funky track is one of the comedy songs, and that funk is absolutely destroyed by Loffes decision to sing a kind of duet with himself in both a deep silly voice and a high-pitched silly voice as well as laughing manically over the groove. The second comedy track is a calypso where Loffe sings and makes monkey sounds for no apparent reason, and the third one is a pretty forgettable ballad which finishes off the whole album. There’s nothing on this album that’s worth spending a lot of money on, but it’s worth picking up for cheap to hear Loffe tango, mambo and samba his way through covers such as ’Jealousy’, ’Killing Me Softly’ and ’Music to Watch Girls By’ as well as some originals with stupid titles such as ’How Mucho Hotto’. And if you understand Swedish or you’re just healthily demented, you might even like the comedy numbers – I usually burst out laughing every time I hear the song where he sings in silly voices anyway. And I haven’t even ever paid attention to the words he’s singing – his voice is too crazy for me to concentrate!
’Loffe Plays Pop and Party Hits’ (TONITON 5505)
The fake audience and silly jokes are back on this one. For example, he introduces a song about constipation by loudly telling us it’s something fun for everybody that’s had an enema, and the crowd cheers. After the song he lets us know it’s also called the ‘Fart Song’, and goes on to tell us about a guy who farted so much it created such a powerful storm at sea that they had to build a bridge over the waves. And the next tune is? A pretty standard instrumental e-z jazz version of ’Bridge Over Troubled Water’, of course. Other tracks, apart from the comedy songs, include quite faithful (though big band) versions of ’Alley Cat’ and ’Yellow Submarine’. There are two really good tracks though - one is a pretty groovy and fast-paced instrumental version of ’Sunny’, and the other is a funked up version of ’2001’, here called ’2222’ for some hilarious reason. Unless you enjoy silly dirty jokes this last track is really the main reason to pick this one up (for cheap as always, remember) as it’s really quite good with some wah-wah guitar, a funky bassline, an electric piano jazz solo and lots of horns with neatly done echo effects that makes it sound a bit trippy.
’Loffe Plays Glenn Miller’ (TONITON 5506)
This final album in the series is surprisingly entirely composed of standard versions of Glenn Miller songs. While I love Glenn Miller I prefer his original recordings so I will leave this with no further description.
There you go - a small insight into the dual personality of Janne "Loffe" Carlsson aimed at the international Vinyl Vulture who may be aware of DJ Shadow sampling his drumming on Pughs "Love Love Love" or admire his own work in H&K, but had no idea that he's a big celebrity in Sweden for completely different reasons. Over here, it's all about telling folk that while you like the mainstream comedy aspect what you really love about him is the serious musicianship, which usually evolves into attempts to convince your workmates or the people at that party that he really did drum behind Jimi Hendrix. I have taken for granted that's a well known fact for most record collectors and wanted to broaden the picture a bit. Hope you liked it and can appreciate the lighter side of his career too.
Finally: Big up to M. Thunberg who used his contacts to get the info on Sandy Alexander straight from the mouth of Loffe!