In The Shadow Of The Fourth Dimension

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“Boogie” is back - (Per aspera ad astra)

Jan Sverre Braathen deserves the label "Living Legend" better than most. By Stig Solheim
Those of us who were lucky to meet him on the music study at Hartvig Nissen's school, thought we'd ended up in class with a clarinetist and school band-boy from Sinsen, but we were wrong. "The licorice bar" was replaced with electric guitar a long time ago, and he did not come from Sinsen either.

Jan was a slightly still-minded guy from a working class district of Oslo called Grünerløkka, with a nice smile, subtle humor and almost limitless musicality. The classroom teaching was based on classical music history and theory. Every week, we wrote four-part corals, and shame on those who did not follow the strict rules for composition techniques. While we did the best we could to follow orders, Jan wrote what he wanted, as he wanted. The result was fascinating beautiful music, in a completely different landscape than the slightly stiff-legged products we performed.
Among all his talents Jan was very good at school. He left elementary School at Grünerøkka with several “exellent” in his grade book, and surfed right into Oslo Cathedral School, best known as Katta. It went well there too. Prior to a math exam in June 1967, someone had recommended him to buy some grape sugar in order for his head to work best possible. When the wonder powder was literally “in box” he went straight to Myhrbraathen Music, and spent every penny he had left on a new LP that had just been released: "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". "That album changed my life," he has always said since.

Of course, Jan listened to Bach and Brahms, but much more at the Beatles. The mother of his best mate, Carsten Ruus, ran a thrift store in Skippergata, and let Jan borrow all the records he wanted. The ones he liked he recorded on audio tapes, all the releases of The Fab Four included, before he delivered them all back. Those who have tried to learn a Lennon / McCartney song or tree quickly realize that George Harrison was an extremely skilled guitarist and that John Lennon was not far behind. While we others made it sound almost right, Jan had an ear that made it possible for him to play exactly the way Beatles did. Then he sat on the stairs to the local cinema, Parkteateret, playing the latest songs for everyone who wanted to listen. When high school was over, Jan continued to go his own ways. The master plan was to go to the United States, together with Hans Løken, friend and classmate from Nissen. They would stay there for a year, in the first place. Live with Hans’s father in his house, just north of the Golden Gate. He even had a band waiting for them, and guaranteed for all Jans’ expenses. Then Mother and Dad said no. Jan was only 17 and a half years old and they denied him to go. He has never managed to forgive them.

At about the same time Jan was summoned to the military, to the royal consert band of Norway, Gardermusikken. As first clarinet player in the Sinsen consert band he was more than qualified, but he could not stand the thought of spending a year in uniform. Somewhere in Oslo there was a psychologist known to be kind to young men with little sense of military service, and he was willing to confirm that Jan did not tolerate shots and other high bangs. Thus he was exempted from service and joined the Salt & Pepper Band instead.

The happy years at Nissen had come to an end. While we, his classmates, moved on to the academy of music or the university or something else, Jan went to the largest music store in Oslo and bought the German composer Paul Hindemith's music theory. Extremely demanding homework, but the self-study resulted in the ballet "June and I", performed in the Norwegian Opera in February 1977. At the same time, “the ballet composer” continued to surpass most other guitarists in the city, who honored him with nicknames like "Little-Clapton" and "Boogie", while he toured around the country with Salt & Pepper. In 1978 they went to Manchester and recorded the album "Yawr On". It became expensive. The expences to launch it did not matter better. The band played plenty of gigs, but did not earn enough to cover the expenses. In the end, they resigned and bankrupted themselves, in 1978.

 Unlike many other guitarists, Jan was never a "strat-man", never a follower of the raw, rough Fender Stratocaster-sound. He chose the soft Gibson tone instead, as his role model and namesake Jan Akkerman, frontman in the Dutch supergroup 'Focus'. Those who were present at “Venstres hus” the night Jan and the rest of the Salt & Pepper Band played "Sylvia", perhaps the biggest hit the dutchmen ever made, never forget. What a brilliant guitarist he had become! What a tone he had, and what eminent technique he had developed! It was like no limits to what he could play. Having listened to new songs from bands like Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears for the first time, the complicated solos of Terry Kath and other of jazz rock's greatest “stringpickers”, floated from his guitar like magic.

Still, there was something else that would secure him legendary status among musicians. He started building guitars, in 1980. The very first became so good that Norway's first debutant on classic guitar, Sven Lundestad, used it for both radio performances and concerts. So pleased was Lundestad that he wrote the letter of recommendation Jan needed when he applied for the county council's cultural grant. 20,000 norwegian “kroner” was a lot of money in 1980, and suddenly Jan had the opportunity to start his own guitar factory. When Jonas Fjeld suddenly stood in the doorway with his head full of creative ideas, they joined forces. In 1981 they launced Guitar Workshop, "A shop created by musicians for musicians". Jan decided to build electric guitars as well. Explored spruce as a guitar material and learned all he could find out about the lacquer used by the world's greatest violin makers, Stradivarius and Guarneri. Maybe it had magic power on guitars too? And the word spread. The teenager Marius Müller was among the first to find the way to the Guitar Workshop, and never really returned home. Instead, he started working at the store, while he gradually became one of Norways finest rock gitarists ever. Jazz master guitarist Terje Rypdal was not far behind him, and soon Frode Alnæs, Eivind Aarseth, Svein Dag Hauge and Jon Eberson were also on the customer list. When American music magazines wrote about "this guy in Oslo, Norway" who not only built excellent guitars but played better than most of his customers, the list was extended with Trevor Hutchinson from The Waterboys, Rick Danko from The Band and Little Steven from Bruce Springsteens E -Street Band.

No tree grows into the sky. Jans’s neither. The store grew so big that it became more worn than pleasure. When Jan invented a new type of voice screws, JB Self Lock, which improved the mood, sounded better and made the string change much easier, he found that a big American company plagiarized his patent without paying a penny in compensation. When Guitar Workshop claimed its right, the Americans threatened with trial and lawyers that the small business could not afford. Jan has always been a thinker, but now he puzzled right into a gloom darkness he failed to find his way out of on his own. Then he stopped playing gigs, pulled out of the store and moved his workshop home. It has taken him years to fight out of the dark and back on his feet. When he met Anne Brith Skjeie in 1998, the light began to shine in his life again. Now he is here, with his first solo album. We are many who have been waiting for it. Welcome back Jan!
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