torsdag 27 april 2023


Följande intervju med Sven-Rune Thorell finns publicerad i den amerikanska tidskrifter Ugly Things #57, sommaren 2021

“The Pop musician is often seen as an outcast in today’s society, especially if he is one of 
the long-haired types. Loved by thousands of teenagers, but seen as lazy, intolerable and disheveled by the older generation. He is denied from motels when he arrives for dinner, not welcomed at the hotels. People seem to really get sent over the edge when they see a man with a long mane—and they very often have preconceptions, most of the time very negative ones. But is the general pop musician really such a failure as the average Swede thinks he is? Is he lazy, stupid (!?), disheveled, and what does his everyday life look like?” 
- Björn Arnesson, Ljusdalsposten 1965

In spring 1965, I saw an image of the Panthers in the magazine Idolnytt (Idol News), a band that knew all about the average Swede’s preconceptions regarding them, and even though at that point I hadn’t heard one song by the Panthers, I knew they were out-standing. In my eyes, a then 14-year-old boy, a four-man band with that length of hair was nothing less than magnificent. If you grew up in the north of Sweden, where the number of pop groups that were signed by record companies was near to zero per capita, a picture of the Panthers with their hair so long that it touched their shoulders sparked an imagination that somewhere out there was a world that was fun, exciting, and maybe sometimes a bit dangerous. But more than that, a beautiful world filled with fantastic music. Life didn’t have to be a race to get a career and a regular 9 to 5 job. There was an alternative, or at least there were alternatives to dream about. 

In the more metropolitan regions of Sweden, young music lovers could pick and choose among both famous and unknown pop groups, but if you grew up in the countryside you really cherished the few local talents that you had. Looking at the statistics gives us a picture of the Swedish music business at this time. Sweden is made up of three parts: Norrland (the north), Svealand (the mid part), and Götaland (the southern area of the country). Norrland makes up approximately 60 percent of the total Swedish area, and the other two parts are together making up the remaining 40 percent. In 1965, Sweden had eight million inhabitants, of these only 1.2 million (15 percent) lived in Norrland. During the years 1954-1969 the total number of Swedish rock ‘n’ roll artists and pop bands that released at least one single record was approximately 435. These 435 bands and artists lived in 90 different places all over Sweden. But only 33 artists or pop bands lived in Norrland, and these were spread over 18 different places. What this tells us is that 92 percent of all pop and rock music at this time was created in the two southern parts of Sweden.

Looking at the pop groups from Norrland—and they were still relatively many, even though most of them never released a record—it was only the Shanes from Kiruna and Lasse Svensson from Järvsö (Tages’ third drummer) who reached the absolute top in Swedish pop music during the ’60s. Between the years 1963-68 the Shanes managed to get into the very important Tio-i-Topp listan (The Top Ten List) as many as 12 times, while Tages did so 13 times, and for four of these times with Lasse Svensson as the drummer. 

In the same way, as 1956 was a groundbreaking year for rock ‘n’ roll, the same could be said for 1965 and pop music, and similarly 1976 was the year for punk. The music in all these genres was, when peaking, marked by equal parts of expression and empathy, and neither of them could exist without the other. In 1956, there was in every little village, in every state on the North American continent a local version of Gene Vincent. In 1976, every British county had its own Johnny Rotten, and by 1965 Sweden had more than plenty of local versions of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things, and the Kinks. The Panthers were one of these bands, and their music changed dramatically by their impressions of the British beat sound.

The Panthers came from Tallåsen, a small village with 700 inhabitants located in the big forests approximately five kilometers northwest of Ljusdal. Between 1964 and 1966, they released five singles. None of them made it to the desirable Top-Ten list. But despite the absence of chart success the band still managed to reach national fame. The reason they did so was not only because they were competent enough, but because they also had an unusually active fan club, with their own magazine called Panterbladet (The Panthers’ Paper). In the spring of 1965, the number of members was over 1,000 people, and they all frantically courted the press with requests for more articles and images of the band. The music magazine Idolnytt was most responsive; in almost every issue during that time there was a piece about the Panthers.

It was “I’ll Be Pleased,” the B-side of the Panther’s third single, that confirmed that I was right in my confident first impression that the group was fantastic. Recorded in May 1965, the song, written by guitarist Jan-Eric Rehn and manager Kjell E Genberg, is performed with an extremely competent drive, which is experienced to best effect when the volume is turned to max. The singer seems to be possessed with a power that just needs to get out, the bassist is wandering over the strings in a beautiful way, and the drums and rhythm guitar are playing full-on. All in all, it’s just magnificently framed by a quite simple but very efficient guitar riff. They had a sound that could only be compared to really cool bands such as the Big Three and the Dennisons, playing in places such as the Cavern in Liverpool.

In a time when men wearing their hair with bangs was seen as provocative, the members of the Panthers had hair that was all the way to their shoulders. Not even the Shanes had hair that long, and the Panthers didn’t have to wait long before they heard reactions. They weren’t allowed into hotels where their manager had booked them in, they were banned from restaurants, and more than once they were threatened with violence during gigs. But the threats didn’t frighten the Panthers; they responded by recording the cool and defiant track “I’ll Be Pleased” and manifested themselves as punk, ten years before the expression was even more or less invented. And to further strengthen their image they let everyone know that the guitarists of the Panthers were using freshly sharpened knife points instead of guitar picks! 

Needless to say, I became very intrigued by such a group. The following is my interview with bass player Sven-Rune Thorell

So to start with the essentials, what about the knife points—was it true?

We had a very cool repertoire with songs such as “I Just Want to Make Love To You,” "Hi-Heel Sneakers” and our own “I’ll Be Pleased,” which was significant for the Panthers. In 1965, that was our sound, and that was how we wanted it. Our manager Kjell E Genberg (KEG) really wanted to strengthen our image and came up with lots of ideas on how to do that, one of them was that we used sharpened knife points from Delsbo (a small village in Norrland) instead of guitar picks.

Did all the members in the Panthers—Jan-Erik Rehn (lead guitar and vocals), Leif Östberg, (rhythm guitar and vocals), Sven-Rune Thorell (bass and vocals), and Roger Eriksson (drums)—come from Tallåsen?

Yes, we all grew up on the same village road. Our homes were spread over a distance that was a little more than a kilometer. Three of us had been in the same class from first to eighth grade.

Long before you became the Panthers you are said to be playing skiffle?

In 1958 the local scout group in Tallåsen arranged a Christmas party and for that occasion, there were plans for entertainment and games. Among other things there was going to be a band that would play skiffle music. My five friends and I were asked to put together the band. We were between 12-15 years old and none of us had ever played any musical instruments before, the closest we came was that one of the boys had an old guitar. The lack of experience did not deter us, we borrowed some instruments—guitars, drums, and a banjo. A bass was made with a box and a broomstick. I was assigned to play the washboard. We rehearsed for weeks and finally the night of the big party arrived, we were really nervous, but it was a huge success! No one in the village had neither seen nor heard anything like it. Later the same night I heard the leader of the scout group speak to our “leader”: “You did a really good job… but...that washboard didn’t sound so good tonight.” That was the first little seed of what later would become the Panthers—the pride of Tallåsen!

Any role models? Who were you inspired by?

We all really enjoyed playing together so just a couple of months later we decided to start a real skiffle group with three guitar players, a bass player, a guy playing the banjo, and a drummer. The drummer was now also playing the washboard when needed. I switched to playing the guitar; my grandma gave me a Levin. We called the band JANNES, and when playing we were all wearing yellow shirts with one of the letters each on the chest. We were inspired by Lonnie Donegan, but also by the Swedish band Robbans Skiffle group. We did some gigs at parties and at some school dances before Janne [Jan-Erik] left for military service and after that UN service in Gaza.

Was that the end of your skiffle group?

Just before Jan-Erik was inducted for his military service we had stopped with the skiffle music. I had bought myself an electric bass, and for the three years Jan-Erik was gone the three of us were playing together. 

Was that the time when you started to call the band the Panthers?

After deliberating over several different band name options, we agreed: the Panthers  was the name of the band. We were inspired by Hank B Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris,and Tony Meehan—the Shadows were gods for us! I sold my violin bass, a Höfner 1957—I got 350 SEK, that was including the amplifier. That type of bass wasn’t cool enough in 1962. Instead, we bought three red vinyl-covered Höfner guitars, got ourselves some yellow jackets, and we were good to go, in the beginning with another friend on the drums. 

Right from the start, we got signed for some small gigs. The highlight was when we played in Röros in Norway, which was the only time we made it to the stage in that country. Roger Eriksson was at the time working in a pub in Stockholm, however in early 1963, he returned home and joined the band as our drummer. And with that, we were complete—Jan-Erik, Leif, Roger and I, Sven-Rune. 

It didn’t take too long before we changed our guitars once again, and this time it was for two Fender Stratocasters and one Fender Precision Bass. At the same time, we also changed our stage clothes—now we were dressed in blue tuxedos. Somewhere around this time, we got in contact with a guy called Kjell Genberg (KEG), he was a journalist and editor in chief for the newspaper Hälsinge Kurirens local office in Ljusdal. It turned out that KEG was a real PR pro, and he started to attack his networks, full of different newspapers, magazines, and organizers with messages about our excellence. A year later he became our full-time manager.

You made your record debut in the winter of 1964. How did you get a record contract?

I don’t think we really knew what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up for a pop band competition in Edsbyn. We were for sure more and more inspired by the British beat, but we never thought we would stand a chance. As I remember it, all bands played three songs, and we wanted to show that we could play different kinds of songs so we played one instrumental song, one quiet, and a really tough rock number. A lot of more well known bands were in this competition. How ever, we performed our songs and afterward we started to pack our things. We were just about to pack up the car when someone came running out and shouted to us: “You won! Come back! You will be playing at tonight’s dance.” The reason we won was because of the wide variety of songs we have played, the fact that we had such a good singer, and the visual impression we made—all of us were wearing yellow jackets, shirts and ties. One of the competition judges was Silas Bäckström from the record company Karusell/Polydor and our prize was to go to Europafilm in Solna and do a trial audition for a record. 

For the recording debut you brought in a singer and with that, you became Jan Fosshaug & the Panthers.

Up until the time Jan Fosshaug joined the band, we mostly played instrumental music, occasionally someone was singing. Jan was a very good singer, his voice had a very wide range and he had great experience, it was perfect for the kind of dance music we were playing. In February ‘64 we were asked to come to Stockholm. We brought all our instruments and stuff to the studio and were asked to just play some of our songs, no retakes or anything. They just plugged in the microphones, amplifiers and told us to start playing. 

Another couple of months passed and we were hanging around in the music store in Ljusdal when the owner one day said, “Guys, I received your record today.” We hadn’t heard a word from Polydor, but we were so happy! “Just Walking in the Rain” and “Corinne Corrina” on the B-side. It was a bit like it was Fosshaug’s record, and due to that the record company had chosen to call the band Jan Fosshaug & the Panthers. Not totally fair according to the rest of us—and because of this, there were some discussions regarding how to split the money—money that by this time were some hundreds of Swedish kronor plus coffee and sandwiches.

After this, Jan Fosshaug disappeared as quickly as he joined, what happened?

We continued to play in community centers and dance venues in Hälsingland. It went well and one or two audience records were broken. However the rift between Jan and the band was a fact. He wanted to invest in vocational education and the rest of us were more influenced by British pop music. So with that, it was back to the four of us and we continued to do dance gigs, although it became a bit more challenging to get jobs at the traditional dance venues. More often gentlemen appeared and asked when the dance was going to start and asked if we could play “Twilight Time.” We all got chills just thinking of that…

In fall 1964 you returned to Stockholm.

KEG got us a gig at Nalen and we dressed up in our yellow jackets with our hair still wellcombed, we showed up at Stockholm’s absolute finest, but at the same time the worst and most status-filled venues of the ’60s. The audience was very picky: how would they react to four yokels from the countryside? We were very nervous. Personally, I don’t remember much from that gig. Yes, one thing I remember was everybody in the audience singing along to the whole “I Saw Her Standing There.” We had learned to play that song only to impress the audience at Nalen. Later we did several more gigs at Nalen, but then with more authority—longer hair, cooler guitars, and cooler outfits.

That must have been approximately at the same time as you recorded your second single, which was more representative than your first one. 

We recorded it in October 1964, the two songs were written by Jan-Erik Rehn and our manager Genberg, “Hey Woman” and “Let Me Tell You.” It was produced by Silas Bäckström who also produced many of the other bands at Polydor. The record company was very clear that they wanted material with a unique sound, so there were many long nights for the guys. In the end, the choice fell on these two songs. “Hey Woman” became something of a success; it made it to the top of many local lists here in the south of Norrland and further north. On the record cover, we are seen “making” coffee on a Fender! According to us, this was the first “real” record, recorded by a real pop band.

In December 1964 you participated in a national TV program, even though you were relatively unknown. How did that happen?

It was a program called Det hänger på håret (It’s all about the hair). The program was about the mod culture and long hair. The intro was recorded in the youth center in Farsta, outside of Stockholm, and some of it at Nalen. The band was not so excited about it before we came to Farsta, but our excellent manager, KEG, told us the big surprise when we arrived: “You will be recording on national TV tonight!” Silas Bäckström from the record company was also there. We were asked to play a song that the audience could shake to. The choice fell on “Memphis Tennessee.” There were a lot of people who were going to shake their hair; at the beginning of the song we in the band were also shaking. We played for a couple of hours that night, but only “Memphis Tennessee” was recorded. This recording has been shown many times in different TV programs about the ’60s.

It’s obvious that you already then were a very tight band and I am impressed by your drummer, Roger Eriksson. In the instrumental song “Kvantingen,” recorded in November 1964, you can really hear how swinging he is.

Yes, Roger was a very competent drummer. In the song “Kvantingen” he is holding the drumsticks with a jazz/traditional grip. By that time it was considered quirky to do so—which was so stupid. He felt really embarrassed about it and was practicing a lot to use the grip that is mostly used by rock drummers.

Did you ever participate in any other TV shows?

No, It’s all about the hair was the only time we appeared on Swedish television. Later in our career KEG worked really hard to get us on to Drop-In, which by then was the most popular TV show in Sweden. But unfortunately, we stumbled at the finish line.

Very soon after you went over to England.

At the end of December 1964, we went to London, KEG worked really hard to get us a gig there and he had almost promised us it would happen. This resulted in lots of articles in the local newspapers about how it was time for the Panthers to take over London. All articles, true or false, were good PR. We sailed from Gothenburg with MS Britannia and the journey to Tilbury took 34 hours. When we arrived, the customs officers put a lot of pressure on us. They asked a lot of questions before they stamped our passports with: “Not allowed to work for a fee...Not allowed to work for free...

We travelled to London, and by the end of the day we found a hotel, but it was far from the city center and it turned out to be a place where prostitutes brought their customers. So we moved on and found a new place. So far everything was OK. KEG checked with his contacts if it would be possible for us to play, but that was out of the question. The planning hadn’t been good enough and on top of that, the union said no: if a foreign band were going to play in England then a gig for a British band needed to be arranged in Sweden. 

Did you see the trip to England as a failure?

No, not at all. That trip gave us a lot of advantages. In our ads, it said: “The Panthers—just back from England.” And the trip was very inspirational for us, to see the British bands play in the clubs gave us an enormous boost. Not to forget, we also bought a lot of clothes and boots during the trip.

Your long hair opened up for your TV debut, but your hair also created problems for you.

After the long boat journey we arrived back home in Gothenburg, we made our way to the pre-booked hotel. We were tired and were looking forward to a quiet dinner and watching some TV—as a matter of fact, this was the same night that It's all about the hair was going to be broadcast. But…. that was not going to happen, such neglected and long-haired types as us were not welcomed at their fancy hotel, they told us: “We must show consideration for our other guests.” So there was nothing else to do than continue the journey until we found another hotel, which we finally did and we were able to see the TV show. This was between Christmas and New Year, and we passed by Stockholm on our way home and had some gigs at youth centers there. The trip to London did cost us a lot—tickets, hotels, gas, and food. If I remember correctly I think we had to pawn a couple of gold rings to afford the gas on our way back. 

In 1965, I remember that the papers and magazines started to write more and more about the Panthers.

In 1965, we had a very eventful year. It was then it all really took off with lots of gigs and often with an audience that was hysterical. At a street party in Hudiksvall, the audience managed to tear down the stage when we played; both guards and police were on site but couldn’t stop them. I think we most saw it as flattering. At the beginning of the year, we were touring in a Chrysler with a trailer, and it didn’t take long until that trailer was full of love messages. For us, this was a measure of our success. And due to that success, we were able to buy a new car, a Chevrolet Impala, and with it a new trailer. The love messages continued to appear, but this time not only on the trailer, the fans also started to leave marks in the car paint. Then it was not as fun anymore…

So there was also a downside to the success?

At many places, we were often harassed by some of the local young men. We were popular among “their” girls, and on top of that, we had long hair. In addition, we dressed really cool and were perceived as cocky. It wasn’t unusual that guys were threatening us saying, “We should beat those bastards!” There could be a threatening atmosphere when we were pack-ing up our stuff. Our manager KEG intercepted such things, and some days after you could read in the local newspaper: “The Panthers were threatened by locals with sheep shears. The band had to stay behind the stage for an hour.” But a lot of things that happened weren’t in need of exaggerations. One winter night when our car got stuck in the snow we were denied to use the phone when we knocked on the door at a nearby house. It was minus 20 degrees and a snowstorm, but the residents just mumbled something about long hair and shut the door in our faces. Totally Ture.

Nineteen sixty-five was really an eventful year for the Panthers. Your third single, “Girl I Love You” / “I’ll Be Pleased”—the B-side is a real beat explosion—was released in May 1965. How was it received?

The year continued with a lot of gigs, many of them in the mid and north of Sweden, but also in Stockholm, as previously mentioned at Nalen and other clubs. A new record was going to be recorded; it was time for the guys to go back into the creative cave again. Polydor had clearly stated that they would let us release five singles, as long as we created our own material. The quest to get a song into the Top-Ten list continued, and we all felt that maybe “Girl I Love You” could be the song that would get us there. Regarding the B-side’s “I’ll Be Pleased,” we had it in our repertoire and played it at gigs, but took it out after a while—to KEG’s annoyance. It felt like the single disappeared a bit in the hustle and bustle, even though “Girl I Love You” became a big favorite among the fans.

But why did you stop playing “I’ll Be Pleased” at your gigs?

The reason was that we wanted to play covers. At the time we were 18-19 years old and we were unbelievably short-sighted. The British bands were delivering top songs nonstop and our audience wanted to hear hits. KEG was older and pointed out the importance of playing our own material, especially songs that we had recorded. During the fifty years that have passed since we stopped playing, we have resurrected roughly every tenth year, and at those gigs “I’ll Be Pleased” has always been on the repertoire. Many other musicians have been given us a lot of credit for that song.

You frequently appeared in the pop magazine Idolnytt, whose greatness was more their cool pictures than the narrative in their texts. 

Kjell Genberg continued to work with us; he did PR and helped us with our 
launch. Kjell worked very closely with Lennart Lindström who was manager for the Shanes. We first met the Shanes back in ‘64 when we played together at a gala in Luleå. They became our best friends amongst the bands and often visited us in “Ballåsen” (Cockridge), as our village was jokingly renamed. Lindström had a very big network, including pop magazines and especially at Idolnytt’s editorial office. In Idolnytt there were often really big images of the biggest stars, such as the Stones, the Beatles, and other international bands and artists, but maybe most occurring were the most popular Swedish bands. 

Even though the Panthers didn’t have any success on the Swedish top-lists you became nationally known.

We made an impression in Stockholm through our gigs. Our fans in Hälsingland and the surroundings were very devoted and they were the ones who voted us into the “Idolbarometer” (a top list) in every issue of the magazine Idolnytt. On several occasions, we actually topped the list, above the Beatles and we were constantly higher ranked on the lists than many of the big Swedish groups such as Hep Stars, Tages and the Shanes, to name a few. During 1965 Idolnytt also published several big articles about the Panthers with three full-page images in color. We were also featured in girl’s magazines e.g. Love, with images and articles. The Panthers’ cool music, in combination with our manager Genberg’s hard PR work really paid off. 

During fall 1965, you released your absolutely coolest record, where you consolidated your position as more of a rhythm & blues band than an ordinary pop band.

After discussions regarding a new single with the record company, we agreed, despite their previous demands, that we wouldn’t record our own material. Polydor gave us a promo record, without a label and told us, “Go home, listen, and rehearse.” The name of the song was “Baby.” We looked it up and Sorrows were one of the best bands we ever heard. The song really matched our sound and style. More than that, their “Take a Heart” actually became one of the best songs of our repertoire. We recorded the record in November ‘65 with “Baby” as the A-side and “I Just Want to Make Love to You” as the B-side. It was just the type of music we wanted to be associated with—aggressive blues and rhythm & blues.

That same autumn you also went abroad?

Yes, after we completed the recording in the studio we went to Finland and did a one-month tour. It was four wild weeks with many gigs in Helsingfors, Tammerfors, and Kotka, but also at other places that we never heard of before. We played in big barns where they were dancing the tango and the audience was not really ready for four Swedish guys with long hair. At some places there was a seated audience, the curtain was down and someone came up on the stage and presented us, and when the curtain went up everybody started to laugh…

At some gigs we were forced by the Finnish booking agent Tappi Soiannen to have two girls in thigh-high boots on stage dancing. Oh, my God, it was not our style at all! 

In the bigger cities it was different. In Helsingfors, everything was pretty much the same as in Stockholm, with a very conscious audience. In connection to the tour, we also participated in a Finnish TV show. We played two or three songs and Larry Finnegan appeared in the same episode.

When you came back to Sweden you were thrown into a national tour: “Idolnytt presents Package One.”

Package One was a tour that went on for a couple of weeks at the end of 1965 and at the beginning of ‘66. It was “Shanes, Moonlighters, Panthers—all of Sweden’s hottest bands in the same show,” as it said on the fantastic, beautiful poster, that was also a program for the show including images, competitions, and presentations of the bands. Luxurious to say the least! It was some very intense weeks; we were traveling from Luleå in the north to Kristianstad in the south.

There were big audiences and great reviews throughout the tour. Most of the gigs were in sports halls and other big venue. The only negative thing about the tour was that some of the fans collected “souvenirs,” in Kristianstad our car lost its rearview mirrors, and the antenna just to give some examples. The two other bands lost their hubcaps, number plates, and extra lights. Even our jackets were stolen! But the tour increased our popularity in the south of Sweden so as a result, we were playing much more frequently in Malmoe, Gothenburg, Jönköping, Oskarshamn and so on. Our gig in Luleå, which was the home ground for Shanes, was one of the highlights of the tour, but the absolute best gig was when we played at Cirkus in Gothenburg. Idolnytt wrote a review of that gig in issue number 3/1966:

“Package One is a success… Wild, with inhibited long hair and quite noisy the Panthers gave reasons for their name at the gala. In addition, the Panthers were the most colorfully dressed band. Norrlands-pop in Technicolor.” 

Was it after the Package One tour that you expanded the band with one more member?

Yes, at the beginning of 1966 Jan Björkbom joined the band, a very skilled lead guitarist who used to play with the band Les Cinq from Ljusdal. Thanks to him, the band raised its technical level and we rehearsed songs with more melodic solos. At the same time Leif, our rhythm guitarist, stepped forward as our front man and lead singer. We performed in Sweden, but just as many other bands, we noticed a slightly smaller demand. Our manager Kjell Genberg had left us to work with other bands including the Lee Kings in Stockholm, so we were left to do our own PR. 

How did you split the singing between you before Leif became your lead singer?

Leif Östberg had already been singing some of our songs before he became our front man, but from the beginning, it was only Jan-Erik who sang. Leif grew with time and as our front man he did the lead vocals on approximately half of our songs. He still played the guitar and sang harmony on some songs. I did the lead vocal on three or four songs: 
“I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Satisfaction” and “Cry to Me” are songs where I do the lead vocal. Björkbom is singing on “Don’t You Fret.” On the records, Rehn did the lead vocals on most of the songs, such as “Hey Woman,” “Let Me Tell You,” “Girl I Love You,” “I’ll Be Pleased,” and “Baby.” Rehn is also the lead vocalist on the recordings that we did in Radio Mekrossla’s studio, as well as on the Jump In recorded “High-Heel Sneakers.” Leif is singing on “Don’t You Know Why,” “Half Way To Paradise” and “Very Last Day.”

Despite the success of the Package One tour, there was never a fifth record for Polydor, even though this was part of the deal?

Around the same time as the tour, Polydor let us know that they did not want to release another record. We were all upset. “Baby” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You” were maybe not the best selling hits, even though we were pleased. The next time when we had a gig in Stockholm we booked a meeting with “Big Simon,” Simon Brehm, the director at Karusell/Polydor. We drove out to their office in Solna (a suburb of Stockholm) and Jan-Erik was very nervous when he walked into to the boss’s office and said, “If you don’t let us release the records you promised us, we will start looking for another record company.” Simon replied, “I think you should do so. I wish you the best of luck.” It was a crestfallen band that drove back into the city… Without a record contract.

A strange thing was that we later found out that an EP with “Baby,” “Hey Woman,” I’ll Be Pleased” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You” had been released in France by Polydor International. We also heard reports that some of the songs had been on the charts. Which song, we never found out, but we later heard there was an interest in the Panthers in France, and apparently we got tricked by our own record company. It wasn’t unusual for bands by this time to not know that your songs were on the charts in other countries. For this, it would have been good if we still were working with KEG who was really good at looking after the band’s best interests.

Did you visit France when the EP was released there?

Later I understood that people from France were trying to get in contact with us, but it got no further than that. Apparently, there were talks about a gig in Cannes, but I am not sure who they contacted. 

You lost your manager and the record company almost at the same time. How did this affect the band?

There were fewer big photos of us in the pop magazines, but we were good at getting gigs. We did two successful tours in Denmark and then back to Finland again. In Denmark, we mostly played in Jylland, with a few stops at Fyn and Sjaelland. Copenhagen was cool, the rock audience was picky, I remember that they had put a fishing net in front of the stage as protection.

We also played together with some cool bands, sometimes as an opening act, as we did for the British band Tremeloes and Them (without Van Morrison), plus many high-class American bands. It was very rewarding but tough; we often played two gigs per day. We were so popular in Denmark that we actually got an offer to move there. But after many long discussions, we decided to not do so. Two of us wanted to move, but three didn’t, due to family reasons.

Very interesting to hear that you played together with the Irish band Them, or as they later came to call themselves, the Belfast Gypsies. I read in an old article that their bassist, Mark Scott, liked you and offered to write or find new original songs for the Panthers.

It was in Ålborg or Århus. I remember it was on a very high stage and that they still sounded like Them—maybe a little tougher repertoire with more upbeat songs. We didn’t know by then that their name was Belfast Gypsies, they marketed themselves as Them, and for us it was really big to play on the same stage. They played rhythm & blues all the way with a really cool organ that sounded a bit like John Mayall. The singer sounded like Van Morrison, which I guess was the point. I remember that we talked a lot with them, but I can’t remember that we were talking about new songs. Leif, our singer, says that he remembers that they offered us new original material, but since that version of Them was dissolved it all ran into the sand. It seemed like they had had a tough time after Van Morrison left the band. We thought, for example, that it looked really weird that their drummer sat on a wooden box when he was playing. Afterward, when we had packed up our stuff and drove around the corner with our car and the trailer, they just stood there on the pavement with all their equipment. It felt really weird. But, we thought that probably a big bus would come and pick them up.

British bands were almost always much better than the Swedish ones—and also cockier. It was very rare to get a positive review from them. But the Tremeloes saw us a couple of times, and the second time they saw us they sat below the stage and drank beer and in one of the breaks they gave us some compliments: “You are better this time than last time we saw you.”

So was the Finnish audience more appreciative when you returned, than during your first tour?

The second tour in Finland was a messy story. Gig-wise it was OK, but we had a really bad booker—we had problems with getting our fees. There were gigs near the Russian border and one time the audience was throwing coins at us on stage. The hate against Swedish pop-boys was big among Finnish men. It was different with the girls. If we stopped to buy a hot dog, it happened that someone disconnected the trailer from the car; we barely dared to leave the car. In Helsinki we got attacked by a guy who was either high or drunk, he offered us some illicit spirits. When we refused he threatened Jan Björkbom with a gun aimed at the stomach. Those were some really tough seconds. The guy was apparently wanted by the police because all of a sudden a police van came up and four or five policemen jumped out, disarmed him, threw him into the van, and drove off.

We experienced several threatening situations at hot dog stands. Big men that jumped the queue, one time a man hit Jan-Erik in his head, I tried to intervene, but the man smeared mustard on my face. I wiped it off and put it on his jacket. Very stupid of me—the man lifted me up, tore my shirt apart, and shouted angrily to me in Finnish right into my face. I asked a guy playing in a band from Åland who was with us to translate the shouting: “If you don’t wipe off the mustard from his jacket, he will kill you.” There was nothing else to do but to wipe it off. Big defeat—which was a bit typical for this tour. We never went back again. 

What was the problem with having gigs close to the Russian border?

The problem was that there were nasty versions of greasers in this area—caps and leather vests, they were blatant and threatening. They drank a lot, and threw coins at us—I believe it was pennies, impossible to see in the darkness, but it really hurt. We did a couple of gigs approximately 20 kilometers from the border then we happily went back to Helsinki again. 

Also in Sweden, you shared the stage with some great British bands.

We played as the opening act for the Hollies in Sandviken; it was a great honor, a damn good band. We did some covers of their songs, for instance, we recorded “Very Last Day” and it was released through Svenska Skivklubben (The Swedish record club). We never met with the Hollies though. But another band that according to us was much cooler was on its way to Sweden—the Who—and we were going to play the opening act for them on the 4th of June 1966, in Söderhamn. The stage was unbelievably small and it did not do the Who justice. The sound was good, but we had expected Keith Moon to smash the drums and Pete Townsend to break the guitar to pieces and that didn’t happen. The best part was that we got the chance to meet these stars behind the stage; we talked a bit and the local newspaper took some pictures.

Keith Moon must have been hungry because he picked up a baguette that he walked around eating. There was also a big, elderly security guard in the room. He looked like a boxer, dressed in a boiler suit, a branded cap, and a baton. All of a sudden Moon threw the half-eaten baguette on the floor. The security guard immediately stepped forward and said in Swedish, with a commanding voice: “Pick it up.” Moon didn’t even notice it. Then the guard screamed: “Pick up the bread, bastard, or I will...” The world famous celebrity walked slowly as a grumpy kid over to the bread and picked it up and binned it.

There was still one more single record.

The possibility of a new record contract appeared through an audition at EMI! The producer was the best at the time in Sweden, Anders “Henkan” Henriksson. We thought we would try Jan Björkbom, our guitarist, as our new singer. He used to sing a song by the Kinks, “Don’t You Fret,” a song that he did very well. The song was always a favorite when we played gigs and with Henkan as the producer we felt we were on to something really good.

It sounds like there is a “but” in this story...

The night before we were going into the studio to record it there was a party in a villa in Nacka. Everybody was going to be there, a lot of musicians, a lot of girls plus Peter Goldman, who had done a video with the Beatles. We were not supposed to be staying for long, but the clock was 4:30 in the morning before we were back at the hotel that morning. Again, we would have needed KEG.

At 10 in the morning we were at EMI, and we tried to get the song right, but we just didn’t manage. But it wasn’t due to Björkbom. After several attempts, Henkan said, “Let’s take lunch and try something new afterward.” When we came back to the studio we played two songs from our repertoire, we just took something, “Don’t You Know Why,” a song by the Searchers and “Halfway to Paradise,” which Billy Fury had had a big hit with. Shortly afterward we got a message from EMI: no contract. It was expected and a bit typical. Well, party, party, party…

So it was Anders Henriksson who produced your last single? Not bad, considering he also produced both Tages and Shanes. 

Yes, but the recording was an audition for possibly getting a contract. We had really set ourselves up to try “Don’t You Fret,” but we weren’t focused enough and unfortunately we became our own worst enemy. We stopped and started over again several times in the studio; this was something that could happen during our rehearsals as well. We made great demands on ourselves and I was maybe the most critical one of us. So we took a break and started over, now tried “Don’t You Know Way” and “Halfway to Paradise.” It went OK, but probably not the right song or just not what EMI were after at that moment. We received a negative answer just a week later. It really hurt. 

The recordings were released in the end.

Without a record contract, we continued to play and tour, but the industry had begun to fail. Without a song on the so important Top-Ten list, it became hard. At the same time,we were trying to get our tapes from EMI, and in the end, we managed to.

We had been in contact with a smaller record company called Sunset Records, and they were interested in doing a record with us, so that happened, the job was already done. “Don’t You Know Why” and “Halfway to Paradise” were released. A few weeks later “Don’t You Know Why” was one of the 30 songs that were tested for the Top-Ten list, but it didn’t make it—but it did manage to get into the coming Saturday’s test. That week the Top-Ten was broadcast from Söderhamn and we thought “this is when it happens,” but no… Suddenly it was really hard to become a prophet in our own land. It was really disappointing and I think it was the beginning of the end. We had postponed our military service twice and now we started to have thoughts of civil careers and kids…

Did that mean the end for the Panthers?

We officially ended the Panthers in January ‘67 after talking through the matter. That year we didn’t do any gigs. We had a contract for another tour in Denmark that spring and that was done by the New Panthers.

So the Panthers were dissolved, but very soon afterward you reappeared as the New Panthers?

Yes, the New Panthers was created in 1967, just a few months after we ended the Panthers. It was Jan Björkbom and I, together with Benny Dolve playing the lead guitar and Kjell Martinsson from Les Cinq on drums, two guys with lots of experience who had previously played with Björkbom in Germany, among other places. Les Cinq also released a single in 1965, “Ol’ Man Mose” and “Be My Bride.”

We started off full-on, Jan Björkbom and I wanted to continue playing like we had done with the Panthers, but the two others weren’t that comfortable with becoming “pop idols” again. Our target, which we really wanted to fulfill, was set on a 14-day tour in Denmark, a contract that the Panthers had had from before. A lot of rehearsing and a few gigs. It was like starting all over again. We didn’t have any good places to rehearse, no car and no trailer. We had to borrow everything. We rehearsed in a root cellar which Dolve knew of, and we borrowed a bus from a friend. After a lot of practicing and playing together, we finally had a good sound and were ready to take on Denmark. We had rehearsed approximately 25 songs, which wasn’t enough at all as we had long sets on stage. So 
we just said, “Now after a lot of requests we will play…” And then we played one of the songs again. Our repertoire was slightly different than the Panthers’ used to be. We played some Cream, some Byrds, but also songs with influences of country music. Both Dolve and Björkdom were excellent guitarists and delivered amazing solos. I remember that we played “Hey Joe” in an upbeat country version, and also a quick and rolling “I Got A Woman” in which our drummer only used the snare drum. The tour exceeded our expectations, but shortly after we came back to Sweden we decided to stop playing. Two of the guys had jobs waiting for them and for me, it was time to do my military service, two postponements were enough. 

Approximately twenty years later the record company Garageland Records released the album The Panthers 1964-66, which contained all your singles and ten previously unreleased studio and live recordings.

That album was completely Jan-Eric Rehn’s work together with Garageland; it can be seen as a historical document. I believe it was very important for him to include his instrumental songs. The rest of us wanted to do a record with all the material from our singles plus “Very Last Day” [Jukebox, 1966], the unreleased “Come Back To Me” and possibly “Rapid River”, a song we all created together. But that discussion was brought to life first when the record was already released. Like in most bands, there were probably a lot of conflicting wills.

In January 1965 you recorded material at Radio Mekrossla, what was the thought for these?

Mekrossla consisted of a couple of guys that had a studio outside of Söderhamn. How we got in contact with them I can’t remember, I think KEG had a finger in the pie. The guys also turned up at different dance venues, as an example the song “Kvantingen” was recorded at Högliden in Hudiksvall. Except for the fact that it was fun, I don’t really know what the purpose of these recordings were. I can’t really recall either how we—if the dates on the record cover are correct—could record “Hey Woman” in October ‘64 and then recorded instrumental songs with Mekrossla on the 14th of January 1965? Maybe it shows that we were still living in two worlds.

Your instrumental songs sound like something the Shanes could have recorded in 1963-64, especially “Rapid River” and brooding “Trocadero” sound like compositions by Staffan Berggren. Was Jan-Eric Rehn influenced by Berggren?

Jan-Eric wasn’t, as far as I know, inspired by Steffan Berggren, at least it wasn’t something we talked about. The Shadows were idols for us in the beginning, as well as the Swedish bands the Violents and the Spotnicks. But you are right: if you listen to early material by the  Shanes there are for sure similarities.

You said you were living in two different worlds, can you explain?

As we changed and became a more refined pop group the Stones and the Beatles became our big inspirations. But, you shouldn’t forget that we were living in Hälsingland, where most of our gigs were and later also in Medelpad and further north in Sweden. We were still playing at dance venues, and the repertoire needed to be adapted for a dancing audience. The Stones songs such as “Time Is On My Side,” “If You Need Me” and “Under The Boardwalk” they could dance to. Some of the Beatles songs such as “Girl,” “If I Fell” and “PS I Love You” were also ok, but when we played “Not Fade Away,”  it was not popular.

So the Panthers were half a pop group and half a dance band, playing soft music like “Oh Carol” and “Corrina Corrina” at indoor and outdoor honky tonk hardwood floor venues, often with no license to sell booze. But everyone brought their own anyway. Those were extremely popular meeting places for Scandinavian people, popularity for these venues peaked from the ‘40s through the ’70s.

Yes, that was the world we were living in, especially in the early days. There were no clubs in the north of Sweden, but as we started to play more in the southern part of the country we got to experience it more and more. In Stockholm, Denmark and in Finland we could play the music we wanted. And over time we got the chance to play a tougher kind of music, during the Package One tour our repertoire was rhythm & blues and pure pop: “Baby,” “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” “Nitty Gritty,” “Dancing in the Street,” Diddley’s “Road Runner,” Chuck Berry’s “I Want to Be Your Driver” and Jimmy Reed’s “I Ain’t Got You.”

Among the unreleased material there is a song called “Bad Blues” which is reminiscent of Ronnie Self’s early songs. How was your relationship with the fifties rock ‘n’ roll?

We grew up during the fifties with the rock ‘n’ roll, and in my early teenage years Elvis was my king, but he lost it early… He was absolutely best during the time he was signed to Sun. Gene Vincent and Little Richard were far cooler, according to us. Ronnie Self, a guy I never heard of before, I Googled him and there are for sure many similarities with our music. Maybe the guys were inspired by him when they wrote some of our songs.

Listening to your records, your brilliant live version of “Hi-Heel Sneakers” and the gig you played for the radio show Tonårskväll at the Sveriges Radio (Swedish Radio) in 1965, it sounds like your influences were more the Animals, the Beatles, the Hollies, and above all Kinks. Not so much the Rolling Stones and Pretty Things. This means, more a mix of British rhythm & blues and Merseybeat than the Pretty Things’ and Stones’ very raw version of blues and rhythm & blues. With the exception of “Baby,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “I’ll Be Pleased.” As an example, your version of “I Wanna Be Your Man” sounds much more like the Beatles than the Stones. 

Yes, as you say, our sources of inspiration were over time the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, the Animals and the Hollies, but also the Small Faces and the Spencer Davis Group were in our repertoire during 1966. We even got Charlie Rich there with his “She’s A Yum Yum” and “Mohair Sam.” For me personally, the Stones have always been a big inspiration, but the songs we played were characterized by the dance venues we played at in the beginning. Bands such as the Friends from Stockholm and the Shakers from Gothenburg could be true to their style all the way, they played Stones and Pretty Things, often at gigs in basement clubs, which were common in those cities. If we would have played that kind of music at someof our gigs, we wouldn’t have survived for very long. And we were also a bit vain, wanting to be liked by everyone and I must say we succeeded quite decently with that, big color pictures in the pop magazines gave status.

Without any big hits, you managed to put The Panthers in the center of the Swedish pop agenda in the sixties. Thank you very much Sven-Rune for sharing your story! •


Just Walking in the Rain / Corrine Corrina 
(Polydor NH 10975) 1964

Hey Woman / Let Me Tell You
(Polydor NH 10978) 1964
Girl I Love You / I’ll Be Pleased
(Polydor NH 10991) 1965
Baby / I Just Want to Make Love to You
(Polydor NH 59704) 1965
Don’t You Know Why / Half Way To Paradise
(Sunset SSR 6) 1966
Very Last Day 
(Juke Box JSEP 5552) 1966
Baby / I Just Want to Make Love to You / I’ll 
Be Pleased / Hey Woman
(Polydor International 60118, France) 1965

(Garageland BF 606, CD/LP) 1985
All the singles plus 10 unreleased live and 
studio recordings: Rapid River, Bad Blues, 
Kvantingen, Dreams of Spring, Come Back 
To Me, I Wanna Be Your Man, Trocadero, 
I’m the Best, High Heel Sneakers, In the 

                   RADIO SHOWS
(Sveriges Radio Feb 17, 1966)
Run For Your Life, Everybody’s Gonna Be 
Happy, Never Met A Girl Like You Before, I 
Just Want To Make Love To You, Don’t You 
Fret, Game Of Love, Drive My Car.


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