Nord-Blues aus Finnland: Micke Bjorklof im Interview

Micke und seine formidablen "Blue Strips" (Foto: MB)
Micke und seine formidablen "Blue Strips" (Foto: MB)

bluesfeeling hatte die Gelegenheit, einen der besten Blueser Finnlands zu sprechen.

Bereits 1991 gegründet, zählen Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip in ihrer Heimat Finnland und ganz Skandinavien zu den Top-Acts. Seit über 20 Jahren sind sie leidenschaftliche Botschafter des Blues. Mit ihren Aufnahmen und explosiven Live-Shows haben die Jungs bereits unzählige Fans in angesagten Clubs oder auf großen Festivals begeistert - und wollen nun auch nach Deutschland kommen! Hier unser Interview mit Micke Bjorklof:


Micke, what means Blues music to you?

Blues music is my passion and it has many meanings to me on many different levels. But the main thing of course is that blues is the music that I really love in all its different shades and colors. Blues is the music I enjoy to play and listen to. The scale of emotions blues can deliver is enormous, it´s everything from sadness to happiness and joy! I can´t imagine a life without this music. I think it´s exactly like they say that the meaning of the blues is to bring joy and happiness in your life on the moments you feel sad and low.  To me it really is that stress releasing, healing music. At lately Blues is also my job and it brings the bread on the table.

When was your first approach to the Blues?

I started with playing drums when I was around 11 years old. A band called Hurriganes (yes, written with ”g”, the boss man thought it looked much cooler…haha) were really huge name here in Finland. They played blues influenced Rock´n Roll and it really knocked me out. I listened to their C-cassettes on and on. I think that´s probably the first touch to blues based music. Next step was probably the “Blues Brothers” movie when I was 15, that introduced loads of good music that was totally new to me.



 So, when did you come closer to the Blues genre?

If I think closer about my bluesy path, it goes from those mentioned names through all those 70´s great blues based rock bands, like Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company etc. Anyway, when looking back now, so for some reason my favorite songs were always the bluesy tracks on those albums. For an example when I was 12 years my grandmother bought me Nazareth’s “Except No Mercy” album, my favorite track was “Busted”, old Ray Charles blues.


My musical path started moving more towards blues with guitar-orientated blues-rock amongst many other styles. In the beginning of 90´s I was driving a tour bus every now and then for a Finnish blues legend Pepe Ahlqvist. On those tours he introduced Robert Johnson to me. That´s when I finally really got bitten with the blues bug totally and started digging deeper to the roots of blues music and I found these old delta and country blues guys. That´s the road I got stuck on, and now making my living from blues music.


Is blues the only music you listen to?

No, even though my passion is blues, I still listen to lot of other stuff too, that´s very inspiring musically. It also feeds your creativity when making new music.


What are your idols?

There are so many artists and bands that has influenced me on this road to become who and what I am musically at the moment so that would probably be an endless list. But I give it a shot, I already mentioned “Hurriganes” as the band that was the kick-start to wanting to play in a band as a kid. Because I played drums I got very interested in all rhythmic stuff, which leads me to New Orleans. Many of my favorite artists comes from NOLA, Snooks Eaglin, John Mooney, Tab Benoit, Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Anders Osborne, Fats Domino etc.  When talking about rhythms I like a lot of Santana´s ”Havana Moon” he did with Fabulous Thunderbirds in the eighties. I liked that sound world mixing percussive stuff with blues. That´s probably the album I got the idea from to have a  percussion player in this band.  


In eighties I got into guitar orientated blues stuff with Rory Gallagher and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the beginning of nineties when I was really getting more into blues I was really fascinated by acoustic delta- and country blues and listened lot to Son House, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Skip James, Big Bill Broonzy. I think these guys would be the most important names to me from that era. Later on also Muddy, Howlin´, Hooker and all kings have their role here absolutely, too. Willie Dixon´s Big Three Trio with their three-part harmony singing is one huge favorite and is of big influences to our acoustic trio ”Micke & Lefty feat. Chef”. 


As a vocalist Bobby ”Blue” Bland and Delbert McClinton has been my longtime favorites. I like his raspy voice and also his versatile song material. Need to mention Solomon Burke too, once we had on honor to open the show for him.


And what about other instrumentalists?

Talking about harmonica, when I first time heard Pepe Ahlqvist playing an amplified harmonica I knew that is something I wanna learn someday. I could say that he is my main influence but of course I have listened to all the legends too, Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Jr. Wells but Pepe is the man one who introduced the harp to me. I like a lot Paul DeLay´s playing and his interesting sound choices. He was a great songwriter and lyricist too, so sad that he passed away so early. Curtis Salgado is great harmonica player and an awesome singer. His ”Soul Shot” album is one of my favorites during last couple of years as well as John Nemeth´s ”Memphis Grease”.  


These days I´ve been listening more to new stuff than old classics, I´m very curious to know what happens in the blues world and also to learn some new stuff.


What do you feel performing your own songs on stage?

I feel the good energy move in the house as well as in myself, too. The music takes me over totally into another level. That must be one of the best feelings in the world when you play your own stuff and see the audience starting reacting positively to the music even though songs wouldn´t be familiar. My goal is to deliver positive energy with our music and the best award is to see people leaving the show with a smile on their faces. Then I know the job was well done! At the end it´s all about entertainment, even sometimes some people take blues too seriously.


When mainly occur ideas for your songs?

Ideas can occur so many ways, it can be after reading a book, and it might start from jammin´on an interesting groove or just something someone said in the tour bus.


Guitarist Lefty Leppänen is our main songwriter and pretty often he comes in with rough ideas that band starts to work together with. Anyway the material that ends on the albums is pretty much a result of a good teamwork. This is a five-piece band with members with very different musical backgrounds and tastes. That also creates lot of tensions in a good way when we work with new material and it often leads to very interesting choices that probably would not happen if we all shared similar tastes in music.


Can you give an example?

Yes, there’s a track called “Last Train To Memphis” on our new album. - We had rehearsals and on a break our drummer Teemu came up with an groove idea that what if he played this traditional “train groove” that is usually played on snare drum, but now he would split it with hi-hat and snare drum. That sounded really good when he played it. Lefty told us that he had some lyrics that could work on that groove. He had written them after reading a book about Elvis life after our trip to Memphis few years earlier. We checked it out, and it worked right away. Little spices with percussion and that was it. It did not change much after the first we played and how it ended up on the album.


Another one was a track called “Rain In Jerusalem”, on breakfast one morning we were talking about world politics and why can´t people live in peace, without fighting all the time. Suddenly Lefty disappeared, after a while when he came back with some lyrics about the stuff we had talked about. We thought these lyrics would need a bit more powerful background musically and just started fooling around and I think we got that one too together during those rehearsals.


What equipment are you using, what amp and guitar?

I don´t play that much guitar myself on stage but when I do I use a Fender Esquire with a small Fender Champ. I play more harmonica and I have an old vintage Astatic crystal mic plugged into Fender Bassman ´59 reissue. Added with couple of pedals to juice up the sound.


…and your band members?

Lefty Leppänen is the leadguitar player and a real master on slide guitar. He uses nowadays as his main axe a Fender Stratocaster because it can take all the travel without breaking. He used to carry Gibson ES-335 but after getting the neck broken couple of times on flights he has been sticking to Strat on tours. As an electric slide guitar he uses especially for him handmade ”Lefty Slidemaster”. It´s a 50´s precisionbass lookalike body with Warmoth neck. As an acoustic slide guitar he has a National Triolian resonator guitar from 1930´s with highlander pickup and straight in line, it sounds really cool and authentic.


Usually on smaller clubs the amp is Fender Blues Jr and if bigger amp is needed he uses Fender Vibrolux or Peavey Deltablues. Our drummer Teemu Vuorela uses Finnish handmade Saari drums made of finnish birch that has been heat-treated, really awesome sounding drums. I recommend to check out that brand.


One specialty we have is the MalletKat that our percussion player Timo Roiko-Jokela. It´s a keyboard kinda instrument but played with mallets (the sticks they play vibraphone with). -That´s something you don´t see that often.


What about your collaboration with “ ìblue stripî” in Finland?

I think we have pretty established name in the Finnish blues scene. Through the years we have probably played on every festival here. We won the Finnish Blues Awards 2015 – Best Band price last March. Our ”After The Flood” album, we recorded in New Orleans was voted to the best Finnish Blues Album on year 2013. It was also a big surprise when it hit the charts on it´s debut week as well as this new one ”Ain´t Bad Yet” did too. I never ever thought that would be possible these days with blues music.


Micke, tell us something on the band history...

…Well,this band has pretty long history, I started this band with bass player Seppo Nuolikoski in the beginning of nineties. It was more kinda acoustic cover band in the beginning; mixing rock, pop songs with roots&blues music. In couple of years blues & roots became the primary thing for us. After the first album in 1997 we went on more towards electric and started writing original material. After having couple changes in the line-up it has remained the same from 1998 and still going strong.


At 15th of May was the European release of your new album. What are the main ideas of this album?

This is the follow up to our ”After The Flood” 2013 album we recorded in New Orleans...


...and you've worked together with a great producer...

Yesss, the album titled “Ain´t Bad Yet” is produced by John Porter, legendary for his productions of Buddy Guy, B.B King, Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, Santana.

That was a “real dream come true”- project for us and definitely gave lot of new inspiration to make music. When we planned that album, we wanted to change the band sound and also our musical direction a bit more towards blues-rock influenced material, giving percussion and guitar a bit more space. So when we started planning the new album it was pretty obvious for us to continue in the same direction, because it felt really good and it was also musically working really good. We just had these few guidelines but wanted to keep ideas fresh and all doors open for the songwriting with not too many restrictions.


At the end of the songwriting process we had over twenty, pretty different songs to choose from. Finally we ended up in the studio with 13 songs we thought would be the best combination for the album. At the end we decided to leave 11 on the album.

I like the variety of the song material, that keeps the album interesting from the get go to the end. Songs are spiced up all from with gritty blues-rock, soul blues feel to field holler elements.  


Can you tell something about the” making of” the album?

When our ” After The Flood” was released in the fall 2013 we decided that the follow up should be released within 1-2 years. We started writing new material and rehearsing in January 2014. Because we all live in different cities, pretty far away from each other so we usually work in 3-5 days rehearsal periods at my home studio.  We had these sessions for about once a month from January to August when we got enough material for an album we would be satisfied with. So the songwriting and rehearsals took about seven sessions.  We decided to use an outside producer and got this great opportunity to work with Grammy Award winning John Porter (BB King, Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, Santana etc). I must, this was a really good choice and we are extremely happy about the result we got together. Before recording session took place in October I talked with John about our goals and the vision we had about how the album should sound... pretty organic with big roomy drums etc. John suggested Rockfield Studios and that was a perfect match for the material we had. I think we spent about 10 days in the studio. Some backing vocals and keyboard overdubs were recorded in various places later during that fall.


Do you have a favorite song on the album?

I love them all but I think I would pick ”Last Train To Memphis”. I love the groove and the energy it has. The arrangement is interesting with all small things happening in the background. I think the band grooves really good on it, if I may say so. It also presents the bands unique sound nicely.


A look in the future: Are you planning a tour in Germany?

Yes, we are planning a tour in Germany. Our German booking agent is working on it at the moment. Hopefully we can make it happen at the end of this year, latest during spring 2016 we have been there couple of times and are really looking forward to play in Germany again.


Next year we will probably and hopefully be pretty busy because the band celebrates it´s 25-years anniversary. We will do some special concerts and probably release an anniversary compilation CD. We have for years also talked about a live album and DVD so that´s also something we will consider to do. Main goal is anyway to try get the touring going on in Europe and UK.


Micke, thx for the interview and good luck!!!