Jan Akkerman - A Biography
Jan was born on Christmas-eve of 1946 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He picked up a guitar for the first time at the tender age of 5. Jan's father was a guitar player himself, while his mother encouraged him to play the accordion. Luckily, he later definitely chose to pick up the guitar, although he also can play keyboards and even the saxophone. As a teenager his interests turned from classical music into rock 'n roll, so at an early age he played in local bands like The Friendship Sextet (his first band), The Shaking Hearts and Johnny & His Cellar Rockers.
The 'Cellar Rockers' turned into Johnny and The Hunters, and later on The Hunters. Akkerman wrote 'The Russian Spy and I' which featured the famous lick that definitively set his name in the music business. During the last few months of The Hunters, Jan recorded his first solo album 'Talent for Sale' in 1968, with Sidney Wachtel on drums and Ron Bijtelaar on bass. This album featured some Rhythm & Blues-standards, as well as some compositions of his own. This release marked the end of the 'early years', in which he also did studio sessions for a Dutch band called 'The Cats' and on several other Dutch acts (like Unit Gloria, The Buffoons and The Blue Diamonds), for most of which he was not credited. His famous quote on this issue:"Mind over matter? Well, I don't mind and that doesn't matter."
In 1969, Jan was asked to play the
guitar parts (and Hammond organ) on an album by vocalist Kazimierz (Kaz)
Lux. Together with Pierre van der Linden on drums and André Reynen
on bass, this recording project turned into the band 'Brainbox'. Their
one and only album was released at the end of 1969 and was immediately
regarded as a Dutch progressive rock classic one. Featuring covers like
'Summertime', 'Sinner's Prayer' and 'Scarborough Fair' (alongside several
compositions of their own), Akkerman arranged the cover-versions in
a very original way and played some marvelous guitar parts on his Gretsch
Between 1970 and 1976, Jan was a member of 'Focus", the band that became popular all over the world. During the Focus-years, Jan released two solo albums. In 1972, 'Profile' was released, which featured one side of heavy progressive rock called 'Fresh Air' with the help of his Focus-band mates drummer Pierre van der Linden and bass player Bert Ruiter. Side two of 'Profile' was mostly acoustic, with Jan playing the alto-lute on a couple of tracks. His third album 'Tabernakel' was recorded in the US with the help of the well-known arranger George Flynn. A logical follow-up to 'Profile', Jan again played the lute, alongside keyboards, guitars and his electric sitar. Both 'Profile' and 'Tabernakel' were very successful outside the Netherlands.
During rehearsals for a UK tour with Focus in March 1976, Jan Akkerman left that band. Teaming up again with musicians like Pierre van der Linden and Kaz Lux, Jan recorded 'Eli'. Based on a story that Kaz wrote, with tracks like 'Tranquillizer' and the driving 'Can't Fake a Good Time' proved that Akkerman made progression since the Brainbox-days. Musicians like Jasper van 't Hof and Rick van der Linden were also very important for the sound, that made 'Eli' so unique. The follow-up, Jan's self-titled album, was recorded in the same period as 'Eli', but is completely instrumental. Most of the tracks were recorded during the same sessions of the 'Eli' album recordings in 1976. His band featured Joachim Kühn on keyboards, Cees van der Laarse on bass and Bruno Castelucci on drums. The percussionist was Neppie Noya. Compared to 'Eli', this album contained more solo-guitar playing and put him in the spotlights with tracks like 'Crackers', 'Pavane' and 'Skydancer'. All tracks featured the Michael Gibbs Orchestra in the orchestral background.
In 1978, he played with his band at the Montreux Jazz Festival, parts of which were released on the 'Live' album. He also made a classical album with arranger/conductor Claus Ogerman, 'Aranjuez'. Jan decided not to put well-known classical pieces on this album, but instead he selected material by Rodrigo, Ravel and Villa-Lobos. His follow-up album was surprisingly very funky. Recorded in the US, the album 'Jan Akkerman 3' features a horn-section led by Michael Brecker and two songs feature vocals, by Will Dee ('She's So Devine') and Yvette Cason ('Funk Me').
From now on, Akkerman was certainly capable of any style he would try on most of his solo albums. Most people said 'Jan lost his musical direction', which is not completely fair, when one noticed his virtuosity and eclecticism. He developed his own style on each album and this resulted in several albums with a different sound. During 1980, Jan added more improvised jazz-elements to his music. This resulted in a duo-tour with Joachim Kühn (which started in autumn 1979 in Germany). As an album follow-up to 'Jan Akkerman 3', he teamed up with Kaz Lux again, but this time Kaz wrote most of the songs, while Jan concentrated himself on the arrangements. The results were released as 'Transparental'.
In 1981 and 1982, Jan mostly lived in Denmark and Sweden, while he performed live with musicians like Jon Hiseman and Stefan Nilsson. In October 1981 he made a bet with a Dutch disc jockey, to create an entire album within 24 hours. Jan won the bet: 'Oil in the Family' was coloured with the sounds of his guitar synthesizer. This album was a unique statement in the middle of the disco-age. However, both press and public were not amused. In early 1982, one of his most lyrical albums 'Pleasure Point' was released. Some tracks were played solo, with both acoustic guitar and guitarsynth, and other tracks featured musicians like Hans Waterman and Ronald Zeldenrust on drums, bassist Pablo Nahar and saxophone player Jim Campagnola. While in Denmark, Jan recorded the album 'It Could Happen to You' in March 1982 with Danish musicians, such as Kenneth Knudsen and Ole Theill.
Returning to Holland at the end of 1982, he turned more and more towards his Django- and Bluesroots. 'Can't Stand Noise' (released in Autumn 1983) featured live-favourites like 'Heavy Treasure', 'Piétons' and 'Just Because', while the line-up of his band consisted of Hans Waterman on drums, Dino Walcott on bass and Marc van de Geer on keyboards. Touring a lot outside The Netherlands (mainly in Germany), he proved that he was still around.
While he did some sessions with Thijs van Leer again, for the 1985 'Focus' album, Jan recorded one of his best albums, featuring stuff in the Brainbox- and ZZ Top-style. Released in October 1984 as 'From the Basement', the album sounded powerful, raw and joyful. After the short 'Focus reunion' in 1985, Jan rejoined Kaz Lux on stage, followed by his gigs with guitar-virtuoso Adrian van den Berg and female vocalist Julya Lo'ko. Bass player and drummer were respectively Michael Peet and Ton Dijkman. After working almost a year on home demos for his next album, Jan entered the studio to record 'Heartware'. Partially solo and partially with Peet / Dijkman, 'Heartware' is considered one of his best albums ever. It combined the rock-elements from 'From the Basement' and the introduction of new-age stuff he was working on.
Akkerman, who then experimented and worked with two Roland MC-500 sequencers, was asked by Miles Copeland (Sting's manager) to take part in the Night of the Guitar project as a stand-in. This led to his comeback on international stages and his set was one of the most surprising acts during the show. In May 1990 the release of his 'comeback'-album 'The Noise of Art' took place, which was the first album to be released worldwide since 1979. He was asked by Miles Copeland to go on tour with Sting, but Jan, unpredictable as ever, decided not to do it, because he didn't want to end up as the 'touring machine' he used to be in the Focus days. During 1991 and 1992, he performed with the Charlie Byrd Trio (also on tour in Japan), with Samuel Eddy and with the now late Chicago blues player Ronald Abrams, alongside his solo-gigs.
Then, on a cold August night in 1992, when he returned from a hectic Caribbean tour and after having met his new girlfriend Marian, Jan was involved in a heavy car accident. His revalidation took about six months, after that he settled himself in a new home village and started a new family life. In February 1993 he went back on stage for the very first time after his car accident with his new bass player Manuel Hugas. Doing a very successful theatre-tour that same year, he released his new album 'Puccini's Café' for EMI records in spring 1993, which was followed by 'Blues Hearts' in 1994. Both albums charted in The Netherlands and featured elements of jazz, funk, blues and some electronic stuff as well.
After the monumental 'Songs my father
the funny ones too!'-tour in 1995, Jan felt that he had
to do a very special new album, featuring all the styles he did in the
past. Those ideas were transformed into the 1996-album 'Focus in Time'
with Dijkman, Hugas, keyboard-player/producer Tom Salisbury and a
horn section. Released in October 1996, most songs were in the same
Renaissance-style like some of the old Focus stuff. Jan reached new
heights in his playing in 'Am I Losing You' and the acoustic tour-de-force
'Wildflower'. For the consequent tour, keyboard player Nico Brandsen
was bringing in his Hammond-organ and old times were reborn at last
In 1999, he signed a contract for the Roadrunner label and in October the first release on that label 1999 titled 'Passion'. Regarded by many fans as his true follow-up to the 1973-album 'Tabernakel', 'Passion' was recorded partially live in 1995 and featured Jan's most lyrical acoustic playing for ages. The album (all titles were played solo with his Lowden acoustic guitar) featured two long suites with Akkerman-classics, as well as interpretations of compositions like 'Mon Amour', 'Liebestraum' and a theme from J.S. Bach's St Matthew's Passion, which became the title-track of the album. 'Passion' was nominated for an Edison award in early 2000, just when Akkerman was almost finishing his acoustic theatre tour to promote the album. His band consisted of, again, his old 'compadre' Ton Dijkman and new band member Wilbrand Meischke on double bass and tabla'.
In 1999 he also did his first UK tour
since 1977 and since then he visited the UK every year, with or without
his band. While busy as always working on new material in his home studio,
Jan was asked to do a special session with rapper Ice-T in early 2000.
This illustrates that there still are no musical boundaries and that
his feeling for music comes straight from his heart, no matter what
kind of music it is. The session was very surprising and received many
During the early 2001 theatre concerts, Jan played his lute again, after he was finally able to pick up a new set of strings for the instrument. His new keyboard player is Jeroen Rietbergen, a band member of Soulvation and consequently having an influence on Jan. The Jazzah! 2001/2002 tour introduced some new material, like 'Cotton Bay' and his version of the Isley Brothers' song 'Between the Sheets'. He also performed the classic 'Pavane' again, for the first time since 1978. After more than 15 years of cooperation, drummer Ton Dijkman left the band in 2002 and was replaced by Marijn van den Berg.
Jan is very satisfied on both his
personal as his artistic life. No matter what people say about him or
his past, he really doesn't care. More importantly, it's evident that
he finally found the ideal place, to be as much creative as possible,
together with his wife Marian and their two daughters. His new album
C.U. with Jeroen Rietbergen and Ronald Molendijk (also from Soulvation)
as producers was released in October 2003. He got certainly 'In the mood',
just like the title of his Dutch theatre tour that year.
The year 2005 started in a very positive
way for Jan, he received a Golden Harp award from Conamus (a foundation
that supports Dutch music) for his complete oeuvre.
From January 2006 Akkerman appeared as a guest in the theatre tour 'Queen In Concert' of the Orchestra of the Dutch Royal Airforce with i.a. singer Bert Heerink. Besides the annual UK Tour Jan also appeared on foreign stages in Russia, Germany, Japan and India. In december his Dutch theatre tour 'Live in concert' started with some musical reflections on his musical oeuvre so far. In April 2007 the film 'Portrait with guitar' was broadcasted on Dutch tv. This film is about Jan's life and is made by Hans Hylkema. After the annual UK Tour Jan and his band were i.e. at The Hague Jazz, at this gig there were video-recordings made that were to be released on DVD at a later stadium. Between performances at several festivals there was a short UK solo tour, with the young, talented guitarist Gareth Pearson as the supporting act. In September Jan and his bandmembers did a short Japanese tour, at the beginning of November followed by a tour of a week in Syria. During the rest of that month Jan toured South-America together with Dutch pianist Mike del Ferro, they played at venues in i.e. Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil.
In 2008 Jan and his band performed at completely sold out venues with their Dutch Theatre Tour 'Live in concert' . After the annual UK Tour there are gigs at several festivals. In June the DVD/cd/lp 'lIve in concert - The Hague 2007' is released. At the end of July/beginning of August Jan did a short Croatian tour with guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski. This is followed by several gigs i.e. in Scotland, Syria, Jordan, Serbia and Slovenia. On October 3 Jan and his band werre at the HMH in Amsterdam during the celebration of '50 Jaar Nederpop'. They played songs of The Hunters (Russian spy and I), Brainbox (with Kaz Lux as a special guest: Down man and Dark Rose) and Focus (Hocus Pocus and Sylvia). At the bginning of November there was a short acoustic solo UK Tour, again with Gareth Pearson as the supoorting act, and Jan finished that month with another short Croatian tour with Vlatko Stefanovski.
From January to mid March 2009 there was another edition of the project 'Five Great Guitars' with Jan as a special guest. He shared the stage with guitarists Jan Kuiper (also initiator of the project), Digmon Roovers, Erwin Java, Zoumana "Would Diarra from Mali and Muriel Anderson from Illinois. On April 11 Jan received at the Arsenal Theatre in Flushing the Eddy Christiani Award from the Old Maestro himself. The Award is an initiative of Poppuntzeeland. Akkerman receives the prize for his virtuosity, versatility and the desire to constantly renew his way of playing. Afterwards, there are the annual UK tour and appearances at festivals at home and abroad. On August 29, the Jan Akkerman Band opened for Gary Moore at the HMH in Amsterdam. In late September, Jan's new solo tour 'Alone Together' was launched in which Jan both plays the acoustic guitar and the lute. On October 25 Jan played at the charity concert "Helping the Heart of Music" at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where the performing artists were accompanied by Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. After this the last part of the very successful theare tourr 'Live in concert' starts. Early November, there were two performances in Jakarta, Indonesia with the band and Jan Akkerman 3 was released on cd.
In 2011 Jan released his most recent studio outing ‘Minor Details’ (2011), on which he explores and combines elements of rock, jazz, blues, classical or modern dance music and gives those his own signature. In addition, the ‘North Sea Jazz Legendary Concerts’ dvd/cd set (2012) shows the many sides and different stages of the guitarist with his band during various performances of the famous North Sea Jazz Festival between 1993 and 2011. Since early 2012, Jan lets old Brainbox times revive with the My Brainbox project, featuring ex-Vandenberg singer Bert Heerink. This project started as a celebration of his 50-year-activity on worldwide stages. At the end of that year, Jan was knighted in the Order of Oranje Nassau as a recognition of his contribution and influence to Dutch music.
Seeing Jan Akkerman live in concert is always a refreshing and fascinating never-to-be-repeated experience. Being an authentic improvisator he shows his maximal capability and, during band gigs, shares his affection on guitar with band members Coen Molenaar (keyboards), David de Marez Oyens (bass) and Marijn van den Berg (drums).