By Johnny Petersen
Photo courtesy of the author
Many major cities in the world have their own “grandfather of the blues”, a person on which younger generations depend and learn from. In Copenhagen it was Troels Jensen who sadly passed away this spring just before Thecountryblues had planned to interview him. The Corona pandemic came in between.
In Malmö, on the other side of the Öresund Strait it is Steve Grahn who is the grand ol’ man. Born in 1947 he has been a part of the local music scene ever since blues, pop and rock came to Sweden. At the age of nine he listened to the radio as the played music by Bill Haley and Muddy Waters. He got hooked immediately and persuaded his father to buy him a guitar. All the way up until the new millennium Steve was engaged in all kinds of music, tryin’ to make a buck. For twenty years he and a friend, Lasse Bergrensson, played acoustic music, mostly blues and folk, at the local railway station bar every week. A number of records were released during those years with different settings. He even had a band with his son Anders and his friends called Three Studs and a Stone.
Malmoe-Copenhagen Blues Connexion
What Steve Grahn mainly will be remembered for is probably that in 2001 he formed the association Malmoe-Copenhagen Blues Connexion. This association is still running and dominates the local blues scene, although Steve retired some years ago and left the chairman-ship to H.P Nilsson. Every summer since the inauguration they have arranged a one week long blues festival in a giant tent – The Blues Tent – in the middle of Malmö, inviting artists both locally as well as from Denmark , Great Britain and the U.S.
Tony Joe White
Steve was a dear friend of the late Tony Joe White. Their friendship began in early 2000 when they happened to release their respective CD´s at the same time. Steve had been a great admirer of Tony Joe White for a long time and they had had a SMS-conversation for some time and as they thought this coincidence was quite fun, they met up the next time Steve came to the U.S. After that they played a number of gigs at the same venues. Steve still holds the memory of Tony Joe White very dear.
In 2002 Steve suffered a stroke. This made him unable to play. He just couldn’t remember chords or all the lyrics he had learned by heart over the years. But, as playing the guitar was all he had ever done for a living there was nothing better to do but to start all over again. He was struggling even to form the simple chords, like a C, and it was even harder to move on the, say a Bm. The struggle gave result and in 2003 he began recording his first solo CD, released in 2004. The Stroke made him realize he had to slow down and he now focused on the acoustic blues but still with a feeling of the swamp groove he learned from Tony Joe White. At some point he added a footboard to keep the pace. It has been a kind of signature of his since that.
When he met the young and talented Mattias Malm, a guitar and dobro-player, in 2006 they just clicked and has been performing as a duo ever since. Occasionally they turn into a trio as they add the Danish harmonica player Thomas Melau. The duo released their first CD the same year with a second one in 2010.
The Blues Challenge
Together with Mattias Malm he won the award The Janne Rosenquist Memorial in 2009 which gave the pair a ticket to Eutin in Germany and the European Blues Challenge. This in turn gave them a ticket to Memphis and The International Blues Challenge in 2010. A competition that turned into a great disappointment as they became disqualified by one of the judges. The reason for this misfortune was the simple fact that ever since Steve’s stroke he can’t trust his ability to memorize lyrics and need some small notes. It turned out that it was not allowed to have a music stand on stage.
However, the week following the competition, after most participants had left Memphis, all the local old blues originals showed up on the streets and the bars and they came to play gigs and jams with them. This was the most fun they had had in a long time.
Steve has turned 73 and in his golden age Steve he has started a new additional career as a guitar tech. For some years at a local music shop and now in his garden shed outside Malmö.
Because of age and Corona he is not touring anymore but whenever he shows up at stage one can see from the audience that he is still as popular as ever.