ABBA guitarist Janne Schaffer: “You can hear a lot of heavy rock guitars in the first and second albums. We were listening to Deep Purple ”
The release of a new ABBA album, Trip, their first new material in 40 years, is the surprise comeback of 2021. And it brings back wonderful memories for the guitarist who performed on the band’s biggest hits in the ’70s and early’ 80s.
“ABBA has sold over 380 million records,” says Janne Schaffer, “and I’m on over half of those, which is pretty cool! “
During this Imperial phase, ABBA recorded and released 98 songs – 50 featuring the Stockholm-born session guitarist and jazz virtuoso who dated Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix on their first Swedish tours before joining ABBA in 1972 .
Now, as he looks back on his years at this record-breaking factory, Janne says, “It was always great music. And the new songs sound great. I think the comeback will be a huge success.
What are the most loaded guitar songs you have recorded with ABBA?
“There are three that come to mind. Rock’n’roll group, Be careful and King Kong song, which come from the first and second albums. If you listen to them, you can hear a lot of heavy rock guitars there. We had listened to Deep Purple and stuff like that.
“At Be careful, I was using a guitar synthesizer for the intro … You can hear the octave effect on this little phrase that I repeat at the beginning. We had a lot of fun in the studio, trying out different things. At the beginning of Björn [Ulvaeus,] and Benny [Andersson] did not know exactly in which direction ABBA should be heading. From the third album, I think Benny understood better how he wanted the band to sound … “
What other famous songs have you ended up playing on?
“There are quite a few! Songs like Ding dong, Waterloo, Mom mia – this one was an overdub – also Bang-a-boomerang, Do you want, I have a dream. In 1977, I played on a song called If it weren’t for the nights, which I like a lot, even if it is not played as much. It was more disco oriented, with a lot of guitar overdubs. And in fact, there have been a lot of overdubs with ABBA.
“SOS is a track I’m proud to play on – I’d say it’s one of their best tracks. I also played a version with lyrics in Swedish that was on one of Agnetha Fältskog’s solo albums (co-singer), where you can hear the guitar parts a little better. It is a piano oriented melody, but completed by the guitar.
“There is a song called Eagle which I really enjoyed recording. And I think I played on Fernando, just from the way everything was recorded and what I’ve been told, but I’m not really one hundred percent sure. I also played on Knowing me, knowing you. For a while I thought I was playing on Does your mother know, but he was another fantastic guitarist they used called Lasse Wellander. “
Waterloo is basically a glam rock song. Do you remember what the band was listening to back then and what you used for the sessions?
“I don’t know if the members listened to glam rock, to be honest. But we listened to the Beach Boys a lot. Everyone knew Brian Wilson was a great songwriter. Benny had a way of taking his inspirations and making them his own. As good as new, for example, had some influence from the Bee Gees, although it’s musically different.
“I helped a bit with the arrangement for Waterloo, which was fantastic. I saw it all start and grow, and I immediately knew it would be something special. Most of this music was arranged in the studio. In fact, I still have the guitar that I used to Waterloo. It was my 1959 Gibson Les Paul. I had to hide this instrument because it is so valuable now! And I was using an Ampeg amp at the time.
“I don’t think there were any pedals involved, although sometimes I might have tried one of the MXR phasers. In fact, there is a piece of ABBA called So long and for that I used a Morley echo pedal that I could push in for more swirling sounds. You can hear it at the start.
Have you played on Dancing queen? Your name is credited on one of the subsequent sessions.
“It does, although I’m not absolutely sure I played on it. But I remember being at the Glen Studio and being invited to put on some rhythm songs. Once again, hard to be sure! Some sessions that I remember very well, and others less. I am registered on over 5,000 songs and only 50 of them are ABBA. And a lot of those other recordings don’t sound like ABBA. I always try to invent my own musical language in each project.
There are some interesting voices and movements in ABBA’s music. How much has chord theory helped you get the job done?
“It was important to know my chord theory because I played with Benny all the time, trying to find the right things to suit his playing on the piano. It all started with his idea of how melodies sounded and then how we added to them. I wouldn’t say they were normal guitar chords and took a little while to figure out, but I used to work like this.
“I was very honored to be involved in these songs, it gives me a lot of pleasure and makes me feel like I have participated in their creative progress. In 1973, while they were recording Ding dong, I released my first solo album which remained number one for six weeks.
“I was a little afraid that they wouldn’t want to have me on the records because I had started my own career at the time. I explained that I didn’t make the same kind of music as them and so I really hoped to keep recording with them because it was always good quality music and very creative.
Do you still mostly use Les Paul today?
“Well back then the Pauls were really the guitar. I also had Fender – for example, on As good as new, I was using a Telecaster. And on I have a dream I have used an electric sitar, so I have always been open to using different guitars. But these days it’s very rare for me to use my Gibsons, I work mainly with Larrivée, a French-Canadian brand that I really like. These instruments are mainly what I use on my recordings today.
What separation advice can you offer to other session guitar hopefuls?
“You have to be very versatile and know a lot about music theory. I listened to a lot of jazz and played with Swedish jazz radio bands, and I also worked with people from classical backgrounds, which helped me a lot.
“I also learned very quickly that you have to be very inventive on the pitch and have an open ear. No one is perfect all the time, however – sometimes there can be a song that just doesn’t suit the way you play. It is worth keeping this in mind.