August. 1, 2000.
By Uffe Christensen.
It is central in Dan Klarskov’s
life to be in touch with his own and other people’s feelings.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that the blues is his genre. His début
CD was received positively at home in Denmark, but the reception was
far more positive in the country of blues music: the U.S.A.
"The whole album is something
you should be very proud of. Thanks for sharing the good music with me."
Bruce Iglauer, President of Alligator Records in Chicago.
All the clear, blue rain - all these
heavy gray clouds blocking my view to the warm summer sun are heavily
addictive. You bend your neck on such an afternoon in Århus, where
the international jazz festival has been able to blow a few frayed
holes in the cloud ceiling after all. With a view of black shoes, I
stroll across the shiny cobble-stones of Store Torv. The commercial
postcard which is stuck between the sole of my shoe and the cobble for
a few seconds has a picture on it, and beneath the picture it says,
"Swing your blues away". I stop. I look up. And I listen.
"There is a Danish blues musician who has played the blues for as
long as I have lived. His name is Troels Jensen", says the lad
from the tent-covered stage as he and his band erupt into Mr.
Jensen’s "Take Your Hat And Leave". In spite of all the
odds against a young and far from conventional Danish blues musician,
31 year-old Dan Klarskov has no intention of taking his hat and
leaving, however. "I have come to stay", he says a few days
later when I meet him in his own private Danland - a small, densely
packed apartment on Amager where he receives me dressed in black and
wearing a Texan-style necktie. The living room is full of records,
cassettes and books. The love of his life, a Fender Stratocaster
guitar, is placed in a corner and transmits its vibrations to the
beautifully handmade acoustic guitar, "the Swallow", in the
opposite corner. "Yes, I have come to stay, and I am motivated by
the fact that my blues, which is of course based so heavily on
emotions, is able to put people in a certain mood. Music is generally
universal and far greater than people. This is why one must be humble
toward one’s talent", he says and takes a sip from his cold
Coca Cola. Otherwise, humility is not what you would connect with Dan
Klarskov who spent most of 1999 eagerly promoting his début CD
"Dan Klarskov And The Honeydrippers" which was released in
1998 on his own label Clearwood Records. This promotion was highly
personal. Many people regarded it as unusually unremitting - and a few
regarded it as insistent and annoying. Under all circumstances, Dan
Klarskov employed a marketing strategy highly unknown in stolid blues
circles. "I have had a heap of comments, and it strikes me that
particularly older and more established blues musicians are bitter
that they were not so prominent in the media last year. They think
that the media seek me out, but those are not the conditions for a
blues musician in a small country like Denmark. You have to make
yourself heard. Otherwise nothing will happen", Dan Klarskov says
in a slightly monotonous voice which only rises a few notes when he
begins on a new subject. And subjects are plentiful to Dan Klarskov.
In his youth, Dan Klarskov, who grew up with divorced parents in an
intellectual and politically left-wing home in Ballerup, was deeply
engaged in youth politics and the peace movement. At the same time, he
studied to be a mechanical engineer, but all of a sudden things
snapped for him: "I was in the United States as a peace guard for
the "Next Stop Nevada"-project, and there I realized that I
had spent a lot of time and a lot of strength on everybody but myself.
I plummeted into a depression that lasted a year, before I was ready
to begin my studies anew and graduate. I wanted to prove to myself
that I could, although I had already realized that my future was in
the blues." Dan Klarskov started playing when he was eleven. He
used a guitar his mother had rented. His family mostly listened to
records with Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Little Feat. "I was
particularly interested in the bluesy parts, and that fascination led
me back to blues musicians like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and B.B.
King. I listened to a little bit of T-Bone Walker, but at the time I
did not like his often jazzy approaches. Since then, T-Bone Walker has
become my beau ideal, and I own every record of his released",
says Dan Klarskov whose flirtation with the blues grew into a burning
love when he heard Kenn Lending play at a festival in Fælledparken,
Copenhagen, in the middle of the 1980’s. "His music touched me
deeply, and I quickly started frequenting the blues venue Rådhuskroen
(which is now Mojo, ed.). I got to know Kenn Lending. He tutored me,
and one night during a jam session when he was playing amid the
audience, he suddenly gave me his guitar. I played like a madman, and
afterwards Kenn Lending told me: ‘you can play whatever you want,
but don’t forget to play a little blues. It’s in your blood.’ I
took that piece of advice, and I have played nothing but the blues
ever since. For a while, Klarskov played in the band Junior N’
Brown, but after some time he continued as a soloist with part of that
band as a backing group. Since then, that band changed its name and
became chart breaking Zididada. He nods eagerly when I ask him whether
it is okay for me to light a cigarette. He does not smoke himself, but
he does not consider himself an ascetic. "I never drink before a
concert, though. During the concert, I may enjoy a fine glass of
brandy, but never more than that. My music is very emotional, and for
me to get it across the edge of the stage to the audience, I must be
one hundred per cent present. That cannot be done if you are
intoxicated. Also, I would not be receptive to audience feedback which
means so much to me." He smiles, washes his soda down, and
reveals that he has a specific pre-concert ritual which he goes
through before each of his many concerts. "Before I leave, I
light a candle, insert a particular tape in the machine and slide
comfortably into my chair", he says and nods towards his rocking
chair and its footstool. In order to visualize this, he rises and
presses "play" on the tape deck. Seconds later, the sound of
Jimmy Witherspoon’s "Nobody’s Business" fills the room.
"Filled with this music and its atmosphere, I dwell on various
important events in my life. I get a hold of these emotions, and they
fill me up slowly. I do not talk much before the concert, but the
moment I enter the stage, I open myself up to all these emotions - and
I am able to give myself fully." Dan Klarskov is generally highly
controlled by his emotions, and he is fond of quoting from David
Coleman’s "Emotional Intelligence". Coleman is more
interested in man’s EQ than his IQ. The E stands for emotional.
"Emotions are stronger than intellect. They take up much more
space. Therefore, it is extremely important for a person to be in
contact with his or her own emotions. Just as it is important to try
to understand and empathize with other people’s emotions", he
says. No doubt, Dan Klarskov could have talked about emotional
intelligence for hours, but he slips back into his blues very
naturally. "The blues is ideal for expressing one’s emotions.
For many years, I used my guitar, but now I have realized that the
singing is the most important thing. The words and their intonation.
The whole thing is centered around the singing."
At this point, Dan Klarskov touches upon an aspect of his music that
has made several critics sharpen their pens. His voice has often been
criticized as being too agreeable and polished to sing the blues.
"Why should I strain my voice and sing as if I had smoked and
drunk too much? That would not be me, would it? I express myself with
the voice I have been given. The people who criticize this have a far
too narrow perception of the blues", he says. In 1998, Dan
Klarskov released his début CD after many months of serious
preparation. It consisted of some of his own interpretations of
classical blues tracks. After the release, Dan Klarskov was subjected
to a frontal attack by Ekstra Bladet (Danish newspaper, ed.) who gave
him a single star in their review. "That review struck me hard.
It was tough and hurt me deeply. The worst thing was that I actually
believed it to be true. I believed it right until the morning when I
received a letter from Bruce Iglauer himself to whom I had sent the
album. He spoke highly of my album, and I regained faith in myself and
my own worth. Pursuing my own goals is far more important to me than
other people’s opinion of me and my way of doing things", he
says. And as he sits there at the table, that is exactly what he
conveys: self-confidence and fighting spirit.
Upon recording the début CD, Dan Klarskov sent it to a record label
that declined to release it because they thought it too bluesy.
Klarskov took this as a compliment and raised the money to release the
CD on his own. Since then, he sent it to more than 300 media
representatives, radio stations and record labels in Denmark, the
United States and elsewhere. At home in Denmark, the album was well
received - with the above-mentioned exception. From the United States,
the response was amazingly positive. Legendary Bruce Iglauer as well
as many others fell in love with the album upon hearing it, and for one month
in November 1998, the CD was the most frequently played CD at a blues
radio station in Montana. Ahead of B.B. King. "I have potential
in the United States, but as Iglauer told me, I must tour the United
States frequently if I want to release my material over there. I am
not ready to do that yet. Presently, I will concentrate my efforts
around the Scandinavian blues market, which is developing rapidly
these years. In Norway alone, 60 new blues venues have opened in a
mere 18 months, and an estimate says 200,000 blues concert tickets
sold in Norway this year." We are not that far yet in Denmark,
but Dan Klarskov has a firm belief in the future, and he singles out
the solid blues circles in Copenhagen, Århus and Odense.
The second album.
Recording, releasing and
promoting the début CD cost Dan Klarskov around 130,000 Danish Kroner
(app. 16,000 USD, ed.). This investment has almost been recovered now
through the sale of the CD, which has only been sold in small numbers
from regular record stores. Most of the CDs have been sold through
Klarskov’s own homepage, whose guest book is full of praise from all
over the world. "I plan to release a new album next year, and
this time I will include some songs of my own", he promises and
adds that the perceived success with the first album has opened up new
perspectives in his life. "Until now, I have not had the time or
the energy to get involved in a relationship. My career has been top
priority. This has changed because of my success, however. I now have
a girlfriend in Odense, and we are currently figuring out the
practicalities surrounding our moving in together." Dan Klarskov
smiles and seems to be in complete harmony with himself and his
What will you be doing on 28th May,
He looks at me questioningly and writes the date on a notepad on the
table. He smiles when I remind him that this is the date his greatest
idol, T-Bone Walker, would have turned 100. "In ten years, I see
myself as an established name in blues music. I will be playing for 20
people in small clubs, and I will be playing for thousands at
festivals. I will be strongly rooted in the Scandinavian blues circles,
and I will be able to live well by my music. I will have kids. I will
be in harmony with myself and my surroundings. These years, I am happy
to see how the old blues boys are getting older while maintaining
their spirit. I will also have lots of spirit after I have turned
40", he promises. And it is hard not to believe him.