I was born and raised in the Netherlands, a small country sandwiched between Great Britain and Germany. We are known for many things: cheese, wooden shoes, windmills, Amsterdam. But for some reason we aren’t known for our music. Sure, you may have heard of the bigger Dutch Dance-acts like DJ Tiesto but for some reason our rock-scene is always overlooked. That surprised me, even more so because I hear a lot of great Dutch hits every time I visit the USA! So, in order to boost the awareness of the great Dutch music of yesteryear I want to highlight some bands and songs I bet you are familiar with, but never knew were dutch!
1. Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue
In 1987, Whitesnake released one of their best (selling) albums to date. All the guitar parts were written and recorded by John Sykes except for the solo of Here I Go Again. Dutch guitar slinger Adrian Vandenberg was recruited for that solo. The collaboration between David Coverdale and Vandenberg proved so fruitful that Vandenberg was asked to co-write and record the following album, Slip of the Tongue. Unfortunately a wrist injury inhibited Vandenberg’s playing which led the drafting of Steve Vai. The short stint of Vai with Whitesnake was succesful, but Vandenberg’s imprint on the future (music) of Whitesnake cannot be ignored. Even to this day, Vandenberg is being asked to join Whitesnake on stage to crunch out a few hits! Listen to this live version of “Here I Go Again.” Adrian comes in on the left side of your headphones!
2. Shocking Blue – Venus
Sometimes you hear the saying ‘it must be something in the water!’ when a lot of talent and success emerges from one specific area. My home town, The Hague, was one such place. Some of the best, greatest and largest Dutch acts came from the Hague. Golden Earring is of course a prime example, but the first Dutch act to score a number 1 hit in the USA was Shocking Blue with the song Venus. The song proved to be an instant classic and Shocking Blue seemed destined to be a force to be reckoned with! Unfortunately changing musical tastes and strong competition forced Shocking Blue out of the musical arena. Their legacy remained, however, as even Nirvana recognized them on their debut album, Bleach, by covering their song Love Buzz (later to be sampled by The Prodigy).
Listen, and absolutely watch this clip. I know you recognize this song, but look at how absolutely without interest they’re lip-syncing this song! It’s almost funny.
3. George Baker Selection – Una Paloma Blanca, Little Green Bag
The George Baker Selection had a string of a few minor hits in the USA as well as in its home country. Una Paloma Blanca (A white dove) and Little Green Bag are perhaps the most recognizable songs of this band. What began as a very innocent song quickly got a slightly darker (or should I say: greener?) vibe due to a simple misprint on the first batch of LP’s. What was meant to be a green back (to relate to the American Dollar bill!) became a green ‘bag’! One little misprint caused a complete misinterpretation of a rather innocent song! Yet, I’m glad to hear it’s still being played on the American radio!
I am so taken by the groove laid down by the bass!
A couple of years later, but still very much recognizable, Una Paloma Blanca! I love how worn that Goldtop looks like. It’s a shame this song has become a bit of a running gag here due to over exposure, but that doesn’t take away any of its brilliance in my opinion!
4. Vandenberg – Broken Heart
The only artist to hit my list twice is Adrian Vandenberg. Once in his capacity as guitarist for Whitesnake. The other for his tenure with his own band, Vandenberg. Their greatest hit to date was (and still is) Broken Heart. A group of four young, dutch guys with unpronounceable names were able to bust the borders and hit the USA, Japan and many other territories with their hard, edgy yet polished sound. Edgy, because of their ‘what you hear is what you get attitude’, polished because the musicians were so skilled in their respective instruments that they were able to pull off their studio antics live on stage nearly flawlessly. Internal discord about the musical direction and perhaps the feeling of a ‘glass ceiling of success’ led to friction between the members, causing an unfixable rift between the band and Adrian, leading him to disband the band. Despite a short reunion, Vandenberg is one for the history books. But fret not! Adrian Vandenberg is working again on a new band, a new album and a new tour! 2014 promises to be an amazing year already! Listen to this clip of Vandenberg. I just love how Adrian rips on that acoustic guitar!
5. Tielman Brothers
Until 1949 Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands. With their independence, some people chose to move back to the Netherlands, for some reason or another. Amongst them was the Tielman family. The brothers formed a band and played together already in Indonesia and continued to perform as a group together in the Netherlands. They started playing Indonesian music but quickly adopted rockabilly in the style of Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley. After a few years, however, they had developed their own unique style. Making great music wasn’t enough. They realized that good showmanship was also important and in those days you didn’t have complex lighting rigs, pyrotechnics or other stage gadgetry. To make their show a visual rollercoaster they flipped the guitars behind their necks, played with their feet, tossed guitars in the air, played with their teeth… Mind you, they did that a full decade before Jimi Hendrix went wild on Woodstock! They were so immensely successful, they were able to get their hands on some of the newest guitars, including the brand new Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom. It’s been rumored they were among the first Dutch guitarists to play the Les Paul, if not the first! Live performances and stage antics we see nowadays are clearly heavily influenced by these Dutch Indo-rockers!
I can’t help but be amazed. These guys were doing harp harmonics before it became mainstream and hitting other techniques we now oh so take for granted.
It may not be the greatest or most melodic sound you ever heard but just place this clip in its time. Stage antics like this were really unheard of!
Cuby+Blizzards… A band I only got to know fairly recently, something I am quite ashamed to admit. All the members excelled at their instrument, but guitarist Eelco Gelling appeared to be out of this world. With his fiery, soulful playing it would appear he provided a template for the tormented guitar player. The venues that held the concerts of Cuby+Blizzards were always packed to the brim! A frequent visitor of these concerts was none less than Eric Clapton himself! The years of touring, rocking and pouring his heart out every night, year in year out took its toll, unfortunately. But every now and then Eelco Gelling makes a surprise visit on stage, showcasing his amazing talent. I still have to meet the first who isn’t touched by his playing.
That amazing guitar tone…. Dripping with the blues, so woody and earthy with lots of bite. That’s what a good Les Paul can do! Who said a Les Paul always has to sound fat and thick?! This clip isn’t just a nice showcase for Eelco Gelling’s playing but also features Herman Brood on the piano. Herman had a minor hit with his song ‘Saturday Night’ and is considered to be the last ‘true’ rock star of the Netherlands.
The band Focus is one of my favorites. Combining classical music, Dutch 60s ‘beat’, blues, folk and hints of jazz, Focus was a very unorthodox band with a very unorthodox approach to making music. High-pitched falsetto’s (way before The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins entered the picture!), flutes, complex arrangements and huge songs were Focus’ trademarks. In the early 1970s you had Mark Bolan with T-Rex, Queen was building a fan base and a reputation but were still a bit underground, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had yet to begin… It was a strange era with strange music and Focus was working their magic right then. The guitarist that Focus had was Jan Akkerman. Jan Akkerman was and still is perhaps the most renown Dutch six-string magician. Surely others are faster, or play more complex stuff but no one pushed the guitar as much as he did during his tenure with Focus. Just look at it this way: there’s a reason he was voted best Guitarist of the Year by Guitarist Magazine in 1973…
8. Golden Earring: Radar Love, When The Lady Smiles
The Golden Earring is one of the oldest bands of the Netherlands. They still perform, and the core lineup of the group is virtually the same as when they started and the four current members have been together for almost 45 years! They are perhaps the most ‘American’ band to emerge from the Netherlands, with their ‘ponchance’ for large cars, sunglasses, huge stage and lighting. With huge hits (albeit for a very short period of time!) in the USA, combined with great skill on their respective instruments (there was even an attempt at recruiting their bass player by Jimi Hendrix!), the Golden Earring were are forced to be reckoned with
Listen that Dan Armstong Plexi guitar wail!
9. Van Halen
The Van Halen brothers: two young boys with Indonesian roots, moved from a small city in the Netherlands to sunny California, were destined to rock the world and reshape the entire play field of music in general. What else can be said? Even though Eddie and Alex Van Halen seem to have watered down their Dutch roots, they were absolutely born and (partially) raised in the Netherlands! To me, that’s always something worth mentioning!
10. Wisseloord Studios
Perhaps a strange listing, but the Wisseloord Studio’s cannot be disconnected from Dutch Rock ‘n Roll. Founded in 1958 by the Phillips Company (not the same company of the screws, but of the light bulbs!), the Wisseloord Studios were designed and founded in order to cater to the needs of professional musicians, since Phillips (who owned a record label at the time, the same one that would later develop the CD disc!) believed that there was no facility large or professional enough in the Netherlands at the time. Phillips gamble paid off since they were able to get in a lot of high-profile players, bands and musicians. The album Crazy World by the Scorpions (including their major hit Wind of Change) was recorded there, as well as a lot of work by The Police, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. And, of course, Vandenberg! After some years of decline, the Wisseloord Studio’s were completely revamped and were reopened in 2012. Fun little fact: in their backline they have a super-rare Marshall! The seventh one ever created, purportedly personally crafted by Jim Marshall himself!
Bonus Round: Honorary Mentionings!
Of course, it’s not all just blues and rock that’s being made in the Netherlands. I want to highlight two amazing acts who really pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with music. First of all, an old friend of mine, Colin Benders. This young multi-instrumentalist, playing under the moniker of Kyteman, fronts an enormous group of talented musicians. He is able to blend hiphop, classical music, Skunk (Ska and Funk!) together in a unique musical concoction. Playing in front of thousands during the summer festivals is becoming a standard thing for his group, the Kyteman Orchestra!
I know, it isn’t guitar-oriented but since when is that a reason to sway good music?
On the other side of the musical spectrum, we’ve got the Rosenberg Trio. Deeply rooted in gypsy tradition, the Rosenberg Trio are able to slide between Gypsy Jazz and more ‘classically oriented’ jazz, creating their own unique style and tone. I don’t know any place in the world where these three men aren’t laureled and revered for their musical prowess!
Stochelo’s hands move so fast, it’s hard to keep track of whatever he’s doing! And not just that. I mean, those Maccaferri guitars use enormously heavy gauge strings. To do what he’s doing on a regular guitar is hard: on that Selmer, it’s even harder.