On April 9, 2006, I received an email from Lillies Ohlsson requesting a copy of my cd “Anthology: Songs By A West TX Songstress”. He said he had listened to some samples of the songs and wanted to hear more. He discovered me through my duet single with Bad Bob Rohan, “Can’t Get You Out of My Heart”,a song I had written. Since then, our correspondence has been non-stop. And I tell you, I could no more bear being without my good friend, the Sueco farmer, than I could bear not seeing the sun come up in the morning. He has been my mentor, confidante and support throughout the years. Lillies' knowledge of American music surpasses that of most Americans. I know in my case, I was astonished (and a little bit embarrassed) that this Swedish gentleman knew more about the music I grew up with then me. When it comes to music, his heart is true. He personifies what it means to believe in something so strong that you devote your whole life unselfishly promoting it. I've yet to meet anyone who knows more Western Swing trivia than Lillies Ohlsson. He is truly a living library of Western Swing music.
I have tried in the past to get Lillies to tell his story. I was aware he had started the premier Swedish country magazine, Kountry Korral, in the late sixties. I also knew he is still a contributing writer for that magazine along with another Swedish publication called, Smalands Country Club. But it is the story of how he set out, all by himself, to bring country music to Sweden in the early days, come hail or high water, that needed to be told.
Here is LilliesOhlsson’s story in his own words. Enjoy!
Lillies Ohlsson's Story(by Lillies Ohlsson)
My first contact with music was when my brother came home with some 78 rpms; Duke Ellington’s “Jack the Bear” (fantastic bass solo by Jimmy Blanton) and the tune that has followed me all my life, Benny Goodman’s “Honeysuckle Rose” with “The Original Guitar Genius” Charlie Christian! But it has to be the version from November 22, 1939 in New York. (Same day was another gem recorded, “Seven Come Eleven.”) Now, that is music! The best jazz in my book is Benny Goodman and his late ‘39 recordings. In my early teens I listened to AFN, American Forces Network, in Munich and the “Sticky Buddy Jamboree” with lots of Country Music – reception was often very poor but what the heck…I am a so called high school drop-out, dead tired of dreary, dull teachers and I began to sail the Seven Seas – at least four of them. My favorite harbor was Houston, Texas and the most beautiful, a small lagoon in Costa Rica – almost expected to see Dorothy Lamour come swimming.
Now I began to buy my own records and the very first vinyl LP was Hank Thompson & The Brazos Valley Boys? first release on Capitol, a record that really knocked me out. Had the record shop reserve a copy of all records that “could be” Country! Some bull but plenty of good stuff! I also bought from US auctions a lot. Boxes with 4Star 78s, one third cracked when I got the boxes. Most of all I am very proud and happy over all the 45 rpms by TOMMY DUNCAN, recorded on various labels that I bought. Do believe I have all but two smash hits; “I Brought It On Myself” and “Let Me Take You Out.” Have also the original “One Way” LP with Tommy’s signature on it. Precious to me! Have tried to get in touch with Tommy Duncan’s relatives for more info…nada. That is also a reflection I have today when trying to get information. Some artists seem to want to keep the Western Swing within the Texas boundaries…don’t let anything slip out of the pond!! But most of the people I contact are very kind and helpful – thanks very much. I bought several records but there we no magazines that had any info on country music. So, I decided to do something about that. I started the Kountry Korral magazine in 1968. Several years later Frank Ostergren wrote in Aftonbladet (one of the two big evening papers) …it was Lillies Ohlsson who in late 60s started the magazine. Okay, I have harassed the magazine and they have done the same to me, but without Lillies Ohlsson’s foolish venture, which almost ruined him, Swedish Country music had only been emptiness! He did not know how right he was!
Istarted with atypewriter, felt pens – had no photos, had to draw them from Billboard. No computers at that time – I was out too early! But slowly the things got better and better. A problem was – still is – no money! I took all kinds of jobs to be able to buy stamps, envelopes and other things needed. Mostly night jobs such as cleaning gyms, helping a car dealer to take home cars he had bought from all over Sweden (it’s a wonder we did not lose our licenses), worked at a dairy turning the big cheeses three times a week, worked in the harbor on ships loaded with coal and when the work was done on the ship the captain served cognac and I am glad my bike knew the way home. I took any job that could bring some cash.
U.S. artists began to find their way to Europe and the big Festival in London. It was like Christmas to us fans. I remember a funny thing – we were in Skeeter Davis’ dressing room before she was due on stage when she suddenly said she wanted a cup of tea – so, I went to the cantina and came back with a nice cup of British tea. Skeeter says, “Tea now! I can?t drink tea now!!!” Tex Ritter put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Son, don?t feel bad, she’s like that when she waits for her turn to sing!” Another episode happened backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. I had been out to talk to friends in the audience and came back to listen to Skeeter when in the dark I stepped on somebody’s foot. A loud “Oooouch!” which almost stopped the show, happened to come from “The King of Mountain Music,” Roy Acuff! It was also at the same time I met Bob Wills’ piano pounder, Al Stricklin, who was there selling his new book. A very nice, friendly gentleman.
When the magazine got more subscribers, I started a couple of record labels; Kountry Korral and Cisco Records. Produced and also went out on tour with the bands. In the eastern parts of Sweden we had some 20 sold tickets but when we came to the western parts, Dalarna, we had SRO shows. Later on GM-Productions and I arranged a tour with Wanda Jackson and some Swedish artists – sold out everywhere and we had not enough albums with us to sell!!
Country musicbegan to come to Sweden also. A RCA Victor package came to Stockholm with one of my favorites, Waylon Jennings. I worked hard to have a bunch of interesting questions. A guy from Radio Sweden beat me to it though, so I sat down on a sofa when a guy came and sat down beside me – Willie Nelson! He had the hit, “Touch Me” at this time, a song I just loved so I told him so and we began to talk. I got my tape recorder working and forgot all about Waylon and I got a fantastic interview and it made me very happy when Willie said, “You seem to know moreabout country music than I do and I am raised on it!!!” I have met most of the really big stars in Country music: Buck Owens and his son Buddy Alan were like old buddies, will never forget them. Conway Twitty with John Hughey, Carl Perkins, Loretta Lynn, Billy Jo Spears, Hag, Charley Pride, Cash, Marty Robbins, Jerry Lee Lewis (he was in Stockholm and when he saw me he shouted, “What the hell are you doing in Stockholm?? Oh, sorry, thought you were a buddy from Nashville!”) and many more. Not many from Western Swing and Honky Tonk but Charlie Walker and a guy I really liked, Jimmy Day. He signed my book with “Words Are Just Words.Thanks for listening to my music. Jimmy Day (Sept. 15, 1970).” Very friendly and a top guitar player.
Another of my favorites at that time was Hank Snow. Hank and his Rainbow Ranch Boys came to Oslo, Norway and we rented a bus loaded with Snow fans. Mixed emotions – the show was perfect, much too perfect, no room for unexpected solos and when trying to have an interview with Hank he turned out to be rather high-strung and snobbish. Didn’t know if he was tired or just unfriendly. Later I heard he was all that. Thanks to Chubby Wise and the others in the band that day wasn’t too bad after all. But Mr. Snow faded…too bad. He was a tremendous guitarist and singer/songwriter.
As you probably know, we have non-commercial radio, Radio Sweden. Tried to have two commercial stations, Radio Nord and Radio Syd with music that the young listeners loved, but that was killed by our government. I used to have programs at Radio Sweden and later on at a local station in our country but times changed. They say it is a computer that selects what is to be played. I have a feeling it is close to another Payola affair. Anyhow, today we have local, and I mean local, radio stations all over the country and for my part there are folks in Sala that have started Radio Sala and I am invited to play my records there so before long Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys’ music will hit the farmers here.
Running a magazine and pushing/promoting Country music, Western Swing, etc. are certainly not a lucrative business. But there are things money cannot buy – I have made friends all over the US and in many foreign countries. That is good enough for me.
As for the magazine Kountry Korral, it is today a nonprofit organization. Some 20+ years ago I met a farmer’s daughter and we decided to take over her dad’s farm. So I had to learn how to plow, harrow, keep a tractor in order, all about harvest, to use a harvester and I have loved every minute. Unfortunately the EU (European Union) are doing whatever they can to kill all us small farmers in order to have bigger units. EU are a bunch of desk dudes that have never seen nor smelled a moo-cow. There are also unfortunately several suicides among Swedish farmers as well as all over Europe. There must be something very wrong when farmers, instead of sending their oats to the mill are using it to warm their houses! Burning up the oats – a crazy world. We are leasing our fields to a nearby cow farmer.
Thank God there is Western Swing music to ease our souls. I will welcome one and all to send their new (and by all means also old) releases (and info) so that we can let our listeners/readers get to know the real stuff!
By the way, I have understood that many are uncertain about my name Lillies. Spelled Lillis it is really a nickname similar to Pee Wee, Shorty, whatever (Harry Lillis Bing Crosby). There are 26 females and 22 males with the name Lillis in Sweden – but I am the only one with Lillies! And I am a Sueco Vaquero who just happens to love Western Swing!♦