Ottar Big Hand Johansen: The "Grand Ol' Man" of Scandinavian country music.
It is one hot summer afternoon at Nashville’s Fan Fair of 1984. Thousands of fans crowd beneath the stage in anticipation.
Country music legend George Jones does the introduction at the international show, "Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from Norway..." Fronting "Country Jamboree", named best European country band by CMA that very same year, OTTAR "BIG HAND" JOHANSEN starts off their opening number with just his voice and guitar; ..."Will the circle be unbroken..." Today that same song is still his signature - as well as his gentle persona, country soul and friendly smile.
Born and raised in northern Norway, he left as an 18-year old to pursue a professional career in the capitol of Oslo. It wasn’t long until he starred in his own television series, making successful records and going on the road with one of Norway’s most popular bands at the time; "Country Snakes".
With the 80´s came the Texas Outlaw movement and BIG HAND felt right at
home. Adapting the more rock oriented style in the fashion of artists like
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, he formed "Country Jamboree" with former
"rock star" Casino Steel and British/Norwegian singer Claudia Scott. They
became an overnight success, toured both nationally and internationally,
and recorded three albums (one of which earned them a Grammy) before
they split up in 1986.
BIG HAND was also at that time, and still is today, very much involved in
talent scouting and producing other artists. He worked as an A&R for RCA
records, before he moved on to heading his own company, Big Hand Records
in the mid 80´s.
Today, his companies New Cut Music and Big Hand Entertainment, deals in artist management, booking, publishing as well as recording.
1988 found BIG HAND once again heading for Nashville. This time to record a solo album with one
of the top producers of the day, Steve Buckingham and Steve Gibson, and some of the finest
musicians Music City could produce. The result could be nothing but perfect and "Game of hearts"
(CBS) won him yet another Grammy that year. Now after four more albums (one compilation was
released in Sweden and Denmark only) and several more performances (a second shot at Fan Fair,
Wembley arena, Gilley´s Texas to name e few). He then released the compilation album "30 years on
the road/Best of Big Hand" (New Cut Records). This musical testimony, contains 21 of his favorite songs
(including two brand new ones) and spawns one of Europe’s country music’s most subtle and
It is said to have been many Norwegian sailors, coming back home from across the Atlantic, bringing
their brand new telecasters and Buck Owens records with them, who are mainly responsible for boosting
the popularity of country music amongst the Norwegians back in the 60´s.
One man is still carrying that torch.
What do you do after you’ve racked up 50 years of hits, sold-out shows and major music awards? Well, if you’re Ottar “Big Hand” Johansen, you blast off toward even greater glories. And that’s what the internationally celebrated Norwegian star has done with his new album:
"Big Hand - 50 Years On The Road".
The project pairs Johansen in duets with such old friends and fellow
spotlighters as Joe Sun, Claudia Scott, Sugarfoot, Too Far Gone,
Billy T Band, A-11, Bill Booth and Casino Steel. Co-produced with
Bjørn Nilsen and Knut Hem (known for his work wih Respatexans,
Oystein Sunde and others), the album will be released by New Cut
Music May 29, 2015, and contain songs that should appeal to
both Americana audiences and those who swear by more classic
country. Digital and radio singles are scheduled for May and June,
and a new music video is being readied for the rollout. Most of
the songs are originals co-written by Johansen and a variety of
Norwegian and American composers.
The winner of two Spellemannpriser (equal to the US Grammy
Awards), one with Claudia/Big Hand/Casino, the other for the
solo album Game Of Hearts, Johansen has long been pivotal
in the growth and popularity of Norway’s music industry, notably through
festival and concert appearances with Big Hand Saloon and through his American
tours with Joe Sun. In the process, he has shared the stage with such country music immortals as George Jones, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
More recently, his prominence earned him a mentorship on the
popular Stjernekamp series on NRK-TV and netted him the 2014
Kulturpris from the city of Oslo.
In 2015 Johansen performed at the Nidaros Blues Festival
(Trondheim), the Månefestivalen (Fredrikstad), Kampen Dagen
(Oslo), Mons Petter Festivalen (Sulitjelma), the Seljord Country
Festival, Frank Brown’s International Song Festival and the
Rockheim Pop & Rock Museum. In addition, there was an array
of television, print and social media appearances.
For Ottar “Big Hand” Johansen, the 50-year mark was a milestone,
not a goal post.