Bass Notes: Rutger Gunnarsson - ABBA-cadabra. By Mikael Jansson

Anders Hanser:
Few bassists have played on records that have sold over 350 million copies: Paul McCartney, a handful of session kingpins like Carol Kaye, and--less a ''name'' but still brilliant--ABBA's Rutger Gunnarsson.

Once regarded as the zenith of 1970s glitz, today ABBA is recognized for its cleverly crafted, hook-laden pop. In addition to playing bass on almost all of the band's songs, Gunnarsson participated in all the international tours and also wrote most of the string and horn scores. His playing is an excellent example of how to enhance songs with inventive lines--just listen to his slides on Take a Chance on Me' [The Album, Polygram]. And don't think ABBA-mania died with the 1970s. Nearly two decades after the band's breakup, ABBA songs are still on the charts worldwide. The musical Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA hits, is a box-office rocker in London and Toronto, and the Polydor reissue box ABBA Gold recently topped the U.K. charts - just like it did back in 1992. Dozens of ABBA tribute acts exist all over the world, such as the A*Teens and Australia's Björn Again (whose bassist calls himself Rutger Sonofagunn).

Today, the 54-year-old Gunnarsson is an in-demand producer and arranger on the international adult-pop market, and he still occasionally joins the ABBA crowd for various projects. After ABBA disbanded he recorded the concert-version album of the musical Chess, written by former bandmates Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (with lyrics by Tim Rice of Evita fame). Rutger recently did a Scandinavian Chess concert tour and another tour playing music from the entire Björn & Benny book. Last year he even produced a rendition of an unrecorded ABBA song, Just a Notion, by the Swedish ABBA tribute band Arrival.

Rutger joined the ABBA family in 1972, when he was a classical guitar major at Stockholm's Royal College of Music. A classmate tipped him off about a bass audition for the pre-ABBA band the Hootenanny Singers. ''Their act included a comedy part where the whole band sang harmony, so they started with that,'' Rutger remembers. ''I sang my part right off the sheet-no problem to me-but it apparently impressed them enough to offer me the job on the spot. I didn't even touch the bass!'' After a couple of struggling years on the Scandi scene, ABBA began conquering the world by winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo, which became the group's first Top Ten U.S. single.

With ABBA Rutger played several basses, including a 1960s Fender Jazz, a 1970s Music Man StingRay, a Hagström Super Swede Bass (a model he helped design around 1980), and a Steinberger. Today his main axe is a pre-Gibson Tobias 5-string. ''I tried it at a trade show many years ago and just fell in love with it - I strapped it on and decided to buy one without even plugging it in. But don't ask me about strings; I don't have a clue. The current set has been on for five or six years, which doesn't bother me. I don't have a palm-sweat problem, so my strings don't corrode, and since I get no requests for funk I don't need the round-wound 'clonk'.'' In the studio Gunnarsson goes direct, and onstage he relies on rented amps, preferably Hartkes. ''But I'm not that particular about amps. I only use one as a monitor, with the main signal going direct to the PA.''

Being an arranger and producer, Gunnarsson has always concentrated on a band's whole sound. ''I never really listened to bassists per se, not even when I first picked up the bass in the 1960s - although I appreciate players like Chuck Rainey, Joe Osborn, and Duck Dunn. I consider myself a utility bassist, not a flash guy. I've never really practiced bass music; I try instead to work out on charts for other instruments - guitar, strings, sax, and so on. It gives you new views of the bass. To me, music is about a melody line on top, a bass line as the fundament, and the other parts filling the gap in between. It all begins with a good melody and a strong bass line.''

Although he performs his current musical activities mostly behind a writer's desk or mixing console, Rutger still runs a daily regimen. ''Every day I try to go through classical-guitar practice routines on the bass, running through arpeggios, scales, and so on. I still love that. It's one of the best parts of my day.'' Transcribed for ABBA World

Bass Player · December 2000 (Page 18)

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