“He has music running through his veins... He is a musician and not one that only plays. And that’s the best compliment that you can get,” says Stig Anderson. “He plays with his heart.”
The person at whom this compliment is aimed is called Goran Bror Benny Andersson, born on December 16, 1946 in Stockholm. The part about music running through the veins was applicable to the entire Andersson family. Grandfather Efraim and father Gösta both played the accordion. It was obvious that Benny should get an instrument too. At the time he was only six years old and the accordion was four centimetres bigger than he was.
“My father and grandfather taught me everything,” Benny remembers. “I never had any musical education. During the summer holidays, we always played together. I was as happy as I could be when I could listen to Swedish folk music.”
“When I was ten, I got a piano. At first, I always tried to play the piano like I played the accordion. At school, I had three or four hours of playing the piano. But I thought that was rubbish.”
Together with his sister Eva-Lisa, Benny grew up in Vällingby, one of Stockholm’s suburbs. His father was a construction engineer and the plan was that Benny would follow in his footsteps one day. The music made sure that these plans were thwarted. In Vällingby, there was a youth centre, where various pop groups played every Saturday night. During the intermissions between the performances, the same thing went on every time: Benny got on stage and played the piano. “These days, it’s still the same. Whenever I see a piano, I just have to play it.”
During his musical intermezzos, Benny was accompanied by a young singer, Christina Grönvall. When both of them were fifteen years old, they got engaged. Christina is the mother of Benny’s two children, Peter and Helen. But their engagement didn’t last long...
After high school, Benny worked as a doorman. He also joined a group, called Elverkets Spelmanslag. However, Benny’s big breakthrough came when he became a member of the Hep Stars. This happened in October 1964. The group was composed of Svenne Hedlund, Janne Frisk, Lennart Hegland, Christer Petterson and the new organ player Benny. During New Year 1965, the Hep Stars performed on television, and all of a sudden they were well-known all over Sweden.
“We were lucky enough to make the right music at the right time,” says Benny. The right music was Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Already during his time with Elverkets Spelmanslag, Benny had written a couple of songs. He has long forgotten about these songs today. But he hasn’t forgotten the first song he wrote for the Hep Stars ‘No Response’ and his first hit for the group ‘Sunny Girl’.
‘Sunny Girl’ was a slow-paced song and it actually didn’t fit in with the Hep Stars’ repertoire. It was because of Svenne that they played it anyway. During a performance, he had jumped off a loudspeaker and ricked his foot. Benny: “This forced us to make our show a little calmer and play something slower.”
The next hits were ‘Wedding’, ‘Consolation’ and ‘It’s Nice To Be Back’. But the group had their biggest success with a Swedish song ‘I Natt Jag Drömde’ (‘I Had A Dream Last Night’). 200.000 copies of that single were sold.
The Hep Stars became the most popular Swedish pop group of the sixties. They were awarded with gold records for three albums and five singles.
When it came to music, the Hep Stars had nothing to complain about. And because everything was going so well, the group wanted to try their luck with something even bigger: their own movie. The title of this epos would be ‘Habari Safari’. Filming started in February 1967 – but the script wasn’t ready until July that same year. For Benny and his friends, ‘Habari Safari’ meant that they were catapulted into bankruptcy. 5.000 metres of film had been shot, but the movie didn’t have a story. And a movie without a story is a like an egg without its yolk. All of a sudden, the Hep Stars found themselves with a debt of 280.000 Swedish kronor.
The next blow came in December 1967: they still had to pay 900.000 Swedish kronor to taxes. None of the Hep Stars had paid any taxes for two years. Now they received the receipt. It took Benny four years to pay off his tax debt. He hardly saw a penny of the money that he made during this period, but the tax office did.
So it isn’t surprising that he says nowadays: “The best thing that happened to me was that I met Stig. He taught me the importance of thinking economically and an organized life.”
The Hep Stars split up in 1969. Around this time, the partnership between Benny and Björn – who had met each other for the first time in 1966 – had grown bigger and bigger. The foundation for ABBA had been laid.
These days, Benny is the calming influence in ABBA. He is the one with the most balanced character. The people who know Benny say that he is kind, open and generous. Sometimes too generous. During his time with the Hep Stars, Benny had a small bowl in his apartment. It was filled with 100 kronor banknotes. When friends of his came by who needed money, Benny put some of these banknotes in their hands...