The 38th Annual Blues Music Awards, coming up on May 11, 2017, are held in Memphis, Tenn. A funny fact, though, ties the event to the San Francisco Bay Area: Eight nominees are directly linked to a hefty, chain-smoking Norwegian from San Jose.
Christoffer Andersen -- or “Kid” Andersen, as the powerhouse producer, arranger, composer and musician is better known -- first made his name on the Bay Area blues scene as a guitar player. He's also nominated for Best Instrumentalist - Guitar this year.
"It sounded mysterious, dark, and magical, and you didn’t really know what was going on," says Andersen of his early attraction to the art form. "It was murky!"
Anderson comes from Herre, a tiny coastal town in Norway. Seeking a less stuffy music scene, he moved to the Bay Area when he was 21 upon the invitation of Bay Area band leader, Terry Hanck.
Andersen played for a handful of bands and recorded around before deciding he should produce albums, too. "It was frustrating for me to work with engineers and studio owners who didn’t have a love for the kind of music I did," Andersen says. "At some point, I realized the longer it takes me to get this guy to do what I want him to do, the more money he makes, 'cause he’s getting paid by the hour. I figured 'Screw that. I’m going to figure out how to do it myself!'"
Today, at 37, Andersen operates out of a sun-baked house in San Jose he’s dubbed Greaseland Studios. It's a play on Elvis Presley’s “Graceland,” but way less fancy. The space is crammed from the front door to the back with musical instruments, most of which he can play himself.
There’s a grand piano in the kitchen, along with a harpsichord and a sitar. The laundry room doubles as a vocal booth. The living room is crammed with keyboards, drums, and roughly 50 guitars. Andersen jokes that he and his wife, singer Lisa Leuschner, are living inside a music store from 1972.
Andersen’s lost count, but he figures he’s produced something like 100 albums to date, including My Blue Soul, the album that got Oakland vocalist Terrie Odabi Blues Award nominations for Best Female Soul Blues Artist and Best Emerging Artist this year.
The South Bay Phenom Behind Eight Blues Music Award Nominees
"When I decided I wanted to record, the first person I thought about producing my album was Kid Andersen," Odabi says. So the two met to talk about the project over a plate of meatballs and french bread. "By the time we finished, we had a deal."
Odabi acknowledges it’s a little odd that a "kooky" white guy from Scandinavia with a mop of corn-yellow blond hair should be so devoted to a music genre rooted in the African-American experience. But Odabi says she respects Anderson's work immensely. "Regardless of whether he’s from Norway or he’s white or whatever, Kid throws down!" she says. "He’s amazing!"
Aki Kumar, an Indian-born, Silicon Valley harmonica player and rising star in the Bay Area blues world, has co-produced all three of his albums with Andersen. The two perform live together on occasion. "He's a big presence, physically and musically," Kumar says of Andersen.
Kumar calls Greaseland Studios a "one-stop shop for awesomeness." Andersen, he says, offers everything a recording blues musician could want in his San Jose digs. "You walk in there, and [Andersen will] give you guidance on arrangements, record all of it in an excellent way, and put it together for you," Kumar says. "That's what he brings."
It’s been years since Andersen produced an album of his own compositions. But he’s still helping to keep the blues flame lit with his producing and arranging skills. "I'm happy with that," he says, chuckling.
Watch KQED Arts' video report on Andersen below:
Care about what’s happening in Bay Area arts? Stay informed with one email every other week—right to your inbox.