Norway’s own Johnny Cash


Norway, our dear neighbouring country does not only consist of oil and beautiful fjords. It is a country full of music in different genres and which is a few steps ahead of Sweden within the development and the acceptance of country music. had the opportunity to ring Norway’s biggest country star Arly Karlsen to take his pulse before his touring during 2015. In this open-hearted interview Arly let us in on a few secrets that probably just his inner circle of fans knows about, so keep on reading and get to know this humoristic Norwegian man together with…

Arly Karlsen

You have worked together with a few of the world’s biggest country stars, but yet you are very down to earth. Please tell us, who is Mr. Arly Karlsen?

Yes I am. I have been in the music business professionally since I was 23 years old, so in just two years I am celebrating my fortieth anniversary as an artist! (Laughter) My first years were together with a so called dance band, perhaps not in that sense but more of a restaurant band where we played some country, a bit of Creedence, Bob Dylan and a few Norwegian songs; we played all sorts of music. In 1983 we started a band with the name Western Swingers it was together with Liv Jorunn Hei and Arne Løland and this became so much bigger than we had ever thought and we sold gold with two or three of the albums we released and we made five in total together between 1983 and up till 1996. Everything was in Norwegian, a few songs were our own material and some were established songs that we translated into Norwegian…

Joanne Cash Yates

That sounds very exciting…

Yes it was! (Laughter) but what is more exciting is that still to this day there are Norwegian girls and guys standing around and singing along to these songs! Now days as a solo artist the audience is expecting me to play the old songs, and I am more than happy to do that but not all of them… Another fun detail about me that not many knows about is that I used to be a Elvis Presley imitator (ha ha ha) Yes, it was a fantastic period with full speed and a big band, make up, white costume and big hair, I sang – well bless my soul… (Laughter) I was doing this at the same time as Western Swingers; I believe my last concert as Elvis was in 1990. That’s when I grew out of my white costume… (Laughter) What’s amazing with this is that now has Birkeland Big band invited me back for a Back To The Future Concert, where I’m again will perform as Elvis but now without the costume and the make up! (ha ha ha) this is something I really look forward to and it will be in June, lets see what date… I think it is June 10th at Birkeland. But anyway, I had never thought that I was to perform on stage again as Elvis! Birkeland is where I am from and the place I have lived the longest at, so this is why it is a kind of Back To The Future. (laughter) Yes, this will be great!!

How very unexpected!!

Yes actually it is! Sometimes when we’re out playing I say to my bass player; shall we do an Elvis song…? And people are sitting with their jaws dropped and just go what?? (ha ha ha) To take the story a bit further, I started as a solo artist in 2000 and it was with simply Arly as my stage name. I started out with a band in Denmark and then I had a band in Norway and to avoid too many details we recorded the first album in Denmark and it sold out immediately! After that we recorded another three albums in Nashville, where one of them sold out, it was about 10,000 albums. During the period between 2000 and up to now, there has a lot going on, it really has. I have had the joy and pleasure to work close together with Mr. Bobby Bear in a studio in Nashville, is a vocal producer. I have met and had long conversations with Mr. Tommy Cash who you can see at the beginning of the video of my tribute song to the late Mr. Johnny Cash, where Tommy is sit at the start and talks about his feelings about my tribute song to his brother.

I have sung a duet together with Mrs. Joanne Cash Yates in Nashville at a place called Nashville Cowboy Church. That is a moment I never will forget… this tiny, dark and cosy lady when she asks me if I can sing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” in the same key as her brother, I thought oh Goodness me, she’s talking about Johnny Cash… so I said; Yes Joanne, I can. I have listened a lot to that duet. The two of us hade a short rehearsal at first and talked about who was going to sing the first verse and so on. It went really good and it was a huge experience to sing that song together with her and the big band!

Arly Karlsen have amongst others sung and worked together with Dalton Rogers, Gene Watson, Wanda Jackson, Billy Yates, Pat Roden and Angela Lidin just to mention a few and to understand his greatness…

Arly continues: Yes, what else should I say… well, I also have a band in France since I have many supporters down there as well. Soon I am going over to the Faroe Islands where I am playing together with G. Thomas and Steffen Jakobsen. The latest addition to my carrier is that I am a part of The European Highwaymen that we started in 2006 as a side project. Back then it was me Arly, G. Thomas and Ove Støylen. Ove has left us and his spot is now taken over by Steffen Jakobsen (known from his third place in the TV-show IDOL). We travelled around and played nearly everywhere, at festivals and also did acoustic gigs. The project has continued and now offers a whole concept at the Kulturhuset with the three of us where we take the country music’s history from Hank Williams and up until the 90: s. There are so many things to tell! (Laughter) It’s the three of us, plus a few local talents and as an addition we have a light show and even dancers on stage. That said with as few word as possible!

Country music is a large genre in Norway but in Sweden it is not as accepted, in your opinion why that is?

It is coming! No I really don’t know why. It is about development. In Norway we have passed the period when country music was only listened to by a small group. These days there are more and bigger, very good and well known musicians who play country music and in a way are legalising it. I have actually had Heavy Metal fans on my shows that have come up to me and said thank you Arly for the great music. They are honouring country music and say Cash is King, there’s a mutual respect there. Both of my sons who are playing with me have heavy metal back ground.

You are touring around the world and it was just announced that you will be playing in Sweden at the Country Festival in Lunedet on the 4th of July together with your sons. Tell us about the line up, what can we expect to see and hear?

Yes that is correct. During the past three years I have also been touring with a new concept called Arly Karlsen & Sons. It is a concept I use a lot, for example we have been to Poland and played at Pure Country in Worztyn with about 8,000 in the audience. It is my son Martin Karlsen on drums and my oldest son Kim Arly Karlsen on bass and vocals and me on acoustic guitar and vocals. It is probably the only trio that I know of who doesn’t have an electric guitar (laughter). We are doing this in our own way, where the vocals are the most important instrument together with the swing. We are not occupied with playing a lot of solos… We do chorus and we sing to get things going, well that is our intention anyway. We have our own sound and my sons are so tight and groovy, they push really nice! I like to explore within my music and within different genres and I am not at all afraid of heavy metal…

Jonny Cash

You wrote a tribute song to Mr. Johnny Cash “Here’s To You (the man in black)” that his siblings have called “one of the best tribute songs they have ever heard”. How do you feel about that statement?

It feels fantastic! I remember I was together with my producer Mr. Tom Holland, it was during the recording of the first album… and sp while we were driving and things he said; Arly, do you know who just called me? No, I said I don’t know… Tom Holland continued; it was Joanne Cash, she’s heard your song through a friend and she told me that she’s heard a lot of tribute songs to her brother, but because of your honesty and the way you sang the song, she felt that this was one of the best she’s ever heard. And I replied: are you kidding me?! And Tom said: she wants to see you and prepare a duet with you… ha ha ha, that was a feeling that was… I just sat there and thought, is it possible…?

Another strange experience that I did tell anyone about is that when I came to Nashville to record my first album, this tribute song wasn’t complete yet! I was invited to a guy called Mr. Billy Don Burns and his studio for a cup of coffee. He has written some of the songs that I have recorded and released. We sit there and talk just in general and then I say that I have a song I am working on, would you guys mind listening to it? They said: Off course, come on Arly! They put up a chair, a microphone and I was given a guitar, lets record it so you don’t forget it!! When I had played the song I asked, do you think I can use this song? They just starred at me and said: are you kidding me??? Ha ha ha! If you don’t record this song I want to steal it Billy said! (Laughter) That’s when I realized that this is a good song!

One of my absolute high lights in life was when I sang at the church in Breim, Norway and stood next to Mr. Gene Watson and Ballamy Brothers and sang “I Fly Away”, amongst others G. Thomas was also there singing. Ten minutes prior to this G. Thomas and I was singing head voice together with Mr. Bobby Bear side by side. We experienced a lot during the concert in the church. An amazing experience with the acoustics inside the church, with all the people sitting in the church benches and with the door open so one could see the view from outside, and directly after us when we came off stage, can you guess who came towards us and were about to sing? It was Mr. Vince Gill! He too had the door open and you could see the view over the Sea, someone were about to close the doors but Vince said: No, don’t close the door it’s so beautiful!

With the right song, would you consider entering the Eurovision song contest?

Yes, definitely. But if so it would have to be together with a Swedish artist, so we could compete for Norway and Sweden! (ha ha ha).

Tommy Cash

Which was your first LP album?

That was a question that actually made me speechless… Yes it was Creedence… but my first single was with The Sputniks, they are Swedish right? It was Blue, Blue Day and then Marmite on the B-side. That was my first single that I bought when I was fourteen. When I was sixteen I bought my first LP and that was Jimi Hendrix, at first I thought it was Cosmo’s Factory with Creedence but it was Jimi Hendrix with Experience, yes it was actually!

I would like to give a huge and warm Thank You to Mr. Arly Karlsen for your time and engagement! Sweden is really looking forward to see and hear you and your sons at the Country Festival in Lunedet on the 4th July!