Rock music arrived in Switzerland in 1969. Who were these long haired people with the loud sound?
“Satisfaction” was the big bang of rock music. Released in May 1965, the Rolling Stones song included everything that made rock. Rough sound, distorted, loud electric guitar, striking and repetitive motif (riff), hard beat and aggressive vocals. A milestone in pop culture. The triumphal march around the world began.
In sleepy, healthy Switzerland, it took longer for the rebellious sound to prevail. Pioneers such as Hardy Hepp and Düde Dürst kept their finger on the pulse and were well informed about the latest trends in international pop business. Distorted guitars could also be heard in beat bands like The Sevens or Les Sauterelles. With their proto-rock they were the trailblazers, but they stayed true to the popular beat sound. Rock could not prevail yet. Looking back, pop pioneer Toni Vescoli says:
“We lived like in the Stone Age.”
Switzerland always lagged behind the trends. When the Stones published “Satisfaction”, Switzerland was only affected by beat fever. “Switzerland was not a country for rock music,” emphasizes Dürst.
Sting in the flesh of a society
The main reasons may have been socio-structural. Because rock music, like rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s, was considered the music of the underprivileged and the working class. The middle class, which was particularly strong in Switzerland, could hardly identify with this music. Rock defined itself more than all youth movements before as a counter-culture to the canon of the common. Rock was the sting in the flesh of a society that exponents of the counterculture perceived as dusty and ossified. That didn’t go together.
The post-war period was the “golden age” of jazz and dance orchestras, which performed in après-ski in the dancings scattered across the country and in the winter resorts. These genres flourished in Switzerland for a comparatively long time, in some cases up to the 1970s, and prevented the rapid rise of rock culture.
The collision was all the more violent when the first big encounter in Switzerland with the new rock phenomenon took place on April 14, 1967: At the famous scandal concert of the Rolling Stones in the Hallenstadion, the seating was broken down into its individual parts by an angry audience.
Gallery: The 50 most important Swiss albums from the pioneering era
Click on the underlined tracks if you want to listen to an album
International idols and role models were copied
Rock had to knock twice in Switzerland. Only the “Summer of Love” in 1967, the hippie period and the ’68 riots, which sparked in the riots in Switzerland, triggered a lot. The music became louder, harder and more aggressive. Musicians from the beat scene were caught by the rock virus. Everything was in the flow. Rock music provided the soundtrack to the turbulent times. Pioneer Heinz Gräni says:
«We just absorbed everything. Played music without pressure and without thinking of categories. »
In the first phase, the international idols and role models were copied. Many Swiss bands were looking for their own musical expression. It was copied and tried and soon it was experimented with no regard for losses. There was no business model, no business plan, no commercial requirements, restrictions and constraints. What counted was the music and only the music. It sounded correspondingly playful. It was the wild, crazy and adventurous time of the Swiss rock pioneers. But who were these rock pioneers? Who was the first rock musician in Switzerland? Which is the first Swiss rock band?
In the mid-1960s, Zurich guitarist Walty Anselmo played instrumentals of the Shadows and songs of the Beatles in the quartet “The Hellfire”. When he first heard Jimi Hendrix on record in early 1967, he was “shocked and fascinated”. The sounds that Hendrix created did not let go of him. He began to experiment with feedback, struck his instrument with his hands and feet and soon let it cry like his American model.
In the fall of 1967, at the pre-qualifications for the 1st Rhythm and Blues Festival, Anselmo presented his new, expressive style for the first time. The jury was distraught and argued over whether it was still music or noise. Nevertheless, his band Anselmo Trend qualified for the finale of the competition in Zurich’s Hazyland organized by Jürg Marquard and his “Pop” magazine. There Anselmo was chosen together with the St. Galler Dany Rühle ex aequo as the best guitarist.
The then 18-year-old Dany Rühle also mastered his Hendrix. But like the recordings on the LP for «1. Switzerland. Rhythm and Blues Festival », he and his Eastern Swiss band The Shiver were more rooted in blues than the rockier version Anselmo Trend. «I’ve always seen myself more as a blues musician. My role model was more Eric Clapton than Jimi Hendrix, »says the 71-year-old Rühle.
The Shiver was voted best band in the band competition. But Anselmo became the “Swiss Hendrix” and his band can be called the first Swiss rock band. “Anselmo Trend was the first band to deserve the name as a real rock band,” says Beat Hirt, who was the first Swiss pop journalist to work for “Pop” magazine at the time.
Anselmo’s band was booked as the only Swiss act for the famous monster concert with Jimi Hendrix in the Hallenstadion at the end of May 1968. Anselmo’s trend did not last long. Anselmo joined a band project by the drummer Düde Dürst.
After leaving Sauterelles, Dürst initiated the band Krokodil with singer Hardy Hepp, Mojo Weideli (blues harp, flute) and Terry Stevens (bass). A progressive, psychedelic and non-commercial rock monster where “you could play anything, anything”. Krokodil was the first professional rock band and the first Swiss supergroup with an international reputation.
But what was the first studio recording by a Swiss rock band? Krokodil went to the SM Studio in Dietikon in late 68 and early 69 for first sessions. Almost at the same time, in January 69, the musicians of the newly formed The Shiver met in the Soundcraft Studio Biel by Stefan Sulke (the songwriter).
Previously, organist Jelly Pastorini from Anselmo Trend had joined the St. Gallen band and, with Rühle, brought about a change in style from rhythm and blues to progressive rock. In this formation the band won on 10./11. November also the «2nd Swiss Pop and R&B Festival »in Zurich’s Hazyland and thus a record contract for the« Blick ».
The Shiver was faster than crocodile. In spring 1969 the first Swiss rock single “Hey Mr. Holy Man” was released, which even flirted with the top ten in the Swiss charts. A little later the album “Walpurgis” was released by the German label Maris: The first Swiss rock album. Rühle remembers:
“We received the LPs shortly after the recordings and released them straight away.”
None other than H. R. Giger designed the cover for single and album.
“Walpurgis” is a historical piece of jewelry with delightful excursions into the world of progressive rock. A wonderful document from a time of departure. But also a heterogeneous, not quite full-fledged work between rock fantasies and rhythm and blues. The Shiver hadn’t found her identity yet. In addition, the recordings suffer from poor mixing.
Even the first pictures of crocodile could not meet higher demands. They came to the influential German music manager and producer Sigi Loch (now head of the jazz label “act”). Dürst tells:
“He thought the band and the music were great, but the recordings were not professional enough.”
The historically important recordings by Dietikon were only published in 2014 under the title “The First Recordings”. Instead, Loch offered the band new studio recordings in May 1969, which were immediately released under the title “Crocodile”. He also offered the band a global deal with the major American label Liberty, which included stars like Ike & Tina Turner, Canned Heat and Cher.
The Shiver was just ahead of the competition for the first Swiss rock recording. But the importance of crocodile, even beyond national borders, was much greater. Dürst says:
“We were the first Swiss band to make a deal with a world label. We were traveling all over Europe, played at the biggest festivals, with all the famous bands. »
The Shiver, however, dissolved in the same year. According to Rühle, part of the band was too uncertain about the rock industry. They opted for “a civil profession”. Rühle and Pastorini continued and founded the Prog rock band Deaf, which existed until 1972. Interesting: In the final phase of the band a certain Marc Storace, the later singer of Krokus, sang. “For me, Deaf was something like a springboard in Switzerland,” he says in retrospect.
Small rock cells formed in all Swiss regions. In Solothurn, for example, rock pioneer Duco Aeschbach, who died a year ago, founded the band Kaktus. Terrible Noise was the name of the band by Jürg Nägeli and Tommy Kiefer (later Krokus).
In Bern there was delation around the later verdigris and span musician Matti Kohli. The Morlocks, The Black Lions, The Lives and The Livings with Dänu Stöckli were the names of other Bernese bands that recorded the first rock elements in the late 1960s. Polo Hofer with The Jetmen and “Polo’s Pop Tales” was more connected to rhythm and blues and soul. Everything is documented on the sampler “50 Years of Bern Rock” (Zytglogge).
Also in 1969, the rock band Tusk formed around the extroverted, charismatic singer Ernst «Fögi» Vögeli in Zurich. The single “Child Of My Kingdom” hit the Swiss charts in 7th place in June 1970. Rock was slowly becoming popular in Switzerland. It was the first Swiss rock song to become a hit. Despite offers, album recordings never came. The then bassist Heinz Gräni says:
«Suddenly we came into this machinery and were unable to deliver because of the pressure.»
Shortly afterwards the band broke up. Singer Ernesto «Fögi» Vögeli was something like the first Swiss rock star. Mick Jagger’s fan caused a sensation with his extroverted stage show and his open commitment to his homosexuality. Novelist Martin Frank, who was inspired by the singer’s life for the gay love novel “ter fögi isch e souhung” (1979), said:
“Fögi was a hero, a pioneer, a revolutionary.”
The book was used by director Marcel Gisler as a template for the film «F. est un salaud »(1998).
In addition to Zurich, Basel was the center of the rock pioneers. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they gathered around keyboardist Joël Vandroogenbroeck. The Belgian pianist got stuck in 1962 after a concert at the Atlantis on the knee of the Rhine and switched to the experimental rock genre in the 1960s. He founded the trio Third Eclipse, then with Cosimo Lampis (drums) and Werner Fröhlich (bass) the psychedelic electro-prog rock band Brainticket. Vandroogenbroeck writes in the book “Pop Basel” (2009):
“The concert audience didn’t understand our music.”
But the marketing of the Phonag label, which advertised the Début “Cottonwoodhill” (1971) as the first LSD record, was a success. The adventurous mix of wavering keyboards, electronic effects and grooves is cult among collectors and, according to Vandroogenbroeck, is said to have sold around a million copies to date. The Belgian pioneer, who died at the end of 2019, never saw anything of the money.
Vandroogenbroeck moved on, and the Basel musicians Lampis and Fröhlich founded the hard rock formation Toad in 1970 with the guitarist and singer Vic Vergeat, which was strongly oriented towards the music of Cream and Hendrix. The band landed a top ten hit in 1971 with the song “Stay” and recorded their debut album “Toad” in the same year. It was the first Swiss hard rock album and surprisingly successful. It reached top positions in the Blick hit parade (there was no official Swiss album hit parade yet).
Most bands in that pioneering period had a relatively short lifespan. Crocodile existed after all five intensive years. Hardy Hepp left in 1971, and after five albums in five years in 1974 it was definitely over. “We were exhausted and burned out,” recalls Dürst. Drug use contributed to this. In addition, discotheques came up. Dürst says:
“The organizers no longer wanted to pay the bands anything.”
An important chapter in Swiss rock history came to an end.
Now, over 50 years after its founding, the crocodile is being revived. The originals Dürst (74), Anselmo (74) and Stevens (75) are included. Mojo Weideli, who died 14 years ago, and Hardy Hepp are missing. Hepp has withdrawn from the music business. The 46-year-old singer and guitarist Adrian Weyermann and keyboardist Ernst Strebel are new to this.
The initial spark for the revival was the enormous demand for the album “An Invisible World Revealed”. Recorded in 1971, rights holder Dürst has pressed the album several times. Nevertheless, global demand has not waned until today. An album in the American online database Discogs costs up to a maximum of 2400 euros.
Instead of simply pressing the album again, the newly formed crocodiles have rearranged, interpreted and recorded the songs. There are also new songs by Walty Anselmo. The old and new recordings will be published together with a 20-page, richly illustrated book in late summer and christened on September 18.
According to Dürst, further concerts are to follow. “We still know us, especially in Germany,” he says, “we want to continue.” The circle has closed. The crocodile is alive.