Born on Christmas Eve in 1946 in the shadow of the Red Light District in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Jan Akkerman was only 4 years old when he first picked up the accordion, then at 10 years old got his first guitar and by 13 he won a scholarship to study at the Amsterdam Music Lyceum. He used this time to develop his composition and arranging stills and at this point his interest in Classical, Rhythm & Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Indorock – a genre that originated in the Netherlands in the 1950s combining a fusion of Indonesian and Western music – broadened his palette.
He formed his first band Johnny and his Cellar Rockers (the band later became The Hunters) in 1963 as a 12 year old with his friend Pierre van der Linden, who would later join him in Brainbox and Focus. As The Hunters he had his first taste of success with the Top 10 single ‘The Russian Sly & I’ which became a Dutch hit in 1966. His virtuoso guitar playing brought him national attention.
He left The Hunters and started a new band Brainbox with drummer van der Linden, Kaz Lux and Bert Ruiter (Later in Focus and Earth & Fire) and were signed to Parlophone. They released their hit self-titled debut album in 1969 which established their progressive blues sound and spawned several Dutch hit singles. Akkerman left shortly after the release and joined the Thijs van Leer Trio that year which was to morph into Focus. The internationally acclaimed band explored all of the nuances of Progressive Rock through their classical, jazz and rock influences.
Including live albums, he has released 30 solo albums and has collaborated with a number of musicians including Alan Price (The Animals), Jack Bruce and Ice T and also counts fans in Brian May who said Akkerman was “totally a hero of mine, there are some people in life that no matter how old you are, you feel nervous if you meet someone, he’s one of those, he’s a real role model”. B.B. King has also talked highly of him saying, “How can you forget a guy like Jan, usually with people that are as great as he is, you know of them, but you don’t always get to know them or their music, but you know their reputation. The nights that we played together was great, I wish I could play the things that he did.” Whilst Yes guitarist Peter Banks has also lauded him calling him “an almost perfectly formed musician, his classical playing was tremendous and his improvising was second to none.”
His position as Dutch royalty has been cemented and as a celebration of his significant contribution to Dutch pop and guitar music, Jan received the Golden Harp Award in early 2005, Holland’s most prestigious music prize that Jan dedicated to his loyal audience. At the end of 2012 he was appointed Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau, a monumental, royal honour that acknowledged his contribution to Dutch music and his influence on musicians around the world.
At 73 years old, the supremely gifted guitarist is equalled by very few and his legendary ability makes him impossible to pigeon hole. He still remains an active touring artist in the Netherlands and with occasion trips around mainland Europe.