photos by Maryse Loranger
Bass player Ruud Fransen grew up in the working class neighborhood of Zuiderpark in The Hague. As a teenager in the 50s, Ruud got infected with the rock ’n’ roll bug and he’s never really managed to shake it. His first bands covered early rockers like Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard and the Shadows and then, after completing his military service in 1966, he and Ted Oberg founded Livin’ Blues, one of Holland’s best known and most successful blues bands ever. However, faced with the choice between a reliable day job and a tenuous living as an itinerant musician, Ruud opted for security, and left the band to study chemistry and pursue a career. The day job may have occupied much of his time, but he continued to play in blues and rock bands over the years, including Chain of Fools, Whyisshe, and Mama Was Right.
In 1994, Ruud was instrumental in launching a new band — Jim Wake & Sleepwalker — with the transplanted American Jim Wake as frontman. The band had a successful 20-year run, with Ruud contributing some of the most enduring songs in the repertoire. The core of that band created a spinoff that eventually took on the name Katvanger. Now retired from the day job and having recently passed three quarters of a century on this planet, Ruud continues to prove that blues and rock ’n’ roll have amazing anti-aging properties.
Jim Wake was born in the USA in 1952 and grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, a middle-class kid with a rebellious streak in him. He got an early education about the real world working summers in the local factories while studying near Boston. After finishing his university studies, he spent a couple of years in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) in West Africa teaching English and (more importantly) learning a lot more about the rest of the world. In 1980, he moved to California, where he worked for five years on human rights issues for the renowned folksinger and peace activist Joan Baez (but not on her music), and later on (after she fired him) roused rabble as an activist and freelance writer. He’s lived in the Netherlands since 1992.
Coming of age in the sixties and drawn to rock ’n’ roll when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones landed in America, Jim persuaded his parents to buy him a guitar when he was about 13 or 14. He’s been playing ever since, and writing songs since he was a teenager. He readily admits that he borrows unapologetically from whoever and whatever may inspire him, from the icons of jazz and blues to a long line of country & western, rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll, gospel, Latin, and African giants. Something of a late bloomer, through his 20s and 30s he jammed in garages and played occasional solo gigs, but never really played in a band until he was a couple of years past his 40th birthday.
For 20 years, from 1994, he was the lead singer in Jim Wake & Sleepwalker. Over the years the band played a repertoire of bluesy originals all around the Netherlands (and ventured a few times across the Belgian border) and released three well-received CDs, none of which sold more than 500 copies. In the meantime, Katvanger – a spinoff from Sleepwalker –began to take on a life of its own. Since the demise of Jim Wake & Sleepwalker at the end of 2014, Katvanger, with Ruud Fransen on bass and Jan Vereçki on lead guitar, has been his main musical project. With a repertoire of nearly 50 originals and an occasional cover of a blues or jazz standard, Katvanger is active playing blues, roots, and Americana venues around Holland, and is finishing up work on an album with the working title “So Late So Soon”.
Jan Vereçki was born in Belgium in 1966, but managed to escape to the Netherlands at an early age. Had he remained, he notes, things might have turned out differently; playing music (rather than football) was not the obvious choice of pastime in the environment of his youth.
Although he managed (God knows how) to earn himself a Master's degree in Psychology back in 1991, Jan has yet to cure himself of an increasingly serious case of Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, a behavioral affliction which has resulted, under the motto “quantity above quality”, in an ever-expanding collection of budget-friendly string and percussion instruments.
Predictably, Jan has, like many before him, acquired most of his musical baggage in various pop, rock and funk cover bands, but he has also taken a number of more exotic musical detours – for example, he played doun doun drums in Attaaya, a semi- (or was that quasi-?) professional West African percussion ensemble, and he’s sung in several classical choirs. culminating in his current membership in the William Byrd Vocal Ensemble.
Since 2016 he’s served as lead string wrestler and background choir boy in Katvanger.