Country singer O.J. Hanssen, who is from Norway, will perform Friday at 8 p.m. at Princess Theatre. Hanssen's first name, Odd Jarle, didn't go over well when he first came to the U.S., so he shortened it to O.J. "I'm not willing to change my name because of O.J. Simpson," he said. "I just tell people I'm the good one."
Country singer from Norway to perform Friday at Princess
By Andrea Brunty
firstname.lastname@example.org · 340-2448
Halfway around the world in Norway, O.J. Hanssen craved country music and dreamed of one day performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Born and raised in Mosjøen, Hanssen, 43, remembers Mom and Dad listening to country music artists like Skeeter Davis, Tom Jones, Gene Watson and Don Williams, as well as crooners like Nat King Cole.
"Before I could speak one word of English I was singing along with those guys," he said.
Hanssen, with his Fourteen Carat Band, will play a mixture of country music standards with new original material Friday at 8 p.m. at Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.
Though country music is popular in Norway, Denmark and Scandinavia, he said, thousands of artists' recordings never made it overseas.
To fuel an insatiable desire for the genre, he imported many LPs and vinyl records from the U.S. and Great Britain. Now his collection includes between 5,000 and 6,000 albums.
While he grew up on the classics, the singer's style blends classic country with easy listening for a sophisticated sound. His biggest influences are Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Mickey Gilley and Dean Martin.
His first album was released in 1985 as an independent project in Norway.
A former European male vocalist of the year, Hanssen also won artist of the year and song of the year at the European Country Music Awards.
Coming to America
Though he found success with awards and albums in Europe, moving to America to pursue singing and songwriting as a career was a big step.
For 11 years he worked as a deputy sheriff in Norway and planned to study law.
"The dream of doing music full time was there all the time," he said. "It took me a long time to make that decision."
"I didn't know one person when I moved to Nashville," he said.
Leaving a steady paycheck for the uncertain income of the music business, Hanssen came to America in 1999 and began recording his first U.S. release in 2000.
He has since opened for performers like Sara Evans, the Oak Ridge Boys, Anne Murray, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers and Ray Price.
"I don't regret it one time that I did what I did," he said.
However, he said, being away from family and friends in Norway takes its toll.
"It's been pretty hard sometimes," he said. "Home is still home, but this is home for me, too. It gives me a chance to do what I love so much."
After almost eight years in Nashville and East Tennessee, Hanssen can call Alabama home.
"I love the Deep South," he said. "There's no better place to be when you do country music."
He now lives in Thorsby in Chilton County, which was originally established as a Scandinavian colony. Norwegian and Swedish people also live in the area, he said.
"To find something like that in Alabama, that's pretty cool," he said.
While his future in the industry is looking up, he said, "it takes a long time to establish yourself."
Some dedicated fans follow him to most of his shows, and Hanssen wants to build on that base.
Now, the singer's main goal is exposure. Between touring on weekends and occasionally in Norway, one of Hanssen's future ventures is seeking radio play for "Alabama Rain," written by a friend as a tribute to his hometown.
Though it may be a struggle to pull people away from the computer screen in today's instant gratification culture, he doesn't get discouraged.
"When you're competing with TV ... competing with everything, it's hard to get people out (to a concert) sometimes," he said.
"Pick a Friday night, pick a Saturday, no matter what day you pick — and you've got seven days to pick from — people are always going to have an excuse not to come out."
"We do the best we can, and we'll keep doing the best we can," he said.
Since age 13, his dream has been to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
"It's a very special place — the mother church of country music," he said.
But getting the chance to perform at the Nashville icon is much harder with the changing pace of the music industry, he said.
You may not need a No. 1 hit, "but you need a record deal and radio airplay ... all those things have to be in place for you to play (the Grand Ole Opry)," he said.
"I know it'll happen one day," he said. "I've got the love for the music and I've got the passion."
If you go
What: Country singer O.J. Hanssen and his Fourteen Carat Band
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Where: Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $21-26. Call 340-1778 or visit princesstheatre.org.
See www.ojhanssen.com for more information.
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