My Oulu: Rock and roll all life long – Oulu-based musician Jarmo Heikkinen turns 60

Jarmo Heikkinen with his oldest guitar and saxophone. Kuva: Jarmo Heikkinen


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The music history of Jarmo Heikkinen, a musician and songwriter from Oulu, covers almost half a century. He has inherited musicality from both his father’s and his mother’s side. Some kind of rootlessness could be traced to his mother’s history.

In 1944, the guitarist’s mother Marjatta Heikkinen (née Soini) travelled to Sweden as a war child. She was only 3 years old.

”My mother came back to Finland after the end of the war, but she wanted to go back to Sweden. She returned to Sweden when she was about 5 years old and went to school there,” Heikkinen says.

At the age of 13 Marjatta moved from Sweden to Finland. He attended a Swedish school at the intersection of Torikatu and Sepänkatu in Oulu.

”Mom didn’t feel comfortable here, so she returned to Falun. When she was sixteen she came back to Oulu again and stayed here.”

Jarmo Heikkinen was born in Oulu in 1962 as the first child of Marjatta and Veli Heikkinen. Later, two more children were born to the family, Nina and Petri.

Twist on a tube radio

As a child Jarmo Heikkinen listened to tube radio and danced to the beat of Little Richard’s hits Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally.

The influence of the Beatles on Heikkinen cannot be overemphasized. Heikkinen also mentions the Musiikkimies music store, which was once located on Torikatu.

”It was like a daycare place for us. They let us hang out there, and we became good customers as well.”

Heikkinen’s first guitar was a Landola, with only two strings – that’s why he started playing bass. The tuning was the wrong way around.

”I had heard that the bass tuning is the same as the first four strings of the guitar. I tuned from the wrong end: D, G, H, E.”

Later he learned to play with the right tuning: E, A, D, G. First song Heikkinen learned on the guitar was The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun.

13-year-old Jarmo Heikkinen rocks at grandma’s house. Photo: Matti Soini

Instant rock stars

His first band, Rock Stars, was active in 1974–75. The band members were between 12 and 13 years old. The band consisted of guitarist-vocalist Eski Partanen, singer-guitarist Hannu Rouvari and drummer Matti Soini, who is Heikkinen’s uncle – with a slight age difference. In Rock Stars, Heikkinen sang and played bass.

”When Matti got his first drums in our garage in Lintula, it was a wild feeling! Before that, there was a biscuit jar, a bucket and a rubber drum”, the musician recalls.

Roadrunner changed everything

The repertoire of the boldly named Rock Stars included, among others, Tyttö lilla nakkikioskilla, Sininen ja valkoinen ja Toivotaan, toivotaan.

”We also played Juice Leskinen’s songs Jyrki boy, Juankoski, Here I Come, Napoleonin mopo and Marilyn.”

Alongside melodic pop, the 1973 Hurriganes album Rock and Roll All Night Long was a big influence. Their groundbreaking Roadrunner album was released the following year.

”Ganes taught us a straightforward approach and primitive power combined with laconic humour,” Heikkinen describes.

All in all, Hurriganes were a very significant part of the life of Heikkinen and many other contemporary musicians. In March 1975, Hurriganes performed at Pohjankartano school in Oulu. Heikkinen says that gig changed everything for him and many others.

”For many of our contemporaries, especially musicians, that gig was a trendsetter. The energy that was on the Roadrunner album was delivered live like an electric shock, and there was no going back.”

Surrounded by an alto saxophone

In the 1970s, Heikkinen bought a Tone King alto saxophone from his mother’s sister’s husband. Heikkinen still has the saxophone, but he hasn’t played it for a long time.

From 1976 to 1977 Heikkinen studied alto saxophone at the Oulu Music Institute. He also played the alto saxophone in the church orchestra, which rehearsed in Raatti.

The encouragement of Eeva-Leena Lumme, a music teacher at Pohjankartano Secondary School, was of great importance to Heikkinen. His music grade was a perfect 10.

In 1976, after Rock Stars, a band called Dolls was formed. Besides the bassist-singer Heikkinen, it included singer-guitarist Eski Partanen and drummer Seppo Hotti. The band performed at school parties.

Opening for Rocket

Dolls played cover songs of major bands and artists of their time, including Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin, Caroline by Status Quo, Can’t Get Enough by Bad Company and so on. They also played Paul Anka’s Diana.

”Of course we also played Johnny B. Goode and some Beatles tunes.”

One of the most significant events for the Dolls was as an opening act for the very popular Oulu-based band Rocket, invited by Antti ”Ana” Porkka. Porkka worked in Oulu as a gig promoter and manager.

In 1977 Dolls were replaced by a band called Flash. As usual, Heikkinen was on vocals and bass. Matti Soini was on drums, Esko Lassila was the singer-guitarist and Ari ”Hossa” Holappa on guitar.

”At that time I was already practicing guitar a lot,” Heikkinen says.

Miss Farkku-Suomi (2012), a movie based on Kauko Röyhkä’s same-titled novel (2003), features a band called Flash. The book and the film are set in Oulu in the 1970s.

Dolls’ first gig as an opening act for Rocket in Tervola, 1976. In the picture Eski Partanen (left), Seppo Hotti and Jarmo Heikkinen. Photo: Hannu Karjalainen

Young and talented Ramblers

The rock band Ramblers was founded in Oulu in 1978. Heikkinen attended tenth grade in Pohjankartano.

”Ana Porkka called our grandma’s house and asked me to participate in a band tryout, for which he had gathered musicians from Oulu,” Heikkinen says.

Porkka then assembled the Ramblers from talented Oulu-based musicians.

The Ramblers consisted of drummer Heikki Tikka, guitarist Riku Mattila, singer-guitarist Köpi Kurikka and  bassist Heikkinen.

Singles I Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonite and Nadine singles were released in 1978  The album We Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonite followed in 1979.

”I was 15 or 16 years old at the time, and the bass was bigger than the player,” Heikkinen jokes.

In late 1979, Mattila left the band. Heikkinen moved from bass to guitar in early 1980, and the second version of Ramblers was born. Ilari Niemelä became the bassist.

”Soon Heikki Tikka also left the band. He was replaced by Sidi Kukkonen, drummer of the Kuusamo-based band Zero Nine. Guitarist Timo ”Törrö” Tapaninen also joined the band.”

As Ramblers toured all over Finland, Heikkinen also played for a while in Kauko Röyhkä’s band Narttu. He was a guest singer-guitarist on the 1981album Uusia tansseja.

At the beginning of 1982, Heikki Tikka asked Heikkinen to join the band before recording the album Onnenpäivä. Riku Mattila and bassist Mats Huldén, who also played in Wigwam, supported the idea.

Heikkinen was tempted to join permanently but said no, as Ramblers took most of his time.

In 1982 Ramblers released Talkin’ About… on the Dig it label. However, Ramblers broke up in 1983. Before their breakup they released the single Leather and Lace / Weekend Affair for Atte Blom’s Johanna label. 

The third composition of Ramblers was born in the late 2010s.

”We asked Hantte Oivo for bass and Juha Seilonen for drums.”

Almost met Abba

In the early 1980s, Heikkinen spent a lot of time in Stockholm, working as a hospital assistant, cleaner and dishwasher, among other things. Stockholm was home to her aunts and uncles from her mother’s side.

”In 1983, I had an idea to apply for a job at Abba’s Polar studio. After visiting the downtown office, I received a note directing me to an another address.”

Heikkinen found the place and told the receptionist that he wanted to come and play guitar for Abba’s productions. The receptionist replied: ”Benny är uptaget men jag hämtar Björn.” 

As Heikkinen was waiting for Björn to come to meet him, he began to feel that he might not belong in the superficial and commercial music business.

”So I left the place without saying anything. Geez, what a decision!”

For Heikkinen that decision illustrates his impatience as a young artist. In retrospect, Heikkinen really could have waited for the audition.

Punk rock with Pelle

After his time in Stockholm, Heikkinen moved to Helsinki. In 1984 he played guitar in Pelle Miljoona’s band Miljoonaliiga.

In addition to Pelle Miljoona aka Petri Tiili, Miljoonaliiga consisted of guitarist Stefan Piesnack, drummer Vando Suvanto and bassist Jesu Hämäläinen. The line-up often trained at Lepakkoluola in Ruoholahti, Helsinki.

”I don’t appear on Pelle’s album Jos  because Vando and Pelle asked me to join the band when the album was already almost finished.”

Praised by Järvinen

Riku Mattila left Kauko Röyhkä & Narttu after the album Maa on voimaaNarttu’s drummer Heikki Tikka asked again if Heikkinen was interested to join the band. This time Heikkinen agreed. He joined in time for the band’s 1985 EP Paska kaupunki.

”I strongly believed that the title track should be included on the EP. It isn’t on any album,” Heikkinen says of the legendary track.

He also plays on Röyhkä’s 1986 releases, the album Pikku enkeli and the live part of the Kulta aika collection. During the Tavastia gig on the tour, Heikkinen met his hero Albert Järvinen, who said that he loved the playing style of Heikkinen.

”He stood next to me during the gig, and it really boosted my playing,” Heikkinen admits.

In the same year, Soundi magazine asked professional musicians’ opinions of the best Finnish musicians.  Heikkinen was ranked the sixth best guitarist.

Had enough of rock and roll

Kauko Röyhkä & Narttu’s Pikku enkeli album was quite a success.

”We did a lot of gigs and I started to get tired. I got the feeling that I’ve spent 10 years on buses and gigs – during the tour I felt that I’ve had enough with music.”

After the tour Riku Mattila asked Heikkinen to be the guitarist in Jussi Hakulinen’s band, but exhausted Heikkinen refused.

Moving to Tampere was a relief. He no longer woke up with a hangover, heading for the next gig.

”I needed to find some other content for life than music. But as it happened, I suddenly started to write my own songs,” he says.

”It felt really good and refreshing, I was able to make my own decisions. That’s also when my interest in American cars started, but that’s an other story.”

Kauko Röyhkä & Narttu was reassembled for a short reunion in 2012. Svart Records released the band’s live album Valoista pois in 2013. In addition to Röyhkä and Heikkinen, the reunion line-up consisted of Heikki Tikka, Mats Huldén, Tommi Viksten (guitar) and Pekka Gröhn (keyboards).

The Boots were born in Tampere

After leaving Narttu, Heikkinen founded The Boots in 1987. The band was born in Tampere as Heikkinen and drummer Raimo Raappana started to work together.

Raappana is originally from Oulu, he played drums in bands like Timjam and Rocket. Raappana has also played drums with Dave Lindholm and Rauli Badding Somerjoki.

”I had always loved his playing,” Heikkinen praises. Heikkinen’s younger brother Petri Heikkinen joined the band as bassist. The band’s music combines rockabilly, rock and country.

”Around the same time, I was playing guitar in Joe Vestich’s band. We played as a house band in Tampere at the Cabaree Oscar club.”

In addition to several single releases, The Boots released the albums Alligator River (1989) and Funky Road (1991) on Euros label.

”My first child’s mother, Satu Koho, also played with us on our early gigs and appeared on the Funky Road album.”

In 1994 , the  trio released the Turn to Tree album under Rockadillo Records.

In 1995, The Boots went on showcase gigs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Toronto Music Week in Canada. The larger line-up consisted of Satu Helminen (vocals), Arto Piispanen (keyboards), Pike Kontkanen (violin) and Tommi Laine (guitar).

From 2000 to 2008, Heikkinen focused on his day job as a dental laboratory technician, after graduating from the Helsinki Dental Technician Institute in 2000.

Although Heikkinen has lived in Kempele for decades, he works in Oulu on weekdays. In terms of his musical identity, he feels that he is from Oulu, although otherwise he has become a Kempele resident.

”For a long time, everyday life was also filled with running a family with five children.”

Reunion with Röyhkä

In the late 2000s, Kauko Röyhkä was performing in Oulu.

”I called Kauko and joked like ’hey, I wonder if you can play all those songs on your own’. Kauko instantly asked me to join him on stage. That was the beginning of a new collaboration with Kauko,” Heikkinen rejoices.

Röyhkä and Heikkinen did a few gigs as a duo. Röyhkä had the Erotica Night concept, which included different singers, including Tehosekoitin Otto Grundström, Röyhkä’s wife Olga Välimaa and Tampere-based singer Maija Moisio.

The collaboration between The Boots and Kauko Röyhkä got off to a good start when new versions of the songs Kevät and Paska kaupunki were recorded. The Boots started working on an album with Röyhkä.

”I brought my own compositions to Kauko for lyrics, and that’s how Etelän peto began to emerge.”

To date, Kauko Röyhkä & The Boots have made two albums together, Etelän peto (2014) and Maantie (2018). The live and album line-up also included younger generation musicians, Jarmo’s son Jesse Heikkinen (guitars) and Dimi Salo (backing vocals, keyboards, percussion). Kauko Röyhkä & The Boots have toured all over Finland.

Playing with Remu

The Skuugi Darlings trio started in Oulu in 2013. Heikkinen plays guitar, Petri Laukka is on bass and Juha Seilonen plays drums.

”When Remu Aaltonen and Petri met, Remu suggested that they should form a band together. We started working right away.”

Remu & Skuugi Darlings album Rocking All Life Long was released in September 2021.

Heikkinen is sure that he will keep on making and publishing music. Skuugi Darlings is already working on new material.

After 38 years, Heikkinen has completed a Finnish version of the song he made for his late sister Nina after her death in a tragic car crash in 1984. He doesn’t know when the song for Nina will be released, but it has already been mastered.

Closing circles, Lee

Many people have been curious about Heikkinen’s second name, Lee.

”I registered Lee as my second official name, and it seems to fit my identity.”

”My children are the most precious things in my life, and of course a big thank you goes to their mothers,” the Heikkinen says.

Heikkinen is also a grandfather now – his first grandchild was born in December 2021. 

Jarmo Lee Heikkinen turns 60 on September 28, 2022.

”I feel the same as when I turned 20. But maybe I’ve matured and grown a little bit wiser”, Heikkinen says.

Jarmo Heikkinen and Skuugi Darlings will perform in Petrelli, Oulu, on Friday, October 7th.