Born Peter Cornelis Koelewijn, 29 December 1940, Eindhoven, Holland
In the Netherlands, the spread and acceptance of rock n roll was slower than in the United Kingdom. Before World War II, the main foreign influence on Dutch popular music had been German. The impact of American music in Holland was largely a recent phenomenon in the 1950s. There were only two Dutch radio channels then, both of them very conservative in its musical programming. About the only place where you could hear some decent rock n roll was Radio Luxembourg, a commercial station operating from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which had Dutch-language programmes in the morning, German-language programmes in the afternoon and (by far the most interesting) English-language programmes during the evening. Rock n roll could also be heard on AFN (American Forces Network), aimed at the American GI's stationed in Germany, but the reception of this radio station was limited to the Eastern part of the Netherlands. And I lived much closer to the North Sea than to the German border. (Still do.)
No more than a dozen or so attempts at rock n roll were recorded in Holland during 1956-57. These were mostly covers of American hits, sometimes in English, but more often in Dutch. If you thought that some of the early British R&R records were bad, well, they were wonders of professionalism and excitement compared with what came out of the Dutch studios. Things began to improve somewhat in 1958 with the advent of the typically Dutch "Indo-rock" phenomenon : groups of Dutch Indonesians, mostly guitar-led, some of which wrote their own songs. The best of these were the Tielman Brothers from Breda and the Black Dynamites from The Hague. The most common Dutch term for the new music was not rock and roll, but "teenagermuziek". The idea that this kind of music could also be enjoyed beyond the age of twenty did not take hold until the Beatles era. Apart from a Dutch-language version of "Wake Up Little Susie", none of these "rocking" Dutch recordings met with any chart success during the fifties. But things would change in 1960.
Just as there is general agreement that Cliff Richard's "Move It" (1958) was the first significant British rock n roll record, there is no denying that "Kom Van Dat Dak Af" by Peter en zijn Rockets was a milestone in the history of Dutch R&R. By Dutch standards, the record was remarkable in a number of ways. First of all, it was an original rock n roll composition sung in Dutch. The backing, with a prominent role for the sax, was far more professional than had been heard on Dutch records until that time and generated true excitement. The singer, Peter Koelewijn, sang with an unashamed Southern-Dutch accent, also something quite unusual at a time when regional dialects seemed strictly taboo in the studio. He used his voice as a musical instrument rather than an instrument of speech. His disregard for enunciation went so far that I didn't even notice that the song was sung in Dutch when I first heard it!
Peter Koelewijn was born in Eindhoven, in the South of Holland, not far from the Belgian border. The son of a fishmonger, he was the youngest of five siblings.>From an early age he took an interest in all kinds of music. He got his first guitar in 1953 and started writing songs in 1957. The next year he formed a group with three school buddies : Harry van Hoof (piano), Charles Jansen (guitar) and Peter van der Voort (drums). A sax player, Claus Buchholz from Germany, was added later. This group, the Rockets, played mainly at school parties. In the autumn of 1959, they auditioned for Bovema (a record company comparable to EMI in the UK). As they didn't have a car, the trip from Eindhoven to Heemstede was made by train, with their musical instruments. On the train they rehearsed the song that Peter had written only a few days earlier, "Kom Van Dat Dak Af" (Get Off Of the Roof). Three songs were recorded during a 3-hour session and "Kom Van Dat Dak Af" was released in January 1960 on Imperial. It was not an immediate hit, probably due to a lack of media exposure (though they did get a chance to perform on TV), but once the disc entered the Dutch charts in May 1960, there was no stopping the record. In August it ousted Edith Piaf's "Milord" from the top position and stayed on the charts for 26 weeks altogether. "Kom Van Dat Dak Af" was also a # 1 in Belgium and there was even a South African release on Columbia 45 DSA 367, something that Koelewijn did not find out until 2007!
The contract that the group had signed with Bovema had not been co-signed by Koelewijn's father. As Peter was still under age, the contract was not legally valid. As soon as Bovema's principal Dutch competitor, Phonogram (main labels : Philips, Decca, London, Fontana) got wind of this, they quickly offered the Koelewijn family a much more attractive contract and for the rest of the 1960s, Peter's records (both with the Rockets and, from 1965, his solo recordings) would be released on Dutch Decca.
Three more Top 20 hits followed in 1960-61. My favourite from this period is "Veertig Rovers", which proved that Peter could write truly funny lyrics. Not all of the group's songs were Koelewijn compositions, though. Their 1961 hit "24.000 Kussen" was a cover of an Italian hit by Adriano Celentano, whose version was released in the UK on Columbia DB 4611.
In 1965, Phonogram offered Koelewijn a position as a talent scout and producer. He quit his job at the local newspaper (Eindhovens Dagblad) and from then until today he would devote himself full-time to the music business. In 1971, a remake of "Kom Van Dat Dak Af" (much more polished than the original) went to # 8. The original Rockets had disbanded in 1967. For this rerecording, Peter had formed a completely new group of Rockets. During the 70s and 80s he produced countless Dutch artists (both solo singers and groups), scoring many hits in the process (which he often also wrote). Some of these have become Dutch classics. He was also successful as a disc jockey.
"Kom Van Dat Dak Af" returned to the charts in 1981 (a live version, # 14) and 1989 (a rap version, # 20), which probably makes it the only record in the world to chart in four different versions by the same artist. Koelewijn continued to score hits, both as a singer and a producer, until quite recently. Since 2002 he has been playing reunion gigs with the 1970s Rockets. He has received several awards and is active as a committee member of various music organizations, including Buma-Stemra.
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