Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Österberg (b. 15.1.1948) was indeed the hard-working man of Finnish rock. His career includes so many groups that he himself didn’t even recall all their names.
Having started playing guitar at the age of ten, Österberg sometime later formed a band with his neighbour, performing songs from the repertoire of the Kingston Trio. By now he had made himself a set of ‘toy drums’, with the cymbals made of sheets of iron etc. For a while he rehearsed listening to records until he had saved up enough money to buy his first real drum kit at the age of fifteen. The first rock group he saw perform live was the Sounds, whom he soon became a follower of.
Having rehearsed at home for six months, Österberg was asked to join a group called the Fighters, whith whom he played his first gigs. The Fighters’ repertoire consisted mainly of Shadows numbers. Their guitarist was the younger brother of the guitarist in the Sounds so the Fighters were occasionally allowed to use that group’s amplifiers, which at the time were the best in Finland. The biggest achievement of the Fighters’ career was a second position in a pop group contest held in the Messuhalli in Helsinki, 1963. Österberg stayed with the Fighters for about a year. After that he joined the popular Jim & the Beatmakers, with whom he appeared for the first time on record in October 1964. Soon after the group disbanded, and sometime during the autumn of 1964 Österberg was seriously injured at work when he fell and hit his head against a railing, causing him to become unconscious for nearly a month. Also his nose was broken, his teeth suffered badly, and his mouth had to be sown up inside with eighteen stitches.
After having recovered from the accident, Österberg turned a professional musician and joined the Sounds, whose repertoire by now was made up purely by beat group material. However, the Sounds disbanded in January 1965, after which Österberg briefly joined the Scaffolds. When they broke up, Österberg joined Jim Pembroke’s new group, the Pems, during the autum of 1965, thus launching a partnership that would go on for the next 15 years. Towards the end of that same year, Österberg also played in the touring band behind US soul artist, Les Carlton.
In 1966 Österberg went to Paris hitch-hiking, and in France he reheased with a local group who, however, never were to perform publically. He also played guitar in the streets and in the Parisian underground. He became friendly with a big corporation executive’s daughter, who desperately wanted to be a pop star so Österberg became her singing tutor! Eventually, these projects had to be abandoned when Österberg was expelled on grounds of vagrancy and had to return to Finland. Back home again, he was soon hired by a group called the Boys. During the autumn of 1966 this groups – via numerous line-up changes – became D’Islanders. They played with Österberg until early in 1967, when he was asked to join Blues Section. While playing with this group he also cut two singles in his own name as part of the newly formed record company Love’s many attempts to sort out their constant financial difficulties. Österberg was by now a well-known face in Finnish pop, and Love boss Otto Donner assumed he would have more than enough commercial appeal to make it as a solo artist.
Seeing its release in May 1968, the first of Österberg’s solo singles was ‘Kauan Kuljen’/’Hei Vaan’. The music for both sides were written by Otto Donner, while Österberg and Atte Blom (main boss of Love Records) wrote the lyrics for the A and B-side, respectively. On the single Österberg was accompanied by Blues Section members Hasse Walli (guitar), Eero Koivistoinen (sax) and Pekka Saramanto (bass).
Later that same year another Österberg single saw release, titled ‘Ei Kauempaa’/’Kun Yö Hyväilee’. Again, the music for the A-side was written by Otto Donner with lyrics by Österberg, while the B-side was co-written by Pembroke, Blom and Österberg.
After Blues Section disbanded in August 1968, Österberg for a short while joined the Boys under the leadership of Jussi Raittinen. Soon after Finnish pop singer Kristian asked him to join his backing band ... and after that came Wigwam, which called an end to Österberg’s moving from one group to another.
During November and December 1971, Österberg joined Eddie Boyd’s European tour as a drummer. Also during the Wigwam era he composed music for a stage play directed by Åke Lindman and acted the main character in a Swedish-language TV play called Gråttan. The music for this play was composed by Wigwam, but never recorded.
When Wigwam started to gradually disband during 1977, Österberg became a member of the band Madame George, who were also in the process of splitting up. During the autum of 1977 he was in a touring band performing a series of ‘Dylan evenings’. He also played with a C&W group called Vanha Isäntä and with Mike Westhues’ group. Aside from that he did studio sessions, produced records and played with the group Young Lovers, performing covers of Neil Young songs.
In the spring of 1980, Österberg was in the shortlived Jim Pembroke Band and during the following summer he was a member of the M.A. Numminen Underground Orchestra. He also presented a radio programme called Smultronstället for the Swedish section of the Finnish Broadcasting Company and continued this work until his death in December 1980. Due to his brilliant musicianship and vast knowledge of rock music, Finnish rock suffered a great loss when Ronnie Österberg died on the 6th of December 1980 (the Finnish Independence Day).