Pepe Willberg biography
Pepe Willberg (born in 1946) belongs to the post-war baby boom “The Beatles” generation and he is one of those few pop music performers in Finland whose successful career spans uninterruptedly from the early 1960’s all the way to the strong Back To The Sixties revival of today.
Pepe received his first guitar as a 13-year old school boy in Helsinki. In 1963 a legendary group named The Islanders was founded, and Pepe became its second guitarist. Very soon he was pushed in front of the mic and the blunt request by the rest of the band was: “Now you have to sing!” .The pop singer’s career was launched in the midst of the relentless Beatlemania and a flood wave of British guitar groups, a career that was going to turn out iconic in the history of the Finnish pop and rock scene.
In 1965 a new group known as The Jormas was formed and Pepe was about to make some of his very first breakthroughs as a solo pop singer: the following year he recorded the Finnish version of the international hit “To Make A Big Man Cry” (his 1998 performance can be viewed at here). In 1967, right before entering his military service, he also recorded the Finnish version of the Beatles’ legendary “ Penny Lane.” The ingeniously localized lyrics tell the original story in an amazingly precise way, culturally transferred from the original setting to a downtown-Helsinki neighborhood with a similar profile.
His following ensemble was formed in 1969 and was for most parts based on the same musicians as its predecessor. The name of the new group was “Pepe and the Paradise.” This period extending all the way into the late 1970’s was very productive: the group recorded many chart hits and would-be evergreens in Finland, some of them composed by Pepe Willberg. In the early 1980’s the artist’s career followed a more independent path including a period of free-lancing and more intensive focus on composing and songwriting (also for other Finnish pop music artists).
In 1998 Pepe Willberg’s long and uninterrupted career hit another milestone when a pop quartet called the Masters was formed in the spirit of the Back To The Sixties revival. Apart from Pepe, the group consisted of such prominent stars as Pave Maijanen, Kirka Babitzin and Heikki Harma also known as Hector (a pioneering folk singer/songwriter on Finland’s pop music scene). The success and popularity of this group was astounding as witnessed by sold-out concerts in various arenas and Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium. A live double-CD titled “The Masters in the Arena” was recorded and it reached staggering sales figures in Finland (120,000).
2006 was a truly special year for Pepe Willberg as he himself turned 60 years while one of his most-loved standards, the Finnish rendition of “To Make A Big Man Cry,” had a 40-year old anniversary. A special commemorative tour was arranged along with a nostalgic recording in which he sang 30 of his most popular all-time classics in an updated, fresh way, thus reaching a whole new generations of fans. In October 2007 Pepe performed – probably for the the last time – with the rest of the original Jormas group on the stage of the Finlandia Hall at an international Golden Sixties concert.
In 2009 Pepe Willberg had been on Finland’s pop music scene for 45 years enjoying constant popularity. This was an excellent reason for yet another concert tour in October and November around Finland. For the holiday season the artist performed in two Christmas concerts featuring both Finnish and international songs, in cooperation with a female singer quintet known as “IrmaS” and backed by an orchestra consisting of top musicians. With his unmistakable voice and very honest interpretations “Pepe” is a true living legend, who is still going strong, supported by a great number of fans representing several generations.