Jack Greenberg signed the up-and-coming Swedish pop group ABBA to its first U.S. recording contract in 1974. It was hard to envision then what was to become a global phenomenon, spawning a Broadway show and several hit movies. When Greenberg first saw Abbacadabra, an ABBA tribute band, he said it was a revelation. “I know ABBA inside and out and when I first saw Abbacadabra perform, I couldn’t believe it. It was like watching the real deal.”
Greenberg put his money where his mouth is and now manages the tribute band, which came to life in 2004. Gary Raffanelli, a musician, entrepreneur, Benny Andersson look-alike and ABBA fan, saw the group in 1979 and decided to put together a tribute band. He called on his friend Sandy Selby, who has a four-octave range, to help dissect the vocal parts. Every musical note would have to be transcribed and replayed into the computer. All of the parts were assembled and compared to the original ABBA tracks for accuracy.
Raffanelli brought together a team of highly trained vocalists and internationally-known keyboardists, percussionists and bassists to recreate the sounds and sights of an ABBA show. The group’s first show was at the El Dorado Resort and Casino in Reno, but they were soon playing to sold out crowds around the country and on cruise lines such as Princess and Royal Caribbean. Fittingly, in 2007, they began performing in Europe, where ABBA first came to fame.
In addition to Raffanelli, the performers included Susan Campbell as Agnetha, Lesley Green as Frida and Rich Hamelin as Bjorn. Campbell, a Canadian, studied music at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. She started her singing career with the band Cool Change, led by Canadian Music Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Tommy Horrocks for seven years. As Agnetha, she has performed around the world and Gary Puckett of the Union Gap said that she had “one of the best voices in the business.”
Lesley Green has been performing since she was a child. The singer, songwriter, actor and dancer calls music her first love, and with more than a three-octave range, she has performed in musical theater with credits including Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Rich Hamelin is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, specializing in vocals, guitar, keys and bass. Also a Canadian, he studied string bass and composition at Canada’s prestigious Humber College. He specialized as Bjorn in ABBA tribute groups before joining Abbacadabra.
The group covers 20 of ABBA’s mega-hits, including “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes It All,” and “Take a Chance on Me.” They are known for their attention to detail, from the sound to the clothing. Listening to them is like taking a step back in time, when everyone was dancing.
Tony Orlando once told Gary Raffanelli that “When you’re dreaming about your life and future, shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll still be up there among the stars.” Raffanelli took a chance and it has paid off big time, for his band, and most especially, for his audiences. You can take a chance on them, too.