Lasse Wellander, the soft-spoken musician who played guitar on many of ABBA’s most well-known tracks, toured with the Swedish supergroup for years, and helped create the Mamma Mia! soundtrack, died Friday, according to his family.
“It is with indescribable sadness that we have to announce that our beloved Lasse has fallen asleep,” a Sunday statement posted to the Swede’s Facebook page read. “Lasse recently fell ill in what turned out to be disseminated cancer and early on Good Friday he passed away, surrounded by his loved ones.”
Calling him an “amazing” and “humble” musician, the post also memorialized Wellander as a “wonderful husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather,” concluding that he had been a “hub in our lives, and it’s unbelievable that we now have to live on without you.”
In October 1974, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were hunting for session musicians when they heard a rock-blues group called Nature playing in a Stockholm club. They tagged along to a rehearsal, and asked Wellander, the band’s guitarist, if he would be interested in recording with ABBA. “If I remember rightly it was ‘Intermezzo No. 1,’ ‘Tiger,’ and two or three other numbers,” he told the magazine Guitarist last year.
ABBA, which had formed two years prior, boasted a lineup consisting of two married couples—Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog. The prospect of any marital strife among his new bandmates wasn’t enough to dissuade Wellander, however. ABBA was already a household name, having pumped out two studio albums and won that year’s Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo.” He sensed that the pop group was going to “be big, quite early on,” he explained. “Strong songs all the way. Even the simple pop numbers were very high quality.”
He promptly signed up to be the group’s lead guitarist, and “played on everything from ’75 onwards,” he said.
Wellander joined ABBA as the group toured Europe, Australia, and Japan over the next half-decade. He would be credited on every album the group put out between 1975 and 1981, ending with The Visitors. By then, both couples had divorced, and the atmosphere in the recording studio was, “by natural reasons, a bit different than before,” Wellander recalled to the Sunday Express in 2021.
He got the feeling that “maybe it was all coming to an end,” he said, and wasn’t surprised when he got the call that the group was taking a break. By 1982, ABBA was done, seemingly for good.
Wellander continued working as a “freelancer,” as he put it, collaborating with other Swedish musicians. A prolific session guitarist, he played on 6,331 titles and 1,698 albums over the course of his career, according to data collected up to March 2020 by the Swedish Artists’ and Musicians’ Interest Organization. In 2018, Wellander was honored with the Swedish Musicians Union’s Studioräven Award for his session work.
He also found time to rack up seven solo albums to his own name. Two of those albums cracked the Top 40 charts in the 1980s, according to a biography on ABBA’s website.
He continued working with his former bandmates, playing on several of Fältskog’s solo albums and contributing to Chess, the musical about a Cold War-era chess tournament penned by Andersson and Ulvaeus. After a 1984 concept album and concert tour, Chess was staged on London’s West End and later made the leap to Broadway.
Wellander was also tapped to contribute to the soundtracks of both ABBA jukebox musicals, 2008’s Mamma Mia! and its 2018 sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
In 2017, Wellander was driving in his car when he got a call from Andersson, who asked him if he could come to the recording studio, saying he was thinking about making “‘one or two songs with the old band,’” he told the Express.
“At first I didn’t realize what he meant,” he continued. “Then I realized he meant ABBA!”
With Andersson, Ulvaeus, Fältskog, and Lyngstad reforming for the first time in nearly 40 years to make 2021’s Voyage, Wellander would go on to play guitar on eight of the album’s 10 tracks. “Everyone was so happy and excited,” he said of the recording process. “It really sounded like ABBA.”
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