Bavarian liedermacher Hans Söllner is as notorious for his political rebelliousness as he is well known for his reggae-inflected folk music style. His popularity is arguably greater in Austria, where his albums regularly chart, than it is in his native Germany, where his public image is tarnished in the eyes of some due to his politics. Söllner's wide-ranging and sometimes heavy-handed political criticism, not to mention his public embrace of marijuana, made him the subject of increasingly costly fines, to such a degree that he views himself as the victim of staatlichen Repressalien (i.e., state-sponsored repression). Musically, Söllner is first and foremost a live performer -- many of his albums are in fact live recordings -- and this is a major aspect of his appeal, for he prefers to tour and perform live in-person rather than work with a major label and communicate with his audience via studio-recorded albums. In later years, he toured frequently with the Austrian reggae band Bayaman'Sissdem.
Born on December 24, 1955, in Bad Reichenhall, Bavaria, Germany, Johann Michael Söllner grew up Catholic, attended school in Marzoll, and, contrary to social norms, grew his hair long as a teenager. From 1970 to 1973, he studied to become a cook, but employment eluded him; a brief period of mandatory civil service in the military also didn't work out, and neither did an apprenticeship as an auto mechanic. Essentially unemployed on and off for years in Munich, he took to music, teaching himself to play guitar and writing his own songs. In time, he was offered a recording contract with the independent label PPM (i.e., Powerplay Music Records) and made his debut in 1982 with Nachdenkliches zum Schmunzeln (aka Endlich eine Arbeit), a full-length live album recorded in Munich. Over the next five years, the album would sell over 10,000 units via grassroots promotion, chiefly live performances.
There were also other Söllner releases on PPM. The exact dates are uncertain, in part due to their incredible scarcity, but PPM released two 7" singles with practically the same photo as the cover art. One is the two-track Mei Vadda ("Mei Vadda Hat an Marihuanabaum" b/w "Mama Ziag dei Schürz'n Aus"), which is derived from the same live recording documented on Nachdenkliches zum Schmunzeln. The other, titled Söllner Spezial, is a four-track 7" single featuring studio recordings of "Endlich eine Arbeit," "Der Rasenmäher," "Mei Vadda Hat an Marihuanabam," and "Für die Beate S." In 1986 PPM released the album Für Marianne und Ludwig, a live recording from Dorfen, Bavaria, followed in 1987 by Wos Reimt Se Scho auf Nicki..., another live recording from Dorfen. In 1988, Söllner's final year on PPM, the label released the 7" single ...Sogar der Wind Liagt and the best-of collection Endlich eine Arbeit!, which compiles the highlights of his three albums for the label, along with the two songs on the ...Sogar der Wind Liagt single.
Söllner left PPM for the well-regarded independent label Trikont, based in Munich, on which he made his debut with Hey Staat! (1989). Considered by many to be his greatest album, Hey Staat! certainly established him not only as a protest singer but as an up-and-coming talent on the alternative music scene. He followed the album with Bayerman Vibration (1990), a studio-recorded reggae album featuring a band comprised of Peter Schneider, Sebastian Thorer, and himself, and then a live album, Live mit Bayerman Vibration (1991). His next album, ...Der Charlie (1992), is, along with Hey Staat!, one of his greatest -- and certainly his most controversial to date. A live recording derived from May 1992 concerts in Ulm und Tübingen, ...Der Charlie includes a long narration of his 1986-1987 trip to Jamaica and its influence upon him, in terms of not only reggae music and marijuana use but also politics and religion. Moreover, the album cover shows him crouched in a patch of marijuana plants à la Peter Tosh's Legalize It (1976) and was pressed on green vinyl.
...Der Charlie surprisingly became a Top 30 hit on the Austrian albums chart, ushering in a new level of recognition for Söllner. He drew further attention to himself by publicly announcing in August 1993 that he was abandoning the Roman Catholic faith and converting to Rastafarianism; plus, he declared himself a vegetarian and pacificist. He did this while at the same time releasing the mini-album Fang Ma Do o Wo Ma Neilich Aufg'heat Ham (1993), recorded live in Tübingen. Söllner's next album of new material, Grea Göib Roud (1995), a subdued solo studio recording dedicated to a friend who had passed away, was his most commercially successful to date, peaking at number 26 on the Austrian albums chart and number 50 on the German albums chart. His next album, A Jeda (1997), another studio effort, proved even more successful, breaking into the Top Ten of the Austrian albums chart (at number eight) and again registering on the German albums chart (at number 67).
During the late '90s, as his albums were proving more popular with each release, Söllner was fighting criminal charges of Marihuana-Anbau (i.e., marijuana cultivation) and Beamtenbeleidigung (insulting public officials). He argued that it was his religious right as a Rastafarian to smoke marijuana, but this wasn't a winning argument; in the end, he was fined heavily and faced enormous legal expenses. Meanwhile, amid all of the publicity surrounding his trial, in 1998 Trikont reissued his first three albums (Endlich eine Arbeit, Für Marianne und Michael, and Wos Reimt Se Scho auf Nicki...), which had gone out of print following the demise of PPM.
In 2000 Söllner returned to the consumer marketplace with his first album in three years, 241255, a double album comprised of various live recordings from the past year. The album was a Top 20 hit in Austria. A year later he released Babylon (2001), another live album, this one featuring his new backing unit, the Austrian reggae band Bayaman'Sissdem. A few years later Söllner reemerged in 2004 with a series of releases. Most notable among them was a new studio album, Oiwei I, his first studio effort in seven years; like his other albums of this era, it features Bayaman'Sissdem. The album was a number 22 hit in Austria and a number 61 hit in Germany. Also in 2004 he released a book (Bloß a Gschicht) and two DVDs (Wer Bloß Lacht, Is Ned Frei!, Der Bayerische Rebell -- originally released on VHS in 1995 and 1996, respectively). A live CD/DVD documenting the Oiwei I tour, Live im Regen mit Bayaman'Sissdem, followed in 2005.
In 2007 Söllner and Bayaman'Sissdem returned with a new studio album, Viet Nam. The album charted at number 12 in Austria and number 90 in Germany. A long tour followed the album's release, extending far into summer 2008; some shows featured Söllner with Bayaman'Sissdem, other dates were solo performances. ~ Jason Birchmeier