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Jan Akkerman was born in the 'Jordaan' area of Amsterdam as the son of a scrap iron trader. At age five he took guitar lessons and his first single was released when he was fourteen years old. He was a member of Johnny and The Cellar Rockers, The Hunters and Brainbox, and joined the Thijs van Leer Trio in late 1969. They continued under the name Focus and scored a few worldwide hits in the seventies. In 1973 Akkerman was chosen 'Best Guitarist in The World' by the readers of the UK magazine, Melody Maker. His standing was such that he teamed up with manufacturer Framus to produce one of the first 'signature' guitar models.

In 1976 Akkerman left Focus and continued his solo career, and collaborations with other musicians. In 1973 Akkerman contributed to the album of his former Brainbox companion Kaz Lux ('I'm the worst partner I know'), who in turn contributed to the Eli (1976) and Transparental (1980) albums.

A reunion with Thijs van Leer in 1985 turned out to be unsuccessful. He continued to produce several albums. At the same time he was active as a session musician with André Hazes and others. He also played alongside Vlatko Stefanovski, Alan Price, Herman Brood, Peter Banks, Charlie Byrd, Ice-T, Paco De Lucia, and B.B. King.

In 1992 he was involved in a serious car accident, but resumed playing in 1993. In the late 1990s, after an absence of nearly 20 years, he was persuaded to tour the UK again and has continued to do so on a regular basis. He writes for the Dutch magazine, GitaarPlus.