Of course, although 40-year-old equipment is authentic, it also comes with its challenges. “It helps out if you have a friend that can assist you when they aren't that cooperative anymore,” Stefan puts it. “My Vibra Chorus has broken down maybe four times now. And you simply can't hand them over to your local repairman at the music store. They have to have the deepest respect for vintage gear and know exactly how they are supposed to sound, otherwise they will ruin them for you.
“Actually I’ve got two friends that are complete experts on vintage guitar equipment, David Morin and Håkan Persson. They have helped me a lot and I can say that without their support I could never get the sound that I have now. Also I am fortunate enough to have a local music store where there is a guy working as a repairman that happens to be an electronic wizard, Rune Ågevall. He has been around since they sold Fuzz Fazes and Vibra Choruses, so I have gotten tremendous help from him too. But of course I've spent tons of hours testing pedals and fiddling about with my gear, trying to improve my sound.”
Stefan’s quest for Hendrix authenticity extends to the playing itself, but he is not a Jimi-mimic who recreates recorded performances note for note. Instead, he seeks to inhabit the spirit of improvisational adventure that makes Hendrix so compelling.
“When I started playing the electric guitar in 1985, most of my friends were into the heavy metal music scene like Yngwie Malmsteen and that type of playing-technique,” he says. “But I felt there was not much feeling in those songs. I was into Albert King, Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan and other, similar blues artists. So when I got my first band together around 1987, we did a lot of blues standards and some original material. And this was the first time I could play Hendrix songs with drums and bass, so I realized just how much fun it was doing songs like “All along the Watchtower,” “Hey Joe” and so on.
“During the years that followed I got into more and more advanced songs, like ‘Izabella,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘Are You Experienced?’ and ‘Machine Gun.’ So I had to find musicians who could keep up with those songs. And from there it just keeps on rolling, and I love it!!
“I know there are people who think it's even sort of a sacrilege to play too much like Hendrix. Just a few days ago I got a really angry comment on one of my videos on You Tube: ‘some douchebag acting like he's the greatest guitarist ever…’ I think Hendrix gets very personal for people who love him, so they might easily get angry and write harsh comments. But most of the comments and emails I get (hundreds and hundreds) are questions about the equipment, and appreciations for what I do.
“The reason I play Hendrix with a ‘Hendrix-sound’ is very simple, because it really is the best sound there is for that type of music! Jimi knew what he wanted and got it together perfectly.
“People generally seem to understand and appreciate what I'm doing, telling me sometimes that I have a certain touch and that they feel I'm one of few who really dare improvise so freely. I don't rearrange the songs that much, but my thing is improvising! Much like Jimi did live. ‘Machine Gun,’ which probably is my favorite Hendrix composition to play, is a real challenge because it's so naked. Just one chord, some very free floating lyrics intermingled with loads of crying blues and emotional sounds.
Of course, there are many Hendrix-tribute bands playing all the hits, but not that many try handling songs like ‘Machine Gun’ or ‘1983 (a merman I should turn to be).’
Those songs can easily fall apart any time, and that's something you don't want happening when performing live.
“I like that nerve when playing Hendrix compositions. If you listen to many of the copycats out there, you can hear how they play note for note, and sure, with ‘Hey Joe’ it works fine but try it with ‘Machine gun’! That would just be pointless. I really feel free when playing Jimi Hendrix. Free and happy.”
Stefan confirms that Ducks can Groove will tour in the US this fall, but the itinerary isn't set yet. And there is also a European tour in the works.
Ducks Can Groove website
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The "electric sky church" newsletter
A website with tons of info on Jimi Hendrix tribute recordings, and links to other tribute bands