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Easy Riding with Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd

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The Rides 3_FEAT


The Rides debut, Can’t Get Enough, was inspired by Super Session, a 1968 blues album that featured Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield on guitar.

Stills says it more strongly: “I’m making records for 180-gram vinyl. I’m not making records for the bullshit iTunes, file stealing, [Napster founder] Sean Parker end of the music business. I agree with Neil [Young] that people are being cheated.”

The guitarists performed on an array of vintage axes, mostly Fenders. Like Shepherd, Stills is a Strat man. “Kenny Ray’s muse is Stevie Ray Vaughan as much as mine is Jimi Hendrix,” he notes. “Hendrix brought me to the Stratocaster in the ’70s. It didn’t become obvious that that was the voice I could get out of it until I figured out what mics and amps to use. I still have my old Buffalo Springfield black Gibson Les Paul, but it’s so heavy that after five or six shows I have to go to the chiropractor. The Strat is lighter, and I’ve found a way to get it to make noises I like.”

“Kenny Wayne Shepherd is the nicest, most gracious and considerate musician I’ve ever met. He’s the antithesis of the sociopaths we usually run into.” —Stephen Stills

Shepherd played a trio of late-’50s and early-’60s Strats, while Stills relied on two from 1954. “I like them because I can play them,” says Stills. “I like the older, thinner frets shaved down, rather than the big, fat Gibson type frets that you dig into. You get a lot of the sound by digging in with your left hand.”

They also assembled an amazing collection of vintage amps. “All my amps are Fender tweeds, and they’re so old, they have hair growing on them,” Stills deadpans. “I’ve had roadies who wanted to cover them in varnish, but that ruins the sound. It’s great old pieces of pine. Not plywood, not fiberboard—pine. The speaker moves the whole box. I’ve got a Bassman, a Deluxe, and a Twin, and I use a combination of the three.”

Shepherd’s amplifiers included a tweed ’58 Fender Bassman, a blackface ’64 Fender Vibroverb, and several amps modded by amp guru Howard Dumble. “I brought in all the amps that Dumble has built for me,” says Shepherd. “I had a ’65 Fender Bandmaster head he converted to an Ultra Phonix, a’57 tweed Deluxe that he calls the Tweedle-Dee Deluxe, and a Bassman reissue that he basically gutted and replaced with his own handwired circuit. He calls it the Slidewinder.”

For the band’s upcoming tour, though, Stills says he plans to bring a very special non-Fender amp: “I’m breaking out an old Marshall 100-watt head. Jimi Hendrix and I both picked out about five each. I have three of them left. I think two grew feet over the years thanks to various roadies who thought, ‘He’s got so much shit, he’ll never miss them.’”

While Stills and Shepherd have built busy solo careers, neither considers the Rides a mere side project. “We’ve already begun writing for the next record,” Shepherd confides. “We all feel confident that this will continue moving forward. I hope we get into the studio at the end of this year or the beginning of next. We’ve all made it clear to one another that this is a priority and not a one-off vanity project. This is something we all want to see through to the finish.”

“I’ve had a great time working with Kenny Wayne,” adds Stills. “We’ll probably write three more songs in the rehearsals for the tour. It’s so much fun. It’s easy. It’s fast—it never takes more than three takes. It’s just bare-bones, old-school, two-inch-tape rock ’n’ roll.”

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