It was a cold wet winter day and I was feeling a little down. Not depressed, just not real motivated. Then I got the call from my boyfriend. He had just heard from a Facebook friend that Hellacopters guitarist Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist had died.
I couldn’t believe it. How could such a talented young man with so much ahead of him be dead? He was only 40, with plans for a new record and touring shaping this New Year. After confirming the truth of this rumor, I sat back and put on one of the two records I worked on with the band, High Visibility, and let my mind wander back to fifteen years ago first meeting Robert.
It’s pretty crazy when you’re working on a record. There are a lot of parts to manage, from the masters to the artwork. Usually there are one or two band members who one works with closely to get all the details sorted out and the record finished. Since I was working out most of these details while the band was in Sweden, I mostly communicated with their manager Patrick and drummer Robert via phone and email.
When the band arrived in town April 2002 to start their US tour promoting High Visibility, I was a little tongue-tied. I’d seen the band play once before, I think it was 1998, but had never officially met them or spent time with them prior to putting out the record. I was always one of those shy types, never feeling comfortable enough to talk to the bands I admired from a distance. They were cool for goodness sake, and I was just a geek who dug their music. I had to get over that for this tour though because I was handling all the distribution, sales and merch for the band and the tour, not to mention the production of their record. Talking to them and getting to know because I was the head of their record label was a must.
Much as myself, Strings was also shy, reserved and quiet. He hung in the background mostly talking in Swedish with his band mates. We chatted a little but I was never able to overcome my own shyness to really open up with him, and consequently, never really got to know him like I did Kenny, Robert or Nicke.
But that reserve disappeared when Strings got on stage. If I had super x ray vision, I would swear there were lightning bolts sparking off his fingertips when he played. He was focused and technically superior, but rocked with a passion and love that could color the notes flying out of his guitar with a fury and aggression that pushed the band to play harder and faster.
It strikes me as somewhat prescient that the band all have wings barely visible sprouting from their backs on the cover of High Visibility. I don’t know whose idea this was.
When they played they were in synch with a higher power, channeling passion and love and companionship through their music. Strings added a touch of American muscle to the band and on that recording, taking their sound into a more 70s classic rock approach, channeling the bands he loved like Kiss, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones into his playing and making their world his own.
I don’t know what happened to him. After the Hellacopters moved on to a new label, I had no further reason to be in touch constantly.
He was such a beautiful passionate young man in his prime, giving the world his love through his music.
My heart hangs heavy, my soul weeps for the loss of this brilliant child of the universe. I know his former band mates and the people who loved him are struggling to put their pain into context. For me, I celebrate the brief time we connected by listening to the records, sifting through the posters and sharing the few pictures I still have. I wish him Godspeed on this journey to the afterlife. Those airbrushed wings from the record cover are now real. I’m certain he is connecting with the rock and roll greats who left this earth before him, rocking the heavens with his glorious sounds.
Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist 4/16/76 – 2/3/17
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,