Any rock fan knows the legacy Jimi Hendrix left behind and how he influenced generations of followers as one of the most influential and ground breaking guitarists of the modern era. Unfortunately, most fans never got to experience the guitar hero on a firsthand basis, due to his untimely death in 1970, at 27 years of age.
Having been embroiled in legal battles with management and record company disputes during the final two years of his life, Hendrix not only left behind an iconic catalog of officially released material, but also a deep vault of unreleased material, which has been released posthumously in a variety of formats and compilations. When the rights to the Hendrix estate finally returned to Al Hendrix (Jimi's father) in 1995, after a lengthy legal battle, it was a significant step in clarifying Hendrix's legacy as both a person and an artist as the family took control of licensing and the presentation of Hendrix's seminal work.
One of the steps in that was the Experience Hendrix tribute concert, which was originally conceived in the summer of 1995 as the headlining attraction at Seattle's annual Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival. Since that time, Experience Hendrix, LLC (the company established by Al Hendrix to oversee his son's legacy), has overseen a number of tribute concerts and events and one-night all-star concerts to honor Hendrix's memory and contributions to the rock canon. A three date west coast tour in 2004 and seven date east coast tour in 2007 laid the initial groundwork for what would eventually become a nationwide tribute known simply as the Experience Hendrix Tour, which made its first nationwide run in 2008.
After reconvening in subsequent years, the 2012 tour brings an all-star cast of musicians to Tulsa for a nearly three hour concert and tribute to Hendrix that will cover all angles of the legendary guitarist's catalog. As in past years, bassist Billy Cox, who first met and befriended Jimi when the two served in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and later joined him in both Band of Gypsys and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, will be an integral part of the touring band that pays tribute to his old musical compatriot.
The evening promises to be an explosive night of music, as it marries Hendrix's iconic catalog of songs with an equally impressive line-up of musicians and modern guitar heroes. The Tulsa stop includes Robby Krieger (of The Doors), Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robert Randolph, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Brad Whitford (of Aerosmith) and David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas (of Los Lobos) as well as drummer Chris Layton (of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble), along with more players who have been making special guest appearances.
As the tour just kicked off last week, I got a chance to speak briefly with blues guitarist Jonny Lang, who is a veteran of this all-star tribute tour. When asked how he initially got involved in the tour, Lang shared that "Basically, the curator of the Hendrix estate is in charge of inviting artists out on the tour. I got a call from him asking if I'd want to be a part of it and my answer was, 'Of course.'
"It's cool to be a part of an official Hendrix tour and I initially thought it would be a cool experience, but I probably wouldn't want to do it again," he said.
Part of that hesitation was the combination of egos that would come together with an all-star line-up of this caliber. Although it was an opportunity he'd be foolish to pass up, it also had the opportunity to become a clash of the titans.
"I was so wrong," Lang revealed. "Everyone on this tour is so cool. What I hadn't taken into account was the nature of musicians and when you get together a large group who do the same type of thing together, no one gets away with being a diva. Most of us have become really good friends and that's what keeps me coming back -- it's great fun playing music with these guys."
When addressing the set list and how the evening's concert is planned and unfolds, Lang shared that "Everyone is given their songs to play and you can make a request if you want to do something specific. The final phase is with John (McDermott, tour producer): he creates the set list and tries to make a good arc, dynamically. It takes a few shows to iron out the wrinkles, but I think we're there already."
Of course, part of the magic of the evening is in seeing how the participating artists interact and how they translate Hendrix material.
According to Lang, "As far as the individual songs go, we each take the songs we're assigned and come up with an arrangement that's appropriate, but that we're comfortable with as well." That leaves room for interpretation and improvisation as that's what Hendrix's explosive live shows were always about.
As a solo artist that joins this tour to pay tribute to someone else, however, it inevitably requires the participating musicians to approach the songs differently than they would their own. When asking how this tour alters his approach to playing Lang shared that "My mindset is just a little different. I'm used to playing in a little different place, rhythmically.
"I normally play in a little more tight, funky style and this is a little more loose, rock groove," he continued. "It can be a challenging transition if you're used to playing right on the beat to switch to playing right behind the beat. It takes a little bit to get used to, but it doesn't take long to find the groove."
At the end of the night, this tour not only pays tribute to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix, but also makes for an all-star spectacle that guitar fans in general won't want to miss as the lineup shifts throughout the evening to see multiple combinations of artists playing together.
Any chance to see Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd play together is worth checking out, but added is the pedal steel and guitar work of Robert Randolph, the cutting edge playing of Eric Johnson and the lap steel of The Slide Brothers, Darrick and Chuck Campbell, and the possibilities are awe inspiring. Hendrix's longtime bassist Billy Cox will be an integral part of the evening, but the inclusion of P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins promises to throw another wrinkle into the mix as the band rotates throughout the evening.
Ultimately, the tour has been organized to celebrate and pay tribute to Hendrix legacy as a musician and artist. As Janie Hendrix (Jimi's sister and CEO of Experience Hendrix, LLC) stated "Everyday, we see how Jimi's musical legacy continues to transcend generational and cultural boundaries. It's always been our continuing mission to do all we can to celebrate what he's given us and to keep his music in the forefront and the Experience Hendrix tour does that most directly."
The tour rolls into Tulsa next Tuesday night with an all-star cast for a show that will appeal to a wide audience, from blues and classic rock fans to modern and hard rock fans and anyone who simply loves great guitar playing. Tickets are still available for the three hour event, starting at $55 and can be purchased in advance or at the door for the 8pm concert.
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