It was a scene Leo Fender would have gushed over. A collection of more than a dozen world-class musicians – all of whom brought out their Fender Stratocasters – to pay homage to arguably one of the most influential guitarists of modern music, the late Jimi Hendrix.
The 2014 edition of the Experience Hendrix tour made its debut at the F.M. Kirby Center last Sunday to a near-capacity crowd who were high with anticipation to see the wish-list lineup, which included Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, and Billy Cox, who is the last surviving member of both the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys.
Janie Hendrix, sister of the late guitarist, took the stage to welcome everyone and introduce the first act of the night – a band comprised of Cox, Dani Robinson, Stan Skibby, and drummer Chris Layton (from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble). Appropriately, the group started its set with a fiery “Stone Free,” which featured some solid vocals from Cox.
Zappa emerged next for a splendid take on “Freedom” and brought out a white Stratocaster similar to the one Hendrix himself used (Zappa’s late father, Frank, acquired one of Hendrix’s white Stratocasters many years ago, which may have been what the younger Zappa brought to the Kirby). Ana Popovic, a younger, more unrecognized name, brought some sultriness to the evening along with some fine guitar work, like her take on “House Burning Down.”
One of the more innovative musicians of the night, the always-technical Eric Johnson took over for a nice portion of the first set, including a spirited take on “Ezy Rider” which featured Zappa, a bluesy run through “May This Be Love” with Eric Gales, and a crisp version of “Are You Experienced,” which featured Doyle Bramhall II (from Eric Clapton’s band) on keys. To end the first set, Gales reemerged to duet with Johnson on one of Hendrix’s biggest hits, the driving “Foxy Lady.”
Bramhall kicked off the second set with an acoustic exploration of “Hear My Train A Comin’,” followed by a spot-on rendition of the tender “Angel.” One of the younger – but respected – members of the ensemble, Jonny Lang, came out with an acoustic guitar for a stirring rendition of Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which showcased some solid lead playing courtesy of Mato Nanji and the night’s surprise guest – Brad Whitford of Aerosmith. Switching over to the electric, Lang showed some amazing guitar work when he and Whitford turned the softer “The Wind Cries Mary” into a deeply improvisational blues journey.
Keeping with the younger guitarist pattern, Kenny Wayne Shepherd put in what many might consider the best performance of the night, starting with a funky rendition of “Gypsy Eyes.” After a speedy take on “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll),” Shepherd garnered a standing ovation with a perfect segue of the slow and bluesy “Voodoo Chile” into one of the most familiar riffs in rock history – the ferocious “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” For the latter, Shepherd utilized some flashy stage presence, including flawlessly playing lead riffs with his Stratocaster behind his head.
Arguably the biggest name on the roster, Chicago’s living legend, Buddy Guy, was introduced to thunderous applause and greeted the crowd with a non-Hendrix song, a Muddy Waters cut called “Louisiana Blues” that Guy said Hendrix told him was the basis for “Voodoo Child.” While Guy played lead, Nanji took over vocal duties for a stoic “Hey Joe” before vocalist Henri Brown came out for the set-ending “Them Changes.” For the encore, Whitford, Guy, Cox, and Layton delivered an absolutely breathtaking rendition of “Red House,” which Cox said was one of Hendrix’s favorite songs to perform.
The music of Hendrix has persevered more than 40 years after his death and has continued to influence countless musicians in the last four decades; the Experience Hendrix tour is just one example of the impact of his innovative prowess. If anything, the tour shows that many of the musicians people look up to today were influenced by one name when they were making their own mark in music – Jimi Hendrix.