Jimi Hendrix has influenced a generation of guitarists, both during his life and afterwards. Nearly 50 years after his death in 1970, he continues to influence armies of new players as well as challenge crafty vets who are trying to master one of his many gems.
At any given moment, it wouldn’t be unusual to overhear a beginning guitarist attempting to learn how to strum the bluesy lick from “Hey Joe.” This has been going on for many years.
So it was a great celebration when the ‘Experience Hendrix’ tour recently dropped into the Mondavi Center at U.C. Davis–its third time in the last six years.
The tour, which has taken place almost every other year for the past two decades, has always featured some of the most accomplished guitarists on the planet doing interpretations of many of the legend’s most memorable tunes.
It must be said that the last two were great, but featured performances from Zakk Wylde and Buddy Guy emphasized showmanship over sound. While both excel in those areas, it was great to experience a year where sound was the main focus. The showmanship was still exceptional but didn’t feature a 20 minute noodling solo on “Purple Haze” by Wylde as he roamed the crowd. Instead we got about three more songs articulated in that space.
It’s considered an honor to play this gig and all of these touring musicians rearrange their busy schedules to fit into part or all of this tour and the resulting groups have always included a stunning array of players. This year’s group was one of the strongest to date. They may also may have been the best sounding to date, with excellent guitar rig set-ups for all of the players by their guitar techs.
The Davis show featured an avalanche of unbelievable talent on guitar including Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Dweezil Zappa, Ana Popovic. Jonny Lang and Doyle Bramhill II. Two incredible drummers were featured: Chris Layton well-known from his days with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kenny Aronoff, who has toured with musicians ranging from John Fogerty to the Smashing Pumpkins.
Leading the whole show on stage was bassist Billy Cox, who first started gigging with Hendrix when they were in the Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The two later teamed up again in Band of Gypsies with drummer Buddy Miles. After Hendrix died, Cox went on to tour and record with artists ranging from Jackie Wilson to Charlie Daniels to Etta James.
At 79 years old, Cox can still hold his own on the stage and he played on about one-third of the tunes on this night. Cox looks great and is a treasure trove of Hendrix anecdotes and musical experiences.
Naturally, many people attend to hear what some of the all-time great guitar shredders will do with these songs and the result is often incredible. Eric Johnson did a wicked take on “Are You Experienced?” that utilized feedback, tone and incredible technique. He also parsed in some of his own distinctive style.
Dweezil Zappa sat in with both Johnson and the amazing Ana Popovic and performed with excellence in both instances. He was particularly great going toe-to-toe with Johnson on “Bold as Love.”
Doyle Bramill II came out and did it solo with a greasy version of “Hear My Train A Comin’” and the frequent Eric Clapton sideman also played a delicate and beautiful version of “Angel.” Great work from a quietly amazing guitarist who shares his Austin roots with Johnson.
The night was divided into two parts with Layton handling the drum duties incredibly well during the first part of the show and the beginning part of the second. Afterwards, Kenny Aronoff stepped in for the final part which had King’s X legend Dug Pinnick on bass and vocals and Joe Satriani coming in to close out on guitar. They exploded onto the scene with “Crosstown Traffic” and closed with extreme fireworks from Satriani on “Voodoo Chile (Slight return.)”
There could have been a third, fourth and even fifth part of this night because there are so many Hendrix songs worth taking on, but alas the show was over after three hours. The entire cast came out for a bow and lots of people left the venue buzzing about what an insanely good guitar show they had just seen.
Photos by Paul Piazza