'Experience Hendrix' tour celebrates guitar great's music
By Michael Machosky
Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

The debate over Jimi Hendrix, at this point, pretty much boils down to “Best rock guitarist ever?” or “Most important rock guitarist ever?” Yeah, not very interesting.

You could make a case for Jimmy Page, or Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa or ... nah. It's still Hendrix.

There are probably a fair number of guitarists whose technical ability surpassed the late Hendrix, but nobody “changed the game” quite like he did. That his fearless musical imagination still inspires, still surprises, is really no surprise at all.

“For me, I learned a lot from him about not observing boundaries,” blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd says. “Allowing myself to be creative and push the limits of myself creatively, and not be kept in a box. Watching him perform, visually, he was as entertaining as he was musically. He had a big influence on me as an artist. He's constantly voted as the most influential guitarist of all time. It's pretty impressive what he was able to accomplish and the impact he's had.”

Of course, at age 36, Shepherd never actually got to see Hendrix, who died in 1970, perform. However, Shepherd didn't let that stop him from absorbing the Hendrix mythos as much as possible.

Shepherd is part of the “Experience Hendrix” tour, coming to town March 20. They come from all over the musical map: from blues guitarists like Shepherd, Buddy Guy and Ana Popovic, to funk legend Bootsy Collins, to metal guitarist Zakk Wylde, to the Tex-Mex roots-rock of David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos.

“I knew Jimi's dad (James “Al” Hendrix), before he passed away, and his sister,” Shepherd says. “I've been a part (of ‘Experience Hendrix') since it began (in 1995). It was originally one show, once a year, at a kind of small venue in Seattle. It grew from a smallish venue to a big theater in Seattle. One year, they decided three shows in a row, in different cities. Next thing you know, it's a full-fledged tour.”

It's possible that they could keep adding musicians, but that would either leave them with only a few minutes each to do their thing — or seven-hour concerts.

“Everybody does three to five songs,” Shepherd says. “I generally do a song called ‘I Don't Live Today' and ‘Come On' — originally an Earl King song — that Hendrix covered. I also do a medley of ‘Voodoo Child (Blues)' and ‘Voodoo Chile Blues' and ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)'.”

Somehow, all these personalities seem to get along just fine, despite that fact that few of them are used to sharing the spotlight with anybody. They all love Hendrix, though.

“There's not egos, no competition,” Shepherd says. “It's very friendly. Nobody's trying to one-up each other.”

Hendrix's influence doesn't seem like it's going be waning any time soon. In fact, it's possible interest in all things Hendrix may increase — a long-awaited biopic about his early pre-fame days, “Jimi: All Is By My Side,” just debuted at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. It focuses on the year that Hendrix spent in England before taking America by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. It stars Andre Benjamin, best known as rapper Andre 3000 of Outkast, who's already a legend in hip-hop (and can play the guitar).

The U.S. Postal Service is honoring Hendrix with a commemorative Forever stamp, created by artist Rudy Gutierrez. The image, which resembles a vintage 45-rpm record sleeve, references the butterflies from Hendrix's song “Little Wing,” has a third-eye symbol to represent his spiritual side and a petroglyph to symbolize his Native American heritage. Hendrix is depicted wearing one of his signature military jackets and playing one of his white Fender Stratocaster guitars. It also debuted at the South By Southwest festival.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

‘Experience Hendrix'

When: 7:30 p.m. March 20

Admission: $62.50-$77.50

Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.

Details: 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org

The players

Billy Cox Bassist who Hendrix met when they were in the Army together. They formed a band called the King Kasuals in Nashville and traveled the country playing on the “Chitlin' Circuit,” an informal network of clubs in black neighborhoods. He turned down Hendrix's offer to go to England, but ended up playing at Woodstock, with Hendrix's Band of Gypsys. Later, he played with the Charlie Daniels Band, and with Mitch Mitchell in the Gypsy Sun Experience.

Jonny Lang Blues guitar prodigy from Fargo, North Dakota, whose first multiplatinum album (quite a rarity for anything blues-related), “Lie to Me,” dropped in 1997. He won a Grammy in 2006 for “Turn Around.”

Kenny Wayne Shepherd One of the most successful young blues players in recent memory, his debut album “Ledbetter Heights” (1996) sold an unheard-of 500,000-plus copies. He combines blues-rock, acoustic blues, Louisiana and Texas blues styles.

Buddy Guy Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Grammy winner, Chicago electric blues guitar innovator, legend. His flashy, modern guitar style has been cited as an influence or favorite by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix.

Eric Gales Memphis-born blues guitarist, heir to a family tradition that goes back to Gales' grandfather, who jammed with Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Ana Popovic Blues singer and guitarist who grew up listening to her father's blues and soul records in the former Yugoslavia. A regular on the Billboard Blues charts, she combines electric funk, jazz and slide guitar with electric blues.

Zakk Wylde Started as Ozzy Osbourne's lead guitarist at 19 years old and stayed with him for 20 years. Now helms the hard-touring metal outfit Black Label Society.

Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo The core of East L.A.'s Los Lobos, who began as an acoustic Mexican music group but turned electric in the early ‘80s, absorbing R&B, blues, rockabilly and punk rock.

Dweezil Zappa Frank Zappa's son, who carries the torch for his father's deep, strange and hard-to-duplicate legacy on the electric guitar.

Bootsy Collins Flamboyant bassist did more than anyone — except his former bandleader James Brown — to shape the sound of funk. He has worked with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Bootsy's Rubber Band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Herbie Hancock, Fatboy Slim, Cyndi Lauper, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg.

Eric Johnson Platinum-selling guitar instrumentalist, whose “Cliffs of Dover” hit the Top 10 (without any singing).

Chris Layton Drummer for Texas blues legends Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.

Doyle Bramhall Grew up playing with Texas electric blues band the Fabulous Thunderbirds, starting at age 16. He started the rock band Arc Angels and played with Clapton, Roger Waters and B.B. King.

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