Every year Jimi Hendrix continues to sell millions of CDs as a new generation discovers his music. We’re approaching the 40th anniversary of his death, yet he’s more popular than ever.
A West Coast tour of musicians playing Hendrix material started under the auspices of Experience Hendrix a few years back; demand grew so high that now it’s a natinwide tour, with musicians jumping on and off different legs.
They include former Hendrix sidemen Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell as well as Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Eric Gales, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Hubert Sumlin, Jonny Lang, Mato Nanji of Indigenous, Double Trouble’s Chris Layton, and Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos.
A conversation with some of them, along with Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer.
Question: Why the ongoing fascination with Hendrix?
Kramer: Hendrix’s music is timeless. It’s music for the ages. It’s music that every successive generation of kids are searching for, searching for something that is real. They come upon Jimi’s music and say, “Aha!” Not only do they feel the music, but they are in awe of the guy’s technique: How did he create those sounds? This music will continue to enthrall each successive generation.
Cox: It’s the spirituality of Jimi Hendrix himself. He was in touch with something, a higher power. The kids intuitively know that.
Rosas: It’s as fresh now as it was back then. It just says he was way ahead of his time.
Question: What was Hendrix’s early sound like?
Cox: He was growing musically. He knew destiny was eventually going to smile on him if he continued the path. He didn’t do a lot of pyrotechnics, but he was very fluid onstage. People gravitated toward that. They knew he was not only a player, but that he was involved in the genre 150 percent.
Question: How about in the studio?
Cox: We had an opportunity, even Eddie Kramer himself, to see the genius of Jimi Hendrix. Not only was he a superb guitarist and master musician, he also was a master engineer. He knew what he wanted, how much volume he needed, attenuation, whatever. He had that genius in him at practically whatever he did. I spoke at (Indiana University) and my opening words were: “Every now and then a spirit slips through the portal of time into this reality and blows our minds.” That’s what Jimi Hendrix did.
Question: How is the tape vault?
Kramer: Fortunately, we’ve been able to get back pretty much everything that Jimi had ever recorded. The Beatles have been able to sort of minutely track everything they ever did. In Jimi’s case it’s not quite like that; there has been some stuff that was missing, but for the most part we’ve filled in all the gaps. We’re at the point now where we’re releasing stuff, live concert footage, that’s coming up. I can tell you now we’re working on a piece that’s something that’s been in the works for a couple of years that hopefully will come out next year. I’m very pleased about that.
Question: What do musicians want to know about Hendrix?
Kramer: When one is talking to a musician who’s totally into the Hendrix technique, there are aspects of the technique they might ask about. The last piece we put out on DVD was Woodstock, and that’s an amazing work because when you study that and watch his hands, that’s an object lesson in how to play the guitar. I get asked technical questions about how he played. I can relate the fact that he used his thumb as a barring mechanism for the whole neck of the guitar. What amps, how loud?
Question: How did he influence you?
Rosas: When I was in junior high school, in the seventh grade, when Jimi was introduced to the world, that’s when I found out about him. The music was just so different, so different than all the stuff that was going on. And then for myself, being a left-handed guitarist, there was something I could identify with. I thought, “Wow, being left-handed ain’t too bad.” Everything about Jimi was so unorthodox. Also being a black man in America playing rock ’n’ roll music. He had everything going on.