Jimi Hendrix is the ultimate guitar hero.
His first album, 1967’s seminal Are You Experienced?, introduced his blues-based, distorted, psychedelic guitar playing to the world, bringing new sounds and styles into the guitar vocabulary that are still being studied and emulated today. On his second album, 1968’s awe-inspiring and somewhat underappreciated Axis: Bold As Love, Hendrix mostly turned down the distortion to reveal ultra-creative guitar playing and songwriting.
His final album with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968’s double-album tour de force Electric Ladyland, pushed electric guitar to the outer limits on multiple fronts. All three albums continue to be essential listening for aspiring guitarists.
After The Jimi Hendrix Experience broke up, Hendrix joined bassist Billy Cox, with whom he had played in the Army in the early 1960s. Cox was on board for Hendrix’s legendary Woodstock performance and the stellar live album Band of Gypsys, the last album that Hendrix officially authorized before his untimely death in 1970.
Cox is the last surviving member of Hendrix’s core bands, and he provided stirring bass for many of the songs during Thursday night’s Experience Hendrix concert at the Arlington Theatre, which reverently paid tribute to Hendrix.
Six-string wizardry was in full force all night long, courtesy of an all-star lineup of guitarists spanning several generations.
The first part of the show covered much Hendrix-inspired territory, including the smoking opening set with Cox and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton joined on guitar by Ernie Isley from the Isley Brothers — which had Hendrix as a touring guitarist before he made it big — and Living Colour with a more modern heavy-metal style.
Eric Johnson’s set included an awesome version of “Are You Experienced?” that nicely simulated the backwards guitar effects from Hendrix’s studio cut. Next up was a high-energy set by Jonny Lang joined by Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, which began with a smokin’ version of “Fire,” followed by a soulful take on “The Wind Cries Mary” and ending with “Spanish Castle Magic” with extended guitar soloing.
Then came Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who displayed the best Hendrix-inspired guitar of the evening to my ears. Joined by singer Noah Hunt, Shepherd ripped through “I Don’t Live Today” and “Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)” before the slow blues of “Voodoo Chile,” which segued into concert highlight “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” In addition to playing smokin’ guitar, Shepherd is quite a showman, including playing guitar behind his head a la Hendrix.
In the next set, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos played tastefully, including a nice take on the beautiful “Little Wing,” but they had the unenviable task of following Shepherd, who had whetted the audience’s appetite for more guitar heroics. One very cool touch — they were joined by 78-year-old Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who offered up “Killing Floor,” a song Hendrix memorably covered at the Monterey Pop Festival.
This was followed by the pairing of Living Colour and Joe Satriani for a set that included “Third Stone From the Sun,” “Foxey Lady” and “All Along the Watchtower.” All featured impressive shredding by Satriani, which debatably veered too far from Hendrix’s signature style, but raises a possibility of a different direction Hendrix might have explored had he not passed away so young.
The show ended with Hendrix’s first single, “Hey Joe,” nearly four hours after it started.
Although he has been gone for nearly 40 years, the spirit and influence of Hendrix clearly lives on.
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.