The “Experience Hendrix” concert concept began after the Hendrix family gained full control of Jimi’s legacy. His father James “Al” Hendrix began “Experience Hendrix L.L.C.” to keep his son’s memory alive. In September 1995 the “Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Festival” took place in Seattle, Washington, as a one-time event. By 2008 the concept of having a dozen legendary guitarists share the stage in a concert playing Jimi Hendrix songs or songs made famous by him evolved into a National tour. The two key members from the beginning were Hendrix band mates, bassist, Billy Cox and drummer, Mitch Mitchell, who unfortunately died while on Tour in Portland, Oregon that same year. Today Cox is the sole living member from all of Hendrix’s different major band configurations and anchors the rhythm section.
The tour began in Portland, Oregon on Friday, February 17, 2017 with a sold out show that began promptly at 8:00 P.M. as Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s sister, welcomed the crowd to the “Electric Church.” Billy Cox took the stage along with drummer Chris Layton and Dweezil Zappa on guitar as they dove into the first song, “Freedom,” with Billy Singing lead. Zappa played with a precision and finesse worthy of his pedigree, his father Frank would be proud, even if he was a “Mother” (“of Invention”). Mato Nanji joined Zappa for “Stone Free,” and then Zappa was replaced by Chuck Campbell of the “Slide Brothers” who played some amazing seated slide guitar as Henry Brown belted out “Foxy Lady,” on vocals. Bassist Scott Nelson replaced Billy Cox as Mato Nanji shredded his guitar on “Here My Train a Comin’.”
Each song or two had a different band configuration, always backed by the rhythm section of Layton & Nelson, after Cox left the stage. Noah Hunt and Dweezil Zappa took the stage for “Ezy Ryder” as Hunt sang, “There goes ezy, ezy ryder, riding down the highway of desire,” while Nanji and Zappa paired up on sonically soaring guitars as they attacked their six strings and played against each other. Keb Mo took the stage with his electric guitar screaming as the band dove into “Killing Floor” and segued into “Catfish Blues.” “The Sky Is Crying” featured Zak Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and Robby Krieger lead guitarist for the Doors playing some of the best psychedelic blues that this century has witnessed. Then they dove into “Manic Depression” and played off each other as their guitars screamed sonic vibrations into the stratosphere. Kreiger left the stage to Wylde, Layton and Nelson as they became a power trio belting out “Little Wing” as Wylde left the stage and began playing up and down the aisles of the theater as the crowd went wild. Wylde introduced “Purple Haze” by musing about how when the band first heard the song their reaction was “wow that’s good, maybe we should record it?” His frenetic rendition affected the audience as much as the one that Hendrix debuted “Purple Haze” to, at the Monterey Pop Festival, fifty years ago. When the band concluded the song they announced a 15 minute intermission as the house lights came on.
The second half of the show began with the rhythm section of Layton and Nelson laying down the beat with Nanji and Wylde on soaring electric guitars and Jonny Lang playing acoustic and singing in his raspy voice, “All Along the Watchtower.” Lang exchanged his acoustic for an electric guitar and dove into “Fire” as he sang “let me stand next to your fire” and frantically shredded his guitar. Nanji and Wylde joined Lang as the guitar trio explored the limits of “The Wind Cries Mary” as their hyper-driven screaming guitars took the audience to the next level. Wylde left the stage as the band began an extended version of “Spanish Castle Magic” with Lang and Nanji playing in tandem as they jammed together. Once again the lineup changed as Noah Hunt and Kenny Wayne Shepherd took the stage and dove into “Gypsy Eyes.” Kenny Wayne Shepherd was mentored by Stevie Ray Vaughan as a child and reflected his guitar style which was a directly inspired by Hendrix. Shepherd, Hunt, Nelson and Layton became a tight quartet as they jammed together on “I Don’t Live Today,” “Come On” and finally “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Kenny Wayne channeled and embodied the spirit of Hendrix with his guitar playing as he played his guitar behind his back and over his head without ever missing a note.
The band configuration changed for the last time, as Billy Cox returned, with Buddy Guy, who initially inspired Hendrix with his style, along with his drummer, Tim Austin and Mato Nanji. Octogenarian Buddy Guy sang and played “Who Knows” with an expression of joy, as he demonstrated his guitar prowess with soaring licks. “Louisiana Blues” led into “Hey Joe,” which brought Keb Mo and Henri Brown back to the stage as they jammed and sang while the audience experienced musical ecstasy. “Them Changes” featured Brown on vocals replacing the late Buddy Miles. The band stopped and without leaving the stage began “Red House,” the final encore song, which Billy Cox said was one of Jimi’s favorites. Then Buddy Guy, Keb Mo and Mato Nanji jammed on until they brought down the house, and drove entire venue to its feet. When the song ended the lights came on and the entire lineup came out on stage to take a bow and say goodnight, as Janie thanked the “Electric Church” congregation for its faithful attendance.
Review by Bob Gersztyn
All Photography Copyright Bob Gersztyn