Michael Shane Smith
I subscribed to the KCBS Newsletter and have enjoyed the news and links re the music things going on in the KC area. I saw the mention that submissions were welcome so thought I would share. — Shane Smith
I was 15 years old in the fall of 1970, a junior at Wichita East High School, when I heard that Jimi Hendrix had died in London of drug-related causes. I couldn’t say that I was a big Hendrix fan at the time though I was certainly aware of his music; everyone was. Drugs and music and protest against the war were all intertwined and very much a part of what young people were encountering then. It was only a few weeks later when we heard that Janis Joplin had died of, again, a drug OD. These were rock music performers who were important to us.
My older brother brought home a couple of albums: Disraeli Gears by Cream, and Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He played them constantly and this was my first main exposure to Hendrix. At the time, guitar-driven rock bands were the biggest attention- getters to our young ears. The guitar-driven bands were king and of course Hendrix was someone we all revered as a kind of rock idol. Hendrix actually had a show scheduled in Wichita, but it was cancelled. I never saw him live.
I’m going on about these things because I never realized how deeply Hendrix’s music was rooted in the blues. I’d always thought of him as a terrific rock music performer but I never really thought of him as a blues musician. At the time I’d say the only blues song I was aware of as such was “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King. Of course, looking back I can see that “Hey Joe” and “The Wind Cries Mary” were classic blues It never occurred to me that actually those songs were exquisitely performed blues numbers.
So over the years I became aware that Al Hendrix (Jimi’s dad) and the rest of the Hendrix family finally wrested control of the rights to Jimi’s music and image. I heard about the Experience Hendrix tour- a concert featuring guitar-based musicians performing Hendrix numbers. They had a stop at the Uptown Theater in KC and I went to see it. Man, I wasn’t disappointed. There in the lobby was Billy Cox (Hendrix’ old Band of Gypsies bass player) signing autographs. Big star lineup with Susan Tedeschi, Jonny Lang, Eric Johnson, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, among many others.
So last weekend I made the trek to Austin for a special Experience Hendrix celebration of Jimi’s 80th birthday. The concert was at the Moody Theater but was billed as an Austin City Limits (ACL) event. I am glad I went. Billy Cox, Dweezil Zappa, and Henri Brown came out and plowed into “Freedom” and “Stone Free”. Some musicians stayed for several numbers, some (mostly the headline guitarists) came on to play a few numbers, then yielded the stage to someone else. Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos came out and played on “Hey Joe” and “Killing Floor”. The gonzo guitarist from Ozzy Osborne’s band, Zakk Wilde, came out and really riled the crowd with over-the-top renditions of Manic Depression, Little Wing, and Purple Haze. Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Noah Hunt doing “I Don’t Live Today” and “Voodoo Chile” were highlights. Doyle Bramhall II and Ally Venable were terrific also but for my money Eric Johnson doing “Are You Experienced” was the best.
I was really impressed with a book by Charles Shaar Murray, “Jimi Hendrix and the Post-War Rock’ N Roll Revolution”, in which he proposed that the bulk of Hendrix’s work was blues-based and that describing him as a ‘rock’ guitarist just misses the profound influence of blues traditions in his music. I will say that “Voodoo Chile” is my favorite Hendrix number; it calls up visions of self, the unknown, the supernatural, male imagining, and fate, all wound up in a pounding drive toward death…and rejuvenation (don’t be late).
I’ll finish with my opinion of the low down best blasted out guitar blues recording of all time: Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock. The recording of his entire performance should be on everyone’s shelf.