Several months back I heard that there was a Jimi Hendrix tribute headed my way. So the boy and I got tickets for that. Then by, I guess coincidence (or not), I read in the Boston Globe that there was a Jimi documentary headed to a local movie theater which happened to be showing the very night before the concert. So my good friend, fellow guitarist and music junkie Bill took that one in with me. So enjoy the Hendrix-o-Rama fest.
The Atlanta International Pop Festival of 1970 was the second (and last) Pop Festival in the state of Georgia. Held in a field outside rural Byron, (93 mi/150km south of Atlanta), bands ranging from Ten Years After to Johnny Winter to B.B. King to local favorites the up-and-coming Allman Brothers Band played. (The Allmans used to play free in Piedmont Park relentlessly but no mention of that fact.)
In all, some 35 artists were featured over a sweltering July 4th weekend for the princely sum of 14 dollars American. (About $100 in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation. If we adjust for greed and rapaciousness, it would actually now be many times that.)
The documentary Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church can be effectively broken down into three parts: the build-up to the show; a good chunk of Jimi’s performance; aftermath. I found the build-up part (with interviews) to be mildly interesting and amusing. Had I not already seen Woodstock about one thousand times, I might have been more amazed by the story of how this tiny (current pop. 4500) town got run over by all the hippies. (This show was held just about two months before Hendrix’ death at the age of 27.)
It was, however, interesting to see more or less the same story from a rural Southern perspective. I especially liked the “Andy of Mayberry” sheriff and his one-cell jail. (Wholly inadequate to house even 1% of the estimated 150,000 to 600,000 who attended should the need arise.)
According to the flick, the promoter really wanted Hendrix, feeling that he was the guy who would draw the biggest crowd. all the while advising the local populace to “Trust me. You won’t be affected in the least.” I guess no one in town had ever heard of Woodstock which had occurred just about one year prior and – apart from the love and peace and all of that – royally fucked the roads in the area for a few days.
As it happens, there was a documentary film crew in town who said to the promoter, Alex Cooley, Hey this is going to be historic. Why don’t we film it? And so Cooley said sure, why not? And for one reason or another, that film languished in somebody’s basement or somewhere for years.
But some of the footage has been out there for a while. It’s remastered or whatever they do with film and it’s quite good. Hendrix (with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell) came on around midnight so his entire set consists largely of footage of him with few crowd or even band shots.
It’s always great to watch Hendrix play. Minus a little playing-with-his-teeth action, this is pretty much a straight-up no bullshit performance. And as a guitarist who spends more than a little time trying to play Jimi’s stuff, it’s always educational to see how and where he plays on the neck. (Fun fact – when he played “Hey Joe,” I distinctly heard him play the opening lick to the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” somewhere in there.)
Here’s “Voodoo Child:”
Janie Hendrix is Jimi’s father Al’s adopted daughter. I guess she won the lottery as on his death, his will left control of the company Experience Hendrix – which controls the rights to Hendrix’s estate- to her.
The show is simplicity itself. (Three hours with intermission.) A bunch of musicians do brief tours to celebrate Jimi’s legacy and just jam out. If you go to the Experience Hendrix tour website, you will find that these tours are not a new thing and go several years back. This one was only two months in duration. I’m assuming that’s because they’re all taking leave from whatever other bands they’re in. The show was three hours with intermission.
I will tell you not only that this was a fantastic show (with an incredible ending) but that in one night for about 90 bucks I saw more guitarists in one place than I’d ever seen before. (Alas, in yet another blatant example of the unfairness of the universe, I never made it to a Clapton Crossroads festival.)
The players: Billy Cox (yes!) on bass; wonderboy guitarist Joe Satriani; Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, bluesman Jonny Lang; Dweezil fucking Zappa (only one I’ve previously seen); legend from way back Eric Johnson; bassist Dug Pinnick from King’s X; SRV drummer Chris Layton; Indigenous guitarist Mato Nanji; session drummer Kenny Aronoff; bassist/producer Kevin McCormick; The Slide Brothers (dual pedal steel guitars); singer Henri Brown (first cousin to Jimi.) And to top it all off, Massachusetts’ own Henry Saint Clair Fredericks better known as Taj Mahal. And MC and occasional backup singer, none other than Janie Hendrix.**
The show was never less than outstanding if occasionally a bit show-bizzy. Henri Brown is a fine singer but he has more of a soul than rock voice. And I could have lived without having him point to the audience so we could all shout “Foxey Lady” at the appropriate time. Good stuff but really not the Hendrix Experience.
Players would take turns coming out, largely backed by the estimable talents of Layton/Cox or Layton/McCormick. Zappa and Eric Johnson – both outstanding guitarists – played together frequently as did Lang and Nanji. I don’t recall who played what when (nor did I record any of the first part of the show) but it was all good, especially the back and forth cutting contests between Lang and Naji. (If you haven’t checked out Indigenous, you should. And while you’re at it, check out the Eric Johnson tune “Cliffs of Dover.”)
I found it interesting to note the similarities and differences from the real Hendrix experience. The real one – as I was so clearly reminded the previous night- was a ferocious power trio. As good as everybody was on stage, sometimes I felt like there were just too many instruments out at once. Frankly, I could have lived without the Slide Brothers.
But on the other hand, it was fun to see the odd matchings of these guys from different genres, brought together solely by their love of Hendrix’ music. So you had metalhead Mustaine doing a decent job of mixing it up with prog guys like Dweezil and Johnson, blues guys like Lang, etc. Fun as hell, sounded great, but still not quite the full-on Hendrix experience I was looking for. (The three middle-aged guys in front of us were having a hell of a time, bouncing around, vaping*, and high-fiving each other on Dad’s Night Out.)
After about a 15-minute intermission and one cold brew later, Taj Mahal came on. I dug his act but found it weirdly misplaced. He dove straight into the blues. Now Hendrix was – first and foremost – a bluesman. But nobody came to hear straight blues per se (except “Red House,” which Mato killed), so I felt the momentum somewhat slipping away during his three-song set. A shame and I might want to catch Taj in some other setting one night.
But here’s where this shit gets real. I turned to Sonny Boy and said, “I guess Satriani isn’t on the bill tonight.” I’d read that people may come and go from the tour. (The guys from Los Lobos were billed as a possibility and that would not have sucked but, alas.)
But I say it got real because after some more back and forth, out came – for the last 45 minutes or so of the show – guitarist Joe Satriani, bassist/singer Dug Pinnick and drummer Kenny Aronoff. (Aronoff was featured in a documentary I went to see a couple of years ago called Hired Gun.)
And from that point on, the audience, 2800 strong, was treated to the most thunderous shit most of us have ever heard in our lives. I once went to the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. (Long story.) The sound of the race cars taking off was unbelievable. These guys sounded like that. This, my friends – this ferocious power trio – was the Hendrix Experience we’d been waiting for. And they did not disappoint.
As good a drummer as Layton was and is, he did not have the thunderous power and virtuosity of Kenny Aronoff. And I don’t know how long these guys have known each other and played together (average age, 65) but boy they were the tightest, most on-point thing I’ve seen in quite some time. And I have seen them come and I have seen them go and I have been around the block a few times. (Your cliche here.)
Proof? No, not of my decrepitude but of their virtuosity. Well, I finally got off my lazy ass and recorded a tune. Check out one of my favorites, “If 6 Was 9:”
Still not convinced? Well, you’ll be happy to know somebody recorded their entire set from Florida about a month ago. You’re welcome.
My son’s verdict on these guys? “Rippin’.” What more do you need to know? You heard it. I know if they had launched into, say, “Sunshine of Your Love” during one of those tunes not one person would have minded. Hell, I would probably have died right then and there and be writing this piece from heaven (I think) where I, of course, would be smiling down on all of you.
Bad news – today (April 6) is the last day of the tour. Good news – as of this writing, there appear to still be some seats left for the show in Wallingford, CT. If you’re in the area, by all means, go. And tell them the Music Enthusiast sent you. They won’t have the faintest idea what that means but it’ll be good for a laugh.
Lastly, nobody did “Little Wing.” Go figure.
*Pot is now legal in Massachusetts. Not to smoke publicly but well, nobody seems to pay much attention.
**Apart from Janie, a little too much testosterone here, guys. Ana Popovic was potentially on the bill and would have made a more-than-worthy addition.