Story and Photos by Scott Smith
Jimi Hendrix really was the greatest rock guitarist of all, and 41 years after the singer-guitarist’s death, Hendrix’s six-string work remains utterly peerless.
Proof of Hendrix’s innovative guitar playing was on full-volume display March 20 at the historic Brady Theater in Tulsa, Okla., where the all-star Experience Hendrix Tour paid loving tribute to one of the most iconic figures in rock music. The eternally smiling Billy Cox, the bassist who played alongside Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969 and in the Band of Gypsys and a latter-day incarnation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was joined by The Doors’ Robby Krieger, Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford, Eric Johnson, Robert Randolph, Bootsy Collins, Jonny Lang, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Los Lobos members Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Gales, drummer Chris Layton and Indigenous guitarist Mato Nanji for a three-hour-plus gig.
The show’s energy never dipped, despite the shifting lineup of musicians. Cox kicked off the evening with a rowdy take of “Stone Free,” handling bass and lead-vocal duties with great emcee charm, while Zappa stepped in and gave some hard-edged chops to “Manic Depression” and “Freedom.”
Whitford and Lang locked guitars for the rapid-moving “Fire,” with Lang contorting his face with every bent guitar note and Whitford’s laid-back persona taking flight. Shepherd’s quartet captured much of the volcanic emotion of “Voodoo Chile,” with bassist Tony Franklin (The Firm) giving slinky bass lines courtesy of his black, fretless Fender bass.
Randolph grinned and playfully attacked his pedal-steel guitar, while Gales unleashed his inner-Hendrix fanboy self, thrashing away beautifully on his punished Fender Stratocaster.
Drummer Chris Layton of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble served drum duties all night, giving each musician a concrete-like foundation to build solo passages upon. Near the end of the evening, Bootsy Collins’ bass, with its outer-space look and sound, fit nicely on top of Layton’s ride cymbal taps and snare-drum strikes.
Tracks receiving the upmost respect from the night’s performers included “Hey Joe,” “Red House,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “Little Wing,” “I Don’t Live Today,” “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” and the criminally underrated “Changes.”
Janie Hendrix, Hendrix’s sister, gave a brief introduction at the start of the show and, for an encore, grabbed a tambourine and stood near Gales and Whitford. Like Jimi Hendrix’s brief, still-stunning catalog, the concert was full of winning moments, with the musicians giving never less than 100 percent for their favorite rock hero and a most appreciative audience.