The Voodoo Child's Slight Return: Seattle's Jimi Hendrix Guitar Festival

By Rotondi, James | Guitar Player, December 1995 | Go to article overview

The Voodoo Child's Slight Return: Seattle's Jimi Hendrix Guitar Festival


Rotondi, James, Guitar Player


When the sky up and dumped buckets of rain on a few thousand Seattle-ites gathered for Labor Day's Jimi Hendrix Tribute Concert, it was one rainy which no one wanted to come true. The first shower amid four bright, sunny days during Seattle's Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival, the sudden downpour at the Seattle Center's Kenwood Staduim was unexpected but eerily appropriate. Like a belated mourning, the tears from heaven were a cold reminder that even while celebrating Jimi's life and music, it is impossible to ignore the avoidable tragedy of his death and the void still left from his passing 25 years later.

Still, the spirit of Hendrix was alive and well in Seattle. An impressive cast of talent and figures from Jimi's career and continuing legacy stepped forward to help make the Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Festival a positive, spiritually motivated tribute. Under the musical direction of producer and drummer Narada Michael Walden, musicians including original Experience members Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, Band Of Gypsys rhythm section Buddy Miles and Billy Cox, John McLaughlin, Vernon Reid, Stanley Jordan, Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, Eric Gales, and others were on hand to perform and pay respect to Jimi's genius. Heightening the sense of celebration was the Hendrix family's recent legal settlement awarding them exclusive rights to Jimi's music, writings, and image.

Part of Seattle's annual Bumbershoot arts festival, Labor Day's blowout concert was preceded a few days earlier by the Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition, sponsored by Gibson and won by Seattle native Jay Roberts, the son of jazz legend Howard Roberts. The Seattle Center (a sprawling multi-acre recreation area that was the site of the 1962 World's Fair and that boasts the famous Space Needle) featured 12 stages for musical acts from Patti Smith to Bill Frisell to the Reverend Horton Heat. One of the Bumbershoot/Hendrix Festival attractions was the Red House exhibit, a temporary museum featuring art and multimedia works involving Hendrix, as well as memorabilia such as Jimi's junior high school drawings of spacecraft and football scenes, his stage outfits, and a re-creation of his Seattle bedroom. While the inclusion of Jimi's Guild 12-string, the Hendrix family couch, and Jimi's childhood drawings of Elvis and space-age dream homes gave the exhibit a certain historical significance, the promoter's suggestion that visitors were actually entering Jimi's mind" seems a bit exaggerated.

Rehearsals for the tribute concert began on Saturday, with Walden and Mitchell on drums, Vernon "Ice" Black on guitar, and Redding on bass. The quartet rehearsed "Fire," "Purple Haze," "Manic Depression," and "Stone Free." While Mitchell's style is no less distinct, jazzy, and crisp as it once was, Narada clearly provided the groove's muscle, though he might have listened even more closely to Mitchell's original feel. "A lot of people know the songs," said Redding during a break, "but not everyone knows the feel. I remember the feel we had as a band--good grooves, that was the whole thing. We originally recorded those songs in '66, and I'm playing much better than I played then. When I play the tunes now, I'm looking at them from a different view altogether, because I've got much more confidence in what I'm playing. But I've never forgotten the tunes."

Later, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox tore through magical versions of "Changes," "Message To Love," and "Dolly Dagger" with longtime Hendrix tribute guitarist Randy Hansen. While Hansen has taken some flak in the past for his unapologetic Jimi imitation act (which at one point included the application of blackface), he is undeniably phenomenal at pegging Jimi's sound and style, and listening to him play the Band Of Gypsys classics with Miles and Cox was positively chilling. "James Marshall," quipped Miles after a particularly hot jam, "if you're in here, you'd better be fuckin' smiling!"

I'm honored to be here, man," said Hansen after the rehearsal. …

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