Everybody loves holidays – at Christmas you get presents, on Thanksgiving you get football, on July 4 you get fireworks and on your birthday you get more presents. Once a year, though, we also get the Experience Hendrix Tour. It might not be a national holiday yet, but to Jimi Hendrix lovers, it’s right up there with the opening of deer season in Texas. It’s a chance to see some of the best pickers around play some of the best music that has stood the test of time.
The lineup of stars grows every year to celebrate the years of domination Jimi had on the music world and to keep the Electric Church alive in the hearts and souls of fans. This year certainly deserved an “A” as local favorites, international stars, Grammy winners and the one and only BUDDY GUY shared the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie stage in a tribute to the greatest guitar player of all time.
The early-arriving and eclectic crowd heard Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s sister, say they were in for a night of unbelievable music. Billy Cox, the last surviving member of THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE and BAND OF GYPSIES came out and began singing “Freedom,” which was punctuated with an ending solo by Dweezil Zappa that got the crowd at the packed theater stirring and wanting more.
Mato Nanji of INDIGENOUS then came out to join the two guitarists and Hall of Fame drummer Chris Slayton from STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE and ARC ANGELS fame. Billy handled a spot-on version of “Stone Free,” with outstanding solos by Dweezil and Mato. Henri Brown came out as others left and treated the audience to a soulful version of “Foxy Lady.” Mato showed his artistry as he took the lead on this solo.
As they did all evening, different stars came onstage while others left. Noah Hunt, the vastly underrated singer for the KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD BAND, Texas troubadour ERIC JOHNSON and Bassist Scott Nelson shined on “Wait Until Tomorrow.” Noah’s fabulous voice fit this song perfectly and was made even better by a tremendous solo by Eric.
Mr. Johnson then performed a deep cut, “One Rainy Wish.” Most of the crowd didn’t know it, but they certainly wouldn’t forget it after seeing him coax beautiful sounds from his guitar. I’ve been watching him for many years and while his forte will always be extracting sounds from his instrument like a skilled surgeon, his voice keeps improving with age.
He kept prodding the guitar like a master painter creating a work of art on “Love Or Confusion,” with Dweezil back out to give a second solo on the song. Eric then played mostly instrumental on “Third Stone From the Sun” and used every available bit of space to create sounds I’ve only heard from JEFF BECK. Crashing waves, trains in a tunnel and the ominous wind whistling through a dense forest were just some of the sounds that made this haunting song a fan favorite for the evening.
It was now time for some classics that every Hendrix fan can sing by heart. ZAKK WYLDE came out to accompany on keyboards as Eric dove into “Are You Experienced?” which raised the crowd participation and level of enjoyment. Watching the heavy metal Zakk play the keys seems ironic, but it’s only one of his many talents. He switched to his bumblebee -colored guitar and joined solos with Eric on “Manic Depression” in a true tribute to the master and not a cover song.
“Little Wing” was next and in Texas Hold ‘Em poker terms, it was an “All In” bet. First, it was expertly done previously by Dallas’ favorite son, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Second, it’s simply a great song. And third, Zakk absolutely owned it as he spent most of his several-minute solo in the audience, pleasing the picture-taking crowd. His right hand was a blur as he strummed so fast that no one could keep up and received the first standing ovation of the night.
Obviously, things couldn’t get any better, but they did. Wylde said that Jimi once told a record producer the next song was his absolute favorite.
He also said that because of this song, “We can put our kids through college,” then dove head first into “Purple Haze.” The crowd tried to jump around to match his speed solo, but it was all in vain. During the several minutes he rocked, he played behind his head and with his teeth in another touching tribute. Zakk finished the song with his standard pose of holding the bottom of his V-shaped guitar above his head triumphantly.
This finished the first set as the performers took a break and gave the audience a chance to catch their breath. Having attended Experience Hendrix before, I knew as good as the first set was, the second set would be even better. The setlist and the artists scheduled to appear assured the rest of the show would be a helluva jam.
Stay tuned for Part Two!!
LIVE WORDS: DAVID SIMERS
LIVE PHOTOS: GUZPIX