Concert review: Experience Hendrix honors a guitar legend at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater

A collection of ace guitarists gather on one stage to pay homage to Jimi Hendrix.

click to enlarge BUDDY GUY - Photo- Tracy May
Photo- Tracy May

In what has to be the mother of all Jimi Hendrix tributes, this year's cast of characters on the revolving door known as the Experience Hendrix Tour was a mighty one. As an at-capacity crowd at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall discovered on Thursday night, the love and admiration that is still felt for the legendary, groundbreaking, genre-melding, guitar hero is as strong among his fans as it is with the countless number of musicians he influenced during his short time on earth.

From his arrival on the scene in 1967, Hendrix blazed some mighty guns; fronting one of the greatest rock trios of all time, he and his band The Experience overturned stereotypes and preconceptions when they released their legendary debut, Are You Experienced?. For three brief years, Hendrix threw every convention out the window in regard to reinventing the connection between the electric guitar and its player with a slew of great albums and legendary live performances to his credit. Any good guitarist since his stratospheric emergence owes a mighty debt to the Seattle native. The dynamic package of his presence, his look, his onstage charisma and engaging vocals remains unparalleled by any other axeman since his untimely death in 1970; but, for one night, a collection of his most loyal devotees gathered on a stage to pay their respects to the legend.

After a brief introduction from Janie Hendrix, Jimi's younger sister and former Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox, the pair enthusiastically assured the already hooting and hollering audience that it was in for a real treat and a long night of music. And they didn't lie. "Its a party at the electric church!" Cox yelled...and the festivities had begun.

As the assembled lineup took turns onstage and traded off instruments and guitar solos, it was evident that the catalog of great music Hendrix left behind would be resurrected in the most faithful and sincere way possible and that every guitarist that took the stage at any part of the night was a rightful guitar hero in his own right. 

With so many fine moments and jaw-dropping excursions into the deep, soulful, sensuous musical land Hendrix created through his vision and art, it's hard to pinpoint any one defining moment of the nearly-three hour guitar extravaganza. 

A smoking version of "Stone Free" performed early in the night featuring Cox on vocals and Dweezil Zappa and Indigenous lead guitarist Mato Nanji trading off red hot licks sure got things off on the right foot. From there, a nonstop onslaught of Hendrix tunes, some more recognizable than others to the casual fan, continued to take flight and fill the hall with some of the absolute best (and loudest) axe work anyone in attendance is sure to hear for many years to come. 

click to enlarge DWEEZIL ZAPPA & BILLY COX - Photo-Tracy May
Photo-Tracy May
Watching legendary slinger Eric Johnson pace the stage and wreak some exquisite, precise feedback from his amp during his take on "Third Stone From The Sun" was fascinating. 
click to enlarge ERIC JOHNSON - Photo-Tracy May
Photo-Tracy May
His plain earth-tone jacket and jeans was the complete opposite of the biker garb Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde, who came out blazing in denim vest and leather wristcuffs, long beard swinging as he revved up the brightly colored Flying V guitar strapped around his neck. Pounding out high octane versions of classics "Manic Depression" and "Purple Haze," Wylde, appearing to be completely immersed in his own world, was inspired enough to take a brief foray into the crowd and walk halfway up into the seats via the far left runway. Plucking strings with his teeth or playing guitar behind his head, the rock version of Thor pulled out plenty of tricks from his bag to keep the rowdy crowd engaged and enthralled.

A short intermission made way for more sparkling performances by youthful whiz kids Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who followed a couple of impressive numbers from blues man Keb' Mo. The tall, slender vocalist wore his trademark pork pie hat and looked at ease in vest and faded jeans as he poured out a shimmering version of "Killing Floor."

click to enlarge KEB' MO - Photo-Tracy May
Photo-Tracy May
The two youngest members of the ensemble followed and did plenty to prove that Hendrix's music transcends ages and generations. Lang came out swinging. Opting for an acoustic guitar for 
click to enlarge JONNY LANG - Photo-Tracy May
Photo-Tracy May
his take on the Bob Dylan-penned "All Along The Watchtower," he was assisted by Wylde and Nanji, who traded off on some fiery riffs. Lang then reached for his own electric axe for versions of two of the two most widely-recognized Jimi songs, "Fire" and "The Wind Cries Mary."  

Shepherd might have delivered the night's most jaw-dropping moments, however. His forays into "Gypsy Eyes" and "Voodoo Child" proved mesmerizing. His straight blonde hair fluttered furiously as he squeezed every bit of firepower out of his worn, beaten Fender Stratocaster. As wildly improvisational as he is disciplined, the 38-year old literally raised the roof off the place with a dynamite performance that also benefited greatly by awesome vocals from his own band's lead singer, Noah Hunt.

click to enlarge NOAH HUNT & KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD - Photo-Tracy May
Photo-Tracy May
Blues legend Buddy Guy's turn at the stage seemed unusually short. For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of 
click to enlarge BUDDY GUY - Photo-Tracy May
Photo-Tracy May
seeing Guy live, its clear that he's every bit an electric, charismatic entertainer, from his recognizable voice to his between-song banter to his smoking guitar work. His brief stabs at "Who Knows " and "Louisiana Blues" seemed to leave fans wanting more, if the rightfully deserved standing ovation that followed was any indication. 

Wrapping the night with "Them Changes" and "Red House," the remaining ensemble delivered amazing versions of the final songs and encouraged the still captive audience to stand up and enjoy the party. In a true testament to the power and the majesty of the great Jimi Hendrix, the mostly middle-aged crowd gladly obliged and came to their feet, sang along, busted their best air guitar moves, and let go of inhibitions for a moment while paying homage to the ultimate guitar hero. The impressive group of musicians who assembled for this loving and reverent travelling tribute to Hendrix made damn sure we were all experienced for the duration of the long night of guitar wizardry. 

Set List:

Stone Free
Foxey Lady
Wait Until Tomorrow
Love or Confusion
Third Stone From The Sun
Are You Experienced?
Manic Depression
Purple Haze
My Friend
Killing Floor
All Along The Watchtower
The Wind Cries Mary
Spanish Castle Magic
Gypsy Eyes
Come On
Voodoo Child
Who Knows
Louisiana Blues
Hey Joe
Them Changes
Red House

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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