All-star Experience Hendrix Tour blows into the Taj on five-city run
A year before the Summer of Love in 1967, Jimi Hendrix was a struggling 24-year-old guitar player whose forward-thinking style had been refined during mid-'60s road work on the "chitlin circuit" -- backing the likes of Little Richard, the Isley Brothers and Sam Cooke. His own star had yet to rise.
He had spent the early part of the decade in the military, occasionally going AWOL to check out his brother-in-law, the blues player Guitar Shorty, who often played the clubs around Hendrix's hometown of Seattle. After gigging around as a back-up guitarist for a few years, billed as Jimmy James, Hendrix started headlining small clubs in NYC's Greenwich Village. Despite his emerging talents as an axeman -- his unique fusion of R&B, blues and rock often clashed with some of the acts he had backed on the road -- Hendrix was close to starvation thanks to a lack of good paying gigs. He was intent, however, on mastering the guitar and taking it to places it had never gone before.
Serendipitously, Englishman Chas Chandler (formerly of the Animals) was looking to start managing new acts and caught a Hendrix date in the Village. He took Hendrix back to London, helped form the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and catapulted the trio to fame in England and Europe by the end of 1966.
It wasn't until the middle of the following year, however, at California's Monterey Pop Festival, when American audiences got to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience (featuring Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums). They had already hit the U.K. Top 10 with the singles "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cries Mary," but Hendrix's unparalleled distortion-heavy sonic display, his other-worldly lyrics and his fiery presence -- buttressed by his new and remarkably effective rhythm section -- hadn't yet debuted on a U.S. stage.
That single Monterey performance changed American music forever. Forty years later, it's considered to be one of the greatest moments in rock history.
Tragically, after touring around the world over the following few years -- and producing some of the most visionary, experimental and moving music ever with a trio of late-'60s studio albums -- Are You Experienced? (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (1967) and Electric Ladyland (1968) -- Hendrix died on Sept. 18, 1970.
Countless live records, bootlegs, concert videos and compilations of unreleased studio sessions have circulated since Hendrix's death. This past Tuesday, The Jimi Hendrix Experience at Monterey, the band's Monterey Pop Fest performance, was released on DVD (Experience Hendrix / Geffen / UMe), offering everything that the cameras captured of the band on stage that June 1967 day. Aside from the astounding concert footage, the DVD offers two bonus documentaries, early '67 Jimi Hendrix Experience performances in London, as well as extensive liner notes.
The DVD, as well as a pair of companion audio releases, were produced by Hendrix's step-sister Janie Hendrix, CEO of Experience Hendrix, the company started by Hendrix's family to "manage the name, likeness, image and music of Jimi Hendrix."
Also this past Tuesday, a five-city Experience Hendrix Tour kicked-off, presenting a live celebration of Hendrix's music performed by an all-star line-up including blues greats Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, Hendrix bandmates Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, Robby Krieger (The Doors) and Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), guitarists Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Eric Gales, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble, Indigenous, and other guests. An earlier incarnation of the tour took to the road in 2004.
The tour comes to Atlantic City at the Trump Taj Mahal this Friday, Oct. 19. Sumlin, who was blues legend Howlin' Wolf's guitar player for a number of years (Hendrix had been doing Wolf's "Killing Floor" live before he had written a song for the Experience) was in Atlantic City late last month, appearing at the Mid-Atlantic Blues & Music Festival. Backstage, he spoke about meeting Hendrix for the first time.
"I met him in London," says Sumlin, who'll be 76 in November. "He had already gotten his band together. We [Howlin' Wolf's band] were playing Albert Hall. He comes in that night ... and he came straight up to the bandstand. He wanted to meet us."
Prior to the start of the Howlin' Wolf concert at London's Royal Albert Hall that night (likely in late 1966), Sumlin recalls thinking that maybe the Queen of England would be present because of two rows of empty benches set up in the front row. Instead, it was rock royalty in the form of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Hendrix.
"We were playing all over Europe and London was the last stop," recalls Sumlin, whose electric guitar work can be heard in Hendrix's playing. "We noticed they had these two long benches [set up] and nobody was sitting in them. And this place was full of people. And the Wolf said, 'Is the priest sitting there? I don't feel good about those benches down there!' He figured that somebody [important] was going to be sitting there.
"Then one Rolling Stone comes in, then another one, then three. Then all of them. They were sitting on the left [bench]. Then on the right side, all of the Beatles were sitting. And then walked in Jimi Hendrix. And the Wolf said, 'Hey man!' and he just froze -- with his guitar in his hand. We were getting ready to play and Wolf froze immediately when he saw Jimi Hendrix."
Sumlin recalls Hendrix noodling around on Wolf's guitar before the show.
"[Sonny Boy] drank a lot. And he had his own way of doing things. But he was a nice man and he was very good to me. ... He paid me $3 a day and I got paid every two weeks [for playing at his gigs].”
Regular contributors like the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, presenting five programs, and the Atlantic City Ballet with its Nutcracker and Dracula presentations, are back for the new season.
The musician and artist will make two special Jersey Shore appearances this weekend , including a show at Borgata and an artist reception in Stone Harbor at Ocean Galleries.
How does it feel — to be a Rolling Stone? “Feels great,” says Wood. “It’s an unbelievable thing that’s been going on for this length of time and we’re certainly covering new ground by being the first rock and roll band to be 50 years old.”
The Experience Hendrix tour comes to Caesars Atlantic City Saturday, Nov. 13. This is the first year that the tour has relaunched in the same calendar year. The new five-disc set comes out Nov. 16.
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