How many guitarists does it take to pay tribute to possibly the greatest one of all time? How many would you like? We may never know the depths of Jimi Hendrix’s generation-defining talents, but the dozen legendary players who will appear at the tour’s Greensboro stop will offer a cornucopia of interpretations
of the legendary guitarist. There’ll be the mind-boggling technical prowess of Dweezil Zappa, the rapturous soul of Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers, the teeth-clenching hard rock of Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and the controlled chaos of Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It’s all held down by the arth to Jimi’s space, Band of Gypsys co-founder Billy Cox, who took a few minutes to talk to us this week.
Y!W: First, my condolences on the passing of Bob Hendrix last week. Do you see this impacting the tour in any way?
Billy Cox: I don’t think it’s going to impact the tour that much. We’ll all do our share of mourning and we’ll continue on with everything.
Y!W: There’s no doubt everyone on this tour is the man in their own respects, but how’s the chemistry on the road? Is there a lot of camaraderie?
BC: Everyone leaves their egos at home to go out on the road with us. This group embodies the true spirit of Jimi Hendrix because they all are aficionados of Jimi’s music. I say there are always two kinds of guitar players: one that will admit being influenced by his music and one who will not admit being influenced by Jimi Hendrix. All these guys admit being influenced by Jimi Hendrix and he played a very important role in their early guitar educations. He was the guy that they looked to in order to get their chops together when they were learning to play the guitar.
Y!W: Is there a anything resembling a competitive spirit among the players? Does anyone ever talk a little smack to keep the energy up?
BC: We have a lot of fun, but everyone there in their own right is really good and they know they’re good, or they wouldn’t be on the show. Everyone has a different role to perform, so it’s not like guys think they’re going to play one song better than another song, they just go ahead and give what they’ve got in the spirit of Hendrix.
Y!W: How are the songs matched to each performer?
BC: We have a guy named John McDermott and he kind of knows our weaknesses and our strengths, and he puts it all together. It gets over because everyone understands it’s about the music, not about us. If someone has a particular song in mind, he would listen to them as long as someone else isn’t already taking care of it.
Y!W: Playing alongside Buddy Guy, a man whose skills Jimi himself worshipped, is there a greater sense of familiarity with how he approaches the songs than the younger guys?
BC: To me, it’s about the spirit of the music and not the individual. That’s how we look at it. I would never have envisioned that there would be a resurgence of Jimi Hendrix, maybe 100 years from now, but never in my lifetime. I’m glad and proud to be a part of it happening now though. This tour shows how timeless the music is, and the depth of his ongoing influence transcends cultural and generational boundaries. I look out and I see 9-, 10-, 11-year-old kids who idolize him for his music. I think that a special soul slips though into our world from a place I’m not smart enough to understand every now and then, and I think Jimi was one of those. He came through and he showed guys like us the way, and he went back.
Y!W: Where was Jimi’s music, with you and Buddy Miles, going at the time of his passing, from your experience with him?
Y!W: We were ready to cross over boundaries that rock musicians hadn’t even ventured toward at the time. We both came from a classical background and he listened to a lot of it at the time. Given his repertoire, it’s likely those influences would have began to become more apparent. You know, he came from the blues, but he once said in an interview that he really didn’t learn to play until he came to Nashville. That’s where he got a lot of country and pop licks, and really learned how to put those together with what he already knew and what he was always learning. He got his master’s degree, so to speak.
The Experience Hendrix tour comes to the War Memorial Auditorium next Wednesday, March 7.