Saturday, June 23, 2018
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An all-star jam-out

No one man can fill the shoes, headband and fringe-bedecked vest of James Marshall Hendrix — to say nothing of his famous flaming fretboard.

So a genius idea was born: The Experience Hendrix Tour, an all-star showcase inviting some of the world's best guitarists to pay homage to the one and only Jimi.

On Thursday, renowned axmen such as Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Robert Randolph took the stage at a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall, each spinning their own electric takes on Jimi's biggest hits. Any time this many guitar gods congregate in one place, you know something special can happen.

"This is going to be a life-changing event," swore bassist Billy Cox, who — as the sole surviving member of both the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Band of Gypsys — served as the evening's spiritual link to the past.

He wasn't kidding when it came to Hendrix's signature hit, Purple Haze, a rambunctious stomp through time with Randolph, bassist Bootsy Collins and guitarist Chuck Campbell of the Slide Brothers. As Bootsy's squiggly bass shook the stage, Randolph and Campbell traded wild, chill-inducing riffs that would have done St. Jimi proud, earning one of the night's 20 or so standing ovations.

The Doors' Robby Krieger, another Hendrix contemporary, roused the crowd to their feet with his grinding duet with Dweezil Zappa on Manic Depression, while Lang pulled back on his blues histrionics for an acoustic-tinged version of All Along the Watchtower before burning everything down on Fire. The evening's heaviest hitter, the young blues master Shephard, delivered arguably the finest jams of the evening on Come On and Voodoo Chile/Voodoo Child (Slight Return).

Headliners aside, one of the night's surprise treats was seeing guys like Eric Gales and Eric Johnson, both far from household names. Gales, with his scarf, goatee and lefty guitar slung low, even looked a bit like young Jimi as he led a rip-roaring march through Foxy Lady. And Johnson, a Grammy-winning rock/jazz/blues fusion virtuoso, was flawless in his acrobatic, distorted Are You Experienced?, even as the strap snapped off his shoulders.

Hendrix mastered, if not outright invented, everything these men did onstage, but he still probably would have dug a lot of their moves.

If nothing else, we know he'd have wanted to hang with Bootsy. Aw, yeah, baby.

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