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Tribute tours. The idea isn’t exactly revolutionary. If you live near a city of significant size, it’s probably normal to see everything from Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Queen tribute bands, Elvis impersonators, Django Reinhardt festivals, and Van Halen cover bands pass through at any time of the year. But there’s only one tour with the kind of cachet to prompt the gods of guitar to kneel down in mutual reverence: The Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour.
This year marks the fourth that the all-star concert traveled the US to celebrate the short but revolutionary career of James Marshall Hendrix. The first incarnation of the idea was the Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Festival, the headlining attraction at Seattle’s 1995 Bumbershoot festival. The festival was held again in 1998, and it was followed by two Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition tours, and then three all-star tribute tours under the Experience Hendrix moniker. This year’s tour included guitarists who inspired Hendrix—Hubert Sumlin (who gained fame in 1955 as Howlin’ Wolf’s sideman)—those who actually knew Hendrix—Billy Cox and Ernie Isley—and big-name ax slingers whose styles simply wouldn’t exist as we know them if it weren’t for Hendrix’s influence—Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Robert Randolph, Brad Whitford, Vernon Reid, and Susan Tedeschi. But while this who’s-who lineup of guitar gods and demigods joined the tour to honor the original Voodoo Chile, they all did so in true Hendrix fashion—by flying the flag of their own uniqueness high the way Jimi would’ve wanted them to.
When you combine their incredible playing with the fact that we—and you—are as gaga for gear as they are, it was a no-brainer that PG had to check in with them. So our team packed up the cameras and mics to head north and go behind the scenes at the March 21st show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There we got the lowdown on all the guitars, amps, and effects being used to revere Jimi and his legendary tones.
But we soon realized we had to talk about more than just the gear. It was also about the relationship these guitarists had with their gear—how they got their known tones—as well as how they approached the daunting task of covering Hendrix properly. Some used Strats, Marshalls, and vintage effects, while others used the same gear they’ve been using for years. But no matter the formula, the result was original and unique renditions of tunes from Hendrix’s illustrious catalog.
The following pages chronicle our fly-on-the-wall encounters during the soundchecks, backstage hangs, and the epic performances that night in Milwaukee. For one night, Jimi was alive and well in the form of 10 guitarists sharing a stage to achieve a single goal—to experience Hendrix: