Ernie Isley

Ernie Isley started off the Milwaukee show by playing “Stone Free” on his Custom Shop Strat. His pedalboard included a Dunlop Rotovibe, Voodoo Lab Proctavia, Boss BF-2 Flanger, ProCo Rat, and a Dunlop Crybaby wah.

Of all the guitarists on the tour, Ernie Isley holds one distinction none of the others can claim. Isley—who first found wide exposure as the guitarist for famed R&B/funk band the Isley Brothers—watched Saturday-morning cartoons with Jimi. As Isley described during his three-song set—which included “Stone Free” and “Message to Love” with Cox, as well as “Manic Depression”—he knew Hendrix before all the funky outfits and guitar antics, back when Hendrix was an Isley Brothers sideman. He recalled how he knew Hendrix would become something remarkable.

In fact, before each song in his set, Isley waxed poetic about Hendrix. He first remembered Hendrix getting a white Strat, just after joining his brothers’ band, and then he recalled seeing Hendrix after his first stint in England, dressed, as he said, like a carnival performer with bell-bottoms and several rings. But what really struck us was Isley’s last story. He remembered when Hendrix stayed at his family’s house for weeks on end and how he’d never be without that white Strat. How Hendrix would hunch over that Strat for endless hours, crafting licks and chord progressions. Isley mimicked a few of the licks on guitar while telling the story—some were unfamiliar, others recognizable. Isley then paused, looked up at the heavens, and said he recalled one riff more than the other. Then he launched into one of the most inspiring performances of the show. We won’t ever hear “Manic Depression” without thinking of that night.

These Fender Custom Shop Strats were commissioned by Isley’s wife as birthday presents. They both feature maple (right) and flamed maple (left) tops and roses handcarved by George Amicay. The rosewood fretboards have several inlays, including a hummingbird, two doves, and the word “Zeal.” Both guitars also feature custom single-coils and gold hardware. The flame maple guitar was built by Art Esparza.