Only the second tribute album officially sanctioned by the Hendrix Estate, this joins 1993’s Stone Free as a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund scholarship that bears the guitar legend’s name. Of its 16 cuts, only two have been previously released, and the CD was co-produced by Earth, Wind & Fire alumnus Sheldon Reynolds and Jimi’s half-sister, Janie Hendrix (who is also Reynolds’ wife), along with John McDermott.
In a press release accompanying the album, Janie states, “A lot of the tribute albums that have come out have concentrated on Jimi’s rock side. This emphasizes more of the soul and R&B aspects of his music.”
The definition of what is or isn’t soul and R&B is pretty loose, with Jimi’s psychedelic rock well represented in songs like “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp,” “Third Stone From The Sun,” and “Purple Haze.” It’s both interesting and refreshing that so many contemporary R&B artists were involved in the project, because in the three and a half years between the 1967 release of Are You Experienced? and his death in 1970, Jimi Hendrix’s audience was roughly the same racial mix as the throng at Woodstock – maybe one percent. It was a different story, of course, with other musicians, who almost universally lauded him.
Musiq gets things started, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jimi vocally on “Are You Experienced?” The most novel thing about this arrangement is that it features keyboards, turntables, bass, and drums, but no guitar.
Guitarists seem to fall into two categories here: those who imitate Hendrix’s style (sometimes almost slavishly) and those who retain their own approach but maybe throw in a bit of Jimi’s attitude. Those who fall into the former category include co-producer Reynolds, who shows up on four cuts, backing Cee-Lo (“Foxey Lady”), EW&F (“Voodoo Child”), and Sounds Of Blackness (“Castles Made Of Sand”), and teaming with keyboardists George Duke and Larry Dunn as Devoted Spirits, for a mostly instrumental version of Band Of Gypsys’ “Who Knows.”
Players who fall into the latter group include Eric Clapton (delivering a heartfelt vocal and strong, overdriven solo on “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp”) and Robert Randolph (adapting “Purple Haze” for steel guitar). In Carlos Santana’s case, this is possibly the closest the world’s most instantly recognizable guitarist has ever come to not sounding like himself – in a way, the ultimate tribute. An all-star Santana lineup of Carlos, bassist Stanley Clarke, and the late Tony Williams on drums fuels Corey Glover’s vocal on “Spanish Castle Magic.”
Lenny Kravitz takes an appropriately understated route to “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland),” with a sparse wah-wah solo and sensitive vocal (with Tawatha Agee). Eric Gales follows a similar path on “May This Be Love,” singing and playing all instruments.
Kid Rock’s Kenny Olson provides the guitar work behind Chaka Khan’s impassioned vocal on “Little Wing”; Bootsy Collins is joined by his Parliament/Funkadelic leader, George Clinton (and about a dozen other singers and players) on an updated, multi-layered treatment of the CD’s title song; and Prince serves up a nice banshee solo on “Red House,” re-titled (of course) “Purple House.”
The collection’s only stiffs are, ironically, the two previously issued tracks: Sting’s version of “Wind Cries Mary” (which is oddly subdued despite John McLaughlin’s notey solo) and John Lee Hooker’s attempt at “Red House,” from his Don’t Look Back album. The late blues singer was never one to strictly abide by the 12-bar chord changes, but toward the end of his career he strayed so far from the form’s call-and-response phrasing, it became call-call-call, in a continuous narrative. The universal rule in blues is that you follow the singer, wherever and whenever he or she goes, but here the backup band can be forgiven for just sticking to the changes regardless of John Lee, who finishes talk-singing the entire first verse before they’ve even gotten to the turnaround.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s 12:28 instrumental medley of “Little Wing” and “Third Stone From The Sun” is clearly the CD’s worth-the-price-of-admission standout. Recorded live in Philadelphia in 1983, this “King Biscuit” recording has been booted innumerable times but, surprisingly, never legitimately released.
In one of his most astounding performances, Stevie carves out a third category of Hendrix devotee. He’s really the only guitarist who gets inside of Jimi’s style and messes with it, pushing it further (and further), much as Hendrix would do live. Without this track, the collection would be a nice tribute that you probably wouldn’t listen to years from now (not if you own Hendrix’s original version of the songs, certainly). With it, this is a must-have CD, for Stevie Ray and Jimi fans alike.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.