Dweezil Zappa and Jonny Lang Exalt Hendrix (Interview)

Jimi Hendrix is an undeniable legend in the world of music as his music opened doors for what the electric guitar can achieve both through showmanship and virtuosity. Hendrix released his first studio album, Are You Experienced in August of 1967. He would only produce two more original studio albums with the Jimi Hendrix Experience before his untimely death in 1970. However, within that short period of time, Hendrix gave us such iconic compositions as “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Little Wing” and “Fire,” along with mesmerizing performances at the Woodstock and Monterey Music Festivals.

His music would inspire generations of musicians, especially guitarists – to look at how they created music in a different way. Hendrix’s sister, Janie, has spearheaded a unique tribute to her brother, by assembling a “who’s who” in the guitar world, so to speak, to tour and perform Jimi’s music across the United States as the Experience Hendrix Tour.  This year’s assembly of six-string slingers boast young guns like Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd along-side legends Zakk Wylde, Eric Johnson, Buddy Guy, Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and Hendrix’ former Band of Gypsys band mate, Billy Cox.

The Experience Hendrix Tour made a stop in New Hampshire at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom and the musicians on the bill paid their respects to Hendrix’s contributions by pouring their collective hearts out on stage for another sold out performance. During the show’s intermission, Glide sat down with two Experience Hendrix Tour veterans, Dweezil Zappa and Jonny Lang to discuss the tour, Hendrix and his music.

Dweezil Zappa

When your not performing, what do you all do while you’re hanging around back stage?

Dweezil: On this tour, everybody has done it a few times. So, when the people are pretty familiar with each other – there’s guitar talk and a lot of joking around. It gets pretty silly. It depends upon which bus that you’re on. Occasionally there’s sit down moments where people share ideas and it’s like guitar camp. For us its fun to do something outside of what we normally do. We get to watch and listen to musicians that we like and respect and it becomes like summer camp for adults. It’s a fun situation.

What was your first exposure to Hendrix’s music and what impact did it have on you?

Jonny: Man, I always knew that he was somebody that was cool while I was growing up. I was too young at that point to understand the magnitude of his music or who he was. When I started playing guitar, it was then that I understood how deep and awesome his music was.

Was there a particular album or song that made an impression on you?

Jonny: I can’t recall one single album or song. I just remember listening to his albums and freaking out while wondering about what was going on.

Dweezil: I didn’t know anything about him musically until I was about twelve. I had really only heard my dad’s music around the house while growing up. Anything that my dad was listening to or working on was what I knew of as music. But then I started listening to the radio and I heard other bands playing stuff. I heard all of the Hendrix staples like “All Along The Watch Tower” and “Purple Haze.” I remember loving the sound of his guitar and wishing that he wasn’t playing so sloppy because I was really into Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, players with really pristine technique. It wasn’t until I grew to become a more mature musician that I could appreciate the song writing and the feel that was in his work. I learned to like the sloppiness more than any precision. What I actually appreciated about his music is that he had this reckless abandon and he would just go for it, even if his technical ability wasn’t there to support it. He still went for the idea. It was cool to me that he was such a risk taker with the sound he achieved and his record making. That’s what I’ve always appreciated, along with the rhythm feel and the tone more than anything.

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Did your dad know him?

Dweezil: Yeah. My dad was actually friends with him and Jimi gave my dad a guitar which I actually own now. That’s another connection that I have to his music at this point.

How do the songs that you guys play from show to show evolve?

Dweezil: It does change up but it really depends upon who is still on the tour. Some people come and go and so people have to learn new stuff. Just today, I had to learn three new songs that I’d never played before. The song that I played with Ana Popovic was one that I had never played before.

Jonny, what songs are you going to play tonight?

Jonny Lang

Jonny: I’m doing four songs. They’re pretty much the same tunes each night. “All Along The Watch Tower” with Dweezil. “Fire,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Spanish Castle Magic.”

Dweezil: That’s my favorite Jimi Hendrix riff by the way, “Spanish Castle Magic”. It’s pretty badass!

What do you think that it is about Hendrix’s music that’s so special and why it’s still so relevant today?

Dweezil: I think one of the things that has made it last is that it’s not just the songs. They had to capture his performances. He had a natural ability to express himself with his guitar. And, for it to really work for an audience – they had to learn how to record him in a way that captured his particular vibe and character. I think that’s the stuff that has made it last forever, because it wasn’t the traditional routine of going into a studio and recording a song. They captured something unique in that moment and time. Not all recordings can do that. You have to have somebody that can completely shine through that.

Jonny: In a way, it’s kind of the same thing as the great composers. It’s been hundreds of years since those guys did what they did, but it’s still amazing. It’s still the peak of technical ability and harmonically relevant as it was then. Jimi’s music is the same, not just for musicians – but, for everyone because he’s a great composer. I feel that if you took Hendrix’ songs and played them on a harpsichord or a piano today, it would reveal how awesome and complex his music is. You can still get his guitar tone but he did things then that people today still cannot do. Whenever you talk to another guitar player and discuss influences, you find that you can emulate some guitar players if you listen to them long enough – but I’ve never heard anybody that sounds like Jimi. A lot of people try, but his pocket is so elusive. It’s like what Dweezil was saying, the recklessness is so hard to emulate. He’s just totally unique.

Dweezil: There’s that element of surprise. He just knew how to manipulate the sound in the best way. There was this thing that he did that was so understated. He got a ton of guitar, outside of his solos – into three or four minute tracks. He knew the right time to get in and get out without it being too much, and it was always so funky and groovy. So I think that was one of the things that made it cross over. If you listen carefully, none of his music is very slick to a metronome – it’s all over the place. But it has a human quality to it and an excitement about how anything can happen at any moment.

Jonny: There really aren’t any Hendrix songs that aren’t eternal classics. And to hit that many homeruns in such a short period of time, it’s unprecedented. It’s incredible.

Dweezil: He basically lit the world on fire.

I think he personifies the adage, “Often imitated, but never duplicated.”

Dweezil: Absolutely. There are so many people chasing his sound, and you can get some of it. But the fact of the matter is, at the time that he did that stuff – there was nothing around like that. There was nobody who looked like him. There wasn’t anyone who sounded like him. You can see it in some early footage, how his audiences didn’t know what to make of it all. And ultimately, he blew their minds.

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