Burlington Times News
March 4, 2012
Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford said he vividly remembers the first time he saw the late Jimi Hendrix perform.
“It was a life-altering experience, to say the least,” Whitford said in a recent phone interview. “I got to see him live for the first time in 1968, and I think I was walking on clouds for at least two years after that.”
Shortly thereafter, Whitford found his calling by joining forces with Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer to form Aerosmith, a band that in 40 years has gone on to sell more than 130 million albums and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Hendrix, however, passed away in 1970 after having released only a handful of albums. Yet his influence lives on today.
“He came in during that era of the ‘British Invasion’ and just put himself in the middle of it,” Whitford recalled. “He had a style that had never been seen before. His showmanship, aura and technique made him such a powerhouse at the time, and he still really holds that stature for many today.”
In fact, Hendrix’s legacy remains so important to musicians and songwriters today that his family and estate managers have organized various touring tributes in some form since 1995. The latest version is “Experience Hendrix 2012,” and the three-week tour begins Tuesday in Maryland before heading to Greensboro on Wednesday for an 8 p.m. show at War Memorial Auditorium.
In addition to Whitford, the all-star lineup includes Billy Cox, who performed with Hendrix’s band in the 1960s; bluesmen Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo; guitarist Robby Krieger of The Doors; pedal-steel guitarist Robert Randolph; David Hildago and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos; Dweezil Zappa; Bootsy Collins; Eric Johnson; The Slide Brothers; and Chris Layton, longtime drummer for Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble; among others.
Whitford, who is on his fourth tour with the Experience Hendrix ensemble, described the evening as a celebration of the songs Hendrix left behind and how folks interpret them. Rather than all the artists being on stage at once, Whitford said the musicians are paired in different groups based on who works well together with selected songs.
“Those groups will do two to four songs together, and then a new group of people will come out,” he explained. “That approach really keeps the night fresh. Some of the artists are very truthful to the way Jimi created the music, and others really interpret it in their own way.”
Whitford said he’s usually paired with bluesman Jonny Lang for three or four songs. He also said the musicians involved rarely rehearse for the tour until it starts.
“We just kind of show up and wing it, to an extent,” he said. “On Day 1 of the tour, we’ll arrive at the venue early in the morning and get in a long practice session. On other tours, bands will typically show up in the afternoon and do a 30- to 60-minute soundcheck. But everybody here knows what they’re doing. We just show up and get to it.”
Whitford said he and Lang have a few Hendrix songs they’ve gotten quite good at. When asked if he had a favorite song to play, Whitford didn’t hesitate in saying there were too many to choose from.
“Honestly, I’m so honored to be a part of this celebration, I’d play whatever they asked me to,” he added.
Following Greensboro, the show heads to Tennessee for two shows before moving on to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The national tour concludes March 31 in Denver, Colo.
After that, Whitford said he’ll get back to his regular gig with Aerosmith. He said 2012 could be a big year for the Boston-based band, which, for one reason or another, hasn’t released a CD of new music since “Just Push Play” in 2001. He and other members of the band have kept themselves busy on various projects and occasional tours.
Singer Steven Tyler is tied up through May with his judging stint on “American Idol.” While Tyler honors his duties there, the rest of the band, he said, is hard at work on the group’s forthcoming CD.
“I think people are going to see a lot of Aerosmith later in the year,” Whitford said. “We’ve got a new song that’s gonna be used in a major motion picture this summer, so that’s probably the first new music fans will get to hear. We may even debut it on ‘American Idol’ in May. We’re definitely planning on touring the U.S. later in the summer.
“As for the new CD, the music is done — we’re just waiting to get some of the vocals added in,” he continued. “Hopefully, we’ll have that done sooner rather than later. It’s been a decade since we last had new music out, and I know I’m ready for it.”
Experience Hendrix tickets are $39, $55 and $75 at Ticketmaster outlets, online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.