Jimi Hendrix, had he not died in 1970 at age twenty-seven, would have celebrated his sixtieth birthday tomorrow. At Seattle's Experience Music Project Sunday night, family, friends, former mates in the Band of Gypsies and EMP founder Paul Allen got a jump on the occasion, coming together for a tribute to "the greatest guitarist that ever lived."
"Jimi will always be twenty-seven," said Gypsies bassist Billy Cox from the stage, capturing the prevailing mood in the colorful Sky Church. "But we are getting old."
Legendary bluesman Buddy Guy, whose guitar stylings Hendrix attempted to emulate when he was starting out, showed up to headline the event and honor a fellow guitar innovator. Former Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist Sheldon Reynolds (who is married to Janie Hendrix, Jimi's stepsister and president of Experience Hendrix, which controls his image and music) led a large ensemble through Hendrix classics like "Hey Joe, "Angel" and "If Six Was 9." The Band of Gypsies then ripped through "Freedom," "Power of Soul" and "Them Changes," and became truly inspired when joined by guitar virtuoso Eric Gales for "Foxy Lady." The various lineups then united for "Little Wing" and "Voodoo Child."
There were plenty of similarities to an actual Hendrix concert: a massive light show; the emcee imploring the crowd to introduce themselves to the person next to them; and an audience member losing consciousness. And, during the show, guitar manufacturer Fender presented Janie Hendrix with an exact copy of the white Stratocaster that Hendrix played at Woodstock in 1969 (the original is part of EMP's permanent collection).
While the focus was clearly on the music Jimi Hendrix did create, some couldn't help but speculate about what he would be doing today. "He would have expanded himself," Gypsies drummer Buddy Miles said. "He was like Beethoven. He could write for three pieces or for nine or ten . . . Whatever he'd be doing, it would be funky and greasy."