Shortly before Bo Diddley began his set at the Experience Music Project celebration, Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding approached him with greetings from a mutual friend — and a request to sit in. Diddley agreed, and a throbbing “Mona” was the result. While he’s lost the hair and now seems to be a shy natty type, Redding held his own against Diddley’s blues wail. And those attending were treated to a brand new memorable experience.
The performers during these three days were extremely varied, ranging from modern rappers to geezer rockers. Redding, however, was the only full time Hendrix band member to make an appearance. It was unannounced and extremely low key. Following the brief onstage appearance he was to spend the evening jamming with Paul Allen and Dan Ackroyd in a Seattle club, and planned to be back in his home in Ireland “by tea time on Monday.” While he says he has received no royalties for his recordings with Hendrix, he made the trip to honor his former bandmate. “I still miss him terribly,” Redding said. “This is all a great tribute. I find the gallery devoted to him to be very sad, and very beautiful.”
There were several subtle and direct tributes to Hendrix throughout the weekend. Some were heartfelt, like Bo Diddley band member Jon Paris’ gentle “Third Stone from the Sun” riffs during a curtain call. Others were tacky, like Paul Revere and the Raiders guitarist Doug Heath’s Las Vegas-style behind-the-neck moves. But it became abundantly clear that only two people were essential to this gathering: Jimi Hendrix and Paul Allen. While Allen’s reticence is well known, shyness was also one of Hendrix’ most endearing qualities. “He wasn’t a madman, he was a very gentle guy,” said Redding of Hendrix. Added Mike Finnegan, who played on Electric Ladyland and was here as part of Taj Mahal’s band, “I think he would have been embarrassed by all of this.”
At the same time as Metallica’s set, Rickie Lee Jones was across the center performing in the theater usually occupied by the Seattle repertory company. Beginning with two songs from her upcoming covers album followed by another two from her experimental Ghostyhead, she peppered the evening with an assortment of some of her best (if not always best known) songs. Backed occasionally by Joe Jackson, she stretched out every note, breaking out into a broad smile at the end of a song. Throughout, she was comfortable and cocky, seeming to truly enjoy herself on stage. In the recent past she’s distanced herself from her older material, but this has changed. While she didn’t quite get to “Chuck E.’s in Love,” she played a career spanning set with ebullience and affection.
Sister Nancy was at home with newborn twins, so Ann Wilson — the breath and soul of Heart — assembled a powerful band that played to her strengths even if they didn’t play exactly what the crowd wanted to hear. With just four Heart songs, she filled out the set with some tunes from her side band, the Lovemongers, as well as covers of Joni Mitchell, Bacharach/Costello, Tina Turner and Paul McCartney. Set closer “State of Independence” was a magnificent full-length reading of a textured gem. The emotional, powerful song crashed to a sudden end, as much of the audience still bleated futile screams for “Barracuda.”
A lot of Bo Diddley’s set sounded the same — and that wasn’t at all bad news. The thunka-thunka beat could be felt for miles, a spooky blend of blues and rock. But at the end he shifted gears and began a preachy-but-infectious rap that finished with the lines “Listen to Bo Diddley, stay in school and get your Ph.D.” Just before Diddley was singing his rap, headliner Taj Mahal was in the workshop room in the museum underscoring the same message, singing the “Made Up on the Spot Stay in School Blues.” While this presentation in front of a hundred-or-so folks resembled his popular acoustic sets in Seventies arenas, when he finally hit the stage things were quite different. Fronting an eager six-piece band (bass, drums, guitar, keys and two horns), the subtle blues man transformed into a true soul king. Driven by Larry Fulcher’s bone-crushing bass and Finnegan’s buoyant piano, he reclaimed songs from Aretha, Otis and a bevy of lesser knowns, turning them into his own.
Less impressive by far was the performance by Paul Revere and the Raiders. If the intention of EMP is to make rock & roll a family attraction, these guys made it a bad ride. With only Revere remaining from the original band, everything that was once cool about the group has now become a sad parody. There were decent renditions of their best songs — “Hungry,” “Good Thing,” “Him or Me, What’s it Gonna Be?” — but the time in between was punctuated by flat wisecracks and bad dancing. Revere would fiddle with the various props, blowing an American flag with a portable hair dryer. Appropriately enough, he positioned his organ behind a replica of the front of a Ford Edsel. Perhaps they should take up permanent residency in the museum, as an example of how a fresh sound can go sour.