Purple Haze pays tribute to rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest guitarist
Jimi Hendrix was so innovative he’s been dead more than 40 years and is still considered the greatest guitarist of all time.
The Rolling Stone in November listed its top 100 players, and Hendrix – who only played his instrument 12 years and recorded just four albums – is No. 1.
“I think the second best player would be miles behind Jimi,” said Ralph Woodson, who portrays Hendrix in the trio Purple Haze, which plays Saturday in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room. “Jimi catapulted us into the future with his creativity which stands unmatched on the electric guitar. He had a special way of looking at things and did everything your guitar teacher told you not to do.”
Woodson is a veteran Bay Area guitarist whose has fronted and played with numerous bands in a variety of genres, including blues (Lady Bianca), reggae (Mighty Diamonds), rap (Dru Down) and rock (Neal Schon, Billy Kreutzmann).
He now is having his best success as a Hendrix tribute performer with bassist Pete Roberts and drummer Dan Cueva. He played three times in the casino’s smaller Red Room before moving to the larger Crown Room, where he is set to play for the third time.
“He is without a doubt the best I have ever seen at covering Hendrix, said Casino Manager Bill Wood, “and a lot of other folks feel that way too, as he packs the Crown Room every time we have him up for a free show.”
“The sound in that place is superior,” said Woodson, who has plenty to say about the superior sound from Hendrix.
“There are a lot of great guitarists now, a lot who have taken it to other levels, but just in a different way,” Woodson said. “There are a lot of shredders. But creativity – that’s where I put Jimi way above everybody else. That’s what I’m talking about when I say he’s the greatest. He could hear sounds in his head and then duplicate them.”
Two of Hendrix’s biggest influences, Buddy Guy, the first to make feedback sound cool, and Muddy Waters, are well down the magazine’s list. Guy is No. 23, Waters 49.
“On songs like ‘Voodoo Child,’ if you listen to Muddy, Hendrix is doing that, but Jimi took it to another place,” Woodson said. “It was a call and response with the voice and guitar. He got so comfortable with that language that he could speak it in his sleep.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience (with British musicians Mitch Mitchell on drums, Noel Redding bass) made three albums, and Hendrix recorded a live album with Band of Gypsys, which included two African-Americans, drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox.
Woodson, a boy during the Vietnam War, said his life changed after he heard his brother playing the Band of Gypsys’ live version of “Machine Gun.”
In its homage to Hendrix, Rolling Stone wrote, “On songs like ‘Machine Gun’ or ‘Voodoo Chile,’ his instrument is like a divining rod of the turbulent Sixties – you can hear the riots in the streets and napalm bombs dropping in his “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Hendrix will remain on people’s minds in 2012. It was announced the annual Hendrix tribute tour will continue in March with participants including Cox, Guy, and the Doors Robby Krieger. And a guitar shaped park in Hendrix’s hometown Seattle will open the year of Hendrix’s 70th birthday. In the spring, polonia trees will bloom bright purple.
Purple Haze later this month will make its second tour through the great Northwest, where there are plenty of knowledgeable fans.
“When I was in Portland, the crowd was hollering for ‘Poli Gap,’ Woodson said, referring to a relatively unknown song from the album “Rainbow Bridge.” “They were hollering for it like it was ‘Purple Haze.’ “
“Rainbow Bridge” was one of the better posthumous Hendrix records. There are several dozen low-quality bootleg CDs available.
“That hurts me way down inside,” Woodson said. “The thing that I hate about that is all the youngsters who don’t know who he is, I’m afraid when they first hear about him, it will be one of those.”
Woodson plays a Stratocaster guitar right-handed and upside down. Hendrix played left-handed and upside down.
“I just got a left, so I could look like him with all the controls up top,” Woodson said. “My tuning is the same. We tune down to E flat, that’s where most of the blues cats, they lived down there.”
Woodson uses a heavier gauge string than did Hendrix, but not as thick as another great guitarist of his generation, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In addition to Hendrix licks, Woodson occasionally covers Vaughan, Joe Satriani and Carlos Santana. The Ralph Woodson trio also has original music and an album release is in the works.
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