When it comes to influential guitarists, very few have the social impact, musical longevity and ongoing legacy that the late Jimi Hendrix catalogue has provided across a broad range of genres as varied as modern rock and metal to contemporary classical and experimental jazz. Anyone of the vintage era when Jimi ruled supreme will relay the incredible unifying power his music had during a time of upheaval, injustice and misguided warfare. Sadly, his flame burned brightly and quickly but the music remains given some of the timeless material created. As a result, it is not surprising that American guitarist Randy Hansen’s career evolved into paying tribute to the incendiary performances and improvisational qualities of the Jimi Hendrix Experience with exacting precision. In Australia for the first time ever, Loud Online caught up with Randy shortly before he boarded a plane to tour our wide brown land with possibly the only Hendrix Estate endorsed tribute show, The Hendrix Revolution.
For your upcoming shows, audiences can expect and reinventing of sorts of the music of Hendrix. How do you go about achieving this given so many of the studio recordings are etched into our minds?
I use the basic outlines that Jimi used. A lot of the time, his music is set up for a lot of improvisation. So I pretty much try to improvise along the same lines that Jimi did which is doing things the way that you feel them at the time.
Is it fair to say a lot of audiences are more familiar with Jimi’s first few recordings as opposed to the slightly later Band of Gypsys live material? Also, does that material lend itself to improvisation?
I’d say that for general audiences, yeah, that is true. I would say that he did longer extended solos during the Band of Gypsys era than in the other songs which seemed to be more concise. The Band of Gypsys songs seemed to stretch out longer and were more funk oriented.
He was a reasonably well established touring session guitarist before he had huge success with Are You Experienced. Would you say that was more commercially angled material?
I’d say that there was commercialism on all of his albums but for probably the majority of it, he was being produced for the first time by real producers. I think that they had a way of moulding him in the beginning whereas he took more control later on. As you get more power in the music business, that is kind of the way things go a lot of the time.
How did you get into the music of Jimi Hendrix in the first place?
Well I was already playing guitar when I was ten years old but Jimi came around when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old. I just heard about him like everyone else; because of his performance at Monterey Pop Festival. Somebody at school told me about him so I went out and bought the album Are You Experienced at his suggestion. I listened to it and was blown away by it because the closest thing to it then was The Who and Cream. Then Hendrix came out and seemed to fit in with that realm but it was something brand new as it was a new approach to music which seems to have lasted quite a long time.
I can relate to that in how the impact of Edward Van Halen’s music had on my generation of guitarists. Were there other bands at the time of Jimi appearing that had a similar influence on music?
Oh absolutely with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Ventures, Deep Purple, Joe Walsh, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Mile Davis and a lot of jazz fusion. There was a lot of people and I’m always still listening to new music. Even when the Smashing Pumpkins came around as well as the grunge era I was influenced. I knew a lot of those guys from being here in Seattle. I’m a little older so I watched a lot of those up and coming musicians come up and get pretty big such as Alice in Chains.
Jimi appears to be pivotal as a point of reference for most guitarists.
Yeah, if you pick up a guitar and you want it to soar, most people think of Jimi Hendrix. I talked to Ritchie Blackmore about it and he kind of agreed that Jimi did just about everything imaginable with a guitar that he could imagine and make it very tasteful at the same time.
That’s pretty funny coming from Mr. Blackmore as some might argue that he wrote the book of riffs.
Yeah, well, Richie won’t go onstage unless he hears ‘Wind Cries Mary’ or ‘Hey Joe’. Ritchie started Deep Purple and the sound of Deep Purple because of Jimi Hendrix and he’ll tell you that. He said he was looking for a heavy sound like Jimi’s and he found it. I really enjoy Deep Purple a lot and I got to tour with Ritchie Blackmore for about five shows.
Excellent. You’ve also played with Uli Jon Roth, Sammy Hagar, Robert Cray, Triumph and Stevie Ray Vaughan, amongst others. Is there any particular artist that matches the creative fire of Hendrix? I suppose Stevie Ray was really the only one that comes close.
Yeah, I talked about Jimi a lot with Stevie and he really loved what Jimi did especially with his approach and everything. He also told me how his brother, Jimmy, was trying to keep Stevie a little bit more true to the traditional Texas blues. So it was a struggle for Stevie between gravitating to a heavier sound whilst also trying to keep it clean and pure. When you hear Stevie you can hear that sound but it still has a lot of power. It had a really good sound and was very powerful.
The performance aspects of Jimi is adopted by many guitarists of note. Yngwie Malmsteen’s performance certainly has a lot of Hendrix in there and it still going strong today.
Yeah, so many guitarists are influenced by what Jimi started; Adrian Belew and King Crimson was really cool. He opened up a whole door for a lot of musicians and a lot of musicians now appreciate that. Peter Gabriel was very daring when he started and it really had nothing to do with the guitar. It had to do with the songs and points of view. It is pretty important for a lot of people in life in the music they listen to and a lot create their own dogma around music.
A song like ‘Machine Gun’ must have had a huge social impact at the time especially with Jimi’s background and simply amazing guitar playing that was taking everyone by storm.
Yeah, I just remember at the time that stuff hit really heavily. Everybody was already really against the [Vietnam] war or it seemed to me that the majority of people were against the war and wanted to get out. Jimi certainly made his point to try to get some reason going. I think he got a lot respect from people for doing that and I also think that he posed a serious threat to the government at the time. So, I think that it was a double edged sword for Jimi and it was a daring move for him to be so outspoken about the war.
Definitely. You’re recognised by the Hendrix Estate. Do they have an input on how you conduct your performances?
No, not really. They’ve just been really supportive. When I started doing this there weren’t really any tribute bands out there. Al Hendrix was taken aback that I wanted to do a tribute to his son and I told him what he meant to me after he saw the show. When he finally came to the show it was a big theatre here in Seattle [Paramount Theatre] and he sat next to my mother. I guess he really liked it so that’s why I got endorsed.
Are you purely using Fender Stratocasters in the show or do you use a Flying V in any songs?
Oh no, I’ll have four different Stratocasters with me for this tour. I used to play Flying Vs and everything like that but I didn’t really care for them. I’ve set the whole thing up for Stratocasters because for me that is Jimi’s best sound. I just wasn’t impressed with his sound when he played with Les Paul or with a Flying V.
Understood. Today, you can get equipment that replicates just about any tone with amplifier modelling and whatnot. For the live performance, do you still have to go back to the Marshall Plexi amplifier heads and the Fuzz Face pedals? Do you have to use authentic gear?
Yeah, I’ve pretty much gone for what Jimi used and I even have on of Jimi’s wah wah pedals. The rest is authentic old stuff. I use an old UniVibe and an old Fuzz Face. Generally I just go straight into the amplifier from there. I don’t use a whole lot of effects. It is really either a crazy overdrive, a mid-range and lots of punch sound Stratocaster or a very nice, clean Stratocaster sound. It is very full so generally everything falls into one of those categories: over the cliff, medium or nice and melodic.
Your band members of Ufo [Walter – bass] and Manni [von Bohr – drums] are very talented musicians. Are they restricted to using vintage equipment within the show at all? Is very early seventies equipment their ceiling or do they like massive drum kits and six string basses?
The bass player, Ufo, has gravitated more towards a Fender Jazz bass or a Fender Precision with round wound strings and really, this is why that sound sounds this way and if you approached it a different way, it won’t sound like that. That is why we ended up using the same tools to make it sound that way. A round wound string was all that was on electric basses when Jimi Hendrix was playing for all those years. The Rotosound style bass string wasn’t invented until after Jimi died. So, we try to go for the real sounds and he improvises a lot which is what Jimi did. A lot of people don’t realise that Jimi was the bass player on a lot of the recorded tracks.
I remember you appeared on a title track for Shout’s In Your Face album back in 1989. The song was chock full of shredding guitars from a host of players such as Alex Masi, Marty Friedman, Michael Angelo and of course yourself. Can you talk about that experience?
Oh, now I remember and Michael Angelo was on that record. Yeah, that was real quick one day thing and they had me come in and I’ve never really heard it since I recorded it so I cannot remember it that well. It was an afternoon in LA where they asked me to come in to record some solos. I do remember meeting Michael Angelo at that session and talking to him about all he could do with the guitar which was amazing to me.
Obviously Jimi has had a lot of various label album releases posthumously although the definitive releases are with the estate. How much Hendrix vinyl have you collected over the years?
Most of the stuff that I have is a few bootlegs and all of the regular released records. Although, most of my record collection I ended up selling when I was a kid after I learned a lot of the stuff and I could play it back in my head. I could heard the songs in my head just like playing them on the radio or on a record. Then when I needed money, as a kid, I ended up selling some of my record collection which I regret. But I had a large collection of all of the people that influenced me. I had a lot of blues records and current records such as 1970’s blues artists like Cactus. In fact, Cactus was the band that came on before Hendrix when I saw Jimi here in Seattle. So, there were very influential and I loved Jim McCarty’s guitar playing and I’m sure Jimi did too.
Alright, well we’ve run out of time but we look forward to seeing you play in Australia.
I can’t wait. Give us a shout and I’ll see you there.
The Hendrix Revolution Tour plays in Australia from today:
18/5: Enmore Theatre, Sydney
21/5: Palais Theatre, Melbourne
24/5: Perth Concert Hall, Perth
25/5: Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
31/5: Brisbane Concert Hall, Brisbane