Remembering a rock legend

Billy Cox, a Pittsburgh resident and the only surviving member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys, performs during the Hendrix Experience Tour.  (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Billy Cox, a Pittsburgh resident and the only surviving member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys, performs during the Hendrix Experience Tour. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Experience Hendrix Tour made its Pittsburgh debut last Tuesday at the Benedum Center. The tour is a tribute to the life and music of Jimi Hendrix, giving audiences a unique opportunity to experience Hendrix’s music in live performance and a chance to experience the legacy in a way that a recording could never capture. The tour features now-Pittsburgh resident Billy Cox, the only surviving member of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys. Cox met Hendrix in 1961 when they were in the army together, serving in the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky. Cox would eventually go on to replace Noel Redding and play with Hendrix at one show that changed history: Woodstock.

Having an original member of the Experience was a considerable initial attraction, but the rest of the set read like a list of who’s who in rock today: Steve Vai, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Living Colour, Chris Layton of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Ernie Isley, Mato Nanji of Indigenous, and The Slide Brothers. This group shared the Benedum stage for an electrifying celebration.

When the lights dimmed, the night opened with a striking performance of “Stone Free” by Cox on bass and vocals, Isley on guitar and vocals, and Layton on the drums. The night rolled on, showing one explosive set after another. The opening performance was followed by Living Colour, Kenny Wayne Shepherd with an expansive jam on “Voodoo Chile (slight return),” and members of Los Lobos with a sweet rendition of “Little Wing.”

Seeing musicians perform always brings a level of experience that a recording can’t convey. It stirs the senses and brings the audience alive, setting up an environment where fans can engage with the music and with each other. Seeing Hendrix’s music performed live was a unique experience. To see such a good performance of music so timeless and moving, innovative and influential, is rare. Electronic music has evolved into the modern canon, and audience preferences change as music changes, adapting to new forms and sounds. This is to be expected, but — as much as there is great music to be found in every genre and from any decade — this one man’s music stood for so much, and to engage and participate in that legacy spreads its positive spirit.

The music was amazing, but one downside existed to the show. Strict security and the way that the theater partitioned off its seating inhibited people in the the audience from getting into the music. The crowd sat down for the majority of the performance, with only a few people standing to dance. But though not many people stood during the music, everyone stood at the end of each set to give enthusiastic ovations. Other highlights included Vai’s rendition of “May This Be Love,” Cox’s homage to Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” (Miles played drums with Cox and Hendrix in Band of Gypsys), a short set that featured Vai and Living Colour together performing “Foxy Lady,” “Love of Confusion,” and “Fire” with Vai and Vernon Reid performing blistering duets. Finally, to end the night was Cox, bringing back both Will Calhoun and Layton on the drums at the same time and featuring alternating guitar and lap steel solos on the blues suite “Red House.” The show ended leaving the audience in a charged state, their imaginations and bodies thoroughly stimulated. In the end, besides whose music is being performed or who it’s being performed by, it’s always good to see musicians who work hard to put on a great show.