At age 11, guitarist Joe Satriani discovered the music of Jimi Hendrix when he heard “The Wind Cries Mary” coming from the radio in his Westbury home.
“I was transfixed,” says Satriani, 62. “The whole room was spinning like an Alfred Hitchcock film. I thought, ‘What is that sound? It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in my life.’ ”
On Thursday, Satriani takes part in “Experience Hendrix,” a show that pays tribute to the legendary late guitarist at NYCB Theatre at Westbury along with fellow axemen Dweezil Zappa, Dave Mustaine, Jonny Lang, Eric Johnson and other decorated musicians. Together they celebrate the impact Hendrix had on the guitar community by performing his music in different combinations.
“The outpouring of love and respect from the crowds of today is incredible,” says bassist Billy Cox, 79, who played with Hendrix in the ’60s and joins the guitarists onstage in the show. “We have packed houses with people singing the songs and giving standing ovations. It’s a miracle.”
HENDRIX IN THE HOUSE
Zappa grew up hearing stories about Hendrix from his late father, Frank, who featured him on the cover of his 1968 album, “We’re Only in It for the Money,” and even had one of Hendrix’s guitars in the house.
“What struck me the most about Jimi’s playing was the sound — the fuzz tone and wah-wah. You felt like the speakers were going to catch on fire,” says Zappa, 49. “It was always about the feel of his playing. Nothing was too particularly polished.”
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In the show, various trios work their way through Hendrix’s catalog. Zappa plays “Freedom” with Cox on bass and Chris Layton on drums, then he goes on to play “Bold as Love” and “Love or Confusion” with Eric Johnson. Meanwhile, Satriani knocks out a 30-minute set with drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick including tracks “If 6 Was 9,” “Third Stone from the Sun” and “Crosstown Traffic.”
“It’s kind of like summer camp for guitar players,” Zappa says. “There are 15-20 players that come and go on the tour. We’re all backstage talking and playing guitar. It’s a trip.”
Playing Hendrix’s music is intricate, even for the pros.
“If you sit down to try to perform one of Hendrix’s songs you’ll say, ‘Oh my God! No one ever did this.’ There’s no resemblance to anything else,” says Satriani, who started playing guitar the day Hendrix died in 1970. “He has a style that's all his own.”
Zappa agrees. “Songs like ‘Purple Haze’ or ‘Little Wing’ are under three minutes long but they feel epic," he says. "You get a full experience with multiple textures and layers. That’s one of the most genius things about Hendrix. He could do something huge in such a short amount of time.”
When lists of the greatest guitarists of all time are composed, Hendrix sits right at the top.
“Jimi is certainly the most influential electric guitarist — without a doubt,” Satriani says. “There are so many elements that put him above a lot of other players. He was unique in that you can’t pin him down when you listen to the material he recorded. You hear jazz, classical, funk, rock and blues. It’s an interesting sound to the ear.”
Zappa adds, “I don’t think there’s a guitar player alive that once they put a fuzz pedal on doesn’t somehow play at least one phrase that’s inspired by Jimi Hendrix. He made that sound so desirable to people.”
Aside from his guitar mastery and songwriting prowess, Hendrix had an X-factor that Cox tries to put into words.
“Jimi was free,” he reflects. “After learning to play, he threw the rules out of the window and expressed himself with every lick. He wrote in the now, which is an art form within itself and that made his music everlasting. The man was a genius and people gravitate to that.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday, March 28, at NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Road
INFO 800-745-3000, thetheatreatwestbury.com