Randy Hansen was baptized by the rain dripping off Jimi Hendrix’s boots

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 16, 2001

By Steve Newton

Randy Hansen has been immersing himself in the music of Jimi Hendrix since 1967, when an older acquaintance tipped him off about this amazing guitarist who had just played the Monterey Pop Festival. Taking this fellow’s advice, Hansen went out and bought the new Hendrix album. Or so he thought.

“I picked up Get That Feeling: Curtis Knight Sings, Jimi Hendrix Plays,” Hansen explains from his home in Seattle, “and I was going, ‘Oh yeah, this is great!’ I went and told the guy and he goes, ‘No! That’s the wrong album!’ Then I got Are You Experienced? and I went, ‘Ooohhh!’ The whole world became clear to me at that point.”

Hansen was so blown away by Hendrix’s fiercely original style that he’s devoted much of his life to re-creating it via his tribute act, which visits the Commodore on Friday (August 17). He still can’t pinpoint what he thought was so great about Hendrix in the first place, though. “That’s pretty hard to put your finger on,” Hansen says. “I don’t think anybody knew exactly what it was. Every once in a while you hear someone and you go, ‘Oh my god, this person is gifted!’ and that’s what I felt about Jimi. He just had it in aces, you know.”

Hansen never got to meet Hendrix before he passed away in September of 1970, but he did see him in concert once, at the guitar legend’s final Seattle appearance at an old baseball stadium. “He played out at centre field—in the rain,” Hansen recalls. “I stood right beneath him during that show. I was so close to him that the water from the rain dripped off the toes of his boots right onto my forehead. I was baptized in his spirit that day, that’s for sure.”

Hansen’s current show is roughly half Hendrix songs and half original material, the latter portion including tunes like “Texas Twister”, which he wrote about fellow Hendrix devotee Stevie Ray Vaughan. In his pre–Texas Flood days, Vaughan used to open shows for Hansen in Austin, Texas, and the two became jammin’ buddies. “We could really sit and exchange ideas,” he says, “and not only the things that we learned from Jimi, but things that we’ve learned ourselves on the guitar—little animal sounds and everything.”

One might guess that Hansen’s favourite Hendrix song to perform live might be the showstopper Vaughan also favoured, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. But it’s actually the quirky “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”, off the Electric Ladyland album. “It’s a real difficult song to perform,” he points out, “and Jimi never played it live. It’s all about goin’ underneath the water, because the surface of the earth gets so screwed up that we have to go underwater to live. It’s as psychedelic as he’s ever gotten, and it’s also as beautiful as he’s ever gotten. It’s got everything in there.”

While the ultimate rock-guitar hero has been gone for more than three decades, there are still a few players around who keep Hansen inspired, like his “number two guy”, John McLaughlin. “I’d go anywhere to see that guy,” he claims. “It doesn’t get any more serious than that to me. But my favourite performer and songwriter—I mean number one of everyone around right now—is Peter Gabriel. I saw him just the other day [at Seattle’s WOMAD Festival]. He’s not really guitar-oriented at all, but I just love him for the music, you know.”

 

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