Veteran guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani remembers the first time he heard Jimi Hendrix’s music as a child.
“I heard this incredible music coming from the stereo. I think the song was ‘Wind Cries Mary.’ I remember being transfixed. I asked all my older siblings and my parents who that was playing,” Satriani recalls a week into the Experience Hendrix Tour, an all-star tribute concert tour celebrating the legendary rocker’s music.
Satriani’s family was amused by his newfound interest, and his older sister would bring him whatever Hendrix records she found. But although his sister’s acoustic guitar was ever-present, Satriani was content with piano and drum lessons. It wasn’t until Hendrix’s death in 1970 that he decided to devote his life to the instrument.
“I quit the football team the day he died,” he says.
Nearly five decades later, the 62-year-old Satriani is joining Hendrix band member Billy Cox, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Dweezil Zappa and Jonny Lang for the tour’s Ovens Auditorium stop on Friday night. Satriani will perform as a trio with King’s X vocalist/bassist Dug Pinnick and longtime John Mellencamp drummer/star session player Kenny Aronoff, while other featured performers will rotate in and out of the set.
(Previously, Satriani had honored his late hero by playing with Cox, Jerry Cantrell and Mitch Mitchell — at a show in his hometown of San Francisco, years ago — and by performing with Living Colour on early Experience Hendrix shows.)
Within the first few days of the tour, he says, artists were venturing into unlikely collaborations.
“Last night I was watching Eric Johnson play ‘Are You Experienced’ with the most unlikely piano player — Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist and founder of Black Label Society),” he says. “(Johnson) wouldn’t have attempted that song otherwise.”
Performing on the same stage as Cox — Hendrix’s 79-year-old former Army buddy and bassist for both Band of Gypsies and the Jimi Hendrix New Experience — is a treat for both the audience and the other musicians on tour.
“It’s just absolutely magical when you hear him playing that bass, because it brings back the memories and magic in Jimi’s sound. It’s really spooky in a way. You recognize that groove right away,” says Satriani, who had a fanboy moment when he asked a roadie if he could hold Cox’s bass before the tech took it out on stage one night. “It’s such an important part, spiritually, that Billy is there.”
Each night on tour, Satriani has gained a deeper appreciation for Hendrix.
“Every time you approach Jimi’s music, you realize it was more unique and complex than you thought. The way you approach the subtleties can elevate the music when you bring it to a live setting,” he says.
“Hendrix transformed his hits into wild musical explorations live. In those days, live performances were limited technically,” Satriani adds, referring to the bare-bones amplifiers and PA setups of the ’60s. “Now you can bring the sound of the albums to the audience. Do you want to do that? Are you repping Jimi in the studio, or live? Some of us reinterpret the music and others try to nail every detail. Night after night, everyone is experimenting with that.”
In turn, Experience Hendrix becomes a mutual nerding out among the fans in the audience and the fans on stage.
“We’ve had decades now to focus on each part of his songs,” Satriani says. “He’s still a beacon, and something I still aspire to in his immense ingenuity.”
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.