By John Benson
It was roughly 20 years ago when then-middle school student Jonny Lang first heard the music of Jimi Hendrix through the din of the grunge zeitgeist.
“I’d see kids around school with Jimi Hendrix shirts on,” said Lang, calling from somewhere in New Jersey. “It wasn’t until I started playing guitar for a few years that I sort of understood the magnitude of the music. That’s when it hit me, ‘Wow, this guy is really unbelievable.’”
Little did Lang know at the time he’d have his own unbelievable career, as well as amazing opportunities to tour alongside his heroes as part of the Experience Hendrix Tour, which returns to Northeast Ohio for an Wednesday show at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield.
Joining Lang will be Hendrix bassist Billy Cox along with Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Ohio native Bootsy Collins, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II, Chris Layton, Eric Gales, Ana Popovic, Mato Nanji, Dani Robinson and Stan Skibby.
The star-studded tour, which has had numerous incarnations over the past decade, finds some of the genre’s most-respected artists paying homage to arguably one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.
“As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate Hendrix more,” said Lang, who has been on numerous Experience Hendrix tours. “Early on, I was unable to discern just how deep and intricate what he was doing is. He truly was a pioneer then, and he still is pioneering guitar playing as proven by a lot of things, this tour being one of them.
“The consensus among everybody is you can’t really sound like him or copy what he did. Let’s just try to honor the songs the best way we can with our own individual style and take it from there. His approach is so unique that it’s really hard to emulate. He’s one of a kind.”
Whether it’s emulating or learning from the greats, Lang doesn’t stop at Hendrix. Over the past few years, he’s been touring alongside Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Buddy Guy. However, Lang is much more than a blues guitarist.
Over the past decade and a half, Lang’s catalog includes the Grammy-nominated “Wander This World” (1998) and the blues-rock “Long Time Comin’” (2003), as well as the spiritual “Turn Around” (2006) and “Fight For My Soul” (2013).
Lang said he’s starting to toy around with new ideas, which brings up the question whether going on tour playing Hendrix songs will influence his writing?
“I’m the kind of person who, if anything changes me, it’s through osmosis of being around other guitar players or other musicians,” Lang said. “Even though I’m only doing four songs in the set, hearing that show every night with those songs, it definitely influences my playing for sure.”
Those four songs are “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Fire.” Whereas some musicians may question whether going on tour for only four songs is worthwhile, Lang doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s not often that things like being able to tour with a bunch of great musicians and play Jimi Hendrix songs comes up, so it’s a pretty cool thing,” Lang said. “I think I’ll do it as long as they’re doing it and as long as they want me to back.”