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INTERVIEW: RANDY HANSEN, HENDRIX REVOLUTION

INTERVIEW: RANDY HANSEN, HENDRIX REVOLUTION
By Shane Pinnegar

Randy Hansen 01

Seattle’s Randy Hansen – one of the few guitar virtuosos interpreting the music of Jimi Hendrix to be recognised by the late guitarist’s family – brings his Hendrix Revolution show to Australia this month. SHANE PINNEGAR has the story.

18th May Sydney, Enmore Theatre
21st May Melbourne, The Palais
24th May Perth, Concert Hall
25th May Adelaide, Thebarton Theatre
31st May Brisbane, Concert Hall

A pivotal moment for Hansen was seeing the left-handed legend play live at one of his final American concerts, in their joint home-town of Seattle.

“Well, you know, I was already playing the guitar when I heard about him,” Hansen explains. “In just the time he emerged, he very quickly became the hottest thing around. It was what really attracted me to his playing immediately.

“[Then] I saw his big stadium show – it was the last time he [performed] at home. Up to that point, there wasn’t very much [footage] that you could see of him. I think there was some of Monterey Pop had gotten out… I don’t know if that was available in the movies yet or not. [Seeing him live] had a big influence on me because I had finally seen my big hero for the first time.”

Hansen has released several albums of original music, but says the tour will be, “focusing on Jimi mostly – we may do one or two of my songs. I’ve never been [to Australia] before, so yeah, it’s gonna be a brand new experience for me. I’m really psyched on coming there.”

Despite performing his Hendrix tributes for decades now, Hansen still insists he constantly finds new magic in the music.

“Yeah, you know, luckily Jimi wrote a lot of spaces for improvisation [because] he himself improvised a lot, so I kind of take the same avenue,” he says. “It’s like Robin Trower and Frank Marino write their own music, but generally when you go see them, they don’t play the exact solos over. Usually, they’re extended solos in the vein of a certain style of playing. That’s pretty much what I do. Most of what I do are tricks that I learned from Jimi, how he would inject certain things. Then other things I’ve learned on my own from other guitar players. A lot of the different influences will show up because of improvisation. I hope you like where I take it.

“I kind of go through all of the [eras of Jimi’s music]. I don’t really use a set list or anything. There’s certain songs I know to play but then there’s other ones that just hit me at the time, like, ‘hey, maybe we’ll do this.’ We do a lot of deep cuts and everything. My show, for a long time, used to be three hours long – and even then, we never ran out of songs to play.”

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Over the years Hansen had the opportunity to play with Jimi’s band mates Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. As a dedicated fan as well as a professional musician, it must have been interesting to talk to these guys about their experiences too?

“Well, yeah, they clued me in on a few things,” Hansen affirms. “Certain things like, for instance, they never used tuners when they went on stage. They would tune up as they hit the stage. That’s why I usually say that, ‘give us a few minutes to tune up here,’ which would only take maybe thirty seconds usually for him. Another things is the fact that they did improvise almost steadily and they never [stuck to set lists] – if certain songs hit them, they would just launch into it and do whatever they were thinking. A lot of times I don’t think they knew exactly where Jimi was going, but they tried to follow along and run with it.”

Hansen confirms that walking that fine line – playing without a set list, having large sections purely for improvisation – adds to the excitement knowing that it all could fall down in a heap at any moment.

“Yeah, it really is. It’s flying by the seat of your pants, and it’s scary to do that but it’s also a big challenge for anybody to improvise what they’re going to be doing. I just never have wanted to go repeat any show, the same way Jimi didn’t want to repeat his shows. He’d do something different at every show.”

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Hansen may have a virtuoso’s reputation and decades of experience on his CV, but his band are no slouches either. Innovative bass player Ufo Walter has been playing professionally for over 35 years, having played alongside Buddy Miles and Leon Hendrix, whilst Manni von Bohr is known as ‘Germany’s Pope of The Drums,’ and has played on more than 350 audio and DVD recordings.

“Oh, they’re great,” Hansen says of his bandmates. “Ufo is a fabulous bass guitarist, really on top of things and he’s into all genres of music. That guy can play anything. Manni also is the same way. Once you’ve gone into jazz and classical and all kinds of stuff, where it takes a lot of concentration to play certain types of music, and then play them freely, that’s where it gets difficult. When you get to the point you can play what takes other people a lot of [effort]… I don’t know – some people aren’t even capable of playing certain things. When you can do it with ease, that’s when you know you got your hands on some good players.”

No doubt you couldn’t be so improvisational unless you had complete faith in the guys backing you.

“Absolutely, yeah,” says Hansen. “They set me going in different directions too that way because of their expertise. They’ll start me off on a different direction just by themselves improvising.”

Talking about Hendrix’s family and their official recognition of his show and abilities, Hansen says, “they’ve just always been friends of mine and, you know, when I started doing this, I was like the first rock tribute act so it was a real novelty back then when I began this. I think that’s kind of what glued them to me because they really appreciated what I was doing for Jimi, I think. They liked it. They came and saw me. Al [Jimi’s father], he used to come constantly to see shows in Seattle when I’d play Seattle, as well as [Jimi’s brother] Leon, and Leon’s a good friend of mine too, so, I consider them friends.”

Being friendly with them, have you been given the chance to hear any more unreleased recordings by Hendrix?

“Well, not from the family so much really,” admits Hansen. “I’ve seen some video stuff they had, that didn’t have sound and they were showing me some of the video and they wanted to know if I could identify the songs he was playing by looking at his hands. I was trying to figure that out for them.”

Since Hendrix’s tragic death in 1970, much of his studio archive has been reworked and released posthumously – a staggering twelve studio albums compared to the scant three he released in his own lifetime. Hansen is not opposed to the process.

“I think… the way that I look at it is that no matter what they can come up with, that people deserve to hear it. Obviously Jimi won’t be writing any new albums so anything that can be heard, I would rather hear it than not hear it. It won’t be as polished, usually. There’s a couple of things that I’ve heard that only – like, there’s a track on YouTube right now that is only drums and guitar. I sat down with a bass guitar and sat and tried to think, ‘well, what would he have wanted to hear on a bass with that song?’ He came up with some pretty wild ideas, I may try to get some of that stuff going on my own too. I think it’s good to have anything new with Jimi playing the guitar and singing. I’m all for hearing it.”

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Hansen’s not simply being diplomatic on this contentious point. When I ask if there is a concern that by bringing other musicians in and trying to finish demos which Hendrix left behind may dilute the guitarist’s intent, his opinion reverses suddenly.

“Well, they’ve already done that. There was an album, I think it was Nine To The Universe, or something like that. It was one of the other albums where they actually brought in, I think, the drummer from… oh, what was that band – My Sharona? The Knack!

“The drummer from that band, the Knack [Bruce Gary] played drums on, I believe, almost the whole record. They actually took out Mitch Mitchell’s drum tracks in order to do that, which I thought was wrong. I didn’t hear the original drum tracks so I don’t know why they mixed them out. [Editor’s note: Wikipedia suggests that Bruce Gary co-produced the Blues compilation with Alan Douglas, and re-recorded drums for two tracks on the Voodoo Soup compilation. Gary died in 2006 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.]

“[He] was a friend of mine, he died a fairly long time ago. He was a really good drummer, but I would have rather they brought Mitch Mitchell in and said, ‘can you repair this or do another track or something?’ Just keeping it as real as possible is important. It seems, though, there’s always people that are only going to be looking for money and trying to make money. That’s the industry. It’s one of the evils of the industry, but what are you going to do?”

Hansen released his fourth solo album last year, and while Funtown has still got a Hendrix feel to his playing, the material is all original, and contains musical hints of Pink Floyd and even Frank Zappa.

“Funtown is supposedly an amusement park,” Hansen explains. “In the amusement park Funtown, you get to do whatever you want in Funtown. Whatever your imagination tells you you want to do, you can do it at Funtown. Supposedly, you just have to phone ahead. When I wrote this album, I was writing songs about the Earth and about our planet and our way of life, things like that. When I started writing, I fell ill with the flu and the flu held on for like three months and I thought I was dying. When I got towards the end of the album, I started writing a little more seriously about leaving behind how I felt about things on the planet. That’s how it all ended up.

“The album is basically saying what we do with our planet, which is whatever we can imagine, and [if] we end up doing that and have done it for years and … I don’t know [what’s gonna happen to us all].

“Through playing Jimi’s music and listening to Jimi and adopting his morality, I can’t help but be worried about our planet. It’s something that he was worried about and something that I’ve thought about my entire life also, so I had to write about it. A lot of his songs have those connotations to them.”

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Hansen readily admits he has a similar spiritual outlook to Jimi.

“Yeah, well, he kind of… after my dad died when I was ten, when I finally got another role model, it ended up being Jimi – and then he died too. It, I don’t know, that kind of cemented our relationship right then and there. When he died, it scared me really badly because he was… he had so many warnings and so many solutions [for the world’s problems] in his music I thought, ‘oh my God, we just lost the Albert Einstein of music.’ It hit me like that.”

Hansen was also lucky enough to count Texan guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan as a close friend, and the two shared an abiding love of Jimi’s music.

“Yeah, Stevie and I were good friends,” he says, wistfully remembering another fallen comrade. “We played many shows together. He used to open the show for me when I came to Austin, and when he made it in his own right and started doing some big shows, we’d just run into each other on the road and were always friends.

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“Yeah, we had a great time. We used to jam a lot. I went over to his house a couple of times after gigs. I generally didn’t do that but because of how he played and everything, and who he was as a person, we got along from the minute we met and so I kind of hung out with him every time I got to Austin. I’m really glad I did too because he was a really good guy to get to know.”

It’s all about the music for Randy Hansen, and as our time is up and a bid him adieu, he leaves me with a heartfelt thanks, saying, “all right, I can’t wait to play, man!”

INTERVIEW: RANDY HANSEN, HENDRIX REVOLUTION

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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  1. Michael Avalos says:

    Wow my wife and I saw Randy Hanson in Brisbane Queensland it was so fantastic to see and hear the music of Jimi Hendrix so cool

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