Vernon Reid at The Egg Takes Hendrix into the 21st Century
“We’re not doing recreations. We’re doing explorations.”
Vernon Reid’s Band of Gypsys Revisited is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s Fillmore East concert that became Jimi’s album Band of Gypsys Live at The Fillmore East recorded at the Fillmore East on December 31, 1969 and January 1st, 1970 and released on March 25th, 1970. But if audiences that attend his show at The Egg on Friday, November 1, are expecting an exact recreation of a concert that wrote the book on jazz-like improvisation in the realm of rock and roll, they’re in for a big surprise.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the show, and it’s an honor to approach music that’s just so cool and so open to interpretation,” says Vernon Reid. “That’s one of the beautiful things about Jimi Hendrix music. All music can be open to interpretation, but he himself was open to interpretation of his own music, so it’s kinda baked into what it is. We’re gonna have a moment, and that moment is gonna be uniquely there that night for The Egg.”
The Grateful Dead and the whole psychedelic movement paved the way for improvisation in rock, but it was Hendrix who blew the lid off the structure of rock in a way that had only been done in jazz up to 1967. That was the year Jimi first became a pop music phenomenon at The Monterey Pop Festival by expanding emotionally, and structurally the very way the guitar was played, let alone his other worldly songwriting. By 1970, shortly before his death, Jimi was deep into jazz, breaking down whatever barriers had existed between the hard rock of acts like The Stones and even Led Zeppelin vs. jazzers like Coltrane and Miles Davis.
Hendrix was just different! A black man who played left-handed and upside down, Jimi pushed beyond the boundaries that insisted electric guitar was merely an acoustic guitar plugged in. Vernon calls him the hippy avatar. “He’s playing with the strings on the back of the guitar, and it sounds like the final clock of doom. You know what I mean? It’s like his “Star Spangled Banner.” It was the soundtrack of a country tearing itself apart like it was beyond this note and that note. It was a score. It was a soundtrack of the nation’s psychology. It was the soundtrack of a generational mindset, and that’s the difference.
“The thing about Hendrix’ is he arranged what he did. Nobody had the range of expression up to that point. He went from being very gentle and R & B-ish and hippy ballads to roaring, insane feedback and noise and practically destroyed himself physically. He goes from the gentleness of “Electric Ladyland” to the Apocalypse of “Machine Gun.” Like that’s the thing about his playing is that he goes from “Angel” and “Castles Made of Sand” to setting his guitar on fire at Monterey.”
Vernon compares Jimi’s guitar to another guitarist, Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers, who played both left and right-handed. “Many people don’t know this, but Ernie Isley is ambidextrous. He can play right-handed or left-handed, and he did this trick, this thing where he was kind of playing and answering himself. You know how guitar players do that? And he sounds like two different people even though you can hear he’s influenced by Hendrix. My point is he happens to meet a really unique approach, and he’s so relentlessly himself even though you can hear the Albert King influence. You could hear Hubert Sumlin’s influence in Jimi Hendrix.
This concert promises to present four amazingly versatile and talented artists who use the recording of this Jimi Hendrix concert as a kind of high diving board to spring from and excite their collective muse into new territory. Joining Reid will be three musicians he’s known and played with for decades: guitarist André ‘Dré Glo’ Lassalle, drummer James “Biscuit” Rouse, and bassist Jared Michael Nickerson.
Vernon is the founder of Living Colour, a band best known for their 1989 hit, “Cult of Personality.” He’s played guitar on Mick Jagger’s Primitive Cool album, worked with Ginger Baker of Cream and recorded The Sun Sessions with James Blood Ulmer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg on a career that runs the spectrum between raw blues to experimental jazz.
Perhaps equally important he is the founder of The Black Music coalition in 1985, an organization established to break down the stereotype that says black musicians can’t do rock and roll. He told the Chicago Tribune at the time, “Basically, what we try to do is….demystify the business. If you’re trying to break in (to the business), it’s like walking up to a building that’s completely smooth glass and there’s no doorway.”
Three and half decades later he says, “If Living Colour as a band influenced a person, black or white or whoever, to pick up an instrument, we’ve done our job. Every time an artist puts their thing out there, that’s the whole point. More than anything else, putting out the truth, your music, your truth from your point of view, that’s the most important thing. It’s more important to be able to do that, and to be entertaining is noble. I’m not going to talk down on people who do that, right? Because they make the music, and they make it not about them, and that’s actually a beautiful thing.”
The other three artists in Band of Gypsys are equally amazing. Andre ‘Dre Glo’ LaSalle has played guitar for 45 years. He has done studio and stage work with Miles Davis, Robert Irving III, Darryl Jones, John Schofield, Buddy Williams, Huey Lewis, Melvin Sparks, and Michael Hampton of Parlament-Funkadelic.
Jared Michael Nickerson on bass and vocals was the Black Rock Coalition’s first Director of Operations and booked the BRC’s first two-day mini-fest at CBGBs entitled Stalking Heads. He played in The Kennedy Center Honors BB King Tribute Band which included Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Etta James and the late Joe Williams. He holds a B.A. in Business Management from The University of Notre Dame and has recorded and toured with Melvin Van Peebles, England’s The The, Bernie Worrell, Wadada Leo Smith, Darlene Love, Freedy Johnston, Vernon Reid (solo) and with The Yohimbe Brothers (Vernon Reid & DJ Logic), Gary Lucas’s Gods and Monsters, Jeff Buckley and Tammy Faye Starlite and the Angels of Mercy.
Jared recently tour-managed emerging Concord Records Alt-Folk artist Valerie June for her Midwest, South and Northeast tour legs, including the set-up of her debut television performance on the August 21st, 2013 edition of the David Letterman show.
James “Biscuit” Rouse on drums and vocals majored in jazz performance and music technology at Temple University and has worked with Nile Rogers & Chic, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Usher and Pharrell Williams and backed Mobb Deep’s Prodigy during his residency at the legendary Blue Note Club in New York. In 2017, his band The Buttered Biscuits released “Biscuit Street,” an EP featuring a re-interpretation of the Tears for Fears classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Vernon Reid is working on his next album for Mascot Records. “I’m kind of doing a combination of new pieces and also some things I composed in the past that I never really got out there. I’m rediscovering something that I did that will be new to everyone, maybe not so new to me, but they’re things I did here and didn’t put out there. It’s a series of – how can I put it? I did some songs that I’ve always wanted to record.”
Vernon Reid’s Band of Gypsys Revisited plays The Egg at Empire State Plaza, Albany on Friday, November 1st at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50. Box office 518-473-1845.