November 27 would have been electric guitar god Jimi Hendrix‘s 75th birthday! And what should turn up in my email this morning but a version of Hendrix’s Purple Haze sent to me by none other than the illustrious classical guitarist, composer, and guitar professor at Yale, Ben Verdery. If you’ve followed Verdery’s career at all, you know that he is not one to play it safe; he is a boundary-breaker as both a player and composer. So, this is definitely NOT a “classical guitar” performance. Yet you have probably seen most of the techniques Verdery employs here in other modern pieces that have become part of the “accepted” classical guitar repertoire. And then there’s also Carlo Domeniconi’s wonderful Hommage à Jimi Hendrix, which Pavel Steidl has played fairly often. Purple Haze came out on Jimi’s still-incredible and influential 1967 debut album, Are You Experienced. (Hendrix died in 1970)
Verdery writes: “Last May, 50 years after the release of the groundbreaking album Are You Experienced, my dear friend Ray White called me to see if I would do an interview discussing my thoughts on Jimi Hendrix. Talk to Ray about my love for Jimi? Are you kidding? I was in! Ray is one of America’s most beloved music radio personalities. I listened to Ray on WNEW-FM when I was teenager. As it turned out Ray’s film crew consisted of two Parisians, Pierre Mitz and Eric Stockplus. We all had so much fun doing the interview that I suggested we do a “Purple Haze” video here in town. A day later, on quite a foggy purple afternoon, we borrowed a friend’s down town rooftop, complete with a pirate flag (!) and shot the video. It is both a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, whose music deeply moves me 50 years later, and a small tribute to the city he loved so!”
Hendrix fans will also notice a little quotation from another classic Are You Experienced song at the end of the performance, The Wind Cries Mary. —Blair Jackson
Also you can read guitarist Christopher Mallet’s interview with Ben Verdery from the Summer 2016 issue of ‘CG‘ here.