Arts and Entertainment

Playing Hendrix — note for note

From left to right, Hunter Blake, Carl Blake and B.C. Dolsen are the members of  A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix. - Contributed photo/ Sandy Buckley
From left to right, Hunter Blake, Carl Blake and B.C. Dolsen are the members of A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix.
— image credit: Contributed photo/ Sandy Buckley

If you tell Carl Blake that his channeling of Jimi Hendrix is over the top, he’ll take it as a compliment. The more he sticks out his tongue, or plays the guitar under his leg, the better. He and his ensemble, A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix, including his son Hunter, and B.C. Dolsen are among the tribute bands keeping the guitarist’s music alive and outrageous 40 years after his death.

Blake brings not only solid technique, ruffled shirts and high heeled boots, but also the moves that made Hendrix both an innovative musician and a memorable performer as well.

“To keep Jimmy Hendrix alive is an honor and to share it with young people who don’t know it is so important,” said Blake. “His music is an integral part of Americana… the blues are very unique to America and everyone should know it. It’s an integral part of our musical roots — just like everyone should know the Beatles.”

The group’s appearance on the Whittier stage Jan. 28, 7:30 p.m. opens their 2012 tour and features the late legendary guitarist’s hits from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsies with songs like “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe” and “All Along the Watchtower.”

Dolsen said he’s excited to perform Hendrix in the grandeur of the theater, so that people are not only hearing the music but seeing the show.

The players

Blake, on guitars and vocals, has worked with artists like Harry Connick Jr., Joe Satriani and George Strait. He’s even played with Kurt Cobain before his death. Blake describes himself as “severely left-handed” and plays the guitar upside down like Hendrix. As for any other comparisons, Blake said he’s not qualified to compare himself to the guitar legend.

Hunter, Blake’s 19-year-old son, on bass and vocals, has studied extensively under Sharon Ray at the National Guitar Workshop and has shared the stage with Allen White from Yes.

Blake said he always knew that he’d be on stage with his son; he just didn’t know, but hoped it would be before he was too old.

“With my parents there was a massive generation gap,” said Blake. “And with me and my son, well, he’s a cool son and I’m a cool dad.”

Hunter Blake said his earliest memories are of his dad playing guitar in the basement or the garage, and right now he can’t imagine doing anything other than being in A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix.

The third member of the band, B.C. Dolsen on drums and percussion,  is self taught and worked at Grammercy Records for six years, he has recorded with Grammy winners and is a veteran of numerous tours, sessions and fill-ins in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

The first CD he was given was Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock, which he remembers listening to while tracing a coloring book of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Dolsen grew up with exposure to various types of music introduced by his mother who was a classical singer.

He describes the band as killer, concise, dedicated and having plenty of over the top showmanship.

Hunter Blake compares Dolsen to Animal from the Muppets.

“He all but eats his cymbals,” said Hunter Blake. “He’s pretty spectacular.”

The music

The band was born out of a benefit show at Roche Harbor two years ago. After their Hendrix tunes stoked the crowd, they decided to form a group.

“To our surprise people would be mashing at our shows,” said Blake. “It must mean we are on the right track.”

Then they started doing the same music at private parties and local festivals, and they plan to perform at casinos and larger venues later this year. In the tribute band business, Blake said there are not many groups taking on the challenge of performing Hendrix, mainly because it’s not easy to do.

“We’re not just a Hendrix tribute band, we’re diehard fans of the music and understand how important the music is,” said Blake. “As fans we understand what people are expecting and we work really hard to give what they are expecting and maybe even more.”

The band has spent 2,000 hours of session time perfecting the music and the moves.

Blake said as a group of classically trained musicians, their approach to playing Hendrix tunes is to not deviate from “Hendrix’s path.”

“If you’re given a chance to play the 9th Symphony you don’t take liberties,” Blake said. “And if you take a very iconic solo like “All along the Watch Tower” that goes a specific way, you play it note for note.”

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