There are few musicians, living or dead, who could rival the persistent esteem that Jimi Hendrix is rightly held in, even more than four decades after his death. So it’s unsurprising then that musicians and fans alike are queuing up to be a part of a tribute such as The ‘Experience Jimi Hendrix’ concert.

The show features an impressive array of Australian greats, including Peter Koppes, Darren Middleton, and Steve Edmonds. Tone Deaf sat down for a chat with Koppes, the guitarist of one of Australia’s most legendary rock bands, The Church, to talk all things Hendrix.

Can you tell us a little bit about getting involved with ‘Experience Jimi Hendrix’?
Just recently, I got a sponsorship from a company called Blackstar and they gave me a whole lot of amplifiers to try out one time in a studio while we were rehearsing for our Opera House concert with The Church. I turned them all up at the same time and I just started playing a lot of Hendrix things that I knew. I enjoyed it so much that when the offer came…I thought, well Hendrix’s music – the torch should be carried and maintained, he’s not alive to do it himself. The Hendrix thing is a guilty pleasure for any guitarist, to wish or to imagine that they can play with as much soul and feeling…it’s just so expressive.

Tributes are a funny thing in my mind, I usually prefer the original artist although a lot of great covers have been done, like Hendrix did a cover of Bob Dylan and it became one of his strongest songs and a lot of people’s covers have been their most popular songs. So from a tribute point of view, I thought I’d like to do that, and when they said that there was going to be Midnight Oil’s guitarist and the guitarist, Darren Middleton, from Powderfinger, other guitarists who I really respected, I thought it would be a nice atmosphere to share all we know about Hendrix backstage as well.

How much planning would go into something like this? How much rehearsal and discussion with the other artists involved goes into it?

I won’t be rehearsing, I’ll just come down and play the songs. I’m supposed to do ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Foxy Lady’ and I’ll be playing them per se.

I try not to play his music, and never copied any of his songs because it’s sacred to me, I didn’t really want to unravel that. And I only have done that in the last five years, just really looked into them and studied them and realised his harmony and his style, and his jazz approach to it became very apparent as well.

How present do you think Jimi Hendrix’s influence is in your own guitar playing?

Totally. As much as I try to hide it. He was famous for feedback and controlling feedback, they’d say his guitar was like trying to hold a live snake that if you didn’t hold any of the strings, the power and the amplification was so strong that the guitar would start howling and [be] quite uncontrollable. I’m a bit good at that as well. I play with feedback a lot in The Church, with the sustain of it and wildness as well.

With Jimi Hendrix having such an enduring influence and quite a pervasive presence, do you think that’s mostly to do with his guitar playing or other aspects, such as his spirituality?

He is playing as a blues player, anybody who tries to play the blues would find him undeniably closer to it than just about anybody could ever be, ‘cause the blues is a pure emotional expression, unpretentious, you know what I mean? The reason he’s probably really successful, and it was his downfall in some ways, is because he was such a showman and he burnt his guitar and things like that and then people expected him to do that, and he couldn’t mature.

Do you think that any living guitarist would hope to have that sort of influence that he has had? Is there anyone that you can think of?

I don’t think so, I think all anybody can do is use new technology to find a new expression but I think we probably need a new technology, and even then, I doubt that that exists. But for sheer expression of his soul, even without the technology, I think…I suppose we’re really lording him up and everything like that but it is a testament to him that everybody, every guitarist would say he’s their best. That’s strange, isn’t it?

Experience Jimi Hendrix
29 October 2011
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Get your tickets here

This year’s show will included performances by Darren Middleton (Powderfinger), Stuart Fraser (Noiseworks), Peter Koppes (The Church), Jak Housden (The Whitlams) Kevin Borich, John & Rick Brewster (The Angels), Steve Edmonds, Grant Walmsely (Screaming Jets), Peter Northcote with more special guests to be announced.