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Three Questions with Ernie Isley

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Ernie Isley channels his inner Jimi.
Photo: Tracy Isley
Eric Gladstone

The Experience Hendrix tour, which hits the Joint on March 6, includes a battery of guitar heroes — Joe Satriani, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson — paying tribute to the Stratocaster master. But only one, Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers, can claim to have actually lived with Hendrix during some crucially formative years, when Hendrix was a member of the Isley Brothers band from 1964-65.

What are your earliest memories of Jimi?

I was introduced to him when I was 11. Jimi was 10 years my senior. And any family interaction, he was part of that ... time for breakfast, time for dinner. When the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan the first time, I'm sitting on one side of him and my brother Marvin's sitting on the other. I had my social studies book open, and I used to listen to [him] playing without an amp. We saw him practice playing behind his back and through the leg ... He was all that then ... [later] the amplifiers got bigger. The kids in my school, in study hall after the Experience album came out were talking about this "new" cat Jimi Hendrix. I said, "He's not new, if you'd come around the house, you would've heard him rehearsing in the basement."

As your playing on "Who's That Lady" shows, you were obviously influenced by Jimi as a guitarist. How do you approach paying tribute?

Calendar

Experience Hendrix
featuring Billy Cox, Joe Satriani, Jonny Lang, Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Ernie Isley, Brad Whitford, Doyle Bramhall II, Living Colour, Chris Layton, David Hidalgo & Cesar Rosas.
March 6, 8 p.m., $41-$121.
The Joint, 693-5222

Doing this tour, I'm 11 years old, I'm not a musician, and if I approach it from that point of view, I'll be able to make a contribution. I'll always be that kid listening to a guy play a guitar that doesn't have any wrong notes on it. I have a connection to the person, not the icon.

Is there any message or statement you want to achieve with this tour?

I know they're going to be trying to sell T-shirts and coffee mugs, but I'm trying to get to the music. I had a chance to speak to his little sister, Janie, and she said, "Well, Ernie, this is kind of like a love fest, we'll all get together; it's not about who gets to go on first or last ..." And I said, "Let me tell you something Janie, your brother was the most competitive in his spirit of anybody that I ever met. He does not play guitar nice. He's trying to decapitate you." That's the perspective I have.

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