Ernie Isley recalls a childhood hero: Jimi Hendrix. Isley is one of many all-star guitarists touring with the Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour this month.

Share story

The Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour — an all-star homage to the Seattle-born guitar hero, which last visited here in 2008 — is back on the road, making 19 stops in the Southwest, Midwest and on the East Coast this month.

Among the guitarists on this leg of the tour is Ernie Isley, who recently spoke about Hendrix, a childhood idol.

Isley knew Jimmy Hendrix (he hadn’t changed the spelling yet) firsthand. From spring of 1963 until Thanksgiving 1965, the guitarist lived in the Isley family’s New Jersey home while playing with the Isley Brothers, the R&B stars known then for “Shout” and “Twist and Shout.”

Isley, who was 11 at the time, remembers watching the Beatles’ debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show”with Hendrix sitting on the couch between him and his younger brother Marvin.

Recalled Isley: “After that, there was a meeting with the band and my brother Kelly said, ‘They’ve got two guitar players but we’ve got Jimmy.’ When he said that, Jimmy started grinning.”

Hendrix, who was 10 years older than Ernie, used to stay in a backroom at the Isley house. Self-taught, he’d practice his electric guitar without an amplifier and listen to a 5-foot-high stack of blues 45s by Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and others.

Ernie, who didn’t take up guitar until he was 15, remembers Hendrix practicing how to play guitar behind his back and between his legs — moves that he’d later break out with the Isleys onstage.

Hendrix liked to watch TV, too — “Bonanza,” “Wild Kingdom” and cartoons. “He got along well with kids,” Isley said. “He was polite. Great sense of humor. I can talk about Jimmy Hendrix and Pez candy, or Jimmy Hendrix and Saturday-morning cartoons with me and Marvin.”

After leaving for England with his white Stratocaster guitar (purchased by the Isley Brothers) and his destiny as Jimi Hendrix, he did visit the Isley household in 1967 en route to the Monterey Pop Festival in California.

“He looked different in terms of his clothes,” Isley recalled. “He had a hat, scarf, rings on every finger, stuff around his neck. He walked down the hallway sounding like (cowboy character) Shane. ‘Man, is that Jimmy?’ ‘Yeah, he’s killin’ ’em in England!’ “

Isley opens the “Experience Hendrix”show, backed by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s drummer, Chris Layton, and bassist Billy Cox, who befriended Hendrix in the Army and played with him in 1969 and ’70. Also on the lineup are Joe Satriani, Robert Randolph and Jonny Lang.