Randy Hansen has been doing his Jimi Hendrix tribute for going on 40 years. At 62, the Auburn musician has taken his Hendrix show all over the world, and no, he’s not tired of playing “Purple Haze.”
He’s going on 40 years of doing his Jimi Hendrix tribute.
“I’ve lost count of the places,” says Randy Hansen about where he’s played. Throughout the U.S.; in France, Spain, Slovenia, Australia …
He’s played in as small a venue as a guy’s basement in Italy, as big a gig as several thousand in Finland and Germany.
He’s 62 and his small rental home in Auburn is crammed after four decades of being a working musician whose specialty is Jimi.
He owns 99 guitars. Exactly 99. He owns a wah-wah pedal that he’s quite certain came from one of Jimi’s shows — the rubber stoppers on the pedal have been replaced by now-aged foam rubber, just like Jimi altered his.
How many times has he played “Purple Haze”?
“Thousands,” says Hansen. No, he’s not tired of the tunes, he says. “Jimi was one of those people that God puts on the planet that’s on a real mission.”
He smiles and nods as he once again plays another Jimi tune, not one of Hendrix’s better-known ones, but a favorite of Hansen’s: “1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).”
“It’s very symphonic to my ear,” he says. “It shows Jimi at his most imaginative.”
And that’s saying something. “He was the greatest musician ever to come out of Seattle,” says Hansen. “He was really a musical scientist. He did things nobody had ever done before. All those guitar effects now are something that Jimi used.”
These days, besides doing his Hendrix tribute, Hansen also plays guitar with Heart By Heart, formed by bassist Steve Fossen and drummer Michael Derosier, original members of Heart. They have steady gigs at clubs and casinos bringing Heart’s “songs to the stage in their original form.”
But it is Hendrix that is Hansen’s mainstay.
Hansen has the facial structure of Hendrix, with similar cheeks and mouth. He has stayed skinny through all these years and his physique is that of Jimi’s.
Maybe, he says, one reason he’s in good shape at 62 are the gyrations he does in his stage show. “And I don’t have a roadie. I move my own gear, still lifting it on and off the stage.”
Besides the physical similarities, Hansen has the uncanny ability to play like Hendrix.
The website classicrockrevisited.com says, “The guy could flat out play some Jimi.”
Therockpit.net, an Australian music site, reviewed a Hansen show last year in Perth: “It’s hard to describe all the antics that went on — from the running around the stage into the crowd, jumping into the aisles in the seated venue, rolling up and down the stage (literally!) and cutting his teeth on the strings of the guitar … not just for his huge energy but his guitar playing alone makes you wonder how anyone can top this … He is the real deal …”
Hendrix died on Sept. 18, 1970, at age 27. The only time that Hansen saw his hero in concert was on a rainy Sunday on July 27 of that year.
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Hansen was 16 and his mom drove him, his brother and a friend to the historic and now demolished Sicks’ Stadium in the Rainier Valley (a Lowe’s hardware store is on that site now).
A Seattle Times review of the show told how Hendrix seemed “somewhat ill at ease,” that the amplifiers were poorly balanced and that at one point “a downpour pelted the crowd.”
Hansen remembers Hendrix telling the crowd, “Please don’t throw anything up on the stage because I got kind of stoned on some scotch last night and I feel like jumping on some cat’s head anyway.”
On the bus back to the family home in West Seattle, all the boys could do was talk about the show, the first time they had been to a rock concert.
Hansen was on the way to becoming enthralled by Hendrix.
He remembers looking in the mirror and thinking to himself, “You look like me, or I look like you. I couldn’t grow a mustache, so I put one on with mascara.”
A few years earlier, when he was around 11, his mom, Rita Hansen, had bought her son his first guitar for $23. She was working as a secretary and raising three children after her husband died in a car accident.
After Randi Hansen heard Hendrix’s 1967 debut album, “Are You Experienced,” that was it. Instead of going to school, Hansen would sneak out to a shed by the house to practice his guitar and hone his Hendrix licks.
He dropped out of high school. For a time, he worked at a roller rink. His mom suggested he could start paying rent at the house.
Looking through the classifieds in this paper, Hansen came upon an ad from a group called Kid Chrysler & The Cruisers that was looking for a guitar player.
The band toured the club circuit and did musical impressions of ’50s and ’60s rock stars. For three years beginning in 1974, that’s what Hansen did, playing every night except Sundays, four sets a night.
He also began doing his Jimi Hendrix impression. Not as a sendup but as a real tribute. That didn’t mesh with Kid Chrysler, and in late 1977 Hansen struck out on his own.
He began playing small taverns around Seattle, got noticed, began playing bigger places, played at dances for local high schools, began touring around the country, got a manager, got noticed by Capitol Records and got a contract.
Hansen even got noticed by Francis Ford Coppola, who’s based in San Francisco and saw an ad for a Hansen show in that city.
Coppola then was editing “Apocalypse Now,” his 1979 epic movie.
“He said he wanted a Hendrix sound,” says Hansen. But Coppola couldn’t afford the real Hendrix music. “He said to me, ‘Can you sound like Hendrix?’ I said, ‘It’s not a problem.’ ”
Hansen tells of living with Coppola and his family for a month and going with him to watch the movie minus the soundtrack.
“He just started recording. ‘Can you make it sound like a helicopter, like a jet?’ You know that scene with the Playboy bunnies onstage and they’re rushed by soldiers and the helicopter takes off? That’s me on the guitar,” says Hansen.
That would prove a lucky financial break for Hansen. He still collects royalties from his work on the movie.
Bumps along the way
His next few years are a familiar story in the rock business.
His debut album with Capitol Records didn’t sell well. He was dropped. He got in a dispute with his manager and that didn’t end well. He got in trouble with the IRS.
“The IRS hit me with a huge bill. I had to fill out tax forms for every state I’ve been in. The ‘Apocalypse Now’ royalties paid my bill,” says Hansen. For the last 38 years, he says, he’s gotten $800 to $1,000 a year from the movie.
These days he has a different manager: Kevin Fillo, whom he’s known for 30 years, now books him and has stabilized his finances. Hansen puts out CDs of his compositions, as well as recordings of his shows, on his website.
“I don’t have to worry about my bills. I have enough money saved,” says Hansen.
Not that he’s rolling in the big bucks. His rental home costs $895 a month (he’s divorced, with two grown children). His finances don’t allow for health insurance.
Besides his guitars, Hansen also has all the various kinds of gear that Hendrix would have used, from an Echoplex (a tape delay effect) to a Uni-Vibe (that creates chorus and vibrato simulations) to a Fuzz Face (which distorts sound).
So, says Hansen, he’s doing fine. For 40 years he’s been playing the music he likes. Doing his Hendrix tribute and playing with Heart By Heart, he keeps busy with about 100 shows a year.
“I never wanted to be a big star, I really didn’t,” he says.
On a recent Friday night, Hansen does his Hendrix tribute at Louie G’s Pizza in Fife, a place that can hold 600.
Maybe 100 people have showed up.
Among them is Dave Anderson, 55, of Federal Way.
Like others at Louie G’s, he’s mesmerized as he watches Hansen play, the speakers pulsating at full volume. “He’s just fabulous,” says Anderson.
He first saw a Randy Hansen show in 1979.
On this night, Hansen wears his standard Hendrix outfit: the skinny pants, the wide-brimmed hat with a feather in the back, the embroidered vest.
“It’s been such a long circle since I first saw you and since I see you tonight,” Hansen tells the crowd.
Then he cranks up one his Fender Stratocasters, just like the one that Jimi used.