Guitarist Magazine

In November 2005, Are You Experienced? were featured in Guitarist Magazine.

Perhaps one of the hardest tributes to do convincingly is Jimi Hendrix. How do you replicate the sound and style of the man who is probably the greatest rock guitarist the world has ever known? John Campbell has been doing just that for the last eight-and-a-half years.

“I was in an originals band that did a couple of Hendrix covers and I started getting offers for UK gigs and work abroad specifically as a tribute act,” explains John. Now his band Are You Experienced? play two or three times a week – and have toured across much of Europe and the Middle East.

They sound uncannily like the real thing (if you don’t believe me check their website) and even sell their own live recordings at shows. “People were asking for CD’s all the time,” says John, “so eventually we started selling them at gigs. To be honest I have no idea why people would buy them when they can go out and get hold of the Hendrix originals. It may be that they just want a souvenir of the evening.”

As with any tribute act, authenticity is the key. “What you look like is half the battle in this game and I’m lucky that I have the right skin colour and hair. It can be difficult to be taken seriously as a tribute band, particularly when you are dealing with such an important cultural icon as Hendrix, but to this day no one has ever come up to me and said they didn’t like it.”

As a mark of credibility, John plays a reverse headstock Strat similar to Jimi’s upside down guitar. The ‘VooDoo Stratocaster’ is one of seven Fender reissues that have been modelled on Hendrix’s instruments over the years. The left-handed neck and backward-slanted bridge pickup brighten the bassier notes and make the high notes sound warmer, thus replicating the unique tonal characteristics of Hendrix’s sound.

As for amplifiers we are of course talking about a Marshall Super Lead ‘Plexi’, although John uses a 50-watt reissue rather than Hendrix’s original 100-watt version. “I’ve gone through loads and loads of amps trying to find the right one. The problem is that Jimi used 100-watt Marshall stacks wound up really high and you just can’t do that today. Even though I only use a 50-watt amp, the sound man will go crazy it you turn it up where it should be, so I have had to spend a lot of time looking for something that would help me recreate Jimi’s unique tone without the volume.”

John finally found a pedal responsive enough to go from relatively clean and quiet to a screaming blues wail in the form of the Crowther Hotcake. This is a great-sounding piece of floor candy that allows him to get a full tone without having to deafen the front three rows. He also uses a VOX Clyde McCoy reissue wah-wah, a Dunlop Rotovibe and a custom-made Fuzz Face clone to reproduce Hendrix’s famous sound effects.

Despite being a pedal junkie, John knows that getting the right tone is ultimately about using your hands properly. “I’ve been playing Hendrix since I was a kid so my technique came naturally. I don’t repeat every song note-for-note the same way every time, but then neither did Jimi. In fact I think someone like Brian May would be much harder to imitate because everyone in the audience knows exactly what’s coming next, there’s no room for error or improvisation.”

John’s ‘Hendrix’ speaking and singing voice is almost as striking as his playing – particularly when you consider that he naturally boasts a very strong Birmingham accent. “Our agent insisted I speak in an American voice between numbers, but I didn’t want to look phoney and couldn’t help slipping into Brummie phrases,” he tells me. (Imagine: “Ow yow doin’, oil roight? The next number is Voodoo Chile…”)

Now John is perfectly comfortable with his stage voice. “I love Jimi and I think that comes across in my shows. Lots of people who saw Hendrix play 35 years ago have come up to me after gigs to tell me how much they enjoyed my show and to thank me for keeping it alive, which is great.”

John’s gigs usually coincide with him setting fire to a guitar as a finale. Although they are usually easy to clean and repair afterwards, he’s still gone through 42 of the guitars that he uses for this purpose over the years. “Jimi didn’t burn guitars at every gig but that is how everyone remembers him and I often have people chanting for it so it had to become part of the show.”

So what’s John’s top tip? “I think you should have an affinity with the act you are doing a tribute to – along with a healthy dollop of respect. You have to be honest about your abilities and if you can’t do them justice then it’s better not to do it at all!”

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