Hendrix’s fire still burns with Ralph Woodson’s Purple Haze

Tahoe Onstage
Jimi Hendrix’s message of love is told by Purple Haze: Leo Vigil, Ralph Woodson and Pete Roberts.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Club owners may love Jimi Hendrix’s songs but it’s unlikely any would want to sing, “Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire.”

Hendrix became a household name in 1967 after he lit his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival. Ralph Woodson emulates the guitar hero with his band Purple Haze, but he’s never fired up a stage. He wanted to, however, at a show at the California Hotel in San Francisco.

“I was going to burn my guitar, but they wouldn’t let me,” said Woodson, whose “50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love” tour starts Saturday at the Crystal Bay Casino.

“I had this little $40 guitar,” he told Tahoe Onstage. “I played ‘Wild Thing.’ It sounded good — it was in tune — if you played open chords. I did a backwards flip and I tore it up, but they didn’t let me burn it. I should have done it like Jimi. I shouldn’t have asked permission. I should have asked forgiveness.”

Hendrix, who died at the age of 27, lived dangerously. He sustained permanent facial scars when guitar strings broke as he was playing with his teeth. Woodson plays with his teeth, too, but he’s never broken a string while doing so. He said it’s dangerous if you pluck the strings instead of stroking them.

“The object is to hit it just like the pick does,” he said. “You know how the pick sweeps the string? You don’t want to bite it and make it snap back at you.”

Tahoe Onstage
Ralph Woodson emulates Jimi Hendrix in Purple Haze.

Woodson was inspired as a youngster when he heard the song “Machine Gun” from the “Band of Gypsys” album. First, he bought a guitar, then his aunt bought him pedals so he could make the special sound effects that Hendrix pioneered. “It was about a year before I got my first fuzz,” Woodson said.

“Voodoo Chile” is on Hendrix’s third and final (while living) studio album, “Electric Ladyland.” At 15 minutes, it is his longest studio jam, and it’s also the most covered of all his tunes. It requires pedals and a great technique to play the opening riff.

“To be play a lot of Hendrix stuff, you have to be well versed in R&B-funk guitar,” Woodson said. “That stroke that he had, it wasn’t always rock and roll. He was a serious rhythm player.”

Before he moved to Britain in 1966 and started the Jimi Hendrix Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix was hired as a sideman by both Little Richard and the Isley Brothers because of his skilled rhythm guitar style.

“Little Richard had issues with Jimi because he would take the spotlight, and he would do it without really trying,” Woodson said. “The Isley Brothers wanted him to do his thing because it made them more money.”

Hendrix played with the Isley Brothers in 1964-65 and on the hit singles “Testify” and Move On Over and Let Me Dance.”

He later sang, “Move over Rover and let Jimi take over,” on his song “Fire” when he fronted his own band, which captivated America at the Monterey Pop Festival.

While Woodson plays plenty of Hendrix tunes with Purple Haze, he’s also a prolific songwriter and is close to releasing his third solo album since he started the Hendrix project. The first was jazzy and the second more bluesy. He described the third as blues rock, but he said there is one country-rock ballad.

There also is a song, “From Darkness to the Light,” which is Woodson’s response to the Summer of Love 50 years later and the current situation.

“It’s a blues jam with almost a “I Hear My Train A Comin’ “ type of arrangement,” Woodson said. “It’s got lyrics about what’s happening now. Everybody can feel a black cloud that’s come over the country. People feel devastated and scared. So this song is telling people don’t worry. Love is going to win the fight.”

Woodson keeps Hendrix’s spirit alive with both his music and his message.

Related story: Who shot Monterey Pop. Photogs gather 50 years later.

Related story: Rock and roll echoes in Monterey.

  • Purple Haze
    When: 10 p.m. Saturday, July 29
    Where: Crystal Bay Casino Red Room
    Cover: free
  • Where else: Mammoth Lakes Rib Cook-Off, 7:30 p.m. Sunday

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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