A funny thing happened on the way to thinking about the artists who covered Jimi Hendrix songs for the 1993 tribute album “Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.” The more I listened to these artists, the more I thought about Jimi. And the more I thought about how much Jimi thought about himself. Or at least how much he sang about himself. The self-centered pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” seem to recur in Hendrix songs with some regularity. And then he refers to himself in the third person, e.g., “Aw, move over Rover | And let Jimi take over” on “Fire.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Most songwriters write about their personal experiences. And so the show must go on!
More than a tribute, “Stone Free” actually strikes me as a celebration of the mastery and mystery of Hendrix’s songwriting, singing and, naturally, out-of-this-world guitar playing. A range of artists gives performances that seem to have been inspired by Hendrix and his songs as opposed to direct covers or even indirect interpretations. The liner notes from the CD confirm that there was a conscious effort to accomplish this.
In that spirit, the CD kicks off with The Cure taking a swing at “Purple Haze,” with a looped sample of the Hendrix riff of the same name just audible in the background. The way Cure frontman Robert Smith intones, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky” brings a plaintive twist to this trippy chestnut of the psychedelic era. Hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn did something even more bizarre with “You Got Me Floatin’”, with many different people saying Jimi’s name before breaking into the lyric of the song title. This strikes me as an excellent example of trip hop.
The entire “Stone Free” project was not all experimental. Rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights including Eric Clapton, Paul Rogers (of Bad Company), Jeff Beck and Slash (of Guns N’ Roses) gave it their all on their respective Hendrix renditions. Clapton roars ahead on the title track because he’s “got to got to got to get away” as he sizzles like always playing his own Stratocaster, Blackie, with his “Fender’s fingers.” Beck and Seal teamed up for a cover of “Manic Depression”—so glad they hadn’t started to call it Bipolar Disorder until much later. Beck sounds incredibly like Hendrix on “Manic,” and Seal gives a yeoman’s effort of channeling Jimi’s vocals. Seal is the much better singer but limits himself to tap into the emotional potency of the song.
Possibly, Slash and Rogers have the most intriguing entry on the disc joining two of Hendrix’s rhythm section from the Band of Gypsies, Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums. Going through the paces of “I Don’t Live Today,” Slash, Rogers, Cox and Miles give life to this powerful barnburner that gave energy to the birth of the hard rock to come.
Overall, I find “Stone Free” extremely enjoyable and accessible. Some of the past—well it’s all in the past now—some of the present and some of what may yet be the future.