reporting that decades after opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons clearly remembers his favorite live Hendrix tune.
"They did the coolest version of 'The Wind Cries Mary,' which still remains one of my favorites," Gibbons tells Spinner. "One of the reasons was it was in an oddball key -- the key of F. It's one fret up from the key of E, which is an easy key to play. The key of F is the most difficult to find your way. To make your fingers hit the strings in the key of F is just excruciating. But there's nothing like hearing a bass guitar hit a low F note, and Noel Redding playing big old Fender bass, he'd hit that low F, and it would cause Jimi to crack up because it would just rattle him."
With the recent 40th anniversary of Hendrix's death on Sept. 18, Gibbons would have reason to be nostalgic. But what he remembers most about the live shows is the musicianship -- and the technical details few others would notice.
"Of course, Jimi was using Marshall amps, but they were also using Sunn amplifiers, and that was a line of amps that had been developed by Norm Sundholm," says Gibbons, who's somewhat of a rock historian. "He was the bass player for the Kingsmen, who recorded the song 'Louie Louie.' Norm went on to develop this rather successful line of amps that was superb. The amp had a cabinet that would reproduce the low F, which is the most difficult frequency."
Prior to being in ZZ Top, Gibbons was in a band called Moving Sidewalks, which opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Doors.
"We were big fans of the Doors because that first record is so bluesy," Gibbons says.
It was while opening for the Doors that Gibbons hooked up with future ZZ Top bandmates Dusty Hill and Frank Beard.
"I met them through Jimmy Vaughan, Stevie Ray's older brother, "Gibbons says. "Jimmy and I were talking one afternoon. It's still this way today -- there's something with musicians from Texas; there's a bond. There's this kind of unspoken, shared admiration for what everybody does. It's really cool. Jimmy introduced me to Frank, the drummer, and then Frank introduced me to Dusty, and we just kind of hit it off."
It wasn't long before the trio jammed for the first time, in 1969.
"We got together one afternoon and launched into a shuffle in the key of C," says Gibbons. "Three hours later, we were smiling and still playing, thinking, 'There's something to this.'"