Interview: Randy Hansen

randy hansen seattle 2016

RANDY HANSEN, guitar virtuoso and one of the few guitarists in the world to be recognised by Jimi Hendrix’s family, is bringing his acclaimed Hendrix Revolution tour to Australia for the first time.

Dedicated to maintaining the memory of the virtuoso guitarist and his ground-breaking music, Hansen has created a show celebrating everything great about the man born James Marshall Hendrix, and openly gushes about his fellow Seattle native who died in his prime aged only 27.

When and how did you decide playing the music of probably the best guitar player who ever lived was for you?

That had a lot to do with it right there, what you just said. That’s what he was to me also. I was already playing the guitar and I really thought I had heard everything: the Stones, Beatles, the Ventures. Then when I heard Hendrix it just changed everything. That’s really when I started learning Hendrix’s [music], but I didn’t get real serious about it until he died. He was my main guy at that point and I panicked. It was really a situation where I thought I was going to follow this guy for years and years, then suddenly I heard he had died; it scared me to think there would be no more music to come from him. I started really getting serious about learning his music right then.

And you saw one of his last shows.

I saw his last show in Seattle, which is where I’m from too. One of the big reasons I was glad I saw it is because I could hear what he sounded like for real, not just on recording, which is what most people know of. They’re great and everything, but it’s way better to be there than just see a recording of it.

This will be your first tour of Australia. Why has it taken so long to get here?

It’s probably mainly because I’ve never really pushed my career at all. I just love playing Hendrix, and the whole time I’ve been doing this I’ve only ever played shows which have been offered to me. I’ve never really pushed myself out there. There are a lot of places I’ve never been and I’ve been doing this since 1975. I play what people come and ask me to play. The whole time I’ve been doing this I’ve been very careful to make sure I’m actually doing a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, because it’s about celebrating his music, style and everything. I’m trying to stay true to it. Not that Jimi needs it, you know? He doesn’t need a cheerleader like me, but it’s so much fun playing his music and I’ve received a lot of encouragement to keep doing it.

Do you play solely Hendrix material?

I have a new album out right now called Funtown. I’ve always been writing but I really haven’t concentrated on that. I try to be a human being and enjoy other things in life, without being too caught up in music. As far as Jimi is concerned though, when I approach it, it’s deadly serious to me. But Jimi was a lot of fun too, you know? So I approach it from every angle. Someone once said to me if I can portray every emotion, then you’ll pretty much get everybody and they will want to listen. That’s pretty easy to do with Jimi’s stuff.

Do you share Hendrix’s love of improvisation?

Oh man, yes. When you hear Robin Trower; he improvises a lot. You can tell his solos are very Hendrix-influenced. For me, it’s kind of like that, although I’m playing a Jimi Hendrix song. I won’t know how long I’ll play the solo and Jimi didn’t either. I pointed this out to someone the other day; they said I had played a part wrong and I said “Hey, wait a minute. I know how to play that part and I’m doing it on purpose”. If you listen to Jimi’s whole discography, and that includes bootlegs and everything else, when he gets to that part he never plays it the same and he never repeated it. So there’s no such thing as ‘wrong’, unless you just hit a really stupid note or something. So, improvisation is everything about his music; it’s all wide open for improvisation. And I don’t shy away from it [laughs].

You’re officially recognised by the Hendrix family. What does that mean exactly?

I guess it means they don’t sue my ass [laughs]. They say they love what I’m doing and they’re close friends of mine. They’re beautiful people and if they told me to stop I would. They’re glad that I do what I do, I guess.

How do you feel about the recently released Hendrix albums? Are they to be celebrated or possibly left alone?

Anything he recorded I want to hear. I try not to look at it with too much of a judgemental ear, because a lot of the things were works-in-progress, and by no means were meant to be released. It’s still interesting to hear where he was coming from or where he might’ve been headed. Would you rather it didn’t exist or that it did exist and you can get a peek at it? I’m glad to be able to have a glimpse at something.

Which of Hendrix’s stage theatrics are a part of your show?

You know, if someone throws a can of lighter fluid on the stage at the right or wrong time… [laughs]. I’ve done my share of smashing guitars and everything, and sometimes it’s pure fun and there’s a lot of frustration you can get out, believe me. A lot of the tricks I try to do are Jimi-influenced. A lot of other tricks I do are things I’ve figured out; it’s all entertainment. I’m probably easier to coax into entertaining you than Jimi was. When I saw him he was really at a point in his career when he just wanted people to listen, so he was toning back the antics. [Whereas] I am kind of a ham and a showoff, and I like to goof off and have fun with it too.

A lot of people know you from Apocalypse Now. Do you still get asked about it a lot?

I get asked about it all the time. It was really fun; I got to work on for about a month. I lived with Francis [Ford Coppola] for about a month. It was really an honour to be a part of it. When I found out I was going to work on this movie called Apocalypse Now, I thought it was going to be some tiny B movie. I had no idea what I was getting involved with in the beginning and it was only later I found out it was huge. I’m still getting paid for it actually. Four times a year I get a cheque and it’s all because of Apocalypse Now.

What can you tell me about your new album?

It’s a bunch of songs I wrote when I came down with this really bad flu. It kept me ill for about three months. In the middle of the flu I noticed I wasn’t getting any better and thought “Damn, this thing might take me out”. After three months I wasn’t getting any better and was convinced it was going to kill me, so the songs got more and more serious as I went along. I thought if I was dying and I wanted to say something, I’d better say it now. So the album is my little messages I have for the planet, the people, how I view life, greed and things like that. There are political statements in there, and human statements, things I love, things that are amazing to me. Everybody is telling me they like the album, but friends aren’t really going to walk up to you and go “That really sucks” [laughs]. It’s one of the first albums I ever recorded that I listen to the fun of it. Funtown to me is the planet Earth and there’s a lot I’m saying that is to do with how we treat the planet. Funtown is supposed to be an amusement park where you get to do whatever you want, and that’s kind of how we treat the planet; we do whatever we want to it. If you list everything that a human being has done on this planet, it would be pretty fucking crazy to listen to. I just kind of wanted to point that out; maybe we should just kick back a little bit and take it easy.

Randy Hansen plays the Hendrix Revolution tour on the following dates:

18th May – Sydney (Enmore Theatre)
21st May – Melbourne (The Palais)
24th May – Perth (Concert Hall)
25th May – Adelaide (Thebarton Theatre)
31st May – Brisbane (Concert Hall)

For The AU Review

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