Kiss the Sky lead singer/guitarist Jimy Bleu is the longest running Jimi Hendrix tribute artist. On Saturday, April 7, he will bring his epic “experience” to Bay Street in Sag Harbor, where Bleu and his band will re-create Hendrix’s iconic tunes with impressive precision.
We recently caught up with Bleu about the Bay Street show, his first encounter with Hendrix, The Flower Power Cruise, and more.
Do you remember your first encounter with Hendrix’s music?
JB: Yes, yes I do.
How old were you?
JB: I had to be around 14 or 15. I was a student at a performing arts high school in Manhattan. I actually, coming out of middle school, was doing a James Brown tribute. One day one of the girls that I was really interested in came to school wearing a button that said: “The Official Jimi Hendrix Fan Club.” In order to get close to her, I went to join the fan club at Warner Brothers. Really, I was familiar with him but I really wasn’t totally into him. There was another girl whose house we used to go over, some of the students of the performing arts school, when we used to go over to “have fun” and one day her father came home and caught us smoking. He yelled at us and then after he yelled at us, he took us into this room, and he happened to be the editor and photographer for Monterey Pop Festival. He showed us the raw, unedited footage of Monterey Pop. I was looking to see Otis Redding – I was really into soul back then – when he showed us Jimi Hendrix I said, “That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.” The next day I went to school, changed my major – I got into performing arts playing trumpet/trombone and guitar was my secondary instrument – so I changed my major to guitar and it’s been like that ever since.
What about his music resonated with you?
JB: It wasn’t so much the music, because I didn’t really fully understand it, it was the way he held the guitar. His – we call it today – swag, but his whole attitude and approach to playing guitar. I was into the English rock musicians and I was going to see groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Chicago, and all the rockers. I really liked the way they played guitar, but there was something about Jimi – the way he held a guitar, his singing style, everything about him was different yet it was very heavy, and very roar in your face, and I kind of liked that.
Before taking on the role of Hendrix, how much research did you do on him?
JB: I really didn’t have to do that much formal research because as a member of his fan club, we were privy to all of the concerts that we could get to. So, I saw Jimi all over the East Coast, sometimes we would hike to the Midwest. I saw him a lot. But, like I said, I was really into the English rockers, so he wasn’t really my favorite guitar player until maybe a few months before he died. I really didn’t realize how heavy he was until then.
With so many amazing songs to choose from, how do you curate each performance?
JB: It’s based on the audience. I was raised, my mother, father, and my grandfather were professional entertainers. I was always raised the audience comes first. Yes, I have stock tunes that I will do, but I gauge the performance by the audience and which particular songs and the order.
So you play on the fly then?
JB: Yes. We pretty much know the repertoire. When the curtains open I look out at the audience and see what’s going on. Because if the audience is young, there’s certain songs you can’t do. If they’re older and we’re playing in theater and they’re sitting in their seats, there’s certain songs you can pull off.
Your performances also include video interludes. What does that add to each show?
JB: We are pretty much doing the whole iconic performances of Jimi Hendrix, from the beginning to the end – even before he became famous. When we put in the video interludes, it serves two purposes. Number one: we can change clothes for the next era that’s coming up, and number two: these video interludes are basically interviews by his sideman, by people who recorded him, people who knew him. So you can get an idea of what’s coming up next. Then the audience’s anticipation is on a whole nother level.
Tell me a little bit more about the experience the audience can expect?
JB: We do all of the iconic periods of Hendrix’s life. Of course, we can’t do things like Woodstock because that was an outdoor festival, but what you’re going to see is authentic equipment, authentic wardrobe, that was used from that era. We actually licensed the Joshua Light Show, which was a big feature at the Fillmore. When you went to see not just Hendrix, but any band at the Fillmore there was this spectacular lights show. So you’re going to see that as well. You’re going to see a really spectacular show. It’s definitely worth coming out if you’re into Hendrix. We’ve had people come out that are curious about him, but didn’t really know, so I always implore my audience to come out and see how he did it.
And this will be your first Long Island show for Kiss the Sky?
JB: It will be the band’s first show, Kiss the Sky, on Long Island. I’ve been trying to get back on Long Island since hooking up with Kiss the Sky two years ago. For some strange reason I can’t get booked on Long Island, and I’ve played all of the major venues on Long Island throughout the years. So we’re looking forward to this.
You recently got back from The Flower Power Cruise with Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and The Raiders, Canned Heat, Grand Funk Railroad, The Buckinghams and The Family Stone. What was it like to perform with such an incredible lineup?
JB: These stars were treating us like we were the stars. It was an experience. Quite a few of those people I admired as a kid and to have them chasing me down on the boat, it was sort of like verification for me and it was spectacular. On a cruise ship, you can’t run nowhere, so everybody was running into each other. It was a great experience – something that I really needed to do.
Admission to Kiss the Sky: Jimi Hendrix Experience is $30. The concert kicks off at 8 p.m.
Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, visit www.baystreet.org.