Jimi Hendrix tribute band Kiss the Sky will put the Milton Theatre in a purple haze at the Milton Theatre on Oct. 13.
New York City native James Austin didn’t just grow up listening to Jimi Hendrix as a teen. He was around him.
Since 1968 he’s been a Hendrix tribute artist, keeping the late rock icon’s tunes alive for nearly 50 years. He’s toured internationally with the music to England and nationally, performing under the alias Jimy Bleu. The name Bleu was borrowed from his spiritual teacher back in the ‘60s. Additionally, he’s toured with former Hendrix bassist Billy Cox and his Band of Gypsys Experience.
Bleu’s next stop is with Kiss the Sky, his new Hendrix band, formed nearly a year ago. The group plays the Milton Theatre for the first time Oct. 13.
The band will perform on the AXS TV show “World’s Greatest Tribute Bands” on Nov. 16.
Kiss the Sky brings audio authenticity to the stage, accompanied with replicas of ‘60s-era instruments that Hendrix dazzled audiences with. The band also is visually accurate. First and foremost, Bleu is a natural leftie. Next, his band dons a custom wardrobe that Hendrix and his bandmates wore at his most historic concerts.
Bleu discussed ditching James Brown for Hendrix, and the time he spoke to him. He also dished on the new Hendrix album, “Machine Gun: Jimi Hendrix The Fillmore East 12/31/1969.” The record features a live recording of Hendrix’s first set with the Band of Gypsys at the Fillmore East in NYC on Dec. 31, 1969. The live record was released Sept. 30.
What led to you becoming a Hendrix tribute artist?
I was doing the James Brown tribute before then. Since junior high school I was James Brown and we were doing gigs with Kool & the Gang as junior-high-school kids. One time in high school, my junior year, I was really liking this girl. She was in Hendrix’s fan club, so I figured I’d join.
I didn’t really know nothing about Jimi Hendrix. Then her uncle was one of the photographers at Monterey Pop Festival, which is where Hendrix got his start. So I was able to see the raw [video] footage of that concert with all of the artists: Otis Redding, The Who. All of those artists were there. I was able to see the raw [video] footage of that at her uncle’s house. When I saw Jimi Hendrix, I didn’t really know who he was and, I said that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.
What was it about him?
I just never saw anybody hold the guitar like that. The dress, the fashion – I just never saw anything like that. Today we call that swag. The guy was just so cool.
What about the new Hendrix album?
There’s nothing new under the sun with Jimi Hendrix, so what you’re hearing is stuff that if he was alive he wouldn’t have surely allowed it to get out. There’s nothing really new. There’s maybe a few moments here and there. But everything about the Band of Gypsys has already been released on the “Band of Gypsys” album.
You’re branded as the longest-running Jimi tribute specialist in the world. How do you know you are?
What I used to do is if I saw a Jimi Hendrix tribute band, I’d write them or call them and ask how long they’ve been doing it, because some of them used to advertise: “This is the longest running” blah, blah, blah. Then I’m saying, I don’t think so, because I was there. I knew Jimi. I was in his fan club and I’ve been playing the music longer than anybody.
In Hendrix’s fan club, did you get a chance to meet him?
He never knew my name. I tell everybody that all the time. It’s not like he went, “Hey, Jimy Bleu, how are you today?” But we were around him. I went to Woodstock and all the of the key East Coast concerts he went to. We got in for free because we were in the fan club. Every time he was around me I was always with three or four members of the fan club. So he never knew my name or anything.
There was one incident where we’re sitting on the steps of the [High School of] Performing Arts and everyone’s speaking at once and I yell out: “I’m playing at the Village!” He just turned to me – I don’t know how he heard my voice out of all the other voices – and said, “Really, what are you going to be playing?” I’m thinking I can impress him. You know, I’m a kid. So I’m like, “I’m going to be playing ‘Foxy Lady,’ ‘Purple Haze’” and all of his hits. He stopped me, put his hand out and said, “When you play ‘you,’ I’ll come to see you play.” That is something I still walk around with to this day. Those are the only words Jimi Hendrix every said to me personally.”
After hearing that, why have you continued to play his music?
Because I haven’t seen his music represented in the right way yet. Even though I’m doing his music, I’m not losing myself [in the process], which was his point. Now that I’m older, I realize that. I’m just an actor portraying his character.