Guitarmageddon Celebrates Jimi Hendrix At Terrapin Crossroads

Guitarmageddon Celebrates Jimi Hendrix At Terrapin Crossroads

On a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California the annual gathering of Guitarmageddon convened to celebrate the guitar playing, music, life, and influence of Jimi Hendrix. A modest half-capacity crowd gathered to witness what would be a day filled with impressive renditions of classic songs as well as a set of aggressive takes on Jimi’s less familiar, posthumously released material.

A broad swath of some of the Bay Area’s finest rock musicians gathered for this celebration. Of those assembled, two of the most familiar to Terrapin Crossroads regulars included Reed Mathis and Justin Purtil. Both of these string wizards are locally renowned for playing bass guitar, Reed with everyone from Billy & the Kids to Steve Kimock. Both Reed and Justin have performed extensively in support of Stu Allen. While Reed played some funky and driving bass in the day’s first set, he took over as musical director for the entirety of the second set, which featured Hendrix’s posthumously released music. A lot of this was generally familiar to devotees, but less so to the casual fan.

Before going any further, it is critical to give huge props to singer, guitarist and musical director Sean Leahy who is the organizer, spirit and energy behind Guitarmageddon. If not for Sean this event would not exist. Outside of his preparation, production, cat-wrangling and marketing efforts, he did a remarkable job keeping the event moving forward, all while playing his rear-end off. As the event kicked off, Sean took a moment to explain that the first set would cover the three well known and loved LPs Jimi released during his life: Are You Experienced (1967), Axis, Bold as Love (1967) and Electric Ladyland (1968). As stated previously, the second set would be the more unique, less familiar material released after Jimi’s passing.

The event opened with searing renditions of “Purple Haze” and “Red House” delivered by Leahy alongside Jimmy Leslie (a hard-working singer and guitar-slinger and writer for both Guitar Player and Bass Player magazines), and Byron Rhynes (of the Smoke Daddies.) Each took turns throwing down blazing leads, which stirred up the audience and established a forceful and emphatic foundation for the day. A great set of intensely searing traded solos went down accompanying Rhyne’s ballsy vocal delivery on “Red House.” Scott Guberman – a face, name and sound familiar to many at Terrapin for his consistently excellent work alongside Phil Lesh and Stu Allen (among others) sat-in on B3 and made sporadic but regular appearances throughout the show.

Bass duties for much of the first frame were held down by Mike Pascale, owner, operator and chief engineer of the Fat Jimmy Amplifier Company; so his skills were solid and his bass tones were huge. On drums from the start was Brian Fischler who did a great job emulating Mitch Mitchell.

“Manic Depression,” was no frustrated mess. Alternatively, it featured some ferocious guitar fireworks between New Monsoon’s Jeff Miller and Derek Keith Brooker of Ten Foot Tiger. A slightly calmer front came forth on Jimi’s “May This Be Love,” with vocal delivery by Paige Clem, a great solo singer/songwriter out of nearby Mill Valley.

Philbilly Milner – currently serving as Guitar Electronics wizard for SF Guitarworks a veteran of local bands too numerous to mention, provided heartfelt and authentic vocals along with fierce guitar work on “Are You Experienced,” with the talented and madcap Bryan Kehoe (Duo de Twang w Les Claypool) thrashing and riffing on his G&L Telecaster. This segment also brought drummer Michael Urbano to the stage who displayed deep familiarity with the material. Unsurprising considering he’s played or recorded with a who’s who of musicians including Smash Mouth, Sheryl Crow, 3rd Eye Blind, John Hiatt, Todd Rundgren and more. This cohort nailed “If 6 Was 9,” with impact and authority.

Vocalist Teal Collins brought the audience some “Spanish Castle Magic,” with Leahy, Kehoe and the technically brilliant Josh Zee (Phantom Power & the Mother Truckers) on guitars. Teal brought a lot of emotion and drama to her delivery and stood out with her positive and ebullient vocal vibes.

“Little Miss Lover,” from Axis, brought the vibrant Pamela Parker to the stage along with the aforementioned Purtil. Both of whom tore it up with terrific and distinctive solos.

Mathis was a longtime member of Tea Leaf Green. His TLG bandmate, Trevor Garrod, stepped up to the Hammond B3 and sung soulfully while spinning out a terrific and funky rendition of “Them Changes,” with Justin and Pamela trading more solos.

Pascale traded his bass for a Strat to play and sing “Hey Joe,” with slide guitarist Steve Pile and TXR’s own Brian Rashap (of The Mother Hips and the Terrapin Family Band) taking over on bass, Garrod on B3 and Leahy, steady on rhythm guitar, all contributed to a fully jammed out rendition of this all-time classic. The “softer” side of Jimi’s repertoire was delivered by Pile with his take on “The Wind Cries Mary,” which featured his nifty slide solo. Also present for this was Guberman on B3 who sat in for the balance of the first set.

The tail end of this frame was a deep-dive medley of three great songs from sides three and four of Electric Ladyland, Jimi’s 1970 opus, released just before his exit. “Rainy Day, Dream Away” -> “1983 (A Mermaid I Should Turn to Be)” -> “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” was an ambitious suite of tunes to tackle, but the day’s main musical raconteur, Sean Leahy, did a marvelous job delivering the goods. With able support from bassist Rashap, drummer Blake Ritterman (of the Monday Night Band), Guberman on keys and the amazing “wonder-twins,” on guitars: Benjamin Andrews (Con Brio) and Ben Misterka (of Collectivity) who shredded these tunes with intensity, elevation and notable technical virtuosity.

Following a brief intermission, the second set with musical direction from Mathis on guitar, commenced with the Band of Gypsy’s gem, “Izabella.” The strong vocal talents of Elise Testone, who according to Mathis, had just gotten off a plane from the East Coast, were a major feature of the entire second frame. Elise, though unfamiliar to the audience, was a Season 11 American Idol finalist. Elise’s vocals cut through the mix, and her confidence and stage presence were strong despite the fact that she seemed unfamiliar with a lot of the material and used a mounted cell phone for vocal cues. Still her voice and presence soared.

Angeline Saris (another musician of too many bands to mention but she’s supported Narad Michael Walden, Carlos Santana, and many others) displayed immense and intense groove and power on bass guitar.

Mathis’ former TLG bandmate, Scott Rager sat at the drum throne throughout the latter half and brought steadiness and energy to this less familiar Hendrix material.

With Reed blazing impressive melodic trails on guitar (what’s a sick bass player like this doing killin’ it on lead guitar?) the set was augmented on each track by a well-distributed placement of the guitarists already mentioned. “Stepping Stone,” featured a great solo by Brooker. Leahy stepped up for “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun),” a song written and recorded from the second posthumous album, Rainbow Bridge, released in 1971. “Dolly Dagger,” and “Earth Blues,” let Andrews tear it up to an impressive degree. “Roomful of Mirrors,” from the 1971 LP Experience (released in the UK) enabled Zee to display his intense technical capacities on lead guitar.

Purtil swapped back in to tackle leads on “Drifting,” from the 1971 LP Cry of Love, a collection of songs Jimi was trying to record and produce just prior to his passing. The wildly furious lead guitarist Ben Misterka took on “Freedom,” also from Cry of Love.

The last two songs of this adventurous set featured the profound guitar talent of Eric McFadden (EMT, George Clinton & the P-Funk Allstars, Stockholm Syndrome and many others). Eric always brings his A-game to the stage and this tribute appearance was no exception. Testone, confidently delivered the beautiful song “Angel,” with a terrific melodic break by McFadden. A similar, but more aggressive effort came in the form of “Ezy Rider.”

The encore of this special tribute to Jimi Hendrix featured a pair of musical exclamation points. Introducing the first of two selections, Milner gave thanks to all the musicians as well as the audience for their support. Special guest, New York City-based singer-songwriter Kate Vargas stepped in to sing a verse and play a strong solo alongside Milner and McFadden’s blazing stabs at “Little Wing,” as the penultimate statement of the show.

The day’s final track was an over-the-top, ridiculously sick throw-down of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Milner, in introducing it suggested that “this one is what it’s all about,” before ceding the stage to what McFadden referred to as, “the good, the bad and the “fugly,” in the form of himself, Kehoe and Zee, each of whom hammed it up while delivering crushing solos with over-the-top intensity and brilliance.

The musical statement made by all participants of Guitarmageddon seemed to be “if we don’t meet you no more in this world then we’ll meet ya on the next one (and don’t be late!)”

Guitarmageddon provided a much-needed opportunity for a lot of talented Bay Area and even a few far-flung musicians to display their talents before a live audience, in an outdoor setting on the still insecure, trailing edge of the COVID-19 era. For some, this was likely the first time they had played a gig in more than a year. Regardless, this formidable assemblage of artists are all worthy of your attention in the future. Keep your eyes and ears open for future deep-dives into the abyss of the spirit and essence of what is rock ‘n’ roll as delivered by Sean Leahy and Guitarmageddon!