The Smokehouse Guitar Army  (left to right) Adam Johnson, D.C. Olson, Scott Mayo, Urban Urbano, Sam Massey.  Photo courtesy of SA Blues Society.

When musicians play, they leave behind a vibration in the air that can be felt quite palpably for hours after the experience. Yet when masters perform with their soul poured out from the stage, studio, or street, it can linger and be heard by those not just in that venue, but far and wide, and for years after its final downbeat.

A life-size image of the iconic Robert Johnson sits in the lobby of the Sheraton Gunter Hotel.  Courtesy of Adam Tutor
A life-size image of the iconic Robert Johnson sits in the lobby of the Sheraton Gunter Hotel. Photo by Adam Tutor.

Thus it’s no wonder that the guitar gurus of the Experience Hendrix Tour feel called to pay homage to a man that at times feels as much a mystical legend as the Crossroads Man himself, Robert Johnson, and to do so only down the street from where his spirit remains at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel.

Jimi Hendrix would undoubtedly be proud to have men of the axe order such as Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd (to name a few) use as many amperes as appears necessary to rock the house down at the Majestic Theatre on Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m. This will be the 12 year of this world-touring blues and rock feeding frenzy for fans.

Multiple Grammy-winner and 2015 Kennedy Center honoree Buddy Guy is the elder of the tour, and also is the only one to have truly inspired Hendrix as well as be inspired, acting as a contemporary and close friend of the man in his ascent to zenith of the musical world in the 60s. Guy, who turns 80 this July, takes a simple yet profound approach to his role: “Jimi Hendrix is one of the greatest guitar players ever and we all need to keep his music alive,” he stated in a news release.

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While the gentlemen on the stage will be sure to get their kicks (there will be almost a dozen standing next to Jimi’s “Fire” throughout the course of the evening), it’s the blues heads of San Antone that are undoubtedly getting ignited by the pulsation coming from those Fender Stratocasters.

“The most interesting thing about Hendrix is the reach his music has across a whole genre of players. This guy’s been gone 50 years and his music remains as fresh and inspirational as when we heard it originally,” said Scott Mayo, guitarist for Smokehouse Guitar Army and a board member of the San Antonio Blues Society.

As many musicians do, Mayo has a clear memory of the albums that transcended and transformed his life.

“The first one was a Freddie King record called ‘Friday Danceaway.’ (It) influenced my whole life,” Mayo said. “I distinctly remember when ‘Are You Experienced’ came out, Hendrix’s first album, it seemed radical.”

As a man who’s been playing guitar for over 50 years, Mayo has earned the right to speak on such matters as guitar heroics.

“He figured out how to use volume for an effect, the power it gave him,” Mayo said of Hendrix. “Hendrix was the first one to really grab everyone’s attention with it … it was pretty overwhelming at the time.”

We have to tap into our roots to grow as Mayo sees it, and it starts with being versed in the masters.

“It takes a while to figure out, but it turns on lightbulbs,” he said. “Even if you’ve never taken musical theory, you can learn it secondary through just listening to a guy like Hendrix. As you learn those things you can’t deny the value.”

Mayo’s brother, Victor DiValentino is the chairman of the board for the SA Blues Society, a registered 501(c)3, and he is a huge advocate for this type of education.

“Our mission is to preserve and promote blues music,” DiValentino said.  “It’s real important that what we show people is good quality, and we’re also going to the schools to engage in blues education.”

When DiValentino isn’t actively promoting gigs and supporting local blues musicians – including his brother Scott Mayo – he is collaborating with educators to bring the roots of music into classrooms and cafeterias across the Alamo City.

“When we were kids our eyes were big for this sort of thing,” DiValentino said. “Whatever is going to trigger a child’s growing mind, to catch their interest, that’s what we do.”

DiValentino expressed a sincere sense of joy and appreciation for the opportunity to watch a kid truly feel the music that is coming from a live instrument. “If a few kids have a few questions, stay around and talk with us about the music, that’s the reason we do it,” DiValentino said.

Winners of the Sam Baird Scholarship stand on stage at Sam's Burger Joint with San Antonio Blues Society Directors. Photo courtesy of SA Blues Society
Winners of the Sam Baird Scholarship stand on stage at Sam’s Burger Joint with San Antonio Blues Society Directors. Photo courtesy of SA Blues Society.

The altruism through its Blues Into School program isn’t the only way the society is giving back.

The Sam Baird Scholarship is (given in) honor of a man who was instrumental in helping start the blues scene in town,” DiValentino said, as he described a scholarship that the SA Blues Society now awards to talented and driven high school seniors with a dedication to music. The deadline to apply is April 1 and winners will join members of the Blues Society on stage for a Fiesta event on April 24.  “These young kids are out here playing and we’re backing them up – it takes care of everything.”

You’ll definitely catch DiValentino and Mayo out at this year’s Experience Hendrix Tour, and probably a handful of their younger, starry-eyed prodigies. But in case you miss this Molotov cocktail of rock/blues goodness, you can always dig on some of the hotter spots for the blues in San Antone.

Mayo commented that while many musicians say “there’s no gigs,” you just have to go out there and find them.

Sam’s Burger Joint cannot be denied as far as a premier location, and those same owners have another club called The Amp Room, a great location for live entertainment,” Mayo said.  “The Cove is extremely important in presenting live blues, no doubt about it.”

Courtesy of SA Blues Society
Courtesy of SA Blues Society

You can catch Mayo and the Smokehouse Guitar Army up close and personal at The Cove on March 19, or even sooner at Barriba Cantina on the River Walk this Saturday, March 5. Perhaps they’ll be inspired a play a few Hendrix tunes from the night before.

Wherever you go to catch live music in the coming weeks and months, open yourself up to the roots of the music you’re hearing. Where did this sound come from?  Who influenced the musicians on stage and what does that mean?  Chances are Hendrix is on that list, or some bluesman back along the way.

And what does that mean?  It means that the power of the blues is so great, that a man would sell his soul to the devil for the chance to revel in its glory.  But you don’t have to sell nothing, you just have to open your ears, it’s all around you.

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Top image: The Smokehouse Guitar Army  (left to right) Adam Johnson, D.C. Olson, Scott Mayo, Urban Urbano, and Sam Massey.  Photo courtesy of SA Blues Society.

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Adam Tutor

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.