"The blues is a great platform for expression, it’s simple but emotional, but it can also be fun"
Jimi Hocking: Musical schizophrenic
Jimi Hocking is a songwriter, singer and guitarist of the highest calibre, the electric love child of T-Bone Walker, BB King and Jimi Hendrix. He struts the stage with his band, playing his ‘showy’ guitar style while pulling all the classic stunts ... behind the head ... the duck walk ... even the splits! Jimi is in his element live on stage, whether it be a small cafe or a massive festival.
His combination of banter and story-telling, wailing guitar and mandolin with superb songwriting and performance makes Jimi one of the 'must-see' acts in blues today. Jimi’s affinity with the guitar started as a boy when his father, Kevin Hocking (a well known pianist and composer) realised that Jimi was more interested in Chuck Berry than his piano lessons, and so presented him with a primitive acoustic guitar for Christmas. These humble beginnings led to an ongoing career in music, with Jimi playing electric guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin.
In the late-1980’s and early-1990’s Jimi had his own career as a hard rock artist. Known as Jimi the Human he released two recordings ... the Top 20 live album 'No Turning Back' and 'Living in Luxury' in 1993. The combination of high speed picking and blues bends on these albums left an indelible impression on many guitarists ... including Joe Satriani, Edgar Winter and George Thorogood, all with whom Jimi toured. In fact, when Jimi played a little guitar to blues legend BB King in 1989 (while he visited Australia with U2) BB exclaimed, “I’ve been watching you ... and you're good!”.
In 1999 Jimi defied his critics and released his first blues album, ‘Blue Guitar’ … despite pressure to keep to the rock stage, Jimi insisted he would play the music that was close to his heart. Certainly 2005 was a remarkable year for Jimi. Crowned winner of the Solo/Duo section of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, USA, Jimi subsequently embarked on a comprehensive US tour, appearing at festivals and clubs to great reviews.
2011 is another year on the road for Jimi, visiting festivals all over Australia and taking his Blues Machine to India and Nepal. In January the band recorded a live show at the Nighthawk Blues Cafe and, with David Briggs at the helm, 'Live In The Moment' became Jimi's 15th record and his first live album in 20 years.
Jimi, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what does Blues offered you?
I had always heard blues music as I grew up with musical parents, but I started to take it more seriously in the early 1980’s when I saw SRV perform in Melbourne. I had always played in rock bands, as the scene was dominated by our pub rock ethic… but about 15 years ago, the blues festivals became a lot more viable in Australia, so I put together a blues band.
How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
I love to play, and when the audience is excited it brings out the best in me, I’m a serious musician but I have a goofy character on stage.
Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
Music is many things, so there need to be a balance, but it is certain that people are moved by music that has a lot of heart and soul, but without the brain it would be hard to develop the skill to deliver it.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Being a musician is constantly full of ‘bests’ and ‘worst’s’… it is a roller coaster. I have played to both big and small crowds. I just love it when it all comes together on stage, it sound s and feels right… they are the great moments.
How do you characterize the sound of Jimi Hocking?
I have a few different musical personalities. I love the creamy sound of a Les Paul, and the jazzy sound of a hollow body archtop guitar. I think my dirty sound is related to someone like Gary Moore, and my clean sound is more like a jazz sound. And I am also a keen mandolin player, I love the ones with a round sound hole… they sound full and bluesy. Maybe I’m a musical schizophrenic.
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
There are a lot of good people in the scene, but I love those old BB King recordings and also the T-Bone Walker stuff, T- Bone had a more jazz blues sound, I love his turnarounds and the cool lines.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from to India and Nepal at the Himalayan Blues Festival in Kathmandu?
I have played at the Himalayan Blues Festival twice now, once solo acoustic and more recently with my electric 3 piece. We had a blast. The audiences were excited to hear us play, so we really wanted to play well for them. There were blues bands from many parts of the world there and it was a treat to all play together, it was like we had a universal language.
Also last year I got to meet and play with Bert Dievert, another blues mandolin player (there are only a few of us!) We hung out and talked about vintage instruments and had a great time. Jimi Hocking & Bert Dievert in Kathmandu – Little Black Cat and Jimi Hocking’s Blues Machine in Kathmandu. – Mary had a little lamb
Are there any memories from BB King, which you’d like to share with us?
BB King was very complimentary to me, he is a wonderful man, someone who is always encouraging young players. That is what I was when I met him, although I didn’t realize it at the time. He showed me his vibrato and talked about how the guitar was his voice… that is why he doesn’t sing and play at the same time, it’s one of the other.
What advice BB King has given to you, which memory from him makes you smile?
The chance to meet a true pioneer was something I’ll never forget. It was just so encouraging to have this guy … the real thing… tell me he liked the way I was playing. In itself, it is the ultimate affirmation. I think about it sometimes during the rollercoaster of the music industry.
Tell me a few things about your “studies” with Joe Satriani, Edgar Winter and George Thorogood.
I opened all those guys in the late 1980’s when I was the hot local guy. I had a record out at the time through a major label. They were all very cool… Joe was very studious at the time and George was a great showman… but Edgar really blew me away, he was such a well rounded musician, he seemed to be able to play every instrument on the stage!
I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience with Status Quo
I play guitar in a rock band called ‘The Screaming Jets’ and we opened for Status Quo on their Australian tour in 2010. I’m an old fan of Quo from when I was very young, so I was excited! I watched most of the shows and the guys signed my old vinyl LP’s for me… cool huh?
What characterize the sound of Mandolin? What are the secrets of BLUES Mandolin?
The mandolin is high strung like a violin, so it sits on top of the guitar sound. It’s tuned in 5ths so it is different to the guitar, and it sounds naturally ‘major’. The secret to playing a blues style on it is to play those minor 3rd intervals and slide them around. Bending is hard, so you got to use slurs.
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Blues is one of the Godfathers of modern music. People who are serious about music will eventually seek it out, even to just understand it. It comes from an era when music was important for communication and expression, it wasn’t obsessed with celebrity, and musicians played it because it was real to them. I wish that modern audiences realized the respect they should have for all roots music.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
The music industry is a tough one, but doing what you love is a gift… if you can, live your dream, but you will need to work hard at it.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and songwriter? How do you get inspiration for your songs?
Songwriting has never been easy for me, you have to wear your heart on your sleeve. I think you need some good sensibility to do it right. I suppose it must be like having some musical perception, balancing some musical knowledge with expression. I write little stories and ideas in a book all the time, and then I expand on them like I am writing a film script.
What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on? Happiness is……
I once read that success is when you don’t have to sell the old guitar to buy the new one! I am a bit of a collector, so maybe I am a success. It is always nice to be recognized for what you do, but in some ways music is its own reward. I still love to make recordings and explore new ideas. If I can continue to do that, I’ll be happy.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Maybe someone observing me could answer that question. I think when I first started and had not been influenced by the ‘industry’ or the idea of ‘making a living’… that’s when I was probably the most interesting.
Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet? How you would spend a day with Yank Rachell?
Ha ha, I wonder if those guys would even like some skinny Australian guy like me! It would be great to be around those old masters, just to see how they tick, and hear the old stories. Sadly, we have lost a good many of those originators as time has gone by. I read Yanks book ‘Blues Mandolin Man’… he tells how he traded a pig for a mandolin and went hungry, who knew how important that exchange would prove to be?
What were your favorite guitars back then, where did you pick up your guitar style?
I grew up fascinated by Les Pauls… Gold Tops and Flame Tops, that’s pretty much all I played through my early days in the 1980’s. Everyone had a Strat with a Whammy bar… not me. I played my Gold Top, I didn’t play anything else till I bought an early Paul Reed Smith, and I love those guitars too. Actually there are some great luthiers in Australia, I play a guitar made by Frank Grubisa and a guy named Justin Sutcliffe is building me a custom made Les Paul style guitar with hollow chambers.
My style is a mash up of ideas from Rock to Jazz, that might not be obvious to some, but I hear it. When I started to play fast, I wasn’t trying to be like EVH, I wanted to be like Les Paul, but the context made it sound like shredding. I still love guys like Gary Moore and Hendrix, but also Kenny Burrell, T Bone and early Les Paul.
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