LEON HENDRIX & FULVIO FELICIANO * In the name of JIMI (interview)



Italian guitarist and singer Fulvio Feliçiano and brother of Jimi Hendrix - LEON HENDRIX. What do they have in common? Passion for music, relationship with Jimi, friendship and european stages few times a year. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Leon appeared for the first time in November and the audience immediately fell in love with him. With the project In the name of Jimi, accompanied by great musicians from Italy, he brought memories, emotions and a little "piece of Jimi" to all who love him. We celebrated the late 80th birthday of this guitar legend in a truly magnificent way. "They haven't forgotten my brother," an emotional Leon told me after one of the concerts I accompanied him to. And he's right. It's amazing to see and experience what Jimi Hendrix and his music still mean to people.


Leon: „I did not know we were poor. I just thought that was how lifewas.“


What is the strongest memory that you have of your brother?

My favorite moment is Jimi and I were laying on our belly every night, listening to the radio. At that time, black people could not be in the media. The black duo Mickey and Sylvia appeared in them for the first time. Jimi was very happy about that. Once, while we were lying like that and listening, he got an idea. He took a screwdriver and took the radio apart... He was looking for music. Of course he couldn't find it. I told him: "hey, dad will be upset..." So he put the radio back together, but lost a few parts. When dad got home he had a few drinks so he was screaming. At that moment both we were in our beds. Of course, the first thing Dad discovered was that the radio was broken. Jimi looked at him with his big eyes and said, "I was looking for music..." He surprised father so much that he didn't say anything more. 


...and that's when he started longing for a guitar?


We were cleaning out a lady's garage and Jimi found a one-string ukulele. That's when he discovered that he could play any song on just one string if he was fast enough. He said, “If I can do all this on this, what would it be like to have a guitar?” The ones from the catalog were expensive, so we bought one second hand for $5. When Jimi asked father for money, he told him, “Are you crazy? You will not play the guitar! You have to work with your hands, son!” – and so my aunt gave us the 5 dollars. Jimi could play really fast - and he was only 13 years old! He played songs by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis. He was able to connect the guitar to an old record player and play like that. In the band where he was called, they gave him a right-handed guitar - so he had to turn it upside down. I don't know how he could play the other way around, but he did.


How was your childhood?

You know, people say we had a terrible childhood, but I don't see it that way. I had fun. Jimi took me everywhere, I followed him everywhere. He was 13, I was almost 8. I didn't know we were poor. I just thought that was life. I think my childhood was fun because Jimi wasn't boring. Sometimes we walked miles just to have some adventure.


Could you tell us more about your and Jimi’s relationship?

When I was 6 or 7 years old, my mother and father separated. My dad kept me and Jimi. For some reason, Jimi started taking care of me. He hid me in the closet when my father came home drunk, he told me stories when my mother and father argued. I understood that I don't have a relationship with my father, only with my mother. My "father" who took care of me was Jimi. He was so adventurous! I spent most of my childhood with him. Jimi writes about this in his song "Castle Made of Sand". When he started playing the guitar, he took me to rehearsals, and later to live performances. I went everywhere he went. He smuggled me to concerts where children were not allowed. I got food, I even got some sleep. I can still sleep even in a noisy environment. Later, when he was doing well, he bought a guitar and an amplifier. He could play any song he heard once. When his friends invited him to parties, he didn't go to party, he preferred to play.


...so he actually introduced you to music?

Basically, I went to music with him. When I was 18, I asked my father for a guitar. He said, “Are you crazy? I already have one idiot in my family. You'll never make it!” It was so powerful that I actually didn't want to play the guitar anymore. It wasn't until I was about 50 that I started making my own music. I also compose my songs on the piano. You know, playing guitar was the worst thing I could have done because everyone expects me to play like Jimi. I worked as an artist, I painted pictures. My first guitar sat in a corner for three years. One night it occurred to me that I had had enough of painting. I got a vision from Jimi: he said something that I have to play the guitar because that's all I've got. Turns out he was right - because my sister took everything, our family got nothing. And so in that vision I picked up the guitar and played the song that Jimi was playing on the one-string ukulele... I started writing music, playing. I have so many songs written today...! And when someone says, "Aren't you upset you didn't get Jimi's millions?" I say, No! Those are Jimi's millions.


You are a painter, you paint beautiful pictures. Did Jimi have this talent too? Your paintings often depict your brother. What does art, painting mean to you?

Of course he had the talent before he got a guitar! Before he got a ukulele, he was an artist. He did such beautiful things! He also carved wood. Or he made toy cars out of clay and sent them to Ford. But that's another story... Jimi was simply fantastic. Creative. He tied a pencil to my wrist and said, "You have to draw." That's how I learned to draw. I was so good that his artwork in the museum is mixed with mine. Because my sister took everything from my father's house. I entered a drawing competition in high school and got a job at Boeing. I was extremely happy when I got it. They sat me down at a table and I had to draw a bolt and a nut. I hedged that I wanted to draw airplanes. “Listen, Mr. Hendrix. You are here to draw the nut and the bolt.” I drew the same thing every day until I got bored. I quit after 6 months. The whole family was angry with me.


Later I became a painter for an art company and I was happy. I got married, had a lot of children and still do art today. Here's the thing: When I play the guitar, I don't have the inspiration for art. That happens. As soon as I start doing art, I can't play anymore! The guitar doesn't sound right, that means I have to make art at that point. I'm playing the guitar right now. Usually when I want to paint I don't have pencil or paper so I get frustrated. And sometimes when I want to write a song, I don't have a guitar. It's hard to be in a situation where all these things are happening to you…


How did you get to work with the Fulvio Feliçiano Band?

Fulvio and I first met when I was on tour with Randy Hansen ten years ago. He came to one show and said he had a band and wanted me to go on tour with him. I got the chance to write more music with Fulvio than with other guitarists, plus he tunes. I learned a lot. We don't even have to exercise. As soon as we met, we were ready for the concert. Fulvio and I are close and we also play my original music together. 


On what would have been Jimi's 80th birthday, you toured several cities in Europe with Fulvio and his band to present the "In the name of Jimi" project. How do you perceive the European audience?

I felt good because people were very grateful. We went to one concert where a metal band was in front of us. I could tell by the crowd that they wanted to listen to stuff from the 60s. They weren't too happy with the metal band, the band demolished the entire stage. We stood there and everyone was happy, appreciated and thanked. Sometimes I'm embarrassed, just like Jimi felt.


After one concert you told me - it's amazing how many people haven't forgotten my brother. These must be very strong feelings... right?

Yes! People's eyes were so wide, they were happy! That was my brother's ghost. You know, these people don't expect me to play like Jimi. The way me and Fulvio play is we take some of Jimi's songs and put our own spin on them. For example, when we play Foxy lady, we give it something of ourselves. Jimi's spirit is everywhere I go. People feel it. Even Fulvio feels it. Sometimes at a show he literally goes crazy on the guitar and I'm like, "Wow, Fulvio, what are you doing?!" and he says he feels Jimi. Like I said, Jimi was more than a musician.


You have released two albums which are excellent. Tell us more about them. Who did you work with, when did they start?

I recorded some music over 10 years ago but never promoted it. I'm happy to go into the studio with famous people like Ricky Philips on bass, Ian Gillan on backing vocals. I did some stuff with Richie Sambor, Robby Krieger from The Doors. I have a lot of records that haven't been released yet, they're just waiting for their chance. I'm going to the studio tomorrow to record a ballad for Jimi. It's called One String Serenade - it's about a single-string ukulele. I like to be gentle, you know... Those are the things I want to do. Writing music, poetry. I don't want to write the symphony of the century, just a nice ballad for Jimi.


So what are your goals in music? Where are you going?

I don't really have any goals. I just want to play music and make it sound. To be free... I want to write things. That's what he told me in the vision. I want to create my legacy of my own music and my art. I'm still Hendrix! I believe I am still alive to carry on Jimi's message. To try to love each other. No one writes about peace and love like they did during the Vietnam War. That's what I want to do.


Jimi lived an intense life and left a message that generation pursue. He became an icon that everyone knows and values. People say he was humble and introverted. How would he look back at what he had achieved? 

He didn't think much about his music. He thought people were really overreacting to these things, he was humble. He was even sometimes embarrassed when people clapped for some of his music. I dare say he was actually more than a musician. He was a messenger, a prophet. I learned a lot from his writings. He said that he had already visited this world. Half of the songs are about peace, coexistence, and love. Jimi's driving force was music. He is eternal.


Anything you want to tell the readers?

Music is the communication of the future. The universe is like Wi-Fi - God's Wi-Fi. We are transmitters and receivers. You have to think to open the app. If you are not focused, the application is closed. You don't need iPad, iPhone, iCloud... You need iYou and iMe. We are kind of ignorant on Earth. Why would we need someone to tell us not to lie, not to kill? We must be in really bad shape to need a book like the Bible. I want to tell everyone that peace and love are not dead. Open your WiFi to God's Universe and start thinking about things.




FULVIO „It's like accessing a drawer placed in the universe.“

Do you remember your first contact with Jimi Hendrix music?

Yes of course, how could I forget, it changed my life. I was about 16 and I loved Nirvana. One night I turn on the TV and there was a Jimi Hendrix Special featuring one of his best performer, Randy Hansen and Buddy Miles (drummer from the Band Of Gypsys) and a bassist from Seattle. it was His birthday, 27th Nov 1997. During the evening they aired an excerpt from the Band Of Gypsys live at The Filmore East on new years eve 1969-70. Jimi was playing the Machine Gun solo, after those ten seconds I was no longer the same person as before. On Monday morning I went to school and on the way out with a friend of mine we bought some Jimi CDs. I actually took the Band of Gyspys live I had seen on tv, listened to Machine Gun 4 or 5 times in a row before moving on to track number 3, I couldn't figure out where all those sounds were coming from. A week later I had learned to play Little Wing note for note and at the end of the year I played the first “In The Name of Jimi” concert of my life.


You come from a family of musicians. How did your childhood shape you for this music and what kind of support did you have in your family?

My family has always supported me. My grandfather was my biggest fan, when I played in the city he always came to listen to me until he died. My father does the same. Both they were guitarists. Music in my house was always played, Santana and the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Elvis with my father up to Spanish, Gypsy and traditional Italian music with my grandfather. then the distant relationship with the guitarist Josè Feliciano greatly influenced the passion for this instrument.


From guy who admires Jimi Hendrix – towards guitarist, who goes on tour with Jimi’s brother Leon... How was your journey?

It's been a long journey, not always easy, actually, thinking about it, it wasn't at all. At the age of 25 I started collaborating with an important music agency and I was lucky enough to do many tours alongside international artists such as Uli John Roth (Scorpions), Kee Marcello (Europe band), Vinnie Moore (UFO), Mike Terrana (Y. Malmsteen) and many others. I spent ten years alongside Nathaniel Peterson in the band called Twin Dragons, I traveled the world with the guitar and I consider myself very lucky, many many satisfactions... but it has not been an easy journey. Many times we feel discouraged, alone and many times we are close to giving up everything but it is the life we love and the way forward requires these steps. Now after years of hard work, things are a bit different and everything seems to have reached more maturity.


Many people who came to your concert were thankful and said that if they closed their eyes, they could have „Jimi live“ for a while. Some of them convinced me about Jimi’s reincarnation into you. How do you feel when people treat you like this?

Wooow well I'm obviously very pleased even if it embarrasses me a lot but listening to myself I'm never satisfied. I don't think I'm the reincarnation of Jimi at all, he was a genius, he wasn't just a virtuoso, he was a composer, he wrote songs that are still current and modern. No one it was ever like him, before or after. I believe that there is no guitarist in the world who wouldn't want to be Jimi, I also believe that however good one may be and apply himself a lot, no one can come close to what he has managed to do in such a short time. I play his music because I love it, I don't think to be him, I do it because it makes me feel good and because I like that there is someone who discovers his music through me or simply experiences a Live concert that gives some good Hendrixian vibes.


Let’s introduce your band. Who are „your guys“ on drums and bass?

This is a band of real good friends first of all. I'm very lucky cause they are also such a great musicians. On drums Mr. Pino Liberti, a real livin‘ legend, I don't think I know another drummer who has the same live experience as him and such a large number of tours behind him with world famous musicians. I have known him for a lifetime, I think was the 1997 first time I meet him and it is thanks to him that at the age of 25 my career within the IRAgency began. I met Marco D'Angelo in 2008 thanks again to Jimi in an evening organized by the agency I worked with. He is one of the greatest connoisseurs of Jimi's life and music, for years he has devoted himself to the study of Billy Cox's style and musical language and I find him incredibly similar! Playing with them makes me feel perfectly at ease and makes me express myself at my best.


What does JIMI HENDRIX mean to you personally?

Jimi is a guide for me, was an mistical, magic, fantstic humanbeen , I feel like I've known him sice ever, even though obviously, I've never met him. I confide in him, I tell him my vicissitudes, he knows everything about me and I try to know as much as possible about him. He saved me from the street, from bad acquaintances, I come from a very wild and raw places and if I hadn't had him in my life maybe like some of my friends I wouldn't be here now. I calls him Jimi, like he's an old friend of mine, a brother, that's how I feel him.


Which song is the strongest message / feeling for you and which one you love to play the most?

Hard to answer hehe it depends on the moment, if you asked me tomorrow night I'd probably give a different answer. I love everything he wrote. there are some songs that I am definitely more attached to. "All along the Watchtower" has always been one of them and even though it's a Dylan cover, we can consider it as one of his work, I think with that recording he found the philosopher's stone. but there are so many, the same "Little Wing", "bold as love", "one rainy wish"... it's really hard to answer you. Even to play it live, sometimes i can't help but play some songs, but then i fall in love or rather i fall in love again with some sounds and totally change song list. let's say I love Jimi's sound in the last year of his life, Cry of Love tour to be clear, starting from the first part of 1970 with Band Of Gypsys but I love everything that is ... In The Name of Jimi, you know what i mean...


It is impossible not to see that your style of playing and the equipment you use is direct and simple - just like it was with Hendrix. Also we can see that you feel the music you play and sing. It's not a Jimi Hendrix impersonation. You bring yourself into it, but from the performance we feel humility and a strong connection with the one who inspired you and whose music you represent. Am I right?

I am very happy that this transpires. I'm not trying to imitate Jimi, that just wouldn't work for me. it's like accessing a drawer placed in the universe. Sometimes I can close my eyes and access it. It's like everything I've ever heard becomes more tangible and it's like an exchange of love. I love him and in return I get a great inspiration sometimes.


Many musicians love and play Jimi’s music. YOU can perform it on stage with his brother Leon. How did you find each other and how long do you play together?

I met leon in november 2011. i was on tour with Twin Dragons Band and during a day off i went to hear him play with Randy Hansen. in July through an association called Jimi Hendrix Italia, for the love of the president Roberto Crema (who will probably accompany us on the next tour) I found myself playing with Leon. it was the first of a long series of tours together.


How was Slovak and Czech audience? How is it with this kind of music in Italy?

It was not the first time in Slovakia or in Czech Republic, every time, I comes home with a wonderful memory. this last tour was fantastic, people love us here and we love your mood, the spirit with which you live this type of experience. I would like to say the same for my country, Italy. although we now have an increasingly large crew of people who support us, unfortunately it is not the same thing in general. Here they listen and experience a completely different kind of music now.


What do you consider to be your biggest musical success until now?

My greatest success with music so far has been being able to live for what i love, meet so many people, of different ethnicities, religions, customs and traditions from my own, visit many places in the world, be on stages big and small, speak through my guitar of JIMi and a little bit of my personal history and I hope to continue to do so until the end of this journey.


You have come a long way... For someone standing on stage with the brother of his idol is perhaps the main and biggest dream and desire. After all - where would you like to go in music and what is your biggest dream?

I played a lot as a boy as a session man, then I was able to dedicate myself full time to Jimi, I got to play with his brother Leon and get to know his friends and band mates. I would like to record a record with him now but I think he will happen very soon. I have a friendship, albeit not a physical one, with Jimi's bassist, Billy Cox. now I would like to meet him and play with him, we came close, gigs were planned but Covid blocked everything. Another hidden dream is to be able to meet and play with Jose Feliciano. who knows, it's not over yet, never say never...


What kind of music – except of Jimi – do you like? Who inspires you?

Well I listen to a lot of music, from rap to gypsy music, I love the Italian music of songwriters. I also gladly listen to classical music, Country music, I adore the fathers of Blues up to hard rock. In my Itunes you can find lot of artist, from Beethoven to Malmsteen, I love Jeff Beck, BB king, Stevie Ray Vaughan but also Emminem..


Prepared by: JANE TWIGGY
Foto: Richard Novak

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