Boulder-based rockers turn on to Hendrix
December 22, 2006
There were several good reasons for Rose Hill Drive to choose to cover Jimi Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsys” album for its upcoming run of shows leading to the New Year. The Band of Gypsys, formed in the wake of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was, like Rose Hill Drive, a trio. The album was recorded live on New Year’s Eve 1969 at New York City’s Fillmore East. And while the Hendrix Experience rocked harder than the Band of Gypsys – and thus, probably a better match for Rose Hill Drive’s style – Rose Hill Drive was looking for something more musically open-ended and less obvious than last year’s selection, “Led Zeppelin I.”And then there is one essential reason for Rose Hill Drive to tackle “Band of Gypsys”: to properly introduce Daniel Sproul, guitarist of the Boulder-based trio, to the music of Jimi Hendrix.”I was never a big Hendrix freak,” said the 22-year-old Sproul, who formed the band some six years ago with two fellow residents of the street that gave the band its name. Sproul’s brother Jake, 23, plays bass and sings, and 24-year-old Nate Barnes plays the drums. “He never really touched me until I started listening to him a lot these past few months. I always liked Hendrix, but he never freaked me out. Now he’s got me freaked out.””Band of Gypsys,” anchored by a 13-minute workout on “Machine Gun,” “was not a touchstone. It was a random idea from our manager, and the idea kind of stuck,” said Sproul, lamenting that the recent Front Range blizzard was preventing Rose Hill Drive from rehearsing for the run of shows – including Tuesday, Dec. 26, at Aspen’s Belly Up – that will feature the entirety of “Band of Gypsys,” followed by a set of original material.
Barnes, on the other hand, was a Hendrix freak from early on. A greatest hits collection of the late guitarist – voted No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time – was the first tape Barnes ever owned. When he got his hands on “Band of Gypsys” some years later, he thought it was “very different, and cool.”How Hendrix eluded Sproul is hard to figure. Sproul’s father, a tennis pro who played some guitar, turned his sons on to his album collection, which emphasized 1970s guitar rock.”Probably the biggest one was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Texas Flood,’ then ‘Couldn’t Stand the Weather.’ Also [the Allman Brothers’] ‘Eat a Peach’ and [the Beatles’] ‘Abbey Road,'” said Sproul. “We wore those down on the vinyl player until they didn’t play anymore. We share that common thing. That that’s what the three of us listened to.”Rose Hill Drive has begun to move beyond that foundation. Their debut album, released in August, has plenty of songs – “Reptilian Blues,” for example – that will give listeners flashbacks to Zeppelin, Mountain and early Black Sabbath. But a sequence of tunes in the middle of “Rose Hill Drive” – “Brain Novocaine,” “Declaration of Independence” – focuses on acoustic guitar and a far lighter feel.”The acoustic stuff has been a part of our thing,” said Sproul. “When we were young, we listened to Jackson Browne. But we were never able to learn how to express that stuff until we got to making the record.” Sproul added that a current favorite is David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” which has taken them to a more song-oriented phase.Getting that first record released was a long time coming. Two years ago, Rose Hill Drive was good enough to play a string of dates opening for Van Halen; the rock legends were impressed enough that they invited the youngsters to extend their run as the opening act. But while Rose Hill Drive was playing arenas, they still didn’t have a full-length CD to sell, and they also had to contend with the prospect of playing ratty clubs for tiny audiences while touring on their own. In March 2005, Sproul, nursing a cold and coming off a South Carolina show for a crowd of 20, told me, “Some days I’ll feel really positive about it, and some days I’ll question why I’m even doing this.”
He is less ambivalent these days. “I don’t want to wake up one day and be thinking, ‘Shit, I missed out on it all,'” he said. “I want to take in everything to the fullest.”That isn’t easy when you’re 22 and playing arena dates with the greatest of rock bands. Rose Hill Drive opened three shows for the Who last month, and is scheduled to do the same for a stretch of shows later this winter. Sproul didn’t exactly miss out on the experience, but appearing alongside the Who has left him dizzy.”Being able to listen to the Who – ‘Who’s Next,’ that’s a life-changing record,” said Sproul. “It’s a surreal experience. I still don’t connect with it.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org