Darren Hart (aka Harts) is no stranger to walking in the footsteps of giants. The Australian Funk Rock wunderkind has consistently drawn parallels to pop virtuosos past and present, his technical skills and ability to navigate a tune have garnered praise from scene kings like Questlove and even The Purple One himself.
“It’s funny because Prince first heard me through a video of me playing a Hendrix cover on YouTube,” Harts recalls. “He invited me to Paisley Park and he was always really complimentary and encouraging with my playing and stuff. We’d often talk about Hendrix. I guess it’s all come full circle now!”
Harts’ latest project harts Plays Hendrix may well be his most ambitious project to date, taking one of the most beloved pop cultural icons and gifted players in rock music history and giving it the Harts treatment. So where does someone start when trying to do justice to what is arguably one of the most dazzling and technically adventurous songbooks in the rock music canon?
“I think it all starts with trying to inhabit that bold playing style and the personality of it all. There is an attitude in the way he plays,” muses Harts.
“His songbook is so solid that it can stand up all by itself, even separate from all the technical guitar stuff. There’s just so much to work with beneath the surface that you can really dive into it.”
While Harts has been a longtime fan of the big man, the songs he seemed to connect with this time around were somewhat unexpected.
Surprisingly the one that seems to kick off the hardest for me is ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ he recalls. “Growing up I was always drawn to the more mellow stuff like ‘Little Wing’ and stuff like that. Just the way ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ fills in with the drums and the bass, it just comes out really big and open and full of energy. I got a greater appreciation for that one now.”
Perhaps one of the more intriguing revelations for Harts came in the gear domain.
“I’ve always played Stratocasters and for the tour I bought a left handed Strat and strung it in reverse as a bit of a nod to Hendrix,” explains Harts, who himself is a natural right-hander. “It’s actually insane the difference it makes sonically, with the pickup the other way, it just instantly sounds more Hendrix.”
For someone with as much technical aptitude on the guitar as Harts, were there any moments he found difficult on a technical level?
He pauses for a second, with all the stoicism of ‘Nam veteran, before emphatically stating “Anything beyond the fifteenth fret,” he explains, perhaps mysteriously.
‘‘With an upside down Strat you lose access to a lot of those higher frets. I knew Hendrix had massive hands, but they must have been huge to get all the way down there so easily with that cutaway where it is… It’s pretty ridiculous.”
Tribute shows can be a daunting prospect, especially when you are dealing with one of the greatest instrumentalists and most recognisable pop cultural figures of all time. So how does Darren inject Harts into Hendrix?
“It’s never been about making a carbon copy of the Hendrix experience. It’s never been about making about an exact replica. It’s about inhabiting that attitude and taking it somewhere modern while remaining true to that spirit.”
Harts Plays Hendrix kicks off this March in Adelaide, and sees Harts trek all the way around the country until June. Head to his website to grab your tickets today.