Musical evolution is the key for the eclectic Screaming Jet Jimi Hocking; the bloke who’s been tackling “any style” since the 1980s.
It’s all about organic progress for the man known as “The Human”- wherever that may lead- even if it means his fans get a little lost in the process.
A few years ago at a Jets show- and sporting an uncharacteristically short hair do – one passionate fan couldn’t quite place the usually long-locked Hocking.
“It was funny,” he remembers. “I even had a girl show me an old picture of myself and asked me ‘Whatever happened to Jimi?’”
What happened to Hocking was natural growth from rock guitarist to delicate mandolin plucker; a performer who’s loathe to stay the same.
Ask him about his proudest moment from a diverse career and you get the feeling Hocking thinks it’s still ahead of him.
“Maybe the goal post are always moving… you never really arrive… and that’s the beauty of it all,” he says.
“I have had a great run in the music biz. I have ticked a lot of boxes.
“I remember when I met BB King, I thought…this is really it man, this is as good as it gets.
“I had the same feeling the first time I played in New York City. Even on those big Jets shows… jamming with (Geoff) Achison, (Lloyd) Spiegel… the great players.
“Even this year, we played to 11,000 people in Canberra (with the Screaming Jets) after the Summernats (Car Festival), it was a big show, very reminiscent of those old days.”
Those days were admittedly “heady” but Hocking’s introduction to the limelight back in 1988 would be hard to top for just being in the right place at the right time. Drafted in for The Angels’ Live Line tour after a “small disaster”, Hocking was suddenly on board for one of the band’s biggest victory laps.
“(It was) an ambitious set that included songs from the entire history of the band,” Hocking says.
But two shows in, Angels guitarist Bob Spencer broke his arm after an “unfortunate collision” with frontman Doc Neeson.
In short: bad break for Spencer, incredibly fortunate one for Jimi Hocking.
“I was called up as the result of some session work I had recently done,” he says. “It was originally to fill in for one night and the tour would be cancelled.
“The gig went so well, that the band offered me the guitar spot for the rest of the tour, so overnight I found myself on a major rock tour at 24 years of age.”
Also a former frontman of The Astroboys and The Astros, Hocking got his nickname from performing in cafes.
“I would appear on the ‘who’s playing board’ as simply Jimi, so I started to add silly titles (like) Jimi the Singer, Jimi the Muso,” he says.
“Eventually I wrote Jimi the Human, a joke about playing any style.
“In 1988 when I stepped into the Angels… Doc liked the Jimi the Human title and introduced me to everyone as such. It just stuck after that.”
After the Angels it was all about the Jets, and very little else.
“We virtually lived on the road from 93 to 97, it’s a great experience but it is also very intense,” Hocking says.
“It can send you over the edge… not having a home base like that. But it was incredible to have that experience.”
“We played to a huge crowd at Bathurst one year… like 50,000… it was amazing!”
By the late 90s however, Hocking had drifted into solo Blues territory with 1999’s Blue Guitar, despite pressure to remain in rock mode.
It was a pretty seamless shift however.
“I have always seen a strong connection between Blues and Rock playing, so it’s really not a big stretch in my mind,” Hocking says.
“I don’t adjust my playing too heavily, it’s the context that makes it sound different to the listener.”
Always one to think outside the square, Hocking would eventually introduce the mandolin to the genre- fair to say they’re not the most common bedfellows?
“It’s really not, but it is growing all the time,” Hocking says.
“I picked up the mandolin about 10 years ago, but discovering Yank Rachell and the whole Blues angle really help me find my style.
“I do some festivals where I only play mandolin. The first time I did it I brought a guitar along to the shows just because it felt so strange not to have one with me.”
The unlikely pairing is all about Hocking “getting outside the box”.
“I just don’t want to stagnate,” he says. “It’s nice to have new challenges and take on new musical concepts, I guess not all of them will pan out with the public, but it is what we do as artists.
“I’ve been working on a new mandolin album lately. This week I replaced a bunch of guitar parts with a sitar, I’m sure it will raise some questions.
“But, for me it was about getting outside the box. I’ll continue to play, but behind the scenes I write and dabble in a lot of other styles. I still love the Blues, it’s a style that affords a lot of freedom in my playing.
“I really want to continue to evolve, even if I’m the only one who notices.”
Jimi Hocking plays the Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival November (8-11).
Courtesy of Bendigo Magazine