“I didn’t want to become a cover band playing Purple Haze or Hey Joe – I took the deeper cuts and put my own spin on it”: He organized Jimi Hendrix’s 80th birthday party, now Marcus Machado is taking rock, funk and soul guitar into new territory

Markus Machado
(Image credit: Ogata Photo)

Learning the songs of Jimi Hendrix is a rite of passage for guitar players as they woodshed and work to master the instrument. But some get there earlier than others – like Marcus Machado, who treated students and parents at his own kindergarten graduation to a cover of The Wind Cries Mary.

For the legend’s 80th birthday in 2022, he organized a sold-out celebration of his music at Cafe Wha?, the Greenwich Village spot where Chas Chandler discovered Hendrix in 1966. Machado recruited musicians like Juma Sultan, a percussionist who played with Hendrix at Woodstock, and curated a set heavy on songs from his Band of Gypsys era. 

“I didn’t want to become a cover band [playing] Purple Haze or Hey Joe,” Machado says, “so I took some of the deeper cuts and put my own spin on it.”

The well-established rock, funk and soul guitarist expresses the influence of Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Prince – as well as hip-hop luminaries A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla – not by copying their styles, but by soaking up inspiration and making genre-blending music of his own.

After establishing himself on his 2015 EP 29 and debut long-player Aquarius Purple in 2021, Machado now uses his collaborations with jazz-R&B artist Jon Batiste, and rappers Pharoahe Monch and Pete Rock, to step out of his usual lane.

“With Jon, it’s like free range,” he says. “Of course, you have to learn the material and know the structure of the song, but overall I’m free to improvise and do what I do,” he says. “Me and all the other musicians in the band, we really complement each other.”

Machado’s latest projects take his wiry funk playing to new heights. He scored Black Pop: Celebrating the Power of Black Culture, a documentary released in June and spearheaded by NBA star Stephen Curry, and his 2023 album Blue Diamonds, which soundtracks the film by Patrick House.

Blue Diamonds is psychedelic soul, I like to call it – you have your Curtis Mayfield influence, but then you also have Latin vibes and percussion,” he says. “There’s an orchestra and a whole range of R&B, funk, soulful stuff.”

The vinyl-only LP showcases Machado’s songwriting and production chops as much as his guitar playing. “It’s still guitar-driven, but I’m pushing the envelope, progressing, just trying something new, and trying to create my own sound.”

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Jim Beaugez

Jim Beaugez has written about music for Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Guitar World, Guitar Player and many other publications. He created My Life in Five Riffs, a multimedia documentary series for Guitar Player that traces contemporary artists back to their sources of inspiration, and previously spent a decade in the musical instruments industry.