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Musical Space: Paul Allen, a Rocker Among the 1%

Guitar Aficianado



All this talk about the one percent got me thinking about Paul Allen, who’s day-gig as co-founder of Microsoft seems to have gone pretty well for him. So,what kind of slant on music would a person have if they were Bill Gate’s business partner?


I had heard the stories about how he helicopters professional musicians to the recording studio on his private yacht, and that he owns the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. Also the guitar Eric Clapton played on “Layla,” and many others. I wanted to dismiss all of this as internet-boom excess. Could the owner of the Seattle Seahawks really be serious about music?

As it turns out, he can. Paul Allen has been passionate about rock since he heard Jimi Hendrix live as a teen. And his side-project as a computer businessman has made it possible to do a lot for music. He used his huge collection of rock memorabilia to found the Experience Music Project Museum in 2000. And his rock-star fantasy was made manifest with his band, a blues-rock outfit called The Underthinkers. In addition to the house band he has on retainer, he was able to bring in ringers like Joe Walsh and Chrissie Hynde. They released their first album, Everywhere at Once, on Sony Recordings about three years ago to pretty good reviews. Proceeds from album sales go to educational programs at the museum.

So Paul Allen is one particular billionaire I won’t vilify - just envy a little bit.

Mark Foley is principal double bass of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and professor of double bass and head of Jazz Studies at Wichita State University.