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by John Liberty


Meet Joe Deninzon, the ‘Jimi Hendrix of the violin’

As a young man, Stratospheerius frontman Joe Deninzon played bass, guitar and violin.

There came a point when he had to pick an instrument, and he went with the violin because he was better at it. The Russian-born musician, who grew up in Cleveland and now lives in New York, was classically trained on the violin and listened to a lot of jazz, but echoing in his heart and mind was the music of Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa and Aerosmith, among others.

Deninzon found a balance between the two styles with an electric violin. Five years ago, he bought a Viper, a seven-string, solid-bodied wood violin shaped like a flying-V guitar. He bought it from Wood Violins, a New York-based manufacturer of electric violins, violas and cellos.

“I played violin, thinking like a guitar player,” Deninzon said during a phone interview from New York. “I was able to scratch both itches.”

Deninzon and the rest of the progressive-rock band Stratospheerius will make their local debut at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave. Admission is $5.

The group — Deninzon, drummer Lucianna Padmore, bassist Jamie Bishop, percussionist Benny Koonyevsky and new guitarist Auerelien Budynek — released its latest CD, “Headspace,” last summer. The band blends rock, jazz, funk, R&B, hip-hop and freewheeling instrumentals. And, of course, there’s the Viper.

People tend to look at his instrument as a novelty, Deninzon said.

“I’m trying to get past that and just make music,” he said. “People kind of freak out because it’s different.”

The animated Deninzon — “I go nuts at live shows” — said “people have called me the Jimi Hendrix of the violin,” although he said he’s constantly looking to refine his sound — “It’s a journey, not a destination.” He also wants to revive a dying part of the live-concert experience by “bringing back the glory of the guitar solos, or, in my case, violin solos.”