Recently, Rolling Stone magazine published its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time special edition and not surprisingly, the original Voodoo Child himself, James Marshall Hendrix sits at the head of the class. This got me to thinking. As a guitarist myself and HUGE Hendrix fan, Jimi’s music, aura and creative genius has had a major impact on my development as a musician and also on my personal life. In the spirit of ‘greatest lists’ I began to think about the Top 5 recorded Hendrix moments that turned my musical world upside down and had the biggest impact on me, an impact which I still feel to this day.
The year 1969 marked a creative turning point for Jimi Hendrix. Tired of the pop confines of the original Hendrix Experience format, he was creatively restless, looking to express the new sounds he was hearing in his head. The landmark live recording Band of Gypsys captures the birth of this new direction in all its incredible sonic glory, and no song more so than the seminal Machine Gun.
Machine Gun is a virtuoso guitar tour-de-force, a sonic explosion, that in my opinion is perhaps the most prolific, improvised guitar performance ever captured. Jimi uses his Fender Stratocaster, Univibe and Marshall amps to alternately makes his guitar moan and scream, tones exploding from his fingertips like an aural interpretation of a Jackson Pollock painting. To many musical scholars, this song marks the true birth of Jazz/Rock fusion guitar and I would agree. Hearing the heavily chorused notes cascading forth in a creative frenzy, each one more self-assured than the note before it and so incredibly, emotionally powerful, it still sends chills up my back. This is Hendrix at his white-hot, psychedelic, improvisational best. This is genius.
I think there are moments in each of our lives when we can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard a certain song for the very first time. Such is the power of music. One such song for me was the Jimi Hendrix blues masterpiece Red House. But not just any version of Red House. The version that rocked my world and made me decide to pursue guitar in the first place can be found on the Smash Hits LP.
Legend has it that he recorded this in one take, start to finish, which makes it all the more amazing as each note is perfectly executed, the playing so confident and powerful. From the opening figure to the improvised solo, this is electric blues at its finest.
Often dismissed as a poor vocalist, this Hendrix composition finds the guitarist in fine voice and his guitar work and songwriting shimmer like sunlight dancing off water. This haunting ballad was included on Cry of Love, the album that Jimi was recording at the time of his death in 1970, an album that in my opinion includes some of his very finest songwriting.
While an explosively powerful guitarist, Jimi also created a more quiet, reflective body of work that includes such gems as Little Wing, Angel and Castles Made of Sand. Drifting is firmly in this camp of beautifully rendered guitar masterpieces and its stylistic influence can be heard throughout the guitar world in the playing of such artists as Robin Trower, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Gales and many many more. On a very personal note, if it weren’t for songs like Drifting and Jimi’s other ballads, I wouldn’t have created a song like Crying Blue Rain. This is Jimi at his most tender and introspective. This is guitar as lovemaking.
Well-known as a perfectionist in the studio, it wasn’t uncommon for Jimi to book studio time around the clock, often recording until the early morning hours in an effort to capture on tape the sounds he heard in his head. As his technical prowess in the studio developed, his songs became more layered and textured. A perfect example of this approach is the powerhouse song Ezy Rider, also found on the album Cry of Love.
A sustaining, distortion-soaked power chord kicks off this gem and in the process lays the foundation for the sound of heavy metal and 80s ‘hair band’ rhythm guitar to come. As the song progresses, layer upon layer of guitar is added, creating a rich, sonic guitar orchestra. Multiple lead lines weave in and out over the throbbing bed of rock funk Jimi is laying down, all propelled forward by the drumming of Mitch Mitchell. Simply put, this song has got mega- SWAGGER!
I have always contested that only when you strip away the flash, glitz and packaging of a musician, will then the ‘true’ artist emerge. What can the artist do when there are no lights, sound effects, auto-tune, dance moves and hype to hide behind? Can they captivate and mesmerize with only the bare tools… a guitar… a piano… a voice? Jimi Hendrix proves beyond a doubt that he is equal to the challenge in this revealing gem, an acoustic version of Hear My Train a Comin’.
Filmed and recorded for the movie, A film about Jimi Hendrix, this unrehearsed performance gives a rare glimpse at the bluesman that Jimi was all along. It is somewhat reassuring to us mere guitar mortals that even a giant such as Hendrix could suffer from a bit of camera shyness as he initially stumbles out of the blocks in this take. But once the nerves are shaken off, he turns in a masterful performance, conjuring up the legends of the Delta Blues and channeling his best Robert Johnson in the process.
In summary; It is an almost impossible task to pick only 5 favorite songs from the enormous body of work that Jimi Hendrix left us. In reality, these are only five colors from a palette EXPLODING with sonic color. Jimi used his guitar to interpret love, sex, war, hatred, peace and joy through music and in the process he gave my life meaning when I needed it most and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Randy – A Life Designed