If one was to name the greatest guitarist of all time, one name is always likely to pip the likes of Clapton, Van Halen or Page to the top spot – Jimi Hendrix. 40 years since his untimely death on the 18th September 1970, Hendrix still exerts his influence on the musicians of today and is still as popular as ever. Not only is Hendrix a masterful guitarist, he can also pen great songs with lyrics to match, ranging from blues, rock, funk, fusion and jazz.
Hendrix made his name as a session guitarists in the mid-60s to the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, The Isley Brothers and Little Richard before he moved to London to focus on his a solo project. With Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, the formula for the Jimi Hendrix Experience was complete at the end of 1966.
Upon the successful release of the wistful ‘Hey Joe’, Hendrix released his debut album Are You Experienced? This was like nothing ever heard before. Hendrix blew apart the conventions of the guitar, expanding what could be achieved with just a guitar, amp and fuzz box. Tracks such as ‘Purple Haze’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’, ‘Foxy Lady’ and ‘Fire’ showcased Hendrix’s versatility and ability, becoming a soundtrack to that era. Drawing heavily on the psychedelic movement of the late 1960s, Hendrix created sounds no one had heard before, topped off with great showmanship.
Hendrix only released three full studio albums (the others being Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland, with the infamous naked women cover) in a short four- year stint. 1969 and after marked a hectic time for Hendrix, skirting between projects such as the Band of Gypsys. But in 1970, Hendrix joined the illustrious ‘27 club’ joining other musical renegades like Jim Morrision and Robert Johnson -immortalising his status as a tragedy to music and paying the ultimate price for his talent.
Hendrix embodied the zeitgeist and showed how to be a great performer. He set fire to his guitar, played with his teeth, played with his guitar behind his head – just watch his Woodstock 1969 performance for confirmation. He essentially wrote the blueprint for how a guitarist should perform on stage. However, Hendrix’s onstage antics have sometimes overshadowed his considerable talent, and he has become somewhat more symbolic of his actions on stage rather than his music.
40 years on and Hendrix is still crucial to any guitarists’ vocabulary and like many guitarists, I remember sitting and listening to the best of compilation, Experience Hendrix, and trying to play the riffs from ‘Purple Haze’, Voodoo Child’ or ‘All along the Watchtower’. In my school practice room most Hendrix songs were banned, as every lunchtime there would be some kids attempting to play a ‘Purple Haze’ over and over again – much to the annoyance of the music teacher.
Nevertheless, Hendrix has left a lasting legacy. He recorded many tracks throughout his time in the studio and his meandering jam sessions that have been released posthumously exposing Hendrix to new audiences, such as the recently released ‘Valleys of Neptune’. In my opinion, Hendrix will never be surpassed as the most influential blues and rock guitarist of all time. A well-crafted songwriter, an exciting showman, an enduring symbol of the psychedelic 60s but above all, a blistering yet subtle guitarist.