Apr 172009

As a lead-in to a piece that Townsman KingEd is working up that touches on the influence of Jimi Hendrix on a well-known Friend of the Hall, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this discussion, initiated by Townsman Hrrundivbakshi almost 2 years ago. We’ve fawned over the magic and majesty of Hendrix before, and Ed’s upcoming piece probably won’t be the last time. While we await our next related Hendrix-centered thread, think about what HVB and others said way back when.

This post initially appeared 6/24/07.

Today’s burning question

Why do we love Jimi Hendrix so much?

That’s not a trick question, by the way, or a snarky way of letting the universe know that I think he sucks major ass. ‘Cause I don’t. I think Jimi Hendrix was an astonishing, timeless talent — one of the few “rock” musician types that truly deserves to be placed in that awkward “genius” category.

For me, Hendrix is simultaneously forward-looking and free; focused and intense; hippy-dippy and sweet; brutal and bludgeoning. He was avant-garde without being precious, snide, or academic about it. His virtuosity never — and I mean that literally — never ceases to amaze me. There’s always something new and unbelievable to hear in a Hendrix song, if you’re listening with those kind of ears. And if you don’t, or can’t, listen as a player, it don’t matter, ’cause his songs are strong.

He also had a dynamite Look — man, that (pardon me, and insert 1974 Rottun Teef Keef “tracksssss…” voice here) “super spade” thing, combined with a stage presence that turned him and his guitar into one giant, raging rock hard-on, was just fucking unbeatable. Think of Mick Jagger or Robert Plant or any other white front man contemporary of Hendrix’s — in their rock posturing prime, on their best night — and they all seem positively tea cozy and cardigan sweaters compared to this dude.

But look — I’m opening up this thread because I just want to know how and why you love Hendrix as much as you do. I’m also looking for those spine-tingling recorded moments that make you wait in eager anticipation — like the hair-singeing opening notes to “Foxy Lady” or the moment when “Ezy Rider” comes roaring back into the main riff after the bridge, or — well, you get the idea.

Why do you love Jimi Hendrix so much?


  22 Responses to “Why Do We Love Jimi Hendrix So Much?”

  1. saturnismine

    jimi is god.

    have you ever watched the documentary called “a film about jimi hendrix?” even on a bad night, the guy had a jaw droppingly DIRECT connection to his music: no distractions whatsoever, and very few limitations.

    my favorite parts are the ones where the guy sheds all the gimmicks, and just stands there with his mind on some far away place, playing the SHIT out of his guitar. no moves, no teeth, no fire, no flash, just the smoke comin’ out of his ears and his fingers.

    noone’s ever gotten there before. noone.

    confession: i have dreams with hendrix in them all the time…at least once or twice / month.

    in the hendrix documentary, pete townshend claims that hendrix sold the guitar to the world. then he adds that he sold it to townshend, who didn’t really “believe” in the guitar as a capable musical instrument until he saw hendrix play.

    to cross threads a bit: townshend tells this awesome story about how when hendrix first emerged on the london club scene, eric clapton called townshend and took him to a movie. he was threatened, and suddenly, a guy like townshend, to whom slow hand had never given the time of day, was a valuable friend.

    for me, only syd barrett, john lennon, john coltrane, theolonious monk, sun ra, and neil young come close to being as mystical as hendrix.

    there are too many awesome hendirx moments for me to recount, so i’ll just mention one (the way the solo on “bold as love” starts a measure before every other guitarist on the planet would’ve decided to start it), and then relate a story that hopefully communicates the universality and beauty in his music:

    i had a friend who liked nothing but hardcore. and this was a smart guy, with lots of well thought out opinions about why. one day, back in the early 90s, it snowed like crazy and we split from work early and hung out. we listened to “axis bold as love” end to end. he had never heard it before but by the end of “castles made of sand”, when the opening guitar figure comes back, and zig zags on outta your head in a reverb wash, i knew he was hooked. jimi was the gateway for an angry hardcore punk to realize how much more was out there.

    this just in: a special hendrix movie moment: in “over the edge”, when matt dillon is on his death ride, he throws in a tape of hendrix and puts the pedal to the metal: “people talkin’ but they just don’t know….”.

    sorry to ramble on….

    he’s the man….

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Man, Art, this was excellent, and thank you sincerely for sharing. Here’s your no-prize for being first out of the starter’s gate — Jimi’s legendary 1969 performance on the Lulu Show. This is the *whole* performance, featuring not just the infamous “Hey Joe” snub, but also a blistering take on “Voodoo Chile.”


    Your pal,


  3. saturnismine

    thanks fritz! this is awesome.

    it’s cool how he’ll wring the living fuck out of the neck of that guitar, it’ll go out of tune, and he’ll find a way to bend the neck or tap the whammy bar and it’ll get back in tune. short of that, when he plays chords after it goes out of tune, he manages only to hit the strings that are in tune….

    effin’ great.

    btw, your description of hendrix to start this thread is so spot-on-good that i thought about not posting: you pretty much said it all.


  4. Mr. Moderator

    Saturnismine wrote:

    in the hendrix documentary, pete townshend claims that hendrix sold the guitar to the world. then he adds that he sold it to townshend, who didn’t really “believe” in the guitar as a capable musical instrument until he saw hendrix play.

    Simply “buying” the guitar from salesman Jimi was not enough for Townshend or thousands of others. I love Hendrix for his Smash Hits and a handful of album tracks. No one has ever become one with the guitar the way Hendrix did, and when working in the structured, concise environment of a pop song, he was outstanding. No one could stick it to the man like Hendrix withi his ax and and a 3:00-minute, riff-laden song in his arsenal. When the brief, explosive, expansive guitar solo hits, doors are busted down in rock ‘n roll. The great thing about a concise Hendrix song with a great solo is that it does everything so many lesser genres would attempt to do in detail: heavy metal would never be so heavy, jazz fusion would never fuse so seamlessly, psychedelia and funk get to “talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothing.” Hendrix could drill down to what’s valuable in all these genres within one 3:00-minute song, saving listeners a lot of time and money.

    Without those restraints, his weaknesses came through: limited vocal phrasing and tone, silly lyrics, rebelliousness without cause… You can have your “deep cuts”; just leave me “Castles Made of Sand”, “Dolly Dagger”, and a few others that don’t drag on for 9:00 and get into poetry raps that not even Jim Morrison would stoop to do. Man, what a free ride Hendrix gets for those bits.

    Favorite Hendrix moment: the guitar solo in “All Along the Watchtower” – the one that starts with the breakdown. I’ve spoken before about the time-lapsed, nature documentary quality of Captain Beefheart’s “Dirty Blue Gene”, among other songs. Hendrix was the first, and maybe only other, rock musician to achieve that “natural” state in his playing and arranging. He’s one of those Hall of Famers with a relatively low batting average but great slugging stats.

    And I really like his Otis Redding-style throwaway, “Remember”.

  5. saturnismine

    awesomeness, mod.

    isn’t “remember” great? it’s almost memphis, almost muscle shoals, almost “drive my car”, almost ARETHA, for crying out loud, but in the end, it’s unmistakably jimi.

    your advocacy of “smash hits” reminds me of the first time i heard “can you see me”, with its stop, and the VERY CLEAN guitar note that swerves from left to right. what a hoot.


  6. mockcarr

    I love Hendrix because he wrote and played a simple number like Little Wing and summoned ache you’ve ever felt. Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and those pretenders play the same notes and get…notes.

    I love Hendrix becuase his playing gives me as vivid a feeling as what I get in Beethoven’s Sixth, a Mozart Concerto, or Chopin nocture. As vivid as going down to the bottom with Armstrong, or to Pee Wee Russell’s wistful spot beyond the rainbow. But then there’s the elecric power of it too, the thick roar that attacks you from room to room, and sits you back down or maybe makes you stand up. That one trilling string that seeps into your ears before the song begins, followed with a cascade of power chords that involutarily nods your head in metronomic prayer.

    I love in that clip, how he throws in a little of the Beatles’ I Feel Fine riff in during that Hey Joe “rubbish”. Jazz soloists do that with standards all the time, but it’s nice to see a a “rock” guitarist feature a familiar rock pop riff. Jimi’s telling you these are also worthwhile, versatile melodies that don’t need to be sheet music.

    I love the little spoken bits in those songs on the first couple of albums. There’s always headphone fodder in there like a “Damn?!” or a laugh. I kind of agree that starting with a standard 3 minute tune is best for Hendrix, but I really don’t mind it going wherever in a live setting. He’s on fire without that lighter fluid, the solos have teeth without biting the strings. It’s not distortion to him, it’s aas pure and useful as a dry strat sound in his arsenal.

    I love how flakey he is, He’s goddamn free of the pretense of making “sense” out of this crazy gift he has. How could words really describe what he’s doing. Naturally, our descriptions and metaphors are inadequate.

  7. saturnismine

    charlie, that’s really well said, especially your comments on his lack of pretense regarding his “crazy gift”.

    in the documentary, he admits to being “scared” of the cameras while trying to do a twelve-string acoustic version of “hear my train”.

    i feel the same way that you do about him live. the “jimi hendrix concerts” album is just sick….i can’t get bored of those solos. the way “stone free” kicks back in? unbelievable.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    Mockcarr sez:

    I love how flakey he is, He’s goddamn free of the pretense of making “sense” out of this crazy gift he has. How could words really describe what he’s doing. Naturally, our descriptions and metaphors are inadequate.

    I say:

    YES! We REACH!

  9. BigSteve

    I’m traveling and having a hard time keeping up, but I wanted to chime in with my love for Jimi too. I’ll never forget being stunned to hear of his death on the evening news. I can still see in my head the footage of him they showed while Walter Cronkite or whoever said he was dead. I was devastated, and my mother was dismissive – “Steve, he’s just a guitar player.” Yeah right.

    I actually think Hendrix was one of those people who was literally not of this world. The whole super spade sexgod routine was almost like a strategy to keep himself on the physical plane so he could manifest his otherworldly beauty in a way we could comprehend. Sadly he had to go back whence he came, but he left behind a body of work that seems ageless.

  10. I think Jimi is an amazing guitar player but I can only take so much of him. His singing, lyrics, and generic phrasing really grate on me.I need songs and tight arrangements!

    What impresses me is how he is revered by the biggest rock icons. i remember afew years back, VH-1 did a top-100 artists as vorted by the artists themselves and he came in #2 or 3 behind the beatles. They had Paulie Mac saying how he thought Jimi was a god.

    VH-1 also showed “montery pop – 40 years later” and it was amazing how many artists were so “blown away” by Jimi.

  11. Mr. Moderator

    Does anyone know if the greatest drummer in rock lefthanded? The greatest bassist (McCartney) and guitarist (Jimi) are. Any other leftys beside myself regretting that you learned to play righthanded, thereby sacrificing your super lefty powers?

  12. Well, for starters, John Entwistle and James Jamerson (cue genre ground-rules discussion) would give you an argument over the greatest-bassist bit. But if you’re establishing the Lefty All-Stars, they’re good choices. As for the drummer, I’d like to think we could do better than Phil Collins, but no one’s coming to mind right now.

    As for right-handed regrets, no way. I learned to play by picking up other people’s right-handed instruments; I can try out 95-100% of the instruments in any music store; I can sit in with any instrument that’s lying around.

    And who says what’s left- and right-handed anyway? My left hand is more dextrous than my right; my right hand is stronger than my left; my left arm is stronger than my right. So when I started on drums, I rather primitively put the snare under my left hand so I could really whack it with the muscles of my left arm behind it. Playing bass, I like having my more dextrous hand doing the fingering and my stronger hand plucking out notes.

    Hey, anyone seen a left-handed mandolin player before or since Paul McCartney? I was just thinking about the time, trouble and expense of flipping the nut and the bridge; has anyone else done it?

    And how about upright bass?

  13. Isn’t Ringo left-handed?

    I think Jim Keltner might be left-handed as well. It looks like he plays with his hands uncrossed, which is often a clue.

    Other lefty guitar players: Paul Simon (i think) and Cesar Rosas.

  14. How about Phil Collins (as a drummer only)?

  15. 2000 Man

    I can’t give quite that much love to Jimi. But Stone Free is a gift from god. Really. God, that’s just perfect.

  16. Answer: for all the right reasons. He is the real deal. With Miles, Coltraine, Dylan, Lennon, Marley. Music sweats out of every pore…

  17. BigSteve

    I was wondering what people thought about Hendrix in light of the discussion we had recently about influence. It seems to be that his influence now is hard to pinpoint. When he hit London his influence seems to exist aside from his actual artistry. In other words it was about the guitar as main course, with a side order of flash and destruction. When you look at his recordings now, they seem to be more headed towards composition and structure and finding freedom inside those concepts.

    But trying to track his influence, all I can come up with is bad disciples, like 70s power trios. Ernie Isley, maybe? Vernon Reid? Am I just incapable of seeing anyone out there but black guitar players? In a way Hendrix was a dead end. He’s an inspiration, but an influence?

    And btw is there any greater might have been than Jimi playing with Miles?

  18. I always compared Jimi to some sort of Martian. He had to have been from another planet, on loan to us for such a short time..

    I never like to play the “what if they lived” game, and Hendrix is no exception. Alot of the gifted ones from the 60s did live and grew very boring. If Clapton had died, we’d wonder what would have happened. And we got our answer: He’s boring and doesn’t really matter that much these days. Ditto for Macca. While we’ll never know what would have become of Jimi, my bandmate did share his Hendrix dream and it seemed oddly appropriate (and maybe likely): We were back in music school (where we met) and Hendrix came to do a recital/lecture. He was in the small recital hall. He played some wacky jazz-type stuff (with some taped accompaniment) and then he talked about the mechanics of music and what it means to him. He was down to earth and a really cool guy. He didn’t seem too interest in playing “hits” and it wasn’t really a “concert” type of thing. But, in the contect of this dream, it was exactly what he’d been doing since the late 70s. He just kind of faded into this obscure little niche and became an artists’ artist. Maybe, once every 3-5 years he’d break out the rock and play the festival and do concerts.

    It’s hard to not love Hendrix.


  19. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve, I’ve been thinking about this too. For starters, didn’t he have an immediate influence on soul and jazz artists like Sly Stone (although he may have been a concurrent influence), The Temptations, Miles Davis, and, as you mention, The Isley Brothers? Funkadelic obviously copped a lot of from him as would HVB’s favorite artist, Prince. In the lighter-skin-toned rock world I would think he was an influence on Santana, for starters. Whatever living guitarist Red Hot Chilli Peppers employs at any time is indebted to Hendrix. The man had his share of pure imitators as well, but I think he did as much as any ’60s rock artist to keep the door propped open a crack for the influence of fluid, R&B-based psychedelic guitar. I also wonder if part of his influence was his ability to cram cool guitar parts within tightly structured pop songs. In helping a Townsman prepare an upcoming interview, I’m pretty sure that one punk guitar hero in particular took that much out of Hendrix’s records.

    Jimi playing with Miles, if they could have kept all the hangers-on out of the studio, could have been excellent, like the next logical step after the Tribute to Jack Johnson album.

  20. Mr. Moderator

    Oh, and Hendrix was a prime force in Eric Burdon’s decision to become black.

  21. I like Hendrix the most when he’s playing that gospel influenced, Impression-era Curtis Mayfield style guitar, like in Little Wing or Wind Cries Mary. I think he brought that style to the masses.

  22. “But trying to track his influence, all I can come up with is bad disciples, like 70s power trios.”

    The Deciples of anyone are bound to be “bad”

    Nils Lofgren, Neil Young, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai,John Frusciante (RHCP), Joe Satriani, Jack White, Billy Gibbons

    Are “Hendrix Influenced” without being copycats with a left handed strat and a fuzz box

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