When the topic of “music legend” and “greatest guitar player of all time” is discussed, the only debate involves 2nd place and down. One man is the indisputable champion – Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi had it all – unique songwriting skills, inventive rhythm techniques, unearthly guitar effects, and an electrifying live show! His music and playing was so far ahead of it’s time that songs from the 60s, like Voodoo Child (Slight Return), still sound fresh today – while music from the 80s and 90s seems dull and lack luster.
Like Hendrix, his music had a pulse and it was alive! The “Band of Gypsys” live album was recorded (fulfilling a contractual obligation) at The Fillmore East on New Years Day in 1970 and is generally considered a prime example of his mastery. As his first recording without The Experience, Hendrix took the audience on a more humanistic and rhythmic journey. The music itself took on a life of it’s own. Weaving in R&B, Rock, Funk and good old jamming – Hendrix, Billy Cox, and Buddy Miles created the inspiration for the fusion genre of funk rock. Not only did they inspire an entirely new genre of music, but “Band of Gypsys” is credited for fueling the inspiration of countless artists.
Inspirational and alive can also describe the revered Woodstock festival of 1969. One can not mention Woodstock without acknowledging Jimi’s version of The Star Spangled Banner. According to percussionist and friend of Hendrix, Gerardo Velez, he had to convince Jimi to perform the piece live and not just at rehearsal. Velez told me it was a hard sell. It’s a good thing Jimi listened because it’s now an immortal moment in music history.
I had the privilege of recording with Billy Cox at his personal studio in Nashville, where he was kind enough to share some stories about his time with Jimi. Described as a “tireless worker,” Jimi and Billy would go into the studio at 8am and come out 25 hours later at 9am with multiple reels of recorded music. Mitch Mitchell said, while flying back from a gig at 3am, Jimi would have his guitar out on the plane – constantly writing music. I found it hard to believe that a perpetual stoner could be so productive – it is impossible for anyone to record such an extensive music catalog in 3 short years if they were high all the time. This common misconception and spin on the narrative are just that. Billy said they fought with their manager and publicist about pushing the “Jimi’s stoned all the time” story when he wasn’t. Ultimately, the manager told Billy that negative publicity sells, so the band had no choice in the matter.
Jimi’s music and playing has permeated through all barriers – Social, political, and musical; Class, race, culture and nationality; musical genres; and all the years of change that came after him. While attending Musicians Institute in Los Angeles I knew all styles of players- Funk, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country, and more. We have only one common thread between us – we all love Hendrix!
Jimi Hendrix never won a Grammy – he didn’t need one. He changed the face of the music world, influenced millions of musicians and left a seemingly infinite catalog of music that continues to spawn new releases. The inspirational pulse of Jimi Hendrix will continue to transcend through the decades as it has for the last 30 years.