Incredibly, Jimi Hendrix would have been 70 today – an almost unbelievable fact considering how, for many, the guitar great’s age will forever be frozen at his mid-twenties peak through the iconic images and photographs that still adorn the bedroom walls of countless guitarists and music fans today.
To celebrate his talent, genius and legacy here are 4 ways in which the legendary player changed the way we play, listen to and enjoy guitar music for good.
1. Fusion guitar wouldn’t have happened without Hendrix.
The Hendrix Chord.
Learning that Jimi Hendrix invented his own guitar chord is one of the most common fallacies that young, beginner guitarists slip into as they skim read and swap half-heard legends about their new favourite idol.
While he may not have created a new chord out of nowhere, Hendrix’s style of playing and genre spanning sound certainly opened up guitar music in a way never before heard. In many ways Hendrix was the mould breaking prototype for what was yet to come, and an electric guitar pioneer.
Without Hendrix’s expressive and naturalistic approach to chord voicing, solos and rhythm playing – as well as his ear for blending and amalgamating an array of sounds from across the musical spectrum, including soul, jazz, blues and rock – it’s doubtful fusion, funk and modern lead guitar playing as we know it would have taken the path it has.
Songwriters and guitarists, from George Clinton and James Brown even through to The Edge owe a tremendous debt to Hendrix for his influence and the space he created within popular music.
2. Fuzz, distortion, wah-wah, gear and feedback
Imagine Voodoo Child played without a wah-wah pedal. Need we say anymore?
Hendrix brought a new focus to gear within his playing and studio work, making use of signal processing, effects, gear and manipulation of his amplifier.
Once a parachute trooper in US Airforce, Jimi’s vision for his sound and tone was apparently inspired by what he heard while plummeting to earth during sky diving exercises. That rush of air mid-jump, before he pulled the cord to release his chute was the spark that would lead him into the textures and vibes of Psychedelica.
From his masterfully expressive use of amp feedback and fuzz pedals to wah-wah effects that further emphasised his lyrical guitar playing, the genius of Hendrix’s use of technology lied in his ability to integrate and use it within his songwriting as a creative tool itself. That mix of jagged distortion, backing vocals and contrasting guitar squeals didn’t come together by accident.
Don’t forget too that Hendrix was left-handed but chose to play a right-handed Fender Stratocaster upside down – a preference that was far from cosmetic. By re-stringing the Strat in opposite string order the guitar’s bridge pick-up was also reversed, making the lower strings more resonant – a key element in the guitarist’s rich tone.
Hendrix ability to wield the overloaded, screeching power and musical potential of feedback is most famously evidenced in his classic Woodstock rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
Just as funk, fusion and many other styles can trace their lineage to Hendrix, his ground-breaking, integrated approach to music technology within his songwriting and playing arguably contributed towards the later development of stadium rock and perhaps even post-rock, prog-rock and other heavily texture and effects driven sounds.
3. Bringing the magic back into the cult of the guitar hero
Whether it’s the image of him setting his guitar on fire, playing a solo behind his neck, or playing his guitar with his teeth, the legend of Jimi Hendrix, the wild showman and entertainer, lives on as vividly as his music through these near-instant recalls of performances which have become almost part of a shared cultural standard of greatness.
Though shy away from his public celebrity, Hendrix wasn’t lacking in confidence when in the company of fellow stars of the day.
In one anecdotal account from January 1967, Hendrix walked off stage following his performance at the Speakeasy Club in London’s Oxford Circus to intrude upon the table of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. After telling Marianne what he thought of her then boyfriend, who he felt was ostracising his friend Brian Jones from the Stone, he asked her to come with him instead. The Who’s Pete Townsend, who witnessed the whole episode, admitted that at one point it looked like she was ready to leave Mick behind.
Jimi wasn’t exactly a wall flower and in many ways re-ignited a sense that the only way to play guitar like that – like him – had to surely involve hanging around some dodgy crossroad waiting for some demonic character to turn up with a legal document and a quill pen.
4. Showing that challenging new sounds can be accessible too
As well as his explosive playing and embracing of gear, Hendrix’s third most important musical influence on both the artists of his time and the countless others since then is the ability to make the avant-garde accessible and poppy.
The Psychedelica and rock scene of the time was rife with experimentalism, often at the detriment to songwriting and the more casual listener.
With his ear for a catchy riff and vocal line, Hendrix was able to fuse the ambition and hunger for the new and the progressive with pop sensibilities, scoring commercial hits while also pushing the artistic envelope in a way that hadn’t been done before.
‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky: The Life Of Jimi Hendrix is available now at Musicroom.com along with an extensive range of Jimi Hendrix guitar tab and songbooks for players of every level.
What do you think of Jimi Hendrix as a guitarist, songwriter and musical icon on his 70th birthday?