2nd March 2007, Jimi Hendrix was crowned the ‘wildest guitar hero’ of all-time in a poll of music fans for Classic Rock magazine. Hendrix beat Keith Richards into second place, with Stevie Ray Vaughan in third. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page made it to number four, followed by Dimebag Darrell, who played for several heavy metal bands including Pantera and Damageplan.
I’ve seen just about all my favorite guitarists play live — Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Jonny Greenwood — none of whom disappointed. But if only I’d been born ten years earlier, I would’ve seen Jimi Hendrix (well, maybe!).
Jimi did things with those six stings like no other guitarist. Never mind the gimmicks, playing with his teeth, behind his head, setting fire to the damn thing. Jimi was the guitarist’s guitarist.
Did he have a vision, did he have a plan? Probably not. It was one of those ‘right time, right place’ moments that brought Jimi over to England after Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith had told Chas Chandler from the Animals to go and check this new guitarist when he was in New York. Funny how these twists of fate happen. Did you know it was Beatle George Harrison who recommended the Rolling Stones to Decca’s A&R man Derek Rowe? And it was Rowe who had turned down The Beatles!
Bassist Noel Redding was the first to audition for the Experience. Redding had been working in a variety of English groups who were going nowhere fast. Apparently Redding was chosen because Hendrix liked his attitude towards music and his ‘Afro’ hairstyle.
Then came drummer Mitch Mitchell, who had an acting background and had starred in a children’s television programme, Jennings and Derbyshire, when he was a teenager. Now a session drummer, Mitchell had worked with The Pretty Things, Bill Knight & The Sceptres, The Riot Squad, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, and The Who (as a session drummer while the band was deciding on a replacement for Doug Sandom, their eventual choice being Keith Moon).
I wonder what Noel and Mitch thought of Jimi the first time they met. Here was this softly spoken American geezer who could make his guitar do things that were totally alien to any other player.
The three gelled and went on to record three landmark albums: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland. Again it’s hard to appreciate the groundbreaking qualities of these records. All music genres normally have a bunch of artists with a similar feel. But no one sounded like this guy; just listen to works like “Foxy Lady”, “Purple Haze”, “Manic Depression”, “Hey Joe”, “Little Wing”, “Voodoo Chile” and their blinding version of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”.
It is funny how things turn out. Hendrix was particularly fond of Elvis Presley. The 15-year-old went to see the King of Rock and Roll perform when he played a show in Jimi’s hometown of Seattle in 1957. Leap forward to London in the late ’60s and a young Freddie Mercury was particularly fond of Jimi Hendrix (he saw him play live over a dozen times).
On June 4, 1967, the Experience played their last show in England, at London’s Saville Theatre, before heading off to America. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album had just been released and two Beatles (McCartney and Harrison) were in attendance, along with a roll call of other UK rock stardom, including: Brian Epstein, Eric Clapton, Spencer Davis, Jack Bruce, and Lulu. Hendrix and the Experience opened the show with his own rendering of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, rehearsed only minutes before taking the stage, much to McCartney’s astonishment and delight.
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