This is the first in a series of ten "GP exclusive" web essays by Pamela Des Barres, where she shares her list of top ten rock guitarists. We'll run a new article about every two weeks, so if you want to know which ten players rocked Miss Pamela's musical world, be sure to check back here often. —Michael Molenda, Editor in Chief
I have been given the exquisitely daunting task of compiling a list of my ten favorite guitarists, and though it’s an impossible request, I’ve decided to take this challenge on wearing my rhinestone-encrusted boxing gloves. It’s going to be tough to cosmically KO some of my heroes, so I’ll have to create an Honorable Mention list when I’ve completed this difficult mission. I’ve had to limit this list to Rock & Roll proper, or I wouldn’t have been able to say "Yes" to this assignment at all. For instance, where would anyone be without Robert Johnson? Chet Atkins? Scotty Moore? And one of my personal gods, Willie Nelson, who leaves portions of his tattered soul inside his scarred up Martin, "Trigger" whenever he plays. He's imbued it with so much soul, it’s almost a living creature at this point.
I am not a musician myself—despite being a member of the Zappa-mentored girl group, the GTOs—so I won’t be talking about frets, amps, pedals, or pickups. This list is based purely on my adoration of music and its makers, and how it makes me feel.
So, here goes, dolls. After my Number One, all the rest will be in No Particular Order. I wish there was a female on this list, but for now, they are all masterful majestic males.
#1 Jimi Hendrix
Life was jauntily moving along in trippy hippie fashion in early ’67. Still in my teens, I was attending love-ins, scantily clad, passing out cupcakes and incense sticks to all and sundry. The Beatles joyous pomp filtered through the haze of pot smoke, the Laurel Canyon sound grew flowers in our psyched-out minds, and Jim Morrison coiled dangerously on the edges. I was frolicking with like-minded kooks one afternoon at Griffith Park when a baby-faced photographer approached, asking if he might take some "professional" shots of me. Delighted, I said, "Of course," and we met in my mom’s Reseda backyard the next day. Hundreds of photos later, he asked if I would like to dance in a short film with a new group from England. What do you think my answer was?
I arrived at the location, a psychedelic painted mansion in the Hollywood Hills, wearing a vintage, blue-velvet gown chopped into a mini, and even though various individuals surrounded me, I only saw one man. In the center of the room, holding his guitar like it was a naked muse, was Jimi Hendrix, steaming up the entire place, lighting the corners on fire, blowing a hole through the ceiling— his afro blazing out in all directions like a zig-zag electric maze. I was literally struck dumb when he ambled toward me, with a smiling twinkle, whispering, “And who are YOU?”
The song was "Foxey Lady," and that was the role I was supposed to play. Yes, this actually happened. For the rest of the day, I danced behind Jimi on a Greek column, while his eyeball-painted jacket winked wickedly at me, wiggled beside him on stage, as that thrilling song blasted my eardrums into smithereens, and ran around in a daisy-filled field with the trio of frizz-haired musicians, cavorting happily.
Jimi’s bass player, Noel Redding latched onto me, and, praise Jesus, I got to see Jimi play many times, leaning against the stage transfixed as he scorched the universe.
We all know what happened. Jimi’s existence on the planet was transformative. The great guitarists heard Jimi play, and they had to reconsider their careers in music. There seemed to be no separation between Hendrix and his guitar, the sound it made, the particles in the air, the cells squirming around in the hearts of his fans. He expanded our souls, and made us re-imagine possibilities, because he didn’t understand or acknowledge limits. He gave us every sublime drop of himself and that was enough.
As Jimi said: "The time I burned my guitar, it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar."
Jimi Plays "Foxey Lady" at Miami Pop Festival 1968