He changed everything. What don’t we owe Jimi
Hendrix for his monumental rebooting of guitar -
culture “standards” of tone, technique, gear,
signal processing, rhythm playing, soloing, stage
presence, chord voicings, charisma, fashion, and
composition? His stoned-cool blend of psychedelic
experimentalism and pop smarts also taught
ambitious instrumentalists how to stay true to
the guitar while simultaneously scoring hits. He
is Guitar Hero Number One.
As a result , so much as been written about the
man, and so much has been hypothesized about
what he would have done had he not passed away
at 27 years old on September 18, 1970.
So, as 2012 is the year that marks Jimi’s 70th
birthday (he was born on November 27, 1942), the
GP staff decided to celebrate his life by adding to
all the discussion about his impact on guitarcraft.
We sent requests far and wide for remembrances and commentary from noted player s,
gear makers, and audio professionals, and the
responses were pretty overwhelming. (Unfortunate omissions included producer Eddie Kramer
and guitar legend Buddy Guy—schedules didn’t
always line up with our deadlines—but we hope
to include them, and others, in an ongoing discussion
as the year unfolds.) As much as we already
know about Hendrix—it ’s our job, after all—we
were jazzed to discover new insights from some
of the contributors to this article . We hope you’ll
be similarly engaged and delighted.
We’re also inviting the GP community to share
its thoughts on Jimi Hendrix throughout his 70th
birthday year. Simply click to the “Hendrix at 70”
blog at guitarplayer.com and add your comments.
Happy 70th, Jimi!
Seymour W. Duncan
Pickup Designer/Founder of Seymour Duncan
I met Jimi Hendrix at Xavier University on March 28, 1968. I came down early during his soundcheck.
I was so excited, and I brought my camera and a bag of pickups I wanted to give him. I was introduced to Jimi, his tech Roger
Mayer, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell. I handed Roger several of my rewound Fender pickups. He started putting the pickups
in Jimi’s white Strat that we took apart on a makeshift workbench. Jimi and I started talking about the different sounds
he got out of his guitars. He showed me how he plucked the springs in the back
cavity, tapped the back of the neck, and lowered the tremolo arm. He would pick
behind the nut and close to the bridge for different sounds. He talked about how
he could control feedback sitting by his amp. I watched him practice on a Fender
Jazzmaster and a sunburst Strat. He liked the tone of the Jazzmaster with the toggle
switch in the middle position. The light wasn’t great, but Jimi took an interest in
my camera and took a few shots of me playing his Strat. A group of folks came in
from the Goya guitar company with a hollowbody electric for Jimi to try, and he
had Roger reverse the strings. Jimi kept trying to get the tone he wanted, pushing
knobs and trying to figure out the controls. He said to me, “Let’s go up on stage
and try it with the big amps,” which were Sound City. Jimi plugged into his Fuzz
Face and wah-wah and began to play, and he had all kinds of uncontrolled feedback.
He took the guitar and smashed it into his speaker cabinet. I felt bad for the
folks at Goya, but they clapped their hands and smiled ear to ear.
|Duncan (second from right) gets experienced, with
Jimi, Noel, and Mitch.
Jimi showed me the intro to “Foxey Lady,” and how he would manipulate the
volume control as he moved the string back and forth on the fret. The guitar began
to feed back, and we talked about adjusting pickups, and how he could raise and
lower the pickups to control the type of feedback he wanted. I saw that he would
put a piece of foil from a cigarette wrapper around the shaft of the pickup selector
so it would stay in the 2 or 4 position better. He gave me the idea of taking 3-position
switches apart, and notching the wafer inside the 1452 Centralab switch to
get positions 2 and 4.
Jimi gave me several sets of his old strings, pickups, tremolo arms, back plates,
springs, and a scarf, and he had the band sign autographs for me. As the show began, he asked me to carry his white Strat on
stage, and that’s something I will never forget. I believe Jimi gave me inspiration to make guitar tones, and to help players as
he had done with me. I’m proud of the time I spent with Jimi, and proud to be a little part of his history.
Founder of Marshall Amplification
During the mid 1960s, a lot of well-known and also up-and-coming
rock guitarists used to come and visit me at my music shop in Hanwell, West
London. But there’s one chap in particular that I’ll definitely never forget. On a Saturday
afternoon in the autumn of ‘66, a tall, lanky American walked in with Johnny
Mitchell—or “Mitch,” as most people knew him. Mitch used to work in my shop
as a “Saturday boy,” and he was also one of my top drum students. The fellow who
came in with him that day was James
Marshall Hendrix, and he quickly became
the greatest ambassador Marshall Amplifiers
When Jimi first came over to England
in the summer of 1966 with his manager,
Chas Chandler, he quickly put together
a three-piece band with Mitchell on
drums and Noel Redding on bass guitar.
James “Tappy” Wright, who was a part
of Hendrix’s management team, recalls
that when the group started rehearsing,
Jimi tried various amplifier setups but
wasn’t happy with any of them. Apparently,
Chandler asked Pete Townsend of
the Who for some advice, so Pete sent
over his roadie, Neville Chester—who
later went on to roadie for Hendrix—
with a Marshall Super 100 head.
I’m delighted to say that Jimi fell in love with the Marshall sound straight away.
Knowing that Mitch knew me, Jimi said to him, “I’ve just got to have this Marshall
stuff because it sounds so good. I also wouldn’t mind meeting up with this character
who has got my name—James Marshall.”
I must admit, when Mitch introduced me to Jimi, I immediately thought, “Christ,
here we go again—another American wanting something for nothing.” Thankfully,
I was dead wrong. The very first thing Jimi said to me was, “I’ve got to use your
stuff, but I don’t want anything given to me. I want to pay the full asking price.”
That impressed me greatly, but then he added, “I am going to need service wherever
I am in the world, though.” My initial reaction was, “Blimey, he’s going to expect
me to put an engineer on a plane every time a valve needs replacing. It’s going to
cost me a bloody fortune!”
Instead, I suggested our staff teach Hendrix’s tech, Gerry Stickells, basic ampservicing
skills, such as changing and biaising the valves. He must have been a very
good learner, because we were never called on to sort out any problems.
Despite his appearance—which was pretty wild for that time—and his fantastic
onstage showmanship, Jimi was a surprisingly soft-spoken and polite young
man with a marvelous sense of humor. We remained friends right up to his tragic
and untimely death. Sadly, because we both had such hectic schedules, I only got
to see him perform a few times. Jimi was a fantastic character, and I always had a
great time on those rare occasions we managed to get together. In my book, Jimi’s
playing is still the best ever, and goodness knows what he’d be doing if he was still
with us today. I can still remember him scaring the living daylights out of all the
big English guitarists when he first came over here, because they’d never heard or
seen anything like Jimi. No one had. His talent was extraordinary.
Director of Marketing
and Artist Relations,
In addition to his ubiquitous
upside-down Fender Stratocaster, the late,
great Jimi Hendrix, was synonymous with two
or more Marshall stacks that he once referred
to as “like two refrigerators hooked together.”
In 2006, as a tribute to its “greatest ambassador,”
Marshall released a limited edition Super
100JH Jimi Hendrix Head—a hand-wired reissue
of a 100-watt head that Jim Marshall
named “Super 100” when it first came out in
1966, because of the extra power it produced
compared to the 50-watt JTM50. Just like
the originals, the Super 100JH boasted Drake
transformers made to the exact same recipe.
It also housed a quartet of KT66 power tubes,
which played a major role in the head’s unique
Based on extensive research, Marshall
learned from technicians and roadies that
the 1966 Super 100 heads Hendrix used
were stock, except for minor modifications
to the tone circuitry that were implemented
in response to his desire for more treble. This
was achieved via two small but significant component
changes to the tone stack: replacing a
56kΩ resistor with a 33kΩ, and a 250pf capacitor
with a 500pf. This not only gives the amp
a treble boost due to the capacitor change,
but also a noticeable increase in bottom end
and low mids, due to the resistor value change.
There is also a small but audible decrease in
the amount of mid cut, and a slight increase in
gain. It should also be noted that as other artists
requested the “more treble” option, this
modification e ventually became standard in
Marshall’s preamp circuits.
Interestingly, the Super 100JH was based
on a well-known Super 100 with serial number
7026, which was owned by Rich Dickinson of
England. Dickinson bought the amp in 1971,
after seeing an advertisement in Melody
Maker, stating that it was previously owned by
Jimi Hendrix. And though it hasn’t been possible
to verify that Hendrix actually owned the
amp, the head has “J.H. Exp” stenciled on the
top, is 100-percent period correct, and contains
the “more treble” modification.
The first thing that got my attention
was Jimi’s showmanship—playing with his teeth, behind
his back, and ultimately burning
the guitar. Of course, he was
the first one to play screaming
blues licks through Marshall
stacks turned up to 11.
My first Hendrix record was
Band of Gypsys. There are
moments on there that are
simply amazing. The second
album I heard was Axis: Bold As
Love, and then the others. He
created modern electric playing,
without question. Nobody
did what he did before him.
He was the first. He started it all. The rest is history.
The first Hendrix tune I heard would be
“The Wind Cries Mary.” I heard it one afternoon on a big Magnavox
radio-phonograph console in the family room. I stared at
the speakers as if through a vortex—transfixed. The sound was
awe-inspiring. Right there and then, Jimi’s music changed my life
“1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” was so powerful, and
yet intimate at the same time. Jimi could sound and play like 20 different
guitar players on one record. His musical vocabulary was so deep.
Most importantly, he always played with heart and soul. The scaled
down tenderness of “Remember” and “May This Be Love,” and the fullon
playing on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “I Don’t Live Today”
demonstrate his enormous range as a player.
Jimi had so many tones! Each song had its own defining guitar
sound. From “Purple Haze” to “Little Wing,” “Voodoo Child (Slight
Return)” to “Machine Gun”—these songs were idiom- and genre-defining the moment he
unleashed them. He always played like a virtuoso that never practiced a day in his life.
You never heard a hint of a scale or exercise in what he played. His vision in the studio
served his guitar playing up in ways that both broke with tradition and celebrated it.
Cases in point: the psychedelic “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” and “Red
House,” which was a nod to his blues roots. I think is the most underrated part of his playing
is his sense of melody in everything he played, his way-in-the-pocket rhythm playing,
and his combining of both into memorable parts that defined each song as a unique piece
of music. If Jimi were around today, I think he’d be making music with Mos Def and other
modern visionaries. Maybe I could talk him into doing a G3 tour! I’m so happy we are all
still listening to and talking about Jimi Hendrix.
I first met Jimi at the Monterey
Pop Festival. We had jammed
a little bit the night before, but
I had never seen or heard Jimi
play with his trio. By luck, I was
hanging out with Jimi backstage
before he went on. He was pretty
wound up. I thought he was
high on acid, and I wondered how he was going to pull it off. The Who had
just done their thing, and the audience was in shock. No one had ever seen a
band tear up its equipment like that before, and the stage was a mess. A lot
of equipment had been broken, and mic lines and monitors weren’t working.
Everything had to be reset, and there was a long wait and lots of confusion.
I was immediately amazed when he opened with “Killing Floor.” I had
heard Wolf and Hubert play it so many times in Chicago, and when I saw
what Jimi did to it, it was as if what I had been trying to do for years suddenly
became perfectly clear. I immediately understood what I had been longing
and searching for. I was hurt for a moment or two to see someone else jump
miles ahead of me, but I got over that feeling by the second chorus, because I
was totally caught up in what he was doing. Then, he did “Foxey Lady.” Wow,
what a moment. The sound was so deep and powerful
and free. Then came “Like a Rolling Stone,”
which was so cool and smart because it expanded
everything and included even more of what everyone
was thinking and feeling. “Rock Me Baby”
has always been one of my favorite songs, and the
way Jimi kicked it was so much fun. It was what
Chicago blues needed to become. “Hey Joe” was
next. “Hey Joe”? What the hell? It was suddenly a
really great piece. “Can You See Me” was followed
by “The Wind Cries Mary,” which was so soulful
and so beautiful, and then “Purple Haze” and
“Wild Thing.” Only nine songs, and everything in
my musical world had been sorted out and a way
to the future clearly shown. It was so great to hear
these songs delivered in such a beautiful, energetic
way by such a soulful performer.
When Jimi decided to burn the guitar, it was
a very awkward and painful thing to watch after
such great playing, and I was embarrassed for him.
But it happened. It’s not a perfect world, but there
were a few minutes there when it was. I was 24
years old that night, and I was fortunate to become
friends with Jimi. I saw him play live many times.
We got to hang, and I always thought he was the
Duke Ellington of the rock world. When he passed
at age 27, we lost a universe of musical ideas. He
was the greatest master of the Stratocaster, and
he did it so simply and clearly. His music is a gift.
I was very much aware of Jimi
before I ever worked with him. I started
working at Olympic in 1967, and he’d
already had “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” and
“The Wind Cries Mary” come out, and
those had transfixed me. I noticed that
he was going to be doing another album
at Olympic, so I begged and pleaded, and
they put me on those sessions for Axis:
Bold as Love. Of course, it was jaw-dropping
stuff. Nobody played like that. His
technique and expertise were very new,
and we’d never heard anything like that.
As a rhythm player, Jimi was spectacular.
He would play rhythm and melodic
parts at the same time. It was like two
guitar things happening at once. The interwoven
rhythm things on “Hey Joe” are
really amazing. I can put that on today,
and I’m 17 again.
The guy could pretty much get any
sound that he wanted. He was a magician.
If he could hear it in his head, he could
get it. Roger Mayer was always showing
up with various octave boxes and things.
Jimi used to sometimes use two Fuzz
Faces and two wah-wahs in series, which
I thought was somewhat self-defeating.
He had all this power at his disposal with
those three Marshall stacks, and he could
get a huge range of sounds depending
on where he would put the volume control
on his Strat. In the studio, he would
make Eddie Kramer get sounds that he
would never have normally gotten. They
got on very well. It was quite an experience,
that Axis album. After that, I don’t
know what happened. He got caught up
in some other vibe or something. Electric
Ladyland is good, but it didn’t seem to be
an advancement to me.
I remember when we did “All Along
the Watchtower.” It was a rainy Sunday
afternoon. Jimi came to the studio with a
Bob Dylan record, and he said he wanted
to do that song. Dave Mason said, “I need
a 12-string acoustic.” I had this gorgeous
Harmony acoustic that got passed around
a lot. The Stones used it, and it was on
a lot of records. We had to drive to my
flat in Norbury to get it—a pretty grim
part of London. I hadn’t paid my rent, so
I crept upstairs past the landlord, but he
heard me and said, “Andrew! Andrew!
Are you there?” So I climbed out the
bathroom window and came down the
drainpipe holding this guitar. I jumped
into Dave’s Jaguar, and we went back to
Olympic and cut “All Along the Watchtower,”
which a lot of people like, although
it’s not my favorite.
The last time I saw Jimi was at a session
for Stephen Stills’ first solo album.
They were sort of buddies. A week or
ten days later, he was gone. It’s sad. He
was a very kind and good man, and he
used to let me jam with him from time
to time. I always thought I played much
better than I actually did when I was playing
Jimi Hendrix was a
huge influence on me—both as
a young guitarist, and as a young
guitarist who became an old guitarist.
Ha! As a kid, I heard and
was very familiar with quite
a bit of absolutely fantastic
guitar playing: Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Gabor Szabo, Sabicas,
Manitas de Plata, B.B. King, Johnny Winter, the Beatles, Mike Bloomfield,
Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, etc. But, two electric guitarists stand clear,
for me, from those earliest of my guitaring days—primarily as progenitors
of the use of the guitar as an orchestral and textural instrument. As
an instrument which might be anything you personally can imagine it to
be—instilled with real feel and sincere emotion, a well-tuned personal
approach, a personally honed skill-set, and with a musical statement to
be made. Those two are Alvino Rey and Jimi Hendrix.
While Alvino was the first sound expanding and exploring guitarist to
really knock me out, Jimi was just louder in a multiplicity of ways—even when
he wasn’t playing at very high volume levels. And, critically, he wrote great
music that, somehow, both framed and was framed by his visionary connection
to the guitar, and from what seemed to be a thoroughly integrated and
individualistically derived perspective. This was not my daddy’s blues, jazz,
soul, rock, nor even pop—nor was it anyone else’s! I felt then, as I do now,
that the most respect I could offer was not to engage in copying his sound,
his sounds, his phrasing, and/or his music, but to attempt—no matter how
feebly—to try to travel a similarly unpredictable path.
I was so fortunate to have seen Jimi play live a few times. I even went to
the first Woodstock festival, only to see him play again—to stand against
the fence at front-of-stage in order to absorb some of the force of the
personality of his playing, and his dangerous, improvised, unpredictability.
What a dude. Really, what a phreaking dude. A giant—whose music and
playing I still love, with massive respect standing firmly behind that love.
Jimi Hendrix was
a great artist. There are
never a whole lot of those
running around. He was the
bomb that everyone fears
and longs for. That he was
working in pop music made
his artistry even more valuable.
It transcended his
incredible playing, his physical
beauty, and his showmanship. It was plain in how he connected to the
music, in how genuine he was with it despite the entertainment angle, in
how he talked about it, and in what he decided to do with it. He came from
blues and R&B, but his idiom didn’t exist until he created it, and there was
no turning back once he did. Artistry on that level speaks across generations.
It will always be relevant and inspiring.
Jimi stands alone. Nobody before him had ever been
such a flamboyant showman, and, at the same time, a brilliant
musician. His music reflected the times he lived in, but is still
as fresh today as it was in the ’60s. Young people, even now, are
drawn to him.
My earliest memories of Hendrix go back to when I was about
nine or ten. My older brothers loved him, and played his music
loud! Hearing him hit me on a level I can’t even explain. But I
knew I wanted to play guitar when I heard it. And the visual was
just incredible. Marshall stacks and Stratocasters are impressive
to any kid. And you didn’t have to be a guitar player to “get it.”
Hendrix still inspires me every time I hear him.
Jimi was one of the
most soulful cats in the world,
of course, and a huge inspiration
to me as both a guitar player
in general, and in terms of the
sounds I try to get. He was obviously
amazing in lots of ways, but
the thing that affected me the
most was probably his beautiful
vocal sound, which made his
playing so expressive. I’ve always
been inspired by guitar players
like him—but especially him—
who get such a singing sound on
the instrument, whether it is with
string bending, or using amplifiers
and feedback, or whatever.
And Jimi’s playing had that
quality whether he was playing
really loud—which was most of
the time—or on softer songs like
“The Wind Cries Mary.”
Also, Jimi had such a fresh
thing. I saw him with the original
Experience at the Baltimore
Civic Center when I was about 13
years old, and he just knocked me
out completely. He had such an
amazing vibe, and he was having
a ball the whole time while rocking
really hard. And his records
are all classics. I loved all of them
and still do. They still sound completely
fresh to me.
It was in 1967, or thereabouts that
I discovered Jimi Hendrix. I had already been
an avid guitar player, having been influenced
by a variety of great players ranging from
Scotty Moore to Jeff Beck with lots of Beatles
in between. The first time I actually heard Hendrix
riffs they were played by a local Youngstown guitar player named Dick Belley of the Human
Beinz. He played “Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze” during the Beinz’s set at a gig I played with
my band when I was 16. By the time I was 20, I was incorporating Jimi’s style a bit when recording
a Glass Harp song called “Never Is a Long Time.”
I used to listen in wonder to Electric Ladyland, and Jimi inspired me to take more chances with
my own playing. I also felt Jimi really had a deep musical soul, and was an amazing innovator and
composer. I truly feel his greatest work was ahead of him when his untimely passing took him
from us. I never met Jimi, but soon after his passing Glass Harp recorded its first Decca album
at Electric Lady Studios in NYC. We were thrilled to be working where Jimi had created so much
I doubt any serious electric guitar player today doesn’t think of Jimi at some point as they bend
those bluesy, fiery, and passionate notes in their soloing. He comes to mind quite often, particularly
when I play my old Strat. I am indebted to his artistry and creative
and passionate guitar playing. Jimi still Rocks!
Hendrix still matters for me because he broke
the mold. When I hear copiers of Jimi, I am pleased to a large
extent because he’s not that easy to copy, but I hope the copiers
will realize that what Jimi did was to destroy the stereotype
of electric-blues-rock guitar. Beyond the guitaristic iconoclasm,
Jimi’s “total music”— influenced by Dylan like so many of us
during that time—embraced the true sensibility of creative
truth, that is to say, pure music. Jimi, of course, would put it
another way, as he did one night in ’67 or ’68 at the Brasserie
in NYC. He simply said, “I’m a lucky guy.” He was super-talented,
but also very humble.
Jimi was the first to do a whole host of things musical and things guitaristic—too numerous
to mention here. But, for example, he practiced special techniques, such as working
with the wah-wah pedal with the same depth and intensity that McCoy Tyner was working
with new, fourths-based jazz chords. Jimi also worked with pedals and amps to the degree
that his sounds predated analog synthesizer sounds—especially when I heard him jamming
one night at the Cafe Au Go Go with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles. Those pre-synth “nailings”
can be heard on Live at the Fillmore East.
Yeah, he was a reflection of the times in which he lived—and so what? That’s the way life
works. Things were a little rough around the edges in those days. That’s the way it was, and
compared to Hendrix’s spontaneity and excitement, we live in relatively boring times right now.
Peace, brothers, and may Jimi continue to be remembered not only as a meteoric, rocketfueled
guitarist and singer/composer, but also as a groundbreaker and a visionary. Young
players would do well to realize the transcendent import of innovation, Hendrix-style.
Jimi Hendrix was one of the most luminous persons I have ever met. Here’s my
Hendrix story. On May the 14th, 1969, King Crimson played the first of three sets at the Revolution
Club in London. After the first set, in the dressing room, a man in a white suit with his right
arm in a sling came up to me and said, “Shake my left hand, man, it’s closer to my heart.” This
was Jimi Hendrix, paying homage to this new group, and not trying to take something from them
for himself. Now, what I didn’t know until 1981, when by chance I bumped into the sister-in-law
of King Crimson’s drummer of 1969, was that she was sitting at the table next to Hendrix that
night. She told me that he was jumping up and down, and saying,
“This is the best group in the world.”
As a kid, I thought it was literally music from outer space. Once I was finally able
to discern what made up Hendrix’s sound—and not just hear it as non-decodable transmissions from other galaxies—what
inspired me most was the music that came out of him when he was seemingly the least focused on his guitar playing. Specifically
what he would play live while he was singing. He literally sounded like a singer and two guitarists at once. Endlessly
inventive, brilliantly casual, grooving, wry, soulful—and it didn’t matter what his tone was, or how in or out of tune
he was. It was always precisely Hendrix, and thus precisely perfect. I can understand him a lot more now than when I was
12, but understanding it only means I’m that much more humbled and impressed.
Having Jimi be the first one to hear Mountain Climbing at the Record Plant
in New York City was a thrill. He was recording Band of Gypsys in Studio B, so our producer Felix Pappalardi
told me to ask Jimi to come into Studio A to hear the album he had just mixed. Jimi said he loved the riff in
“Never In My Life,” and I was speechless. He was the King. He did stuff no one was doing, or thought of doing.
Having the chance to jam with him at Ungano’s in New York City—he played bass—was quite possibly my greatest
thrill. So many of my guitar-playing pals are jealous to this day. He must be thrilling all those in Heaven,
because I know that is where he is.
When considering Jimi, one must
take into account the musical landscape
during the time he emerged—the most exciting
thing in rock guitar was surf music and
early blues-rock. Jimi’s appearance must have
been like a volcano erupting. He mixed the
sounds of blues, jazz, soul, spaceships, and
oceans into his own brand of hard rock. It
was as though he was channeling the planet
Earth and all its wars, revolutions, and social
unrest. Other influential guitar music—Van
Halen for example—was never meant to be
“serious” music, or have an impact on society.
I’m not sure Jimi intended this for his
own music, but he achieved something very
rare for music: social significance. Despite
only living to be 27, Jimi impacted music in
the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and even the ’00s
and ’10s. It’s unfair to compare any guitarist
to Jimi Hendrix, whose influence extends
beyond the guitar itself. If you play guitar,
not listening to Jimi is like not listening to
the Beatles. There has never been any guitarist
as influential, and probably never will
Much has been written on the genius of Jimi Hendrix. To truly appreciate
him is to have heard him in “real time” in 1967, like I did. I had already been playing
the guitar for a few years—chords, Beatles, Stones, and radio things. First-position stuff.
I was just learning my first single-note things off the local top 40, and then Jimi landed.
The Beatles were the On switch to my life—and they’re still my fave band of all time—
but Jimi smacked us all in the mind and heart. It was the sounds of another world. “Purple
Haze”! Just his photo on Are You Experienced scared my parents. I was mesmerized.
I remember my father walking into my room and hearing “Third Stone from the Sun”
playing loud. It was the middle section when Jimi is freaking out—“You’ll never hear surf
music again”—amongst the alien sounds. Dad looked at the cover photo, heard the feedback
and all—remember this is 1967—shook his head, winced, and walked out of my room
with a baffled look. I was maybe ten years old, and I was transfixed by this man. Where
did he come from? How were these sounds made?
I also remember learning the “Hendrix E chord.” A raised 9, but, back then, who knew
theory? Just to know that chord made you cool. I devoured Are You Experienced, and it is
still one of the most groundbreaking records of all time. In this short period, we got to be
moved by Jimi and his playing, and he set a standard I am not sure will ever be matched.
His feel, tones, sounds, solos, production, and rhythm playing are “the standards” for originality,
passion, and fire. It’s hard to believe he was 27 when he passed. He will not be forgotten.
Not by me. He was life changing.
For me, Jimi Hendrix always
represented independence. Most of us
are influenced by what everyone else
around us is doing, but every nowand-
then a maverick appears on the
scene, and they march to the beat of
their own whammy bar. It seems as
though they don’t even have a choice
but to do what’s natural to them, and
what’s natural is to express their creativity
in the unique way their imagination
dictates. Hendrix was an
independent thinker and doer, from
his clothes to the way he spoke, the
way he played, his lyrics, etc. He did
not allow himself to just be part of the
flow. He was a glorious wave that created
a river that we all get to bask in.
I loved how Hendrix made
noise so musical. He was able to create
feedback, or any kind of hiss or noise that
came out of his amplifier, and channel it into
something almost beautiful. I admired him
for that. He’d beat on his guitar and abuse
his amps, and all this stuff that wasn’t really
notes became integral parts of his musical
arrangements. Nobody was doing that
before him, because noise wasn’t appropriate.
But Hendrix came along and made
By the end of the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix
and Eric Clapton had turned the rock and roll
generation on its collective head. Of course,
that would not have been possible without the
music created by the great black blues players
such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters,
Fred McDowell, Buddy Guy, and, of course,
the great B.B. King.
It is as difficult to estimate the influence
of Jimi and Eric on modern guitarists as it is
to estimate the influence of John Coltrane on
sax players. This is not to say that the great
blues players didn’t have an impact. Muddy
Waters blew my mind when I was 13 years
old. However, Jimi and Eric brought these
influences into rock, or blues-rock, which was
vastly more popular among that generation
of young white listeners than the pure blues.
I was one of many guitarists who had
already abandoned the “cool jazz guitar”
tone by the end of the ’60s, thanks in large
part to the influences brought about by Jimi
and Eric. We adapted our jazz techniques
to the more distorted tone. Coltrane also
had a hand in this. If you listen to his later
recordings, it sounds as though his sax is
going through some kind of distorter—but,
of course, this was his natural evolution. By
the early ’70s, there were groups, including
my own Mahavishnu Orchestra, who were
using the distorted guitar sound in a much
more complex musical environment,
and we had great
success. Unfortunately, however,
by September 1970,
Jimi had disappeared, and
he never got to see and
hear the fruits of which he
was, in a substantial way,
If Jimi had lived, it’s my
feeling he would have continued
conceivable that he would
have collaborated with players
such as Sonny Sharrock,
who were on the fringe of
free jazz, and some of the
great music of that era that
came out of players like
Pharoah Sanders and Cecil
Taylor. Since, in my opinion,
Jimi could never get
far away from the blues, he
could have had an important
influence on the music of
this period. He also would
have continued his rock
group, and enjoyed more
or less success like all performing
and recording artists. I believe his
band would have incorporated some of the
better aspects of the players I mentioned. I
don’t, however, believe he would have buckled
down to learn the aspects of modern jazz
and the techniques of harmony. And, in any
event, Jimi already had a phenomenal technique
that blew all of us away. He created
a new kind of technique that changed the
world forever—at least the world of guitar.
By the beginning of the 21st century, I
think he would have not returned to, but
brought up to date, the songs and work he
created in the mid and late 1960s. He is,
without a doubt, part of the big wave of ’60s
and ’70s nostalgia that has been around for
at least ten years.
Jimi Hendrix was the
reason I decided to make playing
guitar the center of my life.
My brother and I had been listening
to rock and roll and psychedelic
rock before the advent of
underground FM radio. We had
seen Are You Experienced upon its
release, because we used to go to
the record store every two weeks
with our allowance and buy a
record, but we hadn’t heard it. We had bought records with cool covers with our precious
allowance before, and the records weren’t that great or inspiring. So, we held off buying
it—even though everything about it looked like the coolest record ever made. Then, one
Saturday afternoon, we were listening to the Top 30 on AM radio and they played “Manic
Depression,” which, in retrospect, is surprising because it wasn’t the single. We knew it
was that record immediately, because it was guitar, bass, and drums, and, somehow, we
could tell that it was a black guy singing. We were jumping up and down, and running
around the room like crazy people, because listening to that song kind of felt like being
jolted with electricity. Much on the radio at that time was magical and mind-bending—“I
Am The Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Seven and Seven Is”—but “Manic Depression”
took it to a whole other level. It was obviously a trio, and then the whole ascending
scale thing when he’s singing along with his guitar and goes into the solo, the controlled
feedback, the sound of the drums, that groove—it was the coolest thing ever, and filled
with magic, mystery, and excitement. I’ve never been the same since.
Nothing about Hendrix after that disappointed me. He just got better and better with
the official releases. Axis: Bold as Love was absolutely a classic from beginning to end, and
Electric Ladyland had some of my other favorite musicians on it, like Steve Winwood and
Jack Casady. Hendrix was everything that I thought was exciting about rock and roll,
because he was not only this great guitar player, but also so innovative and colorful. He
was super sexy, and obviously married to electricity.
I strive for the same thing in my own way—which is to position myself so that the
electricity is my friend, and we have a relationship. And we’re not just trying to do something
creative or exciting, but do something that is intoxicating for everybody—where we
all go to this magic realm together. That was
what Jimi Hendrix embodied to me. It was a
combination of otherworldly magic with absolutely
earthy blues and rock and roll and sexuality.
For me, he’s incomparable.
Jimi Hendrix will always be
inspirational to new generations because of the
authenticity of his music. There is no doubt that
his music was a pure extension of his personality.
It flowed through him like electricity and it arc
welded to every generation it has reached. How
can one not appreciate the aural excitement of his
exploding fuzzed-out Stratocaster?
There was a thriving scene in
Greenwich Village, New York, in 1966, and
I ran into Jimi a lot. I was fortunate enough
to have a band that got hired by Cafe Wha?—
an underground club that was open during
weekend days for kids to come down and
see the baby bands, which we were. In the
evening, they had the nighttime talent—
which was like Richie Havens and Richard
Pryor, and hypnotists, other comedians, and
bands. The club had no liquor license, so it
was all sodas, malts, and shakes. One day,
we were told this guy was coming down to
audition for a nighttime slot with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. He got up on
stage, and started fussing around, trying to get his stuff together. He had a bunch of pedals
and a couple of cabinets, and as all of us only played through one amp each, we were like,
“What’s this guy doing?” It took him an inordinate amount of time to get set up. But once
he plugged in his Strat, and started to noodle about, it kind of caught our attention. Once he
and his band were ready, he launched into a prototype “Third Stone from the Sun” instrumental,
and we instantly knew this was somebody special—somebody who blew our minds
within a few seconds. We were stunned by what we saw. A guy playing the guitar behind
his neck, in between his legs, and when he played solos with his teeth—well, that was just
more than any of us could handle. Plus, the guy was an amazing singer. When he did “Hey
Joe,” his soulful vocals totally touched us. We didn’t know what to say. It was like a spaceship
had landed and unloaded somebody who was so far beyond anything we could comprehend.
Bear in mind, I had already heard Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield and some of the
young cats that were around. But this was something totally, totally different.
So Jimmy James got his gig at Cafe Wha?, and we hear that Chas Chandler is coming down
to see him. Chandler was a star himself, because he played bass with the Animals, and he’s
sitting about seven rows from the stage. Jimi does the same show he did at the audition, and
I look over at Chandler, and his mouth is hanging open. And when Jimi started playing with
his teeth on “Hey Joe,” Chandler’s drink fell from his hand and spilled all over his lap. I saw
it happen. I’m sure Chandler knew what we did at that moment—that Jimi had mopped the
floor with every guitar player the guy had ever seen before. There wasn’t a person who saw
him play who didn’t think he was a god.
Well, almost everyone. There was a really nice Mafia-run club around the corner called
the Night Owl Café—the big acts like the Lovin’ Spoonful and James Taylor played there—
and they wouldn’t hire Jimi because he was black. They didn’t want to take the chance of
upsetting the boys.
Once I asked Jimi where he came up with all his sensitive and tender stuff, and he said,
“Curtis Mayfield, man.” Much later, I’m the only white person at the Apollo Theater, playing
guitar with Patti LaBelle, and Curtis Mayfield is the headliner. Backstage, I said to Curtis,
“I’ve got a story for you.” He says, “Go ahead.” I said, “I knew Hendrix back in the day, and
Jimi told me that you were one of the biggest influences on guitar to him. All that ‘Little
Wing’ stuff, he got from you.” And Curtis says, “No way. Come on.” I told him I wouldn’t
lie about that, and Curtis says, “Man, you just made my day.”
One moment that showed how humble, intelligent, and open-minded Jimi was happened
when he came into the Wha? early for his evening set, and sat right in the front row while
my band was playing its late afternoon slot. I looked down at him, and said, “Jimi, please
don’t sit there. This is totally intimidating.” He just looked up and said, “Bob, I learn something
from every band I see.”
In 1969, Electro-Harmonix was already selling the
Muff Fuzz, which was a mild overdrive circuit in a small LPB-1 box.
I wanted to come out with a three-knob distortion unit in a bigger
box, so I asked my buddy, Bell Labs designer Bob Myer, to design
one that would have a lot more sustain. When I got the prototype, I
loved the long sustain it produced. This was done by cascading the circuit into additional sections—
each one clipped by twin diodes. However, when you clip, the tone can be a bit raspy, so
I spent a couple of days changing capacitors to roll off distortion in the highs, and, eventually, I
found the best long sustaining tone by putting three capacitors in different parts of the circuit
to roll off the rasp. We plunged into production, and I brought the very first units up to Henry,
the boss at Manny’s Music in New York. A week later, I stopped by Manny’s to buy some cables,
and Henry yells out to me, “Hey Mike, I sold one of those new Big Muffs to Jimi Hendrix.”
Now, let me tell you a little story about Jimi and me. Back in the mid ’60s, I was a concert
promoter. I had the Isley Brothers, Lovin’ Spoonful, the Young Rascals, the Byrds, and many
more acts. I booked Chuck Berry for two nights, and I was looking forward to the gig, because
Chuck traveled alone, and it was up to the promoter to get him a backup band. My plan was
to have some buddies back him up and I’d play keyboards. A week before the gig, the agent
who sold me Chuck called, and said, “Hey Mike, I need you to do me a favor and also book
another band that will play three nights for $600.” I said, “I don’t need another band. The
crowd is coming to see Chuck Berry, and I’d just be spending another $600 for nothing.” The
agent said, “Please, I need this favor. you can have them for $500. Besides, they have a guy
who can play guitar with his teeth.” So I booked them, and the name of the band was Curtis
Knight & the Squires.
So Chuck played with me and my guys, and, after the set, I went to check how much money
had come in. Curtis Knight’s band was playing, but I didn’t pay much attention until my guitarist,
Steve Knapp, came running over to me and said, “Hey Mike, you gotta catch this guitar
player. He’s a gas.” Well, the guitarist, of course, was Jimmy James, and he was playing a loose
R&B style at that time. We became friends, and I used to sneak out of my day gig as a computer
salesman for IBM to visit him at his hotel room where we’d rap about music. Jimmy
was a quiet dude, and he lived in a rundown hotel room with no private toilet. He usually had
his hair set with pink curlers.
One night, I went to see him play with Curtis at a club in the Upper West side called the
Lighthouse. Now, Curtis Knight was a real gangster—mainly a pimp—running a big operation.
At that gig, Jimmy told me, “Mike, I’ve got to get away from this dude. I want to form
my own band.” I said, “Jimmy, if you’re going to be the frontman, then you have to sing.” He
said, “Yeah, that’s the problem. I can’t sing.” I said, “Look at Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. They
can’t sing either, but they can phrase their asses off and project dynamite soul.” Jimmy said,
“Yeah, you’ve got a good point. I’ll work on it.”
Soon Jimmy formed his own band, the Blue Flames. I went to see them at the Café Au Go
Go in Greenwich Village with my friend, drummer Bobby Colomby—who was a co-founder of
Blood Sweat & Tears—and he invited Eric Clapton to sit with us. Jimmy and the Blue Flames
were great, and, at the break, we all went across the street for some grub. I remember Clapton
kept saying, “I just can’t believe how good this guy is.” Shortly afterward, Jimmy went off
to England, and the rest is history.
Whenever Jimi went into a recording studio in New York, he invited me to hang out. When
I walked into one of the studios, there on the floor plugged into his guitar and amp was the
Big Muff. I told Jimi that I made that pedal, and he said he’d just bought it at Manny’s. The
point of all this is that sometime in the late ’70s, a guitar magazine asked me when Electro-
Harmonix came out with the Big Muff. Not thinking too much about it, I blurted out that it
was around 1971. In reality it was 1969, but, over the years, Hendrix purists have pointed out
that Jimi couldn’t possibly have used the Big Muff, because he was gone by 1971. Well, I just
wanted you to know the real story…
The version of Hendrix we all cling to
is one that is sealed in amber like some glorious
prehistoric dragonfly—never changing, and wonderful
to hold up to the light. The impact of Hendrix
on the world is obvious. As guitar players, it seems
we’ve been surrounded by him forever. He was a
musical iconoclast before I ever picked up the guitar.
What really blows my mind is seeing ten-yearolds
wearing Hendrix t-shirts. That’s the chronological
equivalent of me wearing a Louis Armstrong
or Charlie Christian t-shirt when I was ten. Think
about that one.
I wonder if that means we haven’t really done
as well as we should have in the last 45 years. Perhaps,
we haven’t broken the sonic ground we should have, and instead have been happy
to sit on our asses and restate, in recombinant ways, the work Hendrix (and others of his
If you pose the question, “What if Hendrix lived?” the possible answers change the
On the blues tip, would Stevie Ray Vaughan have reached the level he did if Hendrix
was out there playing? On the rock side, would there have been a hole for Robin Trower
to fill? Would there have been a reason for Eric Johnson to brilliantly recreate the Hendrix
studio magic on several of his own solo albums?
On the left-of-center psychedelic side, would there have been a need for Adrian Belew
or myself smearing Hendrix-like sheets of sound on pop songs?
To quote Charles Mingus: “If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger, there would be a whole
lot of dead copycats.”
As far as what Hendrix would be doing now—that’s a tough answer, because it’s subject
to the taste filter of whomever you ask the question. Personally, I think Hendrix would
have moved away from the Stratocaster in time, as he showed signs of in 1970. He may
have ended up with a Parker or Steinberger. I believe he looked for instruments with little
or no history, and sounds he had not heard before. Hendrix was a searcher, and he sought
out innovators to build things for him. It is my bet there would have been a lot of cool
gear much faster—guitar synthesis, interactive expressive analog effects—if he had lived.
From the purely musical side, there was reference in the Miles Davis biography about
the possibility of a collaboration between Miles, Bill Evans, and Hendrix. In a recent Keith
Emerson interview, he spoke of an album under discussion between Hendrix, Emerson,
Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer to be called, humously, H.E.L.P. But, over time, I also feel he
would have embraced hip-hop, rap, drum and bass, electronica, and industrial, and pulled
that all into his musical stew. He would have been loved, reviled, honored, and ignored
by the music press—just like we do with all of our “heroes” who are fortunate enough to
have a long career.
I wonder if the alternate take of “Machine Gun” had been released—instead of the
superior version we all love—how it would have changed the contemporary sonic landscape.
On the alternate version, Hendrix’s liberal use of the Octavia on chords anticipates
the industrial guitar sound of the ’90s. If that version had been released, we guitar players—
being the unfortunate sheep we sometimes are—may have ushered in industrial rock
about 20 years sooner. And that would have changed everything.
Sometimes, I like to picture a dignified, Morgan Freeman-looking Hendrix out there
on the edge of music—still pushing, straight ahead...
Jimi and I were sitting backstage
in a dumpy, closet-size dressing
room, like we’d both sat in a hundred
times before. Each of us held an unplugged
Strat. Jimi would play a little bit. Then I
would play a little bit. Then he’d play a
little bit. Finally, I played some little thing
that caught his ear. “Hey man, what was
that?” The greatest compliment I could
And then I woke up.
Many times over the years, Jimi has
visited my dreams. But in real life, he
was gone before I even got started. I
have had in real life, two very similar
occurrences with two of my other greatest
guitar heroes: Les Paul and Jeff Beck.
I’m a very lucky guy.
Not much can be said about the great
monumental man that hasn’t already been
said, but just to reiterate:
A master guitar innovator.
A searing, soulful voice.
Studio wizard spaceman.
Ridiculous wildman performer you
would never want to follow onstage.
Sexy black man with a beautiful smile.
And truly one of a kind.
Roger Mayer had already made
fuzz pedals for Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Big
Jim Sullivan before he met Jimi Hendrix at a club
in 1967. According to Mayer, two weeks later, he
was in the studio as Hendrix was overdubbing
the solo to “Purple Haze,” using a new octavedoubling
effect that Mayer had invented called
the Octavia. Mayer subsequently worked with
Hendrix on his next album Axis: Bold as Love,
and then accompanied the group on their 1968
tour of America.
What were some of the sonic goals you and
Hendrix discussed when you started working
We talked about creating new soundscapes.
Jimi was most interested in making new sounds
for the records, because if you were going to
be successful back then, you had to have a hit
record. He felt he needed to be on the cutting
edge with new sounds, so we were following a
sort of Formula One racing approach, where you
had constant development to keep moving on.
After Hendrix’s success with the Octavia,
did you think the effect should be available to
other guitar players?
No. This was a time when most recording
studios manufactured their own consoles and
other gear, and the electronics side of it was
highly proprietary and quite secretive, really.
When I was making effects for Jimmy Page,
Jeff Beck, and Jimi, I was one of their bestkept
Did Hendrix express interest in having a
Jimi wasn’t as interested in having a definitive
sound as he was in having the right sound
for the soul. His sounds had to be crafted for
each particular song, and Jimi knew that if he
got the right tone, it could be almost magical.
He and I talked about what hadn’t been done, and
one of the main things was panning the signal
so as to move the sound around in the mix while
manipulating the echo to create different spatial
awareness. To our way of thinking, echo was
a way of adding more information and color
to the sound in order to create ambience and
a sense of mood alteration. Like if we panned
the echo left to right while changing its EQ, suddenly
the guitar could sound like a spaceship
coming toward you. So using a combination of
tape delay and EMT echo plates, and by manipulating
the delay, the panning, and the EQ, we
were able to make the music move and sound
more three-dimensional. Jimi was the happiest
when he was getting sounds that were
spinning in his head onto records. If he had a
new idea for something, it wasn’t a matter of
how much it was going to cost. It was always.
“When can we do it?”
Does it surprise you that the sounds Hendrix
got using fuzz, wah, and feedback are
still considered the Holy Grail by guitarists?
Well, after Jimi did “Voodoo Chile” and some
other records, there really wasn’t much else you
could do with a wah. Jimi was so prolific in the
way he used things like feedback and distortion,
so it’s pretty hard to come up with something
else that sounds as fresh—especially
when it has to be incorporated into the framework
of a great song.
What was the most important thing you
learned from Hendrix?
Dream the impossible and have the spirit
to play to the edge. That’s what Jimi showed