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
Duncan (second from right) gets experienced, with
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.
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 ever had.
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, Marshall Amplification
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 tonal flavor.
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 forever.
“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. ElectricLadyland 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 with Jimi.
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 great music.
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 be again.
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 it appropriate.
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, the originator.
If Jimi had lived, it’s my feeling he would have continued experimenting. It’s 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 time) spearheaded.
If you pose the question, “What if Hendrix lived?” the possible answers change the guitar-playing landscape.
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 ever have.
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 on Recording with Hendrix
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 together?
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 secrets.
Did Hendrix express interest in having a definitive sound?
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 me.