Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It was 70 years ago today: an appreciation of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix would have turned 70 today. 

As we fly our freak flag high in tribute, let's take an audiovisual peek at one of America's greatest artists.

The first video below was filmed at the Monterey International Pop Festival, the capstone of 1967's Summer of Love. At this point in his career, Hendrix had made it in England, but he wasn't well-known in his home country.

Though the general American public wasn't yet hip to Hendrix, rock musicians on both sides of the Atlantic were aware of his otherworldly skills and sound. Legend has it that Hendrix and Pete Townshend almost came to blows backstage over who would go first at Monterey, as neither band wanted to follow the other. The Who won the coin toss and set the bar high with their usual balls-out show, which ended in ritual instrument destruction.

Remarkably, Hendrix took the stagecraft even further at the end of his set by burning his guitar, in a performance that would put him on the map in the United States.  

Below is the Experience's opening song at Monterey, the Howlin' Wolf classic "Killing Floor." Note the hyperkinetic drumming, matching Afros, and white-hot rhythm guitar intro.

                                                 (Click box in lower right for full screen)

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was released that same summer. Hendrix was a Beatles fan, and within days of the album's release he tipped his hat with a live version of the title track:

By the time Woodstock rolled around (1969), Jimi Hendrix had attained superstar status. The promoters scheduled him on the final day, presumably to save the best for last, but the audience had thinned by the time he came on thanks to rain, mud, and insufficient accommodations for the hundreds of thousands who attended. 

Those who stayed until the end of the three-day festival were witness to Hendrix's most renowned musical moment, his interpretation of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's possible that Jimi's time in the military may've contributed to his uncanny talent for eking dive-bomber sounds out of this pretty white Stratocaster. 

Last, but not least, there's the New Year's 1970 "Machine Gun." 

Ted Nugent once claimed that Hendrix didn't have it at the end, that he was burned out. But just nine months before his untimely death, Jimi fathered this sonic masterpiece, a heavily-improvised epic that could qualify as telepathic guitar playing. The titanic feedbacking bend that starts this solo (below) deserves its own place in the Electric Guitar Hall of Wail. 

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace"

-Jimi Hendrix


Other "Truth and Beauty" guitar hero essays:

          Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," a first-hand                                                                                account of Vaughan's final concert

  here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"          
here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #4: Dweezil Zappa Nails 'Eruption'"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee"

and here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"


  1. Powerful tribute to our Jimi, the guitar master who stood alone. Thank you Dan, for such informative text and expertly chosen videos. It was very moving to see him again, his magnificent gifts surviving. "Death be not proud," and especially not with Jimi!

  2. P.S. Am I right that his hands seem to have been designed to play the guitar? In the picture of them, they look that way!

  3. What David Biddle wrote. There is not a guitar player today* who does not have a little bit of Jimi in their playing. Like John Coltrane, the man casts a huge shadow; he changed the way we think of the instrument

    *(except those who learned before Jimi or confine themselves to a narrow context)

  4. A wonderful read. I wonder if anyone of todays guitarists will be as remembered and honored as Jimi is today. And would it be a shame? Jimi was not a pioneer just through his art, but also through of what he did culturally.

  5. Jimi......probably the best electric guitar player ever, but then again, nobody has ever played a guitar like that before.....classic'

  6. November 28, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    This is a great tribute Dan. The guy was beyond mastery, and not just of guitar. This is pure human expression at the edge of the doors of perception.

    -David Biddle

  7. Why is it Ted Nugent is always somewhere criticizing someone? WHAT on earth has he DONE for the world of music concerning LEGACY?

  8. I would hesitate to use the word "legacy" in the same sentence with "Ted Nugent."

    At best he has been a novelty who courts controversy at every turn to hide his mediocrity as a musician/songwriter.

    His main legacy is running around on stage in a loincloth aping Neanderthal man, something that comes quite naturally to him.

    1. You got that right. I met him once backstage and he was quite nice, actually. He is a rather Tall lad, and after I learned more about him, I thought , now that's an example of what the NRA may be composed of.