"'Scuse me while I kiss the sky.
, source of the most famous mondegreen
of all time
James (Jimi) Marshall Hendrix (1942-1970) was an American musician and is widely regarded as one of, if not the
best electric guitarist of all time. After playing in back-up bands for artists like Little Richard and the Isley Brothers
, he rose to prominence as the lead singer and guitarist in his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience. First achieving success in England, his American breakthrough was at 1967's Monterey Pop Festival, where he managed to upstage The Who
having destroyed their instruments by setting his guitar on fire
. Hendrix later played at the notorious 1969 Woodstock
festival, where his apocalyptic performance of ''The Star Spangled Banner''
pretty much revived a very tired crowd, and the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival. Died early at the age of 27
of choking on his vomit due to alcohol and drug overdose, the second (only a few months after Brian Jones
) of several prominent rock artists to die at that age (although his blues roots have led some to say that he merely moved the curse from blues to rock, as the legendary Robert Johnson
had died at 27, too).
Hendrix was highly influenced by blues, jazz, R&B and soul music; his amazing rhythm playing stemmed from his desire to make his guitar sound like an entire R&B backing band with horn section. In turn he codified
techniques and trends many other bands and artists had used, such as amplified feedback (done before by others, but Hendrix almost literally turned it Up to Eleven
), creative use of electronic effects and extended improvisations. Although he arrived in London at a time when there was an entire generation of impressive guitarists
reaching the peak of their powers, his peers were pretty quick to acknowledge him as The Ace
: Pete Townshend
recalled feeling sorry for Eric Clapton
in that Clapton wanted to be able to play like Hendrix, but couldn't, whereas Townshend was glad that he himself 'never had any sense that I could even come close'. (The great guitarist Larry Coryell once attempted to beat Hendrix in a cutting contest
; according to eyewitnesses, Hendrix blew him off the stage with a single note
.) Although some credit The Beatles
' song "Helter Skelter" and Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" with helping start the Heavy Metal
genre, many credit Hendrix as the artist who really set that ball in motion.
Hendrix's musicianship, his experimental albums that did not stay strictly in one genre of music, and his aforementioned outrageous stage theatrics earned him enough of a reputation to make him one of the most prominent rock performers of the late 60s. Not for nothing was he selected as Woodstock's last artist to perform, after all. Ironically, this popularity wasn't quite reflected on radio in his lifetime, as related in a documentary produced after his death. Black radio, at the time entrenched in the likes of Aretha Franklin
, James Brown
and the roster of Motown Records amongst other, more straightforward rhythm and blues artists, wanted little to do with his heavy rock guitar sound. And many white rock radio stations, places one might have thought would be a more natural home for his songs, simply thought he sounded "too black." Contrasting this with his frequently standing-room only crowds says a lot about the tastes of radio programmers compared to their audiences.
While many today mention him as the most influential guitarist of the era, his reputation was only consolidated after his death
; his friend and rival Eric Clapton commemorated him with a cover version of Hendrix's song "Little Wing". Nevertheless, many guitarists who came after him were indeed influenced by both his work and his on-stage theatrics, including Ernie Isley, a latter-day member of the Isley Brothers, the same group Jimi used to play back-up for. His most conspicuous if not most profound legacy is to have inspired generations of metal
guitarists, although bizarrely enough, Eddie Van Halen
, the most Hendrixoid of them all, claims that his greatest influence was Clapton. At the time of Hendrix's death, he had plans to record with Miles Davis
and to study music in more depth, possibly performing less and composing more; although it's sad to think of what was lost, Hendrix's expressive playing and extraordinary musical imagination continue to inspire musicians in all fields of music.
Two of his most famous performances are "Purple Haze" and his cover of the Bob Dylan
classic "All Along The Watchtower".
Jimi Hendrix and the Jimi Hendrix Experience provide examples of the following tropes:
- Afraid of Needles: And very much so. It saved him from heroin, but not from barbiturates.
- All Guitars Are Stratocasters: Hendrix did play other guitars from time to time, but he preferred Strats for their versatility.
- Atlantis: Mentioned in "1983...(And A Merman I Should Turn To Be)"
- Author Existence Failure
- And You Thought It Would Fail: In Universe example with "the machine" in "1983...(And I Merman I Should Turn To Be)"
- Badass Boast: "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)"
Well I stand up next to a mountain
And I chop it down with the edge of my hand
- The Charmer: Although he was an interestingly quiet variation, Hendrix was legendary for this, to the point that other musicians were afraid to introduce their girlfriends to him.
- Cover Version: Many, among the most notable being Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor", The Troggs' "Wild Thing", John Stafford Smith's "The Star-Spangled Banner", Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode", and Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" and "Like a Rolling Stone".
- Covered Up: Bob Dylan himself has said he prefers Hendrix's cover version of "All Along The Watchtower" to his original.
- "Hey Joe" was a cover of a recording by The Leaves.
- A Day in the Limelight: "She's So Fine" from "Axis: Bold As Love" and "Little Miss Strange" from "Electric Ladyland" have Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell on lead vocals.
- Dead Artists Are Better: After his death in 1970, Jimi's reputation changed from being a popular guitarist to one of the great legends of Rock.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Hendrix was famous for using his guitar for visual innuendos when performing.
- Epic Rocking: "Machine Gun", among others.
- First Installment Wins: While "Axis: Bold As Love" and "Electric Ladyland" both achieved acclaim "Are You Experienced?" is considered his masterpiece.
- Friendly Rival: To Eric Clapton.
- Genre Busting: As a black bandleader with (frequently) white sidemen, schooled in blues and R&B and soul but playing rock and constantly reinventing his own music, Hendrix's entire career was about this.
- George Lucas Altered Version: Voodoo Soup, compiled after his death by producer Allan Douglas, features newly recorded instrumentation by drummer Bruce Gary, who Hendrix never met or performed with, and whose most famous band, The Knack, was formed years after Hendrix had died. Voodoo Soup was intended as a "official" version of Hendrix' never-completed First Rays of the New Rising Sun album. Later, the Hendrix family presented a different reconstruction of that album, using the most complete recordings of the songs intended for the album, to avoid making decisions that Hendrix may not have approved of, in sharp contrast to Douglas, who believed that he was completing the album as Hendrix had intended with Voodoo Soup.
- Gratuitous Panning
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Actually he was, but he had a slightly irrational belief that left-handed guitars would be less well-made than right-handed guitars, so he reversed the strings on a Stratocaster and played it upside down. See the page image. The result meant that he didn't sound quite like anyone else.
- At least one biography claims that Jimi was actually ambidextrous, while slightly more southpaw.
- Another claim states that he played upside-down righty guitars instead of lefty guitars so the dials and whammy bar would be easier to reach.
- Iconic Outfit: The 'fro and headband.
- Improv: Hendrix was a master of it.
- Incendiary Exponent: Smashing guitars not shocking enough? Try setting them on fire first!
- I Thought It Meant: Hendrix had mentioned to Track Records that he wanted the cover of Axis: Bold as Love to reflect his "Indian" (read: Native American) heritage. Whoever got put in charge of making the cover completely misunderstood the request, and the album came out with a kitschy take on Indian (read: subcontinent) religious imagery on the cover.
- It's Raining Men: Before he became a professional musician, Hendrix served in the 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper. He never saw combat and wasn't exactly a great soldier, but it contributed a lot to his popularity among American troops in The Vietnam War.
- Last Chorus Slow Down: Noticeable in "Voodoo Child".
- Lyrical Dissonance
- Mixed Ancestry: Hendrix had Cherokee heritage from his mother and Black heritage from his father.
- Murder Ballad ("Hey Joe")
- Music of Note: Hendrix's reputation has steadily grown since his death, to the point where he now routinely tops polls of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.
- Now That's Using Your Teeth: Using them to play guitar!
- Precursor: "Up From the Skies", perhaps.
- Rated M for Manly: As Bill Hicks once put it...
"This guy had a dick. Like an anaconda head, swinging in the wind."
- Refuge in Audacity: The original cover of Electric Ladyland was simply a large group of nude women (that's front and back cover). This cover somehow managed to survive being used in the UK, but the USA (and later CD) version of the album uses Karl Ferris' psychedelic portrait. Interestingly enough, none of these were approved by Hendrix: he had explicitly told his record label that for the cover he wanted a Linda McCartney photo of him with some children, but the label proceeded to ignore him and pick what ended up on the final product.
- Rockers Smash Guitars: Set them on fire, actually.
- The Rock Star:
- Rock Trio: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
- Self-Deprecation / Deadpan Snarker: His onstage banter was filled with both. His liner notes on the back cover of Axis: Bold as Love said "Jimi Hendrix writes his own songs and almost sings them."
- Serious Business: His songs and likeness were the most difficult to license for Guitar Hero: World Tour, and part of the deal was that it would be impossible to use his characters to play songs he didn't sing. Even before then, the original Guitar Hero had a cover version of "Spanish Castle Magic" that had to be an instrumental, because even Jimi's voice is serious business to his estate. However, Hendrix was finally brought to the series in Lego Rock Band, with "Fire" appearing as it's full, original studio version with vocals and no sign of Jimi himself (Lego or otherwise) in sight. Later, the entire contents of "Axis: Bold as Love" album came to the Rock Band Music Store.
- "Crosstown Traffic" is in Rock Band 3 and more DLC kept coming. At this point, Harmonix has managed to include a huge chunk of his discography.
- Sex Drugs And Rock And Roll (it eventually lead to his untimely death from an apparent drug overdose)
- Short-Lived, Big Impact: One of the most influential guitarists of all time; the "burn the strings" guitar solo was invented by him, and just about every hard rocker since has imitated it. He was also dead by age 27.
- Signature Sound Effect: Actually a Signature Chord: Hendrix loved the sound of the 7sharp9 chord and used it all over songs like "Purple Haze", "Stone Free", "Voodoo Chile" and his version of "Killing Floor", to the point where musicians sometimes refer to it as the "Hendrix chord".
- Something Blues: "Earth Blues", "Country Blues", "Catfish Blues" and "Slow Blues"
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Castles Made of Sand", "The Wind Cries Mary", "Angel", "Little Wing", "Bold as Love".
- The Southpaw
- Technician Versus Performer: Despite his clear technical skills, he was closer to the Performer end of the spectrum. Had virtually no formal musical training, could barely even read music, but was blessed with natural talent and near-perfect pitch - which was just as well since his playing style frequently made him go out of tune. (Nearly all live Hendrix albums feature him tuning up in mid-song.) Of course, all those years as a sideman in R&B bands didn't hurt.
- Textless Album Cover: Electric Ladyland