The Influence of Jimi
By Tanya Fields
Do you realize, I mean, really realize just how many musicians we WOULDN’T have today if it weren’t for a little-known aspiring guitarist by the name of Johnny Allen Hendrix….Oh my bad, you may better know him by his stage name, “Jimi.” This is a cat who was virtually unknown before, say 1966; and yet was practically infamous thereafter. Not only was he self-taught, but he influenced guitarists that were around before him who actually had professional instruction for years. As legendary Guitar God himself, Eric Clapton once said, “this guy just came out of nowhere, and blew all of us established guitarists away.” In addition, Hendrix has single-handedly influenced every person who has so much as ever picked up a guitar since, including current and former “Guitar Gods.” Allow me to indulge for a second….AND, HE WAS A BLACK MAN!!……. Ok, I’m good now…..wheww……But seriously, that’s important to note in a genre of music that has always been and still is predominately “white-based.” The strides that he took in developing his sound not only did a lot for a whole race of people, but for a whole generation, and every generation thereafter. I mean really- just think of the all that he was able to accomplish in the only 3 years that he was popular. He redefined the way a guitar is supposed to sound, by creating his own fusion of hard rock and blues, and also by using the feedback from the amplifiers as its own instrument. This is a practice that is commonplace now, but 45 years ago, it was practically unheard of. He was also notorious for re-stringing right-handed guitars and playing them upside down so that they would suit him as a left-handed guitarist. This was a practice that he developed when he was younger and couldn’t afford to buy more the expensive left-handed guitars.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience- Purple Haze
What’s really amazing is that a man who possessed this much God-given talent and raw skill, never thought of himself as nearly all that he was. In fact, he never really took his craft seriously. To hear Eric Clapton put it “He had this enormous gift and a fantastic technique, like that of someone who spent all day playing and practicing, yet he didn’t seem that aware of it.” To him, this skill was something that came as natural as breathing, so he didn’t really understand why people made such a big deal about it. He never viewed himself as being legendary; nor did he allow the praise of others to go to his head. I suppose he never even imagined that the feats that he had accomplished only up to the age of 27 would live on for decades after he, himself did.
See, the thing that puts Hendrix above the rest is simply this: While the rest of us only heard what he was playing, Hendrix “saw” it visually…. And he musically helped to paint the picture in such a way so that you could see it too. There is no greater example of this than his classic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock.” Originally viewed by the older generation as unconventional and un-orthodox, this is what was actually apart of what made it so memorable. When his fingers slide down the neck of the guitar, you see the bombs bursting in air and the colors that remained in the sky as a result of them. You see the heat of battle going on right before your very eyes, and the proud moment when it was realized that our flag was still standing in the end. Jimi Hendrix manages to convey all of this emotion in a 4 minute solo performance, complete with improvisations in between lyrics. This was the true meaning of the song as he saw it, literally and prolifically. The irony was that it directly mirrored what was going on at the time over in Vietnam.
Jimi Hendrix- The Star Spangled Banner (Live at Woodstock)
Could you imagine, I mean really imagine what music would sound like today if it wasn’t for Jimi Hendrix. I can’t, and frankly, I don’t think I wanna because it would be a lot more boring. From a direct point of view, we would not have such greats as Prince and Lenny Kravitz; Slash and Eddie Van Halen; and Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmy Page. All of these musicians may not have ever picked up a guitar in the first place if it wasn’t for the technique and influence of Jimi Hendrix. But thank God that they did because our ears have been all the better for it ever since…..