Genius is not a term thrown around lightly in any industry. It becomes even more subjective when the exceptional ability being judged is of a creative nature. There are few names that can yield such status, but there’s one nearly all of us can agree on – the man, Jimi Hendrix.
With the release of the new documentary American Masters: Jimi Hendrix – Hear My Train A Comin’ it’s the perfect excuse to take a look back and ask why Hendrix was a cut above the rest. It wasn’t necessarily his technical ability that made Hendrix the best guitarist of all time. It was his vision as an artist and his willingness to persist on a creative path where he did not seek approval from others.
Others may have been able to play guitar on par with Hendrix, but nobody was able to (or has been able to since) create such a revolutionary style as him. Hendrix didn’t invent the desirable effect of the whammy bar, he owned it. Feedback became his signature sound – irresistible to many and unconventional to most, given the race issues at hand.
Growing up in Seattle, he taught himself how to play the guitar. Left handed. That’s right, all that talent is actually upside down – which potentially explains part of his charm as a musician. Heavily influenced by blues music, Hendrix actually began his career playing back up guitar with other legendary artists such as Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Everyone he worked alongside truly admired his way with music, yet also recognised his talent as a threat to their success.
In 1966, at a club in New York, Chas Chandler from the Animals discovered the dynamic force that Hendrix possessed and took him back to London with him later that year. Soon after arriving, they recruited Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to form The Jimi Hendrix Experience. With classics like Purple Haze and All Along The Watchtower, it wasn’t long before people started to recognise the ability that stood before them. A true poet and talented songwriter, his material was built to last. Eric Clapton, The Beatles, Janis Joplin and The Rolling Stones (amongst others) were devoted fans, all aware of their own talents and still in awe of Hendrix.
Whether wrapped in velvet or tribal flare he was an icon of style in every sense of the word. A memorable a style made cool by his effortlessness. The image he exuded transcended into his music; an edge that allowed him to surpass his talented peers. He was entirely engaged in what was a social sixties culture. The very culture that helped him to reach his peak (in more ways than one) yet also set him on a path of destruction. On the 18th of September, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died in London at only 27 years of age. Jimi Hendrix once said, “When I die, I want people to play my music, go wild and freak out and do anything they want to do.”
That is exactly what people have done since his passing. He is an inspiration to many artists today and will continue to influence many more artists in the future. It’s hard to say what the state of rock music would be today without him. With the re-emergence of psych rock back into popular culture over the past decade, it’s safe to say that the music industry would be a very different place had the earth not been graced by his presence.
The TV Documentary explores the way in which Hendrix influenced the industry, with previously unseen performances, photographs and footage. With comment and interviews from those who worked closely with Hendrix, the two hour long documentary explores the experimental nature of his art. To your taste or not, his place as one of the most influential musicians of all time is undeniable. Hendrix had a little something extra, something that can’t simply be described, only experienced.
You’re excused Jimi, let us all forever kiss your sky.
Written by Kylie O’Connell