December 4, 2023

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Jimi Hendrix Remembered by Renowned Rock Guitarists

September 18th will mark 52 years since one of rock’s most groundbreaking, influential, and legendary guitarists passed away. Of course, I’m talking about James Marshall Hendrix. A few years back, I assembled the book Avatar Of The Electric Guitar: The Genius Of Jimi Hendrix, for which I interviewed some of rock’s best-known guitarists about what made Jimi so special. Below are excerpts from the book, featuring Rush’s Alex Lifeson, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, among many others.

ALEX LIFESON [Rush guitarist]: It was the summer of 1967 and I was at [original Rush drummer] John Rutsey’s house – and his brother Bill had just purchased Are You Experienced. He dropped the needle and “Purple Haze” played through that tiny speaker and changed our world immediately.

ULI JON ROTH [ex-Scorpions guitarist, solo artist]: I saw him live twice – the first time when he was at the peak of his musical zenith. That was the last Experience tour that he did in Europe – January ’69, in Hamburg. And then I was at his very last show – the Isle of Fehmarn [on September 6, 1970], just a few days before he died.

I was lucky enough to be backstage, and I took a lot of photos. I didn’t meet him – I was right next to him, but I didn’t dare talk. He was obviously preoccupied with something and I was just 15 years old. I didn’t want to “intrude.” There were many people there. But I certainly will not forget that. And I was lucky to be at very close quarters during that show, and I took in the whole show. I was right in front of him.

KIRK HAMMETT [Metallica guitarist]: I sincerely think that Jimi Hendrix invented heavy metal – with that first Jimi Hendrix album. Cream…they were on to something. The Jeff Beck Group…they were on to something. The Yardbirds…they were on to something. But it was Jimi that really, really brought it all together and created the example that everyone else followed. And if you look at what happened post-Hendrix – ’71/’72 – the musical trends were to be progressive and heavy. Which is exactly what Jimi Hendrix was already.

A lot of the albums that came out around then by a lot of bands – Zeppelin, Yes, Jethro Tull, Sabbath, Purple – they wanted to be heavy. Post-Jimi, they put out heavier albums. Because that’s what people wanted and that was the trend. You could see that there and then how much of an influence musically he had on his peers.

STEVE VAI [Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth & Whitesnake guitarist, solo artist]: Axis: Bold as Love was the Jimi record that I discovered when I was learning my chord vocabulary on the guitar. Because when you go to learn chords on the guitar, you usually get a list of tablature chords and you use your open chords, your major and minor barre chords, maybe you’re learning some cool seventh chords, or major-minor chords, and chords from tensions. I was really big on finding chords that sounded really lush. I remember when I discovered an E flat major seventh six nine sharp eleventh chord – it opened up a universe for me. And I knew why it was called all that – I had great musical training.

KIM THAYIL [Soundgarden guitarist]: Some of the lyrics are psychedelic and trippy, and have some profundity to it. Some of the lyrics on Are You Experienced are a nice challenge and embrace of wonder – both artistically and soulfully. And some are kind of vapid and pedestrian – I mean, there’s not a whole lot to the lyrics of “Fire,” really. But then again, “Are You Experienced” is amazing – and “Manic Depression” and “The Wind Cries Mary” are beautiful lyrics.

RICHARD LLOYD [Television guitarist]: His voice was great – even though he didn’t like it. Because, who likes their own voice? Not that many people. Like, John Lennon was always asking to make it sound like he was underwater or through a megaphone or anything to change his voice. Jimi was just shy. They had to turn the lights off when he was singing – to get into it. But he got into it live – that’s for sure.

EAST BAY RAY [Dead Kennedys guitarist]: It was like, “Keep it catchy… but think outside the box.” The famous songwriter, Cole Porter, he had a line – one of the things he tried to do was “Make the familiar sound different, and make the different sound familiar.” I think that’s why the songs last for so long, and I think that’s definitely with Hendrix. It was just outside atonal jazz, but he would pass through episodes of that. And similar to the Dead Kennedys – there are episodes that are really outside, and then we pass through it but go somewhere else.

DOUG PINNICK [King’s X singer/bassist]: Maybe not like Jimi did, but there are guitarists that changed the course of rock n’ roll. Jimi basically pulled the veil up from over our eyes, and said, “Look what you can do,” and then he let us run. Like, Eddie Van Halen took some of those things and made a whole career out of it. I think Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles and Led Zeppelin are three artists that you can always get inspired by – if you put their records on and listen to how they wrote songs, how they delivered them, their adventurousness in how they did it, and how great the songs were at the time.

BILLY SHEEHAN [David Lee Roth, Mr. Big. & Sons of Apollo bassist]: I always refer to him as “the coolest guy that ever lived.” Because he was cool. He didn’t get excited on stage – he’d just say something on the mic. He wouldn’t get excited or upset – just laidback and cool, he knew what he was doing, confident, bang, bang, bang. I just thought he was the coolest human being that ever lived.

SCOTT GORHAM [Thin Lizzy guitarist]: It’s one of those days where you go, “Anybody but him.” I remember thinking the same thing when Stevie Ray Vaughan died. We all know everybody’s not going to live forever and they’re going to die, and it kind of bounces off you – “What a drag.” But then, there are “those guys,” that when they go, it kind of affects you. And definitely, Hendrix and Stevie Ray were the two guys that did it to me.

ADRIAN BELEW [Frank Zappa, David Bowie, & Talking Heads guitarist, King Crimson singer/guitarist, solo artist]: Sometimes I wonder, “What would Jimi be doing now? What would the ‘mature artist Jimi Hendrix’ be writing and singing? What would have he made of guitar synthesizers? Or sampling? Or the myriad of effects available now which would have no doubt excited his imagination?” In a sense, he gifted that to the world – the interest that guitar players have had ever since and cool sounds and different styles and pedals and the variety of guitars and amps, has to go back to him. He’s the father of it.

REVEREND HORTON HEAT [singer/guitarist]: As the architect of modern heavy metal guitar. But also, as a blues guy. He played with Little Richard – he was more of a “blues/rock n’ roll guy” than a “heavy metal guy.” But he was doing wild stuff. There’s some old TV footage, when you see Hendrix when he was wearing a band outfit with the other guys in the band, and immediately, you can tell it’s him. And he’s doing all this over-the-top stuff with the guitar. He was headed in that direction – even when he was a sideman.

DON FELDER [ex-Eagles guitarist]: He was a magnetic, powerful, creative force, that was pretty much unequaled for that time period. And you knew it the minute you heard his guitar sound – whatever record it was on, whatever radio station – as soon as you heard him play, you knew who it was. Extremely unique identity as a guitarist. But everybody has an extremely unique identity as a guitarist. And if you don’t, then you haven’t been able to develop your own style, your own tone, and your own phrasing – then you’ve just become a copycat that does covers of other people.

Greg Prato is a longtime AllMusic contributor and author of several books, including Avatar Of The Electric Guitar: The Genius Of Jimi Hendrix.

Greg Prato - Avatar of the Electric Guitar

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