Written by: Mark Kassa
When we talk of “music legend” and “greatest guitar player of all time,” the only debate involves 2nd place and down. One man is the indisputable champion – Jimi Hendrix.
Jimi had it all – unique songwriting skills, inventive rhythm techniques, unearthly guitar effects, and an electrifying live show! His music and playing was so far ahead of it’s time that songs from the 60s, like Voodoo Child (Slight Return), still sound fresh today.
Like Hendrix, his music had a pulse and it was alive! The “Band of Gypsys” was recorded (fulfilling a contractual obligation) at The Fillmore East on New Years Day in 1970. Generally considered a prime example of his mastery, it was his first recording without The Experience. In doing so, Hendrix took the audience on a more humanistic and rhythmic journey. The music itself took on a life of it’s own. Not only did the band inspire an entirely new genre of music, but “Band of Gypsys” is credited for fueling the inspiration of countless artists.
Inspirational and alive can also describe the revered Woodstock festival of 1969. One can not mention Woodstock without acknowledging Jimi’s version of The Star Spangled Banner. According to percussionist and friend of Hendrix, Gerardo Velez, he had to convince Jimi to perform the piece live and not just at rehearsal. Velez told me it was a hard sell. It’s a good thing Jimi listened. The moment is now an immortal moment in music history.
I had the privilege of recording with Billy Cox at his personal studio in Nashville. He was kind enough to share some stories about his time with Jimi. Described as a “tireless worker,” Jimi and Billy would go into the studio at 8am and come out 25 hours later with multiple reels of recorded music. Mitch Mitchell said, while flying back from a gig at 3am, Jimi would have his guitar out on the plane – writing music.
I find it hard to believe that a perpetual stoner could be so productive. It is impossible for anyone to record such an extensive music catalog in 3 short years if they are high all the time. This common misconception and spin on the narrative are just that. “Jimi’s stoned all the time” was a story Billy and Mitch fought against. In truth, he wasn’t. Ultimately, the manager told Billy that negative publicity sells, so the band had no choice in the matter.
Jimi’s music and playing has permeated through all barriers – Social, political, and musical; Class, race, culture and nationality; musical genres; and all the years of change that came after him. While attending Musicians Institute in Los Angeles I knew all styles of players- Funk, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Country, and more. We have only one common thread between us – we all love Hendrix!
Jimi Hendrix never won a Grammy – he didn’t need one. He changed the face of the music world; influenced millions of musicians; and left a seemingly infinite catalog of music that continues to spawn new releases. The inspirational pulse of Jimi Hendrix will continue to transcend through the decades as it has for the last 30 years.