We don’t talk about Hendrix much. There’s not a wide swath of his career on the radio anymore. Hendrix is so great we just assume everyone knows it.
But if you started playing guitar in the last couple generations, its conceivable that you don’t know much about Hendrix. You’ve heard a couple songs, which to your ear sounded dated, perhaps and you moved on. But taking Hendrix out of rock guitar is like making a car that doesn’t have wheels.
Hendrix affected everything. He had a revolutionary use of the tremelo. He changed the way amps and guitars were made with his preference for an overdriven sound and his manipulation of feedback. He took the volatility of blues solos and transported those ideas to rock. He added jazz chords, country rhythm fills, blues phrasing and techniques from other music and applied them to rock, changing the way everyone learns guitar and forcing rock players to be more diverse. He taught or affected nearly every musician of his generation. He changed the way that guitar – and music is produced, creating new methods in the studio when technology did not exist to comply with the voices in his head. He wrote better songs than pretty much anyone ever has.
He is impossible to write about.
If you’ve been following the site at all, you’ll have noted that this is the longest period of inactivity we’ve ever had. Its because I have no idea how to write about Hendrix and boil it down to a readable online column. Its too much.
I know he changed the way I played guitar, like he changed many thousands of people. I remember watching PBS late night and taping a documentary about him (remember VHS?). Hendrix had an efficient and unique method of fingering chords that allowed him to be the greatest rhythm player in rock guitar. When the average person or the young guitarist thinks about Hendrix, they think about the solos, or maybe him setting the guitar on fire. When the musician thinks of Hendrix, they think of the rhythm and the songwriting. What I learned from that videotape, I still use, and even in its diluted, misinterpreted form, its gotten me by.
The best tribute to Hendrix is his music itself. We call some of it rock because we don’t know what to call it. It eschews structure or characterization. Some of it is over 40 years old and its fresher than anything on the radio today.
But it comes to something, when I say that when I told people I was going to do a list of the top rock guitarists of all time… everyone already knew who number one was.