“I started playing the guitar about 6 or 7, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I was influenced by everything at the same time, that’s why I can’t get it together now.”
When you listen to Jimi Hendrix, one of the last things you’re ever likely to think is that he couldn’t “get it together” as a guitarist. Hendrix made the characteristically modest statement in 1968, in a free form discussion about his influences with Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner and Baron Wolman.
“I used to like Buddy Holly,” he said, “and Eddie Cochran and Muddy Waters and Elvin James … B.B. King and so forth.” But his great love was Albert King, who “plays completely and strictly in one way, just straight funk blues.”
Since Hendrix’s death and subsequent enshrinement in pop culture as the undisputed master of psychedelic rock guitar, a number of posthumous releases have performed a kind of revisionism that situates him not strictly in the context of the hippie scene but rather in the blues tradition he so admired and that, in a sense, he came of age within as a session and backing guitarist for dozens of blues and R&B artists in the early 60s.
In 1994 came the straightforwardly-titled compilation album Blues, which celebrated the fact that “more than a third of [Hendrix’s] recordings were blues-oriented,” writes Allmusic’s Richie Unterberger, whether originals like “Red House” and “Hear My Train a Comin’” or covers of his heroes Muddy Waters and Albert King.
Martin Scorsese devoted a segment of his documentary series The Blues to Hendrix, and an ensuing 2003 album release featured even more Hendrix blues originals (with “pretty cool” liner notes about his blues record collecting habits). Prolific director Alex Gibney has a documentary forthcoming on Hendrix on the Blues.
It’s safe to say that Hendrix’s blues legacy is in safe hands, and it may be safe to say he would approve, or at least that he would have preferred to be linked to the blues, or classical music, than to what he called “freak-out psychedelic” music, as a Guardian review of Hendrix autobiography Starting at Zero quotes; “I don’t want anybody to stick a psychedelic label around my neck. Sooner Bach and Beethoven.” Or sooner, I’d imagine, blues legends like Albert King, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King, of whom Hendrix sat in awe.
At the top of the post, you can see Hendrix flex his Delta blues muscles on a 12-string acoustic guitar. Then in the video below it from 1968, Hendrix gets the chance to jam with Buddy Guy, after watching Guy work his magic from the audience (Hendrix joins Guy onstage to jam at 6:24). Beneath, see Guy and King reminiscing a few years ago about those days of meeting and playing with Hendrix.
During their conversation, you’ll learn where Hendrix picked up one of his stage tricks, playing the guitar behind his head - and learn how little Guy knew about Hendrix the rock star, coming to know him instead as a great blues guitarist.
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness