Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jimi Hendrix - Innovator and Link in the Chain of the Fading Blues Legacy

By Norman Sheppard

It has been 40 years since Woodstock - 450,000 hippies in a field in an era of dark suits, crew cuts and mass production. I was watching the footage of Hendrix at the Woodstock Festival and was dumb founded. I have been a guitar player for 35 years and it was so odd to see this long dead, 25 year old kid, playing such familiar licks and doing such familiar moves. The oddity was that these licks and moves were familiar only because I've seen them a million times from a million other guitar players. They were all doing Hendrix.

The blow away is the fact that Hendrix didn't have Hendrix to copy moves and licks from. Is Hendrix the one who invented this stuff? Keeping in mind the fact that the technology necessary to capture a performance was not widely available until the 40's and wasn't used as such until much later, we just don't have all the information to know for sure.

I've seen Hendrix before in movies and listened to his music extensively when I was younger but I didn't have the perspective I have now. After playing in bands and seeing hundreds of different guitar players, listening to the greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and watching master performers like Prince, the sounds and guitar riffs and fancy moves like playing behind the head and such, its all Hendrix.

In fact one can barely bend a string or sustain a note, use feedback or a wah wah pedal or strike a rock guitar pose without doing some form of Hendrix. Half of Princes cool guitar hero moves and posses are totally Hendrix. Stevie Ray Vaughn is just one of hundreds of guitar players who were quite obviously influenced heavily by Jimi Hendrix. Randy Hansen dresses like him, plays lefty and does nothing BUT Hendrix. I think it's great. I will put forth that Stevie Ray Vaughn was truly exceptional, original, and did much more than just Hendrix but the fact remains, if you play rock guitar it is awfully hard to NOT do Hendrix.

Its hard to believe he didn't even make it past the age of twenty seven. He only made four studio albums - Are You Experienced? Axis: Bold as Love, Electric Ladyland, and The Cry of Love. There was the Band of Gypsies record but it was a live performance. There were of course all the compilations after he died.

Granted, there were many unreleased studio cuts that he never put to vinyl and lots of other live recordings like the Monterey festival but really, he only put out four records. Even so, after hearing him play, and keeping in mind the context of his musical era, its no wonder how such a small quantity of music became such a huge influence on his peers as well as on future generations.

To put things into a better perspective lets not forget the fact that Jimi Hendrix was a musician in a time when media was just taking hold. Elvis, the Beatles and all those early rock musicians were all able to record their music and release it into the masses at large. There were movies as well. As an audience, even 40 years later, we have the benefit of these mediums to witness and learn about them.

So who did Hendrix learn from? Did he invent all those cool moves and guitar hero poses? Well, yeah, some of them, but he did not invent all of it. There was a huge population of blues and jazz musicians before the "British Invasion" some of which are better known than others but none of which were recorded and filmed as extensively as the rock and rollers in he 60s. These are the guys that Hendrix listened to and saw live and like every musician since the beginning of time he incorporated his favorite moves and riffs into his repertoire then made them his own.

There were plenty of flamboyant performers like Charlie Payton, Son House, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters who were huge influences on Jimi Hendrix. Recordings of these early blues-men are very rare today which makes it that much more difficult to see the tie in to Hendrix. Today we have only a handful of living guitarists who can be considered Blues Masters. However this may not be the real situation. With the advent of the internet and the (illegal) free download, making a living playing blues guitar is just not possible. Most likely there are hundreds if not thousands of awesome players out there that no one will ever know about because there's just no money in it.

Find out more about the blues and get your first blues guitar lesson at Blues Guitar Lesson.

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