Jimi Hendrix through the eyes of the world's best guitarists

by

Jimi Hendrix
Rock guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix (1942 - 1970) caught mid guitar-break during his performance at the Isle of Wight Festival, August 1970. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

This February, The Current is celebrating Black History Month by celebrating four artists chosen by our listeners. We'll be playing their music on the radio and sharing features online. For the second week, we're featuring Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi Hendrix's lofty status in the history of rock music is well-established: Genre-blurring visionary. Flamboyant showman. Underrated songwriter. Oft-cited as the greatest guitarist of all time. Legend. Icon. His astonishingly creative run at the zenith of the rock world blazed through four dizzying years, from 1967 to 1970, when he died at age 27.

The Current's listeners have selected Jimi Hendrix as one of the honorees for our celebration of Black History Month. As a testament to Hendrix's indelible mark on popular music, we've culled quotes from his peers and subsequent generations of musicians who have been influenced by his enduring body of work. Read along as we feature Jimi's timeless riffs, soaring solos, and soulful vocals all week long.

Pete Townshend: "What he played was...incredibly lyrical and expert. He managed to build this bridge between true blues guitar...and modern sounds...He brought the two together brilliantly. And it was supported by a visual magic that obviously you won't get if you just listen to the music. He did this thing where he would play a chord, and then he would sweep his left hand through the air in a curve, and it would almost take you away from the idea that there was a guitar player here and that the music was actually coming out of the end of his fingers."

Jeff Beck: "For me, the first shockwave was Jimi Hendrix. That was the major thing that shook everybody up over here. Even though we'd all established ourselves as fairly safe in the guitar field, he came along and reset all of the rules in one evening."

Bob Dylan on Hendrix's take on "All Along the Watchtower": "It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day."

Herbie Hancock: "There was so much music in him. A great improviser playing with such freedom. Oh, yeah, he was avant-garde!"

Robert Smith (The Cure): "Hendrix was the first person I had come across who seemed completely free, and when you're nine or 10, your life is entirely dominated by adults. So he represented this thing that I wanted to be. Hendrix was the first person who made me think it might be good to be a singer and a guitarist — before that I wanted to be a footballer."

Kurt Cobain: "They're claiming that [the grunge bands] finally put Seattle on the map, but, like, what map?...I mean, we had Jimi Hendrix. Heck, what more do we want?"

Prince: "I learned from Jimi Hendrix. They all wanted him to do the tricks, and at the end of his career he just wanted to play...I can see how those pressures can really play with your head. It's all about, 'What is utopia to you?' If you lend your consciousness to someone else, you're a robot."

John Mayer: "When I listen to Hendrix, I just hear a man, and that's when it's most beautiful — when you remember that another human being was capable of what he achieved. Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix. However far you stop on your climb to be like him, that's who you are."

John Frusciante (former Red Hot Chili Pepper): "I'm an Electric Ladyland guy. His music always sounds perfect to me, because he's bending sound, taking care of music in every dimension. Where most people think of it in two dimensions, he's thinking of it in four. I don't think there's a better guitar player in history. He's not something that can be improved on. And there's the spirit that goes into it. He creates a place where you can be high and hang out and lose yourself. He's bringing out aspects of sound we didn't know were there. I feel there are people moving ahead on that front, but they're not so much guitar players — like [electronic artists] Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. They continue the work Jimi Hendrix started, but not on the guitar."

Kirk Hammett (Metallica): "His music was so visual. When he played a song and wanted sea-gull sounds in it, he would get those sounds. If he wanted his guitar to sound like it was underwater, he could do that. And in the live 'Machine Gun' from Band of Gypsys, he goes into that whole thing where he's mimicking the bombers coming in, dropping bombs, the voices crying out. Hendrix had a way of saying something political without speaking outside his own musical language. He said it in sonic terms. And his guitar tone is something he completely invented. There is no one who sounded like him, before or after. He invented the Church of Tone. He had monster tone, monster technique, monster songs. And soul to spare."

Matt Bellamy (Muse): "More than the songs, what changed my life was the freedom, the expression that [Hendrix] brought to the performance. There was a sense if wild, reckless danger...To me, Hendrix is not necessarily about melodies or chords, it's about the energy he brings to it, the way that his whole psychedelic, crazy, slightly drugged-up personality bleeds through in what he's playing...It actually makes you think of the future."

And for a hint of what Hendrix's future might have encompassed, here's a quote from one of his final interviews in 1970:

"My initial success was a step in the right direction, but it was only a step. Now I plan to get into many other things. I'd like to take a six-month break and go to a school of music. I want to learn to read music, be a model student and study and think. I'm tired of trying to write stuff down and finding I can't. I want a big band. I don't mean three harps and 14 violins, I mean a big band full of competent musicians that I can conduct and write for.

"I want to be part of a big new musical expansion. That's why I have to find a new outlet for my music. We are going to stand still for a while and gather everything we've learned musically in the last 30 years, and we are going to blend all the ideas that worked into a new form of classical music. It's going to be something that will open up a new sense in people's minds.

"I did Strauss and Wagner, those cats are good, and I think that they are going to form the background of my music. Floating in the sky above it will be the blues — I've still got plenty of blues — and then there will be western sky music and sweet opium music (you'll have to bring your own opium!), and these will be mixed together to form one. And with this music we will paint pictures of earth and space, so that the listener can be taken somewhere. You have to give people something to dream on. "