Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix, then his name was changed by his parents to James Marshall Hendrix; rest the world, however, simply knows him as Jimi. Born on November 27th, 1942 in Seattle, Washington, Jimi Hendrix is not only cited as the best electric guitar player in history, but he is also widely regarded as one of the best instrumentalists of the 20th century and possibly ever. Starting as a touring player for Little Richard and other artists along the Chitlin’ circuit, his pioneering blend of funky, fuzzy rhythm playing and incendiary, ear splitting solos was just one part – he also proved himself to be one of the leading songwriters of his generation. Here are five of Jimi Hendrix’s classic recordings:
- “Purple Haze” from Are You Experienced (1967)
This is the Jimi Hendrix mission statement. Everything that makes him truly great is packed into under three-minutes in the opening song on his American debut, regarded as one of the best debut albums ever. “Purple Haze” introduced an American audience (Hendrix got his start in London) to a brand new kind of rock music – with surreal, end-of-time landscapes in its trippy lyrics and a guitar sound that was funky as much as it was jazzy as much as it was completely and utterly bonkers. “Actin’ funny and I don’t know why” – well I sure do. Hendrix had just been introduced to LSD prior to the recording of this song.
- “Little Wing” from Axis: Bold As Love (1967)
Hendrix also had a romantic, sentimental side to his songwriting, but he definitely didn’t let it get in the way of his star-striking guitar. Both these skills are equally prominent on this standout from his second album. Hendrix is often admired for playing lead and rhythm simultaneously, and this track is probably the best example of that. Hendrix plays soulful comps interchanged with crystal clear soloing, and the lyrics are just as magical: “Well she’s walking through the clouds/With a circus mind that’s running ‘round”. Hendrix had a special way with imagery in his lyrics, and a mystic way of telling even the most simple, ordinary stories.
- “All Along the Watchtower” from Electric Ladyland (1968)
Hendrix delivers hands down one of his greatest solos on this cut written by Bob Dylan. The song nearly created an entirely new musical universe in itself; Jimi had always loved Bob Dylan, but the cryptic story of class warfare juxtaposed with the fire created by Hendrix in the studio will never quite be replicated. Dylan himself even said he was “overwhelmed” when he heard the Hendrix’s version for the first time. A chorus of acoustic guitars plays like electric harps under Hendrix’s classic vocal, and it creates an unforgettable soundscape that will forever be heard in the annals of classic rock radio.
- “The Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock: Music from the Original Sound Track and More (1970)
One of the defining moments of the 1960’s just happened to be captured on film and record when thirty-thousand people who decided to stay for the remainder of the Woodstock Festival in 1969 saw a red, white, and blue clad Jimi Hendrix perform a furious, psychedelic rendition of the national anthem. It was typical Hendrix up until “And the rockets red glare”, when something truly amazing happened: Hendrix began to imitate the sounds of rockets and “bombs bursting in air” with his guitar, creating a brutal interpretation of the Vietnam war and the strife caused by America at the time. The moment was forever immortalized in the documentary film of the event that came out in 1970 and its soundtrack.
- “Angel” from The Cry of Love (1971)
When Jimi died from a barbiturate-related incident on September 18th, 1970, he was just nearing completion of his fourth studio album. Regardless of its incomplete nature, his label decided to compile the most complete recordings and release it as The Cry of Love, and “Angel” has gone down as one of his best songs posthumously. While the song could be interpreted as “Little Wing II”, it actually was written about Hendrix’s mother Lucille, who died when he was a teenager. “And I said, “Fly on, my sweet angel/Fly on through the sky/Fly on my sweet angel/Tomorrow I’m going to be by your side”. That prediction ended up being true for Hendrix, unfortunately for the rest of us.