Painting by Clifton Smith
As you know, I have a deep passion for Jimi Hendrix, and have written a few possibly controversial or perhaps somewhat mythical posts that include some of the deep ‘mysteries’ of Hendrix, however it never occured to me that I would attract such a passionate, emotional and experienced vibe or comment from a gentleman called AD. You can read the original post and all of the comments from this post on The Guitars of Jimi Hendrix. There are several other public comments made by AD from the above post.
AD and I had sometimes heated and always passionate conversations through email, we really got into it. It was all good though, in the end I think we both share the same passion and undying love for Hendrix. AD seems to have a tremendous knowledge of music and Hendrix in particular, I hope he comments and we can hold further discussions.
I asked AD in an email if minded if I use this comment. I never got a response. I hope AD is OK with printing this particularly interesting and enlightening comment. AD, if you don’t like me printing this, let me know. Otherwise, thanks very much for your very emotional vibe. Feel free to add more of your intense wisdom. Thanks.
Comment: “If I sound angry it is only because Hendrix never had the opportunity to demonstrate that he was not merely a guitarist, he was a composer and an artist. However, I read your response to the comment I wrote and it was clear to me that you didn’t understand my frustration as described above.
I don’t take things away from people and I wouldn’t from you, but I think people often times make the mistake of thinking that what seems new has no roots and if it does, then those roots are invariably trivial when compared to the end result of what someone has made from them. Hendrix learned from several worlds and added onto them. If memory serves correctly he was from the west coast, but he relished the blues. Anyone who has studied the blues with the purpose of discovering its evolution comes to realize that the heart of blues/ folk music disseminates from the south, specifically around Mississippi and eventually found a second home in Chicago.
So how did he learn the blues progression? He worked very hard with several bands long before he ventured on his own and was to be discovered in NY. Many tout that stifled his career due to a pecking order in the bands he played in; a fear of his prowess. In reality, he wasn’t a very kind man. He had fits of rage, restlessness, and contempt for his situation all encompassed by a looming ego. If it hadn’t been for music he would have most likely been confined to prison. Is that bad? Absolutely not, after all Beethoven was similar in nature. This makes sense, since both men were so obsessed with music that anything other than music was thought to be a waste of time.
If you take this into context with the interviews of Lomax and others who observed the history of blues music AND how Hendrix boot strapped his career via the British rave…well, it clearly illustrates a pattern. The American majority hadn’t heard much of what Hendrix was playing even though blues men had been playing around with the Pentatonic scale (which is an ancient scale dating back to the Greeks and Asia minor) for over a century before Hendrix was even born. His skill was combining that with other modes, and chord progressions that were popular at the time. You asked me why I avoided SRV; I didn’t see the relevance since he clearly stated in an interview that he took what was old and combined it with what was popular in the 80’s. Hence, the upstroke in his picking hand which is directly from players such as Son House who used it heavily in songs such as “Death Letter Blues.” He was a walking encyclopedia of blues guitar and was a partial vessel for Hendrix.
The overall point I tried to make is simple. Nobody told Hendrix what to do and there are many reasons for this. When watching his live performances I don’t think most realize the contempt he held for the times in which he lived and how he projected that onto his audience. All one needs to do is listen to the comments he would utter to the crowd. Most of the time he was bored and if he excelled at anything on stage, it was showmanship. But he had to play live performances and so he did and most of it was shoddy compared to what he was actually capable of in a studio. This personality trait lent well to developing against the grain, what people at the time thought was conventional music. I suspect that Hendrix agreed with Charles Ives and John Cage in the search for the definition of “what is music”.
I have not seen a piece of music or an instrument that I have not been able to play and I have been doing this since I was a child. You say I am jealous of someone when I have studied their work and found it to be so provocative that I took time to learn about the man himself. You say I can’t play like Hendrix, well show me someone who can and I will show you someone who plays like Jimi and has no identity of his own. In fact stating that is as ridiculous as belching that I can’t play like Dylan who even Hendrix thought was a musical genius. But of course that wouldn’t matter, since Hendrix played some of his songs and didn’t sound like Dylan in the least, which means he didn’t understand Dylan? Then there’s Billy Roberts coffeehouse piece that Hendrix pulled into the mix. If you can’t see how that song may have affected the chords and patterns that Hendrix chose for his own music, then you are serving Roberts an injustice. Not to mention, Hendrix rarely played a song he wrote the same way twice. Hendrix would not have been notable if he strove to play and sound, like someone else, so why would I want to do so?
Now that I think about it, when studying Hendrix’ original pieces it doesn’t take more than simply glancing that he favored certain chords, B Major, B 13#11, G maj7; all which are well suited for the Pentatonic and Lydian scale which were very prominent in Acid Rock. And you’re right: he tweaked them all slightly to fit what he wanted. He was a master rhythm guitarist.
So if I sound contradictory in my favor towards Hendrix, please I do not mean to offend, it is only because Hendrix was a contradiction himself. I think I understand him quite well, and his music inspired me to a level that is sensible. That means I don’t sit in my basement in a frilled polyester shirt, a foi fro and turquoise rings, trying to channel Jimi through my guitar, but I can still play his songs note for note and with precise timing. In fact, if you had ever shopped in a Kroger grocery and heard “All Along the Watchtower” from the stores speakers, you were listening to me at 17 playing the Hendrix rendition of that song. It paid and I needed the money, but you wouldn’t hear that backstory…I’m pretty sure you were hearing Jimi, at least I did.”
Thanks very much AD. GuitarPlayersCenter.com