When Jimi Hendrix burst onto the scene in the 1960s, the world was caught completely off-guard.
The American guitarist had cut his teeth playing in a variety of bands across the country before he was discovered in May 1966 by Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, performing in New York’s Cafe Wha?
Eventually referred to former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, by the end of that summer, Hendrix found himself being whisked across the ocean to the United Kingdom, as Chandler was certain he’d just struck gold, as he’d just started his move into music management. He was convinced that together he and Hendrix could achieve something very special, and he wasn’t wrong.
Chandler set up the band that became known as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, recruiting bassist Noel Redding and drumming maestro Mitch Mitchell to provide a solid rhythmic ballast for this as-of-yet unknown guitar hero to shred on top of. A brilliantly configured band, it worked better than anyone could have ever imagined, and together the three created a thunderous yet enchanting noise that was unlike anything that had ever come before it.
The world, and particularly its established guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, were blown away by Hendrix. Duly, they were given the impetus needed to forgo what could perhaps be described as complacency, and take their work to the next level.
Take the following anecdote, for example. On October 1st, 1966, Chandler took Hendrix to the iconic London Polytechnic venue on Regent Street, where Clapton’s band, Cream were performing that night. It was here that Clapton and Hendrix first met, and it would be the English guitarist who left that night feeling that something had changed.
Recalling the event years later, Clapton said: “He asked if he could play a couple of numbers. I said, ‘Of course’, but I had a funny feeling about him.” Halfway through Cream’s set, Hendrix took to the stage and delivered a high-octane rendition of the Howlin’ Wolf favourite ‘Killing Floor’.
In 1989, Clapton went into more detail about this first experience with Jimi Hendrix: “He played just about every style you could think of, and not in a flashy way. I mean he did a few of his tricks, like playing with his teeth and behind his back, but it wasn’t in an upstaging sense at all, and that was it … He walked off, and my life was never the same again”.
The decade would then be Hendrix’s, and it culminated in one of the most iconic performances of all time, his set at Woodstock ’69. Hendrix blew everyone away in that muddy field in upstate New York, as he dazzled them with cuts such as ‘Purple Haze’ and his timeless rendition of ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. Ever since, due to his untimely death the following year, this performance has been celebrated as the definitive moment in his career, the one where he finally confirmed his dominance over all things rock and roll.
Duly, the guitar that he played that day, the 1968 Olympic White Fender Stratocaster, which he bought in a New York guitar store, is one of the most precious six-strings out there. Added to this is the fact that he performed with it at the Newport Pop Festival as well as his final show at the Isle of Fehmarn in September 1970.
Unsurprisingly, when Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen purchased the guitar in the ’90s, it was for a whopping $2 million, making it one of the most expensive guitars ever bought. Even though Allen, who died in 2018, was a guitarist and collector, he didn’t keep it for himself. He donated it to the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, Hendrix’s hometown, where it now sits as part of their permanent collection.
I wonder if any contemporary musicians will ever sell one of their guitars for so much. I doubt it, as what Hendrix did for guitar-playing and music cannot be understated.