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Music

Frank Zappa's favourite Jimi Hendrix song and how he'd have improved his career

In the world of music, there are some pretty big mouths; John Lennon, Lou Reed, Ted Nugent and a whole host of chattering gums in between. Usually, such conversational attackers are sending out shots because they fancy a few extra column inches in the tabloids, or they simply cherish their opinion above almost anyone else’s. However, when Frank Zappa spoke, it can be easily regarded as a direct link to his heart. Rarely one to mince his words, Zappa spoke candidly and with a serious dose of intelligence. It makes his comments on Jimi Hendrix all the more worthwhile.

Over the course of his stunning career, Zappa was happy to throw out some barbs to his nearest and dearest. He famously said that Bob Dylan’s song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ made him want to “quit music” and had a notorious feud with Andy Warhol too. However, there was one man he felt deserved no ill-will, the iconic guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

The two men didn’t spend a lot of time together. Despite coming up in the same era of music, the bruising and swirling world of 1960s music, their paths rarely crossed. But that didn’t stop the jazz-influenced Zappa from once picking out his favourite Jimi Hendrix song of all time: “Some of the really good things that Hendrix did was the earliest stuff, when he was just ripping and brutal. ‘Manic Depression’ was my favourite Jimi Hendrix song. The more experimental it got, the less interesting and the thinner it got.”

Considering that Zappa was perhaps one of the most innately musically talented performers on the circuit at the time, it seems fitting that he should enjoy the raw and potent version of Hendrix, the one which was all passion and no perfection — the antithesis of Zappa’s recordings. Perhaps no song of Hendrix’s signifies that approach better than ‘Manic Depression.’

Appearing on the band’s debut album, Are You Experienced, ‘Manic Depression’ is one song on the album that really sticks out—largely, because it has a strong message. But while the notions of clinical depression are here for all to see, the real point of note is that Hendrix is clearly lovesick. The fast-paced triple metre gives the song chops, and Hendrix’s playing on the track is, of course, astronomical. Mitchell’s jazz drums are captivating, and when the bassline and guitar lick marry up, it makes for something truly impressive.

That wasn’t all Zappa had to say about the guitar impresario. He also noted his fondest memory of the hero and how he could’ve improved his career in a rare interview: “I had written in articles at that time that I thought what should be done since he wasn’t musically literate, he couldn’t write it down himself, that he should be put in some sort of working relationship with somebody who could write his ideas. And have them scored for instruments other than the electric guitar. I think that would have been something worthwhile to do. But no, he was too busy doing other things to ever sit down and take that approach.”

His lasting memory of the icon was a little different: “Jimi came to our house one time with Buddy Miles, when we were living in New York. They walked in, said hello; Buddy sat on the sofa and immediately passed out and was snoring. Shortly thereafter, Jimi who was wearing green velvet pants demonstrated some sort of intricate dance step and ripped the inside of his pants. Gail (Zappa’s wife) had to sew them back up for him. Then when they were ready to leave, Jimi woke up Buddy Miles. He said ‘goodbye Frank’, and they went out the door”.

Listen below to Frank Zappa’s favourite Jimi Hendrix song.