“It all has to come from inside, though, I guess.” — Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is the ultimate guitar player who, with his genius talent, elevated the instrument to heady heights that had never been reached by anyone before him. The performer transformed the instrument from the weapon of choice for street thugs and dastardly rock and rollers into the kind of gilded paintbrush that Michaelangelo or Da Vinci. In the fifty years since his premature death, question marks remain if any artist has ever bettered Hendrix on a technical level.
Praise doesn’t come much higher than Hendrix admiring your guitar playing ability, an accolade which is the equivalent of Michael Jordan publically stating that he looks up to you for being an incredible basketballer or Pele thinking you’ve got some shooting booths. Some of the guitarists considered as Hendrix’s idols are musicians who didn’t receive anywhere near as much acclaim as he did and, to rectify that, here we are going to look at some of the reasons why he loved these nine artists so greatly and a simply perfect playlist to add a little extra colour.
The only place we could begin a list of Hendrix’s favourites is with the musician’s musician, Rory Gallagher. The Irish guitarist was a wildly successful musician who recorded 14 studio albums that went on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide, gathering him a series of landmark fans. His esteemed solo career began after he left Taste in 1970, the band he had founded four years earlier. Gallagher, who is viewed as a key player in the blues movement, tragically passed away in 1994, aged just 47, after a failed liver transplant.
Hendrix spoke about his appreciation for Gallagher’s talents when he appeared on the long-running popular afternoon talk show, The Mike Douglas Show. Douglas asked Hendrix: “What’s it was like to be the best rock guitarist in the world?” Jimi then beautifully responded, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Rory Gallagher”. For that reason alone, he could easily be considered Jimi’s all-time favourite. Just imagine.
Sadly, one musician is far from a household name but has his place on Hendrix’s list is the mercurial and magical talent of Otis Rush. The guitarist was a figure that played an influential part in the formation of Jimi Hendrix’s musical DNA, and he also has been cited as an influence on the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Buddy Guy.
Rush helped create a modernised R&B fused Chicago blues sound that would later be labelled by industry types as the ‘West Side Sound’ and, ultimately, change guitar playing forever. Like Hendrix, Rush was a left-handed guitarist. Despite not receiving commercial success, Rush remains one of the great pioneers of the instrument and is seen as an icon who helped shape Chicago’s image.
The next name on the list may also suffer from not being recognised for his craft as often as he should have the wonderful talent of Steve Cropper. Known as ‘The Colonel’, the guitarist starred with Booker T. & the M.G.’s who, remarkably, are still active today despite being formed all the way back in 1962. Cropper and Hendrix’s two styles are incomparable. The former opted for a minimalist style while Hendrix is all about expression—it shows that the guitarist knew talent wherever he saw it.
Hendrix’s bassist Billy Cox revealed in 2014 how Cropper was an influence on Jimi’s early sound: “Jimi was in his infancy at that particular time, Steve and (his band) Booker T and the MGs were (producing many of) the R&B songs being played at that time, and we copied that before we came into our own persona.” When Cropper was in Memphis during a tour with Sam Cooke in the early sixties, Hendrix sought him out and the two spent the day bonding over their mutual love of their dear instrument. Hendrix once said: “Steve Cropper turned me on millions of years ago and I turned him on millions of years ago too — but because of different songs. He turned me on to a lot of things.”
Of course, one personal favourite was also a personal friend of Jimi’s. When Hendrix first moved to London, he made an immediate impact and managed to prove to his then-idol Eric Clapton within days of his arrival that there was a new guitar king in town. Cream had heard impressive things about London’s latest import and had invited him up on stage to jam with them back in 1966—a move which saw Hendrix put the band to shame. Jimi, buoyed by the cordial invitation, took to the stage and grabbed a guitar to cover Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’, Eric Clapton told Planet Rock: “We got up on stage, and Chas Chandler says ‘I’ve got this friend who would love to jam with you.’”
Adding: “It was funny, in those days anybody could get up with anybody if you were convincing enough that you could play. He got up and blew everyone’s mind. I just thought ‘ahh, someone that plays the stuff I love in the flesh, on stage with me.’I was actually privileged to be (on stage with him)… it’s something that no one is ever going to beat; that incident, that night, it’s historic in my mind but only a few people are alive that would remember it.”
Keith Altham of The Guardian, and famed rock journalist, notes of the meeting between Clapton and Hendrix saying he remembers: “Chandler going backstage after Clapton left in the middle of the song ‘which he had yet to master himself’; Clapton was furiously puffing on a cigarette and telling Chas: ‘You never told me he was that fucking good.’” Altham also wrote that Hendrix he wanted to prove himself to his idol and remarkably self-depreciatingly stated: “I want to see if he is as good as he thinks I am”.
Another name we are more than happy to offer a little education on is the great Albert Collins. Known as ‘The Iceman,’ Collins was a pioneering figure that shaped the Texan blues scene throughout the fifties and sixties, and his influence would go far beyond the Southern state—even if his name perhaps didn’t. In 1968, Jimi Hendrix declared his love for the underappreciated stalwart of the Houston blues scene: “There’s one cat I’m still trying to get across to people.” He added: “He is really good, one of the best guitarists in the world.”
Elmore James sadly died aged just 45 in 1961 before he could see the full scale of the influence that his skills would have throughout the sixties and beyond. Many tried to replicate the slide guitar sound that he had not only perfected but pioneered. The impresario is also a pivotal figure in the development of Hendrix.
Early on in his career, Hendrix styled himself variously as ‘Maurice James’ and subsequently as ‘Jimmy James’, which arrived as a tribute to James according to former bandmate and recording partner Lonnie Youngblood. Jimi Hendrix would frequently cite Elmore James as an influence and even went as far as recording several different arrangements of ‘Bleeding Heart’ by James, which would become something of a legend among Hendrix fans as various bootlegs were passed around during the late sixties before it was officially released posthumously.
Of course, no guitarist worth their salt will leave BB King off the list of their favourite guitarists. Hendrix, naturally, was a huge fan. Not surprising either, BB King is a bonafide blues icon who is one of the genres most influential names, and his iconic style can still be felt in music today. Hendrix regularly covered ‘Every Day I Have the Blues’ as a member of the Rocking Kings and would turn up the bass on his amplifier to sound like King.
During Hendrix’s stint played in Little Richard’s band, he received vast criticism from Richard for trying to copy King’s style, and once he went solo, he got back to emulating King, which is perhaps most notable on ‘Hey Joe’ or ‘Voodoo Chile’. Similarly, Hendrix shared the mutual admiration every guitarist of the sixties had for Muddy Waters too.
The legendary Muddy Waters is one of the first-ever artists that Jimi Hendrix ever remembers listening to a child. Many have argued that Waters’ music is what first captured Hendrix’s imagination and would inadvertently set him on his path to stardom. The blues legend played a key role in reshaping culture post-war and without him, who knows how different culture would be today. Hendrix remarked this to Rolling Stone in 1968: “The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I heard one of his old records when I was a little boy, and it scared me to death because I heard all of those sounds. Wow, what is that all about? It was great.”
The rock ‘n’ roll Kings are here. Another pioneering King, one who helped put the blues scene on the map, was also a huge influence on Jimi Hendrix, and he is widely seen as one of the greatest guitar players of all time, with Rolling Stone naming him as the 13th best guitarist ever in 2011. Hendrix said this about King’s immense talents: “I like Albert King. He plays completely and strictly in one way, just straight funk blues. New blues guitar, very young, funky sound, which is great. One of the funkiest I’ve heard. He plays it strictly that way, so that’s his scene.”
The first came during The Mike Douglas Show when Hendrix had become the toast of the town. Douglas asked Hendrix: “What’s it was like to be the best rock guitarist in the world?” Jimi then beautifully responded, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Rory Gallagher”. For that reason alone, he could easily be considered Jimi’s all-time favourite. However, most believe that the title of Hendrix’s ultimate favourite is reserved for another searing axeman, Billy Gibbons.
The ZZ Top powerhouse has long been undervalued as one of rock and roll’s finest players. Naturally, Gibbons was awestruck when he first met Hendrix. In an interview with Express, Gibbons said: “We hit it off in a rather unexpected manner.” Gibbons goes on to describe what his first encounter was like with Hendrix, “our contract required us to play for 45 minutes, and at that time, the only way we could complete the run was to include two numbers by Jimi Hendrix. Which was kinda chancy, I must say.”
“I remember wrapping up the set, coming off the stage, there was Jimi in the shadows – off to the side with his arms folded. But he was grinning, and as I passed by, he grabbed me and said, ‘I like you. You’ve got a lot of nerve,'” he told Ultimate Classic Rock of their first meeting. Gibbons clearly found himself a mentor on the guitar that he could look for during his career.
“He was a real technical wizard. He was inventing things to do with the Stratocaster guitar. I am confident the designers had no clue would unfold in later years. Jimi had the talent to make that work for him. His technique was very peculiar in that he was playing a right-handed guitar in a left-handed style, upside down. To look at it and try to figure out what he was doing was very daunting,” said Gibbons in an interview with Rolling Stone.
We are probably just as sad as you are that Hendrix was never able to compile a list like this on his own. Equally that many of the artists and musicians on the list may soon be forgotten.
So we thought we’d pull together an almighty playlist offering up a brief education into why each of these incredible talents could count themselves among Jimi Hendrix’s favourite guitarists.
Jimi Hendrix’s favourite guitarists:
- Albert King
- Muddy Waters
- BB King
- Elmore James
- Albert Collins
- Eric Clapton
- Steve Cropper
- Otis Rush
- Rory Gallagher
- Billy Gibbons