From Eric Clapton to Muddy Waters: These are the 9 guitarists Jimi Hendrix called the greatest in the world
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. In the fifty years since his premature death, question marks remain if anyone 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.
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.
Enjoy the list, below.
Jimi Hendrix’s 9 favourite guitar players:
Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher was a wildly successful musician who recorded 14 studio albums which, to date, went on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide. His esteemed solo career began after he left Taste in 1970 who 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. When Mike 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”.
Otis Rush is a musician who, sadly, is far from a household name. However 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 as the ‘West Side Sound which’ and, ultimately, change guitar playing forever. Like Hendrix, Rush was a left-handed guitarist. Despite not receiving commercial success, Rush remains as one of the great pioneers of the instrument and is seen as an icon who helped shape Chicago’s image.
Steve Cropper, AKA ‘The Colonel’, was the guitarist 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 with the former opting for a minimalist style—which is perhaps the last word you would use to describe Jimi’s bombastic style.
Hendrix 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.”
When Hendrix first moved to London he made an instant impact and managed to prove to his 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—a move which saw Hendrix put the band to shame.
Jimi, buoyed by the 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”.
Albert Collins, AKA The Iceman, 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.
Early on in his career, Hendrix styled himself variously as ‘Maurice James’ and subsequently as ‘Jimmy James’, something that 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.
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’.
The legendary Muddy Waters is one of the first-ever artists that Jimi Hendrix ever remembers listening to a child. Many have argued that the music of Waters 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.”
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.”