Jimi Hendrix is arguably the most influential guitarist of all time. His visceral style of playing was totally groundbreaking and, aided by FX such as distortion and wah, he set the world on fire, showing that guitarists could forego the rulebook and approach the six-string however they wanted, as, after all, it was just a piece of wood.
Notably, Hendrix grew up listening to the same figures as his contemporaries, such as Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, but it is what he did with their influence that set him apart, and what infused his music with the refreshing essence that is still so mindblowing to this day.
Even though Hendrix explicitly named James, Waters and Johnson as the three biggest influences on his artistry, there was another who had a transformative impact on his young brain: Chuck Berry.
Nicknamed ‘The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Berry’s music galvanised a generation, and the energy of his work was a direct progenitor to that of Hendrix. For the time, it was amped-up, swaggering and unrelenting, and whilst it was no way near as hard as Hendrix’s style, you cannot deny that he laid the foundations for future artists.
Without Berry, rock music swould not be the behemoth it is today. Reflecting this, in The Beatles Anthology, the late John Lennon explains: “(He) is one of the all-time great poets, a rock poet you could say … We all owe a lot to him, including Dylan. In the Fifties, when people were virtually singing about nothing, Chuck Berry was writing social-comment songs, with incredible metre to his lyrics.”
Whilst Berry released many significant cuts across his long career, the most noteworthy one, or at least well-known, is the 1958 effort ‘Johnny B. Goode’. The song was where rock ‘n’ roll went stratospheric. Partially autobiographical, it tells the story of a semi-literate African American boy whose skill on the guitar has the potential to make him a lot of money, whisking him away from his humble beginnings in the process.
Given the song’s stature, on May 5th, 1970, during his first show at Berkeley Community Theatre, Jimi Hendrix performed a cover of the song, which was released posthumously on Johnny B. Goode in 1986. He takes the energy of the original to a completely different level, and can clearly hear the impact that Berry had on him, as he solos his way through what is probably the most influential track ever released.
Listen to Hendrix cover ‘Johnny B. Goode’ below.