Jimi Hendrix, an artist with such supreme natural talent that he was able to dominate the music scene during an unfortunately short lifetime, remains arguably the most influential musician to ever walk the planet. Rightly hailed as one of the greatest guitarists to have ever picked up the instrument, Hendrix epitomised the free spirit of rock ‘n’ roll as he relentlessly pushed both creative, societal and professional boundaries.
Whether it be through ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ or ‘Purple Haze’, Hendrix had electricity running through his fingertips, a manic and chaotic excellence that manifested itself into rip-roaring guitar solos as audiences were cut down by his brilliance.
With the spirit of Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson running through his veins, Hendrix attempted to lean on the inspiration of those that came before him while, more importantly, thrusting his ideas firmly into the future. It proved to be a formula that would change our understanding of the guitar forever.
Tragically, Hendrix would succumb to levels of excess that dominated the era’s most famous faces. In 1970, the iconic musician died at the tender age of 27, a death by asphyxia while intoxicated with barbiturates. In simple terms, Hendrix died in his sleep after choking on his own vomit having taking nine sleeping tablets alongside a bottle of wine. It is such an intense and bleak picture that has, quite understandably, loomed over his legacy in a severely sorry manner.
Given that Hendrix was cut down in his prime, fans of the artist were deprived of yet more of his creations. As a result of his popularity – which continues to grow even to this day – researchers, supporters and scholars have rummaged through the archives to pull out any meaningful information that allows us to gain a wider understanding of his life as a whole.
While his formative inspirations have always been clear, the true source of those Hendrix admired among his contemporaries has often been debated. He undoubtedly had an affinity for The Beatles and Bob Dylan, but also names such as Rory Gallagher and Eric Clapton as he often loomed in the shadows of small music venues, watching his peers from afar.
One such story of Hendrix doing his research surrounds Billy Gibbons, the uncompromising axeman and founding member of ZZ Top. According to many close to Hendrix, he considered Gibbons to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time. “I’ve heard the before,” Gibbons replied when told that Hendrix thought he was the best around. “We were good friends,” he added, “Very good friends. I still got fond memories of our time together and hope that someday we can ring it out.”
Later, during an interview with Express, Gibbons detailed how their relationship blossomed: “We hit it off in a rather unexpected manner,” he said, explaining that their first meeting took place, unsurprisingly, at a concert. “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.”
Gibbons added: “I remember wrapping up the set, coming off the stage, there was Jimi in the shadows – off to the side with his arms folded,” he told Ultimate Classic Rock. But he was grinning, and as I passed by, he grabbed me and said, ‘I like you. You’ve got a lot of nerve’”. It is that sentiment that sums up Hendrix and, more importantly, the kind of ambition he admired.
“He was a real technical wizard,” Gibbons said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “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”. See the interview, below.