Jimi Hendrix is a man who has dominated the music scene during his lifetime and continues to this day, quite rightly hailed as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The wild guitarist and counterculture poster boy made his name as the free spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and, perhaps due to his untimely death, he has never given up that post. Still, in 2020, we’re left marvelling at the sincere and searing talent that Hendrix possessed. Invariably those incendiary moments came from when Hendrix picked up a guitar.
Of course, there had been other guitar heroes before Hendrix arrived, Eric Clapton was more than formidable while Jimmy Page had quietly been becoming an expert himself—but nobody played quite like Jimi. Hendrix possessed the same kind of artistic flourish, creative determination and uncontrollable evolution that fits some of the world’s most notorious creatives. It’s not a huge jump to think of Hendrix as akin to the guitar as Picasso was to painting. With that in mind, below we’re bringing you six of his most perfect brushstrokes as we revisit some of his searing guitar solos.
As well as being the poster boy for a new generation of thinkers, undisturbed by the Second World War and determined to not fall into the same potholes, Hendrix should rightly be revered as a maestro of his instrument too. That said, it wasn’t just simply his technical abilities that impressed his audience, it was his demeanour, his spirit, his vibe, and the way he let the music flow through him that eventually turned people on to him. While it might feel hacky to remember the sixties in such a patchouli-filled haze, it’s hard to not see Hendrix as such.
Taken from the world following a tragic overdose in 1970, the music scene never truly got to see the singer’s potential. Here, however, we can refresh ourselves on the potency of Jimi Hendrix’s incredible guitar solos by revisiting the six best solos he put on tape.
Jimi Hendrix’s 6 best guitar solos:
‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’
The final song in Hendrix’s time with The Experience is certainly one of his most iconic. The song he and the group had sketched out earlier on in their final LP Electric Ladyland comes back with full force as ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’.
Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding liked the track and went about learning it right away as Redding explained, “We learned that song in the studio… They had the cameras rolling on us as we played it”. The cameras were that of ABC’s and they were intent on capturing the band in their magical flow, Hendrix added: “Someone was filming when we started doing [Voodoo Child]. We did that about three times because they wanted to film us in the studio, to make us—’Make it look like you’re recording, boys’—one of them scenes, you know, so, ‘OK, let’s play this in E, a-one, a-two, a-three’, and then we went into ‘Voodoo Child’.”
It’s a furious song that deserves its spot in upper echelons of Hendrix’s esteemed work. But while compositionally it is an intriguing piece, it is within Hendrix’s powerful guitar licks that this song truly shines. Powerful and potent, the solo on this track is a reminder of the talent Hendrix possessed from the beginning to the end of his time with The Experience. Not so much a solo as an explosion of intoxicating force, the kind of genius Hendrix imbues this song with is a testament to his immense power.
‘All Along The Watchtower’
Of course, one of Hendrix’s career-defining moments comes as a cover of one of Bob Dylan’s then-lesser known tracks. Dylan once said of Hendrix’s version: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.” High praise considering the man in question.
Written in 1967, the song has had a fair few renditions from famous faces over the years. Whether it’s from Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam, the smoother than smooth tones of Bryan Ferry, the salt of the earth Neil Young, or even the Irish pop-rock poster boys U2, but none hold a candle to Jimi’s. None come anywhere close, in fact. While those bands all tried to match Dylan’s effort from ’67, Jimi ingested the track, digested it, and threw it up and walked away only a true stoner can.
It’s quite literally perfect and much of that brilliance comes from Hendrix’s supreme skills with his guitar, something Dylan could have only hoped to achieve. The solo is broken down into four quarters, one highlighted his pure skill with almost no effects, the next incorporated slide guitar, the third part was drenched in psychedelia and the final part was a rhythmic rumble. It’s the perfect way to ascertain Hendrix’s skill — he could quite literally do it all.
‘Bold As Love’
Much of Axis: Bold as Love, Hendrix’s sophomore album, can be seen as an extension of the band’s debut record and, thanks to Chandler’s recording methods, it likely was. Part of the initial eruption of Hendrix’s creative sparks when he was given room to truly express himself by Chas Chandler. But on ‘Bold as Love’, Hendrix does that mercurial thing that only a few artists can do—he connects with something timeless.
At the centre of the song is Hendrix’s kaleidoscopic view of life and love. As he works his way through the many hues love can take he concludes that each one is as powerful and potent as the last. It adds a universal tone of acceptance and peace which makes this a Hendrix song for all ages, even looking back in 2020, this message rings true. While lyrically, the song is one of Hendrix’s finest, he also impresses with his solo too.
Hendrix was the foreword in guitar innovation and followed his nose on this one too, using a ‘flanger’ and a set of fuzzed-up effects that kick the song into overdrive. As ever, Hendrix tells his story through the guitar and it positively shines because of it.
Found on the band’s second album Axis: Bold as Love, ‘Little Wing’ is a ballad which captures everything that was impressive about Hendrix. He managed to traverse the line between physical, imposing and yet somehow ethereal.
Of course, Hendrix kicks things up a notch when lets his guitar say the words he can’t. It brings the ballad back down to earth. It is one of the song’s he developed before encountering Chas Chandler. The solo that he performs while recording the track is utterly captivating.
Full to the brim with distortion, Hendrix pays tribute to the noodling R&B players of old with a solo straight out of the history books. As soon as he performed it, the solo went straight back into the history books as one of his best.
Just by the very nature of Hendrix’s mercurial appeal, the chances are that very few people will entirely agree with the entirety of our list. In fact, we would hope they didn’t. But we think it’s pretty set in stone that the archetypal Hendrix tune simply has to be ‘Purple Haze’ if not just for the iconic lyrics “excuse me, miss, while I kiss the sky,” which are ingrained on to the brain of all who hear them.
It has all the finer threads of what makes Hendrix a guitar genius, the shining silk of Eastern modalities, the sturdy and colourful blues mix, and rendered beauty of the sound processing. What comes out is a suit worthy of Saville Row.
While the lyrics may leave you misunderstanding the intent of Hendrix—having often been seen as a psychedelic experience—Hendrix would reiterate it’s intended as a love song. What is in no doubt is that on this track, Hendrix’s guitar playing is the most honest and authentic moment of the song, somehow managing to encapsulate the entire human spirit within a few powerful notes.
Sometimes songs are utterly inescapable. Whether you heard it first via Hendrix or via that ’90s stalwart Wayne’s World, chances are the opening track of the band’s debut Are You Experienced? has hit you at some point in your life. As we all know, when that searing riff explodes on to the airwaves, it smacks you like ten tonnes of bricks.
If there’s one track in which you can distil the talent of Hendrix, encapsulate his vision and his sonic exploration, then the sultry, sensual and sensational ‘Foxy Lady’ has to be it. With lyrics apparently connected to Heather Taylor, who went on to marry The Who’s Roger Daltrey, the music is all straight out of Hendrix’s soul.
Not the kind of soul that warms soups or tucks you in at night with a whisky-breath kiss, but the lustful, primal soul that emanates from every note of this track. It’s hard to not fall in love with this song and, if it is not love, then it’s intoxicating enough to pretend to be it and demanding enough to let you know you’re on the right track. This is arguably the solo that confirmed Hendrix as the greatest of all time.