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How Jimi Hendrix "ruined" the guitar, according to Keith Richards


Keith Richards had a rich history with the late Jimi Hendrix. They were first acquainted with one another when Hendrix was a virtually unknown musician with the hope of making his way through the circuit in New York, and Richards knew straight away he was a one-off mercurial talent.

One person who believed in Hendrix even more so than Keef was The Rolling Stones guitarist’s then-partner, Linda Keith. Hendrix was on a tour of the States when the model found her prized jewel and knew that Richards would become just as besotted with her discovery as she was.

“My initial thought, of course, was Keith must see this,” Linda told The Observer in 2013. “I was determined that he should be noticed, get a record deal and blow everybody’s mind. I knew it was all there so I went for it.”

Once he returned from tour, Richards decided to hear what all the fuss was about for himself, and her suspicions were correct. He later remembered: “I first heard him on the road with Curtis Knight, and then I used to see him play at a club called Ondine’s in New York. I thought I was watching someone just about to break.”

The Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was invited down by Linda to watch a showcase from her new talent, but Hendrix suffered a rare off-day, and the opportunity was blown.

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Fortunately, shortly afterwards, The Animals member Chas Chandler accepted her invitation to Hendrix’s afternoon set at the Cafe Wha? and he was blown away by what he saw. From that moment on, The Experience was born.

After moving to London, the American maestro soon became the talk of the town, and his rise was unstoppable. Every other guitarist on the planet looked inadequate compared to Hendrix’s majesty, and it infuriated an envious Richards. “One guy can ruin an instrument. Jimi Hendrix, bless his heart – how I wish he was still around – almost inadvertently ruined guitar,” the Stones axeman once remarked.

He added: “Because he was the only cat who could do it like that. Everybody else just screwed it up, and thought wailing away (on the guitar) is the answer. But it ain’t; you’ve got to be a Jimi to do that, you’ve got to be one of the special cats.”

The emergence of Hendrix forced everybody else to raise their standards, and he set a new benchmark that was impossible for his peers to reach. In the half-century since his death, no guitarist is yet to eclipse him, and the intricate magic he created on the instrument will likely never be replicated.

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