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(Credit: Bent Rej/Wikimedia)


When Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix battled at the BBC


Some icons in music are untouchable. Jimi Hendrix is one of those artists. His presence both living and after he had passed was so dynamic and unfathomably altering that to try and usurp him as the greatest guitarist of all time is simply impossible. No matter how talented or how enigmatic, Hendrix will always rule the roost. His is a presence that sparked, flashed, burned brightly and was unfairly extinguished too soon. Stevie Wonder, on the other hand, is a little bit different.

No less an icon, the unique voice and musical stylings of Stevie Wonder is untouchable in the annals of music history for his supreme longevity and inability to feel tired. Wonder found fame early on in his career, picking up charting singles when he was still a teenager. Joining forces with The Rolling Stones for a particularly brilliant tour in the seventies, Wonder has transcended genre, style and any other barrier put In front of him t become one of the most universally loved artists of all time. Even Jimi Hendrix was a fan.

Stevie Wonder hadn’t quite hit the heights he was destined for when Hendrix and he crossed paths in 1967. The guitarist had quickly become the toast of the town and, after being drafted into the UK by Animals bassist and Jimi’s new manager Chas Chandler, was on the hunt for a band of his own. in the meantime, he was still being asked to take up coveted spots for the BBC. One such session would see Hendrix ask a young Stevie Wonder to step in on drums.

The opportunity was provided by Top Gear, a music radio programme that focused on the latest in alternative sounds. Acting as a precursor to The Old Grey Whistle Test, the programme offered countless esteemed rock heroes the chance to reach a nation with their tunes. However, when Hendrix and Wonder showed up in ’67, there seemed to be more focus on cutting loose and having fun. It means we get a brilliant, if a little shambolic, cover of ‘I Was Made To Love Her’.

Of course, it is Stevie Wonder’s song, which gives good reason for his inclusion in the jam session, however, there does seem to be a slight bit of rivalry that runs through the recording. Whether friendly or fearsome, there is certainly a duel going down as Wonder and Hendrix each imprint bruising on the other out on the Beeb battlefield.

Only 17 years old at the time of the recording, and having already been known for several years by then, Wonder is in no way over-awed by Hendrix and competes with him till the bitter end. Tom-tom breaks and splashy cymbals fight against the wah-wah joy of Hendrix in his prime. It’s not the cleanest cut of a song you’ll ever hear but there is a palpable passion to what is being played.

For that reason alone, this jam between Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix remains iconic.