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Music

John Frusciante explains why Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist of all time

In 2010, the BBC conducted a poll to decipher who the public thought the greatest guitarist of the last 30 years was. Presumably, they chose 1980 as the cut-off point because that’s when guitar playing changed. Granted, all polls are arbitrary and subject to the sway of fads, but it says a lot that when John Frusciante was crowned king, many of his peers called ‘Here, Here’ in concurrence. 

Whether you like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or not, you can see that the man has plenty of skill and soul in his playing. The same can be said for the unrivalled prowess of Jimi Hendrix, the greatest guitarist of all time, and there’s no need for a poll to prove that. For Frusciante, the counterculture icon is more of an inspiration than an influence, proving to be a spiritual guide on the six-string as well as a technical measure. 

As Frusciante explained about how Hendrix shaped his transition from prodigious beginnings to creative intent: “In seventh grade I would walk into music stores and everybody would think I was this amazing guy because I was about [three foot] tall and I could play all these [Jimi] Hendrix songs. But there comes a time when your own music is more important to you than anybody else’s music.” It becomes less about what you can play and more about what you can create.

For Hendrix, creating and doing were one and the same. Like a strapping six-footer in a world of munchkins, Hendrix made reaching the figurative top-shelf look as easy as swimming is to sharks. He transcended core blues structures in a way that seemed to defy any sort of theory, and simply followed his own whims when it came to the next note, in the same way that a window cleaner might just whistle along while they work. 

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This seamless brilliance is what Frusciante admired the most. “His life, and his lifestyle, and the women in his life, affected his music more so than other musicians did because that’s how free his playing sounds,” he once explained. “When you hear Jimi Hendrix play, it’s a pure expression of him as a person.”

Adding to that, he doted over live performances of the star. “You see him on stage and there’s absolutely no separation between him and his guitar—they’re completely one because he’s just putting every single bit of energy, everything in his whole psyche, and every single part of his body into his guitar playing,” he said. 

This same simple extolling of the soul made Hendrix restless, and it almost seemed like he exhausted the possibilities of the guitar. As Frusciante explains: “Jimi Hendrix at one point just stopped playing guitar altogether. He just used to lie around and daydream because the music he heard in his head he couldn’t get on his guitar so he would just lie down and dream about it.”

This is where Frank Zappa may well have pushed Hendrix to the next level had fate allowed for it. “I had written in articles at that time,” Zappa once said in an interview, “that I thought what should be done, seeing that he wasn’t musically literate and he couldn’t write it down himself, that he be put in some sort of working relationship with someone who could write his ideas and have them scored for instruments other than the electrical guitar. I think that would’ve been something worthwhile to do, but no, he was too busy doing other things to sit down and take that approach.”

Sadly, as Zappa hinted, his good friend Hendrix passed away before this idea could ever come to fruition. As Zappa bluntly put it: “I knew Jimi and I think the best thing you could say about Jimi was: there was a person who shouldn’t use drugs.”

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