Watch a young Lou Reed discuss Jimi Hendrix: “He was such a bitchin’ guitar player”
Jimi Hendrix and Lou Reed were both one of a kind talents who were rock ‘n’ roll mavericks in completely different directions. Even though the late former Velvet Underground man and Hendrix were never cut from the same cloth, that doesn’t stop talent recognising talent and this video of a young Reed eulogising over the guitar god is a testament of that.
Despite dying 50 years ago, the world has never been graced by a guitarist as talented as Hendrix. Even now, the icon of Hendrix still looms above the genre of rock music. His story is all too short but utterly unique. Arriving in London in 1966, Hendrix soon became a wild whisper among the glitterati of the thriving sixties music scene. His innovative way of playing the instrument had sent shivers down the spines of the leading court of guitar heroes and his presence was beginning to make waves. Soon enough, Hendrix was the talk of the town and then the world.
Reed was involved in a totally different scene to Hendrix and found himself at the centre of a world surrounding Andy Warhol along with his band, The Velvet Underground. The band never enjoyed anywhere near the same scale as mainstream attention that Hendrix found himself caught between, instead they operated in the periphery, unlike the guitarist who almost transcended music and became a circus act of sorts who was getting relentlessly wheeled art to perform his special trickery.
Three years after his death, Reed took part in a documentary about the mercurial guitarist, simply titled Jimi Hendrix which was directed by Joe Boyd and John Head. The film featured an all-star cast who talk about their love of Hendrix including the likes of Eric Clapton, Billy Cox, Alan Douglas, Germaine Greer, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kramer, Buddy Miles, Mitch Mitchell, Little Richard and Pete Townshend but Lou Reed’s take on the great man is perhaps the most fascinating.
“He played 24 hours a day, he was always playing. You always knew when Hendrix was in town that he was jamming here, he was jamming there — he was just always playing,” Reed said in a tone of full adoration. “His music to me was entertaining, as was his stage act for that matter but the thing was because he was such a bitching guitar player, that was enough and the other thing was distracting from it,” Reed added with honesty.
“I think he realised that and wanted to get out of that and wanted people to just listen to the music,” Reed added. “There’s no end to what he could have done but the situation that he got placed in y’know from either his record company, the management, the promoters or publicity men.
“All these guys you’ve got to deal with who are saying, ‘Hey Jimi, you’ve got to tour and you’re here, here, here and ‘x’ number of people are coming in and you need to do this because you’re account is at ‘x’, you invested in Electric Ladyland and maybe this isn’t working, and that is working’,” Reed delivered in his best industry guy impression.
Concluding: “I think he had all these pressures on him and you’re not supposed to deal with that, you’re supposed to make music.”
By 1973, Reed had spent enough years in the music industry to understand the trials and tribulations that came with it. This put him in a fortunate position when he achieved commercial success with Transformer in 1972, a record which was very much on his own terms and his ethos was something that he was never prepared to sacrifice in search of notoriety.
Hendrix’s rise to fame saw him go from an obscurely known session musician to the biggest rockstar on the planet in lightspeed, a factor which allowed too many people in his ear telling him differing things which landed him in the difficult position that Reed described. Perhaps, if he had Lou Reed’s matter of fact head on his shoulders, he could have focussed solely on his music rather than being sucked in by the glitz and glamour.