Kirk Hammett has been a member of Metallica for over a decade longer than Jimi Hendrix spent on this earth. For Hammett, no matter how long he continues to create music, his repertoire will still never be as impressive as what Hendrix left behind.
Metallica were in turmoil before Hammett answered their call in 1983, a decision that ultimately saved the band. At the time, Hammett was only 20 and had never even left California before joining the group. Nevertheless, he flew through his audition and has been a critical component of the group ever since.
Over the last 40 years, Hammett has helped Metallica become a cultural behemoth that transcends metal music. In contrast, Jimi Hendrix only had a smattering of time to assemble his legacy, and his career was still in its ascendancy when his life was devastatingly cut short.
The sheer fact that Hendrix is considered in the conversation as the greatest guitarist of all time – despite his minimal output – is enough to convince Hammett that nobody has ever got close to operating on such an elevated level.
“Yeah, I would say that,” he said in Greg Pato’s book, Avatar Of The Electric Guitar: The Genius Of Jimi Hendrix. “Only because it’s hard to put anybody else in that position. And it’s easy to put Jimi in that position – because he died at 27, and look at all he accomplished in that short amount of time, like, five years, maybe.”
Adding: “To accomplish all of that in that short period of time and be so influential, to leave a body of music that is still vibrant and influential to this day – to this minute – I would say yes, he is probably the greatest guitar player.”
The limited time frame of Hendrix’s career is the primary reason Hammett has reached this conclusion and a point that he reiterates, adding: “To be able to do all that in that short of time… I mean, there are lots of great guitar players out there.
“But they had the benefit of their whole lives playing and getting better and exploring and shifting and changing. Jimi didn’t have that. He came out, and he was all he was in those five years.”
Moreover, the first track he learned to play live was ‘Purple Haze’, following Hendrix seducing him into rock ‘n’ roll. Hammett assembled his first band in a moment of inspiration immediately after, which proved to be a disaster, but remains a cherished memory. Their first (and final) rehearsal consisted of them mimicking Hendrix and attempting to play ‘Purple Haze’ for a total of 15 minutes before conceding and stopping the “racket”.
Hendrix was the Metallica guitarist’s first love, and it’s a fixation that continues to burn bright today. Despite all the admiration thrown towards him, Hammett will always view himself as inferior compared to the imperishable Jimi Hendrix.