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How Muddy Waters changed Jimi Hendrix’s life


It’s debatable whether Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist of all time, but he is unquestionably in the top one. Pithiness aside, the Mozart of the six-string had it all: he oozed originality, his musicology was an act of highwire acrobatics, and his performative style was a one-man Cirque du Soleil.

However, as original and fresh as his guitar work seemed, since the very first caveman declared himself an artist, everyone has had a forbearing influence. When it comes to Hendrix, that hero was none other than Muddy Waters. Who else would it have been, really?

Throughout his short seven-year career, Hendrix spoke at glowing length about those who he idolised during his childhood. Muddy Waters was an artist who mattered to him more than most, and he remembered being transfixed by his playing style, which illuminated his life at an early age.

Like many of us, the first music that stirred Hendrix held an almost mystic quality. Sam Fogarino of the band Interpol once put his finger on the feeling we’ve all gained from rock ‘n’ roll when he told Q Magazine when he spoke about the band Pixies. “I felt vile, then I felt violated, then I thought it was the most brilliant fucking thing since sliced bread and that hasn’t changed because it’s ageless music and that’s a very rare thing to stumble upon,” he said. 

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It would seem Hendrix had a similar experience when it came to the impact of the magical yet perturbing ‘electric mud’ that Muddy Waters was offering up. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1968, he said, “The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I heard one of his old records when I was a little boy, and it scared me to death because I heard all of those sounds. Wow, what is that all about? It was great.”

From this moment on, Hendrix had an ear for rock ‘n’ roll and was determined to emulate his heroes. While Hendrix’s style might have taken a trip towards the psychedelic, this early bluesy rock ‘n’ roll always presided. As he said when his career got swinging: “I used to like Elmore James and early Muddy Waters and stuff like that. Robert Johnson and all those old cats.” 

He continued: “Where I first started playing guitar is was way up in the Northwest, in Seattle, Washington. They don’t have too many of the real Blues singers up there. When I really learned to play was down South. Then I went into the Army for about nine months. But I found a way to get out of that. When I came out I went down South and all the cats down there were playing blues, and this is when I really began to get interested in the scene.”

Beyond the blues, Waters was also an early pioneer of the psychedelic sound that Hendrix later propagated in his own individualistic way. The echoes of his sound can certainly be heard in ‘I’m Your Hoochie Choochie Man’ which bears many of the stylistic signatures that Hendrix would later lift, and the world can be glad of that indeed. 

You can watch his blistering cover of the Muddy Waters classic ‘Mannish Boy’ below.