Neil Young is someone who, when he speaks, you listen. He’s gifted with a way with words that illuminates his songs, and he has a quicksilver skill only matched by his electrifying guitar playing and, when it comes to great guitarists, he simply can’t look past Jimi Hendrix.
Young’s artistry simply refuses to get tired, and he might be in his 70s now, but it’s still that same vice it was to him when he started out. ‘Shakey’ has seen just about everything there is to witness in the world of rock music, getting up close and personal with the great and the good in history. However, nothing has blown his mind in the same way as witnessing Jimi Hendrix, who, for Young, sits firmly on a pedestal all by himself.
The two artists played the inaugural Woodstock Festival together, and both put their stamp on history over the course of that infamous weekend. “One of the things I remember about Woodstock was trying to get there to play. As it turns out, the charter plane I was on with Jimi Hendrix flew into the wrong airport,” Young comically remembered.
“We were supposed to be picked by a helicopter,” he continued. “The roads were jammed and there was nobody at the airport, so we had no way to get to the concert. So we’re standing at the airport with Melvin Belli [an attorney] trying to figure out what to do. And Melvin Belli steals this pickup truck parked at the airport.”
He added, “So it’s the three of us in this stolen pickup truck trying to get to the Woodstock concert to play—Jimi, Melvin and me. That’s what I really remember about Woodstock.”
That wild weekend was his overarching memory of Hendrix as a man, and as a guitarist, he sits in his own league for Young. The ’60s were awash with sensational players of the instrument, and the superstar guitarist was all the rage. While some could make a case for Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, nobody could compete with the sheer magnitude of Hendrix’s unwavering ability. Well, that’s according to Neil Young, anyway, and it’s hard to disagree with the case he makes.
“Hendrix was the best at being able to do his expression with his guitar,” Young once recounted in an interview with the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2005. “I’d say, out of the ’60s, as far as someone taking the guitar to another place, Hendrix was number one. No other guitar player even came near Hendrix in the way he handled playing rock ‘n’ roll in a trio, guitar, bass and drums.
“He was so unique, he had his own place. It was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Out of all the trio’s, there was nothing like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the way they all played together, the bass player, the drummer, it was all three of them together that made that sound.”
He concluded, “Jimi wasn’t the same when he played with other bands. It was what happened when he played with those guys that made him free enough to express himself and to go to those places he went.”
Realistically, even though music is subjective, Jimi Hendrix’s greatness is something that simply can’t be denied. However, as Young expertly pointed out, Mitch Mitchell and Chas Chandler made him that extra level of radiant, which brought the best out of Hendrix.