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Music

Stephen Stills opens up about his friendship with Jimi Hendrix

Stephen Stills is a legendary musician. His pedigree is of the highest order, and in terms of artistic enlightenment, Stills hit heights that we laymen can only dream of reaching. 

He was the mastermind of Buffalo Springfield, one-quarter of lauded supergroup CSNY and his debut album, 1970’s Stephen Stills, is the only record to have ever featured both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. In addition to these spectacular moments, Stills also played the guitar on Bill Withers’ acclaimed debut album, 1971’s Just As I Am

He’s an iconic musician who can count a whole host of iconic musicians as friends, one significant part of Stills’ life was his great friendship with guitar hero Jimi Hendrix. During their time in London, the two were kindred spirits, and their position as Americans alone in the British capital necessitated that they hang out. The camaraderie between Stills and Hendrix became one of the most iconic of the countercultural era. 

During a new interview with Classic Rock, Stills recalled his friendship with Hendrix, and the image he paints of Seattle’s favourite son is a departure from the reckless hellraiser that the media and rock historians would have you believe he was. 

He does explain that Hendrix was adventurous, but maintains that he was not excessive in the way that many musicians of the era were. Interestingly, Stills revealed that Hendrix and Neil Young taught him how to play the guitar. 

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Stills said: “Jimi and I spent a lot of time together because I was the lone American in England that he could really speak to. He used to come and hang out with me and my friend Dan Campbell to, like, decompress. He and Neil [Young], they taught me to play lead guitar. I drove everyone crazy for the next two years learning it; I had to have the stack of Marshalls and stuff. He’d be like, ‘Jesus!'” 

The Buffalo Springfield mastermind then revealed that the two became close immediately: “Jimi and I would go to clubs, and if the rhythm section was good, we would take it over; if it was bad, we would pass. I went to a couple of black clubs where he would do the scouting. I played bass in the infamous guitar war between him and Johnny Winter. It was so loud and the ceiling was so low, you couldn’t tell, but he makes this face at me and I realise I’m playing a quarter-tone sharp. But after that it was fine.”

Remembering the character of his old friend, Stills said: “He was a darling. Just sweet as you could be. He was kind of intimidated by it all, but at the same time not. To say that he was wispy is to describe the way he stood and the way he danced. He was really liquid, but he was a will-o’-the-wisp, the forces around him. He would take anything that anyone gave him, which, at that time in England, there were combinations that were really dangerous. That was what really got him.” 

Offering up a candid account of Hendrix, Stills maintained: “He was quite modest, actually. He knew what he was doing, but the image and the lyrics and the whole persona was as much as the playing. He didn’t realise that just to hear him play was plenty.”

One of the most honest accounts of Jimi Hendrix that we’ve ever heard; it’s through the stories of his friends that we get a measure of the real Jimi Hendrix, not through flimsy recycled accounts. Hendrix was a true legend whose musical ability came before everything. Duly, he’ll continue to be celebrated for many years to come.

Listen to Jimi Hendrix ‘Purple Haze’ below.