Jimi Hendrix is one of, if not the most influential guitarist of all time. His visceral style of playing the guitar had never been seen or heard before, and by the way of virtuosity and FX such as distortion and wah, he tore up the handbook of guitar playing.
Yes, he was brought up on the same blues as every other contemporary guitar player, but it is what he did with the influences that set him apart. Not a pastiche like Clapton, and many steps ahead of the ‘raucous’ Pete Townshend, he showed up every contemporary guitarist and showed them up to be what they were; complacent.
As well as being captivating on the stage, off it, Hendrix also had a lot to say. Whether that be on the direction he wanted to take music in, contemporary music or literature, he was a fascinating human being, something that is not in the least surprising given just how much of a musical iconoclast he was.
When he passed away at the young age of 27 in 1970, Hendrix’s loss left a gaping hole that will never be filled, although he lives on through his game-changing and unique music. Many have tried and failed to imitate his unmistakable sound, an impossible task because of how intrinsically linked to his character it was.
However, this hasn’t stopped people from trying to get to know Hendrix more. A titanic character, with only a finite amount of knowledge in existence about him due to his short lifespan, any new nugget of information that comes to light is swiftly added to the common library on Hendrix’s short but impactful life. A lesser-known piece of information came in a 1967 interview with Steve Barker when Hendrix discussed his influences and the three guitarists who had a transformative effect on his playing.
The guitar hero said: “Well, I don’t have any right now. I used to like Elmore James and early Muddy Waters and stuff like that. Robert Johnson and all those old cats.” He was then asked if he felt any shared connection with the bluesmen of old, to which he responded: “No, ’cause I can’t even sing! Where I first started playing guitar is was way up in the Northwest, in Seattle, Washington.”
Hendrix explained: “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.”
There’s no surprise that Hendrix mentioned the three above bluesmen as his early idols. In a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone, Hendrix said of Waters: “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.”
Secondly, Robert Johnson was the man that started it all. Without his handful of recordings, rock and alternative music would not exist. This mythical figure laid the foundations for the delta blues adherents of the ’60s, and without his massive influence, it is likely that rock ‘n’ roll wouldn’t have developed into the behemoth we know today.
Although a lesser-known bluesman in the mainstream, Elmore James is also one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Hailed as the ‘King of the Slide Guitar’ without his amped-up playing, you could say goodbye to Hendrix, Duane Allman, and even later greats such as Johnny Marr.
After noting the three guitar players that Hendrix lists, you can hear their influence in his music, but only slightly, and this is his true genius. He augmented the style that influenced him with great versatility. Hendrix was the middle point between early rock ‘n’ roll and what would later become alt-rock, and the course he sent rock on would make a departure from the past, catapulting the guitar into the future.
Jimi Hendrix’s three favourite guitarists:
- Muddy Waters
- Robert Johnson
- Elmore James