Being compared to Jimi Hendrix is a gripe that less than a handful of people in history have had to log in their list of bugbears. Hendrix’s talent and charisma are that of artistic mythology. It is wildly beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. Prince, on the other hand, had legitimate cause for complaint.
Despite the guitar mastery that both Prince and Hendrix shared, he argued that they were very disparate artists and that the comparison was founded on race more so than musicology. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1985, the Purple One was asked about the influence of Hendrix on his work to which he replied, “It’s only because he’s black. That’s really the only thing we have in common.”
Prince then went on to state that Carlos Santana, another legend of the guitar elite, would be a more befitting stylistic comparison. “If they really listened to my stuff, they’d hear more of a Santana influence than Jimi Hendrix,” Prince stated. “Hendrix played more blues; Santana played prettier.” There are a lot of descriptors ready and waiting to perfectly sum up the talent of Prince and pretty is certainly near the top of the pile. Hendrix would burn with intensity, while Prince was always far more cultivated, more stylised.
But, for Prince, the idea that you could compare any two artists, no matter their creative leanings was ridiculous. “You can’t compare people, you really can’t – unless someone is blatantly trying to rip somebody off.”
However, this disavowing of the comparison does not mean that he wasn’t flattered by it. As he once told MTV, “Hendrix is very good. Fact. There will never be another one like him, and it would be a pity to try. I strive for originality in my work, and hopefully, it’ll be perceived that way.”
This striving for originality is something that Prince stuck by and he was also willing to accept that the guitar was a limiting factor on this front. There are only so many sounds a guitar can make,” he said. “Lord knows I’ve tried to make a guitar sound like something new to myself.”
Ironically it is here where the Hendrix comparison gains validity. Although the two artists might harness different sounds and styles, their outward originality and complete exhibition of bravura on the six-string is undeniably similar. Nobody has quite made a guitar sing with as much apparent ease as Prince and Hendrix in history, the guitar simply seemed to be at their mercy as opposed to the other way around.
As if to ram home his age-old concerns regarding the unyielding comparison Prince appeared on the 2004 compilation of Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix and he offered up his own musical rebuttal.
Prince’s reworking of ‘Red House’ was so revolutionary that many renamed it with the moniker of ‘Purple House’ as Prince spun out the blues number into a funky direction, before returning the blues for the final few bars, as if to simultaneously tip his hat to the legend and mark how truly different their sound is.
You check out the iconic cover version featuring some searing comparison-defying guitar work below.