September 18, 2010

"Hendrix is remembered as the greatest rock guitarist of all time not because he was more adept than anyone else..."

"... at moving his fingers along a fretboard (countless guitarists have surpassed him at this), but because he had the most profound effect on how we make and hear music."

My son John pays his tribute to Jimi Hendrix — who died 40 years ago today. There's some good discussion over there about why art is more important than politics, which, of course, it is.

55 comments:

El Pollo Real said...

I was only 10 at the time but I took that news like some people took the death of Buddy Holly.

somefeller said...

Yes and yes. Politics is interesting and influences culture, but culture influences politics more so. (The interplay goes both ways, but one has a bigger impact on the other.) Jimi Hendrix probably is a more important figure in American history than, say, Gerald Ford, for the reasons cited.

somefeller said...

And he was the best guitar player ever, and he had great competition at the time. Songs like Little Wing and Hey Joe still sound powerful today.

Hendrix is also an example of how dying young creates a particular image for the ages, for better or for worse. We'll never know if he would have had a really long creative career (like David Bowie) or would have become some sort of lame sixties relic.

shoutingthomas said...

We'll never know if he would have had a really long creative career (like David Bowie) or would have become some sort of lame sixties relic.

Not true.

Listen to Hendrix's last real album (there are a lot of fakes produced to profit off his name), The Cry of Love.

This album is the work of a mature, brilliant musician. The chordal fade outs are better than most songs produced by other artists.

The Cry of Love is Hendrix as a great lyricist. Pay particular attention to Angel or Night Bird Flying.

Few people have been willing to say what really happened to Hendrix. I'll put it to you bluntly.

Hendrix started his career playing the crazy nigger for white audiences. In fact, his background was very deep in traditional blues and R&B. The clown nigger act became an artistic straight jacket.

He was trying to escape that straight jacket in the last few years of his life, and he was a terrified that audiences would not continue to accept him as the very serious artistic that he was.

Hendrix was a lyrical genius. You can get swamped by his love of noise (similar to Chopin in this regard). Pay attention to his ballads and his very brilliant lyrics.

There is no doubt that Hendrix would have had a long career of incredible genius. Losing him was a great tragedy.

Take it from somebody who played along with his records until I wore them out. I had to buy The Cry of Love three or four times. (Back in the day, the needle would eventually wear the LP out.)

T J Sawyer said...

So how many people have German, Soviet and Chinese artists killed?

(Thinking back to yesterday's hot topic!)

shoutingthomas said...

Night Bird Flying

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvd54w0vGJg

Tyrone Slothrop said...

What a waste. Imagine what was lost, the new music, the collaborations, the revival tours. Hendrix was a guy who was never going to go out of style. Right now the world would be heaping honors on his shoulders, a la The Who. What a waste.

Ann Althouse said...

@shoutingthomas What are you talking about? Hendrix didn't exploit race. He made us feel that race wasn't going to matter anymore, that the era of colorblindness had arrived... in a flash.

shoutingthomas said...

not because he was more adept than anyone else..."


"... at moving his fingers along a fretboard (countless guitarists have surpassed him at this),
.

Dead wrong.

Hendrix is the all time virtuoso master of the guitar.

Nobody else is even close. Not even Clapton.

Maybe Stevie Ray Vaughan is close.

Only Vaughan and Hendrix could actually play lead and rhythm simultaneously.

Robert said...

"Hendrix started his career playing the crazy nigger for white audiences. In fact, his background was very deep in traditional blues and R&B. The clown nigger act became an artistic straight jacket."

Whoa, whoa, WHOA!!!!

You used the N word twice. Unless you're black, your reperation fee is $10 bucks to the black charity of your choice. Please disregard if you are black.*

*At least half black. Less than half black or half black with white complexion, the penalty shall apply.

Robert Cook said...

In other words, it's not the sheer physical dexterity or technical facility that makes (or denotes) a great artist, but the artist's unique voice, depth of expressivity, and breadth of vision.

Any decent student in a 19th Century French art academy could draw circles around Cezanne or Van Gogh, yet all these students had achieved was technical mastery, in service merely to replicating "objective" reality or formal stylistic tropes as much as possible...just like thousands of other artists were doing.

There are plenty of guitar shredders today who make Hendrix look like a plodder--from a purely technical standard--but who will all be forgotten, as are the unnamed legions of French academy art students.

Technical mastery is admirable, and even necessary, to a point, but only insofar as it supports an artist with something fresh to say, a vision free of cliche.

rdkraus said...

Blues Review devotes almost a whole issue to Hendrix this month

http://www.bluesrevue.com/

He was a great great guitarist and musician. Period. I only wish I could have seen him live a few times, or been there when he was jamming late at night with Clapton, Johnny Winter, and/or Steve Winwood.

Robert said...

"Hendrix is the all time virtuoso master of the guitar."

Don't get me wrong, Hendrix is great, but you have to look at his work in a certain context. You have to listen to what was being done back then to understand how Hendrix was influential. But if you want to simply compare him to guitarists before and since, Hendrix is fairly easily outclassed by any number of guys who can play circles around him.

I can name a few.

Frank Zappa
Steve Vai
Mike Keneally
Joe Satriani
Dave Mustaine
Yngwie Malmsteen
John Petrucci
Eddie Van Halen

If you want to talk about virtuosos, those guys could teach Hendrix a thing or two.

"Only Vaughan and Hendrix could actually play lead and rhythm simultaneously."

lolwhut? It's not hard, actually.

Tim said...

Art more important than politics? No. Possibly great art; but what about all the art, especially great art (i.e., the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo) directed or funded by power? This soon becomes a "chicken or the egg" argument.

garage mahal said...

It's not how you play it's how you sound. He had unmatched tone, buckets of soul, and was such an underrated pop songwriter.

We'll never know if he would have had a really long creative career (like David Bowie) or would have become some sort of lame sixties relic.

He talked a lot about getting a big band together like Sly before he died, that would be my guess.

Trooper York said...

You know my favorite Jethro Tull album is "Living in the Past."

But I haven't listened to it in a while.

Skyler said...

Why is art more important than politics. I realize it was a throw away line, but especially with the nihilistic postmodern state of art out there today this hardly seems true -- and if true it is a sorry reflection on what we consider important.

Art is not more important than anything. Art is a mirror of what we find important. Art is a symptom of the decay of our culture, it does not sit above it.

Paddy O said...

"which, of course, it is."

This is like saying that a stroll through the forest is more important than a 100 meter sprint.

The one is going to resonate longer. But the other is going to have a whole lot of excitement and be more interesting in the short-term.

The one will help transform your perception. The other will more immediately help shape your present circumstances.

The one is more important if you have lots of leisure time and few concerns. The other is more important if you're being chased by a man with a sharp knife.

Art will help you feel like a person again. Politics will get you more blog hits.

Oligonicella said...

"which, of course, it is."

Which, of course, is an opinion, not a fact.

Rialby said...

I was just going to write - why haven't they made a movie about Hendrix's life? Then I googled and discovered the estate doesn't want the music used? Crazy.

Speaking of which - they really should make a movie about the life and death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. His addiction, redemption and sudden death...

Paddy O said...

Art is a mirror of what we find important. Art is a symptom of the decay of our culture, it does not sit above it.

I'd agree with this, especially in regards to so much contemporary art, or at least the art that gets the most press.

I don't think art sits above culture, but it sometimes sits in ahead of it.

Most art, though, sits well behind the culture, a clanging symbol of what some think those in importance want. Art can be prophetic. It's most often sycophantic.

rhhardin said...

Sliding fingers along a cello fingerboard is a crutch for finding the right pitch, when the next note is more than a small jump away.

Du Pre even does it here.

Which is why the initial pizzicato part is better than the rest.

Paddy O said...

But politics is the same exact way. And even the best politics does not age well.

Though, as I think about it, the best artists resonate with the best politicians.

We remember Michelangelo with fondness, but very few really care about the excesses of Pope Leo X. But if Leo X had been an extraordinarily holy man with an interest in a real Christian leadership, he could have transformed the world in a way Michelangelo only echoes.

We remember, some of us, Ronald Reagan, who provided a context that filled the world with a new sense of hope and freedom. He will be remembered and debated.

Christo, however, draped public spots with fabric, and will be forgotten as a holdout to modernist, egotistic attempts to constrain nature and impose his own identity upon it, an identity that mostly just has the ability to be uprooted in the wind and kill the occasional tourist.

Reagan was much more important to the 80s than just about any, and maybe every, artist. Even if you don't like him, the man shaped the global conversation in a profound way and everything shifted after him.

Jason said...

I learned everything on "Are You Experienced?" and "Axis, Bold as Love," note-for-note. That, along with whatever time I spent learning Bach preludes, generated the best musical return on investment of my time I ever had.

Not the solos, so much, which were great. But his R&B chord work. Stunning.

Most guitar players to this day just play the same chord pattern, same fingerings, verse after verse. Not Jimi. From his very first album, he was varying each verse, each phrase, to make it sound different from the 8 bars before. "Hey Joe" is a great example. He didn't repeat a fill. He wasn't stuck on barre chords, Indeed, compared to other guitar players, he very rarely used them.

He also had an amazing sense of musical drama.

He had innovative compositional sense. A lot of guys could write "Hey Joe" (Hendrix didn't - it was a cover). But not just anyone would have come up with the brilliant chromatic figure at the end - and throw it in at just the right time, without abusing the privilege.

Little Wing still sounds great today. Very little of his stuff sounds dated. Cream sounds dated. Much of Led Zeppelin sounds dated. Hey Joe sounds great today. All Along the Watchtower sounds great today.

Speaking of AAtW, lots of guitar players could play a great solo over those three chords: Cm, B, A. Hendrix conceived and played four solos, one after another, each building on the last, each one unique, and each one standing alone would have been a song-making hit, and counted among the great solos of his time.

To draw a contrast - I love me some Jimmy Page. And if he were to play over the same song, he could easily have conceived one of them.

As a musician and guitar player, I believe his untimely death was the greatest loss in pop music history.

RIP, Jimmy James.

Jason said...

What I meant to say that Jimmy Page could have conceived any of the All Along The Watchtower solos. He would not have conceived four of them.

DonLokk said...

There was an interview with Clapton in the late 60's, after Hendrix blew up in London (managed by Chas Chandler)where he said that the English all bought into the idea that Blacks had big dicks and that Hendrix and Chandler exploited that belief to the max. I loved his playing but the publicity engine took off that way.

PatCA said...

I saw Hendrix years ago. He was fabulous!

Richard Fagin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Fagin said...

Seems to be a bit of Kurt Colbain type nostalgia going on here. Hendrix is lionized as much because he was a wacked out dope fiend as because of his music skills. Same for Janis Joplin.

All time guitar virtuoso? Hardly. That title properly belongs to Chet Atkins.

The Crack Emcee said...

"art is more important than politics"

Of course it is.

And the only guitarist to carry the Hendrix legacy forward - as opposed to aping him, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan, or fumbling to top him - is Living Colour's Vernon Reid. (Prince does a good stylistic impersonation, though.) Reid's playing is, as far as I know, the only living embodiment of what Hendrix may have done had he lived.

I'd just like to point out, also, that not one of the other guitarists listed above goes near rap music - which, as far as I'm concerned, proves they aren't heirs to Hendrix in the least:

Hendrix led the parade - he didn't avoid it.

The Crack Emcee said...

Richard Fagin,

"All time guitar virtuoso? Hardly. That title properly belongs to Chet Atkins."

Dude, I love Chet Atkins, but come on. Hendrix redefined the instrument, performance, songwriting, culture - he was a shooting star - and he (tragically, but fittingly) burned out like one, too.

But, like Hendrix, there is only one Chet Atkins (and he doesn't get his due).

Jason said...

Well, so did Atkins.

I saw Chet live when I was 14 or so. Changed my life.

I'm still working on his arrangement of "Vincent" to this day. I can play it, but still can't get the music out of it like Atkins.

The only recordings of it I've heard are of very poor quality, or made when he was older and not as sharp anymore.

Still, while I would regard Atkins and Hendrix as towering musical giants, they were not technical virtuosos. There's a difference.

Atkins was not a virtuoso. Pepe Romero and Kazuhito Yamashita are virtuosos of fingerstyle guitar. I think Atkins was a better musician than Yamashita. Romero, on the other hand, was amazing at both.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I am reminded of something my granduncle Bill used to say in his Missouri accent:

De gustibus non disputandum est.

I can't vouch for the Latin, but I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Are apples better than oranges? You'd better answer correctly or I'll have to take you down a peg.

Clyde said...

My latest addition to my CD collection arrived today: A two-on-one CD of Gram Parsons' two solo albums, G.P. and Grievous Angel. Parsons' bio is very similar to Hendrix's: Dead at age 26 of an overdose of alcohol and heroin. A different musical style, but still very influential, and a tragic loss for music. Like so many artists who died young, there's no telling what great music we missed out on.

Carol said...

As a teenage girl I found the Hendrix persona very unsettling! It was like the modern version of Valentino's Sheik, where's he's coming at the heroine, as Hendrix says in Foxy Lady - "I'm comin to GIT ya!" Yeoww he was scary. I felt that he would chew up and spit out young white girls like me by the dozens..

So, I didn't have a thing for him personally but did traipse down to the Shrine Auditorium in LA to see him with the Electric Flag and Blue Cheer...and got stuck in the downtown bus depot all night afterward for my efforts. They didn't let you just lie down anywhere to sleep in those days.

jr565 said...

Crack Emcee wrote:
Dude, I love Chet Atkins, but come on. Hendrix redefined the instrument, performance, songwriting, culture - he was a shooting star - and he (tragically, but fittingly) burned out like one, too.


It's so hard to actually rank guitarists or artists as people are playing for different reasons, with different goals (ie, making sweet melodies versus trying to get maximum feedback versus playing as many notes as possible, versus playing the exact right note for the song). Which is best?
Personally, I like Hendrix, but don't love him. I think he was probably better live, than on record and I never saw him live (before my time). On record, he's hampered by a pedestrian voice and a very good bar band as backing. Versus say a Led Zeppelin which had a tremendous drummer and a virtuoso bassist and a vocalist that was like a banshee (if you're into that). And who prior to Led Zeppelin were arrangers for other peoples music. THe Rolling Stones She's Like a Rainbow with that catchy piano was arranged by Jones, and Page was a session player on countless British Invasion singles. So they were, I think, better at creating records.

Also Hendrix like all artists is a person of a certain time. Is he better than a Vernon Reid technically, or was he just there first and thus gets more credit than others who are technically more proficient?
In my mind a lot of what he does sounds sloppy, and someone like a Van Halen would mop the floor with him technically. But does that mean I like Van Halen better? Probably not. That's another band that has a great guitar player, but pedestrian backing musicians.
I think ultimately to truly understand Hendrix's brilliance you had to be around at the time, at one of his shows and seeing both the crowd and his theatrics live. That's where he made peoples jaws drop. It loses something when it's recorded, even visually.
A lot of his records sound dated in a way that a Beatles doesn't, because again, The Beatles were out to make records and compositions, and Hendrix, was in essence a live performer who's songs were there to focus his guitar playing.

jr565 said...

As an addendum to my post, its true that Hendrix was also a session player on a lot of records too. But he had a different focus than a Page or a Jones. I think both of them are better composers, while also technically brilliant. Hendrix, may be more even more technically flashy than both, especially live, but don't think he was as good at creating records.

Clyde said...

Factual correction: That should have read "alcohol and morphine." Parsons had kicked heroin, according to the Wikipedia bio I read earlier today...

jamboree said...

Really enjoying the comments/conversation in this thread.

jr565 said...

DonLokk wrote:
There was an interview with Clapton in the late 60's, after Hendrix blew up in London (managed by Chas Chandler)where he said that the English all bought into the idea that Blacks had big dicks and that Hendrix and Chandler exploited that belief to the max. I loved his playing but the publicity engine took off that way.


Actualy, we can find out Hendrix's exact size as he recorded it for posterity.
http://www.cynthiapcaster.org/casts/_dicks/casts_hendrix_page/hendrix_page.htm
(if you're into that stuff). Though even here, are these casts actually accurate? Not sure how aroused you'd be if your dick was encased in plaster so it might be cause your penis size to vary (just as George Costanza was caught coming out of the pool after his penis had shrunk do to being in cold water).

Jason said...

Mitch Mitchell? "pedestrian?" A "bar band" backer?

Are you on crack?

jr565 said...
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jr565 said...

One last thing regarding Hendrix. Perhaps hes great because baby boomers are the ones that determine what is relevant. All the kids who grew up in the 60's are determining what is artistically relevant. They were all wowed by Hendrix and he became a seminal experience in their lives.Is Hendrix better than say a Billie Holiday, or a Benny Goodman or some classical composer?
Chuck Berry had Roll Over Beethoven. Classical was out and now Rock & Roll was cool. But now Chuck Berry is an oldie and he'd be rolling over in his grave (if he were actually dead that is).
Maybe just maybe, the only reason Jimi Hendrix is a god is because he got the right people's ear at the right time. And nowadays if he came out with his stuff he'd be lucky to get a record deal. (Not because he wasn't great, but only because his type of music wouldn't sell nowadays and if he was a newer artist, he'd inevitably be compared to older more famous artists who'd be considered better because that's what baby boomers consider great).

jr565 said...

Jason wrote:
Mitch Mitchell? "pedestrian?" A "bar band" backer?

Are you on crack?

I said a VERY GOOD bar band. Pedestrian in the sense that he's backing Hendrix and can only pale in comparison. Everyone's there to see the star, Hendrix. The other guys in the background are competent, even very good. But theyre not what the people are coming to see. If Hendrix had another drummer instead of Mitchell, he'd still be backup to the main attraction.

Jack Wayne said...

Watch Jimi play a RIGHT-handed guitar upside down and left-handed and tell me you don't get why he was the best ever. He had to re-invent every chord, every run, everything. Jeeez, Louise! How can you not know that???

jr565 said...

Crack Emcee wrote:
And the only guitarist to carry the Hendrix legacy forward - as opposed to aping him, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan, or fumbling to top him - is Living Colour's Vernon Reid. (Prince does a good stylistic impersonation, though.) Reid's playing is, as far as I know, the only living embodiment of what Hendrix may have done had he lived.

But does that make Vernon or Jimi Hendrix great? It sounds like you're comparing what Vernon is trying to do versus what Jimi is trying to do and saying that Vernon comes closest to achieving Jimiism. Yet, other guitarists aren't trying to do Jimi Hendrix,but are they worse because of it? Jimi Hendrix wasn't trying to do bluesgrass or classical, if someone is doing those genres they won't come near what Hendrix was doing as they are operating under completley different perameters.


"I'd just like to point out, also, that not one of the other guitarists listed above goes near rap music - which, as far as I'm concerned, proves they aren't heirs to Hendrix in the least:

Hendrix led the parade - he didn't avoid it.


Is that a positive of Jimi Hendrix, or a negative of rap music though? Jimi Hendrix was formerly a rhythm blues player so woudn't those who play R&B gravitate towards sounds that are closest to what they're playing or sampling? You don't hear too many rap songs sampling banjo music for example. Don't think that shoudl invalidate either banjo music (or rap for that matter)

Cedarford said...

Jack Wayne said...
Watch Jimi play a RIGHT-handed guitar upside down and left-handed and tell me you don't get why he was the best ever. He had to re-invent every chord, every run, everything. Jeeez, Louise! How can you not know that???
=====================
Because that is just a mental and physical dexterity trick. Of all people, President Garfield had something like that. A classics scholar and truly ambidextrous, he could talk in English while in real time writing the Latin and Greek translations with his left and right hands.
Or read a Latin text and write the English and Greek translations simultaneously with his hands - then - halfway through - shift the translation.

Was Garfield the greatest classics scholar ever because of this trick?
No.
But he did some amazing spectacular tricks.

Past the gimmickry, Hendrix was a technical innovator, one of the best ever - but if you listen, for all his innovation - he was sloppy.
People like Clapton, Eddie Van Halen are cleaner players. Other lead guitarists were better ARTISTS.

However, he slotted in perfectly in the acid rock years. Then died when demand for him was still high and right when boomer boys were worshipping guitar heroes.

jamboree said...

Cleaner v more innovative doesn't make someone a better artist, it makes them a better technician or maybe a better craftsman. Innovation and beauty make you a better artist. (I feel obsolete for even including beauty, but I will.)

The Crack Emcee said...

jr565,

I'm at work so I can't answer all of your questions but here's what I got:

I agree that Hendrix outshone his band - and not just because he was the star: the band was pedestrian. When you think of the folks Hendrix played with/hung with - James Brown, The Isley Brothers, ZZ Top, even - The Experience was lame. Jimi just made do with what he was given, which was fine, but he knew better.

2) "Hendrix like all artists is a person of a certain time. Is he better than a Vernon Reid technically, or was he just there first and thus gets more credit than others who are technically more proficient?"

The latter.

"It sounds like you're comparing what Vernon is trying to do versus what Jimi is trying to do and saying that Vernon comes closest to achieving Jimiism."

No - Vernon Reid takes "Jimiism" to new places - without even considering Hendrix. He's like an artist who's mastered what he needs to know and now doesn't bother with the rules, or what he's been taught - he just creates with confidence.

"You don't hear too many rap songs sampling banjo music"

Not too many, but they do it (Prefuse 73 immediately comes to mind): Rap's afraid of nothing - and neither was Hendrix. Many artists, despite their outstanding contributions, use that "it's not music" excuse to avoid exploring a new direction - it's a song without a bass line! Whoda thunk it? - while the form runs away to, literally, change the world and make them all look like fools. Vernon plays everything, with everyone (He started with Jagger, I think) unafraid.

The rest are cowards and/or cultural supremacists.

The Crack Emcee said...

From one of John's commenters - backing up my point about Jimi's approach vs. most of the popular guitarists today:

"Hendrix was capable of communicating the most intense feelings through his playing and his unique approach (lefty with righty stringing), electronic innovations (he employed a brilliant tech/engineer to create novel one-off components) set him apart from his peers. Most of all, he was open to diverse inluences, incorporating jazz, folk, blues and even country into his music. He collaborated with everyone-from 15 year old guitar prodigy Randy Wolfe (whom he renamed 'California') to Miles Davis. This openess, curiosity and generosity served him well. He created something new by fusing diverse influences into a reframing of soul music. The tired, plastic and sterile tropes of Motown received a complete makeover as Hendrix added psychedlia, folk and blues, with a nod to jazz pioneers, to the equation...and best of all, translated it into a winning and approachable commercial-pop form."

Like i said: unafraid. It's all to be played - and played with - for the benefit of all.

Revenant said...

I consider him the greatest rock guitarist of all time because he did more great guitar-rock songs than anyone else I'm aware of.

There was an energy to his performances like nothing else I've seen.

Palladian said...
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Palladian said...

I don't (and never did) listen to a lot of rock or pop. But I loved Hendrix, after finding his records in the orange-painted wooden ammunition crate in my grandparent's basement, the remnant of one of my uncle's youth.

Besides the hundreds of classical and opera records down there, which were my first love and formed my early musical education (stored on shelves also made from old wooden ammunition crates), the orange-painted crate with its Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Dylan, and Beatles, made a big impression on me.

People think of the sixties and its music as a watershed of liberalism and leftist politics. But what I picked up from the music in that spray-painted ammo crate had nothing to do with liberalism and everything to do with art, skepticism, and forging your own path. In other words, freedom.

Music, my ammunition, all of it.

FormerTucsonan said...

Watch Jimi play a RIGHT-handed guitar upside down and left-handed and tell me you don't get why he was the best ever. He had to re-invent every chord, every run, everything. Jeeez, Louise! How can you not know that???

The same way you obviously don't know that all a left handed guitarist needs to do is flip the guitar and reverse the string order. Then he can use the same chords and scales as everyone else.

FormerTucsonan said...

And the only guitarist to carry the Hendrix legacy forward - as opposed to aping him, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan,...

Not true Crack, SRV spent most of his time trying to be a white Albert King.

Robin Trower has always been one one aping Jimi.