Legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix (aka Johnny Allen Hendrix) was born on November 27th, 1942 in Seattle, WA, which means he would have been 70 years old today. Having passed away on September 18, 1970 in London, the man has become more or less a myth over the past four decades — especially for my generation.
He’s always been there; passed to us by our parents, older cousins, rock ‘n’ roll radio, or other mediums of pop culture. In fact, he’s one of the most influential guitarists of all time, with descendants ranging from Prince to John Frusciante, Questlove to Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, and Chuck D to Les Claypool. Head down any American college dormitory hallway, and you’re guaranteed to catch his mug once or twice, likely watching over some young student’s guitar amp or gazing from underneath a black light.
Full disclosure: That’s exactly why I once suffered from Hendrix Fatigue.
In high school, I abused Are You Experienced, recycling each listen again and again until I swore I knew every note to “Manic Depression” or “Remember” on my piece of shit Squier. (Spoiler alert: I never did.) Come freshman year of college, I had every track to Electric Ladyland or Axis: Bold of Love committed to memory, and that commitment became a bombardment and that bombardment soon became a true annoyance. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I loved the songs, but hated that they lacked the original punch that made them so poignant to me originally. So, without much hesitation, I swore off Jimi.
Until there came a revelation: My roommate passed me a copy of Hendrix’s posthumous collection Blues. Stringing together 11 rough recordings from the man’s past, the 72 minute exercise in simplicity is pure bliss. From the hazy rustic crooner “Hear My Train A Comin” to the tenderized alternate take of “Voodoo Chile”, dubbed “Voodoo Chile Blues” here, it’s a laid back afternoon that’s always within one’s reach.
There’s a lot of history hidden behind each track, too, especially within covers of Muddy Waters (“Mannish Boy”), Booker T. Jones (“Born Under a Bad Sign”), and Elmore James (“Bleeding Heart”). These latter three keep it traditional Jimi, sporting reworked arrangements that neighborhood guitarists only wish they could dream up. In some respects, it’s an intimate portrayal of a fiery man that thrived on the distortion, chaos, and theatrics. It’s like hearing him for the first time again.
With news of another posthumous album on the way, one that promises to reveal another new side to the famed guitarist, it would appear that the late musician has many youthful years left in him. And although my lazy days of air drumming to “Crosstown Traffic” in my Jetta are long behind me, it’s pretty far out that new experiences are still lurking down the road.
Though, really, it’s still doubtful I’ll ever swing “Manic Depression” on guitar.