If I could hang out with any rock star, dead or alive, I think I would like to spend time with Jimi Hendrix. Considered by many as the greatest rock guitarist of all time, Jimi would have been 68 years old next month…and it seems impossible that he’s been gone for 40 years.
When most people think of Hendrix, they immediately think of his guitar playing, and with good reason. However, I also consider Jimi a very good songwriter. Along with classics like “Purple Haze”, “Fire” and “Foxy Lady,” check out the lyrics to “Angel” and “Little Wing.” Hendrix had great vocal abilities, too, as witnessed on “All Along The Watchtower” and “Crosstown Traffic,” which is probably my favorite Hendrix tune.
But what appeals to me the most the more I read about Jimi Hendrix is that he seemed like a really cool guy. In his book “Ronnie”, Ron Wood talks about sharing a flat in London with Hendrix, and describes him as a very laid back, down-to-earth dude who hated his voice and overall didn’t consider himself as anything special. My friend James Fairs, who gained fame with the 60’s band The Cryan’ Shames, told me that he had spent a few days with Hendrix. He said that Hendrix often put himself down and always praised other musicians. James said that a good way to describe Jimi was when they were sitting somewhere and a girl walked by and stumbled a little bit. Hendrix immediately got up to help and her and started saying things like, “That was probably my fault…my big feet always get in the way.”
My favorite Hendrix story comes from Walter Parazaider, the sax player from the band Chicago. He said that he was introduced to Hendrix and started chatting with him. Hendrix asked Parazaider who the band’s lead guitarist was, and when Walter told him that his name was Terry Kath, Hendrix replied, “Your guitar player is better than me.” A short time later, Hendrix reportedly was onstage when he said, “You gotta check out this guy Terry Kath. His band is CTA. He’s the best guitar player in the universe.” Parazaider always ended the story by saying, “Can you imagine Jimi Hendrix telling you that your guitar player was better than him? That says a lot about Terry.”
I think it also says a lot about Hendrix. Read his bio sometime and you’ll see some of the hardships he overcame to get to the status he achieved. Unfortunately, he was just one of those guys who wasn’t destined to live past 30. And even though it’s been 40 years since his death, people still marvel at his talent.
Since this is officially a “Rick’s Picks” installment, I feel compelled to choose my favorite Hendrix album. They all have moments of greatness, but, like my Zep review, I must once again go with first effort. Track for track, “Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (Hendrix on vocals and guitar, Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums) is an excellent first album. It includes hits like the aforementioned “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady”, but also includes his breakthrough, “Hey Joe”, along with the totally psychedelic title cut and the balls-to-the-wall “Fire.” It’s simply a great album. I remember buying it when I was a kid, and still love it to this day. It was the reason I always lined my room with Hendrix posters all through high school and college.
Several years ago, when we were visiting family in Seattle, I visited Jimi’s grave. At the time, it just had a small, simple stone with a Fender Strat etched into it and the epitaph “Forever in our hearts…James M. “Jimi” Hendrix…1942-1970”. It seemed very small compared to his talent, but from everything I’ve heard and read about him, it seems perfectly fitting. These days, there is a huge monument dedicated to Hendrix, but the original stone is still at the center of it.
Fly on, my sweet angel…fly on through the sky.