The first thing I heard by Jimi Hendrix was Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).
And then the smelling salts. When I was back on two legs, I remember
asking my dad if he knew anything about this guy that sounded like
nothing else I’d heard. He laughed and reeled off the names of a few
of the classic hits – smiling, remembering that his old covers band used
to play them. My mum knew this stuff too. She liked Fire. And Foxy Lady.
Purple Haze. And Watchtower too.
But before I heard any of those things it was Voodoo and Stone Free
and Highway Chile. And they were amazing to me. And they still are. And
I bought whatever I could find by Jimi Hendrix. There were so many cheap
cassette tapes – and it was lucky dip, basically. A drunken meander with
Jim Morrison, billed as the second coming. Songs from near the end that were
re-recorded by session players – and maybe all you need is those Experience
studio albums and the Band of Gypsys and a couple of the other live things.
My favourite, for so many years, was this tape called The Jimi Hendrix
Concerts. It’s got this killer version of I Don’t Live Today. It starts with
a drum solo. There’s Red House too. All the other songs I’ve already mentioned
and of course Little Wing and Hey Joe and Wild Thing. Holy shit, you needed
a cup of tea and a lie down after – or during – hearing this thing; a long-play
cassette, it was a double vinyl LP. And I had a copy of that for a while and I regret
selling it. And I’ll probably buy it again. I don’t actually own very much by Hendrix.
It’s not that I’ve heard it all – but I gave it a bloody good go. And though I’m
not hanging out for any long lost deep cuts or for any of the live boxed sets
I haven’t already heard there is a lot I probably should go back to. I listened to
the original albums in the space of a couple of days just a year ago or so. And it
knocked me down once again. This was something else. And it still feels that way.
And maybe I should whisper this next part – but I’m a big fan of this compilation
called “Blues”. It features some acoustic playing and various band jams and demos
and I reckon it’s some of his very best playing. It shows what a bluesman he was,
or rather how blues playing informed what he did. He was able to transcend his
influences while paying tribute to them – all his motivations there and clear to
hear. Fuck what a player. I love that thing that Neil Young said when talking about
Hendrix. He talked about how you could see the electricity flowing from the guitar
and through him. It was, he said, “flying everywhere”. There’s obviously more
that can be said and there’s been so much said about Hendrix but no one said
it better than that. I’ve never really written about Jimi. Maybe once or twice, in
passing. I’ve never sat down and tried to dig right in. It’s just music that blew
my mind when I was young. And I feel like I’ve lived on the memories of that
ever since. There are only a few players that bring their own version of something
they are serving in tribute to Hendrix. I’m talking about players like Jeff Beck and
Bill Frisell and Neil Young and Stevie Ray Vaughan. There are others – but they
get close to the heart of it I think. And that’s the important thing to remember always.
The heart. There were so many boozy jams and bluesy solos and there was
a blur, definitely. But the thing he had no on else could quite grasp. And
so much of it was down to miles on the road and a vision of wanting to escape, to
dream big, to seek and search and reach as high as he could (while getting
as high as he could). But at the core the best of the work is simply music that knocks you down. Smacks your head around, steals your heart. Shows you its heart in return. I listen to Hendrix when I want to be moved, when I want to feel groove, to discover; to learn.