Anyone who’s watched video of Jimi Hendrix (or was lucky enough to see him in person) knows that his LIVE, improvisational guitar performances are unparalleled. His early reputation of wild child shaman boogie man was something many of us not only revered, but we saw that persona as an ultimate expression of who we thought we might want to be (us guys anyway).
As much as Jimi was the epitome of masculine style for us hippie-heads back in the day (gotta admit I was 9 – 12 when he was peaking) his stage presence with all its cosmic force and roaring witch doctor invention was what truly made you want to “Be Like Jimi.”
Here’s the interesting thing, though: musically, as brilliant and inspiring as his creative stage performances could be, it was his work in the studio crafting, creating, and massaging songs that was his true brilliance. The video below provides a good example of this genius and its effect.
Jimi wrote “The Wind Cries Mary” one night after arriving in England, and the next day The Experience recorded it on the fly during the last 20-minutes of studio time they’d paid for that day.
Watch the short video below for words from the cats who were there. It was just supposed to be a first-run demo kind of thing. Jimi kept figuring out new things he wanted to do with the guitar as they went along, so they kept dubbing these inventions in as fast as they could. I’m putting a link to the song at the end of this piece, too, so you can see the final product performed live just a few months later.
Note here what Eddie Kramer points out about Jimi playing the song’s chords softly while he sings the vocals. Jimi was very insecure about his voice. He needed to hug a guitar to his chest in order to sing the lyrics of one of the most beautiful songs that came out of the psychedelic era, something he’d written not 24-hours earlier. It’s such a treat for us 47 years later to have Kramer break down that moment.
The studio-Jimi, the composer-Jimi, and the techno-Jimi were the secret geniuses that we don’t think about enough. Go back and listen to those first albums (Are You Experienced?, Axis Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland). His genius is still steaming in the air after nearly 50 years if you listen carefully enough.
What I want to know, though, is how he was able to be so gosh darned endlessly creative. I mean, we’re talking floating out above the heavens with his energy and musical soul all the time, every waking hour of every day. Yeah, it was the pinnacle moment in his life. Many gifted artists have their most prolific years from about 22 to 28 or so. Young synapses fire constantly. I remember so many of my friends when we were at that age (in the late ’70s and early ’80s), so many ideas, so much nascent art and political thinking percolating out of every orifice we had. But what we were doing obviously wasn’t as profound or freaking playfully connected to Infinity the way Jimi’s work was.
Maybe his creativity was partly more a function of all the people who were around him, along with being part of a moment in recording history when new tricks and gadgets were part of everyday music engineering for the first time ever. Obviously, there were more than a few insanely important artists roaming the world back then, bumping into each other, influencing one another and competing. And maybe, too, all the people around Jimi everyday, plus all the fans (and in those days we all knew good music when we heard it), inspired a palpable confidence in him, which in turn amped up the creative output, which in turn meant further acceptance and confidence, etc.
No one has come along since then with that level of fearless genius. No one. There’s a lot of talent out there, but no one comes close to that kind of creative force…in my opinion.
This is the second installment in a series on real people’s thoughts about Jimi and what he meant to them…and to modern music. Listen to the song:
“And you know, good and well, it would be beyond the will of God.”
Also published on Medium.