Personalities | Jimi Hendrix | The Guitar Experience | Guitar Heroes

Jimi Hendrix remains the most innovative and influential rock guitarist in the world. He changed the way the guitar was played, transforming its possibilities and its image. Other guitarists had toyed with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned these and other effects into a controlled, personalized sound that generations of guitarists since have emulated and embellished.

He was left-handed and played his favourite guitar, a right-handed Fender Stratocaster, upside down and re-strung, giving him a different perspective on the Fender’s tremolo arm and enabling him to bend notes and chords without the strings going out of tune. He never stopped looking for ways to get new sounds out of the guitar, from electronic gadgets he could plug into it, to the experimental techniques he employed in the studio.

Hendrix’s career was remarkably brief. He was born in Seattle in 1942, but there was no hint of success before he moved to England in 1966 after being spotted in a New York club by Chas Chandler, bassist with the recently disbanded Animals. Hendrix had started playing guitar in 1958, three years before he joined the army. He was discharged because of a broken ankle in 1962 and spent the next four years as a touring musician with, among others, Little Richard, The Isley Brothers and Curtis Knight.

Arriving in England, Hendrix formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. He recorded a version of ‘Hey Joe’, creating a buzz that launched his career. His second single, ‘Purple Haze’, early in 1967, galvanized the music scene. Are You Experienced (1967) was an audacious debut album, drawing on a whole range of styles and influences and opening up a new world of guitar sounds that included flanging, double tracking and variable recording speeds.

Hendrix returned to America in the summer of 1967 to play the Monterey Pop Festival, a stunning debut that was captured on film. Before he returned to England, he recorded ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, which showcased the recently introduced wah-wah pedal, making it another weapon in the Hendrix arsenal.

Barely six months after his first album, Axis: Bold As Love (1967) pushed the sonic innovations, particularly the phasing technique, still further and fused his rhythm and blues influences with the music he had heard in England. An instant hit album in the UK, the album also spent a year on the American charts, and Hendrix spent much of 1968 touring his home country.

Electric Ladyland (1968) was his most ambitious and successful record, with 16 songs spread across a double album, ranging from the futuristic funk of ‘Crosstown Traffic’ to the emblematic style of ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’. But if Hendrix’s music was peaking, tensions were growing within his band. As Hendrix jammed with a widening circle of musicians in the studio, Redding in particular became irritated. In June 1969, Hendrix disbanded the Experience and formed a new band called Gypsy Sun And Rainbow that included bassist Billy...

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