On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix was found dead by drowning in his own vomit in the Hotel Samarkand, at 22 Lansdowne Crescent, in Notting Hill. The man who had a leading role in the ‘big bang’ of the electric guitar and had become the definitive rock star had died. In little over three years of a career as a soloist, he turned the rock world upside down and had turned into an idol for the greats, from Dylan to McCartney, and Neil Young and Clapton. His career was like a brilliant meteor that slammed into our planet at full speed for a very short time, and whose impact changed everything. In such a brief career he had time to do it all, among other things, to leave a few, but brilliant versions to other artists. A few songs that give us a glimpse of his influences, but also of how he transformed those influences into something personal and his own.
10. Bleeding Heart
Jimi Hendrix came from the blues, his idols were people like Buddy Guy and Elmore James, but unlike the white guitarists who made that music famous, Hendrix did something new, he carried the Delta blues into the stratosphere. As Pete Townshend once said, Hendrix came to England to reclaim his music, and thrashing all the rest of them. One of his big influences was Elmore James and one song that usually appeared in his repertoire was Bleeding Heart, a number he already played while he was with Curtis Knight and the Squires in the mid-60s. He recorded three different versions of the song in 1969 at Record Plant studio in New York that showed how he was slowly making it his own . The most faithful to the original appears on the album Blues, the most brilliant is much faster and hendrix-esque and appears on Valleys of Neptune, with an incredible solo, while the 3rd, with a totally funky bass line, sees the light on People, Hell and Angels.
9. Killing floor
Jimi Hendrix arrived in London at 9 in the morning on September 24, 1966, with little more than a change of clean clothes in his suitcase and his Fender Stratocaster. In less than a week he had killed the God of guitars, occupied his throne forever and took the city like a hurricane let loose. On September 30 Chas Chandler, ex-bassman for the Animals and the man that brought him over to make him a star, took him to the London Polytechnic on Regent St. to see Cream, the supergroup that had just recently got together with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and the God of guitars Eric Clapton. Hendrix asked Chandler to let him play with them and they accepted. In the middle of the performance they called him up on stage, so he did, plugged the Stratocaster into Bruce’s amp and asked if they knew Killing Floor by Howlin’ Wolf, a song Clapton always found hard to play, and without waiting for an answer, he launched into it, in a few seconds the life of Clapton, as he would later confess, changed forever. What seemed impossible had just happened, here was someone who not only played better than him, but, on top of it all, he did it in exciting ways, played with his teeth, behind his back...Clapton left the stage and retired to the dressing room, Chandler was right behind him to see what had happened, Clapton was shaking, couldn’t light a cigarette, when Chandler came in he screamed at him, “You didn’t tell me he was so fucking good!”. There are no sound tests on this mythic version but Killing Floor remained on Hendrix’s live songlist for many years, maybe the version that sounds most like it is the one at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, on October 18, 1966, although you can also hear it in his legendary performance in Monterrey, at the Winterland in San Francisco or in the BBC sessions.
8. Like a rolling stone
Hendrix was a real devotee of Dylan, when he was still not well known he almost caused a fight in a juke joint in Harlem when he asked them to play Blowin’ in the Wind and it caused an evacuation of the dance floor, he is also known as the one who chose Noel Redding as a member of the Experience due to his haircut, which reminded him of the Nobel in Literature winner, so it’s not surprising that he covered several of his songs. One of his favourites was Like a Rolling Stone, a song he had adapted with Curtis Knight on a recording called How Would You Feel? In 1965, where his new arrangement for the guitar can be found, slowing the tempo of the song, which would be the basis for his live versions. The most popular is the one he did in the show in Monterrey Festival with his black Stratocaster, and where he introduced Redding as Dylan’s grandmother, although he kept playing it in 1968 as his recording in Winterland shows.
7. Come On, Pt. 1
On the three studio records in his life, there are hardly any covers, one of the few exceptions is Come On, also known as Let the Good Times Roll, by Earl King. And of course, he made a radical adaptation , taking an R&B tune to planet Hendrix, in a version that is much faster, heavier rock and one of his strongest solos where he once again takes the blues to an outside place with his effective use of the wah wah. It was the last song they recorded for Electric Ladyland, on only one take live, which became the last song recorded by the Experience, and therefore, homage must be paid to the great work of the rhythm section of Redding on bass and the amazing Mitch Mitchell on drums.
6. Johnny B. Goode
Johnny B. Goode is one of the most important songs in rock history, possibly the most important in rock guitar history. There isn’t a group or artist who hasn’t covered it, nor any beginner who hasn’t played, or tried to play Chuck Berry’s riff. Yet, among the thousands of versions, there is none better than Hendrix’s, which is quite logical when you consider that the lyrics fit like ring to finger. And if there is anyone in the world who can say that “he could play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell”, it is him.
5. Star Spangled Banner
There is likely no other festival in rock history more legendary than Woodstock, over those 3 days of “peace, love, and music” there is not a moment more remembered than when Hendrix played the American national anthem with his white Fender Stratocaster Olympic from ‘68. A lot has been written about this incredible performance in which Hendrix protests the war in Vietnam, imitating explosions, alarms, screaming, and machine gun fire, with his guitar. There is even a moment when he plays the trumpet phrase heard at the military funerals of the fallen soldiers they brought home. His mastery of the guitar reaches a new level of expressiveness that manages to recreate the chaos of war and destruction. When he died, Mitch Mitchell kept the guitar, which had serial #240981, until he sold it at an auction in 1990 for £198,000, a record at the time. Not long after they say Paul Allen bought it for $2 million, and presented it to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Hendrix’s birthplace, where it still resides today.
4. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
On Sunday, June 4, 1967, Paul McCartney and George Harrison went to the Saville Theatre in London to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the two Beatles, especially McCartney, were big fans of the guitarist but neither was ready to see and hear what he had prepared for them. The Thursday before, the legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released , which opened with the title song, so nobody expected that when the curtains opened here was Hendrix playing a cover of the song. McCartney still considers it to be one of the highest honours he has ever received in his career, and relishes telling the story whenever he can. Including the amazing solo where Hendrix goes all the way on his vibrato bar, which put the guitar completely out of tune. After finishing the performance, with the audience still in shock, Hendrix fired his last shot, “Is Eric Clapton here? Could he come up to tune my guitar?...” Of course Clapton was there, he never missed any of his performances.
3. Wild Thing
Hendrix was already a superstar in England when John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas, on the recommendation of McCartney, invited him to play at the first massive open air concert that they were going to hold in Monterrey. The new God of guitars saw a golden opportunity to become a prophet in his own land. He first challenged poor Pete Townshend who was facing his own chance to conquer the American market. They both wanted to go on first but lady luck shone on The Who’s player. Before an astounded audience Townshend’s boys nailed the rage and destruction with My Generation , but Hendrix managed to steal the show, or as the author of Quadrophenia said, to reinterpret it . After being introduced by ‘his satanic majesty’ Brian Jones, Hendrix revealed his magnetism and charisma. He played behind his back, he played well-known solos with his teeth, reinterpreted with mastery Dylan and B.B. King, and lastly, he made wild love to his Fender Stratocaster during a fiery rendition of Wild Thing and then lit it up with a grand finale of electricity and feedback. The look on the faces of the ‘love and peace’ crowd said it all. Before starting his ritual, he gave a wink to Sinatra with Strangers in the Night where he plays a solo with just his right hand. And then, for his famous ritual Hendrix changed his beloved black Strat which he had used for the entire show, for a hand painted one that served as a perfect scapegoat.
2. Hey Joe
When Jimi Hendrix recorded Hey Joe he had hardly been in London for a month, and his recently formed a band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, had barely had time to get to know each other . Actually, Noel Redding was still using Chandler’s semi-acoustic Gibson EB-5 bass since he hadn’t bought his own yet (Redding was a guitarist). Still, what they accomplished on October 23, 1966, was pure magic. The song was Chandler’s choice, knowing it would be a success in the right hands if he could find that person. When he discovered Hendrix in New York at the Café Wha? the guitarist already had it in his repertoire, so he figured he had found his star. He song was written by folk artist Billy Roberts at the start of the 60s but had been popularised by various folk/rock groups and garage bands from the West coast such as the Leaves, The Byrds, and Love. Those versions were in a quick tempo but Chandler fancied recording it in a slower way, the way another folk singer did, Tim Rose. But Hendrix showed that when he did a cover of a song, he made it his own and his arrangement was unique and inspired, and then Chandler added the brilliant back-up vocals of the Breakaways. Without a doubt the most taxing was recording his voice, which he was quite embarrassed about, but after some 30 takes, he was satisfied. The song became the first hit in his brilliant career and would remain in his repertoire until the end, being the song that closed out the festival in Woodstock or as well with the amazing lecture on the Isle of Wight, less than 20 days before his premature death.
1. All along the watchtower
Hear me out on this one, this is not only the best Hendrix cover, it is the best cover in the history of rock. Moreover, this is not a cover, it’s a robbery in working order, maybe the song was written by Dylan but All Along the Watchtower belongs to Jimi Hendrix, as Bob himself admits, “He took some of my songs nobody paid attention to, and took them to the stratosphere, making them classics...it’s strange but when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him”. The admiration, as mentioned before, was mutual and Hendrix decided to record All Along the Watchtower at the same time it was released on the record John Wesley Harding. Hendrix was in the middle of recording Electric Ladyland and thought to invite some friends over to the recording studio to cut it, among them Dave Mason, who played a 12-string acoustic, from Traffic and Brian Jones of the Stones, on percussion. The arrangement of the song was in his head and he dictated to each and everyone what he wanted, even Noel Redding, telling him exactly how he has to play the bass guitar. He wasn’t happy with the song and after a big argument, Redding left the session. Hendrix plays a 6-string acoustic, Mason the 12, Mitchell on drums, Jones gives the piano a go, but it doesn’t sound right, so he quickly returns to percussion, and that’s how they recorded the base track. Hendrix gives it all when recording the vocals and electric guitars, and he would end up playing the bass himself. To record the solo he did it in 4 different parts , in the first one he plays in a direct way, without effects, in the second he uses a slide (supposedly with a lighter of course) and a strong delay, in the third he produces psychedelic effects on the wah wah pedal, and in the last part, which could be considered a rhythmic solo, with Hendrix using different chord projections. It is one of the defining moments in electric rock guitar history, and is usually considered the most brilliant of his career. But beyond the solo, the song is perfect top to bottom, and Hendrix affirms that “The songs Dylan usually gave me are so close to me I feel like I wrote them myself. With Along the Watchtower, I had that feeling”. And he wasn’t alone, Dylan also felt that way, he admits that the minute he recorded the song it became his own and from then on, the greatest composer in the history of rock does live versions of that VERSION, the most incredible in history.