After 45 years, Jimi Hendrix still strikes a chord

As we approach the 45th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix, guitarists in five of the UAE's best bands to spell out why his legacy remains so very vital today.

Jimi Hendrix topped both of Rolling Stone magazine’s influential 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time lists. David Redfern / Redferns / Getty Images
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It’s no exaggeration to say that Jimi Hendrix is the most influential electric guitarist the world has ever seen. It’s one of the few things rock musicians and musicologists alike can agree on.

Decades after his untimely death – in 1970, at the age of 27 – Hendrix continues to top all the polls, including both of Rolling Stone magazine's influential 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time lists, which were published in 2003 and 2011.

“In the end, I looked at it this way: Jimi Hendrix was number one in every way,” says former editor David Fricke, who curated the earlier chart. “The other 99 were all number two.”

Hendrix revolutionised the electric guitar in countless ways – with his use of feedback, vibrato, wah – and was a force of nature who continues to cast a long shadow over guitarists the world over.

With Are You Experienced?, a leading UK Hendrix tribute act, set to perform at Dubai’s The Music Room tomorrow – and as we approach the 45th anniversary of his death next month – we asked guitarists from five of the UAE’s best bands to tell us why Hendrix’s legacy remains so very important.

• Are You Experienced? perform at The Music Room, Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai tomorrow, from 9pm. Tickets cost Dh100 from platinumlist.net

Olly Ephgrave, Kicksound

For me, Hendrix is the greatest guitarist the world has ever seen. He was an extraordinary player – a freak of nature – whose mastery of the guitar was way beyond his contemporaries and even, in my opinion, his successors.

He was also a prolific and inventive songwriter and a notoriously wild showman. His live shows had that mix of incredible musicianship and rock ‘n’ roll excitement – for those of us who weren’t around in the 1960s, we can still get a taster from the recorded footage.

As a young guitarist, I was immediately drawn to Hendrix by his image and his playing – Purple Haze was one of the first songs I learnt at the age of 13. I practised it for weeks on my child-sized acoustic guitar, before performing it in front of my reasonably impressed schoolmates. The following Christmas I got an Experience Hendrix compilation album and practically wore out my dad's CD player.

As a gigging guitarist, over the past 20 years, I’ve played pretty much every Hendrix classic, whether in university cover bands, impromptu jam nights or Kicksound shows. They are great jamming songs, with an energy and spontaneity that is perfect for live gigs, although it’s virtually impossible to get them to sound just like Jimi.

Hendrix was not primarily about speed. What made Hendrix’s playing so special was tone and feel – it’s smooth, soulful and, above all, effortless. It’s as though he never had to think about the notes – they just came out naturally.

Another remarkable thing about Hendrix was the impact he had in such a short space of time. He exploded onto the scene in 1966 and met his tragic end in 1970. In a mere four years, he wrote dozens of incredible songs, rewrote the rule book for live performers and changed the way we play electric guitars forever.

Murtaza Jafar, Point of View

Hendrix is, and has always been, a huge influence both in terms of style and persona. I am a left-handed guitar player and, like him, struggled to grapple with a right-handed guitar when starting out. My first thoughts when I saw Hendrix on TV was “hey, if he can do it, so can I”.

Another fascinating aspect was his mastery over generating “controlled noise”, or feedback, from his Fender Stratocaster. Traditionally, this was hardly a guitar used by rock slingers at the time, who mostly preferred Gibson guitars – Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards come to mind. Interestingly, most of the above are devout Stratocaster players now.

Hendrix’s searing leads and unique rhythm-play, intertwined with his rambling singing style, continue to influence generations of guitarists to this day. He pioneered the use of effects such as wah-wah, Uni-Vibe and fuzz distortion at a time when these were sparsely used by most players. There is even a “Jimi Hendrix Chord” – the E7#9 – such is his influence.

Bojan Preradovic, Empty Yard Experiment

My first real encounter with Hendrix was at around the age of 14 or 15, when I joined my first band as a vocalist. I’ve never been a guitar virtuoso, nor have I ever aspired to anything more than being a well-­rounded rhythm player – I only learnt to play the guitar so I could write my own songs. Even so, I still remember how exciting the “Jimi Hendrix chord” – the famed E7#9 – was when my bandmates first showed it to me.

There’s something in Hendrix that truly resonates with all kinds of guitarists – and I was certainly no exception. The raw energy and stage presence, as well as era-defining songwriting that the legend of Jimi Hendrix is invariably associated with, is something that no modern musician can turn a blind eye to, regardless of taste and affiliation with a particular genre.

And as a person whose musical awakening was stewarded by the Seattle alternative-rock scene of the 1990s, Hendrix's influence is something that you're constantly reminded of by players such as Pearl Jam's Mike McCready – just listen to his licks and leads on the 1995 Mad Season album. Vintage Hendrix stuff.

Jay Wud

I have always been intrigued by Jimi Hendrix, and especially the way he changed everyone’s approach to the electric guitar. The man was a visionary, a true original, driven by his passion and love for music.

No one could come close to his live performances and the presence he had on stage. His lead parts, sound and songwriting remain a school that many guitarists learn from to this day. In the same vein, Jimi Hendrix was a big influence on me personally. I still remember watching footage from Woodstock in 1969, and being in awe of the trance he got himself into while playing this one solo. Out of this world.

Rami H Mustafa, Nervecell

Hendrix was an innovator. His free style and improvisational, yet technical, guitar playing, combined with great songwriting skills, made him a legend.

In the 1960s, guitarists were striking chords and Hendrix went all out and broke the rules in guitar playing. He created a pathway for guitarists to use their skills freely without sticking to a certain musical style.

His music is considered relevant today because anyone can listen to his music, from rock and metal to blues and jazz fans. Inspirational.

rgarratt@thenational.ae