JAMES MARSHALL HENDRIX: A Tony Besgrove guitar hero

What can one say about Jimi Hendrix that hasn’t already been written? This man died in London in September 1970 - that’s 44 years ago - yet you will still find his face on the front cover of dozens of music magazines every year where his life story, his music, his guitars, are documented in endless detail. That’s some legacy!

Let’s get this over with - there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind this man was the greatest electric guitar player there ever was, and ever will be! No player can now ever come along and match the impact he had on rock guitar playing. He was a man of his time - bursting on to the music scene in 1966 around the time that Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were starting to get noticed. However, when these two contemporaries, along with Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend saw Jimi on stage they were completely blown away. It was a combination of the way he looked, the way he dressed, his stage presence, but of course, the way he played his guitar.

The first time I saw Jimi playing was on that wonderful tv programme, ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’, Friday evenings, ITV. It stopped me in my tracks. He looked outrageous; he played the guitar behind his back, and with his teeth; the sounds he got from his Fender Strat plugged into a Marshall stack had not been heard before, relying on ear splitting volume to produce those effects, along with a playing technique new to rock music.

I was fortunate enough to see Jimi playing live at The Royal Albert Hall in February 1969 - it was one of those life-changing moments. True to form, he finished with ‘Wild Thing’, trying in vain to topple his Marshalls with his guitar whilst two roadies standing behind the stage manfully pushed them back whenever they showed signs of crashing to the floor. No point in damaging a perfectly good hot-rodded amp! Jimi’s Experience, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, complemented Hendrix’s style perfectly. They simply got on with the job of laying down a rock solid backing.

Later on in Jimi’s career, his dalliance with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox as the Band of Gypsys was a mistake in my view. Miles’ drumming was not a patch on Mitch Mitchell’s, and Billy Cox did not appear to want to stay in the background, bringing more of a jazz/funk influence to the band…not what I wanted to hear anyway!

His untimely death, at the age of 27, robbed the music world of its greatest talent. We are left to wonder where his music would have taken him, and us, had he lived on

I can recommend a few tracks that I think demonstrate the great man’s brilliance. I’m sure all fans have their own personal favourites, but for anyone not familiar with Hendrix’s body of work (there may be some!)...

Voodoo Chile (long version) from the album ‘Electric Ladyland’. Classic blues song - fifteen minutes long with Jack Casady on bass and Stevie Winwood on organ. Incredibly atmospheric studio recording in one take. The moment I hear the start of the guitar intro as the studio audience applause dies away - a chill goes down my spine. Not often played on the radio.

Johnny B. Goode from ‘Hendrix in the West’. Never even looks down at his guitar at any time during the performance. Poor YouTube sound but doesn’t matter - just see how that guitar becomes part of him! The note he hits at 1.45 is just outrageous!

My own personal favourite sequence - everything from his 'Live at Woodstock' set! Coming onstage at 9 o’clock in the morning having stayed up all night, Hendrix wanted to close the festival (the organizers originally wanted Roy Rogers to close the event by singing ‘Happy Trails’!). The best YouTube videos appear to have been taken down, but if you get a chance to see the film ‘Jimi Hendrix: The Road To Woodstock’ (recently shown on BBC4) then the footage there is just sensational. The sequence ‘Star Spangled Banner/Purple Haze/Improvisation/Villanova Junction has to be the greatest ever live guitar performance in my book. Just look at his playing technique - out of this world. I get close to tears each time I see it.

Tony Besgrove

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