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Hendrix, Handel And Rock’s Classical Connection

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What goes around comes around.

In the sixties, there seemed to be a lot more experimentation in music than today. Bear in mind, when a person got formal musical training in that time period, odds were nine-to-one that he’d be getting classical training. There were no schools for rock, rap, or whatever then.

There was the ‘street-school,’ of course, which meant sleeping wherever one could find a couch or a floor and hoping to sit in and earn a few bucks from the jazz musicians who were very popular at the time. But there was little chance of learning music from an institution of learning unless it was classical. Street buskers were routinely arrested and jailed for anything from loitering to panhandling.

You’d never hear a violin in the music of that particular 1960’s era, until a very few people had the vision. Think of Hot Tuna, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen, already offshoots of Jefferson Airplane. They had the audacity to bring in Papa John Creech for the Outlaw Folk/Country/Rock that the Tuna were then famous for. Hot Tuna personified Outlaw before there even was Outlaw. If you don’t believe me, just look at photos of the two of them from the Tuna albums. I defy you to say Kaukonen and Casady aren’t Outlaw!

Around that same time, halfway across the country, a sadly underrated jazz-rock group from Chicago called The Flock brought in a violinist named Jerry Goodman, giving a whole new meaning to the word rock.

Just to see Goodman’s photo on the album jacket of their second and final album, long hair wildly flying as he brings the fans up out of their seats in amazement and wonder — whipsawing his violin, sweat flying, and shirt off — is to get a vague idea of what this phenomenon was all about. Goodman went on to record with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as become a renowned solo artist. Papa John Creech was already famous in his own right before joining up with the Airplane and Hot Tuna.

Now, within the space of two days, I’ve read two completely off-the-wall articles about Jimi Hendrix, relating his art to classical music, and specifically, to George Frideric Handel and to the Turtle Island Quartet. The two articles are dated 10 days apart (although I just got around to reading them both within the past 24 hours).

Although they were a couple hundred years apart, Handel and Hendrix both lived at 25 Brook Street, which is in the swank Mayfair section of London. Well, OK — Hendrix actually lived next door, and he allowed visiting music students entrance while Handel’s Messiah was playing on the stereo. The Handel Museum uses Hendrix’s old upstairs apartment as offices.

Another group still playing today which uses a violin in an unlikely setting is the Danglers. Formerly out of Milwaukee, now Chicago, the Danglers play a lot of experimental and progressive rock, leaning heavily on King Crimson and Robert Fripp, among others. Oh yeah, they play Handel and Hendrix, too. You can find more about the Danglers by going here and here.

With the resurgence of old-time string bands such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and other groups such as Arcade Fire, the violin does seem to be getting more of its fair due today. Give a listen. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

And unless you’re phobic about learning, check out the articles linked above.

One last note: If you decide to give a listen to some music by the Flock, I suggest their first two albums. The first is titled The Flock (1969), and the second and final one with Goodman is Dinosaur Swamps (1970).

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About Lou Novacheck

  • Glen Boyd

    Nice, if brief overview of the connection between classical and rock here Lou. You could probably stretch this theme into several articles on the subject if you thought about it (hint, hint). But this is a definitely a nice starting point, and might even sell Hot Tuna and The Flock a few albums…cause’ lord knows, they could use the extra sales, right? Anyway, nice work.


  • zingzing

    “In the 1960s, there seemed to be a lot more experimentation in music than today.”

    psh. experimental music within rock and outside of rock has grown exponentially since the 60s. the experimental scene of today absolutely dwarfs that of the 60s. in that way, the 60s were quite tame.

    “You’d never hear a violin in the music of that particular 1960’s era…”

    except, you know, everywhere… early 60s pop music was drenched in violins. treacly country, shiny teen pop, ray charles, phil spector… the british invasion made the trad 4-piece rock band dominant for the 1st time, but that lasted all of 2 or 3 years.

    sorry to bash on you (as i enjoyed the rest of the essay, even if i do find prog reprehensible), but those two little statements got my dander up.

  • Glen Boyd

    Not to presume to speak for Lou, but I think what he might have meant is that the experimentation in the sixties was more broadly heard than it is today. Obviously, experimentation in rock continues to thrive today…it’s just that you’d never know it judging by what’s heard on the radio or at what few record shops are left out there.

    By contrast, some of the most experimental music back then (Beatles, Brian Wilson, etc) also happened to be the biggest sellers in many cases. Even stuff like The Flock and Hot Tuna got airplay on the FM underground stations.

    You did kinda nail him on the whole Phil Spector thing though. Although, even there a decent argument could be made that those records — brilliant as many of them are — are really more studio creations, than anything made organically by an actual band.


  • Lou Novacheck

    I disagree with what you say about experimentation, and I stand by what I said. A lot of the so-called cutting edge music today sounds to me more like emulation, with a slight variation. Like saying, I have a Ferrari with a red stripe down the center. And another guy saying, Oh, mine has a green stripe, so I’m way ahead of you. Experimentation is busting out the norms, not copying.

    And you talk about pop music having violins? Please remember, pop music is not music.

    Your shot!

  • Glen Boyd

    I may just have to stick around for this…looks like it could get good…


  • Jim Cuthbert

    Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Baroque composer George Frideric Handel lived at 25 Brook Street in Mayfair, London, from 1723 until his death in 1759. Check.

    Two hundred years later, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived at the same address in 1968-’69. Check.

    This is the basis for your article titled “Hendrix, Handel and Rock’s Classical Connection.” SORRY, THIS DOES NOT COMPUTE.

    The fact that the Turtle Island String Quartet has recorded a Hendrix tribute album does not “connect” him to classical music. Wikipedia correctly identifies TISQ as a jazz (not classical) string quartet. Of their 14 albums, none is devoted exclusively to classical music; and of their occasional forays into that genre–e.g., a 1995 Christmas album, By the Fireside–the result is light classical at best. Their latest release, Have You Ever Been …, no more connects Hendrix to classical than does their 2007 tribute album, A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane, connect the great jazz saxophonist to classical. The only reason an unsophisticated listener might conflate the Turtle Island String Quartet with classical is because they play instruments historically associated with the classical era and in a formation favored by the greatest composers of that period: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

    The other musicians you wrongly wrap into Rock’s Classical Connection are similarly unconnected to classical music. Jerry Goodman was classically trained (his parents were in the string section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), but he never pursued a career as a “legit” violinist, choosing instead to flourish in the field of fusion. (And the genres fused therein were not rock and classical; they were rock and jazz.)

    Papa John Creech, by contrast, was never within miles of being a classical violinist. He was a fiddler, which is by no means a pejorative term in popular, folk, country and bluegrass. But again, he had no connection whatever to classical music.

    Of course there have been many attempts to meld rock and classical, some of which are even listenable. But you mention none of those, preferring instead to cite artists who had no interest in combining the two genres. Whatever you were trying to express with this article, it ought to have had a different, less misleading title.

  • zingzing

    ahem. lou, you fired your shot. glad you did.

    “I disagree with what you say about experimentation, and I stand by what I said. A lot of the so-called cutting edge music today sounds to me more like emulation, with a slight variation.”

    that may be true. experimentation in rock music was a lot more groundbreaking then, if only because it seemed like rock had never grown like it did in the 60s. then again, think about how much of a shock rock was in the 50s. think about how every major step forward, no matter how small, was seismic at the time.

    i would posit that since the major breakthroughs of the 60s, experimentation has become almost endemic in rock. what would the 60s stars (or not stars) you trumpet so loudly have thought of the krautrock breakthroughs of the 70s? what did your so accepting experimentalists think of yoko ono’s work at the beginning of the 70s? after punk broke through, what did you think of the noise and industrial and ambient and hardcore and avant metal and avant disco and synthpop of the late-70s/early-80s? how do you explain the fact that multiple undergrounds 10 times as large as the entirety of 60s pop emerged in various experimental veins over the course of the 90s and 00s?

    and also, i get the feeling (maybe erroneously,) that you aren’t all that up-to-date on contemporary experimental music. not that it’s easy to be. it’s difficult stuff. music has moved forward in a shitload of directions over the past 40 years, in case you doubt it.

    “Like saying, I have a Ferrari with a red stripe down the center. And another guy saying, Oh, mine has a green stripe, so I’m way ahead of you. Experimentation is busting out the norms, not copying.”

    except there’s music readily accepted these days that those in the 60s would barely have recognized as being music at all. in fact, your hot tuna and (to a lesser degree) king crimson were just some of the dinosaurs that punk came to kill off. after punk half-succeeded at its mission, another group of progressive musicians came and took music far beyond the dead end that prog led to.

    combining “canon” classical music (like handel, etc.) with rock didn’t really add up to much. really, what did “days of future past” really lead to? diddly (and rick wakeman). it’s nothing.

    “And you talk about pop music having violins? Please remember, pop music is not music.”

    i beg to differ. pop music is incredibly difficult to do well. there’s a whole set of pressures on it that aren’t on other types of music. phil spector was certainly pop and he certainly made music. hot tuna was pop. the beatles were pop, and they were damn good at it.

    i would say that 90s r&b was actually more sonically interesting than a lot of 60s pop-rock. (i would also say that the songwriting wasn’t as good, but if we’re going on pure sonic experimentation, some of that stuff–the pop stuff, the radio stuff–is hard to beat.)

    your shot!

    i await.

  • zingzing

    as far as classical and rock fusions go, i think tony conrad is one of the better ones. he crossed those lines quite well, what with his velvet underground and faust connections. “outside the dream syndicate” combines the best of vu’s more droney ideas with faust’s rhythmic stasis and a hell of a viola solo.