From Robert Johnson and the macho posturing of “Me & The Devil Blues” to the boastful swagger of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” isn’t a very long journey. Not chronologically or stylistically. To hear Jimi getting down & dirty on the acoustic guitar is to complete a full circle, from the Mississippi Delta to the South Saturn Delta and back again.
When Jimi would play the blues he wasn’t so much calling up riffs from memory as he was channeling the ghosts of Patton, Brown, Johnson and others working their wicked magic in tumbledown juke joints all across the south. Like the best of these Pre WW 2 bluesmen Jimi’s voice and guitar became one and the same, something at once both primodial and post modern. Hendrix brought the blues into the present without losing any of the urgecy, intensity or artistry which gives all good music it’s timelessness. Blues was just one of Jimi’s many influences.
From an early age Jimi soaked up the music around him just like a sponge. Jazz, Rock and Roll, Folk, Surf, Soul, Rhythm & Blues all became a part of his musical vocabulary. Having learned these styles until he could play them all backwards, forwards, blindfolded and in his sleep, he proceeded to then toss them out of the window and incorporate the shattered remnants into a style wholly, completely his own.
His influences included musical catalysts such as Robert Johnson, B.B. King, T- Bone Walker, Les Paul, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, Muddy Waters, B.B King, Kenny Burrell, Albert Collins, Guitar Slim, Jimmy Nolen and many more. Taking the lessons he learned from these cats (showmanship as well as musical) he liberally mixed them with sheer volume, feedback, distortion & eastern drones. Topping that all off with his charismatic personality and raw talent and you have a combination that IMO can’t be beat.
To give credit where credits due, Jimmy Page, Lou Reed, Jeff Beck, Mike Bloomfield and a handful of others had been experimenting with distortion, feedback, volume and other effects before Hendrix burst onto the international scene with his LP “Are You Experienced?” in 1967. But Jimi combined all these and more causing a serious re-evaluation by all guitar players on the scene, forever changing the way that the guitar would be approached. His influence has reached further into the musical psyche than anyone ever has before or since.
It can and has been argued, ad nauseum, that he wasn’t really that good of a player, that there are others faster, cleaner,etc. This may or may not be. It is a matter of personal taste and to argue it is a moot point. What is undeniable though, is the fact that no one else has been so widely copied,admired, covered and name checked by so many different guitar players from so many different points in the musical spectrum. From Rock to Reggae, Punk to Funk, Hillbilly to Hip Hop, Heavy Metal to Jazz his influence shines through to this day.
I’m not trying to convince anyone here that he is the best guitarist of all time (he isn’t even MY favorite, I’m kinda partial to Earl Hooker, Ira from Yo La Tengo, Lou Reed, Hubert Sumlin and Johnny Guitar Watson as far as favorites go) and I’m not trying to take away any accomplishment from the many talented players past or present. I’m just hoping to show, with some degree of clarity and conviction, that Hendrix’s influence has been felt by more people, in more disparate genres than anyone else has up to this point in time.