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Jimi Hendrix: The Most Influential Guitarist Of All Time?

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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.

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  • Eric Olsen

    very nice HW, thanks!

  • David

    I adore Jimi, but I don’t think that “most influential guitarist of all time” is necessarily a good thing.

  • HW Saxton Jr.

    You may be right David.I was really just
    trying to come up with an angle on Jimi
    that hasn’t been driven into the ground.
    I dig his playing alot and listen to him
    often,but I don’t neccessarily think he
    is the best player ever.Certainly,Jimi
    mops up about 90% of the competition but
    I don’t really think that there is any
    such a thimg as THE BEST guitarist ever,
    since it all based on personal taste and
    taste is relative and all that jazz.
    Everybody’s always talking about who is
    the best player,fastest,etc.I take this
    all into consideration when I’m judging talent but for me the longevity and the
    depth of their influence is just as,if not maybe more important than their chops are.
    Thanks for reading,much appreciated.

  • Keith Fontaine

    I saw Hendrix on film way back in the late ’60’s. 75% of the time his back was to his audience while he played to his amplifier. I know that he knew his way around a guitar,but I am not convinced he was the greatest player of all time. As has been said, it boils down to personnel taste. In my opinion, one of the greatest and most influential guitarist’s of the 20th century was Les Paul, without a doubt.
    Chet Atkins was no slouch, and if you wanted speed, Roy Clark would give anyone a run for their money! Of course, there was also Stevie Ray Vaughan.

  • Blindog

    If you were to ask all the “OTHER” guitarists named – and many not named (like Pete Townsend or Duane Allman) – I strongly suspect that they would capitulate to Jimi (I’ve heard MOST of them do so) – IF that’s way it goes down, and I fervently believe it’s so, SUBJECTIVE judgment aside – IF THEY humbly admit to Jimi’s excelling supremacy, who are we to refute THEM – sure we are allowed OUR opinions but I think you’d agree, theirs holds more weight – and “I” submit THEY would ENTHUSIASTICALLY yield.

    Jimi Hendrix had something designed in his DNA (NOT GOD), but GODlike, at least in his guitar playing prowess. His inspiration, and influence will live, live on, in the souls of countless musicians to come and perhaps so on ‘ad infitem.’

  • Bob R.

    Ah…here’s a point for you to totally disregard. It is all
    a matter of taste. As HW Saxton so righteously proposed. How to you quantify, qualify or even
    define ART. Hendrix IMHO, was the greatest. But, that’s just my opinion. See now, hear now…speed doesn’t make you the greatest. Tone doesn’t make you the greatest. Your influences don’t, Its an amalgam all
    all these parts, but overshadowed by the “song” or the
    “muse” itself. And like him or not, Hendrix was influenced a great deal by Dylan. So there was the songwriting aspect as well. Frankly, there was a point where I got tired of Hendrix. Oversaturation on radio and TV (the twenty/thirty year anniversaries…this and that. But sometimes, now
    “Wind Cries, Voodoo, Crosstown etc…” will pop up
    on the radio, and just go “Hmm…that guy was really
    fantastic, And it still sounds fresh. There are by far faster, cleaner and more “studied players” and many different geners. And I dig lots of them. But
    so far, Hendrix is the high-water mark when referring to electric guitar playing in the context of popular music. There’s No throne to be knocked of. Lets hope he and his disciples continue to influence future generations.

    (see also Eric Johnson, Angus Young, Pete Townsend, “Keef” Richards, Karl Lubbering (who…you’ll find out!!!) They all have distinct attributes to offer.

  • Pedro

    Jimi Hendrix expanded the range and vocabulary of the electric guitar into areas no musician had ever ventured before. Many would claim him to be the greatest guitarist ever to pick up the instrument. At the very least his creative drive, technical ability and painterly application of such effects as wah-wah and distortion forever transformed the sound of rock and roll. Hendrix helped usher in the age of psychedelia with his 1967 debut, Are You Experienced?, and the impact of his brief but meteoric career on popular music continues to be felt.
    Jimi Hendrix is the best guitarist of all time.

  • http://svweetness Mike

    1. pedro…thats from the official Jimi hendrix website and 2. hendrix is the most influential guitarist of all time, any band that uses harder distortion and fuzz are in one way or another linked to hendrix in one way or another

  • keith

    Gentlemen, Jimi Hendrix… by way of popular media, culture, and his uncanny innovative sounds and technique, is probably the most influential guitarist of all time, based on the notoriety and influence around the globe. But don’t forget the man who started the rock and roll single note soloing style, Charlie Christian. Listen to Charlie Christian guys, and you’ll hear where all the guitar styles of today came from (electric). Wes Montgomery’s style is another world-wide influence. So, before you start name dropping, do your research. Charlie Christian was the first real guitar hero !

  • CJR

    Hendrix has always been my idol. I’m in a “Band of Gypsys” phase again and my god, his technical playing and soul are untouchable. I would challenge ANY living guitarist to play AND SING “Power to Love” like Jimi. Just untouchable.

    This being said, my faves go all the way back to the dawn of recorded music. Charlie Christian was incredible, but what about Django, Oscar Aleman, and Eddie Lang? Eddie was probably THE FIRST cat to take solos in popular music – damn good ones – and arguably made the Gibson guitar company popular by his collaboration with Lloyd Loar. Alas, he also died way too young.

  • http://writingrue.blogspot.com Rue

    I think the issue here is the wording of the title: “Most Influential” vs. “Best”. There is a difference there, because I believe you don’t have to be the best in order to be the most influential. The two are not mutually inclusive, it is entirely possible to not be the best and yet be the most influential. Take, for instance, Metallica. Are they the best in their genre? I personally don’t think so. But they are most certainly one of the most influential.