Jimi Hendrix (November 27, 1942 - September 18, 1970) was shy of his 28th birthday by a couple of months when he died, and we'll never know how much more he could have accomplished if he had even lived another decade. In her coming of age memoir of life in New York City in the late 1960s-early-1970s, Just Kids, Patti Smith describes meeting Hendrix at the opening night party for his Electric Ladyland recording studios. She was hanging around outside, a little shy of a party full of people far more established than herself, and the host/honoured guest was hanging out on the fire escape, escaping the noise and confusion of the party. The two struck up a conversation and in the short time they spoke, he talked to her about his hopes and dreams for the studio and a little of what he hoped to achieve.
I remember friends joking in the late '70s that Hendrix would be playing disco if he had lived. They were mostly kidding, as they were all big Hendrix fans, but it was fun to imagine what he might have done. With all the guitar heroes who have come and gone since Hendrix's death, and now that I don't listen to him on a daily basis, it's easy to forget how special he was. One of the key indicators of any artist's status is the respect his or her peers hold for him/her and their influence on others.
In 1980, famed British guitarist Robert Fripp (King Crimson, League Of Gentlemen, and many collaborations with Brian Eno) was touring his solo "Frippertronics" soundscapes music. On his stop in Toronto he interrupted his evening of electronics to pay tribute to the "one rock and roll guitar player I respected, Jimi Hendrix", and tore through a wild version of "Wild Thing." When the desert warrior/musicians of the Tourag first picked up their electric guitars, it was Hendrix's playing that caught their imaginations. Somehow it seems fitting that a Seattle-born mixed blood African/Native American's music would inspire a group of nomadic tribesman looking to preserve their way of life.
Still, all of that is only talk. The only way to truly appreciate Hendrix is to listen to him. While there have been plenty of reissues of his work over the years, most of them have been of dubious quality and haven't really managed to capture his magic. It now finally looks like the record is being set straight as the latest series of releases from Legacy Recordings shows. While his studio work was inspired, it was live that Hendrix really showed what he was made of, and both Hendrix In The West and the four-CD box set Winterland coming out on September 13, 2011 are stirring examples of what made him so special.