“You can play or you can transcend. You can go as far, there’s no boundaries how far you can go in your own body and how far your mind can expand while you are playing and Jimi showed me that... I learned that from Jimi.” - Neil Young, inducting the Jimi Hendrix Experience into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1992
James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix, was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle Washington. Hendrix’s first studio recording was in March 1964, on the Isley Brothers' track “Testify.” From 1964 to 1966, Hendrix recorded and toured with a number of artists from Arthur Lee of Love to Little Richard, Ike & Tina Turner and King Curtis. In September of 1966, Hendrix went to London with Chas Chandler of the Animals, who was instrumental in forming the Experience.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience formed in London in October 1966, and was composed of singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, bassist and backing vocalist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
The Experience didn’t come into prominence in the United States until their 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, where the band’s performance ended with Hendrix infamously setting his Fender Stratocaster on fire and smashing it. The band recorded five hit singles, “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” and “All Along the Watchtower,” and three albums Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland.
During the 1992 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in New York City, a tribute to the Jimi Hendrix Experience spoke volumes about Hendrix and the band’s influence on the history of rock and roll. In this performance of “All Along the Watchtower,” some of rock and roll’s powerhouses take the stage – all clearly touched or influenced by Hendrix: Johnny Cash, The Edge, Steve Cropper, John Fogerty, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Santana and Neil Young, along with Noel Redding on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums.
“All Along the Watchtower” is a song originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan on the 1967 album John Wesley Harding. The Jimi Hendrix Experience version was released sixth months later and became a Top 20 single in 1968. The song was included on the album Electric Ladyland and first released as a single on September 21, 1968. The b-side of the Hendrix single version was “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” in the U.S. and “Long Hot Summer Night” in the U.K. The single reached number five on the British charts and Number 20 on the Billboard chart. Upon hearing the Experience’s version, Dylan described his reaction: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent. He could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
Jimi Hendrix’s influence cannot be understated and the Experience was not only the vehicle that helped Hendrix reach creative heights, but also were all incredible, innovative musicians in their own right. Hendrix successfully experimented with, developed, perfected and innovated guitar techniques such as amplifier feedback, the wah-wah pedal, tonally exaggerated and complex guitar solos, stereophonic phasing effects in recording and the use of legato. According to Rolling Stone: “Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electric sound source. Players before him had experimented with feedback and distortion, but Hendrix turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.”
In addition to his innovative sonic contributions, Hendrix synthesized many different styles, influencing a variety of popular music genres. Along with other of his contemporaries, Hendrix established a technical but sonically heavy bend to rock music, which eventually led to hard rock and heavy metal. He elevated blues to a whole other level and had a great influence on the development of funk. His influence extends to hip hop artists, who have covered and sampled his sound. Hendrix forever changed the way that the guitar would be approached. As the May 2012 issue of Guitar Player magazine noted: “He changed everything. What don’t we owe Jimi Hendrix? For his monumental rebooting of guitar culture ‘standards of tone,’ techniques, gear, signal processing, rhythm playing, soloing, stage presence, chord voicing, charisma, fashion and composition? ... He is guitar hero number one.”