Written by Adam Perkinson
James Marshall Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington. He first picked up the guitar when he was 16, starting a musical journey that would lead him to becoming one of if not *the* most legendary guitarists to ever live. And even if you don’t play guitar, or don’t know much about who he is, what he did for the electric guitar in particular influences you, even if you don’t realize it.
For example — think of an electric guitar. What does it look like? Chances are, you thought of a Fender Stratocaster, because Jimi Hendrix played one. His playing of a Strat influenced guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played what is arguably the most famous Stratocaster in history. Vaughan’s playing then influenced people like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who, you guessed it, plays a Stratocaster. See how it all connects? That’s not even considering how his music influenced them.
One of the most important things I’ve learned as a musician over the last 8 years or so is that you’re constantly ripping off someone else. You’re borrowing a lick or two here, a chord progression there, and mixing it all together into your own playing. The goal is to find a balance of everything where it doesn’t sound like you’re straight up copying, but rather reworking it until it sounds original, like something you came up with entirely on your own. And therein lies a potential problem: Almost everything on guitar is influenced directly by Jimi Hendrix. Guitar solos weren’t really mainstream until Hendrix took his love of 50s rock and combined it with the blues from his childhood, forming a unique concoction of soul-infused psychedelic rock. Before this, guitars were relegated to the same spot bass is today: a rhythm instrument. There was nothing special about it in mainstream music until he revolutionized the entire music industry with his searing psychedelic blues-infused solos.
Hendrix also influenced the sound of today’s guitars. While the general shape and design of electric guitars has been relatively unchanged since the 1950s, the effects and pedals have changed dramatically. Eric Clapton had dabbled with a Wah pedal, and some early rock guitarists had let feedback creep into their sound, but they were nothing compared to Hendrix’s somewhat overwhelming use of both effects in 1968’s “Voodoo Child: Slight Return”.
One of the strangest things about Hendrix, however, is that he seemed to ignore the lingering racism of the time. Are You Experienced, Hendrix’s first album, was released in 1967, a mere 3 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It found mainstream success in the US and the UK almost immediately. For one of the first times in mainstream music, the focus was more on the music itself rather than the color of the skin of the man who made it. And even today, Hendrix is looked upon as one of the most legendary artists of all time. His legend transcends the racial divide like no other.