Once in a rare while, everything comes together at the right place and the right time in this vast, infinite universe to create something larger than life. Jimi Hendrix is the product of one such occurrence. He is considered one of the most influential artists in the world of rock music, and with good reason. Read on to understand why his contributions to rock music are unparalleled even today, and how his work will continue to inspire artists for years to come.
Table of Contents
1. He Learned From Everything!
Jimi Hendrix was obsessed with music, and the guitar was the instrument he chose to channel his gifts. He was so deeply drawn to it that as a teenager he used a broom as a substitute for a guitar for a year.1The first actual instrument Jimi Hendrix held and experimented with was a used and worn-out one-stringed ukulele his father found for him.1 The instrument seemed to have only fueled Jimi Hendrix’s creativity further. He learned from everything and had the ability to make something out of absolutely nothing. This is even more evident in how he used the aspects of electric guitars that were considered undesirable and difficult to control, such as feedback and distortion, to create effects that changed the way these instruments were played forever.2
What is Feedback and Distortion?
Feedback is the loud, sometimes prolonged, piercing sound that electric guitars produce. It also happens with other audio devices, such as microphones.3You may have heard it when the sound system in an auditorium is being set up, or when a piercing squeal interrupts someone’s speech and they have to pause for the sound to die down before they can continue speaking.
Distortion is a general term used for many effects, but one form of this effect that will have definite recall is that growling sound that almost sounds like the electric guitar is being accelerated and revved like a dirt bike. This effect is also fittingly named “overdrive” and is closely associated with rock music. Some other distortion effects like “fuzz” make the tone of the electric guitar sound thunderous and intimidating.3
2. He was a Self-taught Musician
Jimi Hendrix was nearly 15 years old by the time he played an actual guitar. In 1958, his father bought him a second-hand guitar for five dollars. He took inspiration from most of the major artists during his time and learned how to play their songs by ear. He never learned how to read music and did not receive any traditional music training. Learning mostly on his own and from his peers as he went along on his journey, he became one of the world’s most recognized music artists.1
3. His Passion for Music Fuelled his Desire to Learn
One thing that is obvious from Jimi Hendrix’s nomadic band hopping tendency throughout his career is that he never turned down any opportunity to collaborate and learn. Before he started his own band at the age of 23, Jimi Hendrix had joined and exited several bands. He had also been an accompanist to major artists such as Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett,5 The Isley Brothers, and Little Richard by then.1 He constantly worked and experimented with several talented artists, instruments, and techniques. Every collaboration fine-tuned his skills and helped him accumulate massive experience and knowledge. Jimi Hendrix truly achieved a great deal in a very short time.
4. Jimi Hendrix Turned Obstacles Into Opportunities
He was one of the few left-handed guitarists of his time, but a left-handed guitar was rare to come by and expensive to own during the 1960s. Jimi Hendrix simply restrung his right-handed guitar, flipped it, played it upside down, and this became his iconic guitar playing technique.5
Whereas, not learning how to read music resulted in Jimi Hendrix playing from memory. This allowed him the space to fully concentrate on his electric guitar and vocals. He was able to be fully present in the moment and infuse his soul and emotions into his performances. He often improvised his songs on the spot and was also known to be a perfectionist during recordings.6,7
Since Jimi Hendrix did not know how to read music, he would use colors and words to explain how he wanted a song to sound.5
5. He Experimented with Music a Lot!
Hendrix’s contributions to rock music are so expansive that the genre can be easily split into “before and after Jimi Hendrix.” During his brief career, he changed the way electric guitars were played, redefined the way amplifiers were used, and created effects that were so innovative that they left the music industry in awe of his skills back then. Most of these effects are still used by artists today.
For instance, he was the first person to “scratch” a musical record, an effect created by manually spinning a vinyl record back and forth, it was used on his song “Are You Experienced.” This sound later became synonymous with the hip-hop genre. He was also always open to trying out the latest music technology that gave his music an extremely progressive edge.12
Not many could play the guitar and sing at the same time back then, but of course, this rock and roll legend could do that too. With this ability, he brought the lead guitarists out of the shadows and into the spotlight.8 And if all this wasn’t enough, his live performances included displays of some out-of-the-world showmanship. He played the guitar between his legs, behind his head, and with his teeth.9
Everything he brought to the table was new and course-altering. It had never been done before. At least not by his contemporaries, and especially not on stage at popular music festivals and events.
6. He had No Limits!
Deservingly nicknamed “King of Rock,” Hendrix was first inspired by electric blues and American rock and roll. But his talent was so expansive and uncontainable that it spilled over to funk, R&B, soul, and jazz. His fearless fusion of genres and sound effects had a huge influence on several other genres, such as heavy metal, hard rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, and hip-hop, to name a few11. Jimi Hendrix bared his soul through the guitar. His raw, expressive, soul-bearing music was free from any generic boundaries. This may be the reason why he was so insanely creative and could easily translate his feelings into music.
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- Jimi Hendrix Biography – The Official Jimi Hendrix Site [Internet]. The Official Jimi Hendrix Site. [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.jimihendrix.com/biography/
- Fricke J. Jimi Hendrix’ use of distortion to extend the performance vocabulary of the electric guitar. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America [Internet]. 1998 [cited 18 March 2022];103(5):2797-2797. Available from: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Jimi-Hendrix%E2%80%99-use-of-distortion-to-extend-the-of-Fricke/66f516fbe7b361da62ca9bdd2401e90a53e310e8
- Pearsall K. Friend or Foe? A Feedback Primer [Internet]. Fender.com.[cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/friend-or-foe-a-feedback-primer
- Owens J. Play Dirty: An Overview of Overdrive, Distortion and Fuzz [Internet]. Fender.com. [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.fender.com/articles/tech-talk/play-dirty-an-overview-of-overdrive-distortion-and-fuzz
- M Wood J. 10 Fast Facts About Jimi Hendrix [Internet]. Mental Floss. 2019 [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/517664/10-fast-facts-about-jimi-hendrix
- Shaar Murray C. Jimi Hendrix | Biography, Songs, & Facts [Internet]. Encyclopedia Britannica. [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jimi-Hendrix
- McGreevy R. Remembering Jimi Hendrix 50 years on: the guitar god and the Irish connection [Internet]. The Irish Times. 2020 [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/remembering-jimi-hendrix-50-years-on-the-guitar-god-and-the-irish-connection-1.4358251
- How To Sing And Play The Guitar At The Same Time – EnthuZiastic [Internet]. EnthuZiastic. 2022 [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://enthu.com/blog/guitar/how-to-sing-and-play-the-guitar-at-the-same-time/
- Wallenfeldt J. “Swinging London” Experiences Jimi Hendrix [Internet]. Encyclopedia Britannica. [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/story/swinging-london-experiences-jimi-hendrix
- Was Jimi Hendrix’s ambidexterity the key to his virtuosity? [Internet]. the Guardian. [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/feb/25/jimi-hendrix-ambidexterity-virtuosity
- Celebrating Hendrix’s Legacy and the Music Genres He Inspired | amadeus [Internet]. Amadeus. 2018 [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: http://amadeusmag.com/blog/hendrix-legacy-music-genres-inspired/