Friday, September 18, 2009

Bold as Love: The Death of Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)

September 18, 2009 marks the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death at the young age of twenty-seven. Hendrix was a visionary guitarist who, although he never learned to read or write music, made an indelible mark on the history of rock and roll. Hendrix had a gift for composing original riffs and compositions, while also being able to cover the work of other artists in a way that left them forever changed in public perception. A few examples of this ability include Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower and his interpretation of The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Also, in an anecdote that speaks as much to his virtuosity at learning music just by listening as to his ability to create unique covers, Jimi Hendrix heard the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the day it was released and performed a cover of the song just a few days later. Paul McCartney was in attendance at this show in London and was amazed at Jimi’s ability to learn the music so quickly, and to be able to make the song his own.

Although he died at the tender age of twenty-seven, Jimi Hendrix left a rich legacy behind. For some, he became an icon of his age; an example of both the art and excesses of the late 1960s. That said, after witnessing the drama of his music and performances, generations of teenagers everywhere have been inspired to take up the electric guitar in the hopes of maybe someday forming a band and lighting their guitars on fire (See Monterey Pop Festival). The rest of us just remain humbled and inspired by his unique combination of guitar distortion, fuzz and feedback.

As an icon of American cultural history, it is interesting to note that Hendrix did not attain widespread acclaim in the United States until after the Jimi Hendrix Experience had already debuted to commercial success in England. The Who had seen Jimi perform in England prior to the Monterey Pop Festival, and therefore refused to follow him on the bill. However, despite the recognition that came from performing in England, Jimi Hendrix walked onto the stage at the Monterey Pop Festival as a largely unknown quantity to American audiences. That would no longer be true by the end of his performance. In honor of Jimi Hendrix and his fans worldwide, here is a clip of his performance at Monterey Pop (including his guitar sacrifice).

[Image via NightswithAliceCooper]

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