1967 – 1970

Jimi Hendrix

Track analysis for “All Along the Watchtower

Jimi Hendrix was the single most inventive electric guitarist in rock. He did more to extend the reach of the instrument than anyone else of his generation. He single-handedly demolished traditional definitions of music by playing and recording sounds made with his guitar that defied transposition or even explanation. One of the best examples of these effects is his playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” in which he essentially deconstructs the original composition and rebuilds it as a showcase for his guitar prowess, using his instrument to sonically illustrate the action taking place in the song.

Realizing the potential of the recording studio, Hendrix built his own, with the most modern equipment available at the time. He consciously used this device to achieve effects not possible in concert. His recordings frequently feature unusual uses of the stereo channels, for instance, with instruments and sounds apparently moving from left to right and back again. Hendrix spent a great deal of time in the studio, trying to perfect his musical visions.

Hendrix put his unique studio and guitar effects to good use in music that consistently sought to liberate his listeners from conventional modes of perception and expand their awareness. Songs like “Stone Free” and “If 6 Was 9” established a stance of defiant individuality and an accompanying refusal to conform to society’s expectations. Anyone who did not live through the fifties and early sixties might have a hard time realizing the significance of these recordings, but this was a time when rigid conformity to narrow codes of dress and behavior were taken for granted throughout almost all of American society.

Although Hendrix’ attitude and musical style were new and innovative, his approach to collaboration was very rooted in the blues and rhythm and blues traditions. He worked most often in the trio format, with a minimum of other musicians. He was the lead singer, songwriter and featured instrumentalist on his recordings, much in the style of a Robert Johnson or a Chuck Berry.

It is unfortunate that Hendrix got a chance to record only a handful of studio albums before dying at a young age from an entirely accidental overdose of sleeping pills. We will sadly never know how his music would have evolved and matured in later stages of his career.

Unfortunately, complicated legal wrangling over the rights to Hendrix’ estate has at times impinged upon his artistic legacy. A visit to the “official” Jimi Hendrix web site, for example, exposes readers to press releases about law suits being brought against various parties for their use of Hendrix images, etc.

Recommended CDs

Album Title: Experience Hendrix: The Best Of Jimi Hendrix

Original Release Date: 1998

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

This is an excellent compilation of Hendrix’ work. It features 20 of his best cuts, including singles and album tracks. Many of his most familiar works from his three completed studio albums, listed separately below, can be heard here, as well as four cuts from a projected fourth album, still in work at the time of his death. The final track is his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” from Woodstock.


Album Title: Are You Experienced?

Original Release Date: 1967

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

His first album contains some of his most accessible music, including “Purple Haze,” “Manic Depression,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Foxey Lady,” “Stone Free” and “Red House.” Included are lots of great examples of his innovative guitar work. This is a great first album, a brilliant, brash burst of energy that announced Jimi’s arrival to the rock world.


Album Title: Axis Bold As Love

Original Release Date: 1968

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

Hendrix’ second album is more reflective, philosophical and deliberate. Having established his identity with his first album, he seems intent here more on pleasing himself, developing his song writing and studio recording skills. Not the barn-burner that the first album was, but music that grows on you with repeated listenings.


Album Title: Electric Ladyland

Original Release Date: 1968

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

This is a double album that represents Jimi’s most experimental and eclectic work. If the first album was a summary of what Jimi had achieved up to that point, and the second album was an indication of new directions he wanted to pursue, this third album is the realization of many of those goals. Each song is an attempt to pursue a new and fresh idea. One of the most daring and innovative albums in all of rock.


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