Jimi Hendrix-Past, Present And Future

38A4AA4C-BD24-43B4-843C-B1AF214E8948 So much has been said, written about, or otherwise imparted about Jimi Hendrix that it is well nigh impossible to say anything original about him. However, I do think it might be useful to try to sum up some of the most insightful observations about Jimi, hopefully in order to gain a deeper understanding of his importance in music history. 

I’ve been listening deeply to Jimi’s music for some 40-plus years.  Additionally, I’ve read numerous books (perhaps 40 or more, the best ones more than once… or twice…), countless articles; viewed dozens of documentaries about Jimi. Portions of any of these books, articles and documentaries are truly insightful and (seemingly) accurate, while others range from pretty good, to “same old, same old”, to absolute garbage. 

One interesting aspect of doing this kind of research, on any subject, is realizing that no single source seems to be “the prime source”. That is, in order to get an accurate, three-dimensional, 360° view of any particular subject, one needs multiple sources.  For instance, some sources are really great in terms of Jimi’s personal history, while lacking any substantive information on him as a musician. And vice versa…

OK, so why was/is Jimi so great?

For many reasons, of course, but there are some recurring themes that appear to be prominent. The most prominent is Jimi’s astonishing ability to amalgamate past prime sources, encapsulate the present, and accurately preview the future, all at the same time!


Jimi had certainly assimilated most, if not all, the important blues guitarists before him. Check out the intro to Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman”, compared to the intro to “Red House”–just about any version of “Red House” will do, but among my very favorites is the San Diego sports arena from 1969, which was on the original January, 1972 release of “In The West”.  Also, check out Jimi’s beautiful rendition of “Hear My Train A’ Comin’ on 12-string acoustic guitar. He had definitely absorbed the “Delta” style.  Moreover, he also adeptly merged all the “amplified” guitarists T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins, Hubert Sumlin, both Albert and B.B. King and many others.  Jimi also had been heavily influenced by R&B, especially Curtis Mayfield, and even country players.

  Jazz did not escape his notice, either. Organist Mike Finnigan has said that before recording “Rainy Day, Dream Away”, Jimi said, “You be Jimmy Smith and I’ll be Kenny Burrell”. Also, Jimi’s Wes Montgomery-inspired octave playing on “Third Stone From The Sun”, “Villa Nova Junction” and other songs, as well as his penchant for avant-garde flourishes on “If 6 Was 9”, “Third Stone From The Sun” and a number of others, demonstrates a keen awareness of the jazz scene.

Interestingly, for all these influences, Jimi never really sounded like any of them. He threw all these influences into a big melting pot and it come out as his own, pure Jimi-brew.

The Present

That is, his “present”. Compared to the very best of his peers, Jimi stood out as the ultimate paragon “rock star”, the quintessential prototype. 

Within days of arriving in London, in September of 1966, Jimi had occasion to sit in with The Cream. An unbelievably cheeky move on his part,  Eric Clapton being “God” and all that…  According to Chas Chandler, Jimi’s manager, who was there, Jimi just began playing the intro to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor” when Eric, stunned by the ferocity of Jimi’s playing, let his hands drop from his guitar and quietly backed off of the stage. Then, trying with shaking hands to light a cigarette, asked Chas, “Is he really that good?”.

There are similar reports from Jeff Beck and Pete Townsend of hearing, for the first time, this other-worldly, amazing guitarist Chas Chandler had brought over from America. 

The Beatles and The Stones, certainly the rock royalty of the 1960’s music scene, were often in attendance at many of Jimi’s first shows. Paul McCartney has described seeing Jimi play at the Saville  Theater, owned by the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, and hearing the very first live rendition of “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” (that album having just been released two days before), and being astonished. 

Clearly, Jimi was extremely well thought of by his contemporaries. Not only in Europe, but in America, as well.

The Future

There seems to be a pretty well-defined line of guitar playing pre-Jimi Hendrix and guitar playing post-Jimi Hendrix. There were others who were “in the ballpark”, to be sure, but none of them had the far-reaching, total game-changing effect that Jimi had. He pointed the direction, with crystal clear vision, that was inevitable for rock and blues guitarists who came after him. 

More than any other single guitar player, Jimi turned an amplified guitar into an electric guitar. He understood the crucial dynamics between guitar, amp and effect pedals. 

Take for instance, the wah-wah pedal. It had certainly been used before–Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton and others–but after Jimi, anything anyone could do with a wah-wah pedal, Jimi had already done… And then some.

In a manner very similar to Charlie Parker or John Coltrane for saxophone players, Jimi changed the expectations of what constituted a “serious” guitar player.  What had once been typical was no longer acceptable. The game had certainly been changed, a wicked gauntlet thrown, and guitar would never be the same… Ever.


The Making of “Project 13”

Project 13 Band Shot

A while back, I was called by my friend and teacher, David Bloom, to do a recording/video session of a song in tribute to Trayvon Martin. I showed up at the studio knowing it would be an R&B type of song, so I brought one of my Strats and my Sebago combo amp, a “Dumble” clone of sorts.


The band consisted of a fantastic rhythm section, with Khari Parker on drums, Tony Brown on bass and Chris Cameron on organ. Even though we had no arrangement worked out, starting from the first take I thought, “Wow, this is easy. These guys are so great, I don’t have to do anything but listen“. After three takes, we had an arrangement and a keeper take. It was ultimately released on You Tube. You can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTbO1FWrje4


So, this first session was the impetus and inspiration for me to do what ended up being “Project 13”, with this same group. This time, I would arrange a number of songs that might highlight a certain area of my playing:  R&B and Blues. I added to an already incredible rhythm section an additional keyboard player, my friend Vijay Tellis-Nayak. I have worked with Vijay in a number of settings on numerous gigs over the years, and he can play just about anything, in just about any style.


There is this sort of “old school”, R&B thing of having 2 or more different keyboards, all interlaced, that I had envisioned for this project. That, and playing live, together in the same room (except for the singers)—and video it all. Again, all very “Old School”, and distressingly rare, in my opinion.


I have had the pleasure of working with all three singers a number of times. Mike and Paul, mainly through the Bad Sneakers Orchestra (see links), a band dedicated to recreating the music of Steely Dan. I have worked with Ameerah weekly in a dance band, playing the hits of yesterday and today. Each vocalist is excellent on their own, but I knew that as a unit, they would work supremely well together. Their superb performances on these videos speak for themselves.


So, once I had the band in place (and a studio, since Vijay also owns and operates Transient Sound studio), I wanted a really great producer so I could concentrate on playing. Someone on whose aesthetics and dedication to excellence I could rely, absolutely.


As it happens, I had recently become acquainted with Steve Rodby, bass player for 30 years with the Pat Metheny Group. Steve had come to a few gigs where I happened to be playing. We would talk in between sets, as musicians do, and he was always very generous and kind in his commentary on my playing. Quite flattering, indeed. I had also learned that, in addition to all of his many other talents, he is extremely gifted as a video editor, having edited many of Pat Metheny’s videos.


So, he was a natural choice for producer/video editor. I had hoped that part of the allure for him might be that he doesn’t often get the chance to do this type of music, since he mainly does Jazz sessions, but I was aware that this style of music is, at the same time, an important part of his background as a musician.


Luckily for me, he agreed. Although Steve is a busy guy (as you can imagine, a multitude of projects constantly overlapping), from the very start, he always gave very detailed attention to all aspects of the project: making sure the charts were correct, checking out the studio, giving very detailed instructions to the videographers, and about a million other things.


I made a list of songs that I wanted to do. They had to be of a particular character, which remained somewhat ineffable. I didn’t want anything too obvious nor too arcane. It HAD to be just right, each one had to fit the attitude of the singers. After much hand wringing (and a thoughtful suggestion from Mike Harvey to do “Jealous Guy”), I had the tunes in place.


I then began to make pretty rudimentary, home demos of what I wanted the arrangements to be; what kind of grooves, song form, where and how long the solos would be, etc.; and from there, to write out the charts, reflecting the arrangements. I sent everyone the demos and had one vocal rehearsal where the vocalists sang over the demos and recorded it, the results of which I sent to everyone–the band, the singers and Steve.


On February 13, 2014, we all met up at Transient Sound in Chicago, IL.  We had six hours, I had prepared five songs… Very ambitious, as anyone who has recorded will tell you, but these were all consummate pros and they were totally prepared, and sounded amazing from take one of the first song. (As it turned out, we only got four songs done, but quality over quantity, right?)


It was clear that the success of each track depended on my performance, since everyone else was spot-on from the first downbeat. It was just a matter of trying to record the best performances I could manage.


That day in the studio was quite exciting and rather hectic. After all the set up and A/V testing was finished, we started to make music. Steve was extremely helpful in keeping us on track; he would come hustling out of the control room into the studio and sometimes announce something to the whole band or quietly instruct a single member.


Some producers will laconically sit in the “Producer’s Chair“, rather bored and somewhat put-out, and mumble unenthusiastically, “Yeah, sounds great…”. THIS IS NOT STEVE RODBY!!  Steve will dance around the control room (while making very detailed notes! If you look carefully at “Love And Happiness”, just over drummer, Khari Parker’s shoulder, you can see him in action for a split second), and call out with gusto, “YEAH, PAT!”, or whomever.


After the first take of the first song, Steve called us into the control room for a playback. Again, Steve dancing, and with a HUGE grin, shouting above the music, “Yeah! We got THAT on tape”. The rest of the day went very much like that. Lots of laughter, fun and joy at making music TOGETHER, in one room.


What else could I have asked for? Great songs, an amazing band, incredible singers and a sublime producer …


And me, in the middle of all that, just trying to hang on…
Special Thanks to:


Khari Parker- Drums
Tony Brown- Bass
Chris Cameron- Organ
Vijay Tellis-Nayak- Keys and Mixing

And on Vocals:
Mike Harvey
Ameerah Tatum
Paul Mabin


Recording Engineer:
Steve Gillis


Technical assistance, Colorist & Web Consultant:
Brian Schwab


EXTRA Special Thanks To:
Steve Rodby
David Bloom
And, of course, Miriam Sturm