By Karl Eklund.
He was born in 1942 in Seattle, Washington and began playing the guitar at age 15.
But what is an iconic artist, and why is Jimi Hendrix iconic? Well, an iconic person is someone who is both very original/ground breaking and famous and well known. I consider him to be iconic because of his way of playing the guitar. He was left handed, but he would buy right handed guitars and flip them over and re-string them. This created a unique sound, where his lowest string had a brighter sound and his highest had a darker sound. It wasn’t how the guitar was meant to be played, but it sounded great, and more importantly, it sounded like him and nobody else.
In 1966, he met Chas Chandler, who became his manager, and it was with him that Jimi met bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchelle, and the three formed “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” while Jimi lived in London. And in 1967, the group released their first single. It was called: “Hey Joe” and the track was an instant success in the U.K. It was followed by two other legendary tracks: “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” Their first album, “Are You Experienced?” was released later that year.
The band, and especially Jimi, were starting to build a huge audience. And this wasn’t only from ordinary people, but he had from early on a huge following in the “rock elite” as well. This included people and bands such as: The Beatles, The Who, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. I think that the fact that he had so many of the most important musicians of his time, or of all time, following him since the beginning really speaks for his talent and promise.
As they were becoming some of the most recognizable rock artists of all time, superstars in other words, they released their second album, called “Axis: Bold As Love” in the same year as the first one. The group released one more album before splitting up. This album was called “Electric Ladyland”, and featured the hit “All Along The Watchtower.”
The band broke up in 1969, and from then on he mostly worked by himself, having made both a fortune and quite a name for himself. But he was spending the money as quick as he was getting it. He lived a reckless lifestyle, full of drugs and lavish parties.
The same year, in 1969, he took an important part in one of the most legendary music events of all time: Woodstock. This was during the peak of the “hippie-era”, so I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there. However, I believe that “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” sums it upp pretty well. Here, he had what was probably his most important performance ever. It was so influential that we still remember and talk about it to this day. But it was also something that was highly questioned. While high on LSD, which regardless of what one might personally think about the substance (was and still is illegal), he played the American anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. This made Woodstock one of the most famous events of all time. The Youtube videos alone, decades after his death, have millions and millions of views. He used the moment to, with the help of nothing but his guitar, recreate the sounds of a battle field to criticize the Vietnam war, which the U.S. was currently a part of.
After the breakup of his band, he created a new one,”Band Of Gypsies” but it didn’t last long and from there on he only released solo material. But in 1970, his lifestyle caught up to him and he was found dead in his hotel room, after drug related asphyxiation, or in other words, choking on his own vomit.
To me, an artist is someone special. It doesn’t even have to do with music, seeing how painters and sculptors are artists too. An artist is someone who creates art, in any of its forms. It may be music, drawing, painting, sculpting, acting and showmanship or lots of other things. It is also often someone who inspires people, but not every artist is an iconic one. All of them don’t need to be one. An artist is an artist. However, when we are talking about musicians I find that the best ones are the iconic ones. Those who inspire generations, revolutionize their field, and create their own special style. People like Hendrix, in other words.
If I had to give Jimi Hendrix a single compliment, it would probably be something along the lines of: “you inspired generations, played the guitar like no one else before you, and you put on some of the best shows that the world of music has ever seen.” I’ve already talked about his guitar skills, but another thing is his influence. One clear example of this is the Grammy-award winning group Outkast, who have used pictures of him in their music videos and often state him as one of their biggest inspirations, especially Andre 3000.
Another thing about Jimi Hendrix was his showmanship. Early in his career, he became famous for setting his guitars on fire during performances. He did this, most notably, in the Monterey Music Festival in 1967, and the burnt guitar was later sold, as an important part of music history, for well over 200 000 Brittish pounds. He was also well known for playing entire solos, or songs, on the guitar with his teeth or behind his back. Although he might not have invented these moves by himself, he really popularised them and brought them into the mainstream, which is another reason that he is iconic.
Personally, I find critiquing Jimi Hendrix as a musician to be very difficult. However, he did not write all of his own music. Many of his biggest hits had ghostwriters or were covers of other people's songs. Now, some may argue that there isn’t necessarily something wrong with this, and personally I really don’t think that it is such a big deal since he was still an amazing guitarist, vocalist and showman. However, singing your own music is always a positive as it pushes you to be imaginative and do your best. I’m not saying that he didn’t always do those things, but the chance is that he could have grown even further, and I would have loved to get to hear what that could have sounded like.
Hendrix has also had a great impact on many parts of culture, especially music. As I mentioned earlier, he was one of the most influential guitar-players ever. He was also one of the most important players in terms of spreading, and making new techniques for the guitar. But the way that he sang was also unique and changed the landscape of rock. He started the trend that artists could be both the singer and playing the lead at the same time. Without him, rock bands would have had to be bigger, and behind the evolution of the genre. It would also have been more economically troublesome with bigger groups. That essentially meant that the cost of signing a group to a record label decreased, which might have led to that some of the great groups that came after Jimi never even got signed. Without Jimi Hendrix, our musical landscape and history would look a lot different.