10 Tracks to Remember Jimi Hendrix
Hear our selection of the guitar legend’s best songs
Today (September 18th) marks 50 years since the untimely death of the greatest rock guitarist. Jimi Hendrix has topped most guitar polls and remains a huge influence on the younger generation of guitarists.
Hendrix was only 27 – an age that also took away Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison within a year. The official cause given was “asphyxia while being intoxicated by barbiturates.” During that span, he released three studio albums (Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love and Electric Ladyland) with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, also comprising bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. His live album Band Of Gypsys featured bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. Producer Chas Chandler was associated with the studio albums.
Though there were many posthumous releases later, consisting of unreleased material and studio out-takes, we choose 10 of his most popular tracks from the four albums released during his lifetime. Some of these were put out as singles, and later included in the North American edition of his debut album Are You Experienced. These 10 songs can also double up as a basic introduction to the American guitarist’s genius.
1. “Purple Haze” – Single
Every Hendrix fan knows the line “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” from this song. His most popular number, “Purple Haze” is often described as a reference to drugs and the psychedelic experience, though Hendrix himself gave different stories about its origins, ranging from dreams to his love for science fiction. It was used on the North American edition of Are You Experienced, but not on the U.K. and international editions.
2. “Voodoo Chile” – Electric Ladyland
There are two versions of this song, recorded on successive days. The first, featuring Traffic’s Steve Winwood on organ, ran over 14 minutes. It was inspired by the Muddy Waters classic “Rolling Stone.” The second, titled “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” was recorded for a documentary with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The latter went on to become one of his most popular anthems.
3. “Foxy Lady” – Are You Experienced
According to many fans, the guitar work on this song was a complete package of Hendrix’s entire technique. He’s heavily used jazz and blues styles here. There are different stories on who inspired it. Some say it was written for his ex-girlfriend Faye Pridgon. Others say it was for Heather Taylor, who later married Roger Daltrey of The Who. Hendrix himself never revealed the actual story, saying he would never write about anyone in particular.
4. “Red House” – Are You Experienced
Written in the conventional 12-bar blues format, this song was a standard feature at his concerts. It’s said to be inspired by the slow blues Hendrix heard in his younger days, most notably Albert King’s “Travelling To California.” Again, there is no clarity on who inspired it – options being his former girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan, her sister Maddy or Linda Keith, who went around with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
5. “Machine Gun” – Band Of Gypsys
This was recorded for his 1970 live album Band Of Gypsys, featuring the other trio of Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. It was written as a protest during the Vietnam war. Later, the Isley Brothers combined this with Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s “Ohio” to create a special protest medley. The use of guitar effects on “Machine Gun” is legendary.
6. “Little Wing” – Axis: Bold As Love
The roots of this song date back to the time Hendrix played with artists like the Isley Brothers, Little Richard and Curtis Mayfield. As such, it has a strong rhythm n’ blues feel. The interesting feature is the use of the glockenspiel. In its original version, it’s a tight and compact number. Hendrix characteristically does not reveal the meaning, and there are theories that it could have been inspired by Red Indian lifestyle. The song was covered by Eric Clapton‘s Derek And The Dominoes, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting and the Corrs.
7. “All Along The Watchtower” – Electric Ladyland
The song was originally written by Bob Dylan, and Hendrix loved it so much he decided to do his own version. He got in Traffic’s Dave Mason to play 12-string guitar and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones for the percussion. As Noel Redding, who played bass with him, wasn’t too happy, Hendrix decided to play the instrument himself. Dylan was hugely impressed by the version, especially the guitarist’s ability to make any tune sound like his own.
8. “Hey Joe” – Single
The song, which is about a man who is on the run to Mexico after shooting his wife, is credited to Billy Roberts and was covered by the Leaves and the Byrds earlier. Hendrix was convinced to record it by manager Chas Chandler, after he heard his live version inspired by folk-rock singer Tim Rose. “Hey Joe” was the last song to be played at the 1969 Woodstock festival, when the crowd asked for an encore. It was also put on the North American edition of Are You Experienced.
9. “The Wind Cries Mary” – Single
Also released as a single before being put on the North American edition of Are You Experienced, “The Wind Cries Mary” is partly influenced by blues-rock balladry and partly by Curtis Mayfield’s soul style. “Mary” was the middle name of his then-girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, though Hendrix said it referred to many people. The song was a hit at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.
10. “If 6 Was 9” – Axis: Bold As Love
Though this isn’t top-of-the-mind for most fans, this song is admired by many musicians for Hendrix’s use of studio guitar effects like studio panning, also echo, fuzzbox distortion and reverb. It has often been described as acid-fueled blues, and received some attention when used in the 1969 film Easy Rider. The song was recently in the news when Dylan made an indirect reference to it in his song “Murder Most Foul.”