Hendrix at 70: Jimi Was Headed For Jazz Fusion and Hip-Hop, Not Earth, Wind & Fire
Editor's note: Today, Nov. 24, 2012, would have been Jimi Hendrix's 70th birthday. We're celebrating with a few posts on the man, including a roundup of 13 revealing quotes from Hendrix on Hendrix, a new volume of interviews and profiles edited by Hendrix biographer Steven Roby. Below, Roby shares his thoughts on where Hendrix's music was headed before the guitarist's untimely death on Sept. 18, 1970.
Jimi Hendrix stands alone. Seattle's hometown icon influenced everyone from painters to musicians, but to say his next musical direction was a pop/disco horn band makes no sense at all.
In a recent interview, Janie Hendrix, Jimi's stepsister, told KISW that what Hendrix was aiming for in 1969 was what Earth Wind & Fire became. Perhaps Ms. Hendrix has her late-1960s horn bands confused, and meant to say Chicago, or maybe Blood, Sweat, and Tears, since Earth, Wind & Fire really didn't come to national attention until 1975 with their dance hit "Shining Star." Or maybe the fact she was once married to a guitarist from EWF had something to do with her statement.
While compiling my book, Hendrix on Hendrix, I learned that just days before his death in 1970, Hendrix told a reporter he hated to be labeled as just a guitar player, and wanted to be part of a big new musical expansion. "I've come to the end of one, and it's time to go into another," said Hendrix. "The start of something else."
Hendrix's extended recorded jams from 1969 indicate he was ready to step out of psychedelic rock and into edgy jazz-fusion, which sounds nothing like the pop/disco we got from EW&F. These early fusion excursions Hendrix took part in also yielded respect from players of another genre. "He was a revolutionary like Coltrane," observed guitarist John McLaughlin. Even the great trumpeter Miles Davis saw the potential of collaborating with Hendrix. "Jimi liked what I'd done on Kind of Blue... and wanted to add more jazz elements to what he was doing," said Davis. Some of the ideas Hendrix took away from his time with McLaughlin and Davis can be heard on the live recording of "Machine Gun," and in turn, Jimi's influence is quite prominent on Davis' Bitches Brew sessions.
Hendrix's short-lived group the Band of Gypsys has a closer connection to Funkadelic than what EW&F were working on in the 1970s. Just listen to their first three LPs, and the influence Hendrix had on guitarist Eddie Hazel is quiet obvious.
Beyond jazz and funk, some in hip-hop and rap circles credit Hendrix as laying the first "scratch" on record with his 1967 song "Are You Experienced." Hendrix's impact is evident on artists like the Beastie Boys ("Jimmy James"), A Tribe Called Quest ("If The Papes Come"), and Digital Underground ("The Way We Swing"). Rap's early roots can be traced to a style of Southern prison poetry called Jail Toasts where inmates told wild tales of what was happening on the ghetto streets. In 1969, Hendrix recorded a 13-minute session with Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, The Last Poets' lead performer, who pioneered this early form of rap. "The track was called 'Doriella Du Fontaine,' "and it was the first rap record ever," recalled producer Alan Douglas, "although it wasn't called rap back then."
Had Hendrix lived, and celebrated his 70th birthday today, he'd probably look back on that new sound he started, and the new breed of players who were eager to jam with him over the decades. Whatever recordings resulted, it's probably safe to say they wouldn't have ended up on some cheesy '70s collection being pushed during a public television pledge drive.