Why Jimi Hendrix's Popularity Never Wanes
Ask any metalhead who their favorite guitarist is and you’re sure to get a plethora of answers. Amongst the James Hetfields, Zakk Wyldes, Dimebag Darrells, and Fredrik Thordendals, one name will constantly rise to the top. Jimi Hendrix and the music he created in his short career delighted those lucky enough to hear it first hand and continues to excite both aficionados of the heavy and just about everyone else for that matter.
Hendrix had bags of style – both on the stage and off it. His chops are instantly recognizable and in terms of musicianship, he goes unmatched for many even today. In fact, he has been consistently celebrated for what he brought to the worlds of pop and rock music during his brief time in the limelight and beyond it. He picked up countless awards since he first exploded onto the British rock scene in the 1960s and even after his death he continues to be recognized as one of, if not the, most important guitarists of all time.
So, what’s the secret of Hendrix’s success? Why does his popularity never seem to die?
He Didn’t Just Play the Songs
Hendrix is a true pioneer of the sonic wizardry that we mostly take for granted these days. He took what many considered at the time to be inaudible noise and turned it into something all his own. A perusal of his back catalogue shows a control over his instrument that was way ahead of its time. He could make the guitar scream, wail, cry, and croon – often all in the same song.
Not only had Hendrix complete control over how his guitar fed back through his amplifiers, he was also one of the first to use guitar effects to give his work even more character and flavor. His use of the wah pedal is so legendary that renowned gear manufacturer Jim Dunlop paid homage to it with a signature wah model. Also prominent in Jimi’s arsenal of audio enhancers were octave pedals, fuzz boxes, and expression pedals. The Voodoo Child’s use of these then cutting-edge devices helped to create a sound that remains completely unique.
He Looked the Part
It isn’t just Jimi’s sonic presence that continues to turn generation after generation onto the Seattle-born superstar. His wardrobe oozes that eclectic 60s style that he became a poster boy for. Tassels, the most garish of jackets, typically women’s clothing, and the velvet cowboy hat; Hendrix could pull it all off.
He had a look all his own. A look that screamed, “you’re about to be experienced.” Even his guitar stood out. The now-legendary white Stratocaster was played upside down to suit Jimi’s natural left-handedness. This guy clearly wasn’t one of his peers jamming along on a Danelectro hanging at nipple height.
Of course, his style alone isn’t enough to ensure an enduring popularity. However, combined with his virtuosity on his instrument and stories of heroic intakes of LSD, you know you’re in full-fledged rock star territory.
He Died Young
As crushing as it must have been to hear of Hendrix’s premature passing for fans at the time, the fact that he died in his twenties only makes his legend stronger. Would young fans get turned onto the Hendrix sound if he was still trotting out the occasional “Crosstown Traffic” amongst a slew of hits he’d released that year?
Whilst it’s impossible to say for certain, it seems improbable. Sure, the occasional legend of the 1960s sound still draws younger fans – think Bob Dylan – but even they don’t command quite the same legacy as Hendrix does today. There’s nothing to say that Jimi would still be able to represent the same sense of wild rebellion that draws younger fans to his music more than 30 years on. That said, it is highly likely that the boy could still shred – even at the age of eighty-something.
A Legendary Performer
Not only did Jimi have the wardrobe and the latest gadgets on his side, he was also a captivating performer. He’d pull the same guitar trickery that today makes the average pub jammer look like the biggest try-hard going. However, when he did them, they’d pretty much never been seen before.
Hendrix would shred with his teeth, play behind his head, and caress his axe in an almost sexual fashion. Jimi even set fire to his guitars on occasion – a stunt that even left him hospitalized.
His Songs Were Fantastic
Above all else, Hendrix’s legacy is down to his ability as a writer. All the performance, fashion, and technique in the world wouldn’t have kept him consistently popular all these years if his songs were not absolute crackers.
Essentially, many of his most famous jams are tarted up blues with a smattering of rock and roll in there. Lyrically, they were embellished with figurative language that would allow the listener to create their own meaning behind the words and thus form a powerful emotional attachment to the music.
The likes of “Little Wing”, “Wind Cries Mary”, and “Voodoo Child” are chocked full of lines that, combined with their author’s endlessly creative musicianship, form the perfect soundscape to lose yourself entirely in. His ability to craft an image with his sounds was so great that he was able to entirely reinvent one of the legendary Bob Dylan’s songs into something many argue is the only cover version better than the original.
With the above factors combined, it’s not hard to see why Jimi Hendrix has remained consistently popular in the 38 years since his death. Hendrix merchandise still adorns the walls and torsos of college students across the land and almost everyone the slightest bit interested in great music can name a handful of his tracks. Hell, there is even a game based on his music. It’s unlikely that the world will ever see another performer quite like Hendrix and that’s alright – his legend lives on in hearts of all those who have been drawn to his music over the decades since his passing.