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Is Jimi Hendrix Overrated?

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Is Jimi Hendrix Overrated?

Many individuals, guitarists, music fans or otherwise often state Jimi Hendrix as being arguably the greatest guitarist ever. Guitar Jar questions this statement, wondering if Hendrix would have claimed this title if he hadn’t have died at the peak of his career.

…there’s a wealth of guitar talent in our local communities who are arguably more technically gifted than Hendrix…

There’s no doubt about it; Hendrix could play the guitar brilliantly. For some of the Guitar Jar visitors reading this, you may have witnessed Hendrix in full flight, hearing him push his Fender Stratocaster and Marshall stack to the limits.

Hendrix, in my mind, was a fantastic blues guitarist, who embellished additional styles and techniques into his repertoire. From an early age, it seems he was destined to achieve great things on his instrument; from having the opportunity to play alongside Little Richard, The Isley Brothers and Curtis Knight through to being spotted in Greenwich Village by Animals bassist, Chas Chandler, whilst playing a slow rendition of “Hey Joe”.

Once Hendrix arrived in the UK under Chas Chandler’s musical wing, it wasn’t long until word about him spread. Many musicians of the day were knocked sideways by his guitar playing ability and sheer showmanship, and he quickly gained a positive reputation from both musicians and the general public alike. Apparently, even Eric Clapton was blown away by Hendrix’s version of Howlin Wolfs “Killing Floor” and subsequently worried if his newly adopted title of “god” would be taken away from him.

The rest they say is history and without going into too much detail about the musical journey Hendrix embarked, you could argue he died at the peak of his career, just as his musical flavours were beginning to take a new direction.

A new generation of “better” guitarists?

Matt Bellamy

Matt Bellamy – “better” than Hendrix?

There’s no doubt that since Hendrix’s death, there’s been an influx of guitarists across the world that seem to have a far greater technical ability on their instrument.

There’s a wealth of guitar talent in our local communities who are arguably more technically gifted than Hendrix. In the recent Guitar Jar Podcast, we talk about the talent seen at local Open Mic Nights across the country. At one particular Open Mic Night I attended, an acoustic guitarist just 6 feet in front of me played some of the most amazing guitar I’ve EVER heard. He was incredible, but sadly may never get the recognition by the mainstream public that his talent truly deserves.

There’s obviously been an array of guitar talent in the mainstream music scene over the past 4 decades that could be considered as more technically gifted, or “better” than Hendrix. Yet, despite their seemingly technical prowess, these guitarists often tip their hat towards Hendrix; the melodic runs of May, the solid riffs of Iommi, the rawness of Page, the theatrical embellishments of Van Halen, Satriani and Vai to name just a few, all seem to have a hint of Hendrix in their playing style.

Even in the 21st Century, guitarists such as Matt Bellamy seem to dish out a plateful of fuzz & energy to adoring crowds; all of which was done by Hendrix some 40 years prior.

Is Hendrix overrated?

No one will know what Hendrix may have achieved if he hadn’t of died so young. Recent releases of “unheard” material shows Hendrix still trying to figure out his new musical direction. Maybe he would’ve been like Santana – still playing and releasing albums, but not necessarily inspiring the imaginations of the guitar playing public (sorry Santana!).

Personally I don’t think Hendrix is overrated. For one reason, the countless numbers of guitar players, mainstream or otherwise, who still learn his riffs, copy his playing style and showmanship, just goes to show what a legacy he has.

For me though, what I enjoy about Hendrix’s guitar playing is how fluid he was; the energy he played with was incredible, flowing effortlessly across the fretboard, playing with true emotion and attitude. Although his lead guitar playing was sublime, it’s his rhythm playing that really floors me.

A prime example of why Hendrix can be so highly regarded can be summarised in his live performance of “Machine Gun” which is featured on the “Band of Gypsys” album. This is my favourite Hendrix album, and the song itself is one of the finest pieces of live electric guitar playing you’ll ever likely to hear; packed full of emotion, rhythm and energy.

His legacy, the way his music and guitar playing still influences the guitarist community today, and the incredible musical gift Hendrix had makes me draw my own personal conclusion that Hendrix isn’t overrated – sure, there are many who are more technically gifted, but Hendrix just had that “something extra”…

Would Hendrix have had such adoration and respect from the guitar playing community if he hadn’t of died in the peak of his career? What are your thoughts? Have your say below.

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About the author:

Sam is passionate about talking all things guitar related and started GuitarJar.co.uk to help encourage all guitarists in their guitar playing journey.

14 Comments

  • I’m glad you mentioned his rhythm playing….that and the little chord embellishments he had, that kind of sounded like little lead parts when they tied together, were the more inspiring things about him, for me at least, than all the wailing fuzz laden strat strangling that people identify with him.

    Jimi and Steve Cropper are both fathers of R&B style chord melody in my opinion, and I don’t think they each get the recognition for this, despite how many people list Jimi as a god figure.

    So I guess my answer to “Is Jimi Hendrix overrated?” is that his distorted lead playing may have been bettered, but very few guitarists out there can emulate convincingly the soulful rhythm sound, and be the absolute force in a three piece ‘power trio’ format as he was….that side of him I think is actually underrated. SRV and Warren Haynes are two of the only people who come close, to me, and maybe John Mayer in his better moments.

  • Band of Gypsies – incredible album – i have it on vinyl – 7track release yum yum, machine gun

    the fusion with buddy miles (who is fully running on gas) too

    you can almost see, let alone hear the sparks flying! i read somewhere they had to knock the album out due to some contractual tie up – so recorded it live and produced a diamond album

    regarding hendrix being over rated – no way – no possible way.

    Overated = professional footballer

    consistantly under rated = hendrix. and i’m in agreement with rick’s comment – there’s so much attention on the wilder side of his playing that the subtleties he poured out can go a miss.

    cheers
    r

  • What is Greatness – a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person, object or place. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear and perceivable advantage. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work, and may be qualified or unqualified.

    An example of an expression of the concept in a qualified sense would be person or their work, and may be qualified or unqualified. An example of an expression of the concept in a qualified sense would be “Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitarists ever”. In the unqualified sense it might be stated “Jimi” achieved greatness within his own breif lifetime”, thus implying that “greatness” is a definite and identifiable quality. Application of the terms “great” and “greatness” is dependent on the perspective and subjective judgments of those who apply them. [1] Whereas in some cases the perceived “greatness” of a person, place or object might be agreed upon by many, this is not necessarily the case, and the perception of “greatness” may be both fiercely contested and highly individual.

    As we all know, you can’t believe everything you see and now can you, so if you’ll excuse me I must digress and say… sit down with your guitar and try and learn to play Little Wing in a day, and if you can’t get your head around 45 seconds of absolute genius, then yes it’s ok to believe that yes, he had greatness.

    As for where he was going musically, he did say around the band of gypsies episode that he was trying to be more free form, get up and just jam out with the right people that could respond to his creative curves. I think he wanted to get away from the constructed song ethic, but if that was what he was feeling at that time then I think he was already on his way.

  • Interesting article and interesting comments. Gordon, I liked reading about your take on “What is greatness”; I spent about 30mins collecting my thoughts after reading your comment.

    In relation to this article, do I personally think Hendrix is overrated? Yes and no… In my opinion, if I only listened to Hendrix studio material, then Yes, but every time I listen to his live recordings, or watch live footage of him, I can’t get over how impressive his guitar playing is.

    So based on the fact he was an excellent performing musician, and his live recordings still make my heart race today (even though I must have heard them 1000’s of times), in my opinion, he is worthy of his adoration from numerous guitarists, from across the globe, spanning multiple generations.

    Good article.

  • Great topic Sam.

    My thoughts. We look back at Jimi with 40 years of hind-sight so it’s difficult to realise how innovative Jimi was.

    There have been few innovators in the guitar world; any plenty of copykats and assimilators (sp?), who can arguably do it “better”.

    Hank Marvin, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen (and a few others) all took the guitar to a place it had not been before and we have to recognise them for that.

    Anyway, fellow guitarists, go and find the Multitrack Masters that are floating around the Internet and have a listen to some of Jimi’s guitar all “bare” so to speak. (Head start – Little Wing (no intro), and The Wind Cries Mary) are around. ) And then find the 16 track of Queen’s Bo Rap and hear how they did it. Masterful.

    Blessings!

  • Excellent post! Very well thought out & broad view of things!

  • I don’t think he is over rated. I think he is one of the few that deserve the hype that is around them.

    I think on occasions he was sloppy, I have heard covers of his songs that sound better than his original version ( John Mayer – Bold As Love) but then he did the same to All Along The Watchtower and his passion over came any technical short comings.

    In the context of the 60’s he was a revolutionary guitar player. He was innovative, skilful and wild. No one played like Hendrix and he inspired a new era of guitar players and still does to this day.

  • I think too many narrow-minded people consider him to be the greatest guitarist ever, when a more realistic view is that he was good, influential, but not the best ever.

    Even the word “best” can be interpreted in different ways. Does being the best guitarist ever mean sounding the best? Being the most technically skilled? Being the most influential?

    Also, comparing musicians from different genres is equally unfair. For example, comparing a jazz guitarist to a metal guitarist is like comparing apples to oranges; they are both good in their own way, yet some just prefer one over the other.

    For these and many more reasons, pinpointing a single “best” guitarist is impossible, as it is largely up to personal preference. However, due to the number of people that insist Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist ever, I would have to say that yes, he is overrated. In my opinion there are many guitarists who are just as, if not more, technically skilled as Hendrix, yet very underrated.

  • Jimi Hendrix is THE most overrated guitar player in the history of the world.

  • band of gypies has unfathomable depth, clarity of vision and a vibe that offers some of the finest blues ever recorded live to benefit a contractual requirement of a record company…

    it has not been matched since – can anyone with negative comments point me the right way as i have yet to hear it beaten

    ps Hi Sam, please could we have a new link as i often visit this article to view the vid?

    muchly grateful for this article, still !

    • Added an audio only – I think the Hendrix Foundation is watching YouTube like a hawk and removing all live footage of the Band of Gypsys gig. It’s available on DVD though, in a documentary about the entire Band of Gypsys era.

  • Jimi was far more than a guitarist, he was a fantastic musician, writer, player and person!

    Apart from the fact that feeling has 100 times more value than technique there is certain things to consider; nearly everything he played was improvised, his songs were written specifically to allow improvisation between themes this alone boasts an amazing song writing talent.

    No one these days improvises anything maybe the odd solo but mostly it will be a string of pre determined cliches. The only thing hendrix’ reputation is ever pulled on is his technique ..and the mistakes he made.. well he was improvising, and some of the most astonishing melodies and harmonies I have ever heard were Hendrix improvising.

    The more we worry about being perfect and never making mistakes the less human and the less feeling we will end up having in music, and music will end up being ..well how it is now in 2012 .. drab lifeless and copied.

    • Jimi was a drug addict who could not sing worth a damn. His playing can be mastered by any intermediate guitar player. he gets all the hype because he is black, simple as that. BB King self admittedly can’t even play chords well yet they say he is another of the best guitarists in the world – because he is black. What a load of crapola!

  • I agree Hendrix is definitely NOT overrated. I hear people saying if he’s so good how come kids today can copy him. copying somebody is not impressive. It’s only impressive if u can create something new from it. the major thing I hear is how Guitarist after him were technically better. Technically doesn’t always equal good music and I think jimi wasn’t trying to be the best technical guitarist but rather what sounds complemented his music the best. I believe he is the best guitarist ever. he is an underrated songwriter, a amazing guitar player which a lot of people don’t understand is much more than solos and one of the best performers to ever live.

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