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So much goes into making an amazing guitarist. Technique, innovation, complexity, subtlety... a whole bunch of things. There's something though that can take those techniques and really put them over the top, making good guitarists into great guitarists , great guitarists into stellar guitarists and Jimi Hendrix (an amazing guitarist) into THE guitar master. This "special something" is one of the most illusive of things, but something that many guitarists spend their entire life striving for... especially blues guitarists: It's passion and soul.
Since the very first time that blues became electrified with people like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Freddie King , Buddy Guy and Howlin' Wolf, the goal has been to play with the utmost feeling, emotion and soul. B.B. King is especially good at this and served as inspiration to so many guitarists during the 60s (and in modern times too), so it only makes sense that a big part of rock and roll guitar playing is about passion and soul. Players like Eric Clapton took this to heart and became guitar legends, as did the player who is the focus of this 3 part piece: Jimi Hendrix.
When it comes to guitar playing, personally it's all about the passion and the soul for me. There are some "less than technically amazing" players who absolutely excel at pouring tons and tons of soul into their music. They're great players, but the ones that take technique, subtlety AND soul, combining it all for amazing effect... those are the real guitar masters and Jimi Hendrix was one of... if not THE best at doing just that.
The most obvious song (at least to me) to talk about when talking about soul as a part of Hendrix's music is "Voodoo Chile". This slow burning blues explosion is from the very first note to the very last an outpouring of emotion. The recording sounds almost spontaneous which makes it even more amazing that Jimi could conjure so much emotion and passion, combined with a variety of techniques to create such a masterpiece on the spot, like he was just pouring out his soul. It's almost as if the guitar is an extension of his body, and he speaks through it as easily, if not even more easily, than speaking verbally. By the end you feel spent even just listening to it, and that's really what it's all about... letting all those emotions out. The more famous counterpart to this song "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" is also pretty good at demonstrating Jimi's passion, as it has the same feeling of emotional abandonment and just letting the music flow, while "Third Stone from the Sun" is perhaps the best representation of this abandonment, but I don't really know how much of it was actually composed and how much was improvised on the spot. Either way, it's all about the emotions of the song, creating this encompassing landscape and "Third Stone from the Sun" is an amazing landscape.
Perhaps the best way to really see the passion and soul Jimi put into his music, is to watch some of the amazing live footage that's out there. You can watch the majority of the Woodstock performance (I believe I shared it here on the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll when the site was first starting out), or the infamous Monterey Pop's performance complete with flaming guitar (I shared a clip of that show too) online if you look hard enough. In all the performances though, you can just tell that he's feeling the music from the start, giving it his all through and through, and that really comes through and makes the music that much better. He channels his soul better than a lot of the guitarists out their to this day and I think that is a huge part of what makes him so good.
The soul of the music is really what it's all about as music without soul, no matter how beautiful, how complex and how technically advanced, is not all that interesting. Jimi puts so much soul into everything he did that it raises the bar for everything else, making techniques more exciting and melodies more beautiful... the passion and soul is the most important aspect of his playing, no matter what it is. Hendrix is just the complete package, starting with soul and adding so much more. Although there may be more technically advanced players out there, some that are more soulful, and some that play more beautifully... the ones that can take it all together and create something massively powerful that is coming straight from the heart are few and far between. Not too many guitarists if any have the perfect combination like Jimi.... and that's really why I think he is THE guitar master.
Why is Jimi Hendrix the guitar master? Well in my eyes it is because of his technique, innovation, subtlety, complexity, soul and more than anything else... his passion for the music.
If you've never really appreciated the guitar work of Jimi Hendrix, or maybe you're like me and always knew he was the best, but never really questioned why, I hope this three part tribute has inspired you to take another look at his music and maybe think a bit about it too.