The what and why of my love for Hendrix

As the baby of my family, I was subject to the musical tastes of everyone in the Boots household. This was mostly a good thing, some times not so much. It was mostly country music as I rode around with my siblings, unless they would slip in a bit of “country-approved” rock, like AC/DC or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Whenever I was working with my dad, the radio rarely worked, so he would fill the silence by belting out his old favorites by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Sr. or Kitty Wells.

None of this was too influential on me at the time, mostly because the band that meant the most to me was The Party, a pop group comprised of former Mickey Mouse Club members. No, this did not include Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears.

Everything changed drastically when my older brother gave me a mixed tape of songs by The Doors for my 11th birthday. I was stunned, because I’d never heard anything like it. “LA Woman” was automatically my favorite, because it had such a cool beat to it and introduced almost every side of Jim Morrison to me: crooner, storyteller, poet, shrieking madman. I fell in love immediately.

And so I researched the man behind the music, and quickly found myself immersed in understanding the what and why of the ’60s. I was fascinated by this period of time, and enthralled by the music that came out of it, so I did all I could to get my hands on albums from Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and everyone else I learned about. This led me to a membership with Columbia House, a music club that would mail me any CD I wanted, and then take every cent I owned.

Planet-rock-jimi-hendrix

I don’t remember reading about Jimi Hendrix before I ordered one of his best of albums, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I chose The Ultimate Experience – I wanted to hear this guy’s biggest songs before deciding if it was worth it to buy any more of his records.

And oh, sweet Jesus, did I pick a goldmine.

I’ve held on to that CD for 20 years, and it thankfully still works, because it’s a collection of songs that define Hendrix – you’ll see many of them on this week’s playlist because they still mean all that much to me, so many years after I first heard them.

Opening with Dylan’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” was the perfect move, because it was a song I already knew. Needless to say I was floored at the reworked version by Hendrix, and soon considered it better than Dylan’s.

But then there was the beauty of “Angel”, or the sexiness to “Manic Depression”, not to mention the guitarist’s crushing translation of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. Honestly, there was not a bad song among them – just take a look at the track listing:

01. All Along The Watchtower
02. Purple Haze
03. Hey Joe
04. The Wind Cries Mary
05. Angel
06. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
07. Foxy Lady
08. Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
09. Highway Chile
10. Crosstown Traffic
11. Castles Made Of Sand
12. Long Hot Summer Night
13. Red House
14. Manic Depression
15. Gypsy Eyes
16. Little Wing
17. Fire
18. Wait Until Tomorrow
19. Star Spangled Banner (Live)
20. Wild Thing (Live)

I was enamored by this album well into my high school years, and for so many reasons. It showed me the ins and outs of the guitar, and I somehow knew no one would ever be able to match his ability to tell a story with it. There were love songs in there, and songs of sorrow, but also there were upbeat rockers, laid back jams and the ones that made you wanna go out and have a damn good time. It was the perfect album.

Hendrix was remixing what Chuck Berry had done to rock ‘n’ roll with a bit more of the blues, and a lot of the psychedelic mindset that was happening at the time. I would later discover Electric Ladyland, and the rest of Hendrix’s small canon of albums, and could never leave them. New music would come into my life, and no matter if I liked it, loved it or despised it, I would always return to Hendrix. It never mattered there wasn’t a ton of his work to listen to, because the riffs always made the songs exciting, regardless of how many times I’d heard them. He also had such a cool, easygoing delivery with his vocals, and it made the songs completely relatable. Don’t get me started on his sexy connotations…that man was pure sex, in body, mind and guitar.

As I’ve learned more and more about the brief amount of time Hendrix was rewriting what music meant, I’ve wondered what might have become of him if he hadn’t taken too many sleeping pills that night in ’70. Would he have carried on, like The Stones, and continued releasing records for decades, thus lending himself to times his music wouldn’t have been at his best? Or would he have created a string of phenomenal albums, then more or less retired, going out on top?

Then I remember it doesn’t matter. Hendrix did more in his 4 years in the spotlight than most musicians will ever dream of in their lifetimes. I am extremely satisfied with the small collection of albums he has provided me, and can only hope he remains properly exalted for the rest of time.

And so with that I thank you for being everything I’ve ever needed, Mr. Hendrix. Your music has made me who I am.

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