10 Rock + Metal Guitarists Who Owe A Lot to Jimi Hendrix
November 27 would’ve been Jimi Hendrix’s 80th birthday if the legendary guitarist had lived to see the day rather than tragically becoming a member of the mythical 27 Club. He passed far before his time in 1970, having been in the limelight for just a few years but leaving an incredible legacy in his wake.
His death was just a year after his landmark performance at Woodstock 1969 where Hendrix changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll forever. The highest paid performer on the bill, Hendrix ripped into an electric fuzz-fueled take on “The Star-Spangled Banner” that has become a keynote in American music history (if not also the counterculture movement). It was a showdown that even Guitar World claimed was the “greatest performance of all time” in their 2011 tribute to the guitar god. It was a performance many modern guitarists recall seeing, saying it had an impact on their own playing, too.
To try to come up with a list of all the guitarists that have been influenced by Hendrix is a pointless task, as most who have ever picked up the instrument the past five-plus decades would say he impacted them in some way. The “Voodoo Child” renegade changed the game and has been called one of the greatest instrumentalists of all time. He was an early adopter and pioneer of distortion effects and the wah-wah pedal and, to use George Harrison’s famous words, brought emotion to his playing that made the guitar weep.
Hendrix, of course, has an obvious large hold on electric blues artists from contemporaries such as Eric Clapton and fusion artist Jeff Beck and in latter years, his influence has lived on in Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and John Mayer to the incredible Gary Clark Jr. But the musician also made his mark in many ways on rock and metal artists, too.
Before Hawkwind and Motorhead, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister was a roadie for Hendrix, with Lemmy famously telling Bass Magazine in his final interview, as picked up by Guitar World, “He told me I was never going to be a good guitar player.” Countless rock and metal acts have also famously covered Hendrix, from Living Colour to Tom Morello, Red Hot Chili Peppers and even The Cure (Robert Smith is a big fan).
When it comes to the rock and metal guitarists who kneel at the altar of Hendrix, here are 10 that have bowed down when asked about what the guitarist meant to them.
In addition to being active in Black Label Society and touring with Ozzy Osbourne, Wylde often makes appearances on the frequent Experience Hendrix tour celebrating the icon’s legacy and contributions to the world of music.
That will happen again for one-night-only this year, on Dec. 4 at Austin’s ACL Live, which will be a special fete honoring Hendrix’s 80th birthday. Wylde is one of the top-billed performers, in addition to Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Dweezil Zappa among others.
As Wylde told <i>Consequence</i> recently, in an interview transcribed by <i>Blabbermouth</i>, “Jimi Hendrix was basically the Jesus Christ of electric guitar. That's the ceiling — you can't do anything more with guitar.”
If you’ve watched the Netflix docu series <i>Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99</i> you might remember one of the craziest moments from the much-critiqued event: When the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience song, “Fire” while actual fires raged in the background, the crowd setting things ablaze with candles handed out for a vigil.
It marred a great cover by RHCP, which also appears on their 1989 album <i>Mother’s Milk,</i> and was one of the final recordings of late original guitarist Hillel Slovak who sadly passed in 1988. His replacement, John Frusciante, was likely no doubt delighted to be able to take on the cover of “Fire,” as he is one who has always waxed ecstatic about Hendrix.
As he told <i>Total Guitar</i> in 2006, as picked up by <i>Music Radar</i>, “When I was a kid I would figure out Jimi Hendrix solos, but I was learning a skeleton, or I would learn it and there would be some little detail that I wasn’t picking up. … Pretty much everything on <i>Electric Ladyland</i> was my bible … not only is his guitar playing always speeding up and slowing down, he was playing around with lots of rhythmic expression and off-time playing, which was what I wanted to do with this album [<i>Stadium Arcadium</i>].”
Though we might never know how Jimi Hendrix might have adapted, changed or revolutionized his sound past 1970, watching Slash play the solo in Guns ‘N Roses “Civil War” is the closest we might get to looking into a crystal ball of what could have been. Slash has never been shy about his love, respect and admiration for his predecessor, even narrating the 2010 documentary, <i>Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero</i>.
Slash told <i>The Quietus</i> in 2011 that it was upon his move to L.A. that he first discovered Hendrix and was hooked. “Jimi was just, y'know, he was exciting. He was the embodiment of that wild electric guitarist. … I think the attraction with Jimi was just that he had this uninhibited, fluid guitar style that basically screamed. It had this over-the-top sound to it that just kind of drew me in. I think all of my favorite guitar players have a sort of manic quality to them. … There's definitely a fascination with Hendrix' persona – his demeanor – which seemed very very cool. I don't think you could get too much cooler than Jimi Hendrix.”
Before ZZ Top, Gibbons founded The Moving Sidewalks, and they were one of the lucky few bands who actually got to spend time with Hendrix as the band was tapped to open several dates for him in 1968. And it was clearly something that really impacted Billy Gibbons who was a teenager at the time.
“It was a real mind-bender and eye-opener to say the least,” he told <i>Metal Hammer</i>. “As most now know, Jimi Hendrix, either consciously or subconsciously, made a decision to invent things to do with a Fender Stratocaster that it had not necessarily been intended for. He did it very well, too. I was 18 at the time, and somehow the organizers saw fit to book us in the hotel room across the hall to his room. That was convenient to allow me to ask him the obvious question: ‘How do you do that?’”
Gibbons continues his evangelizing for Hendrix to this day – recently, he contributed the liner notes to the <i>Jimi Hendrix Experience – Los Angeles Forum April 26, 1969</i> album (released Nov. 18) in which he talks about being up close at that show 50-plus years ago. To promote the album, Gibbons also made an appearance on <i>Jimmy Kimmel Live</i> in November, playing Hendrix covers using the exact Gibson Flying V guitar Hendrix wielded at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.
Even before a young Lita Ford was cutting her teeth in The Runaways, the budding talent was teaching herself to play guitar by listening to the likes of Hendrix and Deep Purple. And though she was very much influenced by Richie Blackmore, she took lots of cues from the “Voodoo Child” master as she explained in her 2016 memoir <i>Living Like A Runaway.</i>
Speaking to <i>Arizona Republic</i> about the book, she shared, “Jimi Hendrix, he made a lot of noise with his amplifier and his guitar but he channeled that noise into something musical, like Jimmy Page did. He made it count, even if it wasn’t a note, even if it was just feedback or some kind of noise coming off his pedal or his wah-wah. He made it count. When I play, if I catch onto a note and it’s feeding back, it’s like ‘Ooh, I got feedback. OK, hang onto it and don’t let it go.’ I’ll look at my drummer and he knows I'm up to something. There’s just so much you can do with noise.” Hearing her take on “Little Wing” from her 2016 album <i>Time Capsule</i> shows she took those lessons to heart.
Before Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana and other ‘90s acts were making some noise in Seattle, Hendrix was the city’s star. He was born in the Washington music mecca in 1942 and was raised there for 15 years. It’s a lineage that Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) takes to heart with exhibits and memorabilia from the guitar star. In fact, the museum says on its website that it was “conceived, in the early 1990s, as a museum dedicated to Jimi Hendrix's life, legacy, and career.” Of course, it’s since expanded with mementoes of the grunge era.
One guitarist from those leagues who always really looked up to Hendrix is Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. In addition to playing Hendrix tribute shows and nailing covers, there’s more than a surface level appreciation. MoPop released video footage of McCready talking about the influence Hendrix had on him: “It was another level of musicianship that I had no idea, it was from some other stratosphere or something. … I had been listening to KISS and Aerosmith and then Hendrix was just like another level of like, ‘Oh my god, you know, what is this?’ Seeing Woodstock on TV and seeing him do ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ would give me full-on chills. … [It] scared the hell out of me and gave me chills. That had a huge impact on me.”
If you listened to “Are You Gonna Go My Way” without any context or background on the song or Lenny Kravitz, it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to think the track could have been some unheard Hendrix outtake. Kravitz’s blues-rock-soul-funk approach to music is something Hendrix might have christened had he heard it.
In 2018, the <i>New York Times</i> even wrote a story on Kravitz and his unique real-world connection to Hendrix. At one point, Kravitz was neighbors with Michael Goldstein, a music promoter, businessman and once a good friend of Hendrix. “Mr. Kravitz grew up idolizing Mr. Hendrix, whose onstage persona later served as inspiration,” the article states.
Kravitz also shared in the peace that, “In Michael’s eyes, I sort of became another Jimi. He always told me I performed like Jimi, even reminded him physically of Jimi, and he went on to share with me the blueprint for success that he and Jimi had created together.”
Kravitz most recently shared his thoughts on the guitar icon in a new collector’s book called <i>Jimi</i> that was released Nov. 8 just in time for Hendrix’s 80th birthday.
Though it’s not an obvious lineage, Metallica might not exist without the influence of Jimi Hendrix. At least according to Kirk Hammett who revealed just how influential Hendrix was on his own playing and want to get into music and join a band. Classic Rock published an excerpt from the book <i>Avatar Of The Electric Guitar: The Genius Of Jimi Hendrix</i>, by Greg Prato, released in 2020 in homage to 50 years since the icon passed.
In the piece, Hammett says, “ I was pursuing my own taste – my own musical aesthetic at that point [when he was 14]. And Jimi Hendrix fell right into the middle of that aesthetic – which was a leaning towards hard rock. Y’know, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith — that kind of stuff. So, Jimi Hendrix is right in there. Theoretically, you can say ‘Purple Haze’ was one of the first songs I’d ever heard.”
Hammett added, “And I’ll tell you, you know what I reacted to most? The tone of the guitar. Just that fuzzed out Strat through a Marshall sound – it really got to me. …I played say ‘Purple Haze’ every day for the next three months – trying to get it better and better.”
Trying to take on Hendrix’s hallowed rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” might be sacrilege for some bands but not for Muse who added a solid interlude of it into their set at Coachella in 2010, as reported on by <i>NME</i>. In a later interview with the publication, frontman Matt Bellamy gushed about his undying devotion to Hendrix, which, like Robert Smith, is rather surprising. But, as the article notes, “The future-sounds of Hendrix inspired Muse’s Matt Bellamy to pick up a guitar and create his own warped soundscapes.” In fact, Muse recorded part of their album <i>Black Holes and Revelations</i> at Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland Studios
In Bellamy’s words, he shares, “I saw a video of Jimi Hendrix performing his famous set at the Monterey Pop Festival. More than the songs, what changed my life was the freedom, the expression that he brought to the performance. There was a sense of wild, reckless danger, capped when he famously smashed his guitar at the end, then set it on fire.”
He added, “He’s got so much mastery of his instrument that you forget he’s playing an instrument at all. …I can’t imagine what sorts of impossible sounds he’d be capable of wringing out of a modern studio setup. Guess we’ll never know.”
She’s worked with Michael Jackson, Steve Vai, Alice Cooper and Richie Sambora, but when it comes to who Australian guitarist Orianthi Panagaris would pick as her rock god – that’s simple: Jimi Hendrix. She admitted as much in October of this year when she joined BBC Radio 2’s <i>The Rock Show with Johnnie Walker</i> and made the declaration.
“He just really infused rock, blues, fusion, and took us on such a journey and changed the way that of the electric guitar.” Orianthi also complemented Hendrix’s lyrical prowess. “I mean, [he was] one amazing lyricist. A lot of people think of Jimi as an incredible guitar player and entertainer. But listen to ‘Angel,’ listen to ‘Little Wing,’ ‘Purple Haze.’ With all these tracks, he took us on a journey, lyrically and musically. And that’s why I am picking Jimi Hendrix as my rock god.”
Though she told <i>Guitar.com</i> she “cringes” hearing her take on “Voodoo Child” earlier on in her career (at Japan’s Summer Sonic Festival in 2010), hating her tone, the video has racked up more than 10 million views and she has since done the cover several times over to give it its proper due.