It was 1991. I was 12. My family had just moved into our own, new house. My dad had spent a year planning everything out with the builder, and over the course of the past year, had been working to see this thing built, exactly as he wanted it. It was a beautiful house. And in this, my dad had allowed me to pick my own carpet for my room. I chose a blue shade, because it looked nice. For my birthday that year, I had asked for a CD player, and so when the birthday rolled around, my dad gave me my first adult stereo, a component system. It was a Sony receiver, and a Sony CD player. For speakers, he gave me a pair of old Fisher’s he had purchased from Circuit City back when they were called ‘Sound and Vision’, and still held a lifetime warranty on them from when he purchased them. So after dropping them off for a re-cone under warranty, I had a pair of big, three way speakers.
The ONLY CD I wanted, despite being into metal and rap at the time, was Jimi Hendrix ‘Electric Ladyland’. Now, I had never HEARD Jimi Hendrix. But having been a guitar player for a couple years, and having read guitar magazines, I knew this was supposed to be a pivotal album. So on that birthday morning, I assembled my component system, and sat down to listen to this amazing recording. The CD had come in one of those long CD boxes. I remember fumbling with it, not knowing how to open it, then finally I got out the disc, and carefully placed it in the tray and hit play.
Now, I had been reading about Hendrix for a couple years now, but had never heard him, so my expectations were ‘This is important’. I had heard he was the best guitar player ever. So I was preparing myself for something important. And what I heard next, left an undeniable impression.
The guy sounded amazing. Amazing, raw tone. But more importantly, he sounded like an amateur, and a professional. Having spent years playing a guitar with two strings and no theory or lessons earlier in life, I could relate to the mechanical, physical approach to his sound. I had made similar sounds. The guitar sounded like an actual guitar, being manipulated to no end.
Now you might say ‘of course, it’s a guitar’, but most professional guitar players sound like music, rather than guitar. Hendrix sounded like a man manipulating a guitar to make music. Manipulating, not playing. This sounded like science: Science and passion. You could feel his heart burning in the way he played, and would take a note from amateur experimental zone all the way to best guitar player ever, in 15 seconds. He would bend, shake, and hammer past the point anyone else felt comfortable. He exposed the instrument as wire on wood, and wasn’t afraid to let it be heard as such. And then he’d take you back to virtuoso guitar player land.
I believe this was a conscious choice. Later in life I learned of Hendrix playing backup guitar in early bands, and I heard them, and listening to his other records, I know he could do ANYTHING he wanted, guitar wise. So like Picasso, Hendrix, in his peak, decided to render the guitar as if he had fresh eyes. Simple. Reductive. But then, he would take you into a masters quality riff, whereas Picasso left that to a separate point in time. When Hendrix played, he exuded control. When Hendrix picked up a guitar, Jimi Hendrix was now in control of the guitar. When he played, Jimi Hendrix was now redefining the guitar. He took it to the extent of his physical and theoretical relationship with the instrument, bumped up against the boundaries of physics, crossed over them, then took you back to the middle, the edge, and again, beyond, to play you a song.
I still remember that passion, that fire coming out of my speakers. But what struck me the most, was the kind place it all came from…
…there seemed to be compassion behind it all.