Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From an unknown guitarist to King Guitar

by Steven Roby

Did Jimi's musical style change after he was discovered and brought over to England?

Unfortunately we have no recorded music of Jimi's "Greenwich Village days" to compare it with. I've looked and asked all the right people too! The closest I've ever come is "Killin Floor" and "Hey Joe" from an October 1966 Paris concert/broadcast (found on the box set from 2000). Also, there's a version of "Hey Joe" by Spirit. When I interviewed Randy California he told me that this is the same style JJ and the Blue Flames played it at Cafe Wha?. From September (N.Y.) to October (Europe), it was the same Jimi, just a different back up band. I'm not so sure he learned much from the "best guitarists in London's scene," as they did from him.

Personally, when Jimi crossed the Atlantic in 1966, I don't feel anything magical happened to his playing or style, he just found a more receptive audience with better resumes (Clapton, Townshend, Beck, etc.). It was still the same hard drivin' blues, with a tinge of R&B style, behind a rock beat that made him popular. I'm not discounting Seattle or the influences he picked up there, I just feel much of the credit should go to his father/mother for their love of music and dance, and keeping that radio/record player on most of the time. (As a kid, Jimi took it apart to see where the music was coming from.)

We do know that Jimi kept his R&B stage schtick while performing in the Village. Guitarist Jeff Baxter said: "It was just incredible to watch this guy play. They were playing lot of blues. Jimi played at the guitar, on the guitar, around the guitar. It's almost as if the instrument wasn't even there. There was so much on his mind, and there just happened to be a guitar."

According to folk singer Ellen McIllwaine, there were times when he'd play a softer set in a Village club: "The picture I have in my head is I was sitting at the piano and Jimi was leaning over on the barstool. He was not the personality you'd see with the John Hammond act, like squirting toothpaste into the audience and fooling around like that. Jimi didn't do any of that when we played together. He played very quietly and seriously. I always played boogie-woogie piano and a couple of ballads. It was kind of bluesy."

If you take away all the psychedelic studio effects found "AYE" and "ABAL" you still have great albums. His style didn't change, he was just given the freedom and encouragement to explore his imagination. Acid may have helped too.

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