Top 100 Lyricists #68: Jimi Hendrix

14 Jul

I don’t know if the crowd who came to see an obscure band in the basement of Temple De Hirsch in Seattle in the late 50’s really respected what they saw. Well, considering that this particular band was fired because of too wild playing, I am sure just one or two true rock n’ rollers in the crowd really enjoyed the concert. Around 10 years later, the band’s young guitarist played in front of a slightly larger crowd at White Lake, NY and propelled himself into the prestigious slot of the top 5 guitarists of all time. I am talking about the sultan of amplified guitar skill himself, Mr. Jimi Hendrix. And, after he received a $5 acoustic guitar from one of his father’s acquaintances, he simply did not turn back. Well, he did eventually switch to electric. Hendrix single handedly re-shaped the electric guitar and how it is even heard today. That is how influential he was…and that was only with the guitar.

Okay, now listen…I can go into an entire Hendrix biography and trust me I wouldn’t mind doing it. But, I will contain myself and show all readers that I can resist sharing tidbits of music minutia. Okay, maybe just one.

Did you know that Hendrix formed a band called the Blue Flame in 1966? The Blue Flame featured a 15-year-old guitarist named Randy Wolfe. It also featured a bassist who shared Wolfe’s first name. Hendrix, anticipated confusion and began calling Wolfe Randy California because he had just moved from there to NYC. Randy California would go on to form the band Spirit with his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy. Spirit, perhaps, is best known for being a huge inspiration to Led Zeppelin. Ed Cassidy often played extended drum solos with his bare hands which influenced John Bonham, Zeppelin’s drummer, to do the same. Also, Spirit’s “Taurus” is often cited as being “Stairway to Heaven” without the huge success. The famous Zeppelin riff is eerily similar to Spirit’s classic. Personally, I think “Taurus” is a better song. Shoot me. Now, back to Hendrix

The reason this post is being written is not to celebrate Hendrix’s guitar ingenuity. That post can be read here: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2009/10/17/court-polls-defense-for-jimi-hendrix/. This, instead, celebrates an art that Hendrix fans do not usually comment enough on. Hendrix was a pretty skilled wordsmith.

Let’s look at one of my favorite Hendrix compositions, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Supposedly, Hendrix wrote this song after he and his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham had an argument over her cooking. Kathy, I am so very happy your cooking did not please Jimi. Kathy, whose middle name is Mary, stormed out of the house and Jimi was left with a decision, eat the unpleasant food or write the song. Just kidding of course. Maybe Jimi was just not very hungry. Here are some lyrics:

“After all the jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red
And the wind whispers Mary

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary”

Hendrix demonstrates a great adroitness for metaphor and sensitive repetition. I, obviously am partial to the court references, but, they work quite well in the song. “Somewhere a queen is weeping, Somewhere a king has no wife.” These two lines in the second verse are by far the best in the song. The words elevate the song to an ethereal level and help represent Hendrix’s situation mystically. And they said Hendrix was only good at the guitar. Well, the guitar definitely helps.

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4 Responses to “Top 100 Lyricists #68: Jimi Hendrix”

  1. fattakin July 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Agreed, his lyrics are worth listening to, he has a poets delivery sometimes.

    You might be interested in this old bootleg, my older rocker neighbour asked me to rip this for him recently from Vinyl.. seems to have a bit of a backstory, no doubt he elaborated it:

    http://weeklyrations.com/fattakin/jimi/Jimi%20Hendrix.rar

    The album is ‘what’d i say’. A real shame his Mic isnt coming through the desk as the instruments sounds class, recorded on Christmas eve i think!

  2. Matt Coleman July 16, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Wow! This is awesome Fatty. Yeah, it is a shame that his voice is muted behind the instruments. I am just mesmerized by the “On The Killin’ Floor” recording. Oh how I love the Hendrix blues. And, “California Night.” Beautiful.

    Thanks for the music and the comment. Can you get any better than old vinyl bootlegs haha.

  3. Dave H December 8, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    That article is incorrect. John Bonham had been playing the drums with his bare hands back in 1963 with the Blue Star Trio, long before he ever saw Spirit. See: http://www.johnbonham.co.uk/quotes/interviews/billharvey-drummer.html

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Jimi Hendrix | Erebus Music - August 10, 2010

    […] rock guitar more than anyone before or since”. However this is not all he was. In the words of Musiccourt, “Hendrix was a pretty skilled wordsmith”, who had a great passion for writing […]

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