[Today: Two disciples of Jimi…]
Jimi Hendrix was a ridiculously talented guitarist who died far too young. His influence on the next generation of guitarists was incalculable, but not in the typical meaning of the phrase – literally, it’s almost impossible to find Jimi’s influence on the surface of any but a scant few albums, and those were released way back in the 70’s. His approach to the electric guitar, and his use of effects pedals and feedback have inspired numerous famous guitarists, but in terms of the sound those guitars are making, Jimi’s influence has been negligible at best. The best analogy for this is Michael Jordan, because while MJ was the greatest basketball player in the world, it would be folly for other players to try be the next Jordan. Ballers can admire the components of his game, and try to emulate his approach to it, but anyone with commensurate talent would be less interested in copying a legend than becoming one (anyone besides Kobe Bryant, that is).
The two guitarists who really followed in the footsteps of Jimi’s sound provide an interesting contrast in the different ways his style was absorbed and regurgitated. Ex-Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower sounds more like Hendrix than any other guitarist I’ve heard, but he pulls up just short of actually ripping off Jimi’s licks. Trower seems to have a technical understanding of how Jimi made his guitar sound just so, and takes that knowledge to his own places. His 1974 album Bridge Of Sighs is a must-have for any Hendrix fan – the homage is obvious, but the music is excellent. Of the comparisons between him and Jimi, Trower told Rolling Stone magazine in 1975 that “If you’re going to compare what I do to anybody, then you have to admit it. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I am now.”
Meanwhile, Spirit guitarist Randy California served what can only be described as an apprenticeship at Jimi’s knee. As a 15-year old, he played with a pre-fame Hendrix in Jimmy James & The Blue Flames – five shows a night, six nights a week during a three-month residency at New York City’s Cafe Wha? in 1966. It was Hendrix who dubbed him Randy California, to differentiate him from another Randy in the band. California’s work with Spirit shows some of Jimi’s influence (particularly Spirit Of ’76), but his 1972 solo album Kapt. Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds has Jimi written all over it. Album opener ‘Downer’ is a skittering guitar freak-out, while ‘Devil’ has the laid back vocals and swirling, backwards-masked guitar figures of an Axis: Bold As Love outtake. Even the album’s awesomely sludgy covers of The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Rain’ are a nod to Jimi. California, who passed away in 1997, said of his mentor, “Even though I was at a very young age when I worked with him, I could tell he was a very loving, caring and open person.”
Listen: The Fool And Me [Robin Trower]
Listen: Day Tripper [Randy California]
Listen: Day Of The Eagle [Robin Trower]
Listen: Devil [Randy California]