"It's like trying to fathom the people who built the pyramids": Joe Satriani on the Jimi Hendrix performance that still blows his mind

Jimi Hendrix and Joe Satriani (studio portraits)
(Image credit: Jimi Hendrix: Avalon via Getty Images | Joe Satriani: JS Teom)

In 2022 we asked admirers of Jimi Hendrix to pay tribute to his effervescent genius. Below, Joe Satriani talks about what Jimi means to him, and reflects on the performance that, to this day, still blows his mind.  


What did Jimi Hendrix mean to you as a player? 

Jimi’s heart and soul were evident on everything he played. This had the most profound effect on me as a young player. I still get the feeling that he surrendered himself to the music every time he performed. For Jimi, every song was a unique opportunity for expression, exploration and exposition. His skills as an improvisor were spellbinding, and convinced me as a young musician that that very skill had to be part of my life’s pursuit. 

What do you think Hendrix brought to the guitar? 

He showed us that the electric guitar could be played with far more expressiveness than previously attempted. He innovated with his fingers, hands, and his whole mind and body on every song he played.

What’s your favourite Hendrix moment, and why?

Every time someone asks me this question I find a new answer. The problem is I love all of Jimi’s songs. For sheer groundbreaking electric guitar brilliance it has to be Machine Gun from the Band Of Gypsys’ Live At The Fillmore East.

Let’s just start from the top: it was improvised in front of an audience by a trio, and he’s playing a Fender Stratocaster, a couple of pedals and three Marshall half-stacks. Anyone that’s ever done a live album like that will know how you get butterflies in your stomach and sweaty hands just thinking about the anxiety of recording a live album that way. These days, everyone has a massive pedalboard and they know they can record it six times, plus options to overdub, retune or retighten it later. We’re talkin’ reality here… 

Then you have to think about the time it happened – there was all this political and social upheaval in the US and around the world. Then, an African American famous for playing with two British guys shows up with two other African Americans as a brand new band. 

Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys Machine Gun Live at the Fillmore East - YouTube Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys Machine Gun Live at the Fillmore East - YouTube
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They played a set that was so mind-blowing, and then came out with one song that rewrote electric guitar for everybody from that moment on. It was like him saying: ‘This is the way you’re going to do it from now on… This is the way it’s going to be!’ But he wasn’t thinking that, it was innocent Jimi trying to make some beautiful music and a political point. He was twenty-seven years old and trying to do something unique.

In that moment, he showed us how you can play rhythm, riff and melody at the same time, blending with a band and how to tie all these motifs together. Using the whammy bar to connect one section to another, playing around with major and minor in a third-generation electric blues context. Even if you forget about the wah-wah, Uni-Vibe and Octavia, what he did was ground-breaking. When I think about it now, I still can’t believe it – almost like trying to fathom the people who built the pyramids or first railroad or the Wright brothers getting in the plane for the first time.”

I also can’t ignore the magic captured on film at the Monterey Pop Festival, when Jimi introduces the Bob Dylan song Like A Rolling Stone, and then proceeds to reinvent it, elevate it, and destroy it, along with his guitar! His innocence, boldness, naivety, audacity, musicianship, showmanship, are all gloriously on display in this once-in-a-lifetime moment."

The Best Of All Worlds 2024 Tour featuring Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham kicks off next month. Dates and tickets.

Jason Sidwell

Jason Sidwell (BA Hons, MA, ALCM) is editor of Guitar Techniques and senior tuition editor for Guitarist who has written and edited over 20,000 articles since 1998. As an educator he is an advisor/guest tutor for UK music academies/examining institutions, a director for the International Guitar Foundation (IGF), author of How to Play Guitar Step by Step (Dorling Kindersley) and extensive tutorials for The Guardian and Observer newspapers. Outside of journalism, he is a busy classical guitarist, performs regularly for theatre productions and has a broad cliental for studio work.

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