afropunk 10: jimi hendrix’s greatest performances

November 27, 2019
3.8K Picks

On November 27th, we celebrate the birthday of the man widely considered the greatest of all rock and roll guitarists, James Marshall Hendrix. In a career that lasted a mere six years, he exploded music, making a hyper leap from playing what was hard-fought and ragged, chitlin’-circuit R&B with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, to inventing psychedelic metal-blues music with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys. Hendrix did not play many boring notes — or at least we’ve never heard any — and any list of his greatest recordings and performances is purely subjective. And not even the AFROPUNK office — wall-to-wall Hendrix fans, young and old — could agree on the songs here. Or which version of “Voodoo Chile” to include. For those lucky few who may be new to Jimi’s magic, let this be a leap; for everyone else, a “slight return.”

“Like a Rolling Stone” (Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967)

Well on his way to becoming a legend a month after the release of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album, Are You Experienced?, Jimi and his band (with drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding) stole the show at Monterey Pop, the world’s first “rock” festival, with Hendrix setting his guitar on fire. But not before playing an incredible cover of this Bob Dylan anthem.

“Are You Experienced?” (Davenport, Iowa, August 1968)

The Experience in full psychedelic flight on one of their signature tunes in the summer of 1968 playing the kind of improvisational music that would push Miles Davis away from acoustic jazz and towards what would later be called fusion. Yeah, Jimi did that.

“Spanish Castle Magic” (Stockholm, Sweden; January 1969)

One of the great classics from the Experience’s second album, Axis: Bold As Love, a song about a Seattle club in which Hendrix played as a teenager. Another monster guitar performance that points the way to where Prince discovered and channeled his own guitar pyrotechnics, full of noise and funk and pure old messing about.

“Mannish Boy” (studio, April 1969)

Never forget that Jimi was, among other things, a phenomenal bluesman. This rampaging take on a Muddy Waters classic is a perfect example of how his music could feel at home at both a hippie theater and a juke joint.

“Star-Spangled Banner” (Woodstock, August 1969)

When Black genius reinterprets the American national anthem, it spurs a conversation about this country’s meaning and some sort of wormhole opens. The wormhole opened up by Jimi’s performance of it at one of the American Century’s self-defining events, has never closed. Also a timely reminder that Jimi was a U.S. Army veteran *and* pro-peace.

“Foxey Lady” (New York City, December 1969)

From the crazy, recently released boxset that compiles four different sets of Hendrix music from two nights that closed out a decade which forever changed the United States of America. This one rocks like a motherf*cker.

“Voodoo Child” (Los Angeles, April 1970)

“Well, I stand up next to a mountain/ And I chop it down with the edge of my hand.” One of Jimi’s self-defining anthems, and, towards the end of his short life, venues for his greatest blues guitar improvisations. Heavier than just about anything else this world has ever known.

“Valleys of Neptune” (studio, May 1970)

One of the many tracks that Hendrix recorded during his all-too short life that did not see the light of day til long after he passed away, it is also a great reminder that Jimi Hendrix was, on top of his other visionary hallmarks, a cosmic traveller and an Afro-futurist long before this was accepted Black people behavior. Imagine Jimi and Sun Ra making sounds together.

“Purple Haze” (Atlanta Pop Festival, July 1970)

Hendrix’s first “hit” — and it never gets old. Excuse him while he kisses the sky…

“Freedom” (Atlanta Pop Festival, July 1970)

The last classic Jimi developed in his short lifetime, and a commentary on everything from his own state fo addiction to the state of the community, with a chorus that reverberates to this day: “Freedom, that’s what I want now/ Freedom, that’s what I need now/ Freedom to live/ Freedom, so I can give.”