Stevie Ray Vaughan on Jimi Hendrix
from Guitar Player Magazine, May 1989

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SRV playing Jimi style. Emotion, Fire, Light, and Heavy Things
by Stevie Ray Vaughan
One of Americas foremost blues
based players, Stevie Ray Vaughan
has been a lifelong fan of Jimi Hendrix.

SOME PEOPLE DON’T SEE THAT JIMI HENDRIX WAS A BLUES PLAYER; some people really do see it. I don’t know whether to call Hendrix a blues player along with a lot of the originals.

He did play with a lot of those people, and he did a lot of it during that heyday before he got famous. It’s like he was there at the peak and the tail end of something. He was doing that stuff as it was going on. I hear not just the newer stuff that everybody seems to think was really different — and a lot of it is — but to my ears, there’s just as much of the old-style warmth. I hear it in “Red House.” I hear it in just the way he approaches things. Even though he was not ashamed of doing some things different, I still hear the roots of the old style. Not just roots — but the whole attitude of it.

To me, he’s like the Bo Diddley of a different generation. If you were a kid and heard Bo Diddley for the first time back when all that was going on, wouldn’t you think that was the wildest thing you’ve ever heard? I’m not saying that Jimi Hendrix was a Bo Diddley, but he was that different. So were Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Jimi just happened to have those influences as well.

The first time I ever heard Jimi’s name was when my brother brought home a record of his. I guess it was around ‘67, and Jimmy had found it in a trash bin. He recognized it because he’d seen a short paragraph about Jimi Hendrix in a magazine, and he knew he was supposed to be something really happening. He put it on the record player, and what could you do but say YEAH! (laughs). It really knocked my socks off. It seemed that Jimmy would bring home stuff, and it would be months before you would hear it anywhere else. he would get into a certain style of music, and he would bring home all these things by people who were from the same school. So a lot of the different influences that were on Jimi Hendrix, I heard those at the same time — Albert King and Lonnie Mack and Albert Collins and Muddy Waters.

I actually learned to play from Jimi’s records. I remember getting my little stereo — an Airline with the cardboard satellite speakers — and I would mike that up with a Shure PA that I had in my bedroom. For some of my first gigs, I’d rent four separate reverbs, and I’ve have all this set up in my room. Of course, the parents were at work. I would go in there and floorboard it, dress up as cool as I could, and try to learn his stuff. It all went together. I did the same with a lot of BB King records. If somebody would have walked into the room, they probably would have gone “what are you doing?” (laughs) ‘cause I wouldn’t stop at one place, I’d go for every bit of it I could find. I remember doing it a lot with “Axis: Bold as Love”, even though I didn’t have the phasing deals and I’m sure I didn’t have a lot of the sounds. But some of them I could find. Jimi had a Strat, and I would use a Telecaster with some different pickups in it. I had rebuilt the guitar myself — there was some blood in it, you know — and I would go as far as I could to get as close as I could.

Jimi used a right handed guitar that was set up for a left hander. I have guitars with necks set up that way, and there is a difference in the string tension. However, the main thing I noticed about it is the neck feels different because its shaped backwards. Another thing that’s a lot different is where the wang-bar is on the top instead of on the bottom. Whether I hold it with the same grip as if it was in the other place or not, it still feels different to me at the top. It seems more approachable.

When Jimi used a whammy during blues, he did it cool. I think if somebody else would have thought about it first, they would’ve done it, too. I don’t think Jimi was the first though, because of a record by Sly Williams. I think Hendrix must’ve heard this guy and gone “my God, I need to check this out!” It sounds like something Hendrix would do, except it was recorded in ‘58 .It’s on “Blues in D Natural", a compilation album by Red Lightnin’, and the number is 005. It’s an English import. The sides are called “Boot Hill” and “I Believe In a Woman” by Sly Williams. Go get you a copy and listen to it, and you’ll go “shit!” I’ve never heard anybody other than Hendrix get this intensity and play as wild as this guy. And he uses a wang-bar real radical. It’s like the guys teeth are sticking out of the record. It’s unbelievable. Every time I hear it, it seems impossible that Hendrix didn’t hear this guy. And some people think that it might be Jimi playing the guitar.

A lot of what made Jimi distinctive was his touch and his confidence. And his touch was not just felt in his playing, but in his perspective on everything. He seemed to be reaching up for more-not just more recognition, but more giving. I may be wrong about it, but that’s what I get out of it. And he did that with his touch on the guitar, with his sounds, and with his whole attitude.

I’m trying to get as close to the natural old-style sound as possible, and I think a lot of Jimi’s tones were that way. He was just reaching for the best tone he could find. Actually, I think a lot of his tones were just that’s the way he heard them. He didn’t have to worry about it, which is something I do a lot. I’m a worry-wart (laughs).

Why is Jimi so popular today? I think a lot of people need what he had to offer musically. There was a lot of honesty in it. People are looking back because they miss something. A lot of people tend to look somewhere else for something that they want to fix them. His music is wonderful. It’s full of fire, it’s full of light, uplifting things and heavy things. It can mean anything from one day to the next, really. I think a lot of people miss what his music was doing for them. And a lot of new people are coming around to going “What’s this?” In very few instances has anybody surpassed what he did. His music should be popular. It’s a damn shame that he’s dead and gone and now is when people are listening, but at the same time, I’m glad they’re listening.

Thanks to Brant Chapman

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