Jimi Vs Eddie

It was the early 80’s when I first became aware of Jimi Hendrix. I was around 12 years old, and was told “If you play guitar, you have to listen to Jimi Hendrix.” When I heard his music, I thought it was ok, but I wasn’t knocked out like when I’d first heard Eddie Van Halen.

Van Halen had burst onto the scene a few years earlier and his playing represented the new cutting edge. Jimi meanwhile, sounded like a different era. His tone was fuzzy and noisy while Eddie’s sounded crisp and flawless.

Van Halen’s music brought to mind flashy cars, keg parties and bikini clad models. Jimi’s songs conjured up images of Vietnam War helicopters, student riots and hippies. As a pre-pubescent male in Northern California in the early 80’s, it seemed unquestionable that Van Halen would have a more profound influence on me. But feeling it was my duty as a guitar player, I decided to take a closer look at Jimi.

I went out and bought “Are You Experienced?,” ” Axis: Bold As Love” and “Electric Ladyland,” (the three essential studio albums) listening to them as a student rather than as a fan. One of my early guitar teachers, Mark Strandberg, showed me the simpler stuff, like “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze.” Then we moved on to “Foxy Lady,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” and the intricate chord patterns of “Little Wing.” Learning these tunes enabled me to become adept enough to learn licks on my own. Soon I was transcribing every lead break in “All Along The Watchtower” and “Voodoo Chile: Slight Return” These licks were not only a study of great bending, but also of great vibrato and position changing. I was gaining strong musical foundation which carried over into all the other music I was learning, including Van Halen.

I was just getting ready to move on from my Jimi phase, when someone suggested I check out a live recording entitled “The Jimi Hendrix Concerts.” Jimi’s live versions of “Red House,” “Voodoo Chile” and “Stone Free,” (with it’s a capella guitar breakdown section), were like nothing else I’d ever heard. These were not the songs that were played to death on the radio; this side of Jimi was like a well kept secret. I ate up the the licks on these tracks like they were candy.

No longer listening and playing out of a sense of duty, an interesting thing happened: I began to feel Jimi’s music not just technically but emotionally. This represented a breakthrough. I heard his music coming from a place of yearning deep within the soul which I recognized within myself. All my pain from childhood through the present was felt through the notes I heard him play as well as those I played on my own guitar. What was this and where was it coming from?

The answer was the blues. Jimi was, at his core, a blues guitarist. When you here his blues interpretations, on “Red House,” “Killing Floor” and “Hear My Train a Comin'” it’s very clear. But even in psychedelic excursions such as “If 6 was 9,” and “1983: A Merman I Shall Turn To Be,” the blues is always there.

Years later, I saw a comedy film “White Men Can’t Jump,” where Woody Harrelson plays a skilled white amateur basketball player who’s a Hendrix fan. His African American rival, played by Wesley Snipes, taunts him: “You listen to Jimi. But you don’t HEAR Jimi. I listen to Jimi. And I HEAR Jimi.” Somehow, I knew exactly what he meant.

It’s difficult for us in the present to grasp the magnitude that certain music had in the past, especially when it’s been rammed down our throats via the radio. In the case of Jimi, it took some time and discipline in order to develop a connection with his music. Had it been the 60’s, I probably would have been immediately hit over the head with Jimi’s music as so many were.

When considering Jimi, one must take into account the musical landscape during the time he emerged, when the most exciting thing in rock guitar was surf music and early blues rock (Eric Clapton, Peter Green etc..). Jimi’s appearance must have been like a volcano erupting. He mixed the sounds of blues, jazz, soul, space ships, oceans all into his own brand of hard rock. It was as if he was channeling the planet Earth and all its wars, revolutions and social unrest.

One must also ponder the fact that Jimi’s influence has been felt in radically diverse genres of popular music throughout the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. As quick examples of each, take P-Funk, Prince, Pearl Jam and even John Mayer (say what you want about “Your Body Is A Wonderland” and all his tabloid coverage, but John Mayer’s a great guitarist who’s clearly done his Hendrix homework). Even pop artists like Billy Joel and Sting, as well as the late jazz arranger and Miles Davis collaborator Gil Evans have been largely influenced by Jimi and covered his songs. You can’t just can’t say that about Van Halen.

There is no question Eddie Van Halen has done some of the most influential rock guitar playing of our lifetime. There are not too many people you can say that about. I still love to listen to his classic playing and place him among my all time favorites, along with Jimi and Jeff Beck. Van Halen’s music is a perfect document of good time hard rock from that era. Van Halen, the band, took the intensity of Black Sabbath and replaced Sabbath’s plundering darkness with a party rock atmosphere and stellar musicianship. It was as if they were working in tandem with their keyboard driven pop peers to collectively capture the happy mood of the Reagan era.

But Van Halen was never meant to be ‘serious’ music that had an impact on society. I’m not sure Jimi intended this for his own music, but he achieved it. It may have been the circumstances of the time period or fate himself, but Jimi’s music and playing became the embodiment of ‘socially significance.’

So in the grand scheme of things, it’s an unfair comparison to put Eddie next to Jimi. Hendrix’s infuence extends beyond the guitar itself. If you play music, not listening to Jimi is like not listening to the Beatles, regardless of what genre you play. There has never been any guitarist as influential as Jimi Hendrix, and probably never will be again.

21 Responses to Jimi Vs Eddie

  1. Today, be shredder is, for some guys, very important, perhaps the most important when playing the guitar! The speed attract the attention of teenagers, and this new generation of rock and metal. It will be necessary to wait some time to learn more, to feel Hendrix and all their songs. Not only Hendrix, but another artists too. Steve R. Vaughan,Santana,BB King…

    Play in slow motion, blues and jazz is not easy! you need to make all notes, interpretation, feeling. You needs listen music, first, within you, and Hendrix to do this is with majesty.Eddie is great in creative, not only with velocity, but in tecniques too, he create "two hands" !!! and recreated himself, playin with machines. Eruption is simply incredible. Nothing to say more: incredible.

    I play my guitar for only 2 or 3 hours in day and some days I dont play any hours, I sing a melody… after I will go to instrument and pratice this melody that I created. Velocity? Modes? Scales? Yes, I also pratice, but the velocity is good for fingers only, not to heart. The music say what it´s want: slow ou fast solo, it´s scream,it´s whispers, it´s agressive, it´s happy or sad.

    An observation: Some songs you play on tour, are made with 17/18 years, now has 40, but when you play this solos and songs, you return to your past, back for 17 years. See for yourself your vids (past and present) the comparison between the face expressions, you were understand what I mean! It´s sutil but true. As guitarrist I look not only for the hands, when one guy play,but also for the face and eyes. I can´t explain why this, but I do it.

  2. That's brilliant. I can agree with you on all points, and I feel he was extremely driven as a player. Isn't it true that he is a left handed player with a right handed guitar? He was certainly gifted, as you are.

    In the generation of the 80s and a female guitar player in a band, it was hard for me to convince others I could really play. I wasn't accepted as a player, but more of a novelty. I didn't have many idols that I could relate to. I loved Jeff Beck and played along with his records. Other than him I admired and still admire her today Nancy Wilson of Heart. I've developed my acoustic style much like hers. I had a similar revelation one day and "got it" when playing "Crazy on You".
    I had a guitar teacher that was extremely into Pink Floyd. He had me learn the lead to "Shine on you Crazy Diamond" to study bends. David Gilmore is a great player, but I couldn't relate. I still look for great style and tend to listen to the guitarists of the past, when music was all about the performance instead of leads that are edited together on a screen.

    Eddie influenced and challenged many to be better players. I think that Van Halen started as no more than a fun band to get girls. That was obvious.

    It gives me good reason to dig out my Jimi Hendrix CDs and listen to them again. Thanks! 🙂

  3. I've never heard Jimi Hendrix and to tell the truth I don't care.
    I'm a guitar player and for me Alex Skolnick is the Guitar God as you can read on my next blog entry (which I'm writing this very moment).
    I really enjoy reading your opinions they are refreshing and by the way your London concert last week was great, you (as always) were amazing.

  4. I got into metal back in 1985 and it was back then when I heard of Hendrix.

    My guitar teacher a few years later was a big fan of him, but then I could not understand why.

    To be honest, I think I only understood his importance when I got 30 a few years ago. You see, almost every influential guitar player on earth is a Hendrix fan. Hendrix influenced Satriani, Malmsteen and Vai to play guitars. Could you imagine the world of rock/metal guitar without them?

    Musically speaking I was not a big fan of his songs, however they are starting to get me these days.

    As to Van Hallen, I have always liked his playing a lot more than Van Hallen songs them selves.

    Speaking of 60s,70s musicians I have always prefered other musicians like Holsworth, Gary Green ( Gentle Giant ), Hackett, Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, Tony Iommi and the Young bros of AC/DC.

    I would take these guys over Hendrix or Van Hallen most definitely.

    Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are another import players for metal. The "old" Hetfield was incredibly influential and important. Petersen and Skolnick as well, Araya and Hanneman or Gary Holt. Vinnie Moore is a such a great player and strangely underated because he is a shredder, which is strange. John Petrucci is fine player too. Chuck from Death was a monster player as well.

    And there is some incredible player called Ron Jarzombek, which is my favorite player, but really unknown, which is a shame.

    I think all these guys also deserve to be put at the side of Hendrix in terms of importance.

  5. I am not the Jimi Hendrix fan but my husband is and he completely and 100% agrees with you. He plays guitar and has always admired Jimi and is always trying to get me to listen and "feel" Hendrix. Not being a guitarist, I just can't do it!

    My husband says "Enjoy the Experience".

  6. Totally feel ya.

    I like both artists equally, honestly.

    But I play better in a blues style (similar to Hendrix) although I can play Van Halen stuff… its just not the same. Van Halen stuff for me was more difficult to learn.

  7. I love music and great playing; When it comes from the soul and explodes. (like yours Alex)
    But, I think you can tell when a player has learned technique first. Enjoyed and agree w/ your commentary on these guys distinguishments in their playing.
    BTW your playing is a wonderland.
    Make it a great weekend everyone

  8. From my point of view…!!
    Theres is two types of guitarists.
    The ones that have,técnic,velocity,knows how to read music and all the stuff that you can learn….
    …and there is Musicians,like Hendrix,van allen,skolcrasher that besides having all the study elements,they play with the hart…they have a feeling.

    The first ones are admired becouse normaly they associated,music to velocity and weird triks,and as first sight,it can grab your attention,but after a wile,they turn boring.

    The second ones,thinck that more important that makes music for the masses,they need to make first music for themselfs and then for the masses….

    Thats why they persist in to times.

    From the sunshining land of

  9. You wonder what Jimi might have achieved had he lived longer. We really had such a short time to see him, another great musician torn from us too soon. I often wondered if he every played acoustic, and not electric? but nothing is as spectacular as his star spangled banner, that did it for me, then ~ wind cries mary and I still love, little wing.

    When U2 played free in Justin Herman Plaza, in 88, and covered all along the watch tower I was almost mad, that they chose his song, I guess they really wanted to to reach the crowd, that song is his–the fact Jimi could sing and play–was surreal! Bono, I thought killed it, not the guitarist.
    Some music is just owned, but little wing is certainly a great gift, and been successfully covered, by many. Alex might remember the 70-80's -kids–when the stigma of– racial tension, and white rock– JIMI broke all the molds for us~ thankfully!

    Eddie is a Guitar Hero, he stands up for the boys, I dont see girls fawning for him now–like they do for Jimi though, today Jimi is fashion, and that seems odd to me, marley is fashion too. Peace and Music, and fashion, its just not what Jimi intended I dont think.

    I had to meet Eddie, I was just talking about it, if you see him you want to know him, and what is it about Guitar players being so interesting? Yea girls? You like to know the mind, and after you see what they do with a guitar, you think, well is this G rated? Anyway, if Alex says Jimi plays the blues – I agree, if you say, that Eddie isn't in the same league, I might have to disaprove. I will always love ED, and no matter what, that devil may care music -lit the fire in many a teen to be like Ed, I would really like to hear and see EDDIE recreate himself again, and show everyone, what hes made of. He's still with us, time will tell.

    Ash said, to me once, Van Halen is most kikn it–name ever…it does sound BIG!

    forgive the essay, nice post Alex!

  10. When someone studies music (or any other art form) over a period of many years, they start to appreciate true quality. Some music turns out to be not as good as once thought, while other music (such as Jimi's) turns out to be stronger and deeper than you first realized.
    It is easy to say others were as important as Hendrix, but its far fetched. Not to discount anyone mentioned (myself included) but none of us had the blank canvas to work with that Jimi had. Even those who haven't been influenced directly by Jimi have influences that were.
    BTW, "All Along The Watchtower" is a Bob Dylan song, well covered (and taken over, deservedly so), by Jimi Hendrix. I prefer Jimi's version too but also recognize and respect Bono's interpretation (on "Rattle & Hum) as a tribute to Dylan's original version.

  11. Alex, it is all a matter of preference. You are more level-headed about your decisions and do not place your decisions with irrational biased. I mean, it is like comparing apples and oranges. Hendrix and Van Halen come from different time periods and stand for different things all together. Still, people are always going to judge which guitarist is better by taste and preference. However, the sin is that people try to force their tastes down other people's throat and distort their views. It is pure Straw Man fallacy in play. You know, the Megadeth and the Metallica thing is kind of a prime example of that. People are always fighting about that, but in the end nobody wins. Still, every time I do those "top 5" things on my Facebook for guitarists, Alex always gets a spot along with Eddie and Hendrix. I believe you are very influential and underrated, but that does not mean other people believe that. But in response to the other poster, I really do want to know what you think of Ritchie Blackmore too and also Jason Becker.


  12. Think musicians/artists live at deeper sensuous level of existence. They absorb their surroundings differently than the average person and are influenced to a greater degree. This, along w/technique, can produce something more than average in what they create if they can, and like a master such as B. Dylan, who like his song (Make you Feel My Love) convey something amazing.

  13. Some really great comments here!

    One small thing to keep in mind- a lot of direct questions have been showing up recently and it's not that I mind them…its just that this is a 'group' forum rather than an 'Ask Alex' forum. I'll sometimes respond to a comment directly when it's compelling and contributes to the group discussion. But it's best if the simple direct questions are kept to a minimum, just because I simply can't handle them all. Thanks for understanding : )

    That said, let me answer the most recent ones:

    Richie Blackmore- great player, although not a huge influence of mine. It was always more his riffs and songs that grabbed me rather than the solos. But he was a huge influence on Scott Henderson, who was one of my big electric jazz influences.

    Jason Becker- great young 'shredder' with so much promise of developing into a full musician. when his playing ability was struck down by ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Completely tragic situation. But it's inspiring that he's defied doctors by living as long as he has and composing music (with the help of a computer). That's dedication.

  14. Alex, just read your last comment and I must say your comments and thoughts are very inteligent.
    You are one of my fave guitarrists as Blackmore and DiMeola. That's why I asked about Ritchie.

    Now I have a suggestion/question for you. One of the things I really admire in a musician is when he follow his heart. You were in the 90`s with Testament and Savatage being very successful but you "quit" to study jazz. I'm a bass player but I have the same feeling. Metal is great fun, great feeling to play. But at least for bass players not a real challenge. Why don't you make a special post about your transition period from metal to jazz? I mean I have the Attencion Deficit albuns and they are amazing and I could not believe it was improvisations only on it.
    I really would love to know what you had in mind and in your heart at that time because it was a big step. Now you're back in a metal band but still playing jazz(great by the way). I'm sure many people would love to read it too.

    Cheers from Germany, Anderson

  15. Sorry Alex but you are a far better player than Jimi or Eddie because your guitar playing is still original and fresh in a time where there are so many bands around with everyone trying to copy one another.
    On Jimi's time it was basically him and no one else so whatever he did was original and different. When Eddie came along, the competition was bigger but still he rose above the rest and I really respect his work. He was truly ahead of his time.
    Alex you are talented with a great musical sense and above all gifted which makes all the difference. You can still rise above the rest of like: John Petrucci, Chris Broderick, Paul Gilbert and others. That's why you are the Guitar God, my personal opinion.

  16. Only put a cherry on brownie, look it, Mike Stern said in his last interview:

    "M – Did you give them any direction about how you wanted them to play the tunes?

    MIKE – They both basically said, “I’ll try whatever you want.” They heard the tunes and had a vibe right away. The first tune, “Big Neighborhood,” is kind of Hendrix-like, so Vai got the vibe right away and just did his thing."

    If you was want read all Mike interview: http://guitaredge.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55%3Amike-stern-wake-up-the-neighborhood&catid=45%3Ainterviews&Itemid=66&showall=1

    Mike and Steve are two genius playing, and also have in Hendrix a big inspiration.

  17. I've never heard Jimi Hendrix and to tell the truth I don't care.
    I'm a guitar player and for me Alex Skolnick is the Guitar God as you can read on my next blog entry (which I'm writing this very moment).
    I really enjoy reading your opinions they are refreshing and by the way your London concert last week was great, you (as always) were amazing.

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