Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death. He was found dead in a London flat at the height of his musical brilliance. His innovations in how rock musicians use feedback, wah-wah and distortion have been a part of virtually every musical group with a prominent electric guitar since Hendrix’s popularity began in the mid-1960s. Below are four of the most memorable moments in Hendrix’s musical career – and really, some of the most recognized in all of rock music.
The Star-Spangled Banner, Woodstock, 1969
Hendrix’s iconic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock represents everything great about the nation for which it was written. It’s freewheeling and unpredictable, individualistic yet universal. And it was Hendrix at his improvisational best, getting every ounce of noise out of his electric guitar to create a version heavy with chaotic tones and high notes that fade into even higher feedback. Right before he gets to the verse “the bombs bursting in air,” Hendrix’s guitar itself bursts, exploding into pure noise. Originally a cover of the national anthem, it has become anthemic in its own right.
Playing Guitar with Teeth, The Lulu Show, 1969
Hendrix played live on BBC’s The Lulu Show at the height of his talent and popularity. In this clip, Hendrix and the Experience play a cutting version of “Voodoo Child” backed by some of Hendrix’s finest live vocals. At the end of the song, he holds his guitar up toward his mouth and remarkably tooths out an ending solo. Later, with Hendrix admonishing listeners to plug their ears, they bust into “Hey Joe” – but Hendrix cuts his bandmates off early, wanting instead to play “Sunshine of Your Love,” a tribute to Cream and a fellow guitar god, Eric Clapton.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Cover, Saville Theatre, 1967
After releasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on a Friday, Paul McCartney and George Harrison went to see Jimi Hendrix live at the Saville Theatre on a Sunday. In that short span, Hendrix learned the title track from the Beatles album and opened the show with it. Paul and George, who were huge fans of the guitarist, couldn’t have been happier. While footage isn’t available of his Saville Theatre performance, Hendrix covered the song a number of times, including this blistering performance from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, only a few weeks before his death.
Setting His Guitar Aflame, Monterey Pop Festival, 1967
For a man whose whole life was the guitar, you may not think he would’ve wanted to burn one. But at the end of a cover of “Wild Thing” at the Monterey Pop Festival, Hendrix was in a completely different world on stage. During the song, which includes a tribute to “Strangers in the Night” played one-handed, Hendrix rolls around on stage, violently strangles his electric and virtually makes love to his amp. Then he sets his guitar down, grabs some lighter fluid, sets it on fire and swings it around the stage, smashing everything in its path. Like the man himself, it became one of rock’s most memorable and destructive images.