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I Thought I Could Play Guitar. Never Mind.

By Petr Navovy | Videos | January 18, 2022 |

By Petr Navovy | Videos | January 18, 2022 |


There’s that famous story—possibly apocryphal, possibly real, or most likely some kind of mixture of the two, as most stories from the legend-suffused era of classic rock, told from so many battered perspectives over so many years, tend to be—of Eric Clapton’s reaction to first seeing Jimi Hendrix play.

This would have been at the tail end of 1966. At the time, Eric Clapton’s supergroup, Cream, was pummelling ears and helping to push guitar music into heavier and heavier territory (and providing, to this day, the best music that the racist mug would ever be associated with, largely thanks to his band mates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, as Clapton’s playing was, even then, flat, boring, and overrated; two notes from Peter Green being worth a hundred of Clapton’s.)

Up until then, Hendrix had been a steadily working yet quite obscure guitarist in the US, and it was in a small club in Greenwich Village that former bass player for The Animals, Chas Chandler, came upon him. Chandler was transitioning into talent spotting and producing, and he was lucky enough that day to stumble upon one of the greatest talents of all. While a galaxy-sized talent like Hendrix’s would have almost certainly asserted itself eventually one way or another, Chandler absolutely deserves credit for recognising genius where others may not have, and for proactively working to propel him to the levels of success that he belonged in.

A few weeks after seeing him play for the first time and being suitably blown away, Chandler had arranged for Hendrix to not only fly over to London to see if (if!) the guitarist could make a splash on the vibrant music scene there, but he also fixed it up so that Hendrix could get up on stage with Cream during one of their gigs. As it happens, Ginger Baker didn’t want to risk jamming with an unknown guitarist without having some sort of insurance, and so he got Clapton to remain on stage during Hendrix’ appearance, just as a back up.

Within moments of Hendrix launching into his intergalactic version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’, Clapton’s hands had reportedly dropped off his guitar, as he stood there, gaping at this message from beyond the stars and his comprehension. Chandler recalls going backstage to find the English guiarist, dazed, trying to light a cigarette, and asking, ‘Is Hendrix that fu**ing good?’

I recount this told-to-death anecdote because as much as I hate Clapton I have to say that right now I totally understand how he feels. I’ve spent the last ten minutes wishing that I hadn’t quit smoking six or whatever years ago, because my poor guitarist brain has been smeared all over the walls and floor by Josephine Alexandra’s blistering cover of ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and I need something to soothe my weary soul:

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