Eddie VAN HALEN

Jimi Hendrix in Words and Pictures (part 3)

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How to sound like Jimi Hendrix? That’s a loaded question and one people have been trying to answer for many years, obviously. I feel I am qualified to talk about it since I have played a bunch of Jimi over the years in various settings. There are a few tips and tricks I can offer and the first is always try to watch someone play live or video. Nothing beats seeing Jimi or one of the true masters play his stuff and there’s plenty to be found online. Definitely start there.

play the blues

Before one dives into the details, probably the most important and obvious thing to realize is that Jimi achieved his excellent sound and style on guitar by learning and playing blues, early rock and roll/rhythm and blues guitar. Take apart almost every song, every jam that features Jimi Hendrix and you will find the structure and sound of the blues underneath, no matter how FAR OUT the song is. Blues playing is primarily intuitive and feel-based. Jimi’s knowledge of music theory, best described by Miles Davis is his autobiography, was limited, but his ear was finely developed and he had a great musician’s instinct. According to Miles (via Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy page 399): “When Miles attempted to explain musical theory, Jimi just looked blank, but once Miles played the piece, however complex it was, Jimi picked it up immediately.” Having a background in the blues enables you to comfortably navigate many styles of music. If you can’t play a half decent blues solo or are not happy with your knowledge of the blues and pentatonic scales and blues phrasing, work on that first. Definitely make sure you can navigate the fretboard in all positions. You can base the above scales or arpeggios off of the chords you are playing. Many of Jimi’s best riffs and solos come from this way of doing things. Also, make sure your bends, slurs and hammer-ons/pull-offs are as accurate and clean as you can make them. These techniques must be practiced slowly and carefully to get them right. There are many blues guitar lessons on YouTube. Look around and find ones that will help you with areas you are having trouble and practice until you have it down.

spice it up with some jazz

Though Jimi wasn’t thought of as a jazz musician by most people of his time, he was influenced very heavily by jazz icons like Wes Montgomery and, especially, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was instrumental in Jimi’s approach to sound collages like Third Stone From the Sun. Jazz does figure in some of the rhythmic patterns that Mitch Mitchell developed and used in songs like Manic Depression, the middle of If 6 Was 9 and very obviously the brush work (actually suggested by Noel Redding) in Up From the Skies. (Mitch had actually played in jazz bands prior to joining The Experience). Jimi rarely played the standard power chord shapes, opting instead for variations that allowed him to use his thumb to cover the bass notes. He also used very jazzy 6, 9, maj, and sus chords on songs like If 6 Was 9, Third Stone From the Sun, Love or Confusion, Angel and many others. Jimi also regularly used partial chords as runs or lead lines. This chord melody type of playing is common in jazz and is also used in rhythm and blues/Stax playing as well. There are many jazz/rock lessons as well as chord melody lessons on YouTube. Not only will this knowledge help with Jimi Hendrix tunes, but it will also expand other areas of your playing.

technical stuff

Jimi’s technique, which was developed from constant playing and a whole lot of roadwork with bands like the Isley Brothers and Little Richard, made use primarily of Fender instruments, Stratocasters especially. Jimi would restring a right-handed guitar and play it lefty, which meant that the volume and tone controls, pickup switch and whammy bar were in a different position than would be typical for a player no matter they were right or left handed (if they were playing the appropriate guitar). According to the book Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, he would bend the whammy arms by hand to allow him “to tap each string with the bar” (?) but the book Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy disputes this saying he bent the arms to allow the bar to line up with the high E string. I wouldn’t be surprised if both of these theories are wrong and he bent the arms to allow for further depression of the tremelo unit, resulting in much wider and deeper bends. From reading guitar magazines I know that Jimi favored using 4 springs for the whammy unit and used custom light strings. According to Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy from September of 1966 through June of 1967 Jimi played tuned to regular concert C or E, if you prefer. (This time period would’ve included the recording of Are You Experienced?) The sessions for Experienced and the 2nd album, Axis: Bold as Love were almost back-to-back but most of the Axis album is tuned to Eb. From hereon Jimi would tune down (sometimes as low as D) and while this did allow for a “heavier”, darker guitar tone and ease of string bending, the primary reason was it was “less strain on Jimi’s voice”. He favored Marshall amps and turned everything way up, full blast! His outstanding control of his instrument and his ability to turn the sounds, noises and feedback into either vocal-quality sounds, sound effects or music was legendary (The Star Spangled Banner, Third Stones From the Sun, I Don’t Live Today). Randy Hansen, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan have all approached the level that Jimi had with this kind of manipulation of the instrument. He would frequently introduce himself to the audience as playing “public saxophone” and I think this illustrates that he looked at the guitar as “more than a guitar”, primarily dealt in SOUND more than TECHNIQUE or NOTES and was inspired and influenced by much more than other guitar music. Unfortunately there is no substitute for constant tweaking of one’s gear and sound to be able to replicate either Jimi’s sounds or the ones you hear in your head. Listening to and trying to replicate sounds that aren’t “music” can also broaden your approach. A major thing to understand is that these components are never the same in different rooms or situations. A player must constantly readjust as the gig goes along. Eric Johnson does this all the time. Watch him closely in these videos.

effects

While Jimi certainly made use of many different effects over the years, I’m not one of those people that believes you need to have expensive or even authentic pedals to get a sound that will reproduce a Jimi number well. I’ve certainly done without. All of those pedals are available though if you wish to go that route. Back in the late 80s I was at a jam in Brooklyn and after covering All Along the Watchtower 3 guys who had been hanging out in the lobby, including the guy who was running the studio came in and looked at my pedals. All I had was a Tube Screamer, an MXR Envelope Filter (for the wah sound) and a Boss digital delay. Without saying a word they looked at me, looked at the pedals, shook their heads and walked out. I had certainly done my homework on the solo parts of Watchtower and could play it well. I had also found some settings that really approximated the sound of the original and that night hit it perfectly right. I had a Crybaby wah-wah but did not always carry it around on the subway so that’s why I had the envelope filter instead. Worked out just fine. You would be amazed how much your hands and attitude affect how you sound. I was reading a discussion on Gearslutz the other day from people who were talking about recreating the sound of Van Halen 1. I know, guitar players can be geeks, nerds, whatever and just like to think and talk about different equipment, but you could easily sink $50,000 into a project like that, have all of the guitar and studio equipment that may or may not have been used back in 1978 and come up lacking, so keep that in mind.

putting it all together

A band I was in for a few years covered Love or Confusion live many times. By this time I no longer used a distortion pedal. I had a Mesa Boogie head and two 4×12 cabinets and just played loud using the gain from the amp. I also used a Phase 90 and an MXR Flanger and sometimes the Crybaby Wah. I never worried about playing the solo exact (and never do-just go for it!). The sound IS the thing. If you play in tune and in time and have the sound of this music (or any music) you are more than halfway there. I liked to concentrate on how the chords rang against the rhythm and the overtones at the end of each verse (and the end of the song). Eric Johnson covers this song nicely. I remember EJ said in an interview that some of the sounds Jimi got on those last stop chords reminded him of a vacuum cleaner. That’s why I spent a lot of time coming up with slightly different fingerings every time the G chords come around. I was always amazed how those parts sounded too! How did he do that? Sometimes the right amount of fuzz, vibrato and open-string overtones produced exactly what I was going for. The trick with these sus chords is to get that major/minor ambivalence thing between the strings you fret versus the strings that are ringing open. That’s how some of those cool combinations happen. I also tried do what Eric does — actually meld both of Jimi’s guitar tracks into 1! Good Times!

instruction

elecladyIn the old days these books were like the best thing, and in some ways still are. Meticulously notated for guitar, bass and drums — your whole band can look over the music and get down. You still have to bring the feel in for a lot of what you will be trying to do, but that’s where the fun is. Just like what I was talking about in the last paragraph. All of these books have tab and performance notes and I used them a bunch back in the day for songs that I hadn’t been able to pick up just by listening. All of the transcriptions were done by Andy Aledort and the performance notes and general supervision was done by jimibk2Dave Whitehill and they are both giants in the guitar biz. Usually associated with Guitar World Magazine, I’m sure their names are familiar to anyone who has been around the biz for awhile. Because they are are total pros you know there aren’t any mistakes. While I regularly find mistakes in tabs I find online or in some of the YouTube tutorials, I have never encountered one in these books. They are still very affordable and I would recommend if you are looking for accurate reproductions of Jimi’s music.

instruction II

For those who don’t want to go the book route, there are, of course, many online resources for Jimi Hendrix material. As I said in the last paragraph, however, be careful that it is a good tab or lesson or you’ll be wasting your time. I recommend watching any live Jimi you can find. Then check out Randy Hansen(!), Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson, or some of the stuff from the Experience Hendrix tour. For lessons, here’s a series that walks you through most of the songs on the first side of Are You Experienced?. Here’s Joe Satriani showing how he plays like Jimi and here’s an interesting video on getting a sound in the vein of Jimi. YouTube is FULL of many interesting videos on playing like Jimi Hendrix so strap in, strap on the guitar and get cracking! You’ll be wowing your friends with stunning versions of his best songs in no time at all!

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Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

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Jimmy Page and Improvisation

It occurred to me the other night that Led Zeppelin was, at the height of their career, the world’s best JAZZ band! Of course the concept began began with, and revolved around, Jimmy Page. Onstage he was the lead soloist of a combo that would sometimes do 30-minute versions of Zeppelin studio material/cover songs. In the studio, whether as a guitarist or producer, he constructed Zep’s body of work with the precision and care of Mozart or Wagner, layering instruments and tracks into sonic artworks of beauty, power, mystique and awesomeness. Everybody knows all that already, but approaching it from the angle that they weren’t really a rock band means you might hear something different the next time you encounter a Zeppelin tune. I’ve been listening to them since the 1970s and believe it or not, this happened to me recently. So let’s have a go! (as they say in the (UK)

As the Yardbirds were dissolving in 1968, Jimmy Page and Peter Grant came up with a strategy for the group that would become Led Zeppelin based on what they had seen in the USA on the Yardbirds’ final tour – music that was outside the milieu of the radio-friendly singles market. Both Grant and Page thought that the group that would be Zeppelin could take on American heavies like Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly and do way better with the same formula. Interestingly enough, as related in Hammer of the Gods, Page had been considering a group in the Pentangle mode, because of his love and respect for artists like Bert Jansch, in particular, and acoustic music in general. Page is quoted as saying, “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.” However, once Page heard and saw John Bonham play he quickly scotched the acoustic idea (at least full-time) and heard everything Zeppelin would become. From the beginning, Zeppelin focused on albums in the studio and explored a wide range of improvisations live. Many of these improvs were blues-based but because of Page’s wide range of influences and the outstanding abilities of Jones and Bonham, the music careened into many different directions with dynamics, including acoustic-based music, that would eventually be known as Zeppelin’s Light and Shade. Robert Plant would also help take the band into interesting directions as he became a more confident frontman and writer. As the group was in the process of launching their career, the world’s first supergroup, Cream, was calling it quits. Not only was Cream lauded by fans in the same way that Zeppelin would be soon (for their ability to just play), they were also taken to task by critics for their “excesses”, which would become a major point of attack by critics against Page and Zeppelin as the 60s gave way to the 70s.

Led Zeppelin has never said their approach had more to do with jazz than pop music, which was still the only alternative at the time. CLASSIC ROCK didn’t exist and even though The Beatles had been successful releasing a 7 minute single (Hey Jude), they were The Beatles and had earned the right to do that. Conventional wisdom at the time dictated that music be produced in the conventional format and many bands like The Yardbirds and Cream, were constantly pressured by management that valued hit singles over a sound or a good album that would’ve sold in the newly emerging markets. Led Zeppelin didn’t have to worry about this because their manager, Peter Grant, never pressured the band for music and took anyone who did to task. He was savvy enough to see where the money was in the coming decade and left Jimmy and company alone to do what they wanted. While there are some to this day who view Grant as a gangster and bully because of his tactics, he was the first manager who ensured that the artists he represented got a huge percentage of the credit and compensation for their music and performances. Page insisted on complete creative control as a bargaining chip for Zeppelin’s record deal and Grant made sure he got it. He was the fifth member of Led Zeppelin and was a major factor in their success and has been recognized as a major game-changer in the history of popular music. With his help the band racked up album and concert sales that blew away everyone’s expectations. Not only was the writing and playing good enough to swing multiple generations of fans into Led Zeppelin’s corner, the band took their improvisation ethic to new heights and their live shows became an ever-changing exercise in a variation on a theme. This isn’t what most people think of when JAZZ is discussed, and heavy rockers and serious jazz artists would be equally offended by the term, but the basic drive and aspirations of Miles Davis and Jimmy Page or any of a number of ALT artists, which Zeppelin definitely were at the time, are primarily the same. It matters little what ends up on the disc. So much of that genre classification is all about selling units to consumers. A Led Zeppelin concert from the early days always had “songs”, but the highlights of the show were long improvised workouts on certain studio recordings — How Many More Times, Dazed and Confused, Trampled Underfoot, No Quarter, Whole Lotta Love,Moby Dick and whatever Jimmy picked as his “solo” spot (White Summer/Black Mountainside). As time went on the band was able to create long pieces that didn’t contain the same amount of improvisation but were arranged and conceptualized extended pieces of art: Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same/The Rain Song, Kashmir, Ten Years Gone, In My Time of Dying, Achilles Last Stand. None of this stuff is really ROCK music even if it sounds like ROCK music. It’s played with rock instruments and played at high volumes but the combination of instrumental prowess and artistic vision in the writing and live interplay produced something more than what most bands, even of that era, were capable of. It really does compare favorably to the best jazz and how the best jazz bands functioned without sacrificing any of the heaviness or youth signals (lyrics, stage theater, drama) that fans responded to.

LZ_1Before I started playing jazz music I always thought the version of Dazed and Confused (from The Song Remains the Same movie) was a bit too long and went through one too many “movements”. If it had been up to me, I thought there were two that could have been cut without losing anything from the performance (and this still might be true…improvisers are always in the process of editing and perfection is completely relative). Watching it recently, I thought the band’s performance was and is completely phenomenal. I’ve never liked the “fantasy” sequences in this movie because the band’s ability to take an audience through a half hour of music, power, drama and performance is totally cool and would certainly have been enough even in 1976. Is some of the drama silly? Of course, but the band didn’t take themselves as seriously as everyone else did and the limits of what could be done in a live performance were still expanding. Throughout the song Jimmy Page employs power chord thud, blues and country fills, dramatic wah-wah arpeggios and harmonics, slashing funk chords, avant-garde bowing and noise ripples and plenty of ripping riffs and zipping lines. When he was at his best Jimmy, like all of the great guitar improvisers, was a great synthesizer of all his influences and whatever was floating in his imagination at the time. By 1973 not only was the band firing on all cylinders live, their confidence level was completely off the charts. There is also maturity seen (and heard) in these shows that doesn’t exist in the early days and there is none of the dissipation and exhaustion that creeps into the band by later in the decade.

In 1973 Dazed and Confused was still a major centerpiece of Zeppelin shows. Typically, it occupied the 10th slot of the set, preceding Stairway to Heaven. In 1997 artist and Led Zeppelin bootleg expert extraordinaire Luis Rey analyzed Dazed and Confused in his book Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration of Underground Tapes. He split the song (1975 live version, which ran even longer than 1973) into 12 basic sections as a means of identifying the changing parts and progression of the piece. You can check the Wiki link for the actual sections and I think they’re pretty close in general to this version, at least the overall substance. Obviously some of this was rehearsed prior to the tour and Zeppelin played the set they rehearsed pretty much at all shows on a tour with only the encores varying from show to show. BUT…as was said at the time and what is obvious if you listen to enough copies of shows from their tour, within the general framework, there was plenty of room for improvisation and spontaneity, especially as far as Page is concerned and he certainly took advantage of that freedom.

Dazed and Confused was originally “picked up” by The Yardbirds after seeing Jake Holmes perform it in New York City when he opened for the band in summer of 1967. The title, bassline and general vibe of the song were lifted intact, but the lyrics were rewritten and even before Led Zeppelin came into fruition it served as an instrumental vehicle for all of Page’s guitar wizardry. (In 2010 Holmes filed a copyright infringement suit and is credited with inspiration and no doubt got a bunch of cash as the writing credit remains with Page). Zeppelin started playing Dazed at its first rehearsal and did a brisk 6+ minute version on their first album. But the song was in a constant state of evolution and serves as a very good barometer of how the bad grew over five years. As the song begins the confidence level I was talking about is evident in the dramatic intro and sung verses. Nothing is rushed and Bonham’s drum punctuations keep the song from being a dirge. Notice how Page varies the main riff every time he plays it, either with different phrasing, bends or playing the harmony notes of Jones’ bass riff at one point. At about the 4 minute mark the band is off!! and the camera starts to focus on Bonham and then Jones and Bonham as they follow and react to what Jimmy is doing. Along with all of his many other talents, John Bonham was easily one of the most reactive drummers that ever rock and rolled and Jones is also amazing. The fact that all of his brilliant lines are finger-picked also adds a layer of fluidity and depth to the song. Notice how Jimmy breaks his first set of riffing with some funky slash chords, setting up his next high-register solo. That’s improvised composition in action. As the song comes to it’s first breakdown the camera catches Bonham and Jones trying to puzzle out where Jimmy is going (5:38). Even though the band has been playing this song for 5 years at this point, but there is obviously no formula employed here. It’s called spontaneity and there was never a band as heavy as Zeppelin who pulled off this type of spontaneity so well. I love the interaction between Jones and Bonham at the 6 minute mark — it shows the essence of what I’m talking about so well. As guitar players we are usually told to “sing” our lines to make better improvisation. Notice how Bonham seems to sometimes “sing” his hits (6:19-6:25). You can hear snatches of the 3-years in the future riff for Achilles Last Stand in the arpeggios that set up the “San Francisco” bit. Excellent casual flamenco-esque strumming by Page on the “San Francisco” bits before bringing the wah-wah to lead to another heavy crescendo. Up and down the band goes, bringing everyone in Madison Square Garden with them. Isn’t this exciting? Robert Plant’s various vocalizations (scatting) have the same dynamic spontaneity throughout the song. He knows when to sing and then drop out and let the band play again. The “I Knows” that he brings in to accentuate the heavy part that comes in around 7:50 don’t mean anything and he isn’t really singing. His voice is just another instrument in the mix that adds another layer of excitement as the final bit of CRUSH and the segue before the song devolves into complete and total weirdness (and I mean that in a good way). Same with the “Aahs” and “Oohs” as the bass and drums are dropping out. The band leaves as Jimmy takes over on bow at about 9:00. So far the song has been paced beautifully highlighting the band’s talents for improvisation and live drama. Ethereal swoops and echo feedback replace the power of the band and it becomes a completely sonic “event”. The “song” has been left far behind. At 10:20 the Tolkien theater or Mars the Bringer of War (whichever you prefer) is in full effect with bow smacks on an echo-driven guitar with accompany send-outs to the audience. While I’m sure this was the inspiration behind Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel” violin solo“, it doesn’t look as silly in hindsight as it was made out to be. Sure, it’s not a 4 minute rock song, but John Cage and others outside the mainstream were doing stuff like this for years and Led Zeppelin’s fans, while maybe not classical music aficionados, ate it up. You don’t hear anyone screaming or heckling or any audience noise at all until Page does the dramatic slaps… and there is much rejoicing!! As Page continues bowing [the fantasy takes over and] Plant joins him with vocal accents as they fill the Garden with horror movie sounds that I’m sure were pretty awesome to an audience looking for a trip to another world (and under the influence of whatever they could get their hands on before the concert). See the internet and smart phones didn’t exist then kids. The rest of the band joins in with ambient noise effects before they return with the crunch and the blast at around the 16 minute mark. Once again the segue, helped by those little touches of Jones’ and Bonhams’ ambiance and impeccable timing, is perfect. There is another shot of John Bonham as the song kicks into the familiar riff that leads into the guitar/vocal interplay between Plant and Page. Bonham looks like such a serious (and sober) drummer on this performance doesn’t he? Very attentive to what Page and Jones are doing. A whole bunch of awesome, rapid-fire Page soloing follows on the same rhythm gallop. Back in the 70s this is what earned Page universal acclaim as the best guitarist of the era and it’s pretty impressive even today. The song breaks down into a funky rhythm that employs a prominent Hendrix-y 9th chord as it’s anchor. Jimmy has been playing guitar for almost twenty continuous minutes and has yet to repeat himself. Another dramatic major, happy sounding break leads into a different interaction with Plant (along with a bit more theater that totally pleases the audience). And once again Page is off with an Over, Under, Sideways Down-style riff and Jones and Bonham follow him until the song breaks again for another interaction with Plant in a higher register. The scene with the longhair is puzzling and says to me “we don’t have the film of that part of the performance.” Why that bit is chosen or what it’s supposed to represent I’ve never been able to puzzle out. At about 23 minutes the song breaks down again and goes into something that sounds vaguely like Black Sabbath before climaxing into chaotic noise and spiraling to earth and the final familiar strains of Dazed and Confused as you know it from the record are heard again. On the familiar outro figure Page once again takes off with screaming obbligatos and fleet-fingered wah chording and Jones and Bonham turn the rhythmic vibe into something that gets them smiling at each other (26:35-26:50) before a final burst of feedback and Plant’s echoes signal the ending chord slam and Bonham drum thrashing that finishes the song. While there was probably some post-production employed to really tighten the song up, other versions from the tour are extremely close and sound almost as good. Silly or dated as this might seem to some there is literally no one else in the history of rock who pulled this off as well, then or now.

LZ_3Given the nature of the above song and performance, Led Zeppelin has a lot in common with other “jamming” bands like The Grateful Dead, Cream and The Allman Brothers, much more than most “headbangers” would give them credit for. It’s interesting that many of the heavy bands that Zeppelin influenced picked up on the heaviness and the occasional acoustic ballad, but were not adept at either live improvisation or long orchestral-like pieces of music. All of that more or less faded out with the 70s. Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and everyone who followed into the 80s did not play 30 minute songs and did very little improvisation, except for their feature solos. That whole approach to writing and performance became strictly the domain of “jam bands” most of whom descend from the California sound of the 60s and 70s. Coincidentally, there is a lot of that to Zeppelin as well — Robert Plant in particular was a huge fan of San Francisco bands and it definitely shows in his Zeppelin lyrics and his solo material. This is probably why Page and the rest of the band take umbrage of the title Heavy Metal to describe their music, because they weren’t, especially when compared with what came along in the 80s and beyond. (Notice that most of the time Page isn’t using that much distortion live compared to heavy guitarists of later years). The heaviness that Zeppelin brought was always balanced with nuance and other elements, which is very clear by analyzing Dazed and Confused, always one of their heaviest songs. Guitarists of the next generation would by and large take the obvious and simplest elements of Zep’s heavy music and make it louder, heavier, faster and, in some cases, more intricate and in the process lose the elements that gave Zeppelin’s music it’s timeless depth, dynamics and (live) spontaneity.

LZ_6Of course, I was and am a big fan of the later heavy music and have seen many of those bands and played more than a few of those longs in my own bands. However, there is something slightly intense and magical about the ability of a group of musicians being able to improvise or approach music with the type of dynamics and movement inherent in the Led Zeppelin catalog. Call it rock, call it jazz, call it what you like, there comes a point when the quality of the music or performance renders all description and classification useless because there ain’t enough adjectives to really convey what goes on!