Jimi Hendrix’s performance at the Woodstock festival on August 18, 1969 has come to be regarded as one of the electric guitar’s defining moments. It is also, arguably, the most famous performance by any rock musician, ever.
Now, thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can enjoy the sound of Hendrix’s isolated guitar track on Voodoo Child (Slight Return) from that historic day.
The audio is not an upload of the guitar track in total isolation (elements of vocals, drums and bass guitar still sneak in), but it is a cleverly edited and EQ’d filter of Hendrix’s guitar playing.
What is immediately striking about the audio is just how much of the spectrum Hendrix covers. He seems to restlessly bound between the highs and lows, taking it from deep crunch to wah’d out treble squeals that feel on the edge of human hearing range.
The rich dynamic variety of his playing is also much more apparent, as he moves from whisper to thunder and back again over the course of the song. Then there’s the tone – an incredibly vocal wah, the squalling distortion, the disorientating slides and string bends that hail split-second climbs to new altitudes.
Hearing the Voodoo Child guitar lines in isolation, you can also trace (a little) more clearly the lines it drew to the blues music that inspired the track and its creator. British writer Charles Shaar Murray eloquently explained the song’s origins in his definitive Hendrix book, Crosstown Traffic.
“The West African even-before-Bo-Diddley beat he percussively scratches from his guitar and wah pedal at the beginning of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is announcing as explicitly as possible that he is a man of the blues,” writes Murray.
“[Indeed] Voodoo Child is virtually a chronological guided tour of blues styles, starting with the earliest recorded Delta blues and traveling through the electric experiments of Muddy Waters in Chicago and John Lee Hooker in Detroit to the sophisticated swing of B.B. King and the cosmic blurt of John Coltrane, eventually arriving at a glorious free-form noise which onomatopoeically evokes the blurring and collapse of history and category.”
Well, er, yes. We literally couldn’t have put it better ourselves. You can hear all that and more in the Woodstock recording. Though we’ll leave you with the galling fact that his performance on that particular night is not even regarded by the experts to be among his best…
Regardless, if you enjoy the above, check out the isolated track from the Voodoo Child studio outtakes. And if this has left you inspired to pick up the guitar, here’s a quick lesson on Hendrix’s fiery pentatonic phrasing...