I watched the documentary “Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child” on Netflix the other day. I enjoyed it, but it got me to thinking.
Lots of musicians died too early. Some times it mattered more than other times.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix only released three studio albums while he was alive, plus the live performance Band of Gypsys and some other singles. He was working on a new album when he died, but it wasn’t finished, so who knows what it would have sounded like. Hendrix never made an album while he wasn’t also touring: he never stopped touring long enough to spend exhaustive hours in the studio to make something as polished as Dark Side of the Moon, or other creations of the studio. He built a recording studio- Electric Lady Studios – to his own specifications, and recorded a handful tracks there, but there was a lot of unexplored territory we as music fans were deprived of hearing. Hendrix could have easily made a solo acoustic blues album; an album with some blues guitar master like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or the like; a deep and dirty funk album with Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton; could have eventually recorded that frequently discussed collaboration with Miles Davis; could have recorded an album of Motown covers; a soul and R&B album; an album of Krautrock guitar landscapes inspired by Kraftwerk, Faust, Can etc.; and some albums with Brian Eno exploring the spaces between guitar feedback. I could even imagine Hendrix getting into heavy metal or grunge for a moment. Did Hendrix ever hear any Reggae? Ska, probably, but Reggae wasn’t really “a thing” in 1970. The list goes on and on, Hendrix was such a genius and a musical sponge, absorbing sounds from the aether.
I divided modern pop musicians into 3 categories, and obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few quick examples.
1. Died too early, but recorded enough of a legacy to enjoy, had a career long enough, but it could have been longer. There could be a long, long list of people who died in their 30s or 40s or even 50s.
- John Bonham – Led Zeppelin ceased to exist when Bonzo died, but there are hours worth of rocking out to be enjoyed.
- John Lennon – Beatles, solo work. Not all great, but quite enough to be able to spend an entire afternoon listening to good, interesting music.
- Bob Marley – With the Wailers including Peter Tosh, and then semi-solo. Something around ten albums of great reggae. There was more in him that we won’t hear.
- Prince – my favorite Prince LPs were from the period before Prince became religious, but there are thousands of unreleased songs, allegedly, some of which will be great, some not so great.
- Jerry Garcia – borderline Category 2: because of the whole taping-of-shows-encouraged-ethos, there are thousands of hours of Grateful Dead music available, of varying quality, but quite a lot of it is good. Did Garcia die too soon? Not soon enough? Who knows?
2. Lived a long time, had varied career, of both good and bad quality. Some of these artists are still making music, having survived the 1960s, some of the music is even listenable.
- Bob Dylan – Some of the best literate rock, and also some Christian rock, acoustic albums of covers, Christmas songs, throwaway albums, and so on.
- Neil Young – Peaks and valleys, but always exploring new sounds and documenting them in the moment.
- Paul McCartney – Beatles especially, solo work less stellar, but still moving through the fair
- Mick Jagger/Keith Richards – Four great albums, a bunch of other good songs, but so much dreck, and yet they soldier on.
- Leonard Cohen/David Bowie/Guy Clark/etc. – a full and varied career that had to end sometime as we haven’t yet figured out the key to immortality of the human body.
3. Died way too early – nobody, artist or not an artist, should die before the age of 30.
- Jimi Hendrix
- Janis Joplin – a powerful, emotional singer, but with limited range. Could she have done anything else? Maybe, probably not. Would Joplin have recorded an Alt-Country LP in her 50s?
- Jim Morrison – Six studio albums. Maybe that was all there was for Morrison to say? The Doors are a sort of Baroque-Rock band, would they have been popular for ever? Would they have made a disco album? A punk rock album?
- Brian Jones – started the Rolling Stones, but the best Rolling Stones LPs didn’t have him playing on them, or playing much.1 What would he have done to pull himself out of the drugged-out wastrel lifestyle?
- Kurt Cobain – Was Nirvana a band with staying power? Would they still be as popular? Could they play other styles beside aggro-rock?
- Amy Winehouse – a powerful, emotional singer. Did she have more to contribute? We’ll never know.
- Syd Barrett – One studio album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a few songs on Pink Floyd’s second LP, and a lifetime of subject matter for the rest of the band. Plus 40 or so solo tracks recorded and assisted by David Gilmour, Roger Waters and others. Seems like enough.
- Ian Curtis – Joy Division morphed into New Order after Curtis killed himself at the age of 24, but Joy Division is my favorite of the two. There should have been at least 5 Joy Division albums, but instead there were only two plus some singles.
And there you are…
Hendrix – West Coast Seattle Boy
- Beggars Banquet; Let It Bleed; Sticky Fingers; Exile on Main Street by my estimation [↩]