"And I was playing one night and he came up and asked if he could play bass. I went, 'Sure'. And he really surprised me 'cause he just turned it upside down and just played the shit out of it! He played with a pick and played the bass like a bass player would, not like a guitar player who just picked up a bass. He was a really good bass player, funky and really solid."
That's how ex-Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon remembered Jimi's bass playing at the Scene club in New York City when Jimi borrowed Tommy's '62 Fender Jazz bass for a jam session (see home page for the rest of this interview). Tommy wasn't the only bass player who was impressed by the quality of Jimi's bass playing.
The late bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius paid tribute to Jimi when he was with Weather Report, playing a feedback-infected "Purple Haze"/"Third Stone From The Sun" medley in concert. Jaco would use a delay unit to infinitely repeat a short motif which he would then play over. Pat Metheny's version of "Third Stone From The Sun" on the Stone Free (1993) tribute album was partly inspired by this technique and Jaco's interpretation of Hendrix, with Pat even using "loops" of Jaco's playing for his contribution to the Stone Free release.
Fretless bassist Michael Manring, known for his "two hands on fretboard" technique has recorded a version of "Purple Haze" - very impressive technically, but... At the other extreme Slade bassist Jim Lee can be heard playing a version of "Purple Haze" during his live bass solo on Slade On Stage (1982). Subtle, it ain't...
Jazz bassist Jonas Hellborg, who played in the '80s lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra alongside John McLaughlin, recorded "Little Wing" on his second solo album, Elegant Punk (1984) as a tribute to Jimi. Hellborg: "To me, he was the greatest guitar player ever. I played all of "Little Wing" as one piece; I didn't work out a bass line or the chords separately. I heard what Jimi did and just laid it out, played it through. It came naturally. I don't write out my pieces."
Jimi Hendrix was a major influence on many notable rock bassists such as Paul McCartney, Billy Sheehan, now with Mr Big, the late Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers - Flea has a tattoo of Jimi on his left shoulder and the Peppers recorded a version of "Fire" on Mother's Milk (1989). Bassist Stu Hamm played a version of "The Star Spangled Banner" during the winter European tour with Joe Satriani in 1995 - it's obviously not a JH song and Stu didn't play it anything like Jimi, but it's pretty obvious where the inspiration to do this tune came from.
Like Tommy Shannon, bassist Chuck Rainer saw Jimi's bass playing at first hand and was impressed by what he saw, as he recalled in the September 1975 issue of Guitar Player : "I first heard and met Jimi in New York at the Paramount Theatre in 1965. He was one of the two guitar players with Little Richard, and I was playing bass with King Curtis. Throughout the whole engagement at the Paramount, I remember constantly going to my bass and trying to play lines the way I had just heard Hendrix play them. His lines were played with a lot of character - he didn't play them straight ahead and simple; he added feeling by using dynamics, finger tremolo, and of course, his natural showmanship."
On many occasions Jimi would play bass in jam sessions rather than guitar, such as in mid April 1967 at London's Speakeasy club when Jimi jammed on bass with Georgie Fame on organ and Ben E King on drums. In jam sessions Jimi had no desire to dominate the music, preferring to compliment the music and create something with the other musicians. Later that same month, Jimi played bass for a jam session at London's UFO club with the band Tomorrow which included Steve Howe on guitar.
Joe Boyd: "We had the 'Smoke' booked in...but they got stuck in Germany...I rang up the agency...he sent down 'The In Crowd'... I was pretty nervous at the thought of some group called The In Crowd playing at the UFO. But when they arrived at the club we were informed they'd changed their name to Tomorrow... Jimi Hendrix leapt up on stage and played bass and it was all very amazing."
Jimi also played bass with the Experience. At Olympic Sound Studios in London on 4 May 1967 the Experience "recorded one of my numbers" wrote Noel in his diary, the number in question being "She's So Fine", "which I wrote at the TV show earlier that day...first time thru, with Jimi playing bass as he would do when I introduced a new song," elaborated Noel in his manuscript. A version of "She's So Fine" from this recording session [S1004 - song numbers refer to the discography in Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek's Hendrix biography Electric Gypsy ] was released on the Symphony Of Experience bootleg but clearly features Jimi on guitar with Noel on vocals and bass, so presumably Noel's comments refer to when he was teaching it to the band rather than when they actually recorded it.
In Frankfurt, Germany at the K 52 club on 17 May 1967, Jimi jammed on bass with Mitch, Dave Dee, Tich and Sandie Shaw. Dave Dee recalled: "...Jimi and Noel Redding, Beaky and me went out looning in Frankfurt in the evening at the K 52...but he [Jimi] refused to play lead guitar, so Noel Redding played lead guitar and Jimi played bass... He [Jimi] said 'I fancy a jam, but I don't wanna play guitar'. ...Beaky who was our rhythm guitar[ist] played drums... I don't remember her [Sandie Shaw] doing anything to be quite honest..." Asked what they jammed on, Dee replied: "All the old rock and roll stuff, bit of blues, "Whole Lot Of Shaking" [sic]..."
Only a few days later, on either 24 or 25 May 1967 Jimi jammed on bass with Swedish musicians at the En Till club in Stockholm. A photo of this jam can be seen on page 712 of Electric Gypsy - Noel is playing six string electric guitar whilst Jimi is holding a right-handed Fender Jazz bass guitar turned upside down for left-handed playing. In September 1969 (either September 09, 10 or 11) Jimi jammed with Mountain at Ungano's in New York City, Jimi playing bass by again turning a right-handed bass upside down (possibly Felix Pappalardi's bass).
In New York in July 1967 Jimi played fuzz bass for Curtis Knight. "Fuzz bass" is exactly what the name suggests, the "fuzz" on the bass being created by either overloading the amplifier or using a fuzz unit. Jimi played fuzz bass on the following tracks: "No Business I" [S363], "Future Trip" [S364], "Flashing II" [S369], "Day Tripper" [S374], "Odd Ball" [S375], "Get That Feeling I" [S377], "Odd Ball II" [S386], "Day Tripper II" [S387], "No Business II" [S388], "Get That Feeling II" [S393] and "Get That Feeling III" [S449].
According to Paul McCartney, fuzz bass "helps you be a bit more lyrical because it makes the notes linger, gives you a bit more sustain. That used to really turn the whole thing around." However, on these tracks Jimi provides a solid backing with the fuzz bass rather than exploring its lyrical possibilities. Jimi also played straight Hagstrom bass on "U.F.O." [S383] and "U.F.O. II" [S446].
Back in Stockholm, on 7 September 1967 at Club Filips Jimi jammed on bass with Janne Karlsson and George Clemons both on drums, Bo Hansson on organ and George Wadinus from Blood, Sweat & Tears on guitar. The four hour jam was recorded by Hansonn's producer, Anders Lind, who has kept the tape to himself ever since.
On 24 and 25 May 1968 Jimi jammed at the Titan club in Rome after the JHE's concerts at the Teatro Brancaccio. On the first of these two nights, Jimi again played bass. Dario Salvatori remembered: "Almost the entire musical population of Rome had turned up. The Folks gave up their instruments. Hendrix took the bass and Noel the guitar." Jimi said it didn't matter that the guitar was right-handed and they jammed for over half an hour on classic R&B songs and new JHE material.
In mid June 1968 Jimi jammed with Jeff Beck in aid of Rehabilitation Of Drug Addicts at the Reality House Rehabilitation Centre in New York. Beck: "Hendrix is the best jam I've ever had. Somebody organised the monster jam of all, not from a status point of view. It really worked out perfectly. It was a concert for reformed drug addicts, but that was the least of it. They were fantastic people, they just sat for two hours and Jimi played "Foxy Lady". He was playing bass and he played a couple of my things. It just went on and on, we were jumping all over the place. Hendrix came to see me at that scene for two nights - people used to come for the great battle."
Whilst recording at TTG studio in Hollywood in October 1968 Jimi played bass on Robert Wyatt's demo of a song called "Slow Walkin' Talk", released on Calling Long Distance... (1992) (Jimi also played bass on Timothy Leary's track "Live And Let Live", released on the Ryko CD You Can Be Anyone This Time Around in 1992).
From the Calling Long Distance... sleeve notes: "Jimi plays bass on Robert Wyatt's version of "Slow Walking Talk" after hearing the track only once and furthermore he played it on Noel's bass by turning it upside down! Jimi's bass playing on the track was influenced by Larry Graham who played bass with Sly Stone, Robert Wyatt reporting that Jimi would often play Sly and James Brown records when on tour in the USA in 1968.
Interestingly, when Jimi enters after the intro piano riff he plays the fifth against the chord instead of the root, dropping to the root when the vocals begin. Jimi uses a rhythmic root-fifth-octave figure later in the first verse and in the second verse he plays a double stop of a root and fifth underneath the vocal. For the break Jimi plays a walking figure based on the root to the fifth of the chords. At the start of the third verse Jimi plays a three note riff - each of the three verses gets a subtly different treatment each time! Considering Jimi heard the song only once and this is a first take, it's no wonder Robert Wyatt pronounced Jimi's performance 'staggering'!"
Andy Summers recalled jamming with Jimi "once in Los Angeles in some studio, somewhere in Hollywood [TTG studios, where Jimi recorded with Robert Wyatt?]. Actually, I played lead and he played bass, can you believe! It was weird." Unfortunately, Andy couldn't remember what they played: "Probably the blues I would imagine [see home page for the rest of this interview].
In September 1969 (between 9 and 11) Jimi jammed with Mountain at Ungano's in New York City. During this jam Jimi played Felix Pappalardi's right-handed bass upside-down. A photo of this jam appeared in New York City magazine Rock (2 February 1970) but unfortunately the Xerox on file at UV is too poor to reproduce here. The same photo (in equally bad quality) recently appeared in the liner notes booklet for the double-CD Over The Top , a Mountain retrospective. In the booklet for this 1995 release (Legacy/Columbia, USA) Bud Prager (partner of Felix Pappalardi up to 1975) writes: "Rock music began with two power groups - Cream and Jimi Hendrix. One night in Greenwich Village I sat with Eric Clapton who said, 'As long as Cream exists, Felix Pappalardi will be the producer.' When Eric left, I sat with Jimi Hendrix who said, 'I wish Felix would produce one of my albums.' I said, 'Why? You have two albums in the top 10. How much better can it get?' He said, 'Felix knows things I don't. He could help me make better records.' At the time I really didn't understand..."
Jimi didn't play any bass on Are You Experienced? nor Axis: Bold As Love . However, as relations between Jimi and Noel became more fraught and Jimi increasingly took control of how he wanted the songs to sound, Jimi played bass on at least six songs on Electric Ladyland .
The album's opening track "...And The Gods Made Love" possibly contains Jimi's bass playing but the sound is so processed that it's difficult to tell. Noel originally played on "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)?" but later recalled: "I think Hendrix took it off and put the bass on himself. We weren't really working together at that point." Jimi uses arpeggios and chromatic movement in the bass part and covers a wide register from the bottom string open to 'A' on the top string, fourteenth fret (a range of two octaves plus a perfect fourth). Jimi varies his approach to rhythm using quavers (eighth notes), semiquavers (sixteenth notes) and the occasional triplet. All in all, quite an elaborate bass part and not at all obvious - a far cry from the predictable bass part of root notes in quavers which is probably the most obvious approach to playing a bass line (especially for a guitarist!).
Jimi also makes effective use of chromatic fragments in his bass playing on "Long Hot Summer Night" and uses a great deal of semiquaver-based rhythms - the chromatic fragments ("chromatic" means moving one fret at a time) give a very "smooth" feel to the bass lines and the semiquaver-based rhythms are more interesting to the ear than straight quavers. The first four notes use "octave displacement" - Jimi starts with a "G#" on the second string, sixth fret then moves on to the top string for "B" at the fourth fret and "C" at the fifth fret, as if working up to "C#" at the sixth fret but instead jumps down an octave to play "C#" on the third string, fourth fret. In the first two and a half bars of the bass part from 0:10 to 1:17 Jimi plays a sequence which is just as cool as the guitar playing.
Asked if he played the bass on "Gypsy Eyes", Noel replied: "No. I told Jimi he was being silly to try to do so much at once - writer, producer, singer, guitarist, arranger - but he took no notice." Jimi follows the guitar for the riff at 0:36 to 0:44 and at 1:27 to 1:55. Yet again, Jimi uses chromatic fragments throughout the song and makes extensive use of semiquaver-based rhythms.
Jimi also played the involved bass parts on "1983...(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)". Mitch noted that, "There were some things where it was faster to work just Jimi and myself. Some [songs] were cut guitar and drums, some just bass and drums." In "1983...", Jimi again makes extensive use of arpeggios based on the root, fifth and octave and also uses many semiquaver-based rhythms. In parts of "1983..." Jimi plays the octave guitar riff on the bass, but one octave lower - this can be heard most clearly from 2:07 to 2:15.
But Jimi's bass playing can be be heard most clearly of all on Electric Ladyland during the "bass solo" in "Moon, Turn The Tides...Gently Gently Away" from 3:53 to 4:39. The solo is based on the "A" mixolydian mode ("A B C# D E F# G A") although Jimi makes occasional and striking use of the "C", the minor third, such as at 4:00. From 4:07 to 4:23 Jimi plays a section based on diads (chords consisting of two notes) and beginning with a perfect fifth interval followed by a perfect fourth which resolves to a major third, this simple motif brought alive by Jimi's rhythmic playing. Diads are again used towards the end of the bass solo from 4:33 to 4:37. The bass part in "Moon, Turn The Tides..." is treated with a delay effect.
Speaking about "House Burning Down", Noel commented, "We rehearsed it but I didn't play bass on that one." Once again, Jimi makes use of chromatic fragments. From 0:52 to 1:00 Jimi plays another cool bass line, starting in staccato-ed quarter notes but moving onto a syncopated semiquaver-based rhythm. Jimi makes extensive use of octaves pre-second verse and during the second verse, from 2:11 to 2:51.
So, if Jimi had ever been down on his luck at least he could have made it as a bass player!