Jimi Hendrix tragically died 51 years ago today from an accidental overdose. He was 27 years old. Hendrix is widely regarded as the greatest electric guitar player of all time. But he was also a talented songwriter and there aren’t many songs that are more symbolic of Jimi than “Purple Haze.”
While The Jimi Hendrix Experience had found success in the United Kingdom with the single “Hey Joe” in 1966, it was not a Hendrix composition. Around the New Year between ‘66 and ‘67, Jimi began working on a new song that manager Chas Chandler recognized as a hit. The band got into the studio in January ‘67 and cut the tune “Purple Haze.”
Released on March 17, 1967, “Purple Haze” shot to No. 3 on the U.K. charts and established Hendrix as not only a great guitar player, but also a talented songwriter in the vein of one of his heroes, Bob Dylan. The song certainly contains psychedelic imagery, much like Dylan had experimented with a few years earlier on songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man.” But Hendrix himself said that “Purple Haze” was not about the psychedelic experience but rather from a dream or simply, a love song.
As far as the guitar work goes it is nothing short of revolutionary, it starts with a simple but effective distorted octave ahead of the tune’s iconic riff. That riff is so ingrained in the collective music mind that it’s difficult to see how otherworldly it must have been in early 1967. Like much of Jimi’s work, the riff is rooted in the blues. But the tone of the guitar laced with effects wizardry, of which Hendrix was a pioneer, became emblematic of the ‘60s counterculture movement in all its pulsating psychedelic motorcycle revving glory. Additionally, the verses contain what would become known as the Hendrix chord.
Naturally, “Purple Haze” is one of Jimi’s signature songs and he played it in all of his projects beyond The Jimi Hendrix Experience. To remember Jimi Hendrix, listen to a YouTube playlist of “Purple Haze” live throughout Jimi’s meteoric career below: