The band Jimi Hendrix called “the best group in the world”

Jimi Hendrix is the greatest guitarist of all time, and there’s simply no two ways around that. Ask any guitarist without an agenda, and they’ll agree. In his tragically shortened career, he produced Mozart-like talent on the six-string that defied imitation, so if he likes your band and respects you as a musician, that is kind of a big deal.

Part of his brilliance was his stunning singularity. This entirely individualistic style, playing off feel, meant that his influences and inspirations were more obfuscated than most. We know that he greatly admired The Beatles, dug Muddy Waters, and said that Bob Dylan’s writing was so good that it was beyond inspiration. But who did he truly love and try to channel?

Well, during a Q&A event as part of Patricia Fripp’s Compelling Stories: The Inside Secrets documentary album, King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp was asked whether it was true that Jimi Hendrix shook his left hand. “Yes, he did,” replied Fripp, trying his best to downplay it before spinning his story of the time when the paths of the two great guitar wizards crossed.

“The single time I met Jimi Hendrix was at The Revolution Club in Mayfair (London) when [King] Crimson were playing in 1969, and it was the first time I sat down,” Fripp revealed. “I have always been a seated guitarist,” continued the eternally seated David Bowie guitarist, “But to be in a rock group, you couldn’t sit down.”

This decision to defy rock and roll styling standards was met acrimoniously by the band’s frontman Greg Lake, who apparently yelled, “You can’t sit down; you look like a mushroom!” To which Fripp replied: “[It is my considered opinion] that the mushroom is considered a fertility symbol in many cultures.”

At this point in their career, King Crimson were only a matter of months into their infancy. Fripp had only just turned 23, in fact. Nonetheless, their virtuoso talent and innovative new sound had managed to stir up an excited following within the music industry. The night when Fripp became the eponymous seated musician was June 2nd, a few months before their seminal prog debut record would be released in October.

In the crowd that night, the greatest guitarist of all time was clad all in white, temporarily out of action, with his arm in a sling. After the gig, Hendrix approached Fripp, who described him as looking like one of the most “luminous men” he had ever met. Considering that he collaborated with David Bowie pretty prolifically, Jimi is indeed a very luminous man. Hendrix said to a humble Fripp: “Hey, shake my left hand, man, it’s closer to my heart.”

For a while, that was the gilded punchline to Fripp’s anecdote and, for all intents and purposes, the greatest accolade that any guitarist could wish to receive. Hendrix’s style was original. His playing was so revolutionary and skilled to the utmost degree that when he recognised talent in others, it was like Lewis Hamilton complimenting you on your parallel parking. However, the story does not stop there.

Years later, Fripp bumped into the sister-in-law of King Crimson’s first drummer, Michael Giles, in a bookstore. She was in attendance on the momentous night that Hendrix shook Fripp’s hand, and, as fate would have it, she was sat on the table next to Jimi. What she revealed to Fripp about that evening probably bewildered him so much that he had to sit down if she caught him on a rare occasion when he happened to be standing. “He was jumping up and down,” she told Fripp, shouting: “THIS IS THE BEST GROUP IN THE WORLD!’” She asserted that he bawled this several times over the booming stereo.

“In all due modesty,” Fripp concludes the story. “That is one of the best calling cards any working musician is ever likely to be able to present.” And that is a notion that I’m sure everyone who likes guitar music would certainly second. So, remember that next time you see him sat in his kitchen rattling off an erotic cover of ‘Fight for Your Right’ with his wife, Toyah Willcox, on YouTube.

In truth, while Hendrix and Fripp might have been profoundly different in a performative sense, their singularity is a tie that binds. As Fripp’s calling card from Brian Eno also states: “Fripp’s contributions to the David Bowie albums are of a singular nature. He is a unique musician who doesn’t do ‘sessions’ in the normal sense: when people work with him it is not only for his prodigious gifts as a player, but even more for his unusually fruitful and original imagination.”

Eno continued: “He has the ability to send a piece of music into a quite different direction, and indeed did so several times on these albums.”

In the words of Pete Townshend, Hendrix might have been offering up “epiphanies”, but Fripp was also throwing out colourful journeys that not many folks had ever heard before. His guitar playing was derivative of his own wandering muse and seemingly not a lot else. In truth, part of the reason people couldn’t corroborate his mystical sound was that Fripp was borrowing from Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky and other modern composers to craft a technicolour prog-rock sound as opposed to all the other rockers on the counterculture circuit.

This is maybe why Hendrix loved King Crimson so much. After all, one of his heroes – and a man whose former home he eventually lived in – was the German-born Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. Hendrix dabbled in transposing Handel’s classical work into rock himself. Great music is timeless, was his thoughts.

Thus, some of the very best modern musicians abide by the formlessness of shunning usual genre tropes and favour simply seeking out any influence that connects. As Miles Davis once said, “Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is.” Hendrix and Fripp are stars who used their majesty to support that message with some of the best “good music” anyone has ever alchemically conjured into creation.

In both cases, it was rock by virtue of the instrumentation, but in their own way, Crimson and The Experience were rock ‘n’ roll orchestras. This is why Frank Zappa always wanted to pair Hendrix with someone who could read music and transpose his ideas into pieces for a classical orchestra–sadly, that never came to fruition. Thankfully, enough amazing music did come to fruition not to bemoan that too much.

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