Star-spangled Shamisen: In search of the Jimi Hendrix of the... [insert instrument here]

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Perfect Beat, 2018, 19 (1), pp. 68 - 85
Issue Date:
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© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2018. A brief internet search of the phrase 'the Jimi Hendrix of...' followed by any instrument (for example, the bass guitar) reveals numerous examples of musicians promoting themselves, being marketed or being reviewed as the 'Jimi Hendrix' of that instrument. While some of the comparisons being made are arguably less tenuous-electric sitar, oud, mandolin-other instruments stretch the analogy. These include the 'Jimi Hendrix' of the bagpipe, clarinet, washboard, sampler and the jug. This phrase is not only applied to instrumentalists but sometimes takes on a national, racial or geographic dimension: such is the case with Mikhl Yosef Gusikow, described as the Jewish 'Jimi Hendrix', and Bombino, the 'Jimi Hendrix' of the Desert. This article critically examines the instances in which the phrase 'the Jimi Hendrix of the [insert instrument here]' is used to market and promote contemporary musicians. I explore some of the reasons why the rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix continues to be invoked as musicians position themselves in global markets, drawing attention to different aspects of the Jimi Hendrix myth that are appropriated by musicians and the various discourses around music practice. In order to do this, I employ Greenblatt's theory of social energy to critically frame such statements beyond the limits of political economy, as well as document contemporary cases of this phenomenon.
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