He was different, dirty and, more often than not, drugged up, but like him or not Jimi Hendrix’s raw talent is undeniable.
To the kids of the 1960s, Hendrix represented love, freedom and coexistence. He was known for his mind-numbing guitar riffs and his rebellion against the limiting black stereotypes of the time.
His music has not only survived longer than most, Hendrix’s soulful lyrics and unmatched guitar skills sent a message that has translated through the years.
Far past the days of peace and love, Hendrix is still hailed as an icon for his lyrics, symbolism and unquestionable guitar work.
Regardless of how he was viewed, Hendrix has managed to unite many generations with a single sound.
Hendrix had a gift. He could play a flaming Fender Stratocaster Sunburst, move thousands of fans to rock out to “The Star Spangled Banner,” and was out to prove that black people dug more than just Motown.
“The first time I heard Hendrix was in  when I was seven,” says Colleen Davis, office services manager at TPN Inc. in Chicago. “It was in my brother’s room, and it was “Purple Haze.” The entire album just made me crazy-nuts-happy. I was so excited to hear that guitar, every single song from beginning to end.”
For Davis, the Hendrix experience spanned more than intoxicating guitar riffs.
“It was an inspiring, interracial group,” she says. “That meant a lot to me. The music was filled with energy; filled with the question ‘Who are you?’ It was important to me because I was a younger kid and, at the time, the world was exploding.”
Though she was still young in the ‘60s, Davis learned early on that not everybody was as open as she was. At age seven, Davis fought with her cousin Billy, who didn’t agree with her listening to Hendrix’s records.
“He said it wasn’t good music because of the drugs; because of the Afro. He felt it wasn’t appropriate for a seven year old,” she says.
Racial clash defined the 1960s. While black people fought for equality in everyday life, black artists were forced to cope with being limited in the music they were able to create.
According to Anthony Massa, chief creative officer at TPN Inc. in Chicago, Hendrix was a forerunner in bridging that gap.
“Jimi had a different sound,” Massa says. “He also had a different sound that was accepted by whites. At that time you had an African American guy playing rock ‘n’ roll, not Motown.”
Massa cites Hendrix’s rebellion as the artist’s defining characteristic.
“Hendrix was breaking into a little bit more of a Caucasian music beat,” he says. “He was also involved with Janice Joplin at the time. An African American guy and a white girl; it wasn’t common.”
New era, new meaning
Segregation may be a fading facet of the past, but Hendrix’s music isn’t. His spirit is still alive and kicking through his music and a message that has taken on a whole new meaning.
“There is a lot of diversity in [Hendrix’s] songs,” says Jessi Chapes, an aspiring artist from Tempe, Ariz. “As people, we have many different sides to us, and to hear a record with that kind of dimension makes it seem so much more real.”
Growing up, Chapes was constantly surrounded by the ’60’s sound, it just wasn’t as memorable to her as it is today.
“Honestly, the first time I heard Hendrix I probably didn’t know it was him,” Chapes says. “My mom and dad were obviously big Beatles fans, and that’s the first kind of music I ever listened to.”
Now, Chapes admires the unhindered aspect of Hendrix’s work.
“It’s not so much just music speaking of heartache or love; it’s more honest or open,” she says. “For the first time, artists like Hendrix just questioned things and weren’t afraid to do it. You get a sense of who this person really is.”
Unlike generations before, Chapes doesn’t concentrate so much on a song as a whole. According to her, “May This Be Love (Waterfall)” is one of Hendrix’s most inspirational songs because of the words.
“I’m a person who really pays attention to the lyrics,” Chapes says. “The song is all about daydreaming. The beginning is ‘waterfall, nothing can harm me at all.’ It’s a really positive song. It makes everything you worry about seem small and not so scary.”
Chapes put the emotion she gets from songs into her artwork, making kaleidoscopic facial interpretations of her favorite musicians and authors.
“As far as colors, I don’t usually start with a set plan,” she says. “I usually just go with it.”
When painting musicians, Chapes looks to an artist’s tunes for inspiration, using the songs to direct the piece.
“I don’t know if I really notice it much at the time, but depending on the mood I’m in, it affects how I paint,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll be really upbeat, so the colors will be bright.”
For Chapes, her art is more than just a form of self-expression.
“It’s a tribute to someone who, at one point in my life, has spoken to me or moved me in some way,” she says.