Another year has passed and we now find ourselves basking in the warm glow of a brand new year. What will 2011 bring? A new Madvillain album, perhaps? One can always hope, especially at the beginning of a new year. That’s why we all resolve to lose weight or stop drinking or lose our drinks and stop weighing ourselves – New Year’s Day represents a clean slate for the next year. This year, I would like to share a resolution with all of you, but it’s not really one I’ve made for myself – it’s one I’ve made for every working musician on earth.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors: it is time to stop covering Jimi Hendrix songs.
I’ve had this thought before, but it gained particular resonance with me recently, when I was listening to Carlos Santana and Joe Cocker mutilate “Little Wing” on Guitar Heaven: Carlos Santana and a Mob of No-Talent Ass Clowns Mutilate Some Classic Rock Songs. Oh, and Also “Under the Bridge” for Some Goddamn Reason. In case you can’t tell, there was a lot I hated about Santana’s latest act of auditory terrorism, but “Little Wing” is my favorite Hendrix tune and it’s been butchered by everyone from Sting to Skid Row (you can Google that shit if you don’t believe me) and I’m just fucking sick of listening to bad musicians butcher great songs.
Of course, “Little Wing” isn’t the only Hendrix tune to receive a corn-holing death at the hands of some inferior musician – both Jamie Cullum and John “Fuck” Mayer have covered “The Wind Cries Mary” and you can bet your best bottle of scotch that they took that beautiful little ditty out behind the woodshed, bent it over, and battered it unrecognizable. Because Hendrix was so influential, he has been covered by a lot of terrible musicians and the only way to stop it is if we all just agree to stop covering his tunes. Even the good covers (there are like two, and I’ll talk about ’em later) are not worth what Jimi’s music has suffered when mishandled by hacks.
Why would you cover a song in the first place? To show you like the original artist and/or pay homage to their profound influence on your musical journey, right? I’m all for that, up to a point and that point is the Point at Which the Attempted Homage Becomes an Abject Failure and/or Cringe-Inducing Self-Parody. I can actually play some Jimi Hendrix on the guitar, but I will never record any of it. Ever. I can also play Joe Strummer’s version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” but I try do it when I’m the only one home; I can’t do with that song what Strummer did and I don’t care who you are, you can’t do what Hendrix did with his songs.
A lot of guys cover Jimi Hendrix because they secretly want to prove that they’re badass guitar players. That’s certainly why guys like Carlos Santana and Fuck Mayer cover him, and I refuse to accept any other halfhearted justification even from these two apes themselves. They wanna play the notes Jimi played and then go off on a long solo of their own, making their cover usually two to three minutes longer than the original, and the only reason is to try to favorably compare themselves to Jimi Hendrix, all the while claiming that they’re paying “tribute” to him. But when you play Jimi Hendrix songs, you are really only holding up a magnifying glass to your own shittiness. Your every flaw as a player will be revealed in your Jimi Hendrix cover and you will be seen as the clown you most definitely are. An analogy, perhaps? Okay: any given band/musician’s cover of Jimi Hendrix is like me going to the Guinness factory with my little Mr. Brew home-brewing kit and trying to duplicate their delicious black nectar – sure, I’m ostensibly making “beer”, but that shit won’t be Guinness and thinking people everywhere will be whipped into a frothy, murderous rage by my misguided attempt at homage.
And just who the hell is asking for these fucking tributes anyway? What makes Carlos Santana think that Jimi Hendrix needs a tribute in the form of a Cockered-up cover of “Little Wing”? That’s like saying your gonna pay “tribute” to your best friend by giving them herpes. Incidentally, I feel this way pretty much any time Eric Clapton wants to record a tribute to Robert Johnson – near as I can tell, the last thing the Dead Black Blues Legends need is another pasty, white, old British wanker sterilizing their songs for the masses. Tom Waits gets a pass for covering Leadbelly because 1) Waits is not British and 2) Tom Waits is fucking awesome. The dude is probably the only living artist to ever record credible covers of Leadbelly songs and Ramones songs. Put that in your pipe and go fuck yourself, Carlos Santana.
Getting back to Jimi Hendrix covers from a guitar playing perspective, I’m starting to think (I’m listening to Hendrix and looking up covers of his songs while I write this) that the reason guys add so much time, usually in the form of wanky solos, to their Hendrix covers is they have no fucking idea how to do what Jimi did on his songs so they overcompensate by going all Ralph Wiggum and saying, “I can play a lot of notes! This is a Jimi Hendrix song!” Their inability to copy Hendrix has such a devastatingly shrinky effect on their already minuscule wangs that they’re compelled to try and disguise their failure by playing a bunch of notes Hendrix never wrote. Faced with the original version of “Little Wing,” Carlos Santana must’ve lost so many inches that he now has a vagina.
I know someone is reading this and at least thinking of suggesting that Stevie Ray Vaughan got off a couple passable Hendrix covers, and it’s a fair enough point, as long as you’re talking about “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” I actually enjoy a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music and, every October 3, I pray that Zombie SRV will rise up and beat John Mayer’s ass with a pillowcase full of screwdrivers, but I would trade entire Stevie Ray Vaughan albums to never hear another moron slaughter a Jimi Hendrix song. I think the new Congress could really show a sense of bipartisan spirit in this new year if they can band together and pass a law forbidding the covering of Jimi Hendrix songs. Violators could be punished by being strapped to a chair in a dark room where a naked John Boehner, in all his orange glory, will serenade them with Celine Dion’s greatest hits – a cappella.