Hear Jimi Hendrix’s Virtuoso Guitar Performances in Isolated Tracks: “Fire,” “Purple Haze,” “Third Stone from the Sun” & More

A gar­den of musi­cal curiosities—lush with rar­i­ties, out­takes, obscu­ri­ties, and live per­for­mances span­ning the globe—Youtube has ful­filled many a super­fan’s dream of instant access to record­ed musi­cal his­to­ry. One rar­i­fied bloom, the iso­lat­ed track, can prove a divi­sive strain. Why, aes­thetes and purists ask, rip a per­for­mance from its set­ting, place it before lis­ten­ers in a way musi­cians nev­er meant for it to be heard? Though at times expressed in ranty tones, the crit­i­cism has mer­it.

Think­ing of the “iso­lat­ed track” as pure solo vir­tu­os­i­ty does great injus­tice to the process­es that pro­duce these per­for­mances. As musi­cians well know, whether live or record­ed at sep­a­rate times in the stu­dio, most group per­for­mances result from count­less hours of rehearsal, revi­sion, some­times numb­ing rep­e­ti­tion, and devi­a­tions that become stan­dard over time.

For any band that plays togeth­er reg­u­lar­ly, parts emerge from the matrix of group dynam­ics or musi­cal “chem­istry.” Throw a dif­fer­ent musi­cian into the mix, and oth­er indi­vid­ual per­for­mances change as well.

That’s not even to men­tion the role of pro­duc­ers, record­ing and mix­ing engi­neers, etc. on shap­ing and refin­ing the sound. Many stu­dio pro­duc­tions nowa­days come from the lay­er­ing of beats, sequences, and sam­ples pro­duced in iso­la­tion from each oth­er. The results can sound ster­ile and inor­gan­ic. But in the 60s and 70s hey­day of album-ori­ent­ed rock, it was about the band, and almost no one put togeth­er bands that bet­ter com­ple­ment­ed his play­ing than Jimi Hen­drix. Con­verse­ly, no one played gui­tar like Hen­drix, in any con­text.

I would offer this in defense of hear­ing iso­lat­ed tracks from Hen­drix, or from Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie (who bucked the trend and wrote, arranged, rehearsed, and record­ed “Under Pres­sure” in the same night), Paul McCart­ney, Grace Slick, or any oth­er huge­ly tal­ent­ed per­former: We know these songs well enough already. So many of us have inter­nal­ized how their parts fit togeth­er into some­thing greater than them­selves. To have the indi­vid­ual tracks revealed only enhances our appre­ci­a­tion for the whole. When we return to the full arrange­ment we may hear nuances and quirks we’d nev­er noticed before, and notice afresh how these moments call and respond to the oth­er play­ers.

The iso­lat­ed Hen­drix gui­tar tracks here are sub­jects of study and appre­ci­a­tion, for gui­tarists, musi­col­o­gists, crit­ics, and ordi­nary fans. They allow us to hear very clear­ly what Hen­drix was doing in these songs under his cap­ti­vat­ing vocal deliv­ery, Mitch Mitchell’s rolling fills, and Noel Redding’s trav­el­ing lines. We gain a new appre­ci­a­tion for his rhythm play­ing, his deft tran­si­tions, and how his cool under­play­ing in vers­es made space for his indeli­bly flashy leads and intros.

Is it arti­fi­cial? Sure, but so is the record­ing process. And so is excerpt­ing parts of, say, Cit­i­zen Kane or Ver­ti­go to ana­lyze their edit­ing, cam­era work, or use of col­or. We don’t do it because we only want see part of the film, but because we want to bet­ter under­stand the tech­ni­cal intri­ca­cies of the work as a whole. Hear Hendrix’s iso­lat­ed gui­tar takes above (with some faint bleed from oth­er instru­ments) in “Fire,” “Pur­ple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Span­ish Cas­tle Mag­ic,” “Stone Free,” and, my per­son­al favorite, “Third Stone from the Sun.”

You can lis­ten to many more iso­lat­ed Hen­drix per­for­mances, and those from sev­er­al oth­er musi­cians, at the Dai­ly Motion chan­nel of Joh Phe. Then, by all means, return to the full record­ings and see how lit­tle bits of col­or, shape, and tex­ture that you hadn’t heard before now leap out at you.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Grace Slick’s Hair-Rais­ing Vocals in the Iso­lat­ed Track for “White Rab­bit” (1967)

Decon­struct­ing Led Zeppelin’s Clas­sic Song ‘Ram­ble On’ Track by Track: Gui­tars, Bass, Drums & Vocals

Jimi Hen­drix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Gui­tar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Bud­dy Guy & B.B. King

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Brad says:

    I was ini­tial­ly con­fused by hear­ing dou­ble notes on the first track, Fire. I thought Jimi was play­ing 2 har­mon­ic notes at once. Lat­er, I realised this is 2 record­ed takes of gui­tar on top of each oth­er, usu­al­ly done to thick­en the sound, and add har­mo­ny to sin­gle notes. From 0–29 sec­onds for exam­ple, I hear simul­ta­ne­ous high gui­tar notes with low notes. At 29 sec­onds the gui­tars break apart and go into the cho­rus.

  • Cholly D. Hill says:

    Nice , but it would be nice to hear the rhythm track also seper­at­ed.
    Ive always though it would be nice to hear jimi as just gui­tar.

  • It’s always inspir­ing to hear iso­lat­ed tracks…mainly because you can hear all the duff bits, open strings left ring­ing that should­n’t be, muf­fled notes as phras­es begin, acci­den­tal har­mon­ic clash­es. It makes us less­er mor­tals realise that although the likes of Hen­drix were/are amaz­ing, they were not per­fect play­ers, they can make all the same mis­takes as any play­er does in between the great bits!

  • Ant says:

    Brad — I think that’s Jimi using an octavia ped­al on Fire that you can hear, rather than mul­ti­ple gui­tar tracks.

  • Jacob Greene says:

    “Is it arti­fi­cial? Sure, but so is the record­ing process.”

    No, there’s noth­ing arti­fi­cial about this…

  • Michael Sharette says:


    Please con­tact me at my email address. I have ques­tions that war­rant more pri­vate answers.

    This is a beau­ti­ful thing you’ve done here.

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