The guitarist so mystical Pete Townshend called him “bigger than LSD”

Pete Townshend

Almost every aspect of art and culture underwent radical change during the 1960s. If you were being overly simplistic, you could attribute these revolutionary impulses to the invention of drugs and guitars. Naturally, both of these items were easily accessible before the hippie movement gained popularity. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that some enterprising rock and rollers decided to blend these two inspirations. Pete Townshend, along with other talented musicians of the new generation, emerged from the wrestling carnage. Their influence altered the course of musical history forever.

In the 1960s, Townshend—who served as The Who’s principal songwriter—became a representative of the irate post-war generation in Britain. Amphetamine use had a significant impact on the group’s early sound. As adherents of the modernist subculture, this helps to explain the group’s fast-paced, boisterous, and raucous playing style. But as the decade went on, a brand-new medication called LSD became available, and it completely changed everything.

In the late 1960s, almost every respectable rock band was using LSD daily. Acid opened up a whole new creative realm for musicians and songwriters, which is not surprising. Everyone who dabbled with LSD, from the young misfits of Jefferson Aeroplane to the newly discovered pop stars of The Beatles, had generally positive experiences. Even Townshend could not deny the pervasive influence of acid. The Who were no exception to this growing trend. Their music was rarely as spaced out as Revolver or Surrealistic Pillow.

Although the effects of LSD on music and society have never truly faded, Jimi Hendrix was one performer whose influence far outweighed that of mind-altering drugs. Hendrix, as Townshend attests, fundamentally changed the course of rock history. No one had ever played like that before, and no one has ever done so since, despite numerous pretenders to the title. Hendrix is inevitably brought up in any conversation about the greatest guitarists of all time, and for good reason.

Pete Townshend asserts that seeing the guitarist live is the only way to truly appreciate him. Most people only get to know him through his numerous albums and live recordings. “I feel sad for people who have to judge Jimi Hendrix based on recordings and film alone; because in the flesh he was so extraordinary,” the guitarist for The Who wrote in a 2010 Rolling Stone article.

Speaking further about what made Hendrix’s performance special, Townshend remarked, “He had an alchemist’s ability; he changed when he was on stage. He underwent a physical transformation. He developed extraordinary grace and beauty. It was undoubtedly more than just people abusing LSD, even though that was certainly the case. But he possessed a strength that, like an acid trip, almost made you sober up,” he said, concluding with, “He was bigger than LSD.”

That last bit is especially significant considering the psychedelic wave that Hendrix sparked with his songs and live performances. Even though LSD had a significant impact on the rock scene in the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix’s influence is still indisputable. His legacy endures more than 50 years after his tragic death.

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