Jimi Hendrix would have turned 70 years old today. There’s no telling what an additional 43 years of creativity would have wrought, beyond the mere four years he gave us as a solo recording artist before his death at age 27. Some have surmised he’d have embraced the funk movement wholeheartedly and dabbled in contemporary R&B sounds before retreating back into the blues as its greatest modern practitioner. Impossible to say. But we can look back on the body of work he left, which fortunately includes miles of tape that never saw an official release during his lifetime, as well as a treasure trove of well-preserved live recordings.
Here are seven of our favorites available online — one for each decade of the A.J. period (i.e., After Jimi).
Forty-plus years later, this has turned into a July 4 staple. It’s been covered (or at least had its most famous passages alluded to) by nearly every guitar shredder who’s ever walked the earth. Which makes it easy to forget how revolutionary and controversial this rendition of the national anthem was at the time. The way Jimi deconstructs and reconstructs the song–like some avant-garde jazz player–displayed not only his vast music vocabulary, but his own complicated thoughts about his country, dating back to his time in the Army as a teenager.
6. “Spanish Castle Magic”/Atlanta Pop Festival/July 4, 1970
Speaking of July 4, this performance came at a largely forgotten festival that still drew several hundred thousand fans. And it delivered one of the definitive versions of this song, among Hendrix’s hardest rocking tracks. (Note: The video picks up part way into the song, but is still well worth watching.)
5. “Hear My Train A-Comin'”/Berkeley Community Theater/May 30, 1970
Before getting an official release, this show was one of the most widely bootlegged Hendrix concerts out there, due in no small part to this lengthy excursion into the blues and back again.
4. “Hey Joe”/Winterland/Oct. 12, 1968
For many years, this was one of the only official live Hendrix releases available (and arguably the best). It’s recently been rereleased as a four-disc box set culled from six shows over three nights in October 1968. The high point could be this magnificent version of “Hey Joe.” The pristine soundboard quality recording doesn’t hurt, either.
3. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”/Rainbow Bridge/July 30, 1970
Another perennially popular Hendrix tune to cover, this spine-tingler was culled from the Rainbow Bridge Concert, a free performance Jimi gave amidst a meditation cult in Hawaii, to be used for a movie of the same name. Apart from the great performance, this is some of the best video quality you can find of Hendrix in his final year. Bonus: Hawaiian hippies!
2. “Machine Gun”/Fillmore East/Jan. 1, 1970
The definitive reading of Hendrix’s anti-war/pro-soldier opus took place at the New Year’s Eve show that would later be released as the Band of Gypsys album, since he had shed the Experience of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in favor of Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. Pay attention to the solo that starts at 4:24. It’s a master class in allowing technique and emotion to ride side by side.
1. “Killing Floor”/Monterey Pop Festival/June 18, 1967
By now, the backstory is legend. Behind the scenes, Hendrix and The Who debated over who would follow whom, in part because they both planned instrument-destroying finales. After losing a coin toss, Hendrix promised to pull out all the stops. And that he did, not only by famously setting his Stratocaster on fire at the end, but through the jaw-dropping rhythm playing that begins his opener, a hopped-up take on the blues standard.