Header Ads

The Beatles and the "Jimi Hendrix chord"


In a 2004 interview with Guitar World Acoustic, Paul McCartney talked about how he and George Harrison first learned how to play what they called a "jazz chord," an F major chord with an added seventh and a sharp ninth: 

I'll tell you exactly where I learned that chord: from Jim Gretty, a salesman at Hessy's music shop in Liverpool ... I remember George and I were in the guitar shop when Gretty played it, and we said, Wow, what was that, man? And he answered, It's just basically an F, but you barre the top two strings at the fourth fret with your little finger. We immediately learned that, and for a while it was the only jazz chord we knew.

Mapping out the chord as Paul describes it -- "an F, but you barre the top two strings at the fourth fret with your little finger" -- we get this bizarre shape:



Definitely not an easy chord to fret, but with a bit of practice, it can be done.

Paul later utilized this chord in "Michelle," as the second chord of the chorus, over the words "ma belle." A photo from the session shows that he played his acoustic guitar part capoed at the fifth fret (this is how he continues to perform the song live):



*Thanks to forum user "gettingbetter" at The Beatles Bible for bringing this picture to my attention

From this capoed position, the chord Paul used was indeed "basically an F" chord with the added seven and sharp-nine notes tacked on at the top two strings (resulting in a Bb7#9 chord, discounting the capo).

Not to be left out, George -- who, according to Paul's interview, learned the fingering at the same time -- managed to slip this tricky chord into "Till There Was You" at the end of his solo, right near the end. During The Beatles' performance of the song live on their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, you can see George contort his fingers into the necessary fret position:



While it may have seemed like a "jazz chord" to Paul and George at the time that they learned it, this same chord would later become permanently linked with psychedelic rock when Jimi Hendrix made it a central feature of both "Foxy Lady" and "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" -- albeit in a radically different context and with a different voicing.

For Hendrix, the chord took this shape:



This is a helpful correlation to make if you struggle to finger the chord in the same way that Paul and George learned it. The "Hendrix chord" can easily be slipped into both "Michelle" and "Till There Was You" using Jimi's voicing, without losing too much of the original sound.

For "Michelle", the chord must be voiced much higher on the fret board (I hope you have a cutaway!):



The same voicing works much better for "Till There Was You", being only two frets higher than Hendrix's voicing of the chord:



Were The Beatles aware of this alternate voicing of the seven-sharp-nine chord? Indeed they were, for the same chord appears with this exact fingering pattern in "Taxman", during the verses:



This is much more comparable to how Hendrix used the chord, as a variation on the tonic-seven chord (D7 in "Taxman", E7 in Hendrix's usage) in a grittier, bluesy style. In fact, since Revolver was released in the late summer of 1966, and Hendrix's Are You Experienced album -- featuring "Foxy Lady" as the opening track -- wasn't released until May of 1967, it's safe to say that The Beatles were not borrowing from Jimi when they recorded "Taxman."

In recent years, Paul has included a short tribute to Jimi Hendrix in his live concerts by playing the riff from "Foxy Lady" at the end of "Let Me Roll It", using his psychedelic-painted Les Paul guitar:



It just goes to show, I suppose, that no matter whether you call it a "jazz chord" or a "Hendrix chord," no matter whether you play it as part of a ballad or as a core component of a rocking blues jam, it's a pretty cool chord to know.

No comments

Powered by Blogger.