Much like the opening to “Stairway to Heaven,” “Purple Haze” is one of those go-to riffs for guitar players. When listeners first heard it as the opening track on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1967 album, Are You Experienced, they knew rock music had just gone…somewhere else entirely.
Over the years, musicologists have broken the riff down into its various technical parts (and more on that in a moment), but one of the quirkier pieces of trivia about it is this: the “dissonant interval” Hendrix used at the very start of the song dates back centuries. In fact, a version of it was inscribed in a papal bull during the (wait for it) Spanish Inquisition. It was known as the “Devil in music” because to play it was thought to be akin to “ringing Satan’s doorbell.” Yes, seriously.
“Purple Haze” has landed on multiple “greatest songs/riffs” lists. It’s also become a favorite piece among classical musicians. The Kronos Quartet frequently play it as an encore.
So what’s the special magic behind “The Hendrix Chord”? Pro musician Vinnie DeMasi rings Satan’s doorbell and gets into it.
Photo: Jimi Hendrix (Getty Images)