Sounding Board

Is Microsoft’s Paul Allen The New Jimi Hendrix? An Investigation

The last week and a half has taken a surprising turn, introducing us to Quincy Jones’ new “I’m an 84-year-old all-around legend and I’ve seen everything and known everyone and now I’m going to tell you all the crazy shit” press tour. It started with a massive feature in GQ last week, in which Jones reflected on many of the absolutely insane things that have happened in his life, and rattled off enough what-in-the-actual-fuck anecdotes that people could come across as being hyperbolic sharing it online and still only be scratching the surface. Ray Charles shooting heroin into his balls! Jones used to be Picasso’s neighbor! Jones has 22 girlfriends around the world! The Nazis loved cocaine!

It was a truly mind-blowing read, and just as you were able to start digesting even half of it, somehow this week gifted us with another voluminous, equally insane Jones interview with David Marchese over at Vulture. This time around, Jones said the Beatles couldn’t play for shit, that U2 sucks now even though Bono always lets him stay in his castle when he’s in Ireland, and that he thinks the Ed Sheeran record is great. Oh, yeah, he also mentioned that he dated Ivanka Trump, that Marlon Brando slept with Richard Pryor, and that he knows who killed Kennedy.

I don’t know how you’ve been spending your time if you haven’t read these interviews yet, but I can guarantee you that you should. This stuff is just internet candy. Having been around so long and having known all the icons, from Sinatra to MJ, Jones’ stories are wide-ranging enough to be interesting to just about anyone, and that’s before you get to the often hilarious ways in which all this info is presented, and before you get to the endlessly amusing twists people have concocted on Twitter, like these:

Can you imagine being Jones? Maybe it’s the weight of history, or something, but what are the batshit tell-all stories we’d be telling when we’re 84? “Oh, yeah, I used to see Lena Dunham around Brooklyn all the time, tried to put it on Instagram once.” “Matt Berninger, he’s a tall motherfucker. Used to stroll around Venice Beach smoking a weed vape. You like Brazilian music?”

But there is some backlash. It’s hard to believe like, at least half of what Jones says in these interviews. (Richard Pryor’s widow confirmed that particular anecdote, though, hilariously and nonchalantly attributing it to the higher quality of drugs in the ’70s.) I personally very, very much hope that all of it is true.

However, there are certainly some things Jones said that warrant further investigation. For example, after trashing the Beatles, Jones offered this one up:

Were there any rock musicians you thought were good?
I used to like Clapton’s band. What were they called?

Cream.
Yeah, they could play. But you know who sings and plays just like Hendrix?

Who?
Paul Allen.

Stop it. The Microsoft guy?
Yeah, man. I went on a trip on his yacht, and he had David Crosby, Joe Walsh, Sean Lennon — all those crazy motherfuckers. Then on the last two days, Stevie Wonder came on with his band and made Paul come up and play with him — he’s good, man.

So, the guy who knew all the god-level jazz greats and Sinatra and Ray Charles, the guy produced Thriller, claims that the co-founder of Microsoft plays guitar just like one of the most lauded rock guitarists ever. Now, I don’t know about the other aspects of the interview, but that is some outlandish shit.

Some background: Paul Allen may be the quieter half of the Microsoft equation compared to Bill Gates, but he’s got a hell of a life, too. He’s one of the richest men in the country, he owns a few sports teams, he owns a gigantic yacht (on which he throws rock show parties of the sort Jones attended), he’s a philanthropist who’s also had a hand in some big deal scientific institutes.

And he finds time to play some fiery blues-rock guitar with his band the Underthinkers. They, in fact, released an album in 2013, entitled Everywhere At Once. And it was kind of a real thing! It was put out by Sony and featured a few big classic rock names and some serious musicians like Chrissie Hynde, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Joe Walsh, and Derek Trucks. People clearly respect Allen’s chops; Jones saw him play with Stevie Wonder, after all.

But does he play just like Hendrix? Is the billionaire Microsoft co-founder shredding on the level of one of the all-time, visionary greats? Let’s see.

This is a cut from Everywhere At Once that has the very “Someone’s Idea Of Classic Rock” title of “Six Strings From Hell.” Like the rest of the album, it is some above-competent but not ground-breaking blues-rock of the exact sort you’d imagine a 60-year-old man who loves to play guitar and loves blues-rock and has not been a recording artist for most of his life to make. There is indeed a lot of volcanic, caterwauling rock guitar crunch to enjoy here if you’re into that sort of thing.

Here’s the one with the Wilson sisters. It kinda reminds me of the Black Crowes when they were more into their Zeppelin side than their Band side.

That’s Allen ripping a solo at a holiday party. On record, his music doesn’t seem all that Hendrix-y. Here, it still doesn’t, though I guess you could picture it. I mean, let’s not forget that Hendrix had giant hands and played in a pretty idiosyncratic way. There was obviously a ton of blues in his music, but he was also one of the guys to take the guitar into unforeseen territory. For further evidence, here are some Hendrix songs:




Just listen to the end of “Bold As Love.” It makes you see the world as if we live inside that album’s cover. That was the thing about Hendrix, what still makes him interesting 50 years later. Yeah, he’s a foundational blues-rock player and we know what that sounds like now. But at his best, in his moments of genius, he wasn’t doing fiery blues-rock guitar. He was making up entirely new elements.

Allen can indeed play. That’s not the question here. Does he play just like Hendrix? Superficially, not exactly. And, anyway, are you kidding me? Nobody plays just like Hendrix. That’s the end of the investigation.

Quincy Jones is a fucking liar.

Quincy Jones
CREDIT: Jerod Harris