John Purvis, courtesy John Purvis.
Source: John Purvis, courtesy John Purvis.

John Purvis and Jimi Hendrix – it’s like that Lincoln-Kennedy thing.

Both are talented musicians who resemble each other. But it’s more than that. Jimi Hendrix was born John -- Johnny Allen Hendrix on the West Coast in Seattle -- but his father changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix.  Hendrix was left-handed but wrote with his right hand. John Purvis was born on the East Coast in New York City as a left-handed person but switched over to right-handed, with some ambidexterity remaining.  And both are synesthetes. Hendrix used to describe chords and harmonies as colors. The chord E7 (#9) —which guitarists still call “The Hendrix Chord” was “the purple chord” to him and informed his classic “Purple Haze.”  Guitarworld.com explains, “… the #9 is the enharmonic equivalent of the minor 3rd, so the chord can be seen as just a comfortable fingering that consists of the root, flat 7, and both the major and minor 3rds.

“This major/minor ambiguity makes the chord perfectly suited for the blues, while using it as a substitution for the V chord in a key can help lend a jazzy feel to a turnaround (Stevie Ray Vaughan often used it in this manner).”

Purvis similarly sees hues for music. And moreover, he counts Hendrix among his influences. I recently asked him about his life.

How did Hendrix influence your art?

Jimi Hendrix by Rob Bosboom, public domain.
Source: Jimi Hendrix by Rob Bosboom, public domain.

JP: I was an R&B guitarist back in the 70's and getting kind of bored with that... I thought there had to be something else and then I heard “Rainbow Bridge”. My mind was blown. I immediately took two weeks off from the band I was in and learned some of music on the album. My playing improved immediately and now I had a musical hero and a vision to seek out. I started a Hendrix library and collected everything on him. I collected bootlegs of his music and videos, footage that is only now available I had back in the 80's. As a teen through my early 20's you could hear his influence in my music and then jazz and jazz-rock came along and my music changed.

Please describe your synesthesia. You see colors for music, yes? Can you describe some of your favorite songs and their hues?

JP: It's hard to pick one favorite song because I listen to a lot of music. “Machine Gun” by Jimi is one, “Dream” by The Mahavishnu Orchestra and “My Favorite Things” by Coltrane are three examples and each tune will put you in a trance. You could listen to them and go into a meditation. You will hear the colors and see the sounds. Sometimes music can make you a better person and these three examples can have that effect on the listener. “Machine Gun” shows all of the pain and horror there must have been during the Vietnam War. “Dream” was written by John McLaughlin who played every note for the Supreme Being and that's why it's sooo intense and “My Favorite Things”  sends me upward soaring through the clouds and across the fretboard of my guitar, reaching for the untraceable.

When I hear music, or at least my music, I want to paint pictures with sound so that the listener can experience that. Music is also emotion and that equals intensity, helps the music swing or groove. Early rock & roll grabbed listeners by the throats and the kids loved it. Millions were and still are inspired by it. I wouldn't mind doing the same.

Red for “Machine Gun” and maybe gray representing the vibe after the violence, white for “My Favorite Things” because you are soaring upwards, that's where Coltrane takes you. “Dream” has red for its intensity, white for its bliss and sky blue because it's like you are look down on the Earth from high above.

What do you think synesthesia is?

JP: I think it's a brain thing: something stimulates the brain and that is the reaction. That something could be a sound or combination of sounds that cause that reaction. It could also be a color or combo of different colors that cause the brain to react... a natural high. Imagine... tasting colors or even better tasting sounds... wow!!!!

Which track do you play on for Wu-Tang? How did that come about?

JP: Many years ago I was playing a gig on Staten Island with a group called Gravy. RZA walks in but I had no idea who he was. He invited the rhythm section to Sony studios. He was producing a group called Texas. They were sampling a track and I mentioned that we could play that sample live. A phone call was made and amps and drums were brought over and we jammed for them. A Tribe Called Quest was around there also. We played the track and all was good. A little while later they hired the band to play for a party that was on a boat that sailed around the harbor. It was an interesting gig. I have a copy of the record, which took a while to find.

Which instruments do you play and how long have you been a musician?

JP: I have been a musician for the last 45 years but even during the 60's a guitar would occasionally come into my hands. The Beatles, Elvis then the Jackson 5 were in my age group that did it for me in the end... plus the guy with the guitar always got the girl, lol. I play the guitar both electric and acoustic and I played the sitar for a number of years. I have played bass when I have to and as a bassist I just hold down the groove the way I would like a bassist to do for me.

 Can you give us links to some of your work?

Purvis and bandmates, courtesy John Purvis
Source: Purvis and bandmates, courtesy John Purvis

JP: Go to YouTube and type in monksam4 and there are videos of my jazz-rock group The ReAwakening, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzP0kUa-4-s.  I also have a page on Facebook for the group. There are two CDs: “The Inner Mounting Flame Still Burns” and “Sanctified Bliss”. Both have some good music on them. A 3rd CD was recorded and was about to be released but I stopped it. I will put it out one day. It will be called “Transfiguration”.

Would you like to add anything?

JP:  I am a musician for the people, not other musicians. I hope to move the listener through the emotional content of the music; I hope to take the listener on a journey. I have many voices but music is my strongest voice.

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