Dave Navarro Talks Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and His Six-String

Dave Navarro is a guitar fanatic. He’s also one of the instrument’s most prolific and well known players. Navarro, who rose to fame in the rock band, Jane’s Addiction, has also famously played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and numerous other all star acts. But these days, Navarro is taking time from his busy schedule to celebrate the giants of the guitar who have come before him via guest DJ sets on a limited-run new SiriusXM Guitar Greats channel, which launched Monday and will run through April 19th

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Other guest DJs include Nancy Wilson and Keb’ Mo’. Navarro, whose set will run through Sunday, will celebrate legends like Jerry Cantrell, Mick Ronson, Eddie Van Halen, Lou Reed and many more. For the guitar great, the DJ sets are especially meaningful. Navarro, who has suffered some unthinkable tragedies in his life, has used the guitar to both prosper and process deep emotions. As you’ll see below, Navarro considers the instrument to be an extension of himself, another limb. 

We caught up with Navarro to ask him how his love for guitar led him to work with SiriusXM, how his relationship with Jimi Hendrix’ music buoyed him in touch times and what his relationship with the instrument is like today. 

What about your love of guitar made you want to participate in this new SIRIUS channel dedicated to the greats of the instrument?
Guitar playing has changed the trajectory of my life. I was initially inspired to play the instrument because of my love of Jimi Hendrix when I was a kid. He was my hero. He was my, I suppose, indirect mentor in a way. Because back then all I had were records. So, I would play the records, try and learn the songs by ear and figure them out. I went the long way. And he specially had a massive impact on what I wanted to do with my life. As soon as I heard early Jimi Hendrix records when I was maybe about 10 years old, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. 

The reason I chose to do the show was primarily because there are so many different players and so many different styles that formed my musical repertoire and informed my inspiration that I felt it would be fun to talk about some of those guys. And a lot of them are extremely different players with extremely different approaches to the instrument. So, you have someone like Steve Vai, who is a wizard. You have Edward Van Halen, who’s a wizard. But you also have Robert Smith and Daniel Ash, who really approach the guitar in terms of tonality and interesting parts and, many times, things that are very unusual and unexpected on the instrument. That way of playing really is more in line with crafting a soundscape that fits the lyrical content and the structure of the song.

So, all of things were influences to me and as soon as I was asked to talk about and celebrate some of my favorite players, I jumped at the chance, of course.

I live in Seattle and so the name Jimi Hendrix is, of course, huge out here. So many people seem to have personal relationships to his music. But what about his work resonates personally to you?
It’s the emotional expression through the instrument that resonates with me more than anything else. His playing is heavily rooted in the blues, it’s obvious to anyone who listens to him. But to take that blues rooted curriculum and expand into long jams or pop songs or noise-scapes that nobody had head before. I think the fact that he was doing stuff that nobody was doing and getting sounds that nobody was getting. And for as proficient as a player as he was, he was also very interested in creating soundscapes that don’t require a technical hand but that do require a creative soul. So, those are the things about him that really fascinate me. 

And lyrically where he was coming from – I mean, the fact that this guy was emoting so much at such an early age and got so much done at such an early age and crossed so many boundaries and broke down so many barriers. I mean, those are the things that resonate with me. The willingness to play incredible, beautiful blues style within a jam on stage while at the same time getting into some pretty outrageous stage antics in addition to that, which made it a really fun, exciting new, fresh thing at the time. 

When I learned about Jimi Hendrix and when I got super deeply interested – at the time, all we had were records and there was a documentary called The Film About Jimi Hendrix, which I watched about 200 times when I was in my pre-teens. He was definitely the first artist I did a massive deep dive into. I was already playing guitar when I learned about him but as soon as I learned about him, my inclinations and instincts and my commitment to the instrument completely changed. 

I love that. It’s so amazing to find that person you can cling to when you’re a new artist. 
I had the opportunity to play with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles at a Hendrix tribute show. So, I essentially, for lack of better words, had the chance to sit in with the Band of Gypsys, which was probably one of the biggest nights of my life. Because that record, I bought that when I was maybe 12-years-old. So, at 12 I was listening to that and that really had an impact on me because these were long form jam songs that weren’t, you know, verse-chorus three-and-a-half-minute radio hits. They were three dues out there just playing the way they loved to play. It really had an impact. 

Believe it or not, two of the records that really changed my life as a young kid was Band of Gypsys and then Jeff Beck Live with the Jan Hammer Group. That’s not a really well known or hailed record of Jeff Beck’s – in fact, the record got terrible reviews because of the vocals they did on that recording. However, at 12-years-old, you don’t know what the reviews are, you don’t know what people think about what you’re listening to. Again, listening to Jeff and Jan Hammer play live and go on these extended jams that were all improvisational within the structure of the previously written arrangement, was really a huge part in terms of me putting my foot to the gas in my own playing.

In Jane’s Addiction when we would be in a live situation and playing a song like “Three Days,” that’ exactly where I got the instinct of this solo is going to go on as long as it goes on and when I’m done I’m going to look at everybody and we’re all going to come back in on the one. I got that primarily by listening to those records. Also, I would go so far as to say, that early bootlegs of Led Zeppelin – again, the same thing. Most of the records that I gravitated towards were live. Everything from Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix to Jeff Beck in a live setting, you will find that rarely do those guitarists duplicate the solos they did on the studio recordings. They were all improvisational. 

The excitement of the improv and the change in the live setting is what really inspired me. It was then I realized that you’re not locked into what was written and recorded. That can stay and stand the test of time but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way in a live setting. You can make the songs fresh and new and challenging for all of eternity. So, those are my guys. Those are my early guys. 

They were like teachers for you.
Absolutely. Those records were my teachers because I didn’t have a guitar teacher, I had those records. For a lot of years, it wasn’t until I got to – my favorite guitar player of all time is David Gilmour, who has a totally different approach. David Gilmour is super melodic, super thought out and nine times out of ten is playing pretty close to the recorded version in a live setting. So, David Gilmour taught me about emotional context and inward reflection coming out of the instrument in a melodic way that isn’t flashy but its powerful in terms of its choice of notes and where they land. He’s also the king of playing in a solo – he’ll be playing and literally just stop and wait some breaths and then come back in and wait some breaths, offer little stabs of melodic pieces that create this incredible guitar solo with no sense of urgency. But with a sense of the fact he has all the time in the world to do what he needs to do. 

Those guys for me really, really were like I think my early teachers, as you said. The thing I love about David Gilmour so much and Pink Floyd in particular is that I view David Gilmour’s playing as inward reflection coming out through the instrument. And I look at Roger Waters vocally as outward aggression. So, in Pink Floyd you have inward reflection and outward aggression, the two things that we all identify with. So, I don’t think there’s any other band that touches, gets into the cracks of the human condition better than Pink Floyd because they get into all of it. 

Well thank you for all of that, David. I suppose we can end the chat here: what does the guitar itself mean to you today? What does playing it offer you both internally and externally?
That’s a very strange question to ask. I’ll tell you, it’s almost like asking you what’s the bond that you have with your legs. Because at this point, the instrument is just an extension of me. It’s what I know, it’s who I am. I think that in other ways, I could say the instrument is like another limb. But I could also say that the instrument, for me, is an opportunity to express emotional and psychological elements of my life that I’m not able to articulate in the English language. So, I can sit in therapy all day, I can talk to a friend all day, but I’m really not getting to hat’s going on unless I choose the notes appropriately, you know? Put it this way, if somebody had a team of therapists and psychiatrists and doctors, the guitar would be the number-one element of that support team for me! It also teaches me. Sometimes as a human being you don’t know how you’re feeling and then you pick up your instrument and you realize how you’re feeling.

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