James Marshall (Jimi) Hendrix (27 November 1942 - 18 September 1970) was
an American musician, songwriter and virtuoso guitarist, widely regarded as the
best electric guitarist in the history of popular music.
Mostly self-taught on the instrument, the left-handed Hendrix used
a right-handed guitar that was restrung and played right side up. As
a guitarist, he built upon the innovations of blues stylists such as
B. B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker, and Muddy Waters,
as well as those of rhythm and blues and soul music guitarists like
Curtis Mayfield. Hendrix's music was also influenced by jazz; he often
cited Rahsaan Roland Kirk as his favorite musician. In addition, Hendrix
extended the tradition of rock guitar: although previous guitarists,
such as The Kinks' Dave Davies, and The Who's Pete Townshend, had employed
techniques such as feedback, distortion and other effects as sonic
tools, Hendrix was able to exploit them to a previously undreamed-of
extent, and to incorporate them as an integral part of his compositions.
Hendrix so desired a guitar by the time he was in grade school that
he had fits of depression when his father, who viewed the instrument
as frivolous and jazz/rock as sinful, refused to get him one. His school
counsellor told his father to get him a guitar, and his father gave
him a one-stringed toy guitar. Jimi played it so much that his father
finally relented and bought his son a real guitar.
As a record producer, Hendrix was an innovator in using the recording
studio as an extension of his musical ideas. Hendrix was notably one
of the first to experiment with stereo effects during the recording
process. Hendrix was also an accomplished songwriter whose compositions
have been performed by countless artists. Finally, his image and influence
as a rock star place him in the company of Little Richard, Chuck Berry,
the Beatles, and Hendrix's first idol Elvis Presley.
The controversial nature of Hendrix's style is epitomized in the sentiments
expressed about his renditions of the "Star Spangled Banner", a tune he played loudly and sharply accompanied by simulated sounds
of war (machine guns, bombs and screams) from his guitar. His impressionistic
renditions have been described by some as anti-American mockery and
by others as a generation's statement on the unrest in U.S. society,
oddly symbolic of the beauty, spontaneity, and tragedy that was endemic
to Hendrix's life. When taken to task on the Dick Cavett Show on the "unorthodox" nature
of his performance, Hendrix replied, "I thought it was beautiful".
Youth and pre-professional career.
Hendrix was born Johnny Allen Hendricks in Seattle, Washington, the
son of Al Hendricks and Lucille Jeter. His mother was an alcoholic
and died young, (providing Hendrix with a musical muse which he would
later express in his songs, for example, "Little Wing")
when Jimi was aged 15, of cirrhosis. His father, after returning
from World War II, renamed him James Marshall Hendrix. He grew up
shy and sensitive. Like his contemporaries John Lennon and Paul McCartney,
Hendrix was deeply affected by family events - his parents'
divorce in 1951, listening to Elvis Presley, whom he loved (a color
drawing, showing a young Elvis armed with a guitar, and made by the
then impressionable 15 year old Hendrix himself, two months after
attending Presley's concert at Seattle's Sick's Stadium on 1st September,
1957, and can be seen at that city's Rock museum), and the death
of his mother, a year later. He was close to his paternal grandmother
Nora Rose Moore. Nora, the daughter of an Irish Cherokee father and
a mulatto mother, instilled in him a strong sense of pride about
his Native American ancestry. Both of Jimi's paternal grandparents
were vaudeville performers who settled in Vancouver, Canada, where
his father, Al Hendrix, was born. Al relocated to Seattle, where
he met and married Lucille Jeter. After Lucille's death, Al gave
Jimi a ukulele, and later bought him a US$5 acoustic guitar, setting
him on the path to his future vocation.
After playing with several local Seattle bands and getting into trouble
with the law via a stolen car, Hendrix enlisted in the Army, joining
the 101st Airborne Division (stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky)
as a trainee paratrooper. Hendrix was a poor soldier who was repeatedly
caught sleeping while on duty and missing at midnight bed-check. Superiors
noted that he needed constant supervision even for basic tasks, and
lacked motivation. He was described by one supervisor as having "no
known good characteristics", and by another that "his mind
apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about
his guitar". After less than a year he received a medical discharge
after breaking his ankle on his 26th parachute jump (He said later
that the sound of air whistling through the parachute shrouds was one
of the sources of his "spacy" guitar sound). Hendrix was
discharged from the US Army three years before the Vietnam War saw
large numbers of US soldiers arrive. But his recordings would become
favorites of soldiers fighting there. (A biography published in summer
2005, Room Full Of Mirrors, by Charles Cross, claims that Hendrix faked
being gay - claiming to have fallen in love with another soldier - and
was therefore discharged. According to Cross, Hendrix was an avid anti-communist
and did not leave the US Army as a protest to the Vietnam War, but
simply wanted out so he could focus on playing guitar).
After leaving Ft. Campbell, Hendrix and his friend and bandmate Billy
Cox moved to nearby Nashville. There they played, and sometimes lived,
in the clubs along Jefferson Street, the traditional heart of Nashville's
black community, and home to a lively rhythm and blues scene.
During the early 1960s, Hendrix made a precarious living performing
in backing bands for touring soul and blues musicians, including Curtis
Knight, B. B. King, and Little Richard. His first notice came from
appearances with The Isley Brothers, notably on the two-parter Testify
On 15 October 1965, Hendrix signed a 3-year recording contract with
entrepreneur Ed Chalpin, receiving $1 and 1% royalty on records with
Curtis Knight. The contract later caused litigation with Hendrix and
other record labels.
By 1966 he had his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and
a residency at the Cafe Wha? in New York City. During this period Hendrix
met and worked with singer-guitarist Ellen McIlwaine and guitarist
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. Hendrix also became close friends with
a young guitarist named Randy California, who would later co-found
the band Spirit. Hendrix also met iconoclast Frank Zappa during this
time. Zappa introduced Hendrix to the newly-invented wah-wah pedal,
a tool which Hendrix soon mastered and made an integral part of his
While performing with The Blue Flames at the Cafe Wha?, Linda Keith,
then-girlfriend of The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, saw
Hendrix, and couldn't believe he hadn't been "discovered".
Knowing Chas Chandler was leaving The Animals, and looking for someone
to manage, she introduced him to Hendrix. Chandler took Hendrix to
England, signed him to a management and production contract as his
record producer, and helped him form a new band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience,
with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
With his first few show-stopping London club appearances, word of
the new star spread through the British music industry. His showmanship
and dazzling virtuosity made instant fans of reigning guitar heroes
Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, as well as members of The Beatles and The
Who, whose managers signed Hendrix to The Who's record label, Track
Records. Jimi's first single was a cover of "Hey Joe", a
stylised blues song written by Billy Roberts that was virtually a standard
for rock bands at the time. Hendrix and Chandler had seen folk-singer
Tim Rose performing his slow arrangement of Hey Joe at the Cafe Wha?,
and adapted it to Hendrix' emerging psychedelic style.
Further Hendrix success came with the incendiary and original "Purple
Haze", with a heavily distorted guitar sound which still influences
people now; the soulful ballad "The Wind Cries Mary", and "Hey
Joe". The three songs were Top 10 hits.
Established as a star in the U.K., Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy
Etchingham moved into a flat at 23 Brook Street in central London.
The nearby 25 Brook street was once the home of baroque composer George
Frideric Handel. Hendrix, aware of this musical coincidence, bought
Handel recordings including the Messiah and the Water Music. The two
houses currently comprise the Handel House Museum, where both musicians
The 1967 release of the group's first album, Are You Experienced, is
a mix of melodic ballads "The Wind Cries Mary", pop-rock "Fire", psychedelia "Third Stone from the Sun", and blues "Red
House", and is a template for much of their later work.
Hendrix went to a hospital with burns to his hands after setting his
guitar on fire for the first time at the Astoria theatre in London
on March 31, 1967. Later, after causing damage to amplifiers and other
stage equipment at his shows, Rank Theatre management warned him to "tone
down" his stage act.
The Monterey Pop Festival booked The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the
urging of festival board member Paul McCartney. At the concert, filmmaker
D. A. Pennebaker immortalized Hendrix's iconic burning and smashing
of his guitar in the film Monterey Pop.
A short gig, opening for the pop group The Monkees on their first
American tour, followed the festival. The Monkees asked for Hendrix
because they were fans, but their mostly teenage audience did not warm
to his outlandish stage act and he abruptly quit the tour after a few
dates, just as "Purple Haze" gained popularity in America.
Chas Chandler later admitted that being "thrown off" The
Monkees tour was engineered to gain maximum media impact and outrage
for Hendrix. At the time a story circulated claiming that Hendrix was
removed from the tour because of complaints made by the Daughters of
the American Revolution that his stage conduct was "lewd and indecent".
Australian journalist Lillian Roxon, accompanying the tour with singer
Lynne Randell (the other support act), concocted the story. The claim
was repeated in Roxon's 1969 Rock Encyclopedia but she later admitted
it was fabricated.
Meanwhile in England, Hendrix's wild-man image and musical gimmickry
(such as playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his back) continued
to bring publicity, but Hendrix was already advancing musically and
becoming frustrated by media and audience concentration on his stage
act and his hit singles.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience's second 1967 album, Axis: Bold as Love
continued the style established by Are You Experienced with tracks
such as "Little Wing" and "If 6 Was 9", showing
his continuing mastery of the electric guitar. A mishap almost prevented
the album's release; Hendrix lost the master tape of side 1 of the
LP after he left it in a taxi. With the release deadline looming, Hendrix,
Chandler and engineer Eddie Kramer in an all-night session made a remix
from the multitracks. Kramer and Hendrix later said that they were
never entirely happy with the results.
Increasing personality differences with Noel Redding, combined with
the influence of drugs, alcohol and fatigue, led to a trouble-plagued
tour of Scandinavia. On 4 January 1968, Hendrix was jailed by Stockholm
police, after trashing a hotel room in a drunken rage.
The band's third recording, a double album, Electric Ladyland (1968),
is more eclectic and experimental than previous recordings. It features
a lengthy blues jam ("Voodoo Chile"), the jazz-inflected "Rainy
Day, Dream Away/Still Raining, Still Dreaming", and what is probably
the definitive version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower".
(Hendrix credited British band The Alan Bown Set for inspiration on
Hendrix decided to return to the US, and frustrated by the limitations
of commercial recording he decided to establish his own state-of-the-art
multitrack studio in New York, to which he could have unlimited access
to realise his expanding musical visions. Construction of the studio,
called Electric Lady, was not completed until mid-1970.
Hendrix's formerly disciplined work habits became erratic, and the
combination of interminable sessions and studios filled with hangers-on
finally led Chas Chandler to quit on May 1968. Chandler later complained
that Hendrix's insistence on doing multiple takes on every song ("Gypsy
Eyes" apparently took 43 takes and he still was not satisfied),
combined with what he saw as incoherence caused by drugs, led to him
to sell his share of the management company to his partner Mike Jeffrey.
Hendrix's studio perfectionism is legendary - he reportedly
made accomplished Traffic guitarist Dave Mason do more than twenty
takes of the acoustic guitar backing on "All Along The Watchtower".
Deeply insecure about his voice, Hendrix often recorded his vocals
behind studio screens.
Many critics now believe that the ascendancy of Mike Jeffrey was a
negative influence on Hendrix's life and career. Jeffrey (who had previously
managed The Animals and was later reviled by them) allegedly embezzled
much of the money Hendrix earned during his lifetime and secreted it
in offshore bank accounts. Jeffrey allegedly had links to both the
MI5 and CIA intelligence organisations (he claimed publicly to be a
secret agent) and to the Mafia. He also regularly carried a hand gun,
and could speak Russian.
Despite the difficulties of recording Electric Ladyland, many of the
tracks show Hendrix's vision expanding far beyond the scope of the
original trio (it is said that the sound of the record inspired Miles
Davis' sound on Bitches Brew), and saw him collaborating with a range
of musicians including Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Steve Winwood from
Traffic, drummer Buddy Miles and the former Dylan organist Al Kooper.
His expanding musical horizons were accompanied by a deterioration
in his relationship with bandmates (particularly Redding), and the
Experience broke up in 1969.
On 4 January 1969 he was accused by television producers of arrogance
after playing an impromptu version of "Sunshine of Your Love" past
his allotted time slot on the BBC1 show Happening for Lulu, apparently
as a tribute to Cream after learning the band broke-up.
On 3 May he was arrested at Toronto's Pearson International Airport
after heroin was found in his luggage. He was later bailed on a $10,000
surety. Hendrix was acquitted after asserting that the drugs were slipped
into his bag by a fan without his knowledge.
On 29 June, Noel Redding announced that he had quit the Experience,
although he had effectively ceased working with Hendrix during most
of the recording of Electric Ladyland.
By August of 1969, Hendrix formed a new band called Gypsy Sun and
Rainbows to play the Woodstock festival. The group featured Hendrix
on guitar, Billy Cox on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums, Larry Lee on
rhythm guitar and Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan on drums and percussion.
The set, while notably under-rehearsed and ragged in performance (Hendrix
was reputedly "spiked" with a powerful dose of LSD just before
going on stage) was played to a slowly emptying field of revelers.
The immortal concluding quarter hour of this performance began with
the extraordinary instrumental version of "The Star-Spangled Banner", segueing into a version of "Purple Haze" that concludes with
a solo cadenza the equal of those of Mozart and Beethoven, followed
by a fantasia that both recaps his prior work and prefigures the new
musical directions Hendrix was to explore in the last year of his life,
followed by an elegaic blues march, a fitting coda to the 1960s. Needless
to say, Hendrix's performance at Woodstock has become a timeless classic
event, and a true milestone in the history of music.
The Gypsy Sun and Rainbows band was short-lived, and Hendrix formed
a new trio, the Band of Gypsys, comprising Billy Cox, an old army buddy,
on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, for four memorable concerts on New
Year's Eve 1969-70. The recorded concerts captured several outstanding
pieces, including what some feel is one of Hendrix's greatest live
performances, an explosive 12-minute rendition of his anti-war epic "Machine
His association with Miles ended abruptly during a concert at Madison
Square Garden on 28 January 1970, when Hendrix walked out after playing
just three songs, telling the audience: "I'm sorry we just can't
get it together". Miles later said in a television interview that
Hendrix felt he was losing the spotlight to other musicians. In a Guitar
World article, engineer Eddie Kramer claimed that Hendrix was very
displeased with Miles' practice of scat singing through the bands performances
(Hendrix reportedly edited out many of Miles' vocal solos on the "Band
of Gypsys" live album, although the opening track "Who Knows" features
an extended Miles scat).
The rest of 1970 was spent mainly recording during the week, and playing
live on the weekends. The "Cry of Love" tour, begun in April,
was structured with this pattern in mind. Performances on this tour
were uneven in quality; many are available as bootleg recordings. A
show in May in Norman, Oklahoma was dedicated to the students killed
in the Kent State shootings.
With the opening of Electric Lady studios, Hendrix spent more time
in the studio and started laying down several new tracks. At a June
concert, Hendrix announced that his next LP would come out in "July
or August, in either one or two parts". However, recording sessions
for the album, tentatively titled "The First Rays Of The New Rising
Sun" continued until he was scheduled to depart for his upcoming
European tour. An opening party for Electric Lady was held on 26 August,
and following this, Hendrix boarded a plane for England.
On 30 August, he gave his last performance in the United Kingdom,
at the Isle of Wight Festival with Mitchell and Cox. Hendrix expressed
disappointment on-stage at his fans' clamour to hear his old hits rather
than his new ideas. However, his two hour set proved to be a strong
one, and a filmed record of his set entitled "Wild Blue Angel" was
On 6 September 1970, his final stage performance, Hendrix was greeted
by booing and jeering by fans at the Isle of Fehmarn Festival in Germany
in a riot-like atmosphere; shortly after he left the stage, it went
up in flames during the first stage appearance of Ton Steine Scherben.
Bassist Billy Cox quit the tour and headed back to the United States
after reportedly being dosed with PCP.
Hendrix remained in England, and on the morning of 18 September 1970,
was found dead in the basement apartment of the Samarkand Hotel, 22
Lansdowne Crescent, London. He had spent the night with a German girlfriend,
Monika Dannemann, and died in bed after taking a reported nine Vesperax
sleeping pills and choking on his own vomit.